Juneteenth (June 19th) commemorates the day chattel slavery finally ended in the United States. Considered the oldest African American holiday, the celebration dates back to 1865. In 2021, the federal government finally declared it an official federal holiday, giving us all a great opportunity to learn more about African American history and culture. In honor of the holiday, we asked educators, tweens, teens, and a few former teens, to suggest Black books for teens and tweens, ones which focus on an aspect of the African American experience. Here’s what they gave us.
Need the facts? These books illuminate the African American experience.
by Annette Gordon-Reed
Weaving together American history, family chronicle, and memoir this book provides a historian’s view of the country’s long road to the Juneteenth holiday.
The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story
by Nikole Hannah-Jones
The New York Times Magazine’s award-winning “1619 Project” issue reframed our understanding of American history by placing slavery and its continuing legacy at the center of our national narrative. This new book substantially expands on that work.
To Make Our World Anew: A History of African Americans
by Robin Kelley and Earl Lewis
A panoramic view of African American life, rich in gripping first-person accounts and short character sketches that invite readers to relive history as African Americans experienced it.
Want to know about real people in African American history? Find their stories in these books.
Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race
by Margot Lee Shetterly
The true story of the black female mathematicians at NASA whose calculations helped fuel some of America’s greatest achievements in space.
I’ve Known Rivers: Lives of Loss and Liberation
by Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot
The author of Balm in Gilead uses a kind of “human archaeology” to reveal the complex, nuanced lives of six middle-class African American achievers.
March: Book One
by John Lewis
Presented in graphic novel format, March is a vivid firsthand account of John Lewis’ lifelong struggle for civil and human rights, meditating in the modern age on the distance traveled since the days of Jim Crow and segregation.
Roots: The Saga of an American Family
by Alex Haley
Based on the bestselling author’s family history, this novel tells the story of Kunta Kinte, who is sold into slavery in the United States, where he and his descendants live through major historic events.
Feeling artsy? Here’s the book for you.
Envisioning Emancipation: Black Americans and the End of Slavery
by Deborah Willis and Barbara Krauthamer
Photographic historian Deborah Willis and historian of slavery Barbara Krauthamer have amassed 150 photographs from the antebellum days of the 1850s through the New Deal era of the 1930s.
In the mood for historical fiction about real people? These books tell the real story and fill in missing pieces with masterful storytelling.
By Her Own Design: A Novel of Ann Lowe, Fashion Designer to the Social Register
by Piper Huguley
The incredible untold story of how Ann Lowe, a Black woman and granddaughter of slaves, rose above personal struggles and racial prejudice to design and create one of America’s most famous wedding dresses of all time for Jackie Kennedy.
Never Caught: The Washingtons’ Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge
by Erica Armstrong Dunbar
Though Ona Judge lived a life of relative comfort, she was denied freedom. So, when the opportunity presented itself one clear and pleasant spring day in Philadelphia, Judge left everything she knew to escape to New England.
What was it like being a teen in historic times? These books highlight history through a teen’s eyes.
Another Brooklyn: A Novel
by Jacqueline Woodson
The story illuminates the formative time when childhood gives way to adulthood—the promise and peril of growing up—and exquisitely renders a powerful, indelible, and fleeting friendship that united four young lives.
by Beverly Jenkins
Belle Palmer is finally free! Separated from her father on the harrowing escape, Belle is lost and alone until she finds shelter with the Bests. For the first time in her 16 years, Belle can speak her mind—except for her feelings for a certain dark-eyed young man.
Betty Before X
by Ilyasah Shabazz
Betty Before X is a powerful middle-grade fictionalized account of the childhood activism of Betty Shabazz, Malcolm X’s wife, written by their daughter Ilyasah Shabazz.
Diary of Latoya Hunter: My First Year in Junior High
by Latoya Hunter
The Diary of Latoya Hunter is a timely portrait of adolescence—about the universal challenges of youth and about the ways it is shaped by the inner city. It is also a lively introduction to a delightful girl whose humor and idealism are inspirational.
by Beverly Jenkins
No girl is immune to Adam Morgan’s charm. But when a wound brings him home from the War Between the States, it’s a girl he used to call “Pest” who’s turning the tables.
If Girl Power inspires you, you need to read these books.
On the Come Up
by Angie Thomas
Sixteen-year-old Bri wants to be one of the greatest rappers of all time. Or at least win her first battle. As the daughter of an underground hip hop legend who died right before he hit big, Bri’s got massive shoes to fill.
The Poet X
by Elizabeth Acevedo
Xiomara Batista feels unheard and unable to hide in her Harlem neighborhood. But Xiomara has plenty she wants to say, and she pours all her frustration and passion onto the pages of a leather notebook, reciting the words to herself like prayers.
Watch Us Rise
by Renee Watson
Jasmine and Chelsea are best friends on a mission—they’re sick of the way women are treated even at their high school, so they decide to start a Women’s Rights Club. They post their work online and soon they go viral.
Wondering how the past affects the present? Here are stories about the different life paths African American men take.
by Nic Stone
Vernell LaQuan Banks and Justyce McAllister grew up a block apart in the Southwest Atlanta neighborhood of Wynwood Heights. Years later, though, Justyce walks the illustrious halls of Yale University . . . and Quan sits behind bars at the Fulton Regional Youth Detention Center.
Sunrise Over Fallujah
by Walter Dean Meyers
Robin “Birdy” Perry, a new army recruit from Harlem, isn’t quite sure why he joined the army, but he’s sure where he’s headed: Iraq. Birdy and the others in the Civilian Affairs Battalion are supposed to help secure and stabilize the country and successfully interact with the Iraqi people.
Tired of the usual? These books use unique ways to tell stories.
Ain’t Burned All the Bright
by Jason Reynolds
A smash-up of art and text for teens that viscerally captures what it is to be Black. In America. Right Now.
by Kwame Alexander
In this Newbery Medal and Coretta Scott King Award–winning middle grade bestseller, basketball and heartache share the court. A slam-dunk novel in verse.
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