We Need Diverse Books

  •  Juneteenth

    Happy Juneteenth! 155 years ago today, Union soldiers reached Galveston, Texas, with the news that the Civil War and legal slavery in America were over. Though Lincoln had delivered the Emancipation Proclamation more than two years earlier, enslaved people throughout the south remained had remained unaware of that fact, since slaveholders weren’t eager to spread the word.

    Since 1980, Juneteenth has been celebrated as a Texas state holiday thanks to the efforts of State Legislator Al Edwards, who has also campaigned for national observance of the holiday. In recent years, Juneteenth has been increasingly observed across the country, and popular momentum has built urging Congress to name it a national holiday.

    It’s a complicated day to celebrate, since many white southerners continued to keep Black people cut off from the news and in bondage long after Juneteenth, but then no perfect, unequivocally successful day of emancipation ever really happened for Black Americans. The history of fighting for civil rights in America is long, complicated, often ugly, and filled with setbacks as well as triumphs.

    It’s also a history that’s far from over.

    For that reason, this Juneteenth, I’d encourage us all to learn a more complete and painful history of the United States than we may have been taught growing up. In many American history classes, we tend to focus on the highlight reel – the Emancipation Proclamation, the passage of the 13th amendment, Martin Luther King’s march on Washington, the civil rights legislation of the 1950s and 1960s. Though those were triumphant moments of real progress, if we focus on only them, we lose sight of the ways that Anti-Black racism is excused, ignored, reshaped, hidden, and thus allowed to flourish in individual's hearts and even in modern laws, policies, and institutions.

    With that in mind, here are a few books that are helping me to fill in some gaps in my own understanding of American history:

    6.19 StampedSTAMPED FROM THE BEGINNING
    By Ibram X. Kendi
    (2017)

    If you only make time for one book from this list, start with this one. As the subtitle, "The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America," suggests, historian Ibram X. Kendi does a masterful job of tracing anti-Black thought in American history, beginning with the words of Puritan thinkers and working all the way through to modern life. There is also a young adult version if you’d like to help the teens in your life understand racism and antiracism in ways that are accessible to them.

     

    6.19 Stony the RoadSTONY THE ROAD
    By Henry Louis Gates Jr.
    (2019)

    In Stony the Road, Henry Louis Gates, a historian you might know from PBS’s Finding Your Roots, fills in the gaps most of us have in our knowledge of history on the century of racist and antiracist thought and activism in the century between emancipation in the 1960s and the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

     

    6.19 Why We Cant WaitWHY WE CAN’T WAIT
    By Martin Luther King Jr.
    (1964)

    You can't go wrong with a primary source, so it's worth it to learn who Martin Luther King Jr. was through his own words. Following the publication of Letter From a Birmingham Jail (also included in this collection) and national attention for the Birmingham campaign, America’s most famous, but often misrepresented civil rights activist wrote this book to clarify the history, beliefs, and nonviolent resistance methods behind the movement.

     

    6.19 The New Jim CrowTHE NEW JIM CROW
    By Michelle Alexander
    (2012)

    Civil rights lawyer and legal scholar Michelle Alexander traces the rise and effects of mass incarceration of Black men over the past 50 years and examines the racially charged reasoning of the Republican and Democratic politicians alike who enacted the War on Drugs and the War on Crime. While this book traces the broader history, for a more personal account filled with individual stories, read Bryan Stevenson’s beautiful book JUST MERCY or watch the recent film adaptation, which is also excellent (there's a big of a wait for a library copy, but it's also currently free to rent on multiple streaming platforms).

     

    6.19 White RageWHITE RAGE
    By Carol Anderson
    (2017)

    The status of Black people in America is not just a Black person’s problem, and the responsibility to fix it should not be placed on Black shoulders. In this work, historian Carol Anderson discuss the backlash, legal and social, from angry white Americans that has followed every major civil rights gain, and the way that anger has shaped policy and institutions that still exist today.

     

    A celebration of Juneteenth shouldn’t end with understanding history, however. If you’re interested in learning about how to be an anti-racist today, this list of books has helped me understand and may help you too. There are also countless other books to help us understand Black American experiences. We can read modern classic novels by Toni Morrison, Colson Whitehead, Alice Walker, Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin, Maya Angelou, and more. We can read memoirs by Ta-Nehisi Coates, Roxane Gay, Michelle Obama, Jacqueline Woodson, and others.

    And don't forget to include books in your favorite genre from a Black perspective. Like romance? Try a book by Jasmine Guillory or Talia Hibbert. Love YA fantasy with a bit of romance mixed in? Don’t miss Tomi Adeyemi’s books, which have been massive hits, and check out Roseanne A. Brown and Dhonielle Clayton’s books too. Do you devour sci-fi and epic fantasy? You’ve got to give Octavia E. Butler and N.K. Jemison a try. Love a funny memoir? Pick up The Last Black Unicorn or We Are Never Meeting in Real Life.

    In the past few weeks, we’ve had more requests than ever before for books by Black authors about Black American lives, and we’ll keep doing what we can to help provide the resources you’re looking for. If there’s anything you see missing in our collection, please fill out a purchase suggestion form, and we’ll do our best to add it.

     
  • Diversity

    What is your favorite book?

    As a librarian, I get asked this all the time. It’s a tough question, I know. And it’s okay to have more than one answer! But indulge me for a moment, and think of a favorite book or two.

    Why are these books our favorites? What is it about them that makes us like them?

