I am angry and depressed by the ongoing systemic racism of this country. It needs to change. Every single person needs to understand that Black lives matter. Everyone needs that knowledge to be part of their daily lives. And we need to flood our libraries with books that show it.
Here are some of my favorite middle grade books by Black authors. And these are books that have a lot of joy in them (even though some may have some heaviness too). These are books for any kid of any race or ethnicity, books that kids enjoy.
And these are books that every elementary school classroom and library should carry.
My first is a recommendation for fans of creepy stories and folktales. These are some of the best books of that kind I’d ever read: The Jumbies trilogy by Tracey Baptiste. Kids who love good stories loaded with menace will eat this up.
From the Desk of Zoe Washington by Janae Marks is brand-new realistic fiction that goes into family, truth, serious baking, as well as bias and our prison system. The writing is as warm as this cover art, and I know a lot of kids already love this.
Love Like Sky by Leslie C. Youngblood is a fairly new realistic fiction book, the powerful and sometimes heartbreaking story of a blended family, sisters, illness, fitting in, and early romantic love. (And it’s very timely as well: One of the characters is involved in protesting police brutality against Black people.) This book packs in a lot of issues and weaves them together beautifully.
If you’ve ever heard me talk about Varian Johnson’s The Parker Inheritance, you’ve heard me say that this book is like The Westing Game but better. With vivid scenes zipping between the present and the past, this mystery with its historical subplot and story of racism is utterly brilliant and a leader in the middle grade mystery genre.
The amazing Sharon M. Draper has written so many incredible books, Stella by Starlight high among them. It’s a historical novel about a girl in the 1930s facing the KKK in her community. My son reread this again and again, from 3rd grade to 5th grade, at least once each year. And wrote his one and only fan email to the author (who answered him within a day sharing news of her next book, Blended).
Finally, if Jason Reynold’s Track series isn’t in your classroom or library, you need to put it there right away. This series has a huge fan base in every school I’ve mentioned it to. They’re fast-paced, exciting sports books, but books with issues, and I’ve not met a single kid who hasn’t loved them.
These are amazing books. Kids love them. And by having authentic Black voices in these stories help children see themselves or see what kids of another race and ethnicity are like: with experiences distinct to the Black experience, yet with hopes and dreams a lot like their own.
(I tweeted the pictures and some of the text of this post on May 31, 2020.)