These Black Protagonists Defy Stereotypes | Read Woke

Characters in these books embrace classical music, a trip to Paris, and resort life.

In Jerry Craft’s Newbery Award–winning graphic novel, New Kid, the librarian recommends that Maury, a Black student, read The Mean Streets of South Uptown: A Gritty Tale of Survival because he is Black. She tells him, “You’re really going to identify with DaQuell, the protagonist. He’s suffered so much growing up in poverty without a father.”

Maury responds, “Ummm…thanks Miss Brickner. But my dad is the CEO of a Fortune 500 company.”

This scene speaks volumes, because it highlights the fact that being Black is not a monolithic experience, and not all Black kids want to read the same books. Also, there is more to Black culture than struggle, pain, and hardship (slavery, the civil rights movement, and protests).

These books highlight protagonists who expand perceptions of Black kids. They are on adventures, traveling to Paris, playing classical violin, and more. I think these are the books that Maury would have wanted to read.

School Trip by Jerry Craft.Quill Tree/HarperCollins. Apr. 2023.

Gr 4-8–Jerry Craft is back again with the crew from Riverdale Academy Day School, and they are headed to Paris! Get ready to fall back in love with Jordan, Drew, Liam, Maury, and the other amazing characters from New Kid and Class Act. Traveling abroad means exposure to incredible art and different worldviews, but some kids bring their microagressions along for the ride. Journey to the City of Light as Jordan and his friends try new things and experience a novel culture.

Miles Morales Suspended: A Spider-Man Novel by Jason Reynolds, illustrated by Zeke Peña. Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy. May 2023.

Gr 7 Up–In this sequel to Miles Morales Spider-Man, Miles is in ISS (in school supension) with other kids. When something creepy starts happening, Miles finds himself in a fight for his life—against a termite. At face value, this book seems like your typical action-packed, adventure-filled superhero story—and it is! But, if you are familiar with Jason Reynolds, you know it will also have many layers. He spins a web encompassing the power of intellectual freedom, Black Boy Joy, and more, at times narrating in verse. I mean, even the title is…well, I’ll let you figure it out. Your spidey sense will be tingling to see how it ends!

The Getaway by Lamar Giles. Scholastic. 2022.

Gr 9 Up–Imagine living in a resort and having an awesome after-school job at the property’s theme park. People come to vacation where you live! This is the life of Jay and his family at Karloff Country, a luxury spot in Virginia. Sounds great, right? But what happens when things go wrong? Outside Karloff Country is a dystopian United States plagued by wildfires, violence, and racism. The author takes us on a roller-coaster ride as Jay and his friends discover that everything that glitters in their comfortable sanctuary is not gold. When his best friend Connie disappears, Jay and his crew start to realize their world has been a lie controlled by an abusive corporation and set out to find answers. Grab a ticket and jump aboard to find out what happens next.

The Violin Conspiracy: A Novel by Brendan Slocumb. Anchor. 2022.

Adult, suitable for teens–Imagine finding you have a violin in your possession worth millions! That’s just one part of protagonist Ray’s musical journey in The Violin Conspiracy. This is my favorite book of the year, and I gave a copy to my son, Tristan, who plays the violin. Ray is a young Black violinist in rural North Carolina. His mother tries to get him to work at Popeyes, but Ray is determined to pursue his dream of being a professional musician. When he discovers the value of his violin, he can’t believe it. As outsiders try to lay claim to his ­instrument, Ray must fight racism in the classical music industry and contend with family problems while ­pursuing his ­passion. But will passion be enough to carry him through?

“Bo at the Buzz” by Elliott Smith, illus. by Subi Bosa. Lerner. 2023.

Gr 1-3–This series is sure to bring joy to young readers. Follow along with Bo and his grandpa as he learns valuable life lessons, all revolving around the barbershop. These early chapter books help reflect the beauty and diversity of our world through Bo’s adventures and daily life.


Cicely Lewis (Twitter: @cicelythegreat) welcomes suggestions.

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