A Race, Racism, and Revolution Reading List for Educators

By NYPL Staff
June 17, 2020

To inform, enlighten and combat racism and injustice toward the African American community, we have compiled a list of books for children—from elementary age through high school—in our collection. Many of the titles in this list (marked with an asterisk) are also available as digital e-books. If you don’t have an NYPL library card, New York State residents can apply for a digital card through the Library’s SimplyE app (available on the App Store or Google Play). In addition to books, you can discover more library resources on this topic in our blog post Teaching Anti-Racism: Digital Resources About Racism and Resistance.  We have also created a list of Discussion Questions related to this reading list.

This list was put together by the Bronx School Outreach Team. Grade levels are only recommendations. 

Elementary

*28 Days: Moments in Black History That Changed The World byCharles R. Smith Jr., illustrated by Shane W. Evans

A picture book look at many of the men and women who revolutionized life for African Americans throughout history.

*A Good Kind of Trouble by Lisa Moore Ramée

Strictly following the rules to pursue her junior-high ambitions, 12-year-old Shayla is forced to choose between her education and her identity when her sister joins the Black Lives Matter movement in the wake of a powerful protest.

*As Good as Anybody by Richard Michelson, illustrated by Raul Colón

 The story of the friendship of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel and their collective efforts to end discrimination through their non-violent peace protests and marches.

*Betty Before X by IIyasah Shabazz, with Renée Watson

Raised by her aunt until she is six, Betty, who will later marry Malcolm X, joins her mother and stepfamily in 1940s Detroit, where she learns about the civil rights movement.

*Blended by Sharon Draper

Piano-prodigy Isabella, whose black father and white mother struggle to share custody, never feels whole, especially as racial tensions affect her school, her parents' both become engaged, and she and her stepbrother are stopped by police.

*Child of the Civil Rights Movement by Paula Young Shelton, illustrated by Raul Coln

The author, the daughter of Andrew Young, describes the participation of Martin Luther King, Jr., along with her father and others, in the civil rights movement and in the historic march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, in 1965.

*For Black Girls Like Me by Mariama J. Lockington

Eleven-year-old Makeda dreams of meeting her African American mother, while coping with serious problems in her white adopted family, a cross-country move, and being homeschooled.

Freedom Riders: John Lewis and Jim Zwerg on the Front Lines of the Civil Rights Movement by Ann Bausum

Offers the true account of two young men who took the risk to venture into the segregated South at the peak of the Civil Rights era to take part as Freedom Riders and fight for equality for all.

*Hair Love by Mathew A. Cherry, illustrated by Vashti Harrison

An ode to self-confidence and the love between fathers and daughters by the former NFL wide receiver depicts an exuberant little girl whose dad helps her arrange her curly, coiling, wild hair into styles that allow her to be her natural, beautiful self.

I, Too, Am America by Langston Hughes, illustrated by Bryan Collier

Presents the popular poem by one of the central figures in the Harlem Renaissance, highlighting the courage and dignity of the African American Pullman porters in the early twentieth century.

Let's Talk About Race by Julius Lester, illustrated by Karen Barbour

Offers readers a poetic introduction to the topic of race as the differences and unique features of races are celebrated, while discussing the important bond everyone shares with one another as human beings through many common similarities.

*Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine

In 1958 Little Rock, Arkansas, painfully shy twelve-year-old Marlee sees her city and family divided over school integration, but her friendship with Liz, a new student, helps her find her voice and fight against racism.

*Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History by Vashti Harrison

Features female figures of black history, including abolitionist Sojourner Truth, pilot Bessie Coleman, chemist Alice Ball, politician Shirley Chisholm, mathematician Katherine Johnson, poet Maya Angelou, and filmmaker Julie Dash.

*Neither by Airlie Anderson

Because Neither is unlike both the rabbits and birds of the Land of This and That, it sets out to find a new place where all kinds of creatures are welcome.

Say Something by Peter Hamilton Reynolds

The world needs your voice. If you have a brilliant idea... say something! If you see an injustice... say something! In this empowering new picture book, beloved author Peter H. Reynolds explores the many ways that a single voice can make a difference. 

Sit In: How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down by Andrea Davis Pinkney

A celebration of the momentous Woolworth's lunch counter sit-in when four college students staged a peaceful protest that became a defining moment in the struggle for racial equality and the growing civil rights movement.

The Story of Ruby Bridges by Robert Coles, illustrated by George Ford

For months six-year-old Ruby Bridges must confront the hostility of white parents when she becomes the first African American girl to integrate Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans in 1960.

*The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander, illustrated by Kadir Nelson

The Newbery Award-winning author of The Crossover pens an ode to black American triumph and tribulation, with art from a two-time Caldecott honoree. 

