This list of Read in Color recommended reads explores experiences from the African American/Black community. These titles are recommended by Little Free Library’s Diverse Books Advisory Group and others. The list of books includes options for early readers, middle and YA readers, and adults and advanced readers.
View all of the Read in Color Recommended Reading lists. These lists are far from exhaustive, but they offer a starting point for exploring different perspectives. We recognize that categorizing books can be limiting and are working to show the intersectionality within our reading lists.
African American/Black (Early Readers)
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All Because You Matter
All Because You Matter by Tami Charles, illustrated by Bryan Collier (40 pp, Orchard Books, 2020). A lyrical, heart-lifting love letter to black and brown children everywhere: reminding them how much they matter, that they have always mattered, and they always will, from powerhouse rising star author Tami Charles and esteemed, award-winning illustrator Bryan Collier. Ages 4 – 8.
Because of You, John Lewis
Because of You, John Lewis by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Keith Henry Brown (40 pp, Scholastic Press, 2022). When young Tybre Faw discovers John Lewis and his heroic march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in the fight for voting rights, Tybre is determined to meet him. Tybre’s two grandmothers take him on the seven-hour drive to Selma, Alabama, where Lewis invites Tybre to join him in the annual memorial walk across the Bridge. And so begins a most amazing friendship! In rich, poetic language, Andrea Davis Pinkney weaves the true story of a boy with a dream–together with the story of a real-life hero (who himself had a life-altering friendship with Martin Luther King, Jr. when he was young!). Keith Henry Brown’s deeply affecting paintings bring this inspiring bond between a young activist and an elder congressman vividly to life. Who will be next to rise up and turn the page on history? Ages 7 – 10.
Big Tune: Rise of the Dancehall Prince
Big Tune: Rise of the Dancehall Prince by Alliah L. Agostini, illustrated by Shamar Knight-Justice (40 pp, Farrar, Straus and Giroux (Byr), 2023). An exuberant picture book written by Alliah L. Agostini and illustrated by Shamar Knight-Justice is about a Black boy with big dancing dreams who learns the meaning of courage and community. Ages 3 – 6.
Boogie Boogie, Y’all
Boogie Boogie, Y’all by C.G. Esperanza (40 pp, Katherine Tegen Books, 2021). Author-illustrator C. G. Esperanza delivers a celebratory ode to graffiti and the Boogie Down Bronx through an infectious read-aloud beat and colorful illustrations that leap right off the page! The city is alive with vibrant art in every corner of the parks, the shops, the trains. But most people are too busy to see it–or worse, choose to ignore it! When three children stop to marvel at the art around their community, they realize it’s up to them to show everyone else how truly special it is when art and reality dance together so seamlessly. Ages 4 – 8.
Brown Baby Lullaby
Brown Baby Lullaby by Tameka Fryer Brown, illustrated by A.G. Ford (32 pp, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2020). From sunset to bedtime, two brown-skinned parents lovingly care for their beautiful brown baby: first, they play outside, then it is time for dinner and a bath, and finally a warm snuggle before bed. A perfect read-aloud for bedtime! Ages 2 – 6.
Crown by Derrick Barnes, illustrated by Gordon C. James (32 pp, Agate Bolden, 2017). The barbershop is where the magic happens. This rhythmic, read-aloud title is an unbridled celebration of the self-esteem, confidence, and swagger boys feel when they leave the barber’s chair—a tradition that places on their heads a figurative crown, beaming with jewels, that confirms their brilliance and worth and helps them not only love and accept themselves but also take a giant step toward caring how they present themselves to the world. Ages 3 – 8.
The Day You Begin
The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by Rafael López (32 pp, Nancy Paulsen Books, 2018). There are many reasons to feel different. Maybe it’s how you look or talk, or where you’re from; maybe it’s what you eat, or something just as random. Jacqueline Woodson’s lyrical text and Rafael López’s dazzling art reminds us that we all feel like outsiders sometimes—and how brave it is that we go forth anyway. Ages 5 – 8.
Hair Love by Matthew A. Cherry, illustrated by Vashti Harrison (32 pp, Kokila, 2019). Zuri’s hair has a mind of its own. It kinks, coils, and curls every which way. Zuri knows it’s beautiful. When Daddy steps in to style it for an extra special occasion, he has a lot to learn. But he LOVES his Zuri, and he’ll do anything to make her happy. Ages 4 – 8.
I Am Enough
I Am Enough by Grace Byers, illustrated by Keturah A. Bobo (32 pp, Balzer + Bray, 2018). This gorgeous, lyrical ode to loving who you are, respecting others, and being kind to one another comes from Empire actor and activist Grace Byers and talented newcomer artist Keturah A. Bobo. We are all here for a purpose. We are more than enough. We just need to believe it. Ages 4 – 8.
I Am Every Good Thing
I Am Every Good Thing by Derrick Barnes, illustrated by Gordon C. James (32 pp, Nancy Paulsen Books, 2020). The confident Black narrator of this book is proud of everything that makes him who he is. He’s got big plans, and no doubt he’ll see them through—as he’s creative, adventurous, smart, funny, and a good friend. Ages 3 – 7.
