Read Woke Special Edition: Gifts for Grads

Cicely Lewis chooses books for her nephew, her graduating seniors, and young friends facing the larger world.

My nephew, Jakobe, recently graduated from high school. While talking to him at his graduation dinner, I noticed he was looking at fake bullet proof vests online. I asked why, and he told me that it was the new trend among his friends to wear these to parties. He showed me pictures of rappers wearing them.

I told him that he was a target already. He responded defensively: “I’m not a target! What are you talking about?”

I told him that as a black in man in America and a black man in Mississippi, he was definitely a target. I was so astounded that he didn’t know. “Do you watch the news?” I asked. Then, I realized that he was tuning me out, because I was doing what most teenagers hate and what my Grandma used to do to me: “fussing.”

I stopped fussing and told him that I would be sending him a book called Between the World and Me (Spiegel & Grau, 2015) by Ta-Nehisi Coates. In it, Coates writes a letter to his son to educate him about what it means to occupy a black body in this world:

“I am writing you because this was the year you saw Eric Garner choked to death for selling cigarettes; because you know now that Renisha McBride was not shot for seeking help, that John Crawford was shot down for browsing a department store. And you have seen men in uniform drive by and murder Tamir Rice, a twelve-year-old child…..And you know now if you did not know before, that police departments of your country have been endowed with the authority to destroy your body.”

My cousin overheard me talking about the book and asked if I would send a copy to her son, too. I agreed, and then I felt guilty. I have been so busy educating students at my school and librarians across the world about Read Woke that I had neglected my own nephew.

So many graduates entering the larger the world have no clue about what awaits them. So I created this special-edition Read Woke list for graduates. For starters, Between the World and Me is a great book to help teens understand the plight of African Americans. I highly recommend this for young men and women. It is short, yet it packs a punch.

My best friend’s daughter, Nia, has always had a special place in my heart. As a little girl, she marveled at my natural hair and persuaded her mom to let her rock an afro like mine. When I received an invitation to her graduation, I knew the perfect book for her: Michelle Obama’s Becoming (Crown, 2018) . I fell in love with the book when the cover was released on social media. The beautiful picture of Michelle Obama just screamed black girl magic to me. This inside look at the former first lady’s life and legacy is inspiring and motivating. I highly recommend this book for anyone, but particularly graduating teens.

For the star graduating athlete in your life, I recommendThe Greatest You: Face Reality, Release Negativity, and Live Your Purpose (Thomas Nelson, 2019) by Trent Shelton with Lou Aronica. My cousin’s son, Jamie, was the star of his football team and received a football scholarship to college. Jamie had been hurt during the football season, but he recovered and was able to play. The reality of being a top-flight athlete is that many players get hurt and not everyone makes it to the NFL or the NBA. Shelton inspires youth with his personal stories and shares ones that can help young people realize their purpose in life. His book is a guide that can help graduates understand that their future and their success begins within themselves. Shelton poses the question: “Are you ready to become the greatest you? Then, it’s RehabTime. Let’s get it.”

I want my young cousin to know that there is life after football. You may it make it to the pros, but if you don’t, you can still be the greatest you.

I also selected a book for each senior in my library science class to help see them off into the world. In years past, I purchased each student a copy of Dr. Seuss’s Oh, the Places You’ll Go! (Penguin Random House, 1990). But in light of the recent news about the racist minstrel drawings from Dr. Seuss, I couldn’t bring myself to give this gift to my students this year. So I did some research and picked a different title for each student and wrote a personal message in each one.

For my student Barbara, I selected The Little Black Book of Success: Laws of Leadership for Black Women (One World, 2010) by Elaine Meryl Brown, Marsha Haygood, and Rhonda Joy McLean. Everyone calls Barbara a “Mini-Mrs. Lewis.” I often joke that people can get better service from Barbara than me. She has truly developed into a leader, but she often lets small things get her down. The Little Black Book of Success is full of tips to help black women be successful in the workplace without compromising their integrity.

Some other titles I gave to my students include:

Whatever You Are, Be a Good One: 100 Inspirational Quotations by Lisa Congdon (Chronicle, 2014)

For Every One by Jason Reynolds (Atheneum, 2018)

Gmorning, Gnight!: Little Pep Talks for Me & You by Lin-Manuel Miranda (Random House, 2018)

Women in the Military: From Drill Sergeants to Fighter Pilots by Connie Goldsmith (21st Century, 2019)

For the student who is thinking of studying Law: Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson (Spiegel & Grau, 2014)

Even if your graduating senior is not a reader, I believe if you select the right book, they will read it. Here are some suggestions while you consider the perfect titles for the grads in your life:

  • Gifting an audiobook for the plane or car ride to the school or military is a great idea.
  • The shorter, the better.
  • Make it personal. Find a book that directly relates to their lives. If they are entering the military, find an autobiography of someone who also went through the military. One of my students loves make-up, so I purchased Make Up: Your Life Guide to Beauty, Style and Success by Michelle Phan (Harmony; 1st Edition edition (October 21, 2014). She loved it!
  • Judge a book by its cover! It’s a gift, so make sure that it is a new, shiny book with a catching cover design.
  • Tape money on a page in the middle of the book. I used to love reading stories about people finding money in books. If you don’t want to leave cash, then tape a message in the book.
  • Read with the graduate. By doing this, you will ensure that you can have meaningful conversations. It’s also a bonding experience.

Of course, consider giving books for all occasions, not just graduations. And remember to Read Woke!

SLJ Read Woke columnist Cicely Lewis (Twitter: @cicelythegreat) welcomes suggestions.

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Dorothy Hamilton

I am amazed with my daughter's ability to follow her calling. GOD BEST D2 LOVE U

Posted : May 31, 2019 07:32

Dorothy Hamilton

Wow! I really am amazed at my daughter's unstoppable ReadWoke inspiring performance. Keep up the awesome work D2 mom love u

Posted : May 31, 2019 07:31

Sarah Jorgenson

Thank you for the recommendations! I gifted several copies of "For Everyone" by Jason Reynolds this year, but I'm saving this list for the years to come.

Posted : May 31, 2019 05:50



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