Book Recs Class of 2K20 Blog Series

Black Lives Matter: Class of 2K20 Authors Suggest MG and YA Reading That Centers Black Voices


Black lives matter.

And so do stories that center Black experiences. Because Black kids deserve to see themselves in fiction, and because all kids deserve books that tell the stories of Black characters.

We believe all kinds of stories are important. Stories that take up and transform pain and stories that center Black protagonists’ light and laughter. Stories that are set here in the real world and stories that are set in magical places. Stories that take place in the future, in the present day, and in the long-ago past. 

It was such a pleasure for us to take a moment to think about books by Black authors that have brought us joy, and we hope you’ll find your next read for yourself or your kids below.

N.B., Click a book’s cover image to be directed to to purchase it.

Middle Grade

From the Desk of Zoe Washington by Janae Marks 

This compelling mystery does an amazing job of weaving together age-appropriate discussions of big topics like institutional racism with fun moments of cupcake-baking. The serious and the light work perfectly together, and the contrasts make the whole book powerful and ultimately joyful. For writers of middle grade, this is an amazing text to study for craft. 

 —Amy Noelle Parks

The Great Greene Heist by Varian Johnson

This book is so fun. I love that while it takes place almost entirely in a middle school, it has all the beats of a good caper, but as a romance junkie the question that made me tear through the book was why, why would Jackson kiss another girl when he was so clearly into Gaby.  For the record, the answer is very satisfying. 

 —Amy Noelle Parks

The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste

This middle grade contemporary fantasy series features a Black protagonist going on adventures, solving mysteries, and fighting for her family. It shows Black kids they can be heroes in their stories.

—Adrianna Cuevas 




Just South of Home by Karen Strong

This middle grade is an adventurous summer ghost story starring a cast of fully realized and charming Black characters, but it’s also an indictment of the unjust harm done to Black bodies and families in the past and still today. I read it with my daughters (age 7 and 10), and they loved the creepy ghost bits and the humor, but the book also prompted important conversations about racism and history.

—Kristin Lambert

The Owls Have Come to Take Us Away by Ronald L. Smith (and all his books, really).

This is one of my favorite creepy middle grade novels ever with an ending that is absolutely astounding. 

 —Adrianna Cuevas




Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky by Kwame Mbalia

This fantasy is new and exciting and adventure-packed, plus laugh-out-loud funny. One of the supporting characters is named Gum Baby! The world of American gods is completely convincing, and the grief that Tristan’s working through gives this fun story heart.

—Amy Noelle Parks


One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams Garcia

There’s a reason this middle grade book has become a modern classic. It covers themes of family, forgiveness and racial injustice in a story that’s honest and compelling. Williams Garcia is a brilliant writer and this is a must-read! 

 —Janae Marks



Hurricane Child by Kacen Callender

This queer coming of age story set on St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands does not shy away from tackling issues of homophobia or racism. Callender’s beautiful prose paints a picture of a girl trying to grow into her identity and shed the negative beliefs she carries about herself in the process. 

 —A.J. Sass


A Good Kind of Trouble by Lisa Moore Ramée

Shay is a middle schooler who’s not sure what she believes—her older sister who is into protest? Her parents who want her to stay out of trouble? Or her friends, who just want to fit in—until she is, and is willing to get into a good kind of trouble to defend her beliefs. Lisa Ramee’s middle grade debut is a wonderful introduction to the Black Lives Matter movement for ages 10-14!

—Katherine Rothschild

The Stars Beneath Our Feet by David Barclay Moore

When I finished reading this story for the first time, I hugged the book to my chest and cried. It’s the kind of middle grade contemporary that will make your heart sing. Grief and loss, the healing power of Legos and creativity, 12-year-old Lolly’s incredible voice, family connection, characters that will jump off the page—I loved everything about this spectacular book.

