We MUST talk about race with our children. No child is too young. It is only way we can raise kids who fight against racial injustice.
One way to do that is ensure they read books that address racial injustice.
As a white parent of white boys, I must make sure that my kids understand the challenges and dangers others experience. I want them to learn not only about how systemic racism harms others but how it has benefited them, and why that must change.
This list of middle grade books about how racial injustice touches the lives of old and young alike are essential reading for every child. Some readers will recognize their lived experiences reflected back at them. Other readers will gain an awareness of lives unlike their own.
The stories on this list teach anti-racism and include contemporary and historical fiction that reflect the lives of Black, Latino, Asian, Muslim, Jewish and American Indians. For more narrow book lists topics check out the following:
- Middle Grade Books by Black Authors
- #OwnVoices Books with Latino Protagonists
- Middle Grade Books with Muslim Protagonists
- Middle Grade Books about Jewish Lives
- Middle Grade #OwnVoices Native American Novels
- Books Featuring Asian-Pacific Islander Stories
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If you choose to purchase books online, you can still support your local bookstore through Bookshop. You can find this entire list at Bookshop here.
Anti-Racism Books Ages 9 and Up
Not My Idea: A Book about Whiteness
by Anastasia Higginbotham
This first book is actually a picture book, but if you haven never had a serious conversation with your child (or even if you have) I highly recommend it as a starting point. Higginbotham's essential book is specifically aimed at white children and helps kids understand the concept of privilege, how it affects them, and offers hope that they have the ability to change it. You can watch the video below of Jim Jimerson reading the book and offering up some good commentary for children.
In addition, I recommend This Book is Anti-Racist.
Genesis Begins Again
by Alicia D. Williams
This poignant book looks at a host of issues as they concern the thoughtful, intelligent 13-year-old Genesis. Genesis is concerned that her skin is "too dark." She believes her family and society value lighter brown skin over hers to the point that she attempt harmful actions to try and lighten her skin with lemons or bleach. At home, her father can't stop spending the rent money on gambling and alcohol. But Genesis has started a new school in a "better neighborhood" and meets new friends and teachers who help her learn to value herself. Highly recommended!
by Kelly Yang
Mia Tang lives in a motel where her immigrant parents are the managers for an exploitative owner. Mia wants to be a writer but worries about her English skills. She takes over running the front desk of the motel and makes friends wherever she goes. She experiences anti-Chinese prejudice and witnesses racial bias against People of Color in her neighborhood. She dreams of winning a writing contest so her parents can own their own hotel instead of working endlessly for little pay. Yang based the novel on her own experiences growing up in similar circumstances. A winning, funny and heartwarming novel; not to be missed.
A Place to Belong
by Cynthia Kadohata
After World War II, thousands of Japanese-born American citizens were coerced into renouncing their citizenship and forced to emigrate to Japan. This is the story of one family's experience told through the eyes of 12 year old Hanako. She and her brother, along with their parents move in with her grandparents, tenant farmers in a small Japanese village. Discuss with your children xenophobia, the right of citizenship, the struggle of immigrants, and the experiences of living in an unfamiliar country. You can also chat about the value of familial relationships between generations.
The Parker Inheritance
by Varian Johnson
After her parents' divorce, Candace and her mother move from Atlanta to spend the summer in South Carolina, where her grandmother used to live. Candace is lonely and misses Atlanta. She makes friends with Brandon, a shy 11 year old neighbor and the two of them set out to solve a historical mystery involving Candace's grandmother. Along the way they uncover a history of racial tension in the small town and an intriguing story of identity and fortune.
by Jacqueline Woodson
Six diverse kids are put together in a room at school as a place where they can talk about the issues they are facing in their lives. Their burdens are as diverse as their backgrounds; incarceration, racial profiling, possible deportation are just a few of the subject the middle schoolers need and want to talk about with each other. Woodson's prose is gorgeous, almost poetic and the reader will come to care for all of the teens as they tell their stories.
Indian No More
by Charlene Willing McManis, with Traci Sorell
This is an excellent book to start a conversation of the long history of tribal erasure by the United States government and the injustice experienced by Native Americans. In 1954, when the Umpqua tribe was terminated by the government, Regina Petit's family moves from their former reservation in Oregon to Los Angeles. In LA, Regina experiences racism and encounters children of all races for the first time, while trying to come to terms with what it means to be Indian despite being separated from their tribal community and land.
Each Tiny Spark
by Pablo Cartaya
Cuban-American sixth grader Emilia has ADHD and has a lot of difficulty staying focused at school. After her father returns home from deployment, Emilia notices that he seems a bit different, moody and more distant. And the difficulties keep coming when a school assignment which illuminates social and racial injustice threatens her oldest friendships.
by Jewell Parker Rhodes.
12 year old Jerome is bullied at school but when a new kid shows up, Jerome makes his first friend. Carlos helps him fend off the bullies with a toy gun and then gives it to Jerome to take home. That evening, Jerome is killed by police officers. Jerome comes back as a ghost and only the daughter of the white police officer who shot him can see him. Together, they work through what happened as other ghost boys appear, including Emmet Till. I highly recommend this book; it examines a timely subject from the experiences of the children involved.
The Unsung Hero of Birdsong, USA
by Brenda Woods
12 year old Gabriel, a white boy, narrates this story set in Jim Crow South Carolina. Meriwether Hunter, a Black man is out looking for a job saves when he Gabriel from being hit by a car. Gabriel's father offers him a job in his auto shop but warns him to steer clear of the other employee, a virulent racist. Gabriel's observations on racism and the revelation that Meriwether was a soldier will start a conversation about racial injustice connections between the past and present.
A Good Kind of Trouble
by Lisa Moore Ramée
Shayla thinks about the typical pre-teen stuff: boys, friends and school. Her best friends are Puerto Rican and Asian-American but a few of the other Black girls at school start to accuse her of not being "black enough." Shayla's sister, Hana, is involved with Black Lives Matter and when current events become impossible to ignore, Shayla wants to stand up for what is right. This is a thoughtful, contemporary story and I enjoyed the charming and sometimes funny narration.
From the Desk of Zoe Washington
by Janae Marks
I adored this book about Zoe, a 12 year old girl who, after starting a correspondence with her incarcerated father, Marcus, sets out to prove his innocence. Zoe's mother always kept Zoe from having a relationship with her father, who was serving time for murder, but one day, Zoe discovers a letter addressed to her from him and decides to write back. Zoe and her friend, Trevor, start to investigate Marcus' trial conviction, learning about systemic racism in the justice system. While the subject is certainly very serious, Janae Marks has written a marvelously accessible story with likable, nuanced characters.
by Eric Walters and Kathy Kacer
Shirli loves acting and singing. She gets a part in the school production of Fiddler on the Roof, and even though it is not the role she wanted, she throws herself into it. Shirli regularly visits her grandfather, a Holocaust survivor. One day, Shirli finds a violin in his attic, which is odd, as she understands her grandfather never wants to listen music. Slowly Shirli learns her grandfather's dark story, and when the musical production loses its director, Shirli's grandfather takes up his violin once again. The action of this story takes place in the wake of 9/11 and the characters reflect upon the current state of racial and religious prejudice in their community.