LGBTQIA+ Books and Resources
According to the CDC, “For youth to thrive in schools and communities, they need to feel socially, emotionally, and physically safe and supported. A positive school climate has been associated with decreased depression, suicidal feelings, substance use, and unexcused school absences among LGB students.” The Center for Children’s and Young Adult Literature advocates safe, supportive educational environments for all students and access to both accurate information and inclusive, empowering literature. For this reason, we have compiled a list of recommended resources and LGBTQ+ books for Tennessee teachers who would like to add some supplemental titles to their classroom libraries. Follow the link here.
Child of the Universe written by Ray Jayawardhana and illustrated by Raúl Colón explains the interconnectedness that all humans share, all in poem form. An academic by trade, Jayawardhana is a professor of astronomy at Cornell University. Hailing from Sri Lanka and Harvard educated, his contributions to our knowledge of the stars has been invaluable. In Child of the Universe, Jayawardhana uses his knowledge of the stars to write this brilliant and informative picture book. The plot is simple – a parent’s love for their child – but the story is deep and lush, illustrating how each person is the product of millions of years of stardust and chance, connected together by the space we share, and the dreams we have for one another. Colón, an award-winner illustrator, accompanies Jayawardhana’s writing with his trademark hand drawn color wash art style.
The Oldest Student: How Mary Walker Learned to Read (2020) by Rita Lorraine Hubbard and illustrated by Oge Mora features 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.
Deborah Marcero’s picture book, In a Jar, has received multiple starred reviews, and rightly so. In whimsical illustrations and simple prose, it tells the story of Llewellyn and Evelyn, two rabbit friends, who meet under a cherry-colored sunset and begin collecting artifacts of their favorite shared memories in jars: the arc of a rainbow, a feather here, a shell there. When Evelyn and her family have to move, Llewellyn is forced to figure out how to stay connected with his friend who lives far away, and so begins a lovely tradition of sending things “in a jar” to each other. Our board member, Angela, has loved this book since she discovered it earlier this year, and its message seems like the perfect reminder during these times that there are ways to be together even when we’re physically apart. Inspired by this book, her five-year-old is now creating his own “memory jars,” filled with leaves and seed pods and other mementos, that they’ll soon send to his grandparents and aunt to show that they’re thinking of them, even when they have to remain separated in order to be healthy and safe.
Celebrate this historic moment of Kamala Harris becoming the first woman and woman of color Vice-President of the United States with Nikki Grimes’ moving picture book biography Kamala Harris: Rooted in Justice. This incredible story reveals how a young daughter of immigrants–whose first name means “lotus flower”–would grow up to be the first female District Attorney of San Francisco, the first Black woman Attorney General of California, the second Black woman voted into the US Senate, and the first woman, first Black person, and first South Asian American ever elected Vice President of the United States!
Middle Grade Novels:
For the middle grade action and magic lovers in your life, pick up a copy Curse of the Night Witch Emblem Island by Alex Aster. Inspired by the stories her Columbian grandmother would tell her before bedtime, Aster created a world where 12 year old Tor Luna embarks on a journey to find the Night Witch and reverse a curse that will shorten his life! This fast-paced novel follows Tor and his two best friends, brave Engle and brilliant Melda, as they encounter some enchanting and some villainous characters! This novel is the first in a series so it can help a young reader in your life get excited about a new series and the adventures of Tor on Emblem Island. Aster’s debut novel will thrill the middle grade lovers in your life and give you an author to keep on your radar!
Hazel’s Theory of Evolution, a warm and winning middle-grade novel by Lisa Jenn Bigelow, is told in the first person by twelve year old Hazel, who lives on a goat farm with her moms and older brother. Hazel looks to animal encyclopedias and Darwin’s Origin of Species to answer her questions about life. Not all of her questions are answered easily, though. She’s starting at a new school where she’s going to be separated from her best friend, and one of her moms, who has had two miscarriages, is pregnant again. Hazel’s journey to learning more about herself and the people around her is an engaging one, and all the characters in the novel are well drawn and believable. Plus, there are goats. Highly recommended.