    Often, I enjoy books I can relate to. It doesn’t have to be an exact replica of my life -- in fact, that might be pretty boring. But there’s a special something when I can relate to the characters, locations, and events in a book. The similarities I have with Harry Potter, for example, help me enjoy his adventures in magic.

    But some groups of people are not represented proportionately in literature. For example, the multicultural publisher Lee and Low Books released an infographic in May of 2018 based on statistics provided by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center. Despite the fact that 37% of the United States’ population are people of color (other races besides white), only 10% of children’s books published since 1994 have authors, characters, or content who are Native or people of color.

    Diversity Gap in Childrens Books

    Why are so many voices silenced or ignored in literature? There may not be clear answers, but everyone deserves to have their voice heard and to see themselves in the pages of a book. Reluctant readers are more likely to become enthusiastic about reading when they can relate to the books they read.

    In her 1980 article titled “Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors,” Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop focuses on children of color who see the world through the “windows” of books they read; however, the world they see in literature is very different from the one they live in. Bishop said, “When children cannot find themselves reflected in the books they read, or when the images they see are distorted, negative, or laughable, they learn a powerful lesson about how they are devalued in the society of which they are a part.”1

    On the flip side of the coin, white children also suffer when they are kept from the nature of the world they live in by the underrepresentation of other races in literature. All can benefit from the richness of human diversity; after all, variety is the spice of life. Below is a list of books I personally have read that were written by or about people of color or people from multicultural backgrounds.

    This post is the first installment of Diverse Reads, a series that gathers books with diverse characters or authors: people who are LGBTQIA+, Native, people of color, gender diverse, people with disabilities, or ethnic, cultural, or religious minorities. I hope that these books help open a window for you into other worldviews.

    6.11 HoodooHOODOO 
    By Ronald L. Smith
    (2015)

    In 1930s Alabama, twelve-year-old Hoodoo Hatcher is the only member of his family who seems unable to practice folk magic, but when a mysterious man called the Stranger puts the entire town at risk from his black magic, Hoodoo must learn to conjure to defeat him. This book shows various elements of African-American culture that is often skimmed over or ignored, most notably folk magic.

     

    6.11 The ProposalTHE PROPOSAL 
    By Jasmine Guillory
    (2018)

    When freelance writer Nikole Paterson is unexpectedly proposed to at a Dodgers game, stranger Carlos Ibarra and his sister rescue her from the awkward situation and the prying camera crews. Nikole hooks up with Carlos for a casual relationship, but finds herself falling harder for him than she ever imagined. A superb example of representation (with a black main character, a Latino love interest, a black lesbian side character, and a Korean side character), this book showcases the racial melting pot of modern-day Los Angeles.

     

    6.11 Handas SurpriseHANDA’S SURPRISE 
    By Eileen Browne
    (1994)

    Handa carries seven delicious fruits to her friend Akeyo as a surprise. But thanks to some hungry animals she meets along the way, it's Handa who's in for a surprise! Giving an insight into Luo people of sub-Saharan Africa, this older work depicts the flora and fauna of an environment that may be foreign to many Western readers.

     

    6.11 Mango Abuela and MeMANGO, ABUELA, AND ME 
    By Meg Medina
    (2015)

    When Mia's abuela moves in with Mia and her parents in the city, Abuela can't read the English words in Mia's bedtime stories. While they cook, Mia helps her grandmother learn English. However, it is still hard for Abuela to learn the words she needs to tell Mia all her stories. But a colorful parrot named Mango might bring an unexpected solution to their communication problem. This book accurately portrays the cross-generational language barrier that often arises in Latinx immigrant families, like my own.

     

    6.11 The Rent CollectorTHE RENT COLLECTOR 
    By Camron Wright
    (2012)

    Sang Ly struggles to survive by picking through garbage in Cambodia's largest municipal dump. Under threat of eviction by an embittered old drunk who is charged with collecting rents from the poor of Stung Meanchey, Sang Ly embarks on a desperate journey to save her ailing son from a life of ignorance and poverty. This book shows a rare view of the extreme poverty rampant in contemporary Southeast Asia.

     

    6.11 Hair LoveHAIR LOVE 
    By Matthew A. Cherry
    (2019)

    A little girl's daddy steps in to help her arrange her curly, coiling, wild hair into styles that allow her to be her natural, beautiful self. This book highlights and extolls elements of Black culture that are often ignored or even treated derisively in mainstream media.

     

    1 Bishop, R. (1990). “Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors.” Ohio State University. Perspectives: Choosing and Using Books for the Classroom, 6(3).

     
  •  Diverse Reads Deaf Culture

    The value of written language is immense in any culture. But what if your culture doesn’t have a written system? In fact, about half of the world’s languages have no written form today. Deaf culture uses sign languages as their primary means of communication, but many members of Deaf culture don’t know sign language.

    No culture deserves to be neglected or underrepresented because of its written form (or lack thereof). It is especially important for children to learn about cultures different from their own, and to see their own minority cultures reflected back at them in literature. Below is a list of books that feature individuals from Deaf culture, with a focus on literature for children.

    This post is the fourth installment of Diverse Reads, a series that gathers books with diverse characters or authors: people who are LGBTQIA+, Native, people of color, gender diverse, people with disabilities, or ethnic, cultural, or religious minorities. I hope that these books help open a window for you into other worldviews. 

    11.20 Hello UniverseHELLO, UNIVERSE
    By Erin Entrada Kelly
    (2017)

    Valencia finds herself thrown together with her classmates on a summer day in this Newbery Medal-winning novel. Like many deaf and Hard of Hearing kids, Valencia doesn’t know any sign language, and she wears hearing aids that don’t work well with loud background noise. Her self-confidence and perseverance give readers someone to root for. 

