February 19, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Librarian Creates #BlackLivesMatter Booklist for Teens

In the wake of the tragic killings of two black men by police this week, Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, librarians around the country have been looking for ways to support and educate their communities. Chelsea Couillard-Smith, a librarian for Hennepin County (MN) Library, created a #BlackLivesMatter booklist for teens.

The idea for the booklist begin as Couillard-Smith, who shares a juvenile title on Twitter every week for #FridayReads, thought about recent events and which books might provide a starting point for reflection and conversation. “I really wanted to promote both How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon and All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely. It quickly evolved into this list. I selected a small number of titles that I thought would be good conversation starters for teens engaged in discussions about race and justice,” she explained.

Couillard-Smith was inspired by the effort of several other library resource lists and guides. “There are many great resources that I drew on for ideas including the Oakland Public Library’s Black Lives Matter Resource series,” she says.

As for the impact of the #BlackLivesMatter booklist? Couillard-Smith says, “If it gets these books into the hands of a few more teen or adult readers in our region, I’ll be happy.”

The list is reprinted with permission of Hennepin County Library.

Read This: #BlackLivesMatter Reads for Teens

Teens are naturally curious about current events and their roles as emerging citizens. Including fiction, non-fiction, and poetry titles, this list offers a great starting point for discussions of race, justice, and privilege.

How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon000 How It Went Down

Told through multiple perspectives, this teen novel examines the shooting of a Black teen by a White man. Complex and thought-provoking, it highlights the weaknesses inherent in eyewitness accounts.


All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brandon Kiely

000 All American BoysJointly written by authors Jason Reynolds and Brandon Kiely, this teen novel follows the experiences of Rashad, a Black teen savagely beaten by a police officer, and Quinn, a White teen who witnessed the attack. As lines are drawn in the community and at school, both teens struggle to make sense of the larger societal forces shaping their lives.




Monster by Walter Dean Myers000 Monster

In this teen novel, a Black 16-year-old on trial as an accessory to murder recounts the path that led him into trouble. As small moral decisions become gateways to larger problems, readers will wrestle with questions of innocence and culpability that are never clearly answered.




000 Wreath for Emmett TillA Wreath for Emmett Till by Marilyn Nelson

In this heroic crown of sonnets, Nelson asks readers to bear witness to the brutal murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till, a Black teen lynched in 1955 for allegedly whistling at a White woman. The questions raised about our country’s racial history still resonate, and provide much for readers to discuss in the context of current events.



We Troubled the Waters: Poems by Ntozake Shange, illus. by Rod Brown000 Troubled the Waters

This collection of poems about the Civil Rights movement examines both well-known historical figures and the everyday folks living under racial oppression. While often uplifting and triumphant, Shange is nonetheless honest about the strides yet to be made.




000 Black Lives MatterBlack Lives Matter by Sue Bradford Edwards

This nonfiction book for teens examines a number of recent high-profile cases of police brutality and racial profiling, placing them in historical context and analyzing a wide range of viewpoints.




Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Phillip M. Hoose000 Claudette Colvin

This juvenile biography of Black teen Claudette Colvin examines the role she played in helping to integrate Montgomery’s bus system during the Civil Rights Movement. An inspiring role model of activism for teens, Colvin’s story also highlights the machinery behind political movements and the interconnected communities that create and sustain change.




000 Getting Away With MurderGetting Away with Murder: The True Story of the Emmett Till Case by Chris Crowe

A juvenile nonfiction account of the horrific murder of a Black teen in 1955, and the way it galvanized the Civil Rights Movement in America. Full of primary source material, including haunting images of the victim and his killers, it will resonate with teens eager to discuss contemporary parallels.



No Choirboy: Murder, Violence, and Teenagers on Death Row by Susan Kuklin000 No Choirboy

This nonfiction collection for teens of true stories features the experiences of teenage convicts on death row. Incorporating the voices of their families, victims, and those involved in their cases, it provides a complex view of our legal system and raises important questions about justice and racial equality in America.




000 MarchMarch: Book One by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin, illus. by Nate Powell

This memoir for teens and adults in graphic novel format begins the inspiring story of Congressman John Lewis who stood on the front lines of the Civil Rights Movement as a teenager.





A Good Time for the Truth: Race in Minnesota edited by Sun Yung Shin000 Race

A diverse collection of authors, educators, and artists share essays on their experiences of being “other” in Minnesota, and the current state of race in an increasingly diverse Midwestern landscape. Written for adults, it’s sure to spark discussions among teen readers, too.




000 BetweenBetween the World and Me by Ta-Nehesi Coates

Accessible to both teen and adult readers, Coates’ letter to his son highlights the long history of brutality against Black bodies in the United States, and reveals the hopes and fears of a Black father for his child.

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Kiera Parrott About Kiera Parrott

Kiera Parrott is the reviews director for School Library Journal and Library Journal and a former children's librarian. Her favorite books are ones that make her cry—or snort—on public transportation.