Just announced on Nov. 18! Kacen Callender, author of Felix Ever After, and other middle grades, YA, and books for adults, won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature with King and the Dragonflies. This beautiful, elegiac story for middle grades readers deftly travels the rocky terrain of family loyalty, grief and loss, homophobia, racism, toxic masculinity, and friendship. King has just lost his beloved brother, Khalid, who told him before his death to stop being friends with Sandy, who has recently come out to King that he is gay. King doesn’t want to disappoint the brother he misses terribly, or his father, who expects him to “be a man.” But King loves his friend, Sandy, and thinks he might be gay, too. A tender story about the power of courage and love.
Young Adult Novels:
For all the fans of Simon vs. the Homosapien Agenda and Leah on the Offbeat, Becky Albertalli has given readers a new collection of stories from the Simonverse: Love, Creekwood. This novella let’s you experience all the tenderness and humor that only Albertalli can write. Love, Creekwood begins by returning to Simon and Blue a year after their relationship has gone public and just a few months after Leah and Abby had their prom night to remember. As these beloved characters transition into the next chapter of their lives, they return to the comfort of navigating friendship and relationships in their signature style–email. Not only is Love, Creekwood the best gift for your family and friends, it is a gift that will give back! The proceeds from this novella are donated to The Trevor Project which is an organization that provides crisis & suicide intervention support to LGBTQ+ youth. So this holiday, fall in love with Creekwood and support the powerful work of The Trevor Project!
Haven’t read the Simonverse novels or want more ideas for fans of Albertalli’s work? Check out her other titles: Simon vs. the Homosapien Agenda, The Upside of Unrequited, Leah on the Offbeat. Collaborations and Upcoming novels also include: What If It’s Us with Adam Silvera and Yes No Maybe So with Aisha Saeed and coming in April 2021, Kate in Waiting.
Felix Ever After, written by Kacen Callender is a relatable and emotional tale about falling in love and self-discovery. Felix Love has never been in love and—as a Black, transgender, queer teen—he worries that he’s “one marginalization too many” to ever have that experience. As much as Felix wants to find love, he is also determined to earn a coveted and much-needed scholarship to Brown University. While attempting to expand his portfolio at an exclusive summer art program, Felix becomes the target of a transphobic art exhibit and intense cyberbullying. He then becomes obsessed with a plot for revenge that takes an unexpected detour inward, forcing Felix to grapple with his identity and realize his own self-worth. Readers will cry with Felix at his lowest points and celebrate his victories. As an #OwnVoices author, Callender tells a unique and realistic story about identity, love, bullying, determination, friendship, and family dynamics to which any teen reader may relate.
If you and the teens in your life are overwhelmed by negative news and despairing for the direction of our country, Unrig is a tonic that will restore your faith and reveal the path forward to fix our broken democracy. This stirring nonfiction graphic novel by Daniel G. Newman and George O’ Connor takes readers behind the scenes―from the sweaty cubicles where senators dial corporate CEOs for dollars, to lavish retreats where billionaires boost their favored candidates, to the map rooms where lawmakers scheme to handpick their voters. Unrig also highlights surprising solutions that limit the influence of big money and redraw the lines of political power.
Worried about how to choose the perfect gift for the YA reader in your life? Instead of giving them one story, give them many wrapped under the same cover! A Phoenix First Must Burn, edited by Patricia Caldwell, is an anthology of 16 short stories that explores the Black experience through speculative fiction. The collection examines race, gender, and sexuality via the realm of the imaginative from fantasy to science fiction to folktale, and it brings together bestselling and award-winning writers with diverse backgrounds. With so many different stories, your reader is sure to find one or more that resonates, and maybe they’ll find a new favorite author, too
Book Themed Gifts
Foster inter-generational bonding with Just Between Us, Mother & Daughter: A No-Stress, No-Rules Journal for Girls and Their Moms by Meredith and Sofie Jacobs. This colorful, cheerful journal features side-by-side spreads where moms and daughters answer the same (or similar) prompts to get to know each other better. The Just Between Us line also features journals for other family pairings (grandmother and granddaughter, sisters, mother and son). While this line is not yet inclusive of all relationship possibilities, the Mother & Daughter journal could provide inspiration for a DIY customized notebook for relationships outside of the line’s current scope.
