Meyer, Carolyn. Rio Grande Stories. NY: Gulliver Books. The 7th grade class at Rio Grande Magnet Middle School undertake a project focused on discovering their own unique cultural pasts through the stories told to them by elderly friends and relatives. African American, Native American, Hispanic, and Anglo students come together to create an amazing project that touches the lives of those in their community. Middle/high school.
African American Burg, Shana. A Thousand Never Evers. NY: Delacorte Press, 2008. It is 1963, and Addie Ann Pickett is largely aware of the cruelty of the world. But when Old Man Adams dies and leaves his garden to the town of Kuckachoo, Mississippi to share—white and black—Addie’s family is thrown into the controversy when Addie oversees and hears something she shouldn’t and is too scared to tell, even though it means that her brother, Elias, must go into hiding. But as the summer and fall unfold, Addie learns about ethics as she watches the adults around her trying to come to terms with the Adams legacy, and Addie finally realizes that there are times in life when being right is better than being safe. Strong middle school read to use within a Civil Rights unit.
Booth, Coe. Kendra. NY: Scholastic, 2008. Fourteen-year-old Kendra has been living with her grandmother all her life, mainly because her mother, who had Kendra at fourteen, has been too busy finishing her education and pursuing a job to take a more active role in her life. Her father, who lives in the neighborhood, isn’t much of a father figure, although he enjoys it when Kendra stops by to visit. But when Kendra starts to show interest in boys, she finds herself on the short end of her grandmother’s patience and is packed off to live with her mother, a person she hardly knows. Can Kendra and her mother find a way to meet each other halfway? Middle/high school.
Curtis, Christopher Paul. The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963. NY: Yearling, 1995. The Watson family live in Flint, Michigan, and as a family they have all the special quirks that only relatives can appreciate. But when older brother Byron, who seems to be on the road to delinquency, goes beyond what even his parents can tolerate with good humor, the family is bound for Birmingham, where Grandma Sands lives, and where Byron will spent the summer. But no one could have ever expected how their lives would be impacted by the journey to Alabama and the events of a Sunday morning. Wonderful middle school read.
Curtis, Christopher Paul. Bud, Not Buddy. NY: Yearling, 1999. This Newbury Award Winner introduces us to Bud, an orphan searching for the father he has never known. With only one obscure clue to follow, he begins his search for Herman Calloway and the Dusky Devastators (his band), sure that his father must be Herman Calloway. And while Bud’s search does not end as he expects, he does find the answers that he is looking for in order to make sense of his life. A wonderful Depression era read for middle school students.
Curtis, Christopher Paul. Elijah of Buxton. NY: Scholastic Press, 2007. This Newbury Award Winner introduces us to Elijah, the first free black child born in Buxton, Canada during the years preceding the Civil War. While much of the story charts Elijah’s (mis)adventures with his friend, Cooter, the story takes a serious turn when a trusted member of the Buxton community steals from a former slave who has been putting his money away to buy his wife and children. Elijah becomes part of an adventure that will take him to the United States to get the money back; his adventure doesn’t turn out quite as planned, but Elijah returns home with a strong sense of what it means to be free. A strong upper elementary/middle school text.
Draper, Sharon. Copper Sun. Atheneum, 2006. 15-year-old Amari is kidnapped from her village in Africa and brought on the slave ships to colonial South Carolina. Sold to Mr. Derby as a “present” for his son’s 16th birthday, Amari faces horror and degradation at the hands of the son. However, she finds a friend in Teenie, the plantation cook, and Polly, an indentured servant who has also lost her family. The two girls have to rely on each other even more when they make a desperate escape from the plantation, setting out for freedom at Fort Mose, which may or may not exist. A strong story of history and friendship.
Draper, Sharon M. Tears of a Tiger, Forged by Fire ,Darness Before Dawn, Just Another Hero. NY: Atheneum, 2000-2010. The Hazelwood High series follows the lives of various students confronting family, educational, emotional and personal issues through their sophomore through senior years of college. High School.
Flake, Sharon G. Who Am I Without Him? NY: Hyperion, 2004. This short story collection focuses on a group of African-American girls and the boys who bring stress and hassle, love and celebration, despair and growth into their lives. Solid collection.
Grimes, Nikki. Dark Sons. NY: Hyperion, 2005. Two stories in poems, one about Ishmael, some of biblical Abraham and the other about Sam, whose father has left his wife to marry a white woman. Both young men fear being displaced in their father’s attentions, and although for different reasons, with a similarity of thought and purpose that binds the stories together. This is a wonderful paired story. Middle/high school.
Houston, Gloria. Bright Freedom’s Song. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1998. Fourteen-year-old Bright Cameron, the daughter of Irish immigrants, becomes a willing conductor in the underground railroad because of her understanding of her father’s own past as an indentured servant and her friendship with former slave, Marcus. Middle/high school.
Johnson, Angela. Toning the Sweep. New York: Scholastic, 1993. Three generations of African American women hold onto a truth about life, about death, and about themselves. Could be used in conjunction with the film “An American Quilt.” Middle/high school.
