Diversity is not only about ethnicity it deals with one’s body of work too. We desperately need black authors who write everything from historical fiction and coming-of-age narratives to humorous adventure stories and chilling dystopian chronicles.
Christopher Paul Curtis is an author whose repertoire is quite varied. In his books Mr. Chickee’s Messy Mission and Mr. Chickee’s Funny Money he delivers a fast-pace heist type story laced with humor and fun. Think Mission Impossible, but with a cool old man and a weird 9 year-old boy. I’d definitely recommend listening to these on road trips, they’re mindless enough for cruisin’ on open roads, but gripping enough to make 6+ hours seem like a piece of cake.
If you’re looking for something a bit more historical Mr. Curtis has The Watson’s Go to Birmingham. It tells the story of a family going down from Flint, Michigan to Birmingham, Alabama in 1963. Told from a 9 year-olds perspective, it tackles the tragic events of that city and year in a natural unintimidating manner. It’s one of those classic books that most people have never heard of but need to read. With wit, humor, and history it has something for everyone.
Bud Not Buddy is another amazing read, it tells the story of a little boy in search of his father. Armed only with his precious suitcase, flyers with clues of his past, and a bucket full courage and charisma, Bud launches on a long and intense journey filled with adventure and lots of jazz.
I’ve loved each of these five books at different times and in different ways, I hope they impact you as positively as they’ve impacted me.
Expertly weaving Christianity throughout intriguing narratives, it’s no wonder Nikki Grimes is a greatly beloved and acclaimed children’s and young adult author. I recently read her novel A Girl Named Mister which introduces us to Mary Rudine, a young teenager busy with church and school, devoted to her promise of purity. The narrative deals with the aftermath of her breaking that promise and the consequences of sexual sin. Ms. Grimes draws parallels from the story of Mary the mother of Jesus in a fresh way. And despite the subject matter she keeps this book appropriate which shows immense writing skill.
One thing that I love about this novel is that it shows the consequences of sin but also the complete and total forgiveness of God. It shows how God can make beauty from broken things and that he uses people to show his good and wonderful nature. Ms. Grimes also illustrates beautiful mother-daughter relationships, the metamorphosis of the parent-child dynamic, and the power of a mother’s constant love.
I’m in the midst of reading Ms. Grimes Dark Sons and I’m looking forward to finishing it soon and reading more of her dynamic work.
Activist, abolitionist, author, It’s hard to believe that Frederick Douglass began his life in slavery. In his famous book: Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass he tells the story of his bondage, his escape, and his calling.
Never shying away from recounting the horrors of slavery and the injustice he experienced, Frederick Douglass boldly exposes issues that need to be in the open: the rape, beating, and murder that were rampant in the time.
But make no mistake, Douglass’ ideas not only apply to the age of American chattel slavery, but they apply to our day. By exposing the issues with Christianity of his time: Christians allowing and promoting inhumane and inconceivable acts in the name of Jesus, through his narrative I noticed parallels between the attitudes of that day and our day. As Douglass said, the Christianity of Christ is far from the women-whipping, cradle-plundering, murderous Christianity of this land. Christ’s Christianity addresses social issues and cares about people before politics and people before patriotism. It seems to apply to the response to police brutality issues of late: Christians don’t need to be “black or blue” as Christians we should be for justice and life. No person should fear murder because of the color of their skin, period.
A short book, it won’t take long to read and the thoughts of Narrative of the Life stay with you long after the final page has been turned.
Can I start by saying that I’m struggling? I’ve never blogged every day before, let alone for 28 days straight. I’m really enjoying doing this series though, and I think that writing this is of the utmost importance. Anyway, let’s get to today’s author!
Angie Thomas is currently one of the most famous YA authors. Her debut novel The Hate You Give rocketed her to the top of lots of people’s radars and has even gotten the attention of movie producers.
The Hate U Give tells the story of Starr Carter, a teen girl who witnesses her best friend’s murder by the police. It wrestles with police brutality, which is a very timely issue, in a fresh way. Making both the victim and police officers multi-faceted and real, Angie Thomas allows the reader not to see this as a racial issue but a human issue above all.
Details like hip-hop and sneaker references allow this book to be fun and impactful. With interracial relationships, family dynamics, and economic disparity there’s almost nothing that The Hate U Give doesn’t cover.
I’m truly looking forward to Angie Thomas’s next novel On the Come Up and hope it impacts the culture as much as this one has.
YA is rife with coming-of-age books, so it’s always nice to find a book that casts the same narrative in a new light. Liara Tamani’s debut novel Calling My Name is that book.
It tells the story of Taja Brown, from middle school to senior year, as she struggles with who God is, who she is, and who she wants to be. Navigating death, love, and friendship Taja looks at the world with fresh eyes and Ms. Tamani writes her observations with fresh prose. It flows like poetry and evokes vivid imagery, yet stays casual enough to feel as if we’re really in the mind of a regular girl.
I can’t wait to read more from Liara Tamani in the future and whole-heartedly recommend Calling My Name.
Making history come alive takes a special skill, a skill that John Lewis possesses. As a civil rights activist, United States representative, and author he has a lot to say. Living through lunch counter sit-ins and marches of the 60s, and even giving a speech at the March on Washington, John Lewis was on the front lines of the civil rights movement.