Angsty tweens will love Wreck This Journal: Now in Color by Keri Smith. Bright pages and daring hand-lettered prompts urge users to “wreck” the book by physically engaging with each page. This is a journal where tweens are encouraged to make a mess as an artistic outlet for messy feelings. Prompts ask users to “mix so many colors they turn to mud,” color pages with food and spit, cover a page with staples, scratch and poke holes through specific pages, etc. These activities may provide stress relief and decreased perfectionism, both invaluable benefits during this tremendously difficult year.
Family-Friendly Antiracist Book Kit
Are you curious about how to talk about racism and antiracism with the young people in your life? Then gift your family with these Raising Antiracist Kids starter kits from East City Bookshop in Washington, DC. Kits are available for parents and kids ages 0-4, 5-11, and 12-older. All of the Raising Antiracist Kids starter kits include:
- A nonfiction book to further your understanding of antiracism, along with specific materials to help you get more out of your time reading.
- An age appropriate kids book with specific activities and/or discussion questions designed to facilitate conversations about race relevant to each book.
- Additional materials and prompts continue these conversations at home.
Can’t decide on just one book to give the young readers in your life? Consider a book subscription box! Each box offers various price ranges and subscription levels, so you may purchase the box as a one-time gift, a monthly gift, a bi-monthly gift, etc. Each box is shipped with surprise novels and extra exciting bookish goodies such as pins, bookmarks, jewelry, candles, and more!
For young adult readers, we recommend four different subscriptions. First, OwlCrate is the most popular YA subscription box that offers a young adult (14+) and a middle grades (8-12) option! Marginsbox is an amazing box that centers on YA lit written by and about BIPOC; as a bonus, all the bookish goodies in these boxes are also created and curated by BIPOC! With a mission to “motivate, highlight, reaffirm, and empower cultures who have been ‘blacklisted’ from the classroom,” Blacklit is an amazing box that offers three subscription options for all children and young adult readers. If you’re looking for YA fantasy, sci-fi, and magical realism, Fantasy Monthly is the box for you!
For young readers, we recommend My First Reading Club and Reading Bug Box, which can both be personalized for children up to age 13. Lillypost is perfect for baby’s first introduction to board books and picture books with options for ages 1 to 12 months.
Book & Author-Related Goodies
BookBeau is an amazing zippered book-sleeve for readers on the go! Traveling readers no longer have to worry about bending pages or covers when packing novels to take on trips! Purchase a book-sleeve in numerous sizes from extra small to jumbo. And choose from beautiful whimsical patterns to fit the interest of your readers!
This sweatshirt celebrates some of Knoxville’s most famous Black authors, advocates, and artists. Check it out at Knoxville’s newest independent bookstore, The Bottom: https://www.thebottomknox.com/.
Give the gift of technology with the app Bookly (https://getbookly.com/). Bookly allows readers to keep up with reading statistics, book titles, and important quotes discovered through reading. It allows users to set goals for daily reading, monthly reading, and yearly reading. Bookly provides insights into readers’ habits as readers and encourages readers to push beyond their limits. It’s almost become a contest: can I read more pages than I did yesterday? Can I beat my pages per minute statistics? So much fun. *Disclaimer: annual subscription is $30 to access all features*
2020 Best of the Best List
Kristin Rearden’s STEM Picks:
Counting on Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Saved Apollo 13, by Helaine Becker
This is a must-have STEM biography! Although it’s listed as a K-2 book, detailed end notes and historical connections make this book perfect for older students as well. With the recurring text of “Count on me” interspersed throughout the text, Becker conveys Johnson’s challenges and achievements, culminating in Johnson’s epic calculations that led to the safe return of Apollo 13. Watercolor images are sometimes captioned to provide supplemental facts. End notes contain additional information about Johnson and a list of sources.
