14 Inspiring Books for African American Tweens That will Enrich your Child’s Education
An education can change a child’s whole world. Instilling a love of reading in your child is one of the greatest things you can do for his or her education. Many parents work hard to encourage a love of reading in their children, but they need to find the right books. It just seems that there are wildly too few books for little Black boys and girls.
During the middle school / tween years, your child is in a critical period of formation, where they can really learn to love reading. It is even more difficult to find books in the age range 9-12 for African American kids. They are craving books with a sense of adventure and with an inherent recognition of the beauty and joy of being who they are. We have compiled this list of 14 books for African American Tweens that we think are a great mix of happy-go-lucky fun and more thought-provoking stories.
Our Top 14 Books for African American Tweens
The first on our list is the award-winning Bud, Not Buddy. It follows 10 year-old Bud around during the Great Depression as he navigates his way from Flint, Michigan to Grand Rapids, Michigan in search of his father. Bud has never known his father, and his mother died when he was six. Having spent time in an orphanage and different foster homes, Bud has developed survival skills. This book has been on many 4th grade boy’s assigned reading throughout America and it is fantastic.
The story highlights the courage of a young boy whose life is not privileged in any way. Bud’s perseverance and courage is palpable as he navigates his way towards the hope for a better future. We also encourage this as a book to be read together as a family. You will laugh and cry as you connect Bud’s story to stories from your own grandparents, great-grandparents or other family. All around, this is a great book for African American tweens that leave them grateful for the smallest blessings we take for granted.
Brown Girl Dreaming is Jacqueline Woodson’s autobiography-through-poetry. Her prose contains heartrending stories, thoughts, musings, and emotions ranging from bliss to anger. This is another literary masterpiece for your tween child that tells of her life in such a unique way. The writing is lovely. Woodson’s vignettes are written as short stories in free style poetry. Her words are spoken softly, but they are powerful. Her images roll through your mind and will leave you breathless or weeping. It’s a more powerful read, but sill age appropriate for tweens.
3. The Watsons Go to Birmingham
Christopher Paul Curtis has written an eye-opening, heart-warming, page-turning book. The way the whole book was laid out was brilliant, all of the characters played such an important part in the novel. He tells the quirky story of the Watson family (also of Flint, Michigan) which consists of Momma, Daddy, the slightly rebellious oldest brother Byron, the playful middle brother Kenny (our narrator), and the angelic baby daughter Joetta.
The majority of the novel follows the family through episodes of bullying, making friends, interacting with neighbors, and managing life just above the poverty line. The Watsons visit family in Birmingham, Alabama in late 1963. Towards the end of the novel, they witness the devastating church bombing that killed four young girls, and the novel takes a somber turn.
The Crossover, a Newberry Medal winner, is unusual; it’s children’s lit in the form of poetry, yet with a definite story line. It’s about a junior high school kid, Josh (a/k/a Filthy) and his parents and twin brother, Jordan (J.B.). The book centers around basketball; the twins are basketball stars, and their father was an NBA-caliber player who played briefly in Italy. Their mother is a vice principal.
There are some themes here that parents may want to discuss with their children. I did not read it before her, but she freely talked to me about them after she had read it. So if you are buying this for your kid, you may want to check in with them while/after they read it to discuss.
5. President of the Whole Fifth Grade
This is a great book gift for 11-year old black girl. She will absolutely love it. While your tween is reading President of the Whole Fifth grade, your tween will be exclaiming and giggling until she finished the book. If you have a reluctant reader, this book may be a good option as it is easy and engaging. Brianna, the main character, has a magnetic style and personality. For young black girls this book shows nothing can stand in your way of your dreams. It also teaches about true friendships.
A good kind of trouble is a beautifully written, important book that follows Shayla as she navigates a new school and changing friendships. At the same time, she is becoming more aware of the injustices of the world. Shayla is supported by her incredible family. The characters are well crafted, and they endure harsh realities of being a black person in America. This is quick to read, and hard to put down. We recommend this warm, funny, thoughtful, and deeply important book for your Tween.
