I mentioned last month the journey I’ve begun as a result of the continued anti-racism protests. It started with providing a short list of science fiction and fantasy books by black authors, books that I’ve enjoyed, found deals on, and recommend. It continues with my participation in What Lies Between Us, an anti-racism course taught by Dr. Lucretia Berry and her husband Nathan Berry. And my journey grows with teaching my two boys, ages 16 and 11, to have more empathy for blacks, and for anyone different than them. Here are the 11 books they have read or will be reading with me to improve their understanding of what it’s like to grow up black in a white-skewed society.

It’s my belief, in fact, that they must start their journey to avoiding racism and rooting it out whenever they come across it by growing their empathy first. They need to be able to see what racism looks like through the eyes of someone their age; that will be much more effective than me or any adult just telling them: “Don’t be racist.” These lists were curated from my own bookshelves as well as from SocialJusticeBooks.com and Imaginationsoup.net, and, with the help of CommonSenseMedia.org, curated to my family’s standards regarding profanity, violence, and sexual content. You’re welcome to visit those sites to get recommendations and based on your own family’s needs.

For Teens

Little Brother by Cory Doctorow

Cover of Little Brother by Cory Doctorow, showing three illustrated teens in profile in front of a big red X

This book’s black main character witnesses a major terrorist attack on the city of San Francisco and is “taken in for questioning,” along with several of his buddies, by the Department of Homeland Security. After being mercilessly interrogated for days, he’s released but one of his friends isn’t. The more books with black main characters my teen reads, even in fictional or fantastical settings, the better. And it’s interesting how the author works in class conversations about the Bill of Rights and how it actually plays out in the U.S. into the narrative.

Favorite Quote

Quote from Little Brother by Cory Doctorow

Nutrition Facts

Depiction of the amount of educational value, positive messages, positive role models and representations, violence, sex, language, consumerism, and drinking, drug use, and smoking in Little Brother by Cory Doctorow

Best Deal

Of the multiple sites I checked, Amazon had the best deal on this: $5.68 for a used paperback.

This Book is Anti-Racist by Tiffany Jewell, Illustrated by Aurelia Durand

Cover of This Book is Anti Racist

As GoodReads says:

“This book is written for the young person who doesn’t know how to speak up to the racist adults in their life. For the 14 year old who sees injustice at school and isn’t able to understand the role racism plays in separating them from their friends. For the kid who spends years trying to fit into the dominant culture and loses themselves for a little while. It’s for all of the Black and Brown children who have been harmed (physically and emotionally) because no one stood up for them or they couldn’t stand up for themselves.”

Because this book is nonfiction, broken up into 20 chapters on heavy things like the definition of race, how we form social identities, what institutional racism is, etc., I’ll be going through this with both my teen and tween together.

Best Quote

Quote from This Book is Anti-Racist by Tiffany Jewell

Nutrition Facts

Best Deal

It’s $2.99 on Kindle!

Water Dancer by Ta-nehisi Coates

Cover of Water Dancer by Ta-nehisi Coates, showing a black man face down in a body of water, his arms outstretched

I like this book’s style alot, as I mentioned here, although it did have a little bit of a rote feeling to it. It’s told from the perspective of a young man during the slavery years and his experience with the Underground Railroad. It’s fiction, with touches of fantasy. It doesn’t roll around in the darker side of slavery (e.g., beatings, rape, etc.), although there is a fair amount of implication. Just experiencing the horror of being owned and commanded by another person, and the constant tearing up of families as members were sold off, through the eyes of the main character was enough to remind me how ashamed I am to be a citizen of a country whose government once sanctioned human trafficking. It also brings life to the history lessons my kids have gotten in school.

Favorite Quote

Quote from The Water Dancer by Ta-nehisi Coates: "Power makes slaves of masters."

Nutrition Facts

Common Sense Media provides no details on this book, but I can tell you that it has no swearing, some violence, and, as I mentioned, a fair amount of implications of rape. I would say, also, that there are positive themes throughout of forgiveness and love, steadfastness, and connection with others.

Best Deal

$3.98 on eBay.

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Cover of The Help by Kathryn Stockett, showing a few little birds on a tree branch

This book takes place in 1960’s Mississippi, USA (i.e., just before the height of the American Civil Rights movement). Its main characters are both female: a 22-year-old white woman who heeds more the effects of her parents’ and others’ prejudice on her black friends than she heeds her parents’ desire for her to get married, and one of the black maids she helps. While my two boys might not want to read a book told from the perspective of someone they don’t think they can identify with, I think they’ll find lots of subtle humor and be just as galled as I was by the acts of pettiness, prejudice, and bullying that were typical of the time.

Favorite quote

Quote from The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Nutrition Facts

Common Sense provides no details on this book either, although it does report that the movie adaption contains some language and references to drinking, drugs, or smoking.

Best Deal

$4.69 for a hardcover copy from ThriftBooks.com.

