The UE Book Club – Black History Month

This month Upper Elementary students are honoring Black History Month with their book club selections. They’re reading books written by African American authors who have won the Coretta Scott King Book Award. The students chose from the list of books below—a memoir written in verse, a first-person narrative written in verse, a work of contemporary fiction and one of historical fiction, each addressing the theme of family. For more great children’s and young adult books by African American authors, see the list at the end of this post.


Brown Girl Dreaming is Jacqueline Woodson’s beautifully written memoir. Through poems, Jacqueline tells the story of her childhood in the 1960s and 70s, moving back and forth between the Northeast and the South. Jackie’s life is filled with her family’s struggles—her parents’ relationship falls apart, her baby brother is hospitalized, her uncle is sent to prison and her grandfather dies. But it is also filled with her family’s strength—her grandparents’ devotion to religion and peaceful civil rights activism. Brown Girl Dreaming weaves the stories of Jackie’s family together with her own coming of age story, as she develops her own values, finds new friends and discovers her passion as a writer.


The Crossover by Kwame Alexander is told in vivid, rhythmic verse, in the voice of 12-year-old Josh Bell. Josh and his identical twin, JB, have basketball in their blood—their father, Chuck, is a former pro basketball player—and they share a true love of the game. Growing up, they play basketball every night with Chuck. But as they enter seventh grade, their interests begin to diverge. JB has a girlfriend and spends less and less time with Josh and Chuck. Josh is lonely, jealous and angry. The brothers have a terrible fight and their relationship seems permanently broken. At the same time, Chuck’s health is failing. Although he is only 39, Chuck suffers a series of heart attacks and ultimately dies. Josh is devastated but also rediscovers his need for his brother, and the two find reconciliation.


Some Places More Than Others by Renee Watson tells the story of 12-year-old Amara’s trip with her father to visit his childhood home in Harlem and to make a family-history time capsule for school. She is excited to see the city, to explore the places of her father’s childhood and to meet her grandfather and cousins for the first time in person. The trip is nothing like what Amara imagined—the city is crowded, loud and confusing, and the relationships in her family are strained. Amara begins to explore the sights in Harlem and to ask questions. She begins to learn more about her family’s history and about the history of African-Americans in New York City. She discovers the ways she is connected to her family and to history, and she begins to help her family heal.


The Mighty Miss Malone by Christopher Paul Curtis is a historical novel set in Gary, Indiana during the Great Depression. It is the story of Deza Malone and her family. Deza is exceptionally smart, loves language and shines at her school in Gary, but her family cannot stay there because there is no work for her father. The family moves to Michigan to find work,  and things begin to look up for a short while before everything gets worse—Deza’s parents lose their jobs, they face health crises, they run out of food and clothing, they lose their home and face scathing racism. Throughout it all, Deza is also attending a new school, where she is discriminated against and told she is not as smart as she knows she is. Still, Deza—the mighty Miss Malone—and her family remain hopeful, and they continue to struggle, together, for “a place called Wonderful.”

Resources for recommended children’s and young adult books by African American authors:

Award-Winning African American Books on Common Sense Media

Black Boy Joy: 30 Picture Books Featuring Black Male Protagonists on Brightly

Black Girl Magic: 33 Picture Books Featuring Black Female Protagonists on Brightly

The Coretta Scott King Book Awards on The American Library Association;s website

Top 150 Recommended African-American Children’s Books by the African American Literature Book Club


We are VdM: The Ohmes-Kelly Family

The very best part of Villa di Maria is our people. Our community of families, faculty and staff is something to be proud of. In this series, We are VdM, we’ll highlight the energies, talents, humor and wisdom of some of our amazing people. Today, we’ll meet Emil Ohmes-Kelly, his mother Holly and his father Michael. Emil joined Ms. Braud’s Children’s House just a few short weeks ago!

Villa di Maria: Tell us a bit about you and your family.

Holly: Emil and I love our little blue house in the Princeton Heights neighborhood! It was built in 1906 and remodeled perfectly for us. We enjoy all the eclectic activities the city has to offer and love spending time out in the country with Oma and PaPa! Emil’s father, Michael, lives and works in Columbia, Missouri as a professional engineer. He is in the midst of starting a side business as a General Contractor for farms and homes. I have been teaching Yoga to all ages and creating several curriculums for over 25 years.  I currently teach Silver Sneakers Chair Yoga at the Mid County YMCA and also sub Yoga, T’ai Chi, aqua exercise and swim lessons at the local YMCAs.  I just started a volunteer position as a Live Yes! Meeting Facilitator with the Arthritis Foundation.

