Writing this list taught me something important.
We need more books about black boys.
The books on this list are compelling stories of young men who are using their brains and hearts to overcome obstacles and challenge preconceived ideas about who they are. And they are fantastic. But we need more of them.
We live in a society that has decided that thinks black boys and men are dangerous. We live in a society where a man can get away with shooting a black boy because he was wearing a hoodie. Where a black boy can be killed for playing with a toy gun.
This is why we need books about black boys. We need to be able to climb into these stories, to meet these characters, and to see the world through their eyes. Young black men need to see themselves in the books that they read, and need to see themselves writing the books that they read. And those of us who aren’t black need to open our eyes to the experiences of these young men.
Books have the power to humanize those people who may seem like “others” to us. When we consume the stories of people who aren’t like us, we see our differences, but we also see our similarities. The “others” cease to be others, and become people. If you’re part of the majority culture, consider sharing these books with your kids or reading them on your own. They’re sure to open your eyes and your heart.
You may also enjoy this list of Chapter Books About Black Girls!
17 Chapter Books About Black Boys
Josh Bell (aka Filthy McNasty) is known for two things: his sick beats and his skills on the basketball court. He and his twin brother, Jordan, are basketball stars who do everything together.
That begins to change when Jordan starts dating a girl. All of the sudden, the twins aren’t as close as they used to be. They’re having a winning basketball season, but Josh feels like he’s losing out.
Told through Josh’s poetry, this story is electrifying. The words feel like they might jump off the page. This book is a great choice for kids ages 10 and up, particularly those who love sports — though as a non-athlete I was totally sucked in!
Ghost is a runner. He’s been running his whole life, ever since he and his mother had to run from his abusive father. Since then, he’s been running from trouble and running from his problems.
Now he’s ran his way to a spot on an elite track team, one that might take him to the Junior Olympics. But to succeed, he’ll have to outrun his past and the consequences of choices he made when his life didn’t seem so promising. Can he achieve his dream, or will he run into trouble again?
Ghost is the first book in a series about a middle school track team, and it’s an excellent read for kids ages 10 and up.
Simp and Rollie are best friends and basketball players. They’re also “dough boys;” or lookouts for their local drug ring.
For Simp, being a dough boy is a way to take care of his family until he makes it to the NBA and can bring them out of poverty. For Rollie, being a dough boy isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. He’s been accepted into the gifted program at school, and he has the opportunity to join a band. He’s not sure playing basketball is worth the risk being a dough boy brings. But how can he leave his best friend behind?
Through the unique experiences of Simp and Rollie, readers connect to the universal themes of friendship, struggle, and tough decisions. I recommend Dough Boys for readers ages 10 and up.
It’s the last day of summer vacation, and Sheed and Otto can’t agree on how to spend it. They’re yearning for one more adventure before they head back to school.
The perfect mission comes along when a strange man shows up in their town. The man has a camera that freezes time, and the boys realize they must work together to save their town and save the last day of summer.
This fun fantasy is a super entertaining read, and I recommend it for kids ages 8 and up. It also makes a great read-aloud!
Thelonius Mitchell is a “bad kid.” Or at least, that’s what he’s always been told. He’s placed in a special education class because he has “issues.” Thelonius gets the message loud and clear: he doesn’t fit in. So he does his best to embrace the image he’s been assigned, and can usually be found causing trouble with his friends.
But when someone brings a gun to school, everyone is looking to bad boy Thelonius and his friends. But Thelonius isn’t that kind of bad kid, and he’s definitely not responsible for the gun. So Thelonius decides to solve the case himself, and show his peers and his teachers that he has more to offer than anyone thought.
This book was one of my favorites of 2019, and I highly recommend it for kids ages 8 and up.
Caleb and Bobby Gene think their new neighbor, Styx Malone, is pretty cool. He’s sixteen, and he’s got an idea for a “Great Escalator Trade,” where the boys barter and exchange things until they get what they really want. Styx and his big ideas seem exciting to his young neighbors.
But who is Styx Malone? And what is he hiding? The boys soon find themselves in hot water, and they find out that Styx has some big secrets that might spoil their plans.
This book is an excellent choice for sharing with readers ages 8 and up.
Langston is having a hard time adjusting to life in Chicago. Not only has he lost his mother, but he’s constantly teased by the other children in his class, who call him Country Boy.
But one thing in Chicago that’s better than Alabama is that the Public Library is integrated. Langston finds refuge there, and discovers another Langston — the famed poet Langston Hughes. Young Langston connects with Hughes’ poetry, and in the words on the page he begins to find himself.
I recommend this book for readers ages 8 and up.
It’s not a Merry Christmas for Lolly Rachpaul. His older brother was recently killed in a gang-related shooting, and Lolly and his mother are still grieving his loss.