In his graphic novel March, Mr. Lewis brings the history of integration and revolution to life. Telling his stories of fighting for justice and equality, he shows the beauty of that time in history. This book and its sequels are perfect for reluctant readers because the easy comic book-like style makes it an entertaining read.
There’s something special about reading history from someone who lived it first hand. John Lewis fought, spoke, and went to jail for freedom. And in the March series we get to witness it all with him.
Previously, I’ve talked mainly about YA because that’s what I read currently. However, picture books and middle grade books are just, as if not more, important than YA.
At 4 or 5 years old, flipping through picture books, it’s impactful to see people who look like you in those pages. Hearing parents and grandparents read books to you telling the stories of your family, friends, and ancestors shapes your views of yourself and the world.
Patricia Mckissack is the author of numerous picture books: some purely fictional and some presenting the lives of African American heroes in a new light. When I was younger I read her story Flossie & the Fox, and I still remember the feeling these 10+ years later. It’s a narrative that reads like an Aesop Fable or Just So Story about a witty little girl who outsmarts the fox.
Flossie’s character makes this book. She’s sassy, funny, and intelligent. It may be simple: a little girl outsmarts a fox, but the underlying message is that this girl is smart, funny, and quick-witted, she’s the main character, the hero, and she’s black. It’s a powerful message that everyone should read.
One of my favorite authors ever is Jason Reynolds. Some may describe him as the Walter Dean Myers of a new generation, and while I definitely see similarities between the two authors and I love both of their books, I would be hesitant to compare them because Mr. Reynolds has a style all his own.
With wit and humor, Jason Reynolds writes books for reluctant readers because he was one himself. It wasn’t until the age of 17 that he completed a book, but that book eventually led him to become a writer. Mr. Reynolds is one of those authors who churns out amazing books like a machine, which I love, because he has such an extensive repertoire however, I haven’t read all of them.
I have read: Ghost, When I Was the Greatest, and The Boy in the Black Suit thus far. The Boy in the Black Suit impacted me the most. It tells the story of Matt who grapples with the recent death of his mom and his strange new obsession with funerals. It’s a funny story that tackles grief in a sensitive yet light way. With a touch of romance, tragedy, and friendship it’s a story that will stay with you forever.
In a similar way, his book When I Was the Greatest shows the duality of humanity, specifically compassion and aggression. The depth that the characters of Needles and Noodles and the others in their neighborhood have is refreshing. Not only does Mr. Reynolds show people of color, he shows them not just as people of color but as humans. Rather than saying: “hey you should read this because diversity is important and you have to.” his books say: “hey you should read this because you can connect with these characters’ humanity and have your eyes opened to a culture, lifestyle, and struggle you might not have known before.”
Jason Reynolds is an author that I think everyone should read, no matter who you are, and he is one that I look forward to reading more from.
With numerous titles under her belt, Sharon Draper is a force in both YA and Middle Grade fiction. Her books aim to inspire children and young adults and let them know they aren’t alone. In her writing, she executes just that.
My younger sister enjoys her Clubhouse Mystery series, we listened to her plantation novel Stella by Starlight, and I’ve devoured a few of her YA novels myself.
Copper Sun truly engrained itself in my memory. As one of the only books to deal directly with slavery and the middle passage in YA fiction, Ms. Draper tackles this difficult subject by creating a beautiful personal character. Amari is taken from her home village in Africa and forced to sail away from her homeland into slavery.
Specifically, the magic of this book started with Africa. Instead of starting with slavery or even the middle passage she starts with home. It’s a refreshing beginning world to show the beauty and resilience of the continent in a literary world where “black people needed saving from savage Africa”.
Even as Ms. Draper shows the majesty of Africa she shows the atrocity of slavery. She doesn’t shy away from demonstrating the sickening practices of murders, beatings, and rape. But this story is first and foremost a story about a girl, which pulls the reader into this narrative. It’s about a girl that could be you, me, or someone we know personally. We sympathize with Amari because we see ourselves in her story.
“…and this makes me wonder whether a black girl’s life is only about being stitched together and coming undone, being stitched together and coming undone.” ~Piecing Me Together
I’ve read both of Renee Watson’s YA novels: This Side of Home and Piecing Me Together. I’m now convinced I need her to write more, and quickly. Spinning creative and gorgeous narratives that also deal with real social issues is a special skill, a skill Ms. Watson truly possesses.
This Side of Home tells the story of Nikki and Maya, identical twins who’ve always agreed on everything, until now. During the narrative the twins find themselves growing apart as they grow up. This novel deals with gentrification, interracial relationships, and the importance of historically black colleges and universities, all in a fun package. Not only that, but Ms. Watson talks about a subject that most people are hesitant to even touch: are black people justified in using the n-word? This book has so many layers that I want to read it again to peel them back even further.
Piecing Me Together also tells the story of growing up from a black girl’s perspective. Jade struggles with perception in this book: how she is seen by the world, and how she sees herself. Grappling with the recent issues of police brutality and her own experiences, she tries to pick up the pieces of her life and put herself together as she wants to be. I have a whole page of quotes from this book in my quotes journal because the writing and thoughts behind it where just that good. Ms. Watson does an excellent job showing all the pain that comes with being a black girl, but all the magic too.
These two books are truly essential to the YA experience and they definitely need more love.