Fighting Anti-Black Racism through Story
The Center for Children’s and Young Adult Literature (CCYAL) is committed to keeping the public abreast of high-quality, contemporary books published each year for children and teens.
We know the power of story—stories can affirm and challenge us; change our minds and hearts; and provide soothing balms of healing as we find ourselves in others’ words or escape present-day realities. Now, perhaps more than ever, is the time to share stories with the young people in our lives about our various and diverse racial and ethnic identities, and the actions we can take against anti-Black racism. We understand that the ongoing police brutality against Black men, women, and youth is not a new phenomenon, but instead is a current manifestation of long-historied, state-sanctioned racism, anti-Blackness, and white supremacy in this country. We urge you to read books to learn more—about our connected histories, about the present moment, and about what you can do now to change the future. As we know, the status quo is not okay.
Below, you will find a selection of recently-published titles we recommend reading with young people. Please know the CCYAL is here for our Black students, faculty, and community members: we can recommend older titles that are excellent, too, and most importantly, provide a space where you can find yourself and your humanity affirmed in the pages of a book.
CCYAL Picks for Black History Month
Young Adult Literature:
- Slay, by Brittney Morris tells the story of Kiera Johnson, a seventeen-year-old honors student and math tutor, but the stress of being one of the only Black kids at Jefferson Academy gets her down. Thank goodness when she’s home she can go online and join hundreds of thousands of Black gamers in the secret multiplayer online role-playing card game she developed, called SLAY. Only, no one knows Kiera is the game developer. When another teen gamer is murdered over a dispute in the SLAY world, SLAY becomes a national headline and is labeled racist and exclusionary. To make it worse, an anonymous troll threatens to sue Kiera for “anti-white discrimination.” Does Kiera reveal who she is? Can she protect the game? Will she lose herself in the process? Read the book to find out if Kiera can save the only world in which she can be her own unapologetic Black self.
Middle Grades (grades 5-8)
- Genesis Begins Again, a 2020 Newbery Honor, by Alicia D Williams tells the, oftentimes, heart-wrenching story of 13-year old Genesis as she searches for acceptance from her family, peers, and ultimately, herself. Genesis keeps a list of reasons why she doesn’t like herself ranging from her family consistently getting evicted, her dad’s drinking problem, and her skin being “too black.” Genesis believes lightening her skin will create peace in her life even if it causes her physical pain in the process. Genesis’ chorus teacher recognizes that Genesis is a talented singer and helps Genesis deal with her pain through singing and exposing her to famous black musicians like Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, and Etta James. This story will resonate with anyone who craves acceptance- especially from themselves. Grades 6 and up.
- Child of the Dream: A Memoir of 1963, by Sharon Robinson, recounts the events of 1963 through the eyes of thirteen-year-old Sharon Robinson, daughter of famed baseball player and Civil Rights Activist, Jackie Robinson. Robinson’s narrative illuminates not only one of the most influential years in American history and her family’s role in the Movement, but she shares intimate stories about growing up black in a predominantly white neighborhood, living up to the name Robinson, and finding her place in the world. This middle-grade novel is simplistic in its narration and powerful in its message.
- This Promise of Change: One Girl’s Story in the Fight for School Equality, a memoir by Jo Ann Allen Boyce with the help of co-author Debbie Levy, explores memories of what it was like to be one of the “Clinton 12,” 12 Black students who integrated Clinton High School near Knoxville, Tennessee in 1956. Told through a variety of poetic forms, with many primary source documents woven throughout, this true story captures Jo Ann Allen’s strength and her emotional journey as racist outside agitators came to Clinton, fueling a mob mentality of hatred and violence. Grades 5 and up.
- Brave. Black. First.: 50+ African American Women Who Changed the World, written by Cheryl Hudson and illustrated by Erin K. Robinson, is a rich collection of 50 nonfiction profiles of remarkable Black women. This book was published in collaboration with the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture and features profiles of both historic and contemporary outstanding Black women who’ve made substantial contributions in a wide variety of fields. Grades 3-8.
Picture Books (grades 1-8)
- The Oldest Student: How Mary Walker Learned to Read (2020), by Rita Lorraine Hubbard. Illustrated by Oge Mora is the story about Mary Walker who is a supreme example of a woman who had grit, determination, and strength. She was born into slavery in Alabama in 1848 and lived to be 121 years old. Growing up during and after the Civil War, her life was fraught with long hours of working 7 days a week. For more than four decades she sharecropped and worked additional jobs. Her lifelong dream was to learn to read and write, and it finally happened when she enrolled in a reading program in 1963. She graduated a year later at the age of 116, making her the nation’s oldest student. After this later-life accomplishment, she felt more complete and could finally read the Bible that was given her as a young girl.This stunning picturebook tells Mary’s story authentically and gracefully. The mixed medium collage paper-cut illustrations provide texture and energy, celebrating Mary’s spirit of fortitude and triumph.
- Freedom Bird, written by Jerdine Nolen and illustrated by James E. Ransome introduces young readers to an inspirational tale about a brother and sister living through the atrocities of slavery and finding the resolve to prevail in the darkest of times. Inspired by traditional African American folktales, Freedom Bird follows John and Millicent as they struggle on a North Carolina plantation after their parents are sold. John and Millicent suffer heartbreak after heartbreak, but the siblings find hope in recalling ancestral tales of their people flying away to freedom. One day, a large mysterious bird enters John and Millicent’s lives and they believe it to be a sign of Providence. While caring for the bird over several months, the siblings are inspired to create a plan to follow their ancestors’ flight to freedom. Nolen’s lyrical prose and Ransome’s beautiful and rich illustrations bring this unforgettable and powerful tale of courage to life.
Below find 2019 booklists from our knowledgeable and gracious presenters at our “Best of the Best” workshop from the summer! They are categorized by Middle Grades and Young Adult Literature book lists, K-5 Booklists, and one file with all the lists combined for K-12.
Please reach out to us if you have additional questions!