Marguerite de Angeli's Inspiring 'Bright April' on view in Germantown through Spring '24

BySteph Walton WPVI logo
Tuesday, July 25, 2023
Inspiring Bright April on view at Germantown Historical Society
Bright April, the first mainstream children's book to address racial prejudice, is being reexamined at the Germantown Historical Society.

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- When "Bright April" was published in 1946, it was the first mainstream children's book to address racial prejudice.

Tuomi Forrest, Executive Director of Historic Germantown, calls "Bright April" "a groundbreaking book."

"And it's really a coming-of-age story that treats very sensitive topics in a way that is understandable for children," says Forrest.

Now there's an exhibition titled, Inspiring "Bright April": Race and Class in 1940s Germantown, that tells the story behind author Marguerite de Angeli's book.

"For me as a child, it was reminiscent of my own family life," says Becky Birtha, a local children's book author and exhibition contributor.

She says back when she was growing up, it was not easy to find positive portrayals of Black children in children's literature.

The exhibition is taking place at the Germantown Historical Society, especially fitting since Germantown is the area the book happens to be set.

"It details the life of a young girl, April Bright, who's about to turn 10," says Forrest.

Birtha says that April is learning about and coming to terms with her identity as a Black person, as a Black child.

Barbara McDowell Dowdall did a lot of the work researching and bringing this exhibition together as the community curator of the project.

Dowdall says that the white author, de Angeli, did research that included "interviews with people in the community where she actually lived."

De Angeli's friendship with civil rights advocate Nellie Bright informed the book.

"Nellie was the principal of the Joseph E. Hill School," says Dowdall.

Forrest says these interviews with Bright helped de Angeli better understand her perspective and what it was like to grow up in a partially segregated Philadelphia.

Some of the talent that came out of the Joseph E. Hill School are highlighted.

"There's a lot of original material, as well as informative displays," says Forrest.

Artifacts that relate to the Bright family from the book help bring the story alive.

Forrest says seeing items, like what April might have worn as a Brownie in Girl Scouts, helps the readers to visualize her life in a different way.

"We still need those images," says Birtha.

She says de Angeli took on challenging issues in her books, which helped inspire her in terms of the kinds of books she wanted to write for children.

"It's really important not to forget where we've come from in order to know where we're going," says Birtha.

Inspiring Bright April: Race and Class in 1940s Germantown is on view now through the spring of 2024 at the Germantown Historical Society.

Inspiring Bright April: Race and Class in 1940s Germantown | Germantown Historical Society | Germantown Historical Society - Freedom's Backyard

Germantown Historical Society

5501 Germantown Ave., Philadelphia, PA 19144