Children’s books are slowly becoming more diverse, but there’s still a long way to go. Thirty-seven percent of the population of the United States are people of color, but only 13% of the children’s books published between 1994 and 2017 contain multicultural content.
You may also enjoy these Chapter Books About Latinx Girls!
The gap is even larger when you consider who is telling the stories. Authors of color wrote only 7% of the children’s books published in 2017. Despite the advances that have been made since the We Need Diverse Books movement began in 2014, the majority of children’s books are still written by white authors.
For that reason, it felt important to create a list of books that not only centered black girls, but that were also written by authors of color. As intersectional readers, it’s important to listen to and elevate the voices of marginalized people — even in fictional stories.
The books on this list vary. In some titles, race is a central theme; in others, it is not. However, these books all center the lives and experiences of black girls, and those experiences are important for all of us to consume.
17 Chapter Books About Black Girls
A Good Kind of Trouble by Lisa More Remee
Shayla is a good girl. Her focus is on getting good grades, staying out of trouble, and trying to figure out how to navigate junior high. Her sister Hana gets involved in the Black Lives Matter movement, but Shay doesn’t think activism is for her.
However, her mind starts to change when she attends a moving protest rally. Shay decides to wear a black armband to school to show her solidarity to the movement…and that’s when all hell breaks loose. Shay is given an ultimatum that forces her to make a tough decision.
This novel will be released in June 2020 and is recommended for readers ages 8 and up. You can also find this on our list of Books About Police Violence.
For Black Girls Like Me by Mariama J. Lockington
What if you feel as though you don’t belong anywhere…even your own family?
Makeda is black and adopted; her parents and sister are white. She loves her family, but she also has a hard time defining who she is as a young black woman. Things get even more difficult when her family moves to New Mexico, away from her best friend Lena, who is also black and adopted.
At a new school in a new state, Makeda struggles to fit in, and she can’t help but wonder if life would be different if she had been raised by black parents. As she ponders these things, she works to establish an identitiy that truly reflects who she is.
This engaging and thought-provoking book is great for readers ages 9 and up. You can also find this book on our list of Engaging New Chapter Books for 2019.
Jada Sly Artist and Spy by Sherri Winston
Jada Sly is moving back to New York City after living in Europe for several years. She has two goals while she’s there; the first is to study the art of her hero Jackie Olmes, an African-American cartoonist. Her second goal is to find her missing mother.
Most people think that Jada’s mother died in a plane crash, but Jada is convinced that her mom is alive. She’s also convinced that her mom is a spy — just like Jada, who considers herself to be a spy-in-training. But will Jada be able to find the evidence she seeks?
This warm and funny chapter books is an excellent read for kids ages 8 and up.
Ninth Ward by Jewell Parker Rhodes
Twelve-year-old Lanesha lives in the Ninth Ward of New Orleans, a place she loves dearly. She also dearly loves her Mama Ya-Ya, the woman who has raised Laneeha since infancy. Lanesha doesn’t have much, but she’s grateful for the things she has.
Mama Ya-Ya has a gift for seeing the future, and when one of her visions shows a hurricane on the horizon, Lanesha must figure out what to do. With Hurricane Katrina heading toward them, how can Lanesha insure that both she and Mama Ya-Ya survive?
This powerful book truly captures the spirit and culture of the Ninth Ward, and I highly recommend it for readers ages 10 and up. Full disclosure: I am much older than 10, and I couldn’t put this book down!
The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson
Candice and her mother have ended up in Lambert, South Carolina for the summer, staying with Candice’s grandmother as the details of her parents divorce are finalized. Candice’s grandmother has a bit of a reputation in Lambert; most of the town thinks she’s crazy.
Candice knows her grandmother isn’t crazy, and when she finds a mysterious letter in the attic, she becomes determined to clear her grandmother’s name. She enlists the help of her neighbor Brandon to solve the puzzle and hopefully find the fortune her grandmother was searching for.
This is truly an amazing book that blends lessons of history, racism, homophobia, and family relationships into one compelling tale. I recommend it for kids ages 8 and up.
One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia
Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern have been sent across the country to Oakland, California, to visit the mother that abandoned them. When they arrive, they find a parent that wants nothing to do with them.
The girls’ mother, Cecile, is much more concerned with writing poetry than getting to know her girls. To get them out of her hair, she sends them to community program run by the Black Panther Party. There the girls eat breakfast and learn about the racial struggle going on in the city. They help plan a rally and inadvertently discover some amazing things about their mother and their newfound community.
This book is the first in a series of three about these young girls, and it’s full of both triumph and heartbreak. I recommend it for readers ages 9 and up.
The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street by Karina Yan Glaser
The Vanderbeeker’s love their brownstone home; it’s like another member of the family. They’re devastated when they learn that their grumpy landlord isn’t renewing their lease. They only have 11 days to convince him to change his mind!
The Vanderbeeker kids (led by the oldest sisters) make plans to show their landlord what amazing neighbors they are. However, they’re plans keep going awry, and somehow they keep ending up in more and more trouble. Can their home be saved?
This sweet novel is a bit of a throwback to the large family novels of decades past, but with a modern and diverse twist. This book is a fantastic read-aloud, and also makes an awesome independent read for children ages 8 and up.
Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson
Haley isn’t sure about having to meet with five other students at school every week. They’re left alone in a classroom and told that they can talk about anything. There’s a lot Haley would rather not talk about, like her deceased mother or her incarcerated father. What is she supposed to say to these kids?
Slowly but surely, the group of six begin to bond. They share deeply personal experiences with each other, like Esteban’s father’s deportation or Amani’s fears of being racially profiled. As they bond, they make a promise to each other: “I will harbor you.”