     

    11.20 She Touched the WorldSHE TOUCHED THE WORLD 
    By Sally Hobart Alexander and Robert Alexander
    (2008)

    At age two, Laura Bridgman lost her sight, hearing, smell, and taste. At the country’s first school for the blind, Bridgman paved the way for future generations of children with disabilities, making possible important advances in the way they would be educated long before the likes of Louis Braille and Helen Keller. 

     

    11.20 Song for a WhaleSONG FOR A WHALE 
    By Lynne Kelly
    (2019)

    An amazing Deaf character named Iris lives in a world where her intelligence isn’t recognized in her home nor at her school. Her loneliness is reflected in her attempts to reach Blue 55, a whale who cannot communicate with its own kind. Iris and her Deaf grandmother communicate via sign language, which is especially rare in children’s literature. 

     

    11.20 WonderstruckWONDERSTRUCK 
    By Brian Selznick
    (2011)

    The stories of two deaf children who were born 50 years apart: Ben’s story is told in words, while Rose’s in pictures. This work is a unique attempt to track the changes to Deaf culture in America through stunning illustrations. 

     

    11.20 You Dont Know Everything Jilly PYOU DON’T KNOW EVERYTHING, JILLY P!
    By Alex Gino
    (2018)

    When her new baby sister is born deaf, Jilly makes an online connection with a fellow fantasy fan, who happens to be black and Deaf, and begins to learn about the many obstacles that exist in the world for people who are different from her.

     
  • LGBTQIA

    Have you ever felt different? Like you didn’t fit in? I have! I think most people have felt different at some point. Different isn’t a bad thing. But sometimes being different is hard.

    Sometimes people are mean to you if you’re different. Sometimes they say being different is bad. They might say things to make you wish you were like everyone else. You might feel ashamed or afraid of being different.

    You should never feel ashamed of being different. Pride is the opposite of shame: you feel good about who you are and what makes you different -- and special. I hope that one day, everyone can feel pride about who they are, and no one has to live in fear.

    Here are some books for children about people who might be different from you. You should talk about your thoughts and feelings with a parent or trusted adult.

    This post is a special children’s installment of Diverse Reads, a series that gathers books with diverse characters or authors: people who are LGBTQIA+, Native, people of color, gender diverse, people with disabilities, or ethnic, cultural, or religious minorities. I hope that these books help open a window for you into other worldviews.

    9.2 Rainbow a First Book of PrideRAINBOW: A FIRST BOOK OF PRIDE 
    By Michael Genhart
    (2019)

    Children from different kinds of families show the original meanings of the colors in the rainbow flag. Then they come together at a parade to share in a day when we are all united.

     

    9.2 Prince KnightPRINCE & KNIGHT 
    By Daniel Haack
    (2018)

    Once upon a time, there was a prince in line to take the throne. His parents set out to find him a kind and worthy bride. While they were away, a terrible dragon threatened their land! The prince hurried to save his kingdom and was met by a brave knight in a suit of brightly shining armor. Together they fought the dragon and discovered that special something the prince was looking for all along.

     

    9.2 Julian is a MermaidJULIÁN IS A MERMAID 
    By Jessica Love
    (2018)

    While riding the subway home from the pool with his abuela, Julián notices three women spectacularly dressed up. When he gets home, all he can think about is dressing up just like the ladies in his own fabulous mermaid costume. But what will Abuela think?

     

    9.2 Im Not a GirlI’M NOT A GIRL 
    By Maddox Lyons
    (2020)

    Nobody seems to understand that Hannah is not a girl. His parents ask why he won't wear the cute outfits they pick out, his friend thinks he must be a tomboy, and his teacher insists he should be proud to be a girl. But a birthday wish, a new word, and a stroke of courage might be just what Hannah needs to finally show the world who he really is.

     

    9.2 Plenty of HugsPLENTY OF HUGS 
    By Fran Manushkin
    (2020)

    Two mommies spend a sunny day with their toddler: on a bike ride, at the zoo, and finally back home. All along the way, there are “plenty of hugs for you and me.”

     
  • LGBTQIA 

    Have you ever felt different?

    I certainly have. I’m going out a limb here to say that I think most of us, if not all of us, have felt different at some point in our lives. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. They say that variety is the spice of life, and I firmly believe that can be true.

    But sometimes being different is hard.

    Imagine your difference from the norm resulted in insults and mean, unkind language. The society you live in teaches that your differences from everyone else are bad: shameful, unnatural, even disgusting. People will ask you to hide who you are so they don’t feel uncomfortable. Even if your family accepts you with your differences, there will almost certainly be relatives who don’t. You hear horrifying stories of people like you who have been physically attacked or even killed because of who they are.

    How would you react? You might try to hide your differences, or wish them away. Your life could quite easily be filled with shame and fear.

    There are countless LGBTQIA+ people who could tell their life story. While they are certainly not all the same, they do share a legacy of shame because of who we are. But many of us have learned pride and hope in the face of strife, and we have found a community that loves and accepts us.

    Hearing those stories enriches all of us -- whether we are LGBTQIA+ or not -- on our journey to finding who we are and embracing the rich diversity of our world.

    I long for the day where no one has to live in shame and fear and embarrassment like so many of us have. There is hope up ahead for all of us.

    Below is a list of books were written by or about LGBTQIA+ individuals. Also check out our adult and teen LGBTQ+ booklists.

