For the Love of Reading:: 11 Must Read Books by Black Authors

For the Love of Reading:: 11 Must Read Books by Black Authors

In the months since the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd, many of us have engaged in the valuable work of anti-racist reading. There are many reading lists and recommendations available, and bookstores around the country are keeping busy with filling orders for anti-racist books.

The Limits of an Anti-Racist Reading List

I recently read this article by Lauren Michele Jackson, which highlighted the difference between reading Black literature and an educational text. She points out that following an anti-racist reading list can sometimes limit us to viewing Black literature as a syllabus, designed to teach us about the Black experience, rather than reading it with respect to genre. For example, I would never read something by Toni Morrison to learn about racism. I would read her books because she is a master of her craft, and her prose is absolutely gorgeous. 

I then started to think about this idea for children. There are many wonderful lists available to teach our kids about Black history, about slavery, about the Civil Rights movement. But are we reading books by Black authors, just to read and enjoy their stories? 

I’ve put together a list of children’s books {picture, middle grade, and young adult} that I picked up and loved, simply because they tell a lovely and imaginative story. I loved them for their beautiful language, their gorgeous illustrations, and their ability to evoke emotions. I loved them for their exquisite world building and their sharp wit. This book list is certainly not comprehensive; there are so many other works of fiction by Black authors that are fantastic. These are simply a selection of the books I’ve read and enjoyed. 

Picture Books

The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson; illus. by Rafael Lopez 

 

We’ve all felt a little bit different. We’ve all felt left out. We’ve all felt as if we don’t quite belong. But the day you begin to share your story, to venture out into the unknown, to reach out to the world, you’ll find that you are brave. You are strong. You can persevere. Even when you don’t yet know what that looks like. Jacqueline Woodson’s words are lovely and poetic, and they pair perfectly with Rafael Lopez’s vibrant illustrations. This is a must read for any child {and adult!} who ever felt like they do not quite fit in the world around them. 

 

 


Hair Love by Matthew A. Cherry; illus. by Vashti Harrison

Zuri’s hair has a mind of its own. She loves that her hair, and its many different styles, lets her be herself. Today is a special day, and Zuri needs an extra special hairstyle! And Daddy knows just how to help her find it. This sweet story celebrates natural hair in all its glory, the special bond between fathers and daughters, and the confidence that comes from being uniquely you. This book is based on the Academy Award winning short film by the same name- you can watch it here!

 

 

 


Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters by John Steptoe

Mufaro lives in an African village with his two beautiful daughters, Manyara and Nyasha. Manyara is always teases her sister that one day, Maynara will be queen and Nyasha will be her servant. One day, the King of the city sends word to the village that he is looking for a wife. Mufaro sends both of his daughters to the King, but only one can be queen. Who will he choose? This rich story is based on an African folktale; its beautiful illustrations were inspired by the ruins of an ancient city in Zimbabwe. This book is a timeless story, perfect for every generation to read and love. 

 

 

 


Imani’s Moon by Janay Brown-Wood; illus. by Hazel Mitchell

Imani is a young Maasai girl, the tiniest girl in her village. Each day, the children tease her and tell her she will never be or do anything great, because she is so small. But Imani has big dreams:: she is going to touch the moon. And she isn’t going to let anyone stop her from believing in herself and achieving her goal.

Listen. I checked this book out from the library and immediately ordered it to have in our home library. It is that good. This story challenges the reader to dream big. To keep trying, even when you fail. To write your own story, even when it seems impossible. And the accompanying illustrations are simply gorgeous. Run, don’t walk, to get this book! 

 

 


The Water Princess by Susan Verde and Georgie Badiel; illus. by Peter H. Reynolds

Princess Gie Gie lives in an African village. Each morning, she rises before the sun is up and journeys for miles to fetch water from the well to bring to her village. And once she is home, she and her mother boil the water for cleaning and drinking. Each night, she dreams of clean, clear, cool water, running through her village- and she hopes that she will one day make it so. This story is based on supermodel Georgie Badiel’s childhood in Burkina Faso, where, just like Princess Gie Gie, traveled for miles each day for water. This is a daily reality for many in the world that our children can scarcely imagine. This engaging story is a mirror into that world, told with simple words and illustrated with rich, vivid imagery. You can also check out the Georgie Badiel’s Foundation, which works to accomplish Badiel’s dream that everyone have access to clean drinking water. 