Johnson, Angela. Heaven. Simon and Schuster, 1998. Marley thinks that life in Heaven, Ohio is the best…until the day the letter comes asking for information about her “real” mother and father. Middle school/upper elementary.
Johnson, Angela. Songs of Faith. Simon and Schuster, 1998. Doreen’s family is in chaos since her parents’ divorce. How can she ever accept her mother’s love when she blames her for the break-up. Middle school/upper elementary.
Magoon, Kekla. The Rock and the River. NY: Aladdin, 2009. Sam is the son of a well-known civil rights leader in 1968 Chicago. He’s gone to non-violent demonstrations most of his life, but as tensions come to a head in 1968, Sam begins to wonder if the non-violence movement of Martin Luther King, Jr is really feasible, especially after his friend Bucky is brutally attached by two white police officers for no reason. To further Sam’s confusion, his brother, Stick, has joined the Black Panthers, much to their father’s anger. As Sam struggles to reconcile his father’s stands with his brother’s seeming rebellion, tragedy hits his family again, and Sam must decide who he will be in this fight for equal rights. Excellent middle/high school read.
McDonald, Janet. Brother Hood. NY: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 2004. Nate Whitely spends his weekdays at a prestigious prep school in upstate New York and spends his weekends at home in Harlem. But while Nate is doing fine at school, he feels a growing apprehension about those at home. His brother, Eli, for example, is a mess, and further complicates his relationship with Nate by sleeping with Nate’s girlfriend. But his friends at school don’t make things easier, and with them he has to deal with a socioeconomic snobbery that he’s never before encountered. Nate’s ability to deal with these various issues makes this novel a very strong read, especially for those students struggling to make sense of moving between cultures. High school.
Meyer, Carolyn. Jubilee Journey. Gulliver Books/Harcourt Brace, 1997. Emily Rose Chartier never felt that growing up biracial was a problem until she went to Texas to visit her great grandmother, Rose Lee Jefferson. As she begins to understand how her family fits into the Juneteenth celebration, she also starts to understand how important it is for her to be aware of the African-American part of her self and how it helps to define her. Middle/high school.
Myers, Walter Dean. Sunrise Over Fallujah.. NY: Scholastic Books, 2008. Robin “Birdy” Perry (nephew of Richie Perry from Fallen Angels) finds himself in Iraq at the beginning of the war as a member of the Civilian Affairs unit. Told to represent themselves as the helpful Americans, Birdy and his company are sent out for photo ops that allow newspapers to show how the Americans are working with or supporting everyday Iraqis. But Birdy and his friends can’t be sheltered from the realities of war, nor can they pretend that everything the Coalition Forces are doing in Iraq are ethical. Birdy pours out some of his frustrations to his uncle Richie in letters; although Richie never spoke a great deal about his Viet Nam experiences, Birdy suspects that his uncle will understand his dilemmas in ways others never would. This is an excellent and timely book. High School.
Moses, Sheila P. Joseph. NY: Margeret McElderry Books, 2009. Joseph’s dad is fighting in Iraq and his mother is not handling his absence well. As she sinks further into drugs and depression, 15-year-old Joseph struggles to keep the secret of his mother’s addiction from his teachers so that he doesn’t get taken away from her. But every day is a struggle as Joseph works hard to be accepted at school. Middle school.
Myers, Walter Dean. What They Found: Love on 145th St. NY: Wendy Lamb Books, 2007. Fifteen short stories follow the lives of young men and women who learn to live, love, deal with war, death, depression, poverty, parenthood, and so on. The stories are poignant and humorous in turn; my favorites are the ones that follow the Evans family, who represent the empathic core of the stories. Middle/high school.
Myers, Walter Dean. Now is Your Time! The African-American Struggle for Freedom. Scranton, PA:
HarperCollins, 1991. From pre-Civil War to the modern Civil Rights movement, this book describes African American struggles. (Recipient of four awards). Middle/high school.
Myers, Walter Dean. Somewhere in the Darkness. New York: Scholastic, 1992. In the midst of Harlem life, Jimmy
finds adventure when his recently released (from prison) father takes him on a trip across the country to visit his own boyhood town. Over the course of their travels, Jimmy comes to understand what drove his father’s decisions and begins to understand his own sense of identity against his father’s. (Recipient of seven awards). Middle/high school.
Sitomer, Alan Lawrence. The Hoopster,Hip-Hop High School, and Homeboyz. NY: Hyperion Books for Children, 2004, 2006, 2007. This series follows the stories of siblings Andre, Theresa, Teddy, and Tina as they, with the support of their parents, look to not only find themselves but plan for the future. But these plans aren’t easy to make because the Anderson’s don’t live in the easiest part of the city nor do they attend a school where many students aspire for anything beyond high school. However, in each case, supportive yet challenging teachers, focused parents, and loyal friends help the main characters make the right choices. That said, there is little sentimentality in these novels, which make them excellent reads for high school students.
