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Targeted Teen Booklist Focused on the African American Experience

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.

HISTORY

Need the facts? These books illuminate the African American experience.

On Juneteenth

by Annette Gordon-Reed

https://amzn.to/3bIBKkA

Ages 14+

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

https://amzn.to/3bI9rCB

Ages 14+

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

https://amzn.to/3AeFTHb

Ages 14+

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

https://amzn.to/3ntPAtE

Ages 12+

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

https://amzn.to/3OM6cbM

Ages 14+

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

https://amzn.to/3ntPzG8

Ages 13+

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

https://amzn.to/3OYRKgr

Ages 14+

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

https://amzn.to/3QVvgPk

Ages 14+

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.

HISTORICAL FICTION

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

https://amzn.to/3OBdaRj

Ages 14+

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

https://amzn.to/3Rdr9OW

Ages 12+

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

https://amzn.to/3OYzELR

Ages 12+

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.

Belle

by Beverly Jenkins

https://amzn.to/3I3KUEp

Ages 13+

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

https://amzn.to/3OVy517

Ages 10+

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

https://amzn.to/3AiZCp2

Ages 9-12

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.

Josephine

by Beverly Jenkins

https://amzn.to/3y9F7Zh

Ages 13+

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.

FANTASTIC FICTION

If Girl Power inspires you, you need to read these books.

On the Come Up

by Angie Thomas

https://amzn.to/3yvLXK6

Ages 8-12

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

https://amzn.to/3Nz6eTh

Ages 13+

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

https://amzn.to/3IauxpI

Ages 13+

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.

Dear Justyce

by Nic Stone

https://amzn.to/3yzzpS4

Ages 9-12

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

https://amzn.to/3ui9D1V

Ages 12+

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

https://amzn.to/3ugqulZ

Ages 12+

A smash-up of art and text for teens that viscerally captures what it is to be Black. In America. Right Now.

The Crossover

by Kwame Alexander

https://amzn.to/3IaCPh5

Ages 10+

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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Kamyra Harding

Kamyra Harding is a reading addict and mistake maker. She uses humor and belly button gazing to share her insight into marriage, children and trying hard to get it all right. You can find her on social media as the Try Hard Mommy

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