The most enjoyable aspect of reading is immersing your mind into a wide variety of experiences. Perhaps the characters live very different lives from yours, perhaps there are a lot of similarities. The best books are both mirrors and windows. It's with that in mind, that I've chosen some of my favorite middle grade books by Black authors that I know your kids will love.
For this list, I've stuck to contemporary (or near contemporary) realism. Your tweens will love reading these stories and the books also provide a great jumping off point for discussing current events, as well as history.
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Middle Grade Fiction by Black Authors
After checking out these books, be sure to hop over to our big giant list of books about African-American history.
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. Ages 8 and up.
The Season of Styx Malone Kekla Magoon
Caleb and his brother, Bobby Gene, live in a small town. Caleb wants to get out and see the world, but their father insists everything they need is right where they live. But this summer, Caleb and Bobby Gene meet Styx Malone, a super cool teenager whose magnetic personality draws them in, and takes them on adventures. The three boys begin Styx's "Great Escalator Trade" in which they barter up a series of items in hopes of finally getting a moped. Most of the story takes place outdoors without phones or televisions, where relationships are paramount. Ages 9 and up.
Harbor Me 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 subjects 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. Ages 10 and up.
MORE: Middle Grade Books for Black History Month
From the Desk of Zoe Washington (series) 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. Ages 9 and up.
More: 5 Reasons Why You Should Read Diverse Books
Blended by Sharon M. Draper
Isabella is trying to figure out who she is and she feels torn between two identities. Her divorced parents, a wealthy black father and a working class white mother, share custody and Isabella spends alternate weeks at her parents' homes. A distressing even at school makes immediate Isabella's search for identity when she knows her sense of self is so much more complicated that the world perceives. Ages 9 and up.
MORE: Books about Strong and Diverse Families
The Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond by Brenda Woods
Violet's father was killed in a car crash before she was born and she sometimes feels like an outsider with her blond-haired mom and sister, despite their close, loving relationship. Violet decides she wants to meet her African-American grandmother, a well-known artist. She goes for a visit to Los Angeles to stay with her "new" relative and meets cousins and aunts who thoroughly welcome her into the family. Ages 8 and up.
As Brave As You by Jason Reynolds
We loved this book about 11-year-old Genie and his brother who have come to rural Virginia to spend the summer with their grandparents. Genie is a boy who loves to ask questions and when he learns about his grandfather's blindness he has a lot to ask! During the summer Genie struggles with making sure he makes the right decisions as he uncovers the secrets of his family's history. Ages 9 and up.
MORE: Contemporary, Diverse Middle Grade Books
The Kaya Girl by Mamle Wolo
Abena leaves her upper class home to spend the summer with her Aunt Lydia, who runs a fabric and sundries shop in a bustling market in downtown Accra, Ghana. Abena meets Faiza, a migrant Muslim girl who works as a kayayoo, or porter, carrying purchased goods in a bucket on her head for customers. The two become fast friends in spite of their differences and initial language barrier. Both girls learn about lives outside their own experiences, how society treats them differently, and how to speak up for themselves. Ages 9 and up.
Ghost Boys 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. Ages 9 and up.
MORE: Anti-Bias Books for Tweens
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. Ages 8 and up.
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 attempts harmful actions to try and lighten her skin with lemons and 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! Ages 9 and up.
MORE: Middle Grade Books about Body Image
Fast Pitch by Nic Stone
Shenice is the captain of her softball team and normally she is totally focused on the game. However, her great-uncle recently revealed that what she thought happened to her great-grandfather's baseball career may not be true. Shenice becomes consumed with finding out the truth so she can resurrect her ancestor's reputation. Readers will learn about the historical Negro Baseball League and what it was like to play ball in segregated America. Ages 9 and up.
Ways to Make Sunshine (series) by Renée Watson
Heroine Ryan Hart is absolutely delightful. She is the first one to see the silver lining in any situation, and she always tries to see the best in people. But that doesn't mean everything always goes according to plan. Dad loses his job at the post office and the family has to make some big changes, not to mention her sometimes bossy older brother! A great choice for kids who love contemporary realism. Ages 8 and up. Note: this is an excellent choice for advanced younger readers.
The Usual Suspects by Maurice Broaddus
Broaddus' tale of false accusation and the tragic way Black boys are unjustly blamed is an important read. Thelonious, the 7th-grade narrator, and his friend Nehemiah are the pranksters of their class. When a gun is found near the school, the administration is quick to suspect the kids in the Special Education classroom, where Thelonious learns. So, Thelonious and Nehemiah set out to determine the origin of the gun. Thelonious' insightful narration about the way he and his friends are treated by schools and society is poignant and hilarious in turns. Ages 9 and up.
The Only Black Girls in Town by Brandy Colbert
This was a great book! Alberta and her two dads are one of the few Black families living in their coastal California town and they are delighted to learn that the new owners of the B&B across the street are also Black. Alberta quickly befriends fellow 7th-grader Edie, despite their fashion differences. Meanwhile, Alberta's white best friend, Laramie, appears to be drifting towards the mean girl, causing tension in their relationship. When Alberta and Edie set out to solve the mystery lurking between the pages of a stack of journals from the 1950s and 60s they find in the attic, they uncover a secret life. Colbert expertly creates a story about pre-teen girls, friends, school life as well as how racism plays a part in their daily lives. Marvelous. Ages 9 and up.