—Kate O’Shaughnessy

New Kid by Jerry Craft

This should be required reading for middle schoolers. I read it in one sitting, and every student I’ve given it to has LOVED it. It follows the story of a 7th grader cartoonist, Jordan Banks, as he enrolls in a prestigious private academy. Being a Black kid in a mostly white school, Jordan feels caught in between two worlds. Full of heart, this book contains many laughs and hard truths. Kids won’t want to put this story down, and the graphic novel format will pull in even the most reluctant readers.

—Lorien Lawrence

Young Adult 

Dread Nation by Justina Ireland

For Jane, the fierce heroine whose voice seized me from the first page and never let go, and for the brilliant central metaphor in which Civil War-era Black Americans are sacrificed to a plague of zombies. 

 —Amanda Sellet




The Hate U Give by  Angie Thomas

This book has become a classic for a reason. Not only is it packed with relatable characters, compelling storytelling, and crucial messages, but one of the things that will always stay with me is the way it so expertly and skillfully captured the constant and unyielding simmering tension that results from systemic racism and oppression in the US.

 —Andrea Contos


I Wanna Be Where You Are by Kristina Forest

This is the sweetest possible YA romance for summer. I love the road trip. I love when the main characters have to share a hotel room. And the way these two teens have to navigate their own big dreams and their parents’ expectations is almost too real, even for someone who hasn’t been a teen for a long, long time. 

 —Amy Noelle Parks


Kingdom of Souls by Rena Barron

Filled with lush worldbuilding, this book is dark and complex with richly-imagined mythology and magic. I loved the extremely layered relationship between the main character and her mother and the subversion of the “chosen one” trope was wonderfully executed!

 —Andrea Contos



The Poet X by  Elizabeth Acevedo

This book is a master lesson in prose. It just may be the single most gorgeous book I’ve ever read. But it’s not just all pretty words. It beautifully tackles the unique anxiety that comes with finding yourself and forging your own path outside of parent’s strict religious views, and society’s expectations. This book stays with you well after you’ve finished reading.

 —Andrea Contos

Pride by Ibi Zoboi

Usually, retellings are not so much my thing, but this one is so, so well done. Zuri and Darcy sparkle when they’re together and the way Zoboi transforms Austen’s critique of entailment into an critical exploration of gentrification is nothing short of brilliant. This YA captures what readers have loved about P&P for generations into something genuinely new.

 —Amy Noelle parks

Slay by Brittney Morris.

This amazing YA showcases a powerful and creative Black protagonist finding her voice through the role playing game she created. This fast-paced book doesn’t shy away from hard truths while keeping readers engaged in the immersive story.

 —Adrianna Cuevas



The Sound of Stars by Alechia Dow

This is a story about standing up for what’s right even in the face of overpowering odds, a valuable skill whether you’re fighting a fictional alien invasion or the real scourge of systemic racial violence in your own community. It’s also a moving testament to the power of art and storytelling and connection. 

 —Amanda Sellet


The Sun is Also A Star by Nicola Yoon

If you didn’t read this after the movie came out, now’s the time. It is a totally convincing example of a whirlwind romance. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about why this works, and I believe it’s a combination of Yoon’s top-notch banter but also the depth with which the evolving relationship is portrayed. We get to see the two main characters fall in love, even if it’s fast. Also, science + love will always send me.

 —Amy Noelle Parks

You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson

For a jolt of pure, goofy delight, pick up this rom-com about Liz Lighty, a surprise candidate for prom queen (she’s not rich, white, or straight) who will win your heart and your vote with her irrepressible charm.

 —Amanda Sellet

Full disclosure: this book just came out yesterday so I haven’t finished yet! But I did give up way too much sleep to read the majority and I can already label it a favorite! This book is delight. It’s a perfect blend of difficult topics mixed with light-hearted fluff, and I am absolutely in love with the f/f romance. This entire book is warm fuzzies with a spark of joy.

 —Andrea Contos

Black Enough: Stories of Being Young & Black in America edited by Ibi Zoboi

Black people are not a monolith, and I love that this anthology contains a variety of short stories about what it’s like to be a Black teenager – written by an amazing group of authors. There’s something for every reader!

 —Janae Marks



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