Insight

Reading Black Authors All Year Round

Every year during Black History Month, we wrestle with striking a balance between the need to recognize and celebrate Black history very explicitly during this season—since Black stories and voices continue to be left out of the narrative of our collective history—while also making sure that Black history is not just relegated to February. Today, we’re sharing some of the books by Black authors that hold meaning for us personally. We hope these and many others will find their ways to your to-be-read list and into your home or classroom libraries throughout the year—not just in the shortest month.

For Younger Readers

Please Baby Please by Spike Lee and Tonya Lewis Lee, Illustrated by Kadir Nelson (Infant – Preschool)

“This book, by Tonya Lewis Lee and her husband, Spike, is one of our favorites. It’s that rare baby book that is genuinely fun for adults to read, and the parents’ experience of attempting to get their toddler through the day with as little chaos as possible will feel very familiar to parents of young kids. The illustrations, by the great Kadir Nelson, are especially gorgeous.”

– Kate McGovern, Editorial Director

The Watsons Go to Birmingham by Christopher Paul Curtis (Grades 3 – 7)

“I read this with our 6th graders at KIPP Boston. Curtis weaves a story of historical fiction where students easily connect to the rebelliousness of one character and/or the curiosity/innocence of another character. This story also reflects another side of the Great Migration—where families who had moved north (in this case, to Michigan) often returned to the South to visit family. The family is in Birmingham during the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing, and immediately returns north afterward.”

Elysa Severinghaus, Executive Director, Boston

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson (Grades 5 – 8)

“Jacqueline Woodson’s writing is both vivid and raw. She takes readers on a journey through her ancestry and her lived experience growing up as a brown girl in the South and then experiencing life in the North.”

Arlene Sanchez, Boston Navigator

The Encyclopedia of African-American Heritage by Susan Altman

“In elementary school, this was the book that never stayed in stock. Kids always checked it out of the school library before you could get to it.”

– Whitney Henderson, Navigator-in-Chief

A Blade So Black by L.L. McKinney (Grades 7 – 12)

“This is the kind of young adult fantasy novel I always wish existed when I was younger. It's a modern day re-telling of Alice in Wonderlandwhere the amazing protagonist is a Black teenage girl named Alice. It's action packed and definitely a page turner.”

Ileana Ortiz, New Orleans Navigator

The Poet Xby Elizabeth Acevedo (Grades 7 – 12)

“In this powerful young adult novel, the main character, Xiomara, is going through a lot in her life and copes by writing slam poetry. The poems are incredibly powerful. I loved it because the novel is written in verse and because there isn't enough Afro-Latinx representation in young adult fiction. There is also LGBT representation in the novel!”

Ileana

A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry

“I really enjoyed reading this play with my eighth grade students. The plot and characters bring to light the historical context and strife many Black families experienced in the post-Civil Rights era. The play is an easy read, and the themes are universal. The play also earned Lorraine Hansberry the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Play of the Year at age 29, which made her the first Black playwright (not to mention the youngest American and the fifth woman) to receive that honor.”

– Arlene

For Older Readers

The Measure of a Man by Sidney Poitier

“This is an important book to me because it served as a values guide. Poitier presented a framework for how to allow lessons from the past to inform how we navigate difficult terrain. I am inspired by his uncompromising spirit and his focus on ensuring that whatever he put out into the world had significant meaning. Poitier recognized the influence he had as a public figure and made sure to bring dignity to every role he took on.”

– Gary Briggs, Executive Director, New Orleans

Jelly Roll by Kevin Young

“I adore this collection of poems. Lots of people find contemporary poetry difficult and off-putting, but Kevin Young has a sort of musical, plainspoken style that makes his work feel more accessible and fun and human.”

David Keeling, Founding Partner

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

“Trevor Noah does a very good job of explaining the history, context, and impact of apartheid in South Africa, as well as his own incredible personal story. This book comes in a version for younger readers, too, which makes the content much more accessible for readers from about age 11 up. My sixth grader and I read the original memoir together, while he read the young readers version on his own.”

Ari Rozman, Founding Partner

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I don’t normally gravitate toward historical fiction, or novels that are told from more than one perspective. This book falls into both those categories, and yet it’s one of my all-time favorites. It tells a painful and complicated multi-generational family story, while also offering up a fascinating history of the Nigerian-Biafran War.”

– Kate

The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson

“This is a masterfully written account of the Great Migration, for any of us whose history curriculum just skipped over this massive 6 million person internal migration between 1916 and 1970. The structure of the book is particularly compelling—following 3 different individuals at 3 different points in that 60-year period, and pulling back from their individual narratives to discuss the common themes across their experiences.”

Elysa

Coming of Age in Mississippi by Anne Moody

“My mother made sure I read this when I was old enough. She read it in school and was determined that I should dive deeply into the story of Anne Moody, too. It was important to my mother that I understood, at an early age, the vile nature of racism and sexism, pushing me to think critically about the world that I wanted to live in. Moody, like many of us, spent her early years trying to figure out the purpose of racism and why it was so insidious. Once she learned more about the structural issues surrounding racism, she decided to act. I am inspired by her decision to jump into the fight in the South to become an important activist in the Civil Rights Movement.”

– Gary

“Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together In the Cafeteria?” And Other Conversations About Race by Beverly Daniel Tatum, Ph.D.

“This was likely the first text I ever read that so explicitly defined racism and described the process of identify development. As a white woman exploring the field of Sociology in an intro college class, it called me to reflect on and question many things and launched me into wanting to learn more. Ultimately, I pursued a minor in Sociology, and I draw on the lessons from this book and those courses regularly. While I am still working to understand how to best serve others—through my work in education and just as a human being—this book helped start that process, and I will always be grateful for it.”

Meghan Stroh, New Orleans Navigator