    This post is the second installment of Diverse Reads, a series that gathers books with diverse characters or authors: people who are LGBTQIA+, Native, people of color, gender diverse, people with disabilities, or ethnic, cultural, or religious minorities. I hope that these books help open a window for you into other worldviews.  

    8.28 Bingo LoveBINGO LOVE 
    By Tee Franklin
    (2018)

    When Hazel Johnson and Mari McCray met at church bingo in 1963, it was love at first sight. Forced apart by their families and society, Hazel and Mari both married young men and had families. Decades later, now in their mid-'60s, Hazel and Mari reunite again at a church bingo hall. Realizing their love for each other is still alive, what these grandmothers do next takes absolute strength and courage

     

    8.28 We Are Totally NormalWE ARE TOTALLY NORMAL 
    By Rahul Kanakia
    (2020)

    Nandan's got a plan to make his junior year perfect, but hooking up with his friend Dave isn't part of it: especially because Nandan has never been into guys. Still, Nandan's willing to give a relationship with him a shot. But the more his anxiety grows about what his sexuality means for himself, his friends, and his social life, the more he wonders whether he can just take it all back. Is breaking up with Dave -- the only person who's ever really gotten him -- worth feeling 'normal' again?

     

    8.28 Lets Talk About LoveLET’S TALK ABOUT LOVE 
    By Claire Kann
    (2018)

    Alice has given up on finding love until love finds her. Her last girlfriend, Margo, ended things when Alice confessed she's asexual. Now Alice is sure she's done with dating… until she meets Takumi. She can't stop thinking about him or the romantic feelings she did not ask for. When her blissful summer takes an unexpected turn, Alice has to decide if she's willing to risk their friendship for a love that might not be reciprocated -- or even understood.

     

    8.28 AutoboyographyAUTOBOYOGRAPHY 
    By Christina Lauren
    (2017)

    High school senior Tanner Scott has hidden his bisexuality since his family moved to Utah, but he falls hard for Sebastian, a Mormon mentoring students in a writing seminar Tanner's best friend convinced him to take.

     

    8.28 Something Like GravitySOMETHING LIKE GRAVITY 
    By Amber Smith
    (2019)

    After coming out as transgender, Chris is still processing a frightening assault he survived the year before. Maia, grieving the loss of her older sister, is trying to find her place in the world. Falling in love the furthest thing on their minds. But what if it happened anyway?

     
  •  Diverse Reads Native Peoples

    The native peoples of North America have made significant contributions to the history, culture, and growth of the United States, and they continue to do so today. Yet they continue to face threats to their sovereignty, economic well-being, and languages. Some of the works below shed light on activism, culture, and history. Others expose the challenges of life on reservations or of establishing of an identity in the modern world. Broaden your perspective and learn more about the rich heritage of our continent’s indigenous peoples with these recent releases.

    This post is the fifth installment of Diverse Reads, a series that gathers books with diverse characters or authors: people who are LGBTQIA+, Native, people of color, gender diverse, people with disabilities, or ethnic, cultural, or religious minorities. I hope that these books help open a window for you into other worldviews. 

    12.11 There ThereTHERE THERE 
    By Tommy Orange
    (2018)

    This novel follows twelve characters from Native communities: all travelling to the Big Oakland Powwow, and all of them connected in ways they may not yet realize. Their voices combine to tell the plight of the urban Native American, showing that indigenous peoples are not a monolith, not a stereotype, and not neatly gathered together under a single identity, showing an America that many have never seen before. 

     

    12.11 Trail of LightningTRAIL OF LIGHTNING 
    By Rebecca Roanhorse
    (2018)

    With most of the world drowned beneath the sudden rising waters of a climate apocalypse, the Navajo Nation is reborn as Dinétah. When a small-town girl goes missing, a supernaturally gifted monster hunter joins forces with an unconventional medicine man to find her. The pair unravels clues from ancient legends, trades favors with tricksters, and battles against dark witchcraft in a world of deteriorating technology. 

     

    12.11 Where the Dead Sit TalkingWHERE THE DEAD SIT TALKING 
    By Brandon Hobson
    (2018)

    Set in rural Oklahoma in the late 1980s, this coming-of-age story features a fifteen-year-old Cherokee boy names Sequoyah. With his single mother in jail, Sequoyah enters foster care, scarred by his unstable upbringing and keeping his emotions deep below the surface. He connects with another Native foster child, and they bond over their common pasts. But the precariousness of their lives and the pain of the past threatens to tear them both apart. 

     

    12.11 WherasWHEREAS 
    By Layli Long Soldier
    (2017)

    This strident, brilliant collection of poetry boldly confronts the almost threatening language that the United States government has used in its responses, treaties, and apologies to Native American peoples and tribes. As a citizen of both the United States and the Oglala Sioux Tribe of Oglala Lakota Nation, Long Soldier discusses the predicament of dual citizenship within her national affiliations and the immense strain this places on everyday life. 

     

    12.11 Winter CountsWINTER COUNTS 
    By David Heska Wanbli Weiden
    (2020)

    On a South Dakota reservation, Virgil Wounded Horse delivers punishment when justice is denied by the American legal system or the tribal council. When heroin makes its way to the reservation and Virgil’s own family, his determination to put an end to it uncovers uncomfortable truths about money and power within the tribal council. Virgil must face his own demons and reclaim his Native identity, realizing the cost of being a Native American in the 21st century.

     
  • Neurodiversity

    Not all apples are the same.