How to Code a Sandcastle, by Josh Funk
This book engages readers in a fictional story about a young girl and her robot who complete a design project for building a sandcastle on the beach. Examples of how to use coding logic statements, such as If-Then and looping codes for repeated steps, are embedded in the text, making this one of the few books with computer logic content. Incorporating coding in a manner that is accessible to primary students through a story format is a promising development in elementary trade books.
A Place to Start a Family: Poems About Creatures That Build, by David L. Harrison
Harrison uses succinct poetry to present the unique ways in which various animals build functional structures for catching food or raising young. Termites, spiders, storks, and beavers are just a few of the animals included, and illustrations from cut-paper reliefs boldly depict the animals and their surroundings. End notes include further information about each of the builders, and a final page includes coral as an example of animal builders that use their own chemicals to build reefs.
Kristin Rearden is a clinical professor of science education at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. She has served on the National Science Teaching Association (NSTA) Outstanding Science Trade Book committee and the NSTA Best STEM Book committee. Her research interests include the integration of high-quality trade books in science curricula.
Julie Danielson’s Picks for Children’s Picture Books
I Talk Like a River, by Jordan Scott and illustrated by Sydney Smith
A young boy feels the shame of stuttering and the facial contortions—and stares from classmates—that result. His father, recognizing his son’s “bad speech day,” takes him to a place where they can be quiet. At the river, the two watch the water, churning yet “calm … beyond the rapids.” Pulling his son close, the boy’s father points to the water. “That’s how you speak,” he tells him, giving his son an empowering metaphor to embrace. Illustrator Sydney Smith dazzles with a masterful use of thick brushstrokes that capture the boy’s interior world. Without ever providing pat answers or resorting to sentimentality, the story, told from the author’s own experience, reverently acknowledges the boy’s hardship.
All Because You Matter, by Tami Charles and illustrated by Bryan Collier
A lyrical and affirming love letter of a picture book to Black children everywhere, this contemporary lullaby is about love, hope, pride, history, and how Black Lives Matter. “Did you know that you were born from queens, chiefs, legends?” Charles writes. “That strength, power, and beauty lie within you?” Collier’s dynamic illustrations in his distinctive collage technique are spectacular.
Honeybee: The Busy Life of Apis Mellifera, by Candace Fleming and illustrated by Eric Rohmann
Fleming and Rohmann bring readers on a journey through a life that lasts 35 days—a honeybee, who emerges from a nest before we even get to the title page spread. She grows; nurses; tends to the queen; assists in building honeycombs and storing nectar that eventually ripens into honey; guards the nest; learns to fly (on the twenty-fifth day of her life, no less) in a dramatic and exhilarating double gatefold spread; and transfers pollen. On the penultimate spread, we witness her demise, but on the final page we meet a brand-new honeybee, pushing her way into life just as our protagonist did at the book’s start. With lyricism and reverence, Fleming makes this story sing. Rohmann’s dramatic, stunning, up-close portraits of the bee at work are spectacular.
Julie Danielson conducts interviews and features of authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children’s literature blog focused primarily on illustration and picture books. Julie received her Master’s in Information Sciences, with a focus on children’s librarianship, and she is currently a Lecturer for The University of Tennessee’s School of Information Sciences, her alma mater. She has juried for the Society of Illustrators’ Original Art Award and the BolognaRagazzi Awards for the Bologna Children’s Book Fair in Italy, and she recently chaired the 2020 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award committee. She reviews and writes about picture books for Kirkus, BookPage, the Horn Book, and Tennessee’s Chapter 16. Wild Things! Acts of Mischief in Children’s Literature, written with Betsy Bird and the late Peter D. Sieruta, was published by Candlewick Press in 2014.
