17 Middle Grade and YA Books That Spotlight #BlackJoy

These titles for middle and high school readers celebrate joy in the lives of Black teens and tweens. The characters in these stories laugh honestly, love fiercely, and exist wholly.

To be a Black teen or tween in America is to live in a carefully constructed crucible. White supremacy peddles the falsehood of Blackness as synonymous with trauma and suffering. However, the Black experience is not limited to pain, tragedy, and struggle. The following titles for middle and high school readers celebrate joy in the lives of Black teens and tweens. The characters in these stories laugh honestly, love fiercely, and exist wholly.

Middle School

Rebound by Kwame Alexander. HMH. 2018. ISBN 9780544868137.
Gr 3-7–Chuck Bell was not looking forward to spending the summer with his grandparents in Washington, DC. His grandmother’s good food plus his grandfather’s corny jokes equal a boring summer for Chuck. However, his vacation turns out to be less boring than he thought. This city kid learns to love jazz and basketball and finds his own brand of courage.

Clayton Byrd Goes Underground by Rita Garcia-Williams. illus. by Frank Morrison. HarperCollins/Quill Tree. 2017. ISBN 9780062215918.
Gr 4-6–Clayton Byrd is a harmonica-playing bluesman who can’t wait to join his late grandfather’s band. Clayton’s mother, however, doesn’t want Clayton involved with music. Clayton will have to go underground to preserve Cool Papa Byrd’s musical legacy and avoid the wrath of his mother. Clayton’s exuberant love of music and his grandfather will resonate with readers.

The Season of Styx Malone by Kekla Magoon. Random/Wendy Lamb Bks. 2018. ISBN 9781524715953.
Gr 4-7–Caleb and Bobby Gene are two brothers who are tired of their humdrum small town. Styx Malone moves to the neighborhood and leads the brothers on an adventure that offers more thrills and chills than they bargained for. The magic of brotherhood shines brilliantly in this novel.

From the Desk of Zoe Washington by Janae Marks. HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen Bks. Jan. 2020. ISBN 9780062875853.
Gr 4 Up–Zoe Washington plans to spend the summer improving her baking and ignoring her ex–best friend, Trevor. Her plans are thrown for a loop when she receives an unexpected letter from her biological father, Marcus, on her 12th birthday. Through their correspondence, Zoe gets to know Marcus, who’s incarcerated for a crime he says he didn’t commit. Now Zoe will have to put aside her differences with Trevor to uncover the truth. A good novel about the importance of friendship and social justice.

Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky by Kwame Mbalia. Disney-Hyperion/Rick Riordan Presents. 2019. ISBN 9781368039932.
Gr 5-8–Tristan Strong hopes that summer with his grandparents in Alabama will allow him to forget all of the losses he’s experienced that year. His peaceful vacation comes to an abrupt end when a character from one of his grandmother’s many tales steals something precious from Tristan and draws him into a battle in another world. Tristan encounters new friendships and a new perspective on death and grief.

Look Both Ways: A Tale Told in Ten Blocks by Jason Reynolds. illus. by Alexander Nabaum. S. & S./Atheneum. 2019. ISBN 9781481438285.
Gr 5-8–The tales within a 10-block radius highlight the different ways kids experience their neighborhood. Friends laugh, plot, and support each other.

Love Double Dutch! by Doreen Spicer-Dannelly. Random. 2018. ISBN 9781524700003.
Gr 5-8–Kayla is a double dutch champion in the making. She’s got the moves, determination, and a bomb team. However, her parents' unstable relationship throws a wrench into her dreams of double dutch stardom. She and her brother are sent to North Carolina to stay with their aunt and uncle and their annoying cousins for the summer. Kayla discovers some unexpected surprises, friendships, and an opportunity to return to the sport she loves.

Shuri: A Black Panther Novel by Nic Stone. Scholastic. May 2020. ISBN 9781338585476.
Gr 5-7–Shuri is a Wakandan princess, scientist, and inventor who goes against the wishes of her family and kingdom to uncover the cause of an ecological disaster. Shuri uses a scientific approach to solve her country’s problems and take her rightful place as princess and warrior.