    Some are red, some are green, some are yellow, and some have multiple colors. Some are sweet, some are tart, some are juicy, some are snappy. Some are best for baking, others for juicing, and still others for salads or snacking. Different varieties bloom at different points in the year, and apples come in all sizes. It would be ridiculous to say that an apple is defective or abnormal just because it isn’t a Granny Smith; not all apples are the same.

    And not all brains are the same.

    We view the world from different points of view, influenced by our genetics and our environment. Some of the differences in human brains have special names like autism and dyslexia. But these differences aren’t abnormalities or defects. They’re simply variations of the human brain; not all brains are the same.

    Representation in literature helps readers feel valued and appreciated in their community. It’s especially critical that we help our children learn this concept and embrace everyone. Below is a list of books that were written recently by or about neurodiverse individuals, with a special emphasis given to children’s literature.

    This post is the third installment of Diverse Reads, a series that gathers books with diverse characters or authors: people who are LGBTQIA+, Native, people of color, gender diverse, people with disabilities, or ethnic, cultural, or religious minorities. I hope that these books help open a window for you into other worldviews.

    11.13 A Friend for HenryA FRIEND FOR HENRY 
    By Jenn Bailey
    (2019)

    Henry appreciates people who are quiet, share his sense of orderliness, and won’t invade his personal space. He would like to find a friend at school, but making friends can be difficult. Despite his efforts that are sometimes misinterpreted, Henry keeps trying and finds a friend he can play with.

     

    11.13 Not If I Can Help ItNOT IF I CAN HELP IT 
    By Carolyn Mackler
    (2019)

    Eleven-year-old Willa tries to keep her sensory processing disorder hidden from her friends at school. With her large network of adult support, she gradually gains the confidences to be unapologetically herself.

     

    11.13 The Truth as Told to Mason ButtleTHE TRUTH AS TOLD BY MASON BUTTLE 
    By Leslie Connor
    (2018)

    Mason, a seventh-grade boy with severe dyslexia, survives bullying and finds a way to finally reveal the truth about what happened the day his best friend died.

     

    11.13 State of GraceTHE STATE OF GRACE 
    By Rachael Lucas
    (2018)

    Grace, a 15-year-old with Asperger’s, does her best to avoid attention of any kind. But when Gabe kisses her at a party, nothing is quite the same. Grace honestly articulates her meltdowns and gaffes in this first-person narrative.

     

    11.13 The Bride TestTHE BRIDE TEST 
    By Helen Hoang
    (2019)

    Khai Diep processes emotions differently because of his autism. When he steadfastly avoids relationships, his mother takes matters into her own hands and returns to Vietnam to find him the perfect bride.

     
  • Own Voices 

    Over the last few years, I’ve set a personal reading goal to read more #ownvoices stories. This hashtag movement, started on Twitter, is used “to recommend kidlit about diverse characters written by authors from that same diverse group.” As a children’s librarian, I love to remind parents that reading fosters empathy and boosts emotional intelligence. Reading, especially reading stories about characters different from ourselves, helps us become compassionate people who understand others better. 

    Now, as much as ever, it is important to find books that provide a window into a world that is different than our own. In a predominately white community, like our own, they can be an especially important gateway to empathy. As you have discussions with your children about racism, turn to #ownvoices stories like these, from Black authors, that encourage anti-racism and teach readers (of all ages) compassion. 

    6.8 Ghost BoysGHOST BOYS
    By Jewell Parker Rhodes
    (2018) 

    Any book by Jewell Parker Rhodes could easily fit on this list, but GHOST BOYS is especially timely. This emotionally-charged book tells the story of 12-year-old Jerome from Chicago. At the beginning of the book, Jerome is playing with a toy gun in an empty lot when he is shot and killed by a white police officer. As a ghost, Jerome meets the ghosts of other boys whose lives were cut short by bigotry and racism, including Trayvon Martin and Emmett Till.

    This book is a visceral representation of the Black Lives Matter movement, and though I first read it almost two years ago, it has stuck with me. The story, inspired by the real-life death of Tamir Rice, handles themes of implicit bias and police brutality in a direct and honest way. This thoughtful book is a great way to start discussions with middle grade readers. 

     

    6.8 A Good Kind of TroubleA GOOD KIND OF TROUBLE
    By Lisa Moore Ramée
    (2019)

    Shayla would be happy for things to stay the same in middle school, but as soon as school starts she and her diverse group of friends are pulled in different directions and Shay’s older sister criticizes her for not spending more time with the other black kids at school.  After attending a protest over the wrongful shooting of a black man by a white police officer, Shay decides to wear an armband to school to speak up for Black Lives Matter – in violation of her school dress code. Though Shay is shy by nature and usually hesitant to speak up, she realizes that standing up for things that are important to her matters more than following the rules. In her debut novel, Lisa Moore Ramée touches on a lot of powerful subjects through the eyes of a believable, young narrator.  This book is perfect for readers who aren’t quite ready for THE HATE U GIVE

     

    6.8 New KidNEW KID 
    By Jerry Craft
    (2019)

    All Jordan Banks wants is to draw cartoons in his sketchbook and go to an arts school -- instead, his parents insist he attend the prestigious Riverdale Academy Day School. This means that Jordan has to ride a bus from his apartment in Washington Heights all the way to R.A.D. where he is one of a handful of black students and where his homeroom teacher keeps calling the black students by the wrong name -- because she can’t tell them apart. This book, the first graphic novel to win a Newbery award, deals very realistically with the microaggressions and overt racism that students face everyday in school. Likable, three-dimensional characters bring this story to life. This is a humorous and engaging graphic novel, but one that opens the doors to deeper discussion. 