*The Watsons Go to Birmingham by Christopher Paul Curtis

The ordinary interactions and everyday routines of the Watsons, an African American family living in Flint, Michigan, are drastically changed after they visit Grandma in Alabama in the summer of 1963.

We March by Shane W. Evans

Illustrations and brief text portray the events of the 1963 march in Washington, D.C., where the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. delivered a historic speech.

*We Rise We Resist We Raise Our Voices—An Anthology edited by Wade Hudson and Cheryl Willis Hudson

A collection of art, essays, letters, poems, and stories celebrates standing up against prejudice and racism, and includes entries by such authors as Kwame Alexander, Kat Williams-Garcia, Jacqueline Woodson, and Jason Reynolds.

The Youngest Marcher: The Story of Audrey Faye Kendricks, A Young Civil Rights Activist by Cynthia Levinson, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley Newton

A picture book portrait of 9-year-old Audrey Faye Hendricks describes how, in 1963 Alabama, she became the youngest known child to be arrested for participating in a civil rights protest, for which she was imprisoned for picketing against Birmingham segregation practices.
 

Middle School

*Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

In vivid poems that reflect the joy of finding her voice through writing stories, an award-winning author shares what it was like to grow up in the 1960s and 1970s in both the North and the South.

*Dark Sky Rising: Reconstruction and the Dawn of Jim Crow by Henry Louis Gates Jr. with Tonya Bolden

Henry Louis Gates, Jr. presents a journey through America's past and our nation's attempts at renewal in this look at the Civil War's conclusion, Reconstruction, and the rise of Jim Crow segregation.

*Genesis Begins Again by Alicia Williams

Thirteen-year-old Genesis tries again and again to lighten her black skin, thinking it is the root of her family's troubles, before discovering reasons to love herself as she is.

*Ghost Boys by Jewel Parker Rhodes

After seventh-grader Jerome is shot by a white police officer, he observes the aftermath of his death and meets the ghosts of other fallen black boys including historical figure Emmett Till.

*March. Book One by John Lewis

A first-hand account of the author's lifelong struggle for civil and human rights spans his youth in rural Alabama, his life-changing meeting with Martin Luther King, Jr., and the birth of the Nashville Student Movement.

March Forward, Girl: From Young Warrior to Little Rock Nine by Melba Beals 

Civil rights heroine Melba Patillo Beals puts readers right in her saddle oxfords as she struggles to understand—and fight back against—the laws that told her she was less just because of the color of her skin. 

*One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia

In this Newbery Honor novel, New York Times bestselling author Rita Williams-Garcia tells the story of three sisters who travel to Oakland, California in 1968 to meet the mother who abandoned them.

*Piecing Me Together by Renée Watson

Tired of being singled out at her mostly white private school as someone who needs support, high school junior Jade would rather participate in the school's amazing study abroad program than join Women to Women, a mentorship program for at-risk girls.

*Say Her Name by Zetta Elliott

Inspired by the African American Policy Forum’s #SayHerName campaign and the work of such notables as Lucille Clifton and Nikki Giovanni, a collection of poems stands as a tribute to Black Lives Matter activists and victims of police brutality.

*The Other Half of My Heart by Sundee T. Frazier 

Twin daughters of interracial parents, eleven-year-olds Keira and Minna have very different skin tones and personalities, but it is not until their African American grandmother enters them in the Miss Black Pearl Pre-Teen competition in North Carolina that red-haired and pale-skinned Minna realizes what life in their small town in the Pacific Northwest has been like for her more outgoing, darker-skinned sister.

*The Skin I'm In by Sharon Flake

Thirteen-year-old Maleeka, uncomfortable because her skin is extremely dark, meets a new teacher and makes some discoveries about how to love who she is and what she looks like.

*Walking With Miss Millie by Tamara Bundy

After moving with her mother and deaf brother to Grandma's small Georgia town in the 1960s, Alice copes with feelings of isolation by befriending the elderly black woman who lives next door.

Woke: A Young Poet's Call to Justice by Mahogany L. Browne, Elizabeth Acevedo, Olivia Gatwood, Theodore Taylor III, and Jason Reynolds 

A collection of poems by women of color, written for today’s generation of young activists, reflects the passion of the fight for social justice while tackling subjects ranging from discrimination and empathy to acceptance and speaking out.
 

High School

*A Song Below Water by Bethany C. Morrow

A metaphorical tale follows the experiences of a black teen siren and her haunted best friend, who find themselves targeted by violence when they are unable to hide their supernatural identities in an alternate world that discriminates against magic.