J.D. and the Great Barber Battle
J.D. and the Great Barber Battle by J. Dillard, illustrated by Akeem S. Roberts (128 pp, Kokila, 2021). J.D. has a big problem—it’s the night before the start of third grade and his mom has just given him his first and worst home haircut. When the steady stream of insults from the entire student body of Douglass Elementary becomes too much for J.D., he takes matters into his own hands and discovers that, unlike his mom, he’s a genius with the clippers. His work makes him the talk of the town and brings him enough hair business to open a barbershop from his bedroom. But when Henry Jr., the owner of the only official local barbershop, realizes he’s losing clients to J.D., he tries to shut him down for good. How do you find out who’s the best barber in all of Meridian, Mississippi? With a GREAT BARBER BATTLE! Ages 6 – 8.
J.D. and the Great Barber Battle by Shadra Strickland (32 pp, Bloomsbury Publishing PLC, 2023). It’s a sunny spring day, and the tic tac tic tac sound of jump ropes hitting the ground floats through the wind.”Jump in!”Everyone lines up for a turn. The Delancy twins, double dutch divas. Leroy Jones with the hip-hop tricks. Even Ms. Mabel, showing the youngstas how it’s done. And after a day of fun, when the street lights start to flicker, it’s time to . . . jump out! Ages 4 – 8.
Justice Makes a Difference
Justic Makes a Difference: The Story of Miss Freedom Fighter Esquire by Artika R. Tyner and Jacklyn M. Milton, illustrated by Jeremy Norton (34 pp, Planting People Growing Justice Press, 2018). Justice has grown up witnessing the many ways her grandma serves the community. She wants to make a difference in the world, too, but how? Isn’t she too young? Through conversations with her grandma and their shared love of books, Justice learns about important women and men throughout history who changed the world: Ella Baker, Shirley Chisholm, Charles Hamilton Houston, Dr. Wangari Maathai, Paul Robeson, and Ida B. Wells. Justice learns how each leader was a champion for advancing justice and improving the world, and she dreams of becoming a change maker, too–“Miss Freedom Fighter, Esquire,” a superhero with a law degree and an afro! Ages 8 – 12.
Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History
Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History by Vashti Harrison (96 pp, Little, Brown Books, 2017). Illuminating text paired with irresistible illustrations bring to life both iconic and lesser-known female figures of Black history such as abolitionist Sojourner Truth, pilot Bessie Coleman, chemist Alice Ball, politician Shirley Chisholm, mathematician Katherine Johnson, poet Maya Angelou, and filmmaker Julie Dash. Ages 8 – 12.
Me & Mama
Me & Mama by Cozbi A. Cabrera (40 pp, Denene Millner Books, 2020). On a rainy day when the house smells like cinnamon and Papa and Luca are still asleep, when the clouds are wearing shadows and the wind paints the window with beads of water, I want to be everywhere Mama is. With lyrical prose and a tender touch, the Caldecott and Coretta Scott King Honor Book Mama and Me is an ode to the strength of the bond between a mother and a daughter as they spend a rainy day together. Ages 4 – 8.
My Very Favorite Book in the Whole Wide World
My Very Favorite Book in the Whole Wide World by Malcolm Mitchell (32 pp, Orchard Books, 2020). Meet Henley, an all-around good kid, who hates to read. When he’s supposed to be reading, he would rather do anything else. But one day, he gets the scariest homework assignment in the world: find your favorite book to share with the class tomorrow. What’s a kid to do? How can Henley find a story that speaks to everything inside of him? Malcolm Mitchell, Super Bowl champion and literacy crusader, delivers a hilarious and empowering picture book for readers of all abilities. Through his advocacy and his books, Malcolm imparts the important message that every story has the potential to become a favorite. Ages 4 – 8.
Nana Akua Goes to School
Nana Akua Goes to School by Tricia Elam Walker, illustrated by April Harrison (40 pp, Anne Schwartz Books, 2020). It is Grandparents Day at Zura’s elementary school, and the students are excited to introduce their grandparents and share what makes them special. Aleja’s grandfather is a fisherman. Bisou’s grandmother is a dentist. But Zura’s Nana, who is her favorite person in the world, looks a little different from other grandmas. Nana Akua was raised in Ghana, and, following an old West African tradition, has tribal markings on her face. Worried that her classmates will be scared of Nana–or worse, make fun of her–Zura is hesitant to bring her to school. Nana Akua knows what to do, though. With a quilt of traditional African symbols and a bit of face paint, Nana Akua is able to explain what makes her special, and to make all of Zura’s classmates feel special, too. Ages 4 – 8.
Pigskins to Paintbrushes: The Story of Football-Playing Artist Ernie Barnes
Pigskins to Paintbrushes: The Story of Football-Playing Artist Ernie Barnes by Don Tate (48 pp, Harry N. Abrams, 2021). Young Ernie Barnes wasn’t like other boys his age. Bullied for being shy, overweight, and uninterested in sports like boys were “supposed” to be, he instead took refuge in his sketchbook, in vibrant colors, bold brushstrokes, and flowing lines. But growing up in a poor, Black neighborhood during the 1930s, opportunities to learn about art were rare, and art museums were off-limits because of segregation laws. Discouraged and tired of being teased, Ernie joined the school football team. Although reluctant at first, he would soon become a star. Ages 6 – 10.
The Roots of Rap: 16 Bars on the 4 Pillars of Hip-Hop
The Roots of Rap: 16 Bars on the 4 Pillars of Hip-Hop by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Frank Morrison (48 pp, Little Bee Books, 2019). The roots of rap and the history of hip-hop have origins that precede DJ Kool Herc and Grandmaster Flash. Kids will learn about how it evolved from folktales, spirituals, and poetry, to the showmanship of James Brown, to the culture of graffiti art and break dancing that formed around the art form and gave birth to the musical artists we know today. Ages 4 and up.