     

    6.8 Genesis Begins AgainGENESIS BEGINS AGAIN 
    By Alicia D. Williams
    (2019)

    This is the powerful story of Genesis Anderson – a middle schooler who keeps a list of the 96 reasons she hates herself, believing that if only she was light-skinned with “good hair” then her life would be easier. When her family is evicted (again), Genesis moves to a new neighborhood and finds a way to navigate the pain she carries by singing.  This is a book that sensitively deals with very heavy subjects in an age-appropriate way. Genesis’ hateful self-image is a shocking reminder of the hate we often project onto others. Alicia D. Williams, in one of the most decorated children’s books of 2019, approaches Genesis’ story with a “day in the life” lens that gives readers an opportunity to appreciate experiences that may be different than their own. 

     

    6.8 From the Desk of Zoe WashingtonFROM THE DESK OF ZOE WASHINGTON
    By Janae Marks
    (2020)

    On her 12th birthday, Zoe Washington receives a surprise letter from Marcus – her biological father who’s been imprisoned for murder since before Zoe was born. Against her mother and stepfather’s wishes, Zoe secretly begins a correspondence with Marcus with the help of her maternal grandmother. As Zoe gets to know Marcus, he proclaims his innocence which prompts Zoe to learn about inequality in the criminal justice system, and how, because of systemic racism, black people like her and Marcus are more likely to be wrongfully convicted. Another incredible debut novel that will facilitate conversations about racial profiling with middle grade readers.

     
  • Own Voices

    It is never too late or too early to have conversations with your children about racism, diversity, and inclusivity. If your kids are older, then you already know that they are eager for answers – especially as they are exposed to information they may find hard to process. Having open and honest discussions with your children about racism will encourage them to come to you with questions and worries. 

    Here are more recommendations of #ownvoices stories from Black authors to help foster those conversations in your family. And, by reading stories that center Black characters, you can fight against racial bias in the media your family consumes. Reading stories that feature complex Black characters can help confront harmful racial stereotypes. 

    7.6 The Only Black Girls in TownTHE ONLY BLACK GIRLS IN TOWN
    By Brandy Colbert
    (2020) 

    Brandy Colbert, best known for her award-winning YA novels, makes her Middle Grade debut with this story about two girls who become fast friends in their quiet California beach town. Alberta is used to being the only Black girl in town, but she is thrilled when her dads bring home the news that a Black family with a daughter her same age is moving in across the street. As a goth from Brooklyn, Edie is pretty different from Alberta, but the two become friends while bonding over shifting family dynamics, microaggressions at school and middle school mean girls hurling racist taunts. Their bond is strengthened when they find some mysterious old journals in Edie’s attic and work together to uncover a major secret. 

    This friendship story centers two well-characterized Black girls in a way that is realistic and wholly welcome. And, the added mystery of the old journals is able to introduce events central to Black history in a way that transcends time. 

     

    7.6 Just South of HomeJUST SOUTH OF HOME
    By Karen Strong
    (2019) 

    Sarah is expecting the worst when she finds out her cousin Janie is being sent from Chicago to spend the summer in Sarah’s rural Georgia hometown. Sarah wanted to spend the summer studying astronomy and bossing around her younger brother, not dealing with Janie and her proclivity for shoplifting. Things go from bad to worse when Janie steals a necklace from the ruins of Creek Church, an old church burned down by the Ku Klux Klan, and accidentally awakens the restless spirits buried there. The three kids, along with their friend Jasper, must help their town acknowledge it’s unsettling and racist history to allow these ghosts, called haints, to rest. 

    This ghost story is just the right amount of spooky while helping readers understand how ignoring a painful past can come back to haunt us.  

     

    7.6 The Parker InheritanceTHE PARKER INHERITANCE
    By Varian Johnson
    (2018) 

    After her parent’s divorce, Candice and her mother are spending the summer at her late grandmother’s home in Lambert, South Carolina. While digging around her grandmother’s old things, she finds a letter that offers a hint to why her grandmother, as city-manager, tore up the town’s tennis courts in pursuit of buried treasure – ultimately losing her job. Now Candice, with her bookish neighbor Brandon, is on a quest to find the treasure, restore her grandmother’s reputation, and uncover a decades-old mystery that includes acts of racial violence against a Black family that threatened the status quo. 

    This is a perfect mystery for any reader who loved THE WESTING GAME and gives compelling arguments against standing by and doing nothing. This Coretta Scott King honor book is a satisfying exploration of racism that gives young readers a lot to discuss about injustice. 

     

    7.6 So DoneSO DONE
    By Paula Chase
    (2018) 

    After a summer apart, Tai is excited for her best friend Jamila to return from her aunt’s house in the suburbs. Tai and Mila have been inseparable since they were toddlers, but lately Mila has been acting weird. And though Mila is happy to be home with her dad and brothers, she sort of wishes her dad would send her to live in the suburbs forever like her older sister – that way she wouldn’t have to stress about her dance audition for the new Talented and Gifted Program or about accidentally revealing her secret to someone. Especially to Tae. 

    Told in dual-perspective with alternating chapters Tai and Mila come to life in a way that reminds readers that we don’t usually know the whole story. This is a brave book that doesn’t shy away from real issues that worry many young people. But this #ownvoices story (and its follow-up DOUGH BOYS provides a window into a very different world. Perfect for fans of Jason Reynolds or Angie Thomas. 