*All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely 

When sixteen-year-old Rashad is mistakenly accused of stealing, classmate Quinn witnesses his brutal beating at the hands of a police officer who happens to be the older brother of his best friend. Told through Rashad and Quinn's alternating viewpoints.

*Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X

The Black leader discusses his political philosophy and reveals details of his life, shedding light on the ideas that enabled him to gain the allegiance of a still growing percentage of the Black population.

*Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Told through the author's own evolving understanding of the subject over the course of his life comes a bold and personal investigation into America's racial history and its contemporary echoes.

*Black Enough: Stories of Being Young & Black In America edited by Ibi Zoboi

Featuring some of the most acclaimed bestselling Black authors writing for teens today—Black Enough is an essential collection of captivating stories about what it’s like to be young and Black in America.

*Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Phillip M. Hoose

Presents the life of the Alabama teenager who played an integral but little-known role in the Montgomery bus strike of 1955-1956 by refusing to give up a bus seat, and by becoming a plaintiff in the landmark civil rights case against the bus company.

*Dear Martin by Nic Stone

Writing letters to the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., seventeen-year-old college-bound Justyce McAllister struggles to face the reality of race relations today and how they are shaping him.

*Dig by A.S. King

Five white teenage cousins who are struggling with the failures and racial ignorance of their dysfunctional parents and their wealthy grandparents, reunite for Easter.

*The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

After witnessing her friend's death at the hands of a police officer, Starr Carter's life is complicated when the police and a local drug lord try to intimidate her in an effort to learn what happened the night Kahlil died.

*Hope Nation: YA Authors Share Personal Moments of Inspiration edited by Rose Brock

A collection of essays and original stories by some of today's most influential young adult authors that speaks directly to teens on how to find hope and comfort in today's turbulent society.

I Am Alfonso Jones by Tony Medina

The ghost of fifteen-year-old Alfonso Jones travels in a New York City subway car full of the living and the dead, watching his family and friends fight for justice after he is killed by an off-duty police officer while buying a suit in a midtown department store.

*Just Mercy: Adapted for Young People: A True Story of the Fight for Justice by Bryan Stevenson

A powerful true story about the potential for mercy to redeem us, and a clarion call to fix our broken system of justice—from one of the most brilliant and influential lawyers of our time.

*Light It Up by Kekla Magoon

Told from multiple viewpoints, Shae Tatum, an unarmed, thirteen-year-old black girl, is shot by a white police officer, throwing their community into upheaval and making it a target of demonstrators.

*Racial Profiling: Everyday Inequality by Alison Marie Behnke

Explores the history, the many manifestations, and the consequences of this form of social injustice.

*Slay by Brittney Morris

An honors student at Jefferson Academy, seventeen-year-old Keira enjoys developing and playing Slay, a secret, multiplayer online role-playing game celebrating black culture, until the two worlds collide.

*Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds and Ibram Kendi

A history of racist and anti-racist ideas in America, from their roots in Europe until today, adapted from the National Book Award winner Stamped from the Beginning.

*The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights by Steve Sheinkin

Presents an account of the 1944 civil rights protest involving hundreds of African American Navy servicemen who were unjustly charged with mutiny for refusing to work in unsafe conditions after the deadly Port Chicago explosion.

*The Rock and the River by Kekla Magoon

It's 1968, and Chicago teen Sam is torn. He's always looked up to his father, a civil rights leader dedicated to nonviolence. His older brother Stick, however, has left home to join the revolutionary Black Panther Party. At first Sam is skeptical of the Panthers' militant approach to ending racial injustice, but after one of his friends is brutally beaten by the police, Sam starts to question his father's nonviolent beliefs.

*Tyler Johnson Was Here by Jay Coles

Tyler has been shot and killed by a police officer. Terrified as his mother unravels and mourning a brother who is now a hashtag, Marvin must learn what justice and freedom really mean.

*Warriors Don't Cry: The Searing Memoir of the Battle to Integrate Little Rock's Central High by Melba Beals

The author describes the threats and emotional abuse she endured from white students and adults along with her fears of endangering her family as she committed to being one of the first African American students to integrate Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1957.

*We Are Not Yet Equal: Understanding Our Racial Divide by Carol Anderson and Tonya Bolden

From the end of the Civil War to the tumultuous issues in America today, an acclaimed historian reframes the conversation about race, chronicling the powerful forces opposed to Black progress in America.

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Staff picks are chosen by NYPL staff members and are not intended to be comprehensive lists. We'd love to hear your ideas too, so leave a comment and tell us what you’d recommend. And check out our Staff Picks browse tool for more recommendations!

Summaries provided via NYPL’s catalog, which draws from multiple sources. Click through to each book’s title for more.