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  1. Serena Hicks says:

    Are there age or grade level guidelines for books on this list? By this, I mean are these middle school/junior high reading level, high school reading level?

  2. Traci Milan says:

    Check arbookfind.com

  3. Lisa Turner says:

    An amazing list, which I’m working on implementing for a ninth gradee choice read unit! We certainly need more explicit instruction on the nature of the movement, and its nuances.
    One note: adding lexile numbers and/or suggested grade levels would be a huge help in streamlining curricular decisions.
    Thanks for posting this great resource!
    Lisa Turner

  4. Linda J Johnson says:

    What a great list! Hstory and current state of affairs all in one place. I have the Congressman book and I met him at the Book Festival in Washington, DC

  5. Excellent list! I would also recommend Black and White by Paul Volponi–a powerful novel about two best friends, white and black, who move through the criminal justice system in very different ways. Also Kwame Alexander’s novels, The Crossover (2105 Newbery Award winner) and Booked.

  6. Wendy Stoll says:

    I would LOVE some ideas that would work for middle school as well :). I do have several of these in the library.

  7. Check out our site above. We’re using the book Some of My Best Friends are Black – Strange Story of Integration to build conversations and relationships with teens in Kansas City.

  8. Black Lives Matter is a racist, police-hating, race war seeking organization.

    • Calling BLM racist confuses oppressor (police with proven systemic misconduct) and oppressed (minority populations experiencing misconduct), calling BLM police-hating confuses hating behavior (the misconduct that leads to unjust deaths) and hating people (the police), and calling for an end to misconduct and fewer deaths is nowhere close to seeking war or increased deaths of any sort.

      Compared to available evidence your comment looks like entrenched fear of change, which is understandable if so but sad. Many of these books are sad and troubling but illuminating and wonderful reads. Have you read any? Do you have any other substantive recommendations for the list?

      • Jesse Jackson says blacks can’t be racist, so that question is settled to everyone’s satisfaction. On another point, I question the wisdom of libraries pouring gasoline on fires set by BLM and bankrolled by George to promote a bigger black voter turnout in November, without which Hillary can’t get elected.

    • I agree that BLM is a racist organization which promotes violence. Martin Luther King Jr. would not have approved. He promoted peace and harmony, which is not what BLM is doing.

      It’s fine to recommend books for young people to read, but I don’t think they should be associated with BLM in any way. Don’t ALL lives matter?

      • So sad to see these anti-BLM comments. They’re full of holes (pro-violence? part of Hillary kampaign? The “all lives matter” comment means black lives don’t matter, Jesse Jackson is the final word?) and seem to refuse conversation or questioning. I really hope these are not teachers, but I won’t be surprised. Racism still exists and in many ways. To refuse BLM’s message and discussion is to deny that there are many police who are right-wing, racist and quick to the trigger with young men of color. Many BLM and supporters have families to protect. Racist violent policing must END. To do nothing about it in your life time is nothing but cowardice.

      • MLK was murdered for saying that black lives mattered. This might not be the soapbox from which you want to proclaim your ignorance, fear, and hate.

  9. Only because this is a forgotten book that might be useful in a historical way, I’d suggest Lunch-Box Dream, for middle grade. It was published by FSG, 2011.

  10. Useful starter list; thanks for sharing it!

  11. My novel, CONTRACT CITY (Bancroft Press, 2015), ought be considered for this, or a New Adult, list as it focuses on the 1921 Tulsa Race Riots and how art and love can defeat prejudice and speak truth to power.

  12. Ann Voss says:

    I would add Crossover and Booked by Kwame Alexander. (Also a graduate of Miami University.)

  13. Amy Sonnie says:

    Thank you Chelsea for this great list for teens and for building upon Oakland Public Library’s #BlackLivesMatter series. Would love to stay in touch to collaborate and expand on these efforts. –Amy, OPL

  14. Teffanie says:

    Please consider adding Dirt published by Brown Girls Books for middle grade readers.

  15. jmagnuson says:

    Speaking of Oaktown don’t forget the great Jess Mowry, beginning with Way Past Cool, as relevant now as 1993, as he says of his characters:
    “Almost all my stories and books are for and about black kids, who are not always cute and cuddly. My characters often spit, sweat and swear, as well as occasionally smoke or drink. Just like their real-world counterparts, some are “overweight” and have no desire to be skinny, or may look “too black,” or are otherwise unacceptable by superficial American values… including some African-American values. Like on-the-real kids, they often live in dirty, violent environments, and are forced into sometimes nasty lifestyles…And almost no one writes books or stories about them — at least seldom in ways that don’t exploit them…”

  16. Thank you for this list. I am a white Englishwoman trying to get myself up to speed with the issues behind Black Lives Matter, and this is a really helpful list of resources.

  17. Nice list, for high school students I would add “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” and “Assata”

  18. Steve Schnapp says:

    Great resource. Thank you! I wonder what folks would recommend in other media (e.g., digital) or if there are existing lists.

