Not that long ago, it was hard to find middle grade fiction (geared toward 5th–8th graders) about African Americans that was not focused on living through slavery, the Civil War, or Jim Crow. While these books remain important vehicles for understanding the past, we now have an outpouring of books by African American authors that take place in the present, giving young Black readers a chance to see themselves, and be seen, in stories.
This significant development in publishing is having a ripple effect giving talented authors and a hungry readership the chance to grow and flourish. The number of Newbery Honor Books awarded to African American writers during the past few years is a testament to this growth, as is the huge popularity of this year’s Medalist, New Kid by Jerry Craft.
It is important to remember that African Americans have always written books, but they have not always gotten recognition for their work. In fact, the Coretta Scott King Award for best African American writers was created as a way to recognize and honor Black authors.
Here is a list of some of the most exciting middle grade fiction titles published during the past year by Black authors about Black young people. These coming-of-age stories have something for everyone—realistic stories about families, school, and friendship; fantasies involving time travel and ghosts; and, even horror (see Pet!).
So, if you did not get the chance to #ReadBlack during Black History Month, it’s okay because you can do it all year long!
List of 2019 Middle Grade Books by Black Authors
(Descriptions adapted from publishers’ summaries)
Black Enough: Stories about Being Young and Black in America edited by Ibi Zoboi 2019
A collection of coming-of-age short stories that reflect on the African American teenage experience. Edited by National Book Award finalist Ibi Zoboi and featuring some of the most acclaimed bestselling Black authors writing for teens today—Black Enough is an essential collection of stories about what it's like to be young and Black in America. (Short stories)
For Black Girls Like Me by Mariama J. Lockington 2019
Eleven-year-old Makeda dreams of meeting her African American mother while coping with serious problems in her white adopted family, a cross-country move, and being homeschooled. Through it all, Makeda can't help but wonder: What would it feel like to grow up with a family that looks like me? For Black Girls Like Me is for anyone who has ever asked themselves: How do you figure out where you are going if you don't know where you came from? (Realistic)
From the Desk of Zoe Washington by Janae Marks 2019
Zoe Washington isn't sure what to write. What does a girl say to the father she's never met, hadn't heard from until his letter arrived on her twelfth birthday, and who's been in prison for a terrible crime? A crime he says he never committed. Could Marcus really be innocent? Zoe is determined to uncover the truth. Even if it means hiding his letters and her investigation from the rest of her family. Everyone else thinks Zoe's worrying about doing a good job at her bakery internship and proving to her parents that she's worthy of auditioning for Food Network's Kids Bake Challenge. But with bakery confections on one part of her mind and Marcus's conviction weighing heavily on the other, this is one recipe Zoe doesn't know how to balance. The only thing she knows to be true: Everyone lies. (Realistic)
Genesis Begins Again by Alicia D. Williams 2019
Thirteen-year-old Genesis tries again and again to lighten her black skin, thinking it is the root of her family's troubles. She is determined to fix her family, and she’s willing to try anything to do so. But when she starts to find a thing or two that she actually likes about herself, she discovers that changing her own attitude is the first step in helping change others’. (Realistic)
The Last, Last Day of Summer by Lamar Giles 2019
Otto and Sheed are the local sleuths in their zany Virginia town, masters of unraveling mischief using their unmatched powers of deduction. As the summer winds down, and the first day of school looms, the boys are craving just a little bit more time for fun, even as they bicker over what kind of fun they want to have. That is, until a mysterious man appears with a camera that literally freezes time. Now, with the help of some very strange people and even stranger creatures, Otto and Sheed will have to put aside their differences to save their town—and each other—before time stops for good. (Fantasy)
My Life as an Ice Cream Sandwich by Ibi Zoboi 2019
In the summer of 1984, twelve-year-old Ebony-Grace of Huntsville, Alabama, visits her father in Harlem, where her fascination with outer space and science fiction interfere with her finding acceptance. By summer's end, Ebony-Grace discovers that gritty and graffitied Harlem has a place for a girl whose eyes are always on the stars. (Historical)
Look Both Ways: A Tale Told in Ten Blocks by Jason Reynolds 2019
