Seven Middle Grade Books for African American History Month
February is African American History Month, a time when, as a nation, we join together to pay tribute to, and raise awareness about, the millions of African Americans who struggled for decades to achieve equal civil rights in American society. Teaching children the significance of African American History and the contributions of many brave, courageous, and remarkable people is important for learning from the mistakes in our past and promoting tolerance, acceptance, and equality in our present and future. Though these stories are poignant, they are equally inspirational and motivational and deserve to be heard and remembered every day of the year.
Recently, there have been several profound middle grade novels published that share various journeys of great adversity and change. Each of these stories offer a different perspective; Jacqueline Woodson’s National Book Award Winner Brown Girl Dreaming is written in verse and is a memoir of her experience growing up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s; Deborah Wiles’ historical fiction Revolution, set also in the 1960’s, is mostly narrated from a Caucasian 12-year-old girl’s point of view during Freedom Summer. Young readers will be riveted by the harshness of inequalities and suffering in these stories, but also for the extraordinary demonstrations of heroism and self-sacrifice from people of both races. Sharing these books with young readers comes with the heavy responsibility to discuss both good and evil, reflect on lessons learned, and mandate continuous change and progress towards equality.
Read TCBR’s Full Review of Stella by Starlight
Publisher’s Synopsis: When the Ku Klux Klan’s unwelcome reappearance rattles Stella’s segregated southern town, bravery battles prejudice in this Depression-era tour de force from Sharon Draper, the New York Times bestselling author of Out of My Mind. Stella lives in the segregated South—in Bumblebee, North Carolina, to be exact about it. Some stores she can go into. Some stores she can’t. Some folks are right pleasant. Others are a lot less so. To Stella, it sort of evens out, and heck, the Klan hasn’t bothered them for years. But one late night, later than she should ever be up, much less wandering around outside, Stella and her little brother see something they’re never supposed to see, something that is the first flicker of change to come, unwelcome change by any stretch of the imagination. As Stella’s community—her world—is upended, she decides to fight fire with fire. And she learns that ashes don’t necessarily signify an end.
Ages 9-12 | 336 pages | Atheneum Books for Young Readers | January 2015 | ISBN 9781442494978
Read TCBR’s Full Review of Revolution
Publisher’s Synopsis: It’s 1964, and Sunny’s town is being invaded. Or at least that’s what the adults of Greenwood, Mississippi are saying. All Sunny knows is that people from up north are coming to help people register to vote. They’re calling it Freedom Summer.
Meanwhile, Sunny can’t help but feel like her house is being invaded, too. She has a new stepmother, a new brother, and a new sister crowding her life, giving her little room to breathe. And things get even trickier when Sunny and her brother are caught sneaking into the local swimming pool, where they bump into a mystery boy whose life is going to become tangled up in theirs.
As she did in her groundbreaking documentary novel Countdown, award-winning author Deborah Wiles uses stories and images to tell the riveting story of a certain time and place, and of kids who, in a world where everyone is choosing sides, must figure out how to stand up for themselves and fight for what’s right.
Ages 8-12 | 544 pages | Scholastic Press | May 2014 | ISBN 978-0-545-10607-8
Publisher’s Synopsis: Raised in South Carolina and New York, Woodson always felt halfway home in each place. In vivid poems, she shares what it was like to grow up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s, living with the remnants of Jim Crow and her growing awareness of the Civil Rights movement. Touching and powerful, each poem is both accessible and emotionally charged, each line a glimpse into a child’s soul as she searches for her place in the world. Woodson’s eloquent poetry also reflects the joy of finding her voice through writing stories, despite the fact that she struggled with reading as a child. Her love of stories inspired her and stayed with her, creating the first sparks of the gifted writer she was to become.
Ages 9-12 | 336 pages | Nancy Paulsen Books | August 2014 | ISBN 9780399252518
By Sharon Lovejoy
Publisher’s Synopsis: Fans of Elijah of Buxton, Trouble Don’t Last, and Stealing Freedom will be drawn to this tale of the incredible journey of an abused twelve-year-old white girl and an escaped slave girl who run away together and form a bond of friendship while seeking freedom. Every day is a misery for a nameless, motherless Southern girl who is treated cruelly by her pa and brothers. Her life changes forever when a runaway slave named Zenobia turns to her for help and shelter. Longing for her own freedom, the girl decides to run away, and she and Zenobia set off on a harrowing journey. Along the way, Zenobia names the girl Lark, after the bird, for her ability to mimic its song. Running by night, hiding by day, the girls are pursued by Lark’s pa and brothers and by ruthless slave catchers. Brightwell, another runaway slave, joins them, and the three follow secret signs to a stop on the Underground Railroad. When the hideout is raided and Zenobia and Brightwell are captured, Lark sets out alone to rescue her friends.
Ages 9-12 | 304 pages | Random House Books for Young Readers | November 2014 | ISBN 9780385744096
Publisher’s Synopsis: An astonishing civil rights story from Newbery Honor winner and National Book Award finalist Steve Sheinkin.
On July 17, 1944, a massive explosion rocked the segregated Navy base at Port Chicago, California, killing more than 300 sailors who were at the docks, critically injuring off-duty men in their bunks, and shattering windows up to a mile away. On August 9th, 244 men refused to go back to work until unsafe and unfair conditions at the docks were addressed. When the dust settled, fifty were charged with mutiny, facing decades in jail and even execution.
This is a fascinating story of the prejudice that faced black men and women in America’s armed forces during World War II, and a nuanced look at those who gave their lives in service of a country where they lacked the most basic rights.
Ages 10-14 | 208 pages | Roaring Brook Press | January 2014 | ISBN 9781596437968
By Lea Wait
Publisher’s Synopsis: Joe Wood has dreams. Big dreams. He wants to be a newspaperman, and though he’s only fourteen, he’s already borrowed money to start his own press. But it’s April, 1861, and a young nation is teetering on the brink of a civil war.
As effects of war begin to spread over Joe’s hometown of Wiscasset, Maine, he must juggle his personal ambitions with some new responsibilities. He has to help Owen, his young assistant, deal with the challenges of being black in a white world torn apart by color. He needs to talk his best friend, Charlie, out of enlisting. He wants to help a young spiritualist, Nell, whose uncle claims she can speak to the dead. And when Owen disappears, it’s up to Joe to save him.
Lea Wait skillfully draws on the lives of real people in Maine’s history to tell this story of three young adults touched by war and the tension it brings, forcing them into adulthood—before they may be ready.
Ages 8-12 | 210 pages | Islandport Press | April 2014 | ISBN 978-1-939017-25-3
Publisher’s Synopsis: When Michael’s aunt passes away, she leaves behind a letter that will change everything. It starts with Michael’s grandfather Leroy, a black officer in World War I who charged into a battle zone not once but three times to save wounded men. His fellow soldiers insisted he deserved special commendations for his bravery but because of the racial barriers, he would go unacknowledged. Now it’s up to Michael to change that. Inspired by the true story of Walter Tull, the first black officer in the British army, award-winning author Michael Morpurgo delivers a richly layered and memorable story of identity, history, and family.
Ages 10-14 | 144 pages | Feiwel and Friends | January 2014 | ISBN 9781250039804
This list of “Seven Middle Grade Books for African American History Month ” was curated by Gi Hallmark. Follow along with our content tagged with Books for African American History Month to discover more great books just like these ones.