Ruby’s Reunion Day Dinner
Ruby’s Reunion Day Dinner by Angela Dalton, illustrated by Jestenia Southerland (32 pp, HarperCollins, 2021). Once a year, each of Ruby’s relatives prepares a special dish to share at their family reunion. Daddy calls it their “signature dish”—and Ruby wants one of her own. She wanders through the bustling kitchen looking for inspiration. As she watches Pop-Pop’s chicken sizzling in the skillet, Uncle G slicing onions, and Auntie Billie cooking corn on the hot grill, she wonders if she’s just too young to have a signature dish. That’s when she finds it— the perfect solution! Ages 4 – 8.
Saturday by Oge Mora (40 pp, Little, Brown Books, 2019). In this heartfelt and universal story, a mother and daughter look forward to their special Saturday routine together every single week. But this Saturday, one thing after another goes wrong. Mom is nearing a meltdown…until her loving daughter reminds her that being together is the most important thing of all. Ages 4 – 8.
Soul Food Sunday
Soul Food Sunday by Winsome Bingham (48 pp, Harry N. Abrams, 2021). At Granny’s, Sunday isn’t Sunday without a big family gathering over a lovingly prepared meal. Old enough now, our narrator is finally invited to help cook the dishes for the first time: He joins Granny in grating the cheese, cleaning the greens, and priming the meat for Roscoe Ray’s grill. But just when Granny says they’re finished, her grandson makes his own contribution, sweetening this Sunday gathering–and the many more to come. Ages 4 – 8.
Sulwe by Lupita Nyong’o, illustrated by Vashti Harrison (48 pp, Simon & Schuster, 2019). Sulwe has skin the color of midnight. She is darker than everyone in her family. She is darker than anyone in her school. Sulwe just wants to be beautiful and bright, like her mother and sister. Then a magical journey in the night sky opens her eyes and changes everything. Ages 4 – 8.
Tallulah the Tooth Fairy CEO
Tallulah the Tooth Fairy CEO by Tamara Pizzoli, illustrated by Federico Fabiani (40 pp, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2019). Meet Tallulah. She’s the Tooth Fairy CEO. Tallulah knows practically everything about being a tooth fairy. How to collect teeth. Dispense money. Train other fairies. And it’s all in the Teeth Titans Incorporated Employee Manual. But when something happens that’s not covered in the manual, what’s a fairy to do? Ages 4 – 8.
Thank You, Omu!
Thank You, Omu! by Oge Mora (40 pp, Little, Brown Books, 2018). Everyone in the neighborhood dreams of a taste of Omu’s delicious stew! One by one, they follow their noses toward the scrumptious scent. And one by one, Omu offers a portion of her meal. Soon the pot is empty. Has she been so generous that she has nothing left for herself? This is a heartwarming story of sharing and community in colorful cut-paper designs as luscious as Omu’s stew. Ages 4 – 8.
Twelve Dinging Doorbells
Twelve Dinging Doorbells by Tameka Fryer Brown, illustrated by Ebony Glenn (32 pp, Kokila, 2022). Every holiday, aunties, uncles, cousins, grandparents, and neighbors come over to eat, sing, and celebrate life. But all our main character can think about is the sweet potato pie Granny makes just for her. As tables fill with baked macaroni and cheese, chitlins, and other sides a-steaming, she and Granny move the pie to keep it intact. The task becomes tricker as the room grows with dancing and card games and pie cravings. Just when all seems lost and there’s no more pie, Granny pulls out a sweet surprise. Ages 4 – 8.
The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander, illustrated by Kadir Nelson (40 pp, Versify, 2020). Originally performed for ESPN’s The Undefeated, this poem is a love letter to black life in the United States. It highlights the unspeakable trauma of slavery, the faith and fire of the civil rights movement, and the grit, passion, and perseverance of some of the world’s greatest heroes. Ages 6 – 9.
Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre
Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Floyd Cooper (32 pp, Carolrhoda Books, 2021). Celebrated author Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrator Floyd Cooper provide a powerful look at the Tulsa Race Massacre, one of the worst incidents of racial violence in our nation’s history. The book traces the history of African Americans in Tulsa’s Greenwood district and chronicles the devastation that occurred in 1921 when a white mob attacked the Black community. Ages 8 – 12.
Welcome to the Party
Welcome to the Party by Gabrielle Union, illustrated by Ashley Evans (32 pp, HarperCollins, 2020). Inspired by the eagerly awaited birth of her daughter, Kaavia James Union Wade, New York Times bestselling author and award-winning actress Gabrielle Union pens a festive and universal love letter from parents to little ones, perfect for welcoming a baby to the party of life! Ages 4 – 8.
The World Belonged to Us
The World Belonged to Us by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by Leo Espinosa (32 pp, Nancy Paulsen Books, 2022). It’s getting hot outside, hot enough to turn on the hydrants and run through the water–and that means it’s finally summer in the city! Released from school and reveling in their freedom, the kids on one Brooklyn block take advantage of everything summertime has to offer. Freedom from morning till night to go out to meet their friends and make the streets their playground–jumping double Dutch, playing tag and hide-and-seek, building forts, chasing ice cream trucks, and best of all, believing anything is possible. That is, till their moms call them home for dinner. But not to worry–they know there is always tomorrow to do it all over again–because the block belongs to them and they rule their world. Ages 5 – 8.
