Friday, February 21, 2020

Cool Books with African American Protagonists

A while back, I was helping a dad looking for books with African American main characters. My first impulse was to hand him something by Christopher Paul Curtis--I think I had just finished reading The Madman of Piney Woods and loved it--but he stopped me. He said he was tired of finding African American characters only in books about history. His kids weren't into historical fiction. They didn't want to read about the traumas of slavery, racism and Jim Crow. They wanted to be entertained. They were into sports, fantasy, adventure. The dad just wanted his kids to read fun books and see characters that looked more like them. I ended up giving him The Crossover by Kwame Alexander, and he was happy with its themes about sports, teenage romance, sibling rivalry and father-son relationships.

In recent years, with the #WeNeedDiverseBooks and #OwnVoices movements, there's been an explosion of good, exciting and entertaining books that feature people of color. So this month, Black History Month, in addition to our usual displays featuring biographies of important African American figures in history, I decided to celebrate blackness in contemporary books by putting up a display of general fiction books featuring black kids. 

It's got graphic novels like New Kid by Jerry Craft, Goldie Vance by Hope Larson and Brittney Williams, and Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur by Amy Reeder and Brandon Montclare. 

There are fantasy books like Dragons in a Bag by Zetta Elliott and Arcade and the Triple T Token by Rashad Jennings. 

There are page-turning capers like The Great Greene Heist and mysteries like The Parker Inheritance, both by Varian Johnson. 

There are slice-of-life realistic novels like Tight by Torrey Maldonado and the Track Series by Jason Reynolds. And there are books that defy realism like My Life as an Ice Cream Sandwich by Ibi Zoboi.

There are early chapter books like the Dyamonde Daniel series by Nikki Grimes, the Sugar Plum Ballerinas series by Whoopi Goldberg, and the Ada Twist, Scientist books by Andrea Beaty.

There are picture books like Max and the Tag-Along Moon by Floyd Cooper, I Used to be Famous by Tara Luebbe, Becky Cattie and Joanne Lew-Vriethoff, Hair Love by Matthew Cherry and Vashti Harrison--and that's just a start! 

So. Many. Great. Picture. Books. If I wasn't so short on time, I'd compile a longer list.

It's so nice to see lots of books nowadays featuring characters of color. There's always room for improvement, but I hope African American families like that dad and his kids found something fun and self-affirming in my book display this month!

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