Middle Grade Books

For the Love of Reading:: 11 Must Read Books by Black Authors

From the Desk of Zoe Washington by Janae Marks

Zoe Washington loves to bake and dreams of winning the Food Network’s Kid’s Bake Challenge with one of her creative creations. On her 12th birthday, Zoe receives a letter in the mail from her father, Marcus, who has been in prison her whole life for a terrible crime. But in his letters, Marcus says he is innocent. Can she trust what he says? Zoe is determined to find out the truth. This was such a delightful book. I loved Zoe’s creativity, her persistence in discovering the truth, and her struggle to balance her old life with this new discovery about Marcus. Her father’s story line delves into wrongful imprisonment and biases against Black men in the justice system, presenting a very real issue in a meaningful but age appropriate manner. 

 

 


Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor

Twelve-year -old Sunny Nwazu is an American-born albino girl with Nigerian parents. She and her family has recently moved to Nigeria. Sunny feels like she doesn’t fit in, until she finds out that she is a descendant of the Leopard people and has magical powers. She teams up with 3 other magical friends, and they are soon tasked with taking down an evil serial killer, Black Hat. Think Harry Potter, but set in Nigeria with a kick butt girl as the Chosen One. Many fantasy novels have a Euro-centric feel to them, so it was cool to dive into a fantasy series that celebrates Nigerian culture. The world building is rich and imaginative, and the plot is fast paced, but well developed. Bonus:: if you like reading it, be sure to check out the sequel, Akata Warrior

 

 


For the Love of Reading:: 11 Must Read Books by Black Authors

Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis

Bud is a ten year old boy, living in Flint, Michigan during the Great Depression. His mother died when he was 6, and he didn’t know his father. However, his mother left him a clue:: fliers for Herman E. Calloways band, The Dusky Devastators of the Depression. Armed with his suitcase of special things, his very own book, Bud Caldwell’s Rules and Things for Having a Funner Life and Making a Better Liar Out of Yourself, and these flyers, Bud sets out on a quest to find his father. This heartfelt novel pulls the reader in from page one. Curtis doesn’t pull any punches as he describes the hardships people, especially Black people, endured during the Great Depression. Despite his difficult circumstances, Bud perseveres in his quest- and not just his quest for his father, but a quest for hope and for a better future. 

 

 


Young Adult (YA) Books

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

Zélie Adebola is a teenage girl stuck in a land without magic. But it wasn’t always that way. The kingdom she lives in, Orïsha, was alive with magic, until King Saran sent his soldiers to kill all of the maji, the magic wielders. Zélie’s own mother, a Reaper who summoned forth souls, was killed in the Raid. Now, Zélie has the chance to bring magic back to the Kingdom. With the help of her brother and a rogue princess, Zélie must outwit the crown prince, who is determined to see magic destroyed for good, while controlling her own growing powers. This book packs a punch. Adeyemi weaves a story full of incredible imagery, rich in West African mythology and culture. And she not-so-subtly explores police brutality, Black death, and racism, in the midst of a mythical world. It is the first in a trilogy, of which the second, Children of Virtue and Vengeance, is already out. The third book, currently untitled, comes out in 2021.

 


Calling My Name by Liara Tamani

This debut novel features Taja, a teenage girl growing up in Houston! The story begins when Taja is 11 and moves with her until the end of high school. She examines her belief in God, while struggling in a strict religious household; she battles through insecurity and self doubt; she experiences first love and her view of sex. In short, this coming of age story explores the universal struggles we all face, as she moves through those tumultuous teenage years. Tamani’s prose is lyrical and poetic, washing over you like cool water. This book should be in the hands of every teenage girl who has struggled to know her worth and find her purpose. 

 

 

 


For the Love of Reading:: 11 Must Read Books by Black Authors

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

This debut novel, told entirely in verse, is the story of Xiomara Batista, a teenage girl growing up in Harlem. Xio feels frustrated:: frustrated with her mom, who is forcing her to conform to the rules of the Chuch; frustrated with the men around her, for never respecting her; and frustrated with herself, because she doesn’t know how to express herself. She can only express what she feels in her poetry. This novel explores religion, sex, and love. It explores what it’s like to grow up Dominican and the expectations that come with that culture. And it explores the power of using your voice in a world that doesn’t always hear you. Acevedo herself is an award-winning slam poet, and you can just feel the emotion on the page. Her words are real and raw, and I cannot recommend reading this book enough. 

 


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