African American/Black (Middle Readers)
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All the Things We Never Knew
All the Things We Never Knew by Liara Tamani (384 pp, Greenwillow Books, 2020). A glance was all it took. That kind of connection, the immediate and raw understanding of another person, just doesn’t come along very often. And as rising stars on their Texas high schools’ respective basketball teams, destined for bright futures in college and beyond, it seems like a match made in heaven. But Carli and Rex have secrets. As do their families. Liara Tamani, the author of the acclaimed Calling My Name, follows two teenagers as they discover how first love, heartbreak, betrayal, and family can shape you–for better or for worse. A novel full of pain, joy, healing, and hope for fans of Elizabeth Acevedo, Jacqueline Woodson, and Jenny Han. Ages 13 – 17.
The Beautiful Struggle
The Beautiful Struggle (Adapted for Young Adults) by Ta-Nehisi Coates (176 pp, Delacorte Press, 2021). As a child, Ta-Nehisi Coates was seen by his father, Paul, as too sensitive and lacking focus. Paul Coates was a Vietnam vet who’d been part of the Black Panthers and was dedicated to reading and publishing the history of African civilization. When it came to his sons, he was committed to raising proud Black men equipped to deal with a racist society, during a turbulent period in the collapsing city of Baltimore where they lived. Coates details with candor the challenges of dealing with his tough-love father, the influence of his mother, and the dynamics of his extended family, including his brother “Big Bill,” who was on a very different path than Ta-Nehisi. Coates also tells of his family struggles at school and with girls, making this a timely story to which many readers will relate. Ages 12 and up.
Black Birds in the Sky
Black Birds in the Sky by Brandy Colbert (224 pp, Balzer + Bray, 2021). In the early morning of June 1, 1921, a white mob marched across the train tracks in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and into its predominantly Black Greenwood District—a thriving, affluent neighborhood known as America’s Black Wall Street. They brought with them firearms, gasoline, and explosives. In a few short hours, they’d razed thirty-five square blocks to the ground, leaving hundreds dead. The Tulsa Race Massacre is one of the most devastating acts of racial violence in US history. But how did it come to pass? What exactly happened? And why are the events unknown to so many of us today? The Tulsa Race Massacre has long failed to fit into the story Americans like to tell themselves about the history of their country. This book, ambitious and intimate in turn, explores the ways in which the story of the Tulsa Race Massacre is the story of America—and by showing us who we are, points to a way forward. Ages 14 and up.
Chester Keene Cracks the Code
Chester Keene Cracks the Code by Kekla Magoon (304 pp, Wendy Lamb Books, 2022). Chester Keene takes great comfort in his routines. Afterschool Monday to Thursday is bowling, and Friday, the best of days, is laser tag! But Chester has one other very special thing–he gets secret spy messages from his dad, who must be on covert government assignments, which is why Chester has never met him. Then one day, Chester’s classmate, Skye, approaches him with a clue. They’ve been tasked with a complex puzzle-solving mission. Skye proves to be a useful partner and good company, even if her free-wheeling ways are disruptive to Chester’s carefully built schedule.As Chester and Skye get closer to their final clue, they discover the key to their spy assignment: they have to stop a heist! But cracking this code may mean finding out things are not always what they seem. Ages 8 – 12.
Clean Getaway by Nic Stone (240 pp, Yearling, 2021). How to Go on an Unplanned Road Trip with Your Grandma: Grab a Suitcase: Prepacked from the big spring break trip that got CANCELLED. Fasten Your Seatbelt: G’ma’s never conventional, so this trip won’t be either. Use the Green Book: G’ma’s most treasured possession. It holds history, memories, and most important, the way home.Set against the backdrop of the segregation history of the American South, take a trip with this New York Times bestseller and an eleven-year-old boy who is about to discover that the world hasn’t always been a welcoming place for kids like him, and things aren’t always what they seem—his G’ma included. Ages 8 – 12.
Concrete Rose by Angie Thomas (368 pp, Balzer + Bray, 2021). If there’s one thing seventeen-year-old Maverick Carter knows, it’s that a real man takes care of his family. As the son of a former gang legend, Mav does that the only way he knows how: dealing for the King Lords. With this money he can help his mom, who works two jobs while his dad’s in prison. Life’s not perfect, but with a fly girlfriend and a cousin who always has his back, Mav’s got everything under control. Until, that is, Maverick finds out he’s a father. Ages 14 – 17.
Early Departures by Justin A. Reynolds (480 pp, Katherine Tegen Books, 2020). What if you could bring your best friend back to life—but only for a short time? Jamal’s best friend, Q, doesn’t know that he died, and that he’s about to die . . . again. He doesn’t know that Jamal tried to save him. And that the reason they haven’t been friends for two years is because Jamal blames Q for the accident that killed his parents. But what if Jamal could have a second chance? A new technology allows Q to be reanimated for a few weeks before he dies . . . permanently. And Q’s mom is not about to let anyone ruin this miracle by telling Q about his impending death. So how can Jamal fix everything if he can’t tell Q the truth? Ages 14 – 17.
