This month Upper Elementary students are honoring Black History Month with their book club selections. They’re reading books written by African American authors who have won the Coretta Scott King Book Award. The students chose from the list of books below—a memoir written in verse, a first-person narrative written in verse, a work of contemporary fiction and one of historical fiction, each addressing the theme of family. For more great children’s and young adult books by African American authors, see the list at the end of this post.
Brown Girl Dreaming is Jacqueline Woodson’s beautifully written memoir. Through poems, Jacqueline tells the story of her childhood in the 1960s and 70s, moving back and forth between the Northeast and the South. Jackie’s life is filled with her family’s struggles—her parents’ relationship falls apart, her baby brother is hospitalized, her uncle is sent to prison and her grandfather dies. But it is also filled with her family’s strength—her grandparents’ devotion to religion and peaceful civil rights activism. Brown Girl Dreaming weaves the stories of Jackie’s family together with her own coming of age story, as she develops her own values, finds new friends and discovers her passion as a writer.
The Crossover by Kwame Alexander is told in vivid, rhythmic verse, in the voice of 12-year-old Josh Bell. Josh and his identical twin, JB, have basketball in their blood—their father, Chuck, is a former pro basketball player—and they share a true love of the game. Growing up, they play basketball every night with Chuck. But as they enter seventh grade, their interests begin to diverge. JB has a girlfriend and spends less and less time with Josh and Chuck. Josh is lonely, jealous and angry. The brothers have a terrible fight and their relationship seems permanently broken. At the same time, Chuck’s health is failing. Although he is only 39, Chuck suffers a series of heart attacks and ultimately dies. Josh is devastated but also rediscovers his need for his brother, and the two find reconciliation.
Some Places More Than Others by Renee Watson tells the story of 12-year-old Amara’s trip with her father to visit his childhood home in Harlem and to make a family-history time capsule for school. She is excited to see the city, to explore the places of her father’s childhood and to meet her grandfather and cousins for the first time in person. The trip is nothing like what Amara imagined—the city is crowded, loud and confusing, and the relationships in her family are strained. Amara begins to explore the sights in Harlem and to ask questions. She begins to learn more about her family’s history and about the history of African-Americans in New York City. She discovers the ways she is connected to her family and to history, and she begins to help her family heal.
The Mighty Miss Malone by Christopher Paul Curtis is a historical novel set in Gary, Indiana during the Great Depression. It is the story of Deza Malone and her family. Deza is exceptionally smart, loves language and shines at her school in Gary, but her family cannot stay there because there is no work for her father. The family moves to Michigan to find work, and things begin to look up for a short while before everything gets worse—Deza’s parents lose their jobs, they face health crises, they run out of food and clothing, they lose their home and face scathing racism. Throughout it all, Deza is also attending a new school, where she is discriminated against and told she is not as smart as she knows she is. Still, Deza—the mighty Miss Malone—and her family remain hopeful, and they continue to struggle, together, for “a place called Wonderful.”
Resources for recommended children’s and young adult books by African American authors:
Award-Winning African American Books on Common Sense Media
The Coretta Scott King Book Awards on The American Library Association;s website
Top 150 Recommended African-American Children’s Books by the African American Literature Book Club