     

    7.6 What LaneWHAT LANE?
    By Torrey Maldonado
    (2020) 

    Stephen has always thought of himself as “mixed” – but it hasn’t really mattered that much before. But recently, Stephen feels caught between two lanes and then he starts to notice that some people treat him differently than his white friends. Then, Stephen discovers the Black Lives Matter movement at school, and begins to realize the racism he experiences everyday in interactions with strangers, shopkeepers, or his best friend Dan’s racist cousin Chad. Stephen does his part to make his classmates aware of injustices Black people face everyday while trying to avoid being cornered into one lane. 

    This slim novel is at times hopeful and heartbreaking. As a white reader, this book was eye-opening – following along with a biracial boy as he comes to the realization that people will hate him because of the color of his skin and that hate can bring dire consequences. This book is a great conversation starter about racial profiling, police violence against Black people and allyship – through the eyes of a brave, young protagonist.

     
  • Little Girls Holding Hands

    It is so important for young readers to see themselves and their experiences represented in the books they read. But it is just as important for children to read about experiences of people who are different from them. Reading diversely can help readers understand different cultures and challenge their own racial biases. 

    Still, no one said that these conversations are easy. In our community, many of us are fortunate that we don’t need to think about how our race affects how people see us. It’s easy to want to keep young children innocent from the uglier realities of the world, but often innocence makes children susceptible to misinformation. If you’re struggling to initiate discussions about racism and hate with your children, know that books and media can help. Books can make difficult conversations feel less threatening and are a good way to naturally bring up issues like race and diversity. Here are our recommendations from Black authors to help facilitate those conversations. 

    10.2 SulweSULWE
    By Lupita Nyong’o
    Illustrated by Vashti Harrison
    (2019) 

    Sulwe, whose name means star, has skin the color of midnight. She has the darkest skin in her family and the darkest skin of anyone in her school. She longs to be light and bright like her sister and mother and does everything she can think of to lighten her skin until her mother, and a magical journey into the midnight sky help her see her own brightness. Academy Award winning actress Lupita Nyong’o handles racism and colorism in a picture book begging to be a bedtime read aloud. This book can help facilitate important conversations about systemic racism and how it affects the self-worth of others. 

     

    10.2 Going Down Home with DaddyGOING DOWN HOME WITH DADDY
    By Kelly Starling Lyons
    Illustrated by Daniel Minter
    (2019) 

    Alan is excited for his family reunion and the chance to see his cousins and great-grandmother, but he’s also hesitant because he knows he’ll have to find a way to contribute to the family celebration. As he spends time with his family and appreciates their property and crops that they own, he realizes that the best tribute he can offer his family is to celebrate their heritage. Gorgeous Caldecott Honor winning illustrations enrich this story about African American history. 

     

    10.2 The Day You BeginTHE DAY YOU BEGIN 
    By Jacqueline Woodson
    Illustrated by Rafael Lopez
    (2018) 

    When a new student, an immigrant from Venezuela, joins Angelina’s class she is keen to show him that he is not the only one who feels like an outsider. Jacqueline Woodson’s poetry reflects the apprehension that kids feel on the first day of school and the joy of a new friendship and is matched by big, bright illustrations filled with flowers and swirling vinery. At the center of the book, Angelina finally sees value in the places she’s visited via books and a rich imagination. This is a great back-to-school book, and a non-didactic message about being kind to classmates who may look or act differently than you. 

     

    10.2 I Am EnoughI AM ENOUGH 
    By Grace Byers
    Illustrated by Keturah A. Bobo
    (2018) 

    The simple text of this self-affirming picture book begs to be read over and over. The message here is clear and straightforward – no matter who you are or what you look like, you are enough. This book focuses on young girls of every color being celebrated just for being themselves – and insists that what makes girls beautiful is how they are different. This book belongs in the hands of all young readers, but it is an especially good conversation starter for talking about racism. 

     

    10.2 Nana AkuaNANA AKUA GOES TO SCHOOL
    By Tricia Elam Walker
    Illustrated by April Harrison
    (2020) 

    Zura loves her grandma, Nana Akua, more than anyone in the whole universe. But she is still not excited to bring her grandmother to school for Grandparents Day. She worries that her classmates or their grandparents might laugh at the marks on Nana Akua’s face – placed there when she was a child to designate her tribal family according to Ghanaian tradition. Nana Akua handles it in stride, explaining to Zura’s classmates the importance of the symbols she wears on her face and inviting the kids and grandparents to choose their own symbols. This wonderfully inclusive book is a bright and heartwarming story of heritage and inclusion. Zura’s diverse classmates are welcoming of Nana Akua’s culture and eager to learn more for themselves – a good model for kids learning to celebrate differences.

     
  • Little Girls Holding Hands

    If you’re wondering whether your child is old enough to talk about diversity, equality, and racism -- they probably are. Little kids are keen observers and will start to notice and point out differences in people they see around them at a younger age than you might think. As a parent, you can encourage your children to recognize and celebrate differences in others and let them know that they can ask you questions. 

    Encouraging children to celebrate diversity can start at home, by choosing books written by Black authors featuring Black characters in lots of different settings. It is important for children to be exposed to a wide range of people, experiences, and cultures, and, while every family will handle this topic in their own way, the earlier families start having conversations about race the better. Here are books to help you do just that. 

    9.23 The UndefeatedTHE UNDEFEATED
    By Kwame Alexander
    Illustrated by Kadir Nelson
    (2019) 

    This powerful picture book is an anthem to the courage, strength and triumph of Black Americans throughout history. This evocative book is a celebration of how far we have come and a reminder of how far we still have left to go. This powerful text is matched with gorgeous illustrations against stark white pages. This book was the recipient of the 2020 Caldecott and Coretta Scott King Illustrator Awards as well as a Newbery honoree.   