Garvey in the Dark
Garvey in the Dark by Nikki Grimes (176 pp, Wordsong, 2022). Garvey’s finally happy–he’s feeling close to his father through their shared love of music, bullies are no longer tormenting him, and his best friends Manny and Joe are by his side. But when the schools, stores, and restaurants close because people are getting sick, Garvey’s improved life goes into lockdown as well. And when Garvey’s father gets sick, Garvey must find a way to use his newfound musical skills to bring hope to both his father and himself. Moving, powerful, and beautifully told, this remarkable novel shows readers how even small acts have large reverberations, how every person can make a difference in this world, and how–even in the most difficult times–there are ways to reach for hope and healing. Ages 8 – 12.
Genesis Begins Again
Genesis Begins Again by Alicia D. Williams (384 pp, Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books, 2020). There are ninety-six reasons why thirteen-year-old Genesis dislikes herself. She knows the exact number because she keeps a list. Genesis is determined to fix her family, and she’s willing to try anything to do so…even if it means harming herself in the process. But when Genesis starts to find a thing or two she actually likes about herself, she discovers that changing her own attitude is the first step in helping change others. Ages 9 – 13.
Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes (420 pp, Little, Brown Books, 2019). Twelve-year-old Jerome is shot by a police officer who mistakes his toy gun for a real threat. As a ghost, he observes the devastation that’s been unleashed on his family and community in the wake of what they see as an unjust and brutal killing. This gripping and poignant story is about how children and families face the complexities of today’s world, and how one boy grows to understand American blackness in the aftermath of his own death. Ages 10 and up.
Grown by Tiffany D. Jackson (384 pp, Katherine Tegen Books, 2020). When legendary R&B artist Korey Fields spots Enchanted Jones at an audition, her dreams of being a famous singer take flight. Until Enchanted wakes up with blood on her hands and zero memory of the previous night. Who killed Korey Fields? Award-winning author Tiffany D. Jackson delivers another riveting, ripped-from-the-headlines mystery that exposes horrific secrets hiding behind the limelight and embraces the power of a young woman’s voice. Ages 13 – 17.
Hands by Torrey Maldonado (144 pp, Nancy Paulsen Books, 2023). Trev would do anything to protect his mom and sisters, especially from his stepdad. But his stepdad’s return stresses Trev–because when he left, he threatened Trev’s mom. Rather than live scared, Trev takes matters into his own hands, literally. He starts learning to box to handle his stepdad. But everyone isn’t a fan of his plan, because Trev’s a talented artist, and his hands could actually help him build a better future. And they’re letting him know. But their advice for some distant future feels useless in his reality right now. Ultimately, Trev knows his future is in his hands, and his hands are his own, and he has to choose how to use them. Ages 10 – 12.
The Hate U Give
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (464 pp, Balzer + Bray, 2017). Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr. Ages 14 – 17.
Long Way Down
Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds (336 pp, Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books, 2019). An ode to Put the Damn Guns Down, this is New York Times bestselling author Jason Reynolds’s electrifying novel that takes place in sixty potent seconds—the time it takes a kid to decide whether or not he’s going to murder the guy who killed his brother. Ages 12 and up.
The Magnificent Mya Tibbs: Spirit Week Showdown
The Magnificent Mya Tibbs: Spirit Week Showdown by Crystal Allen, illustrated by Eda Kaban (256 pp, Balzer & Bray/Harperteen, 2017). Nine-year-old cowgirl Mya Tibbs is boot-scootin’ excited for the best week of the whole school year–SPIRIT WEEK! She and her megapopular best friend Naomi Jackson even made a pinky promise to be Spirit Week partners so they can win the big prize: special VIP tickets to the Fall Festival. But when the partner-picking goes horribly wrong, Mya gets paired with Mean Connie Tate–the biggest bully in school. And she can’t get out of it. Good gravy! Now Naomi is “friend-ending” mad at Mya for breaking a promise–even though Mya couldn’t help it–and everyone at school is calling Mya names. Can Mya work with Mean Connie to win the VIP tickets, and get her best friend back? Ages 8 – 12.
March: Book Three
March: Book Three by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin (256 pp, Top Shelf Productions, 2016). Congressman John Lewis, an American icon and one of the key figures of the civil rights movement, joins co-writer Andrew Aydin and artist Nate Powell to bring the lessons of history to vivid life for a new generation, urgently relevant for today’s world. Ages 13 – 16.
New Kid by Jerry Craft (256 pp, Quill Tree Books, 2019). Seventh grader Jordan Banks loves nothing more than drawing cartoons about his life. But instead of sending him to the art school of his dreams, his parents enroll him in a prestigious private school known for its academics, where Jordan is one of the few kids of color in his entire grade. Can Jordan learn to navigate his new school culture while keeping his neighborhood friends and staying true to himself? Ages 8 – 12.
One Crazy Summer
One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia (240 pp, Quill Tree Books, 2011). In One Crazy Summer, eleven-year-old Delphine is like a mother to her two younger sisters, Vonetta and Fern. She’s had to be, ever since their mother, Cecile, left them seven years ago for a radical new life in California. But when the sisters arrive from Brooklyn to spend the summer with their mother, Cecile is nothing like they imagined. Ages 8 – 12.
Operation Sisterhood by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich (320 pp, Crown Books for Young Readers, 2022). Fans of the Netflix reboot of The Babysitters Club will delight as four new sisters band together in the heart of New York City. Discover this jubilant novel about the difficulties of change, the loyalty of sisters, and the love of family from a prolific award-winning author. Ages 8 – 12.