Taylor, Mildred. Let the Circle Be Unbroken. NY: Puffin Books, 1981. In this sequel, Cassie’s neighbor and friend, T. J. undergoes a life and death court trial. Middle/upper elementary.
Taylor, Mildred. The Road to Memphis. NY: Puffin Books, 1990. As the third book in the Roll of Thunder Series, this story chronicles Cassie’s continuing struggles, this time as a 17-year-old, as she, her brother, and their friends travel on dangerous roads. Middle/upper elementary.
Taylor, Mildred. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry. NY: Puffin Books, 1976. Cassie and her family attempt to survive
the events of night riders and burnings swirling around them. Through courage and pride, her family holds onto their main possession: the land they love. Middle/upper elementary.
Voigt, Cynthia. Come a Stranger. NY: Simon and Schuster, 1986. As the only African-American in a ballet camp,
Mina must come to terms with a lost career dream while becoming entangled in a romance with a married minister. Middle/high school.
Williams, Lori Aurelia. Shayla’s Double Brown Baby Blues. NY: Simon & Schuster, 2001. Shayla’s 13th birthday is marred by the birth of her little sister, who seems to be set to take over Shayla’s shaky place in her father’s heart. On top of this, Shayla, known as a “fixer” to all, tries to help her friend, Kambia, come to terms with the physical and sexual abuse dealt her at the hand’s of her mother’s various boyfriends. A powerful book about a young woman coming to terms with finding her identity and understanding how she can help others about whom she cares. Middle and high school readers.
Williams-Garcia. Rita. Every Time a Rainbow Dies. NY: HarperTempest, 2002. Thulani, a sixteen-year-old boy who has lost his mother to cancer and lives with his brother and sister-in-law, has purposefully kept to himself, spending most of his days with the rock doves that he keeps on the top of his family’s house. But when he finds Ysa in the alley near his home, raped and beaten, he begins to re-enter the world, mainly because he wants to know more about Ysa. However, Ysa’s continued rejection of him may propel him back into the solitary life he has become all too comfortable with. A strong story of loss and redemption for high school readers.
Winston, Sherri. The Kayla Chronicles. NY: Little, Brown, 2008. Kayla is a budding feminist/journalist, and she and her friend, Rosalie, think that they’re on the verge of breaking the big story: that the Lady Lions Dance Team has a bias against small-breasted girls! To get their story, Kayla has to go out for the Lady Lions, where she expects to not get a spot on the team because of her lack of endowment. But when she does land one of the coveted spots, Kayla finds herself between two powerful forces. Is there any way to make both sides see that they’re all working towards the same goal for young women? A solid middle school read.
Woodson, Jacqueline. From the Notebooks of Melanin Sun. NY: Blue Sky Press, 1995. This powerful story
describes an African-American teenage boy, Mel, as he comes to terms with his mother’s declaration of her love for a white woman. Mel is at first angry, then distraught; however, his mother’s patience wins out, and Mel begins to understand that we cannot always control who we love in life. High school.
Woodson, Jacqueline. I Hadn’t Meant to Tell You This. NY: Doubleday Dell, 1994. This book breaks the stereotypes when Marie’s African-American family encourages her not to befriend Lena, a poor white girl. As Marie gets to know Lena, she finds out that Lena is the victim of sexual abuse at the hands of her father. Middle/high school.
Woodson, Jacqueline. Lena. NY: Doubleday Dell, 1999. In this sequel to I Hadn’t Meant to Tell You This, Lena and her sister Dion hitchhike from Ohio to Kentucky, running away from their sexually abusive father and searching for their dead mother’s family. Middle/high school.
Woodson, Jacqueline. Hush. NY: Putnam, 2001. The life of the Green family is disrupted when Toswiah’s father, one of the few African-American police officers in Denver, witnesses who white policemen kill a young African-American teen without provocation. Their arrest forces the Green’s to leave Denver for a large mid-western town where they assume new names and new lives. But can their family hold up under the strain…This is a wonderful book for teacher’s looking to deal with issues surrounding ethics and racism. Middle/high school.
Woodson, Jacqueline. After Tupac & D Foster. NY: Putnam, 2008. Woodson uses the career of Tupac Shakur and the two shootings in which he was involved to frame the story of three girls facing life issues that they don’t always understand. D is in foster care and is desperate for her mother to get her act together and give D the kind of stability in life she so desperate craves. For Neeka, the concern is her brother who has been sent to jail for something he didn’t do. As the unnamed narrator unravels the stories of her two friends in conjunction with the words and music of Tupac, the reader has a glimpse into the hopes and dreams of young people looking for answers in a world that mostly provides questions. Middle school.
Wright, Bil. When the Black Girl Sings. NY: Simon and Schuster, 2008. Lahni Schuler is the adopted black daughter of two white parents, something that wasn’t really a problem until she began going to a predominantly white prep school. Complicating her life further is her parents’ impeding divorce. But when Lahni and her mom begin going to church, Lahni finds solace in the gospel choir directed by Mr Marcus and uses her growing ability as a singer to prepare for a talent competition at school. A lovely book about people all trying to do the “right” thing and the impact that has on teens.