Susan Groenke’s Children’s Picture Book Picks
The Voice that Won the Vote: How One Woman’s Words Made History, by Elisa Boxer and illustrated by Vivien Mildenberger
This year we celebrate the 100-year anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote. In August of 1920, women’s suffrage in America came down to the vote in Tennessee. If the Tennessee legislature approved the 19th amendment it would be ratified, giving all American women the right to vote. The historic moment came down to a single vote and the voter who tipped the scale toward equality did so because of a powerful letter his mother, Febb Burn, had written him urging him to “Vote for suffrage and don’t forget to be a good boy.” The Voice That Won the Vote is the story of Febb, her son Harry, and the letter that gave all American women a voice.
Women Win the Vote!, by Nancy B. Kennedy and illustrated by Katy Dockrill
This book tells the story of the 19 heroes of the 19th Amendment, including pioneering journalist Ida B. Wells, who, like Mary Church Terrell, one of the first African American women to graduate from college, and founder of the National Association of Colored Women, had to fight to be included in the momentous 1913 Women’s Suffrage Parade in Washington, D.C. Kennedy tells how Wells, born into slavery, used her voice to expose the dangers of systemic racism across the country.
Vote for our Future!, by Margaret McNamara and illustrated by Micah Player
Every two years, on the first Tuesday of November, Stanton Elementary School closes for the day. For vacation? Nope! For repairs? No way! Stanton Elementary School closes so that it can transform itself into a polling station. People can come from all over to vote for the people who will make laws for the country. Sure, the Stanton Elementary School students might be too young to vote themselves, but that doesn’t mean they can’t encourage their parents, friends, and family to vote! After all, voting is how this country sees change–and by voting today, we can inspire tomorrow’s voters to change the future.
Susan Groenke was a Nationally Board-certified middle school and high school English/language arts teacher before pursuing a doctorate in curriculum and instruction from Virginia Tech. Dr. Groenke now directs the PhD program in Children’s and Young Adult Literature at the University of Tennessee and also directs the Center for Children’s and Young Adult Literature on the university campus. Dr. Groenke also serves as Senior Editor of The ALAN Review.
Brooke Bianchi-Pennington’s Graphic Novel Picks
Pumpkinheads, by Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks
If you need a fun, light-hearted book to help transition to fall, Pumpkinheads has all the charm of Rowell and Hicks bundled into a story about coming to terms with change and evolving relationships. Deja and Josiah have worked at the pumpkin patch every fall for years but now face ending their last season as they go off to college. Outgoing Deja is determined to help shy Josiah finally speak to his pumpkin patch crush before he loses his last chance. In the ensuing quest, both friends learn a little bit more about what they really want from this last day together.
Are You Listening?, by Tillie Waldon
After her sci-fi work On a Sunbeam, Waldon brings her fantastical story-telling and rich world-building down to Earth with magical realism. Bea is a teen girl on the run. Lou is an adult woman who never really stopped running. When their paths cross, they end up on a magical road trip that helps both of them confront their demons through their shared connection. This book addresses serious topics such as sexual assault while showing a path toward healing through sharing with others.
Glass Town: The Imaginary World of the Brontës, by Isabelle Greenberg
While Glass Town is an excellent resource for engaging students in the works of the Brontës and helping them understand the context of their work, it also stands on its own as a beautiful, imaginative story about the power of fiction. A mix of factual biography and fictitious embellishment, Glass Town explores the stories the Brontës collaborated on as children, allowing them to explore and cope with the real world and ultimately influencing their more famous works. Told mostly from the perspective of Charlotte Bronte and one of her childhood character creations, the layers of stories have lessons to teach about growing up and coping with loss.
The Fire Never Goes Out: A Memoir in Pictures, by Noelle Stevenson
The author of Nimona and showrunner of She-ra presents a collection of essays and comics about her young-adulthood. She speaks honestly about struggles with mental health during a period of rapid growth, creativity, and sudden success with an overall message of self-acceptance and self-care.