Ordinary Hazards by Nikki Grimes (336 pp, Wordsong, 2019). Growing up with a mother suffering from paranoid schizophrenia and a mostly absent father, Nikki Grimes found herself terrorized by babysitters, shunted from foster family to foster family, and preyed upon by those she trusted. At the age of six, she poured her pain onto a piece of paper late one night – and discovered the magic and impact of writing. For many years, Nikki’s notebooks were her most enduing companions. In this accessible and inspiring memoir that will resonate with young readers and adults alike, Nikki shows how the power of those words helped her conquer the hazards – ordinary and extraordinary – of her life. Ages 12 – 17.
The Parker Inheritance
The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson (368 pp, Arthur A. Levine Books, 2019). When Candice finds a letter in an old attic in Lambert, South Carolina, she isn’t sure she should read it. It’s addressed to her grandmother, who left the town in shame. But the letter describes a young woman. An injustice that happened decades ago. A mystery enfolding its writer. And the fortune that awaits the person who solves the puzzle. Ages 8 – 12.
Piecing Me Together
Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson (288 pp, Bloomsbury YA, 2018). Jade believes she must get out of her poor neighborhood if she’s ever going to succeed. Every day she rides the bus away from her friends and to the private school where she feels like an outsider. She’s tired of being singled out as someone who needs help; she wants to speak, to create, to express her joys and sorrows. Acclaimed author Renee Watson offers a powerful story about a girl striving for success in a world that too often seems like it’s trying to break her. Ages 12 – 17.
Punching the Air
Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam (400 pp, Balzer + Bray, 2020). Amal Shahid has always been an artist and a poet. But even in a diverse art school, he’s seen as disruptive and unmotivated by a biased system. Then one fateful night, an altercation in a gentrifying neighborhood escalates into tragedy. This is a deeply profound story about how one boy is able to maintain his humanity and fight for the truth, in a system designed to strip him of both. Ages 14 – 17.
Revolution in Our Time: The Black Panther Party’s Promise to the People
Revolution in Our Time: The Black Panther Party’s Promise to the People by Kekla Magoon (400 pp, Candlewick Press, 2021). Revolution in Our Time puts the Panthers in the proper context of Black American history, from the first arrival of enslaved people to the Black Lives Matter movement of today. Kekla Magoon’s eye-opening work invites a new generation of readers grappling with injustices in the United States to learn from the Panthers’ history and courage, inspiring them to take their own place in the ongoing fight for justice. Ages 12 – 17.
Say Her Name
Say Her Name by Zetta Elliott (96 pp, Little, Brown Books, 2020). Inspired by the #SayHerName campaign launched by the African American Policy Forum, these poems pay tribute to victims of police brutality as well as the activists insisting that Black Lives Matter. This provocative collection of forty-nine poems will move every reader to reflect, respond, and act. Ages 12 and up.
Stuntboy, in the Meantime
Stuntboy, in the Meantime by Jason Reynolds, illustrated by Raúl the Third (272 pp, Antheneum Books, 2021). Portico Reeves’s superpower is making sure all the other superheroes–like his parents and two best friends–stay super. And safe. Super safe. And he does this all in secret. No one in his civilian life knows he’s actually…Stuntboy! Ages 7 – 12.
The Sun Is Also a Star
The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon (384 pp, Delacorte Press, 2016). Natasha: I’m a girl who believes in science and facts. Not fate. Not destiny. Or dreams that will never come true. I’m definitely not the kind of girl who meets a cute boy on a crowded New York City street and falls in love with him. Not when my family is twelve hours away from being deported to Jamaica. Daniel: I’ve always been the good son, the good student, living up to my parents’ high expectations. Never the poet. Or the dreamer. But when I see her, I forget about all that. The Universe: Every moment in our lives has brought us to this single moment. A million futures lie before us. Which one will come true? Ages 12-17.
This Is My America
This Is My America by Kim Johnson (416 pp, Random House Books for Young Readers, 2020). Every week, seventeen-year-old Tracy Beaumont writes letters to Innocence X, asking the organization to help her father, an innocent Black man on death row. After seven years, Tracy is running out of time–her dad has only 267 days left. Then the unthinkable happens. The police arrive in the night, and Tracy’s older brother, Jamal, goes from being a bright, promising track star to a “thug” on the run, accused of killing a white girl. Determined to save her brother, Tracy investigates what really happened between Jamal and Angela down at the Pike. But will Tracy and her family survive the uncovering of the skeletons of their Texas town’s racist history that still haunt the present? Ages 12 and up.
Twins: A Graphic Novel by Varian Johnson (256 pp, Graphix, 2020). Maureen and Francine Carter are twins and best friends. They participate in the same clubs, enjoy the same foods, and are partners on all their school projects. But just before the girls start sixth grade, Francine becomes Fran — a girl who wants to join the chorus, run for class president, and dress in fashionable outfits that set her apart from Maureen. A girl who seems happy to share only two classes with her sister!Maureen and Francine are growing apart and there’s nothing Maureen can do to stop it. Are sisters really forever? Or will middle school change things for good? Ages 8-11.
Turning Point by Paula Chase (384 pp, Greenwillow Books, 2020). Best friends Rasheeda and Monique are both good girls. For Sheeda, that means keeping her friends close and following her deeply religious and strict aunt’s every rule. For Mo, that means not making waves in the prestigious and mostly White ballet intensive she’s been accepted to. But what happens when Sheeda catches the eye of Mo’s older brother, and the invisible racial barriers to Mo’s success as a ballerina turn out to be not so invisible? Ages 8 – 12.