    • Amy Sonnie says:

      Steve – What age group? The resource guides I created for Oakland Public Library each have a videos and multimedia section. http://oaklandlibrary.org/blacklivesmatter

      For young adults I highly recommend:
      1) The Knotted Line by Evan Bissell. An interactive media project exploring the historical relationship between freedom and confinement in the United States. With miniature paintings of over 50 historical moments from 1495-2025. Includes resources for educators. http://knottedline.com/
      2) Cracking the Codes directed by Shakti Butler (film and discussion guide)
      3) Michelle Alexander: A System of Racial and Social Control on PBS Frontline.
      4) White Like Me: race, racism & white privilege in America based on Tim Wise’s book of the same title
      4) And several other films: The Eyes on the Prize series, Anne Braden: Southern Patriot, Freedom Riders, Freedom Summer, and The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution (which all raise important issues for discussion in the present moment).
      5) Some great lesson plans are also coming out around multimedia. Search #LemonadeSyllabus and #FergusonSyllabus and http://sfusd.libguides.com/blacklivesmatter/

  19. May I also recommend the excellent book Like Water by T Thorn Coyle. It’s about what happens after a Black musician is killed by police – the huge hole left in the lives of his partner and friends.

  20. Oh God. More indoctrination for the public schools. Have a look how toxic this movement is. https://youtu.be/IaybrpQ2vxk

  21. I just read “Project Fatherhood. It is inspiring, moving, realistic and true. Perhaps best for older high school students, but middle school students could also benefit. I am not a teacher, so make these suggestions tentatively. A fantastic example of wisdom and empowerment from within, as well as the complexities and obstacles that arise on the way.

    From the book cover:
    “In 2010, former gang member turned community activist Big Mike Cummings asked UCLA gang expert Jorja Leap to co-lead a group of men struggling to be better fathers in Watts, South Los Angeles, a neighborhood long burdened with a legacy of racialized poverty, violence, and incarceration. These men came together each week to help one another answer the question “How can I be a good father when I’ve never had one?”

  22. I was sad that the Autobiography of Malcolm X was not included on this booklist. I have nephews who read it as teens; they say it made an impact on their lives.

  23. The 2016 In the Margins Book Award, non fiction: America’s Massacre: the Audacity of Despair and a Message of Hope by Tewhan Butler.

  24. There was good LA Weekly article on history of BLM LA …

  25. Pam Carlson says:

    I’m wondering why librarians would want to be associated in any way with an organization whose mantras include “Pigs in a blanket, fry ’em like bacon” and “What do we want? Dead cops! When do we want them? Now!” and the leaders are then surprised, surprised to find that their chants incite men to actually murder policemen.

    • I really doubt a group like BLM said that. Their goal is for black lives to be taken seriously and for black people to no longer be marginalized. Librarians have always stood alongside social justice, BLM is not murdering cops, white people are. So librarian will continue to let black youth know that we are there for them, that we care and that they do matter. We do not profile them or judge them. BLM is a great organization trying to get justice for thousands of black lives destroyed by the militarization and systematic racism within police departments.

  26. Name one single BLM leader. Name one of the objectives-goals and hopes for the future- that was the foundation and start of the movement. BLM is not an organization. It’s an initiative. You can’t take the instances where people do or say offensive things because they’re angry and exploit them as the face or the core values of BLM. That is so manipulative. People who actually want to se être initiative prevail are who you should be studying, but that would mean you would actually have to take a vested interest in understanding BLM perspective. MLK did not and does not represent an entire demographic and his beliefs do not transcend into this time of uncontained extrajudicial violence. If you truly studied MLK and his beliefs, you would see why throwing his name up every time you can’t keep black people compliant is ironic. BLM does not hate police- and that’s really narrow to think. But I’m sure you can understand that the too many times people have been hurt because of individuals decisions to not be upstanding members of the police force have affected the reputation of police in America. There needs to be some reform because there are too many cases of unacceptable brutalizations and murder- police are not above the law and not above prosecution. Instead of being concerned about why people are having these reactions, because of the hurt and anger and sadness that is pushed on communities ever 28 hours, because black people are being murdered unnecessarily, you come onto a forum of positivity and spout your narrative of anti-blackness and anti-reform. This kind of stuff is important and it needs to be talked about, and people need to be aware in such a high stake, high tension situation. BLM is important and it has helped a lot of people- invalidating it and what it truly stands for is shameful. Before BLM people were content in being bystanders, watching injustices and doing nothing to fix it. At the very least, people can acknowledge that there is a problem, and it needs to be addressed. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with educations younger generations so that they aren’t clueless about the reality of the world. Why is this something that you believe shouldn’t be fought for? Why wouldn’t it be worth it to ensure everyone’s rights?! Why is it not priority to end the persecution of people that have been affected by systemic racism for centuries?