As the field of children’s literature slowly diversifies and titles like Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give gain national recognition, more and more phenomenal books from Black authors and illustrators are being published. Below are just a few of the notable titles from the past few years, all of which also feature Black protagonists who are as diverse as the authors who create them.
For more, check out the Coretta Scott King Book Awards, which are “given annually to outstanding African American authors and illustrators of books for children and young adults that demonstrate an appreciation of African American culture and universal human values.”
Illustrated by: Bryan Collier
Trombone Shorty. 2015 (Picture Book Autobiography).
Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews tells the story of his musical and colorful life in this fun and festive autobiography. Picking up the trombone at a very young age, Andrews gained his nickname when others noticed the instrument was nearly twice as tall as he. Now an accomplished musician, Trombone Shorty reflects on the New Orleans roots that made him who he is today.
The Black Flamingo. 2019 (Teen).
As a mixed-race gay teen living in London, Michael feels that he is never “enough” of any part of his identity; he feels he is not Black enough, not Greek enough, not gay enough. Even his coming out is only a part of his story as he begins his journey to find himself. When Michael discovers the Drag Society, he finds a new sense of belonging he never felt before and emerges as the Black Flamingo. This powerful story is told in verse.
Illustrated by: Gordon C. James
Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut. 2017 (Picture Book).
This multiple-award-winning, joyful book is a celebration of the confidence and pride that accompany a new haircut. Dynamic illustrations by Gordon C. James depict a boy feeling like a new person after his visit to the barber, and showcase his appreciation for cool haircuts on others, too.
Cherry, Matthew A.
Illustrated by: Vashti Harrison
Hair Love. 2019 (Picture Book).
Adapted from the Academy Award-winning short film of the same name, this heartwarming book explores the love between a father and daughter as he tries to style her hair before Mom comes home. Zuri loves her hair, and she waits patiently as Daddy does his best to give her a perfect ‘do.
Pet. 2019 (Teen).
In the seemingly idyllic town of Lucille, monsters no longer exist, or at least that is what teenagers Jam and Redemption have been taught. But when Jam meets a creature named Pet, who is hunting a monster that is after Redemption, everything that Jam has been told comes into question. This Stonewall Award-winning novel features a transgender protagonist and explores how to save a society in denial.
Ordinary Hazards. 2019 (Teen Autobiography).
In this memoir in verse, Grimes details a traumatic childhood with her mother, who suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, and a father who was hardly ever around. Between her unstable home life, terrible babysitters, and ever-changing foster families, Grimes found solace in writing, and this beautifully crafted message of truth and courage is in itself a testament to her resilience.
Illustrated by: Vashti Harrison
Sulwe. 2019 (Picture Book).
Little Sulwe does not feel beautiful. Her midnight-colored skin makes her look different from everyone else she knows, and she desperately wants it to be a lighter shade. But when a shooting star shows her the importance of being dark, Sulwe finds her inner brightness and begins to love herself. This story is gorgeously illustrated by Vashti Harrison.
Long Way Down. 2017 (Middle Grade Novel).
Based on a real experience of Reynolds, this novel in verse follows fifteen-year-old Will, whose brother was recently killed, as he begins his journey to seek revenge, gun tucked in his waistband. Will gets on an elevator on the seventh floor and on each floor on the way down a new person enters the elevator with a story to tell him, all of whom are already dead and, in some way, are connected with his brother. Like all Jason Reynolds novels, this story is incredibly authentic with realistic characters and a meaningful message.
Rhodes, Jewell Parker
Ghost Boys. 2018 (Middle Grade Novel).
Twelve-year-old Jerome is shot and killed by a white police officer. Now a ghost, he watches the aftermath of this horrific event and the rippling effects on those who loved him. He speaks with the daughter of the officer who killed him, and also meets the ghost of Emmett Till. Poignant and heartbreaking, this story sheds light on today’s race relations.
Weatherford, Carole Boston
Illustrated by: Eric Velasquez
Schomburg: The Man who Built a Library. 2017 (Picture Book Biography).
Arturo Schomburg was a law clerk with a passion for collecting works from Africa and the African diaspora. His hope was to bring the accomplishments of people of African descent back into the narrative of history. Eventually, his large collection became part of the New York Public Library, and today is known as the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. This fascinating biography points out that those who write history books may not be writing for everyone.