African American/Black (Adult Readers)
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The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story
The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story by Nikole Hannah-Jones (624 pp, One World, 2021). This is a book that speaks directly to our current moment, contextualizing the systems of race and caste within which we operate today. It reveals long-glossed-over truths around our nation’s founding and construction–and the way that the legacy of slavery did not end with emancipation, but continues to shape contemporary American life.
Between the World and Me
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (176 pp, One World, 2015). In a profound work that pivots from the biggest questions about American history and ideals to the most intimate concerns of a father for his son, Ta-Nehisi Coates offers a powerful new framework for understanding our nation’s history and current crisis. Americans have built an empire on the idea of “race,” a falsehood that damages us all but falls most heavily on the bodies of black women and men. What is it like to inhabit a black body and find a way to live within it?
Born a Crime
Born a Crime by Trevor Noah (304 pp, One World, 2019). Trevor Noah’s unlikely path from apartheid South Africa to the desk of The Daily Show began with a criminal act: his birth. Trevor was born to a white Swiss father and a black Xhosa mother at a time when such a union was punishable by five years in prison. Living proof of his parents’ indiscretion, Trevor was kept mostly indoors for the earliest years of his life. Finally liberated by the end of South Africa’s tyrannical white rule, Trevor and his mother set forth on a grand adventure.
Citizen by Claudia Rankine (160 pp, Graywolf Press, 2014). Claudia Rankine’s bold new book recounts mounting racial aggressions in ongoing encounters in twenty-first-century daily life and in the media. Some of these encounters are slights, seeming slips of the tongue, and some are intentional offensives in the classroom, at the supermarket, and at home. In essay, image, and poetry, Citizen is a powerful testament to the individual and collective effects of racism in our contemporary, often named “post-race” society.
Don’t Cry for Me
Don’t Cry for Me by Daniel Black (304 pp, Hanover Square Press, 2022). A Black father makes amends with his gay son through letters written on his deathbed in this wise and penetrating novel of empathy and forgiveness, for fans of Ta-Nehisi Coates, Robert Jones Jr. and Alice Walker.
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi (320 pp, Vintage, 2017). Ghana, eighteenth century: two half sisters are born into different villages, each unaware of the other. One will marry an Englishman and lead a life of comfort in the palatial rooms of the Cape Coast Castle. The other will be captured in a raid on her village, imprisoned in the very same castle, and sold into slavery.
His Only Wife
His Only Wife by Peace Adzo Medie (288 pp, Algonquin, 2020). Afi Tekple is a young seamstress in Ghana. She is smart; she is pretty; and she has been convinced by her mother to marry a man she does not know. His Only Wife is a witty, smart, and moving debut novel about a brave young woman traversing the minefield of modern life with its taboos and injustices, living in a world of men who want their wives to be beautiful, to be good cooks and mothers, to be women who respect their husbands and grant them forbearance. And in Afi, Peace Medie has created a delightfully spunky and relatable heroine who just may break all the rules.
Homie: Poems by Danez Smith (96 pp, Graywolf Press, 2020). Homie is Danez Smith’s magnificent anthem about the saving grace of friendship. Rooted in the loss of one of Smith’s close friends, this book comes out of the search for joy and intimacy within a nation where both can seem scarce and getting scarcer. Part friendship diary, part bright elegy, part war cry, Homie is an exuberant new book.
I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness
I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown (192 pp, Convergent Books, 2018). In a time when nearly every institution (schools, churches, universities, businesses) claims to value diversity in its mission statement, Austin writes in breathtaking detail about her journey to self-worth and the pitfalls that kill our attempts at racial justice. Her stories bear witness to the complexity of America’s social fabric—from Black Cleveland neighborhoods to private schools in the middle-class suburbs, from prison walls to the boardrooms at majority-white organizations.
The Known World
The Known World by Edward P. Jones (388 pp, Amistad, 2006). Henry Townsend, a farmer, boot maker, and former slave, through the surprising twists and unforeseen turns of life in antebellum Virginia, becomes proprietor of his own plantation―as well his own slaves. When he dies, his widow Caldonia succumbs to profound grief, and things begin to fall apart at their plantation. An ambitious, courageous, luminously written masterwork, The Known World seamlessly weaves the lives of the freed and the enslaved―and allows all of us a deeper understanding of the enduring multidimensional world created by the institution of slavery.
The Nickel Boys
The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead (224 pp, Anchor, 2020). When Elwood Curtis, a black boy growing up in 1960s Tallahassee, is unfairly sentenced to a juvenile reformatory called the Nickel Academy, he finds himself trapped in a grotesque chamber of horrors. Elwood’s only salvation is his friendship with fellow “delinquent” Turner, which deepens despite Turner’s conviction that Elwood is hopelessly naive. As life at the Academy becomes ever more perilous, the tension between Elwood’s ideals and Turner’s skepticism leads to a decision whose repercussions will echo down the decades.
On Juneteenth by Annette Gordon-Reed (152 pp, Liveright Publishing Corporation, 2021). In its concision, eloquence, and clear presentation of history, On Juneteenth vitally revises conventional renderings of Texas and national history. As our nation verges on recognizing June 19 as a national holiday, On Juneteenth is both an essential account and a stark reminder that the fight for equality is exigent and ongoing.