Tristan Strong brings us into a new genre : fantasy/folktale writing. It’s clever and heartfelt and unlike anything else in this list. If you loved Black Panther, I can almost guarantee you’ll love Tristan. The books are about a normal, 7th grade relatable kid struggling with grief who happens to enjoy punching things. The book contains a black pantheon of gods, a vast new world, and action that just won’t quit.
Tristan struggles to fit in. His dad and grandpa want him to be a boxer and uphold their family name. Tristan is battling grief and guilt after the death of his best friend Eddie. This softness is something all children, especially black boys, need to feel and understand. We highly recommend this book.
Number 8 on our list in Old Yeller – what a marvelous story! Written primarily for teens and young adults in 1956 by Fred Gipson, “Old Yeller” is a difficult book to categorize. On the one hand it’s a Western about a family’s efforts to build a homestead for themselves on the frontier of Post-Civil War Texas. On the other hand it’s a coming of age story about a boy who’s left in charge of the ranch, while Pa goes on a cattle drive to Kansas, and the stray dog that wanders into their lives and changes everything.
On the surface, this is a sentimental tale of a heroic dog but more deeply it is a coming of age story of a boy living in the incredibly harsh conditions in Texas in the 1870s. Old Yeller gives a moving and detailed portrait of the lifestyle and the extraordinary toughness and resourcefulness that was necessary to survive back then. The result is a gripping story that feels absolutely authentic. You don’t have to be an African American tween to enjoy this book. This is for all young boys and girls.
This novel centers around Drew, whose Grandmother has always told him that he will have to work “twice as hard to be half as good”. Drew goes to the privileged school of Riverdale Academy, but he isn’t privileged himself. He attends on an academic scholarship and isn’t sure how he fits in among his peers. This is a common situation many African American tweens in America.
One day, Drew is invited to his friend Liam’s house for the day and finds out how wealthy his friend really is. This puts a strain on their friendship and their mutual friend Jordan tries to figure out a way to bring them back together. This is a great gift for school-teacher to use in her classroom.
Heart and Soul is a beautiful book with pretty illustrations. Also, the narrator on audible in amazing. She sounds like a woman rocking on her front porch as she tells you her family story – it feels so personal. Such rich illustrations. It’s incredible. Heart and Soul celebrates the rich history and contributions African Americans have made in order to make America Great. It tells a history significantly left out of schoolbooks.
The author tells the journey of African Americans from beginning to where we are today – from slavery to the Reconstruction era to Women’s right to vote to Civil Rights Era to electing our first black President. Historical and impactful. You may cry reading through this.
11. From the Desk of Zoe Washington
This phenomenal middle grade book tackles the issue of race with sensitivity and expertise and captures the tone and emotion of middle-grade age characters perfectly. Zoe challenges how you think, has you cheering for, and probably makes you want to eat cupcakes. This is a cute and highly recommended book. Really, this book is two books in one – it is both a fun, sweet story of a girl who takes charge of her baking dream and a necessary, tough look at our justice system.
Ways to Make Sunshine is an absolutely delightful early middle-grade book with a memorable protagonist. I would recommend this book to any who enjoy strong female leads, books about female friendships, and heartwarming sibling dynamics. We need more books like this that allow our Black kids to just be kids. Beautiful.
13. Let the Circle be Unbroken
Let the Circle be Unbroken is the story of the Logan family and their many ordeals during the period of the Great Depression. It is a well written and meaningful story with great historical context. It highlights the humiliation, triumphs, fears, loses and hopes of the people and the strength of the community to persevere. This is an excellent source of historical fiction that reveals so much about race relations in America today and the racial divide that is still very much a part of American culture.
Locomotion is another unique book in that the format is written in verse. I recommend this book for middle school level teachers because of the nature of some of the subject matter. The writing is heartfelt and simply full of emotion. It is told entirely through Lonnie’s poetry, we see his heartbreak over his lost family, his thoughtful perspective on the world around him, and most of all his love for Lili and his determination to one day put at least half of their family back together.