     

    9.23 Magnificent Homespun BrownMAGNIFICENT HOMESPUN BROWN
    By Samara Cole Doyon
    Illustrated by Kaylani Juanita
    (2020) 

    A celebration of the color brown – in all of its many expressions. Never has the color brown seemed more multi-faceted than to hear it described as feathery, amber, radiant, cozy, and thundering. This book is a celebration of inclusivity with illustrations showing girls with a variety of families, and with all shades of brown skin. This celebratory book is filled with expressive, poetic text well-suited for a quiet lap-time read aloud and is a must read for how it makes ordinary things seem magical. 

     

    9.23 Crown An OdeCROWN: AN ODE TO THE FRESH CUT
    By Derrick Barnes
    Illustrated by Gordon C. James
    (2017) 

    One of the most celebrated books of 2017, this book was a Newbery, Caldecott, and Coretta Scott King honoree for both the text and illustrations. This book portrays a significant moment for a young black boy – visiting the barbershop to have his hair cut. As he sits in his barbershop throne, he is transformed and imbued with self-esteem, self-pride, and all the confidence a fresh cut gives you. For Black boys, this book is an affirmation of their importance. But all readers will benefit from the visual splendor of this triumphant book.

     

    9.23 You MatterYOU MATTER
    By Christian Robinson
    (2020) 

    An affirmation that all people, especially children, should hear but too few do. “You matter” is a quiet reminder and a rallying cry in this new picture book that makes use of bright, colorful, wonderfully inclusive cut-paper illustrations -- characteristic of Christian Robinson’s work. Told from the perspective of lots of different people and creatures, the very simple text shows how humanity is connected now, throughout history, and into the future. This is a book that is both simple and sophisticated and will provide an easy opportunity to talk about race, diversity, and the importance of saying “Black Lives Matter” with your children. 

     

    9.23 Black is a Rainbow ColorBLACK IS A RAINBOW COLOR 
    By Angela Joy
    Illustrated by Ekua Holmes
    (2020) 

    This uplifting book explores what it means to be Black for a child. A young Black girl, realizes that though there is no black in the rainbow, being Black is its own rainbow filled with people with different background and lived experiences.  Like other books on this list, this story is directed to young readers and is a beautiful celebration of Black culture – sharing the poetry, music, and art of Black Americans and acting as an introduction to Black history as well. The incomparable Ekua Holmes uses stained-glass inspired art featuring Black figures with all shades of Black skin to support Angela Joy’s debut book for children. 

     
  • Antiracism 2

    We certainly are in a season of change, especially when it comes to racial equality, social justice, and how we connect with one another. The news is filled with powerful images of people marching, powerful voices leading people to new ideas, and powerful questions that might shake us to our core. Maybe you are wondering how to educate yourselves so you can understand #BLACK LIVES MATTER (BLM) and other groups marching for change.

    There are some great resources from the library you can use as a place to start. They're aimed at teens, but are great reads for adults, too.

    NONFICTION

    7.30 StampedSTAMPED: RACISM, ANTIRACISM, AND YOU
    By Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi
    (2020)

    Reynolds and Kendi explore how racist ideas are part of our country. Those ideas have been used to gain and keep power away from black people. In order to have an antiracist America, the authors argue that we must acknowledge that truth. Not only do the authors give great information about racism in America, they give active steps that can be used to discredit racist ideas.

     

    7.30 We Are Not Yet EqualWE ARE NOT YET EQUAL: UNDERSTANDING OUR RACIAL DIVIDE
    By Carol Anderson
    (2018)

    Dr. Carol Anderson explores the myths of the easy, straight line of progress toward Black equality. She talks about five tipping points in history where the United States could have become more equal, but it did not because of racist political maneuvering meant to limit that progress. Those points include the end of the Civil War, The Great Migration, Brown v. Board of Education, Civil Rights Act of 1964, The War on Drugs, and Barak Obama being elected.  

     

    FICTION

    7.30 The Hate U GiveTHE HATE U GIVE
    By Angie Thomas 
    (2017)

    Starr Carter is catapulted into a life of activism after seeing her friend Kahlil shot by police. Both the police and the local drug lord intimidate Starr and try to find out what really happened the night her friend was shot. This is a powerful page turner, filled with Starr’s disillusionment and anguish at the death of her friend, but also the hope that the movement will bring about change. This is a must-read if you want to understand BLM better.

     

    7.30 Dear MartinDEAR MARTIN
    By Nic Stone
    2017

    Justyce McAllister just wants to go to college. But his life is pulled in opposite directions by race relations in his neighborhood and in the country. He finds peace as he writes letters to the late Martin Luther King Jr. This is a character driven, issue-oriented story that shows Justyce’s struggle to face the racism in his life. The narrative is fast paced and thought provoking.

     

    7.30 SlaySLAY
    By Brittany Morris
    (2019)

    Kierra is 17 year old honor student who also likes to play a multiplayer online role-playing game Slay that honors Black culture. Her two worlds are fine until they begin to overlap and collide, revealing cracks of which she wasn’t aware.  This story is not only about the life of a black girl dealing with racism, it is about the life of a black, gamer girl dealing with prejudice from predominantly white, male gamers. I really like how this book deals with so many issues when if comes to racism and prejudice. Kierra is an awesome female protagonist that will appeal to many readers.

     

    Looking for other resources on anti-racism or novels about Black American lives? Try our Beginner's Guide to Anti-Racism or some of these Middle Grade Books by Black Authors.