It is no secret that the publishing world—especially in children’s literature—is overwhelmingly white. Fortunately, awareness of this issue has been rising—in part because of a new organization called We Need Diverse Books. And yet, the representations of blackness in literature for young people remain terrifyingly slim.
A study by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin finds that only 93 of the 3,200 books published in 2013 featured a black character. Why is this important? Because the stories we read shape the story of who we become. “There is a sense of self-love,” writes Christopher Myers, “that comes from recognizing oneself in a text, from understanding that your life and lives of people like you are worthy of being told, thought about, discussed and even celebrated.” So here are 10 reads featuring black characters by black authors for children and young adults newly released for this summer. Enjoy.
1. Gone Crazy in Alabama, by Rita Williams-Garcia
Newberry Honor winner and New York Times best-selling author Rita Williams-Garcia continues the story of the Gaither sisters first seen in One Crazy Summer. In this third installment of the series, Delphine, Vonetta and Fern are sent from their Brooklyn, N.Y., home to the rural South for the summer to visit their grandmother and great-grandmother. What they uncover are family secrets that will change their lives forever.
2. This Side of Home, by Renée Watson
This critically acclaimed debut novel is the story of identical twins Nikki and Maya. The sisters have been two peas in a pod their whole lives—they are even off to attend the same HBCU together. But as their Portland, Ore., hometown begins to turn from black to white, the neighborhood is broken up and longtime family friends are forced to move away. For the first time, Nikki and Maya are split on an issue: Nikki thinks the change in the neighborhood—bringing with it Whole Foods and boutique stores—is a good thing, while Maya worries their cultural heritage is slipping away. A timely, astute portrayal of two girls coming of age as the city they know changes around them.
3. X, by Ilyasah Shabazz and Kekla Magoon
A fictional retelling of Malcolm X’s youth co-written by his third daughter, Ilyasah Shabazz. Here we have the familiar details of Malcolm X’s life—his childhood marked by racism and poverty, the death of his father by white supremacists, the breakup of his family, escape to Boston, spiral into wild living and conversion to Islam and work for civil rights. A wonderful introduction to Malcolm X for young readers.
4. Delicate Monsters, by Stephanie Kuehn
Fifteen-year-old Miles Tate can see the future. Living with his widowed mother and his older brother Emerson, he tries to keep this gift to himself—they are already outsiders as a poor family in a rich town. But when Emerson’s childhood frenemy Sadie Su returns to town after nearly killing a classmate at her third boarding school, Miles will do whatever it takes to make sure that the violence he sees in the future will not come to pass. A thrilling, haunting read.
5. Tiny Pretty Things, by Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton
A riveting tale of intrigue and determination at an elite New York ballet academy. The three top students couldn’t be more different. There is the sunny, breezy Gigi from California; the wealthy Manhattanite Bette, determined but dwarfed by the shadow of her über-successful sister; and June, controlled by her domineering mother. But none of them will settle for being less than No. 1.
6. The Jumbies, by Tracey Baptiste
From Trinidadian author Tracey Baptiste comes a gleeful reimagining of the traditional Trinidad tale of the jumbies: creatures that come out at night to scare children. Corinne La Mer isn’t scared of the jumbies; she knows they’re just made-up legends. But on All Hallows’ Eve, when Corinne spies what looks like a jumbie in the forbidden woods, strange things begin happening in her town, and Corinne must find a way to stop the jumbies from taking over.
7. The Boy in the Black Suit, by Jason Reynolds
From the winner of the Coretta Scott King-John Steptoe award for When I Was the Greatest, comes a novel of grit and perseverance. Seventeen-year-old Matthew is still devastated by his mother’s death but has taken the best-paying job he can find to support himself and his alcoholic father. But it so happens that this job is at the local funeral home. Matthew is just about fed up with the rough breaks in his life until he meets a girl named Lovey who has survived even worse hardship—prompting Matthew to think there may be better days ahead for him too.
8. The Wicked Will Rise, by Danielle Paige
This sequel to the New York Times best-selling Dorothy Must Die is the story of the other girl from Kansas: Amy Gumm. After a tornado ransacks Amy’s trailer park, Amy finds herself carried off to Oz where Dorothy has become a ruthless dictator and the Wicked Witches have formed a rebel group to depose her. When an assassination of Dorothy goes awry, Amy must hatch a plan to keep herself alive and find the true leader of Oz.
9. Twintuition: Double Vision, by Tia Mowry and Tamera Mowry
The stars of the TV classic Sister, Sister pen a fictional tale of two different sisters: Cassie and Caitlyn Waters. After their mother moves them from bustling San Antonio to middle-of-nowhere Aura, Texas, Cassie and Caitlyn desperately wish to return home. But then they begin seeing visions of the future. At first, the girls enjoy knowing what is going to happen. But after seeing a dangerous vision, they must find a way to change the future.
10. Endangered, by Lamar Giles
Lauren, known as Panda to her classmates, has a secret: For years she has been the anonymous author of the blog Gray Scales that documents the gossip of their school. But when someone discovers Lauren’s identity and turns to violence, Lauren must figure out a way to save her classmates and herself.
Hope Wabuke is a Southern California-based writer and a contributing editor at The Root. Follow her on Twitter.