Brooke Bianchi-Pennington has been teaching English for ten years, eight of which have been at Hardin Valley Academy where she is currently English Department Chair. In 2019 she earned her Ph.D. in Children’s and Young Adult Literature at The University of Tennessee. She loves talking with young adults about diverse literature. When she’s not in teacher mode, Brooke enjoys biking around South Knoxville, cooking Chinese food, listening to podcasts, and playing Dungeons and Dragons.
Stacey Reece’s Multicultural Young Adult Lit Picks
Clap When You Land, by Elizabeth Acevedo
Elizabeth Acevedo never disappoints! In this, her second verse novel, Acevedo highlights and celebrates strong women. The story is told through the viewpoints of two narrators – Yahaira, who lives in New York, and Camino, who lives in the Dominican Republic. The story begins with Camino anxiously and excitedly awaiting the arrival of her father from New York. Tragically, the plane crashes and all passengers perish. Yahaira gets the news of the plane crash at school in New York when her mother comes to tell her. Both girls are desperate to hang on to the memory of their father; however, neither knows of the other’s existence! The girls are sisters and don’t know it. When they do realize it, they have to navigate another their feelings about each other and about the father they thought they knew.
This Is My America, by Kim Johnson
What a timely novel! This story centers around Tracy, a Texas teenager whose father, imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit, has been on death row for seven years. Each week, Tracy writes letters to Innocence X, pleading with them to take her father’s case and prove that he’s innocent, as he has only a few months left before he’s executed. While trying to exonerate her father, Tracy’s brother Jamal is also accused of a murder he didn’t commit. When Jamal goes on the run, Tracy realizes she has not one but two men to prove innocent. This book tackles so many relevant issues in America today, including generational trauma, interracial dating, mass incarceration, flaws in the justice system, and so much more. What’s wonderful about this novel is that these issues are woven together in a way that doesn’t feel “preachy” or overwhelming. It’s a perfect book to open up all of these conversations.
We Are Not from Here, by Jenny Torres Sanchez
Although the characters are fictional, their story isn’t. Friends Pequeña, Chico, and Pulga, Guatemalan teenagers, desperately want to leave the violence of their country behind, travel to Nogales, Mexico, and then cross the border into the US. This book is not for the faint of heart; there’s a lot of violence and a sexual assault. From the beginning, the reader is invested in these characters. We empathize with them as they decide to leave everything behind, fueled by both hope and fear. We’re with them each step of the arduous and treacherous three-week journey on “La Bestia,” a series of trains that take them almost to the border. Once they arrive in Nogales, they must pay a coyote an exorbitant amount to lead them to safety in the U.S. over another three nights of grueling walking through desert and hiding during the day. It’s not all about struggles, though; we see fellow passengers, shelter owners, and members of local churches who provide them support along their journey. Torres highlights the power of kindness and compassion in the darkest moments of this novel. A powerful and poignant story.
Stacey Reece is an English teacher at West High School. The 2020-2021 school year will be her 28th as a teacher. She’s actually has a loose handle on all the virtual things, proving that you can teach an old dog new tricks! She has a bachelor’s degree in English (Milligan College), a master’s degree in English (ETSU), and a doctorate in education (UT). When she’s not teaching, you can find her reading a book, talking about books, buying books, researching books to buy, and trying to get others to be her friend on Goodreads. She also spends a great deal of time trying to corral her dogs, Ruthie and Bumpy.
Brandi Hartsell’s YA Picks
Brandi Hartsell is the school librarian at Halls High School in Knox County. She leads book clubs for both students and faculty/staff at her school, as well as a YA book club for adults that is affiliated with the website Forever Young Adult. She is also a member of the Volunteer State Book Award nominating committee for high school. Brandi is passionate about reading (especially YA) and loves sharing books with others.
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!
Best of Best MG and YA Book Lists
Best of the Best K5 Book Lists