What Lane? by Torrey Maldonado
I really enjoyed Maldonado's previous book, Tight, and What Lane? lives up to its predecessor. Stephen is mixed race but he knows the world sees him as Black. He is becoming more and more aware of how his is treated differently than his white best friend, Dan. Stephen increasingly wonders if he should be friends only with black and brown kids. In this short novel, Maldonado reaches out and grabs the reader, drawing them into to Stephen's personal journey which plays out against the background of larger social movements. Ages 9 and up.
The Stars Beneath Our Feet by David Barclay Moore
Lolly's brother was killed a few months ago and Lolly is having a hard time adjusting to life without his sibling. His mother's girlfriend brings him bags of LEGO, which he takes to his after school program and begins an epic building project. At the same time as Lolly is being pressured by local kids to join the crew that swallowed up his brother, he is learning to make friends with Big Rose, a girl on the autism spectrum who moves in on his LEGO territory. Moore's debut novel is a moving story of how our choices move us down paths, and how trauma affects those choices. Ages 9 and up.
Hurricane Child by Kheryn Callender
12-year-old Caroline lives in the US Virgin Islands with her father. Her mother left years ago and Caroline doesn't know where she is. Bullied at school and seeing spirits, Caroline tries to remain fearless and when a new girl, Kalinda, arrives at school, Caroline is determined to make friends with her. When two girls become close friends, Caroline realizes she has strong feelings for Kalinda and confesses to her in a letter. Kalinda is at first frightened off, but then agrees to help Caroline find her mother as a storm brews on the island. Ages 9 and up.
The Harlem Charade by Natasha Harpley
Good deeds bring Jin and Alex together. When they meet the homeless Elvin, he tells his new friends about a mystery surrounding his grandfather, who was just attacked and is now in a coma. Rare paintings by a mysterious artist of the 1960s is at the heart of it all. Harpley has deftly woven past and present in this spirited tale in which the culture and vibrancy of Harlem are center stage. Ages 8 and up.
MORE: Middle Grade Mysteries
Towers Falling by Jewell Parker Rhodes
Fifteen years after September 11, 2001, fifth grader, Dèja Barnes, goes to a school in NYC with a diverse population. Her teacher has a lesson plan for teaching the class about 9/11 but Dèja doesn't like to think about history or the past. She has enough to worry about while her family is living in a homeless shelter. She and two other classmates, Ben and Sabeen, work together on the project, and in doing so, learn not just about history, but about themselves and their community. Ages 9 and up.
MORE: Books for Remembering 9/11
Planet Middle School by Nikki Grimes
Grimes writes this coming of age story in short verses, making it a quick read. Joylin is used to a life of basketball, hanging out with her best friend, Jake, and not caring much about her clothes. But things are changing. The new boy, Santiago, has caught her eye and Jake is acting differently. And her body is changing, too. Ages 9 and up.
MORE: Fiction Books about Puberty and Growing Up for Tweens
Summer in the City by Fracaswell Hyman
12-year-old Mango Delight (it's a little ridiculous how much I love her name) gets the chance to star in a way-off-Broadway musical in New York City. In the first Mango Delight book (which I guess I should have read, but somehow missed that this was a series!), Mango starred in the school play, but an encounter with her drama teacher has her headed off to the big city to deal with all the craziness of professional actors! Hyman's writing grounds Mango in the real world as her dad tries to make a go of his catering company and her mom works retail while coping with her prosthetic leg. Lots of fun! Ages 8 and up.
President of the Whole Fifth Grade (series) by Sherri Winston
This fun story follows the tale of the clever and likable Brianna, who is determined to become fifth grade president. She is up against the new girl and must make ethical choices in order to win the election fairly. Along the way she learns about friendships and doing the right thing. Ages 8 and up.
MORE: Fifth Grade Reading List
Garvey's Choice by Nikki Grimes
Readers of this blog know that I am a long-time fan of Nikki Grimes' poetry. She wrote Garvey's Choice in tanka verse. Garvey, a young Black boy, is working on finding out who he wants to be. He has a family who loves him, but his father's vision for him is different than what Garvey wants for himself. Garvey feels free when singing in the the school chorus and when he shares his secrets with his best friend, Joe. Wonderful. Ages 8 and up.
THE CROSSOVER by Kwame Alexander
Alexander's wonderful tale about twin brothers is touching, relatable and extraordinarily engaging. Josh narrates his story of coming to terms with his brother's new girlfriend, sibling rivalry, the pressure and joy of playing basketball and his relationship with his father. This book does have a sad ending and I recommend it for kids ages 10 and up.
Jonathan Scott says
I'd like to suggest this book for your list. If you are interested, let me know and I'll send you a free copy--hardback, ebook, or audiobook.
YASMINE AND THE MILLION DOLLAR JACKET by Terry Baldwin
Thank you but I'm not accepting books for review.