But a unique gift helps Lolly process his loss — LEGO bricks. Equipped with a bag of LEGO bricks and no instructions, Lolly is left to build whatever he chooses. As pressure from the outside world builds, the small plastic bricks provide an outlet and a purpose when Lolly needs it most.
This is an absolutely beautiful story that is best suited for kids ages 10 and up.
The Watsons Go to Birmingham — 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis
Kenny’s brother Byron is an “official juvenile delinquent,” so the family decide to relocate for the summer, from Flint, Michigan to Birmingham, Alabama. Grandma lives in Birmingham, and the family thinks she’s the one who can get Byron on the straight and narrow.
But Birmingham, Alabama is polarizing place to be in 1963. The Watsons arrive in the middle of a battle for Civil Rights, and they’re directly affected when Grandma’s church is blown up by white supremacists.
Christopher Paul Curtis has an amazing talent for capturing history through the eye of children. I recommend this classic for kids ages 7 and up.
I loved, loved, LOVED this book, even though it broke my heart into a million little pieces.
Jerome is a young boy who is shot by a police offer while playing with a toy gun. As a ghost, he sees the affects of his death on his family, friends, and community. He encounters the ghost of Emmett Till, and connects in the living world with the daughter of the police officer that shot him.
This powerful novel is an important read for kids ages 8 and up.
Clayton Byrd deeply loves two things: his Cool Papa Byrd and playing the blues. He can’t wait to play with his grandfather and his band, the Bluesmen, one day.
But everything changes when Cool Papa Byrd dies unexpectedly. Clayton’s mother won’t let him play the blues anymore, which means Clayton has lost both of the things he loves. So he decides to run away, to find the Bluesmen and join them on the road. His journey takes him on an adventure he never imagined.
My boys really loved reading this book together, and I’d recommend for readers 7 and up.
A drought has hit William’s village in Malawi. That means his family can’t eat or make any money. Their crops are their livelihood, and it seems that their livelihood will be destroyed.
Young William is determined to find a solution. He begins reading science books in the local library, and he learns more about wind energy. He decides to build a windmill that will pump water to the crops. His innovation and resourcefulness ends up saving the day.
This inspiring story is a great choice for the future engineer in your life! I recommend sharing it with kids ages 7 and up.
Pascal and his brother Gideon have heard that slavery has ended, and that former slaves have been promised “forty acres and maybe a mule.” They decide to flee the plantation and go off in search of a Freedman’s Bureau to make their claim. As they journey, they make friends and search for the family members from whom they’ve been separated.
The brothers are able to claim their land and build their farm, but their joy is quickly turned to fear when they hear of a new law that says they must give their land back. How can they give up the only thing they have?
This novel does a fantastic job of addressing the challenges and racism that former slaves faced during the Reconstruction period. I recommend it for readers ages 8 and up.
Lonnie misses his parents. He misses his sister. As an 11-year-old foster kid, he’s having a hard time finding his place in the world.
Told through Lonnie’s poetry, this book examines both the heartbreak and the joy that Lonnie experiences. We learn about his family, his teacher, Mrs. Marcus, and Miss Edna, his foster mother. We also learn about his deep desire to be reunited with his sister, Lili.
This is definitely a book adults will enjoy as much as kids. I recommend it for kids ages 10 and up.
Everyone believes that Maas Conrad has died, lost at sea. Everyone except his grandson.
Twelve-year-old Lloyd is certain his grandfather is still alive, and he’s determined to find him. Lloyd suspects that Maas might have witnessed an illegal dolphin capture, and that Maas might need Lloyd’s help to get home.
This story examines many aspects of life in Jamaica; the daily struggle of those who live there, the erosion of the beautiful ocean environment, and the difficult choices that we are sometimes forced to make.
This book is a great choice for readers ages 10 and up.
This powerful work of historical fiction, based on an actual coup d’etat, examines life in the American South for a black family one generation removed from slavery.
Moses is an 11-year-old boy growing up in Wilmington, North Carolina. Overall, his life is pleasant; he’s teaching his grandmother to read, and his father is becoming a respected member of their community.
But not everyone in the area is happy about the growing African-American community in Wilmington. A mob of angry white men takes over the city by force, staging the only successful coup d’etat in American history. Moses wonders how his father can continue to believe in democracy, even after it has been defeated right in front of them.
I recommend sharing this book with readers ages 10 and up.
Ten-year-old Bud has lost his mother, and never met his father. But his mother left behind a clue to his father’s identity, on a flyer for a well-known musical act. Bud is determined to find his father, no matter the cost.
Set in Flint, Michigan during the Great Depression, this story follows a spirited young boy who is not only searching for his father, but also finding out just how strong he is.
I recommend this Newbery Medal-winner for readers ages 8 and up.