I absolutely adore this book, and I’ve read it more than once. It’s great for kids ages 10 and up, but I think there’s a lot for adults to gain from it as well.
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor
The Great Depression was hard for most Americans, but it was especially difficult for families of color, who were also battling racial discrimination and social injustice. This Newbery Medal winning novel tells the story of the Logan family, and their struggles as African-Americans during the Great Depression.
Cassie Logan is a smart and strong nine-year-old girl. Her parents work hard to shield her and her siblings from the hard truths of the world, but Cassie quickly learns about the evils of discrimination and racism as the Depression hits its peak. She also learns why it’s so very important for her family to keep ownership of their land, both for their livelihood and their dignity.
This timeless book (and the entire series!) is complex and beautiful. I recommend sharing it with readers ages 10 and up.
Blended by Sharon M. Draper
Eleven-year-old Isabella feels caught between two worlds, especially since her parents divorced. One week she’s with her father and his girlfriend in their rich neighborhood. The next she’s in a small apartment with her mother and her mother’s boyfriend.
But that’s not the only thing that makes Isabella feel stuck in the middle. Isabella’s mother is white and her father is black, and she’s always having to answer ridiculous questions about what she “really” is. When her parents have a huge fight, the divide feels bigger than ever. It will take a heartbreaking event to bring her family closer together again.
I have loved every Sharon Draper book I’ve read, and this one is no exception. I highly recommend sharing this one with kids ages 10 and up.
My Life as an Ice Cream Sandwich by Ibi Zoboi
Ebony-Grace loves all things science, space, and sci-fi, especially Star Wars and Star Trek. Her love comes from her grandfather Jeremiah, who was one of the first black engineers at NASA. Ebony-Grace lives with Jeremiah in Huntsville, Alabama, and their existence is a happy and quiet one.
Ebony-Grace’s world is turned upside down when she is whisked away to spend the summer with her father in Harlem. Her new city is overwhelming and unfamiliar, and it doesn’t seem to be a place where a Black girl who lives science-fiction can fit in. Ebony-Grace must call on her intelligence and imagination to find her place in the big city.
This is a truly lovely story, and is an excellent choice for readers ages 9 and up.
Some Places More Than Others by Renee Watson
Amara can’t wait to visit her father and his family in New York City. She wants to get to know her grandfather and cousins, and see the home where her father grew up.
But the city isn’t at all like Amara expected. It’s crowded and overwhelming. Her father works all the time, and has a strained relationship with her grandfather. None of it feels like home at first, but after Amara asks some questions and learns more about her family’s Harlem neighborhood, she begins to feel a connection to these people and this place.
This powerful story about family is recommended for readers ages 8 and up.
The Skin I’m In by Sharon Flake
Maleeka is constantly mocked by other students. They make fun of her for her good grades, her height, and her handmade clothing. But more than anything, they mock her for her dark black skin.
When Miss Saunders comes to teach and Maleeka’s school, Maleeka is shocked. Miss Saunders has a large white patch staining her dark face, and yet, she doesn’t seem bothered by it. In fact, Miss Saunders seems incredibly comfortable with who she is. Maleeka begins to wonder if she could ever love herself in the same way Miss Saunders does.
I really love this book because it addresses both the specific issue of skin color and the universal issue of bullying and learning to stand up for oneself. I highly recommend this book for kids ages 8 and up.
The Sweetest Sound by Sherri Winston
Ten-year-old Cadence loves to sing, but she’s also incredibly shy. She thinks that she could never be like her mother, who left Cadence behind to pursue a singing career. However, she does want to break out of her shell a bit; she’s just not sure of the right way to do it.
When a recording of Cadence singing leaks to her fellow church members, her plans get put on fast-forward. Should Cadence stay comfortable and deny that it’s her voice on the recording? Or should she step out of her comfort zone and embrace her love of singing?
I recommend sharing this lovely story with kids ages 8 and up.
The Mighty Miss Malone by Christopher Paul Curtis
Deza’s life feels full of promise. She’s very smart, and her teacher has singled her out as a student who could really have a bright future. But then the Great Depression hits her city of Gary, Indiana, and her family’s life is turned upside down.
Deza’s father leaves Gary to find work, and Deza, her mother, and her brother set off to find him. The family’s story takes many twists and turns as they cling to the hope that one day they will be reunited with their patriarch.
This powerful book is an eye-opening look at the Great Depression and its effects, and it’s perfect for readers ages 8 and up.
Genesis Begins Again by Alicia Williams
Genesis keeps a list of things she doesn’t like about herself — there are currently 96 things on that list. One of the biggest is #95: her dark skin. Another is her family situation; they’re always being evicted because of her father’s gambling addiction, which is how she ends up living with her grandmother.
Genesis’s mother and grandmother always fight, and one of the biggest points of contention is Genesis’s father and his dark skin. How can Genesis feel comfortable in her own dark skin when her family judges her for it? As Genesis’s list of things she hates about herself grows, she realizes that she needs to do something about it. Should she change herself? Or should she embrace the person she was made to be?
This book is heartbreakingly beautiful, and it made me cry more than once. I recommend sharing this novel with kids ages 10 and up.
Bayou Magic by Jewell Parker Rhodes
Maddy is spending her first summer in the bayou, and she’s already in love. There’s something about this place that resonates inside of her, and she begins to see things that no one else can see. Could she be carrying on the supernatural legacy of her family?
When an oil leak threatens Maddy’s beloved bayou, she knows she must do something to help. And her deep connection to the bayou means that she is the only one who can save it from harm.
Jewell Parker Rhodes does such an amazing job of weaving the realistic together with the magical in this story. Kids ages 9 and up are sure to love it.
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