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

"Children of Blood and Bone" across a mass of white hair

Like I mentioned here, this book really packs a punch. It’s about magic and power and family, which aren’t unique themes in and of themselves, but this particular combination is vibrant, set in a very unique world, and populated with unforgettable characters, all of them black.

Favorite Quote

Quote from Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi: "We are all children of blood and bone. All instruments of vengeance and virtue."

Nutrition Facts

Best Deal

$7.49 for the audiobook on Amazon.

For Tweens

New Kid by Jerry Craft

Cover of New Kid by Jerry Craft, showing a nervous-looking middle school, brown-skinned boy scribbling in a notebook

This is a graphic-style novel about starting over at a new school where diversity is low, the main character’s skin is brown, and his struggle to fit in is real.

Favorite Quote

Quote from New Kid by Jerry Craft

Nutrition Facts

Best Deal

$3.50 on eBay.

My Life as an Ice Cream Sandwich by Ibi Zoboi

Cover of My Life as an Ice Cream Sandwich, depicting a young black girl gazing over a city landscape at night

Written by Ibi Zoboi, who also wrote Pride, a book that I enjoyed, My Life as an Ice Cream Sandwich is about Ebony-Grace Norfleet, the sci-fi-obsessed granddaughter of one of the first black engineers to integrate NASA. Maybe I shouldn’t call it cute, especially in front of my tween son, but I think it is.

Favorite Quote

Quote from My Life as an Ice Cream Sandwich by Ibi Zoboi

Nutrition Facts

Best Deal

$6.99 on Kindle

Ghost Boys

Cover of Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes, showing a young black boy gazing up at multiple red traffic lights

From GoodReads:

Twelve-year-old Jerome is shot by a police officer who mistakes his toy gun for a real threat. As a ghost, he observes the devastation that’s been unleashed on his family and community in the wake of what they see as an unjust and brutal killing.

Soon Jerome meets another ghost: Emmett Till, a boy from a very different time but similar circumstances. Emmett helps Jerome process what has happened, on a journey towards recognizing how historical racism may have led to the events that ended his life. Jerome also meets Sarah, the daughter of the police officer, who grapples with her father’s actions.

Best Quote

Quote from Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes: "I thought I was bigger. Tough. But I'm just a bit of nothing."

Nutrition Facts

Best Deal

$4.99 on Kindle

Black Brother, Black Brother by Jewell Parker Rhodes

Cover of Black Brother, Black Brother by Jewell Parker Rhodes, depicting two teenage boys back to back, one black, one white

Also by Jewell Parker Rhodes, this book is a coming-of-age story about two brothers, one who presents as white, the other as black, and the complex ways in which they are forced to navigate the world, all while training for a fencing competition.

Best Quote

Quote from Black Brother, Black Brother by Jewell Parker Rhodes: "In my head, I hear: 'Speak truth to power.' Mom's favorite phrase. Then, Dad adding, 'Respectfully.'"

Nutrition Facts

Best Deal

$7.99 on Kindle

What Lane?

Cover of What Lane? by Torrey Maldonado, depicting three teenage boys, one white, one black, and one brown, with nervous looks on their faces, in front of a stylized urban landscape

From GoodReads:

Anything his friends can do, Stephen should be able to do too, right? So when they dare each other to sneak into an abandoned building, he doesn’t think it’s his “lane,” but he goes. Here’s the thing, though: Can he do everything his friends can? Lately, he’s not so sure. As a mixed kid, he feels like he’s living in two worlds with different rules–and he’s been noticing that strangers treat him differently than his white friends.

Best Quote

Quote from What Lane? by Torrey Maldonado: "I'll swerve into the lanes I choose. Maybe even find new ones."

Nutrition Facts

Common Sense provides no details on this book, but I can tell you that there’s no swearing, violence, or sexy stuff.

Best Deal

The best price by far was $7.99 on Kindle.

Clean Getaway by Nic Stone

Cover of Clean Getaway by Nic Stone, depicting a teenage black boy above a camper van doing a wheelie

From GoodReads:

Set against the backdrop of the segregation history of the American South, take a trip with New York Times bestselling Nic Stone and an eleven-year-old boy who is about to discover the world hasn’t always been a welcoming place for kids like him, and things aren’t always what they seem–his G’ma included.

Best Quote

Quote from Clean Getaway by Nic Stone: "Each of us is more than the worse thing we've ever done."

Nutrition Facts

Best Deal

$7.99 for a paperback from Amazon

If You Want to Build Your Own List

As I said, these are books I’ve chosen based on where I think my kids need to start. Your kids’ needs will probably be different than mine. If you’d like to build your own book list, I encourage you to check out:

What books would you add to my list? Let me know in the comments below! I look forward to growing on this journey with everyone else.

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  1. […] I mentioned here, and as it says on the cover: this book is all about how to “wake up, take action, and do the […]

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