Jason Reynolds conjures ten tales (one per block) about what happens after the dismissal bell rings and brilliantly weaves them into one wickedly funny, piercingly poignant look at the detours we face on the walk home, and in life. (Realistic)
New Kid by Jerry Craft 2019
Winner of the Newbery Medal, New Kid is a timely, honest graphic novel about starting over at a new school where diversity is low and the struggle to fit in is real. Seventh grader Jordan Banks loves nothing more than drawing cartoons about his life. But instead of sending him to the art school of his dreams, his parents enroll him in a prestigious private school known for its academics where Jordan is one of the few kids of color in his entire grade. As he makes the daily trip from his Washington Heights apartment to the upscale Riverdale Academy Day School, Jordan soon finds himself torn between two worlds—and not really fitting into either one. Can Jordan learn to navigate his new school culture while keeping his neighborhood friends and staying true to himself? (Realistic)
Pet by Akwaeke Emezi 2019
In a near-future society that claims to have gotten rid of all monstrous people, a creature emerges from a painting that seventeen-year-old Jam's mother created, a hunter from another world seeking a real-life monster. The highly-anticipated, genre-defying new novel by award-winning author Akwaeke Emezi explores themes of identity and justice. Pet is here to hunt a monster. Are you brave enough to look? (Fantasy, LGBTQIA)
Some Places More than Others by Renee Watson 2019
All Amara wants for her birthday is to visit her father's family in New York City—Harlem, to be exact. She can't wait to finally meet her Grandpa Earl and cousins in person and to stay in the brownstone where her father grew up. Maybe this will help her understand her family—and herself—in new way. But New York City is not exactly what Amara thought it would be. It's crowded, with confusing subways and suffocating sidewalks, and her father is too busy with work to spend time with her and too angry to spend time with Grandpa Earl. As she explores, asks questions, and learns more and more about Harlem and about her father and his family history, she realizes how, in some ways more than others, she connects with him, her home, and her family. (Realistic)
Trace by Pat Cummings 2019
Trace Carter doesn't know how to feel at ease in his new life in New York. Even though his artsy Auntie Lea is cool, her brownstone still isn't his home. Haunted by flashbacks of the accident that killed his parents, the best he can do is try to distract himself from memories of the past. But the past isn't done with him. When Trace takes a wrong turn in the New York Public Library, he finds someone else lost in the stacks with him: a crying little boy wearing old, tattered clothes. And though at first, he can't quite believe he's seen a ghost, Trace soon discovers that the boy he saw has ties to Trace's own history—and that he himself may be the key to setting the dead to rest. (Mystery, Ghost story)
Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky by Kwame Mbalia 2019
From Rick Riordan’s new imprint: Seventh-grader Tristan Strong feels anything but strong ever since he failed to save his best friend Eddie when they were in a bus accident together. But on his first night at his grandparents' farm, a sticky creature shows up in his bedroom and steals Eddie's notebook. When Tristan chases after, he finds himself in the middle of a battle that has left black American folk heroes John Henry and Brer Rabbit exhausted. In order to get back home, Tristan and these new allies will need to entice the god Anansi to come out of hiding. Can Tristan save this world before he loses more of the things he loves? (Fantasy, Mythology)
The Usual Suspects by Maurice Broaddus 2019
Thelonius Mitchell is tired of being labeled. He's in special ed separated from the "normal" kids at school who don't have any "issues." That's enough to make all the teachers and students look at him and his friends with a constant side-eye. His disruptive antics and pranks have given him a rep too. When a gun is found at a neighborhood hangout, Thelonius and his pals become instant suspects. Thelonius may be guilty of pulling crazy stunts at school, but a criminal? T isn't about to let that label stick. (Mystery)
Helpful Resources for Finding More Titles by Black Authors
The Brown Bookshelf—Through their Blog “28 Days Later,” Brown Bookshelf highlights the work of Black authors and illustrators whose work should be shared year round. This is also a rich resource for titles that are sometimes overlooked by major reviewers.
Black History Month: Books for Kids—Powells Books’ blog offers favorite titles to celebrate Black History Month and provides links to other helpful lists.
Afoma Umesi’s 35 Black Middle-Grade Books (By Black Authors, About Black Kids)—Umesi’s blog covers many different topics, and in her enthusiasm and love for literature shine through in each entry.
African American Literature Book Club—Online bookstore “dedicated to African American literature and Black Literature from around the world.”