By Bailey Keimig-Gehrke, Youth Services
While we should treat ourselves to a wide range of voices all year round, Black History Month is the perfect time to remind ourselves that stories by and about Black people do not need to be saved for one month out of the year. And in a moment when diverse books are being challenged and banned around the country, it is imperative to appreciate, champion, and explore Black voices.
From our youngest readers to young adults, and everyone in between, here are some suggestions to get you started:
“We Are Here” by Tami Charles
Lyrical, affirmational, and bursting with love, this book is a poignant story about Black and brown heritage and community.
Tami Charles shares the beauty and excellence in the history of the Black community, assuring Black and brown children of the extraordinary legacy from which they came, and inviting them to imagine their bright future in the days to come. Her powerful and empowering text is accompanied with illustrations by renowned artist Bryan Collier. Together, they showcase Black people’s contributions to music, activism, fashion, politics, food, astronomy, and more, not just throughout American history, but world history as well.
“Soul Food Sunday” by Winsome Bingham, illustrated by CG Esperanza
Every Sunday the family gathers at Granny’s house for a festive feast of savory soul food. Aunts and uncles talk, cousins play, and the whole family hums with joy. But this Sunday is special because our young narrator is finally old enough to learn how to help Granny prepare the food. Together, Granny and the boy work hard to grate cheese, clean greens, and season everything just right. Just before the family sits around the table, the boy finds his own sweet way to contribute something all his own to the meal and soul food Sunday will never be the same. Esperanza’s colorful illustrations radiate with energy and happiness and bring a story of family and togetherness together perfectly.
MIDDLE GRADE BOOKS:
“New Kid” by Jerry Craft
Jordan Banks is really into drawing and making comics about his life. His biggest dream is to go to art school so he can pursue his artistic dreams. Unfortunately, his parents have other plans and they send Jordan to a fancy private school focused on academics. Jordan is not happy about having to leave his friends for this new school. He is even more unhappy when he realizes he’s one of only a few students of color. As Jordan begins to make friends at his new school, he finds himself straddling two worlds. One with his old friends in his familiar neighborhood; the other with his fancy new school and wealthy friends. Eventually, Jordan will need to find a way to reconcile these two worlds. But how? This graphic novel will help some readers feel seen, some readers more empathetic, and all readers completely charmed by Jordan and his story.
“Clean Getaway” by Nic Stone
This quick and engrossing chapter book is all about Scoob, an 11-year-old about to go on an adventure of a lifetime with his grandma. A road trip with your grandma might not sound super exciting, but G’ma isn’t like other grandmas. She understands Scoob like nobody else does, and she always knows exactly how to make him feel better. For example, she surprises Scoob with this road trip right after his father grounds him for two weeks! As they travel from state to state, Scoob learns what life was like for his grandparents as an interracial couple. He also learns some shocking family history that makes Scoob realize his grandma may not be as perfect as he’s always thought.
“We Are Not Broken” by George M. Johnson
This vibrant, challenging collection of stories focuses on George, Rall, Rasul, and Garrett and the grandmother that raised them. With tenderness and care, Johnson brings their childhood to life through memories, letters, and reflections on what it means to grow up under a fierce and loving Black matriarch. While these stories do not shy away from tough topics, the main takeaways are an appreciation for the privilege to love and be loved; for the ability to grow without fear; and for the magic that takes place when we are surrounded by people who care for us. Readers will feel at times comforted, challenged, and charmed by Johnson and their family.
“Whiteout” by Dhonielle Clayton
Atlanta is blanketed with snow just before Christmas, but the warmth of young love just might melt the ice in this novel of Black joy, and cozy, sparkling romance. As the city grinds to a halt, 12 teens band together to help a friend pull off the most epic apology of her life. But can they make it happen in the midst of a sudden winter storm? You can’t always prepare for the magical moments that change everything.
From the bestselling, award-winning, all-star authors who brought us “Blackout“—Dhonielle Clayton, Tiffany D. Jackson, Nic Stone, Angie Thomas, Ashley Woodfolk, and Nicola Yoon—comes another novel of Black teen love, each relationship within as unique and sparkling as Southern snowflakes.