It is hard to express my heartbreak, anger and confusion for George Floyd and his family. But this isn’t about me. This is about friends and neighbors who worry that their husbands, sons, and brothers will become a hashtag. Who are terrified that they will unknowingly hug them for the last time because someone didn’t see their humanity. As a bookworm and mama, my go-to arsenal includes loads of books. In this case, books that celebrate Black brothers and sisters’ talents as writers, illustrators and leaders. As a children’s librarian, this means doing my work to provide a list of great books from authors of color for older kids (and more).
Some of my go-to book sources for diverse children’s books:
- We Need Diverse Books An organization with a mission to promote minority authors and illustrators and promoting diverse characters in kids’ literature. I love their Read- Alike booklists. If your child loved the Percy Jackson series, they recommend similar books by minority authors!
- We Read Too An app for families that highlights diverse children’s books. I have this on my phone and use it regularly.
- Here Wee Read Connecticut based mom, Charnaie, has a passion for promoting diverse books and products to young families. Follow her on Insta, twitter, and everywhere in-between.
- The Brown Bookshelf works to magnify the voices of Black authors and illustrators for publishers, librarians, and readers.
This list is really focused at upper elementary, middle school and teen readers. From Young Adult books from black authors to perfect tween books that illuminate the reality of race in this country — this list has a lot. This, of course, means that you can read them too. Please share with me and the world some of your favorites!
Some books are windows and some are mirrors…
Here’s the thing. I can only imagine what life is like for my daughter’s friends who are Black (or of any marginalized community). And there is the problem- I can ONLY imagine it but I shouldn’t have to at all. But I inch toward understanding by reading powerful and often hard stories from gifted authors. They offer me a window into someone else’s reality. I am so grateful for that gift of increased awareness these authors have brought to me. Diverse Children’s books can change the way our children see the world — for the better.
I recommend this one to a lot of people, including readers who want a The Hate You Give read-alike for slightly younger readers. Set in the authors native neighborhood of South Side Chicago, this is the story of T”Shawn and his family. Their lives started crumbling when his dad died of cancer and his brother goes to prison for gang violence. But T’Shawn finds a passion that helps him hold on through the anger, fear and confusion. Please read it. Grades 4-7
This graphic novel has been receiving a lot of well-deserved attention since its 2019 publication. Jordan only wants to be an artist and has real talent. But his mother sends him across town to an elite private school to have more “opportunity”. This captivatingly illustrated graphic novel, shares Jordan’s life as he navigates between his home in Washington Heights and the prep school. We feel Jordan’s struggle as he tries to navigate and code switch between these two worlds, only a few blocks apart. Grades 4+
The first Christmas after his brother was killed, Lolly receives an unexpected gift: two huge bags of legos. These aren’t just any legos, though. These legos become Lolly’s place to focus his anger, fear, and loss. These legos help him process what to do next. Join his brother’s gang who offer protection? Head to the community center? Stay in the neighborhood he’s called home forever? Or dream of something even bigger? Written by a filmmaker and youth advocate, this book jumps off the page at you immediately. Grades 6+
Two gifted authors: one Black and one White. This dynamic duo teamed up to write a power-punch about police brutality. When a Black boy walks into a convenience store to get a snack, he doesn’t walk out. He is brutally beaten by a police officer. Imagine you are the witness of that brutality, you are White. The boy is your teammate. The police officer is your godfather who essentially raised you. Told in alternating points of view, this is gut-wrenching, raw and inspiring rollercoaster of a read. Do. Not. Miss it. Grades 6+
If you haven’t followed the work of Bryan Stevenson and his Justice Project yet, start here. Bryan Stevenson has devoted his life and career to providing legal aid to the most vulnerable in our justice system. All too often his clients are African Americans. This is a non-fiction deep dive into the racism imbedded in our justice system. You and your teens will leave this book with eyes wide open! Grades 7+
Most librarians, book critics, and readers agree that this book got buried under the hype of The Hate U Give. Some even think it is better! Justyce has done everything “right”: Honors student, community helper, the kid anyone would love to have. When he ends up in handcuffs for no clear reason, he turns to the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to help make sense of his unjust world. Unfortunately, this is no fairy tale and things don’t magically improve. Grades 7+
Grab the tissues. Genesis has a list of 96 things she hates about herself. (I told you to grab the tissues) On that list: the color of her skin, constantly getting evicted from her home, people calling her “at-risk”. While she likes her newest school and is even making a few friends, her list keeps growing. Genesis needs to decide if she wants to keep on going or make it all end. Grades 7+
Celebrating Black Authors
In the spirit of lifting up the incredible and woefully underrepresented African American talent, I share some truly great stories by dazzlingly talented writers for older youth and teens. These Young Adult books from Black authors will stick with you and your teens for a very long time.
Ancient kingdoms, suppressed magic, good vs. evil, hidden temples, powerful women, all steeped in a powerful brew of West African culture? Yes please! This makes an incredible audiobook too. I rarely read sequels but this one got me hooked. I couldn’t wait to hear what happens in the Kingdom of Orisha next. Grades 7+
Written in verse by one of the most dynamic poets of our time, this story of twins Josh and Jason will appeal to all readers. Follow their story- on and off the court- as they navigate all those complicated Tween issues while trying to create their own dreams. You will fall in love with the whole family and can feel the powerful verse pumping on each page Grades 4+
Have mystery-lover in your house? This puzzle-solving mystery hits the mark. Candace and her BFF, Brandon, set off to solve the mystery of a decades old injustice that may have chased her grandmother out of town in disgrace AND might just earn them the Parker fortune. Great for fans of the Westing Game or Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library. Grades 4+
This space fantasy captures the imagination from the first words. Shoot off the stars with Binti- a Himba girl leaving her world to follow her dreams as she entered the prestigious Oomza University. En route, she realizes how alone she really is as few people will talk to her and some make her life miserable because of her Himba culture. When her journey is threatened, though, it is Binti alone who can save the day. Also read Okorafor’s Akata Witch series for an amazing fantasy. Grades 6+
Another talented poet and advocate of our time, Jason Reynolds’ Ghost is the first story in a series about 4 teammates on the track team. Ghost (née Castle Crenshaw) has been running a long time- ever since he had to run away from his abusive father and dangerous neighborhood. Now the track team is his family but of course NO family is easy. Grades 4+
I love retellings, especially in modern times. This remix of Pride and Prejudice set in Brooklyn is no different. Folks are complaining about that the people in the fancy new house will change their neighborhood. But when the Darcy’s move in, Zuri and her four rowdy sisters discover that change isn’t always bad. Grades 8+
All links are to Indiebound.org.
For more book lists by children’s librarian Mollie, read on.