My Life As an Ice Cream Sandwich by Ibi Zoboi. Dutton. 2019. ISBN 9780399187353.
Gr 4-7–Ebony-Grace Norfleet Freeman is a Trekkie from Huntsville, AL, who is spending the summer with her father in Harlem. Her love of all things Star Trek and space collides spectacularly with a newly emerging hip-hop culture and an ailing friendship. Ebony spends the summer learning new dance moves and what it means to be true to yourself.


[Read: #BlackinSTEM: 17 Nonfiction Books That Spotlight Black Scientists, Thinkers, and Inventors]


Upper Middle School to High School

The Mamba Mentality: How I Play by Kobe Bryant. MCD. 2018. ISBN 9780374201234.
Gr 9 Up–Kobe Bryant penned one of the best playbooks of all time for budding fans, basketball enthusiasts, and basketball players wanting to level up. Readers learn about his approach to game dynamics and how to dissect opponents. Bryant’s passion for basketball shines.

A Phoenix First Must Burn: Sixteen Stories of Black Girl Magic, Resistance, and Hope by Patrice Caldwell, ed. Viking. Mar. 2020. ISBN 9781984835659.
Gr 7 Up–This collection of fantasy and science fiction tales penned by award-winning authors centers Black female characters. Black girl magic is on full display as these heroines take on wizards, aliens, regenerating hearts, villainous hair stylists, and more.

The Voting Booth by Brandy Colbert. Disney-Hyperion. Jul. 2020. ISBN 9781368053297.
Gr 7-10–Duke Crenshaw’s path to the voting booth is stymied by voter registration, polling location issues, and a gig with his band that he can’t miss. He meets Marva Sheridan, a voting advocate, and the two work together to battle normal and abnormal obstacles in Duke’s quest to vote.

Now That I’ve Found You by Kristina Forest. Roaring Brook. Aug. 2020. ISBN 9781250295026.
Gr 9 Up–Eighteen-year-old Evie Jones is a brilliant actress isolated by stardom. Her star is just on the rise when a betrayal from a trusted friend sends her career in a tailspin. She decides to escape to New York and hide out at her grandmother Gigi's place. Things go awry when Evie gets into an argument with her grandmother on the night of her arrival, and Gigi goes AWOL. Evie is forced to team up with Milo, her grandmother’s annoying yet attractive grocery delivery guy, to try and salvage her career and her relationship with Gigi.

Charming As a Verb by Ben Philippe. HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray. Sept. 2020 ISBN 9780062824141.
Gr 9 Up–Henri Haltiwanger, a charming teen entrepreneur, created a shell company to boost his dog walking business. He’s forced to use his charming ways for good when his neighbor and favorite nemesis Corinne Troy threatens to make his fraudulent behavior public. Henri uses humor to help Corinne reveal her true personality in this wonderful novel.

All the Things We Never Knew by Liara Tamani. HarperCollins/Greenwillow. Jun. 2020. ISBN 9780062656919.
Gr 9 Up–Carli feels faint when Rex blows a kiss to her before shooting a free throw at a basketball tournament game. Although the intense feeling that caused her to faint was the rupturing of her gallbladder, the intensity of the connection she feels towards Rex is real. Game recognizes game in this novel, which blends a love of basketball with the pangs of first love.

Given by Nandi Taylor. Wattpad. Jan. 2020. ISBN 9781989365045.
Gr 9 Up–Yenni, a Yirba warrior princess, travels to a distant land to find a cure for her father’s debilitating illness. An arduous journey becomes even more complicated when she meets Weysh, a dragon that claims that they are destined to be together. Fantastic world-building meets dynamic storytelling in this fast-paced, adventurous love story.

Pride by Ibi Zoboi. HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray. 2018. ISBN 9780062564047.
Gr 8 Up–Zuri Benitez feels a sense of pride when she looks at her Brooklyn neighborhood, her family, and her friends. Everything is as it should be in her world—until Ainsley and Darius Darcy move into the neighborhood. Now Zuri has to figure out if she wants to embrace the changes she’s seeing in her neighborhood and within herself.

Desiree Thomas has worked in the library profession for the past 20 years. She loves adventure stories, yoga, and dancing. She is currently a youth services librarian at Worthington Libraries.

Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.

Raeann Rojas

I love seeing books that celebrate diversity, especially own-voices books! Can't wait to get my hands on these!

Posted : Sep 02, 2020 08:55



We are currently offering this content for free. Sign up now to activate your personal profile, where you can save articles for future viewing