VdM: Where are you from and what brought you to St. Louis?

Holly: I am originally from O’Fallon, Missouri. I came to study at Webster University in 1993, where I then completed a Bachelor in Studio Art. I was raised in a rural environment, but found myself settling in St. Louis.  Michael is originally from Kirkwood, Missouri, but has lived around the U.S. as his work requires travel.

VdM: How did you find Montessori and what brought you to VdM?

Holly: When I first came to Webster University, I took several education courses and was instantly drawn to the Montessori method. Years later I taught Learn to Swim and Yoga at a local Montessori School’s summer camp. I always thought if I had children, I would want them to experience a Montessori education. Emil attending Villa di Maria is definitely a dream come true for me!

VdM: Tell us about your typical weekend.

Holly: Our weekends are filled with favorite activities, new experiences, time with Michael and visits with Oma and Papa… soccer and swimming lessons at the YMCA, walks at the Botanical Gardens, lunch with Oma and Papa in Old Town St. Charles and all things artsy… reading, painting, playing the piano, ukulele and harmonica, writing songs, dancing…

VdM: A question specifically for Emil: What is your favorite work to do in your classroom so far?

Holly: When I first asked Emil what his favorite work was to do in his classroom, he answered, “painting!”  A few days later I asked him the same question and the answer was drawing letters and numbers in the sand!

Welcome to Villa di Maria, Holly and Emil! We are so happy to have you here.

Photos provided by Holly Ohmes.

Black History Month 2020 – Events for the Week of February 17

People are trapped in history and history is trapped in them.James Baldwin

Each February we pay tribute to the generations of African Americans who’ve suffered, struggled and fought for the right to become citizens and to be treated humanely and fairly in the United States. This year also marks the 150th anniversary of the ratification of Fifteenth Amendment, which gave African American men the right to vote in 1870. While the right itself has at times not been enough to truly allow African Americans their voices, the ratification is a true and profound achievement.

Throughout February, those of us in the St. Louis region have many opportunities to recognize, honor and celebrate the achievements of African Americans who’ve played central roles in U.S. history with events at libraries, museums and other venues. Check back here each Monday this month for a list of those events for the coming week.

Coming up this week, February 17 – 23

And finally, St. Louisans have access any time of the year to the following museums and historical places to learn more about African American History:



MMUN Open Mic Night

Each year, our sixth-year students travel to New York to participate in Montessori Model United Nations (MMUN). Similar to the traditional Model UN that many of us might remember from high school, this program has been especially designed with Montessori principles in mind—it is a mixed-age experience designed to expand the students’ global consciousness with a focus on cooperation rather than competition.

Maria Montessori supported the work of the League of Nations and its successor the United Nations as a forum where peace could be created. She recognized the hope for peace lay in the education of children.MMUN website

Our students and their chaperones will leave in a few short weeks to learn about the United Nations’ world-wide peace-keeping and humanitarian efforts and act as delegates in a two-day simulation of a United Nations summit. They will present their papers on current global issues and work together to find solutions to real-world problems. And they will also have the chance to explore New York City!

They have been preparing all year with three morning meetings per week, research, fundraising, writing, editing, more research and more writing and editing. And they’ve been practicing their public speaking skills. Last night, they got in a dress-rehearsal of sorts at the MMUN Open Mic Night, a chance to shake off their jitters and present to a crowd of parents, staff, alumni and fellow students.

Our nine delegates will represent three nations at this year’s MMUN: The Republic of Angola, The Lao People’s Democratic Republic and New Zealand.

The three nations will sit on two committees: Economic and Social Counsil (ECOSOC) and Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) and their topics will be the advancement of women, deforestation, food insecurity and illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUU).

For last evening’s event, each delegate summarized her/his problem and proposed a solution in a carefully distilled one-minute opening speech.

Delegate from Angola on the Advancement of Women
Delegate from Laos on IUU Fishing
Delegate from Angola on Food Insecurity
Delegate from Angola on Deforestation
Delegate from Laos on Food Insecurity
Delegate from New Zealand on Deforestation
Delegate from Angola on IUU Fishing
Delegate from New Zealand on The Advancement of Women
Delegate from New Zealand on Food Insecurity and IUU Fishing

These incredible young people were commanding, poised, eloquent and inspiring, and it is an honor to witness their hard work and dedication.

Thank you, delegates. Good luck (and have fun!) in New York City!