Red at the Bone
Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson (224 pp, Riverhead Books, 2020). An unexpected teenage pregnancy pulls together two families from different social classes, and exposes the private hopes, disappointments, and longings that can bind or divide us from each other, from the New York Times-bestselling and National Book Award-winning author of Another Brooklyn and Brown Girl Dreaming. Moving forward and backward in time, Jacqueline Woodson’s taut and powerful new novel uncovers the role that history and community have played in the experiences, decisions, and relationships of these families, and in the life of the new child.
Sing, Unburied, Sing
Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward (320 pp, Scribner, 2018). Jojo is thirteen years old and trying to understand what it means to be a man. He doesn’t lack in fathers to study, chief among them his Black grandfather, Pop. But there are other men who complicate his understanding, like his absent White father, Michael, who is being released from prison. This is an intimate portrait of three generations of a family and an epic tale of hope and struggle.
A Sitting in St. James
A Sitting in St. James by Rita Williams-Garcia (480 pp, Quill Tree Books, 2022).
This astonishing novel from three-time National Book Award finalist Rita Williams-Garcia about the interwoven lives of those bound to a plantation in antebellum America is an epic masterwork–empathetic, brutal, and entirely human–and essential reading for both teens and adults grappling with the long history of American racism.
Such a Fun Age
Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid (320 pp, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2019). A striking and surprising debut novel from an exhilarating new voice, Such a Fun Age is a page-turning and big-hearted story about race and privilege, set around a young black babysitter, her well-intentioned employer, and a surprising connection that threatens to undo them both.
Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Giyasi (288 pp, Knopf, 2020). Gifty is a sixth-year PhD candidate in neuroscience at the Stanford University School of Medicine. Her brother, Nana, was a gifted high school athlete who died of a heroin overdose. Her suicidal mother is living in her bed. Gifty is determined to discover the scientific basis for the suffering she sees all around her. But even as she turns to the hard sciences to unlock the mystery of her family’s loss, she finds herself hungering for her childhood faith and grappling with the evangelical church in which she was raised.
The Trayvon Generation
The Trayvon Generation by Elizabeth Alexander (160 pp, Grand Central Publishing, 2022). The Trayvon Generation expands the viral essay that spoke so resonantly to the persistence of race as an ongoing issue at the center of the American experience. Alexander looks both to our past and our future with profound insight, brilliant analysis, and mighty heart, interweaving her voice with groundbreaking works of art by some of our most extraordinary artists. At this crucial time in American history when we reckon with who we are as a nation and how we move forward, Alexander’s lyrical prose gives us perspective informed by historical understanding, her lifelong devotion to education, and an intimate grasp of the visioning power of art.
The Vanishing Half
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett (352 pp, Riverhead Books, 2020). Weaving together multiple strands and generations of this family, from the Deep South to California, from the 1950s to the 1990s, Brit Bennett produces a story that is at once a riveting, emotional family story and a brilliant exploration of the American history of passing. Looking well beyond issues of race, The Vanishing Half considers the lasting influence of the past as it shapes a person’s decisions, desires, and expectations.
The Warmth of Other Suns
The Warmth of Other Suns by Elizabeth Wilkerson (640 pp, Vintage, 2011). From 1915 to 1970, this exodus of almost six million people changed the face of America. Wilkerson compares this epic migration to the migrations of other peoples in history. She interviewed more than a thousand people, and gained access to new data and official records, to write this definitive and vividly dramatic account of how these American journeys unfolded, altering our cities, our country, and ourselves.
When They Call You a Terrorist
When They Call You a Terrorist by Patrisse Khan-Cullors (288 pp, St. Martin’s Griffin, 2020). Raised by a single mother in an impoverished neighborhood in Los Angeles, Patrisse Khan-Cullors experienced firsthand the prejudice and persecution Black Americans endure at the hands of law enforcement. When They Call You a Terrorist is Patrisse Khan-Cullors and asha bandele’s reflection on humanity. It is an empowering account of survival, strength and resilience and a call to action to change the culture that declares innocent Black life expendable.
The Yellow House
The Yellow House by Sarah M. Broom (400 pp, Grove Press, 2020). A book of great ambition, Sarah M. Broom’s The Yellow House tells a hundred years of her family and their relationship to home in a neglected area of one of America’s most mythologized cities. This is the story of a mother’s struggle against a house’s entropy, and that of a prodigal daughter who left home only to reckon with the pull that home exerts, even after the Yellow House was wiped off the map after Hurricane Katrina.
You’ll Never Believe What Happened to Lacey: Crazy Stories about Racism
You’ll Never Believe What Happened to Lacey: Crazy Stories about Racism by Amber Ruffin and Lacey Lamar (240 pp, Grand Central Publishing, 2021). From racist donut shops to strangers putting their whole hand in her hair, from being mistaken for a prostitute to being mistaken for Harriet Tubman, Lacey is a lightning rod for hilariously ridiculous yet all-too-real anecdotes. She’s the perfect mix of polite, beautiful, petite, and Black that apparently makes people think “I can say whatever I want to this woman.” And now, Amber and Lacey share these entertainingly horrifying stories through their laugh-out-loud sisterly banter. Painfully relatable or shockingly eye-opening (depending on how often you have personally been followed by security at department stores), this book tackles modern-day racism with the perfect balance of levity and gravity.