This last week has been taking a toll on everyone. Personally there are thousands of new eyes on us, so I wanted to take a moment and list my favorite books that are Black own voices texts. The first list of picture books has authors and illustrators that are Black, and the second does not. The second list of picture books has one Black creator lending their expertise to the book. Own Voices can be difficult to figure out, especially because there are so many intricacies to someone’s identity. The third list is for YA and Adult readers, some of my favorite books that I think should be on every shelf. I hope you enjoy the list that I created, and begin to build your bookshelves and library lists to be as diverse as possible. This list is for Black voices now, but further lists with other examples of stunning own voices literature. It is definitely not a comprehensive list, just the ones that immediately came to mind when I wanted to make this list. I wanted to add so many more, but will stop here. I encourage you to explore the website for even more amazing books that we’ve reviewed!
Not Quite Snow White: This story is a wonderful way to start a conversation about race, and how what we see in the media can affect our perception of what something is “supposed to be”.
The Undefeated: Told as a letter to Black America, this story wends and weaves throughout history to the present and reminding those today to persevere and continue to create good. The book is a call to action and an ode to history, not shying away from the atrocities both from history and current day.
Step Into Your Power: Step Into Your Power does the incredibly complex job of being both a call to action as well as an anthem that every person, especially every young girl, is exactly enough being just who they are. This book is set up in a way that has several main themes with lessons related to it, but the entire book flows together beautifully inspiring the reader to do what’s best for themselves as well as others.
Young Gifted and Black: These short stories about heroes Malorie Blackman, Pelé, Steve McQueen, and Zadie Smith (among so many others) introduce young readers to a variety of historical figures, trailblazers, and activists to spark interest and ignite passion. Perfect for bedtime stories or transition activities, this is an incredibly worthwhile book for any individual.
Major Taylor Champion Cyclist: This book covers in-depth the life and career of Marshall Taylor, one of the world’s greatest cyclists and a trailblazer of integrating the sport of cycling.
Astro Girl: This is just an incredibly sweet and happy book. It depicts a loving family, and Astrid has a confidence that is adorable to witness. In the back is information all about women astronauts and a few facts about space.
Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat: This book details the life and artistic development of Basquiat, from childhood artist to New York City graffiti artist, and finally to well-known artist. Big bold collages reminiscent of Basquiat’s work take up the majority of the page. Steptoe did not use any of Basquiat’s images for book illustrations and instead created his own in honor of Jean-Michel.
Other Books to Check Out:
The Youngest Marcher: This book is significant in the way it treats the characters. Audrey is not seen as exceptional in her actions, only in her age. The illustrations show careful thought and detail, the background individuals vary in size, shape, wardrobe, and more importantly skin tone. In the back there is both an author’s note and a timeline of events surrounding the children’s march in Birmingham. There is also a list of sources, a book recommendation for older readers, and Audrey’s favorite hot buttered roll recipe!
The Escape of Robert Smalls: I love the language that is used in the book, it is person-first and comprehensive without sounding like a lecture. It puts forward Robert’s intelligence in carrying out his plan to help himself and others, rather than telling the story from a savior or abolitionist perspective, Robert is in charge of his own story. There is also a glossary and a list of books that the reader can seek out to learn more, as well as a bibliography and a real photo of Robert!
A Story About Afiya: This is a lyrical story written by late poet James Berry, and artist Anna Cunha lends her spectacular artwork to bring Afiya to life on these pages. I like that readers can interpret Afiya’s dress as magical and actually recording these images onto the fabric momentarily, or as a larger metaphor for Afiya’s memories and experiences.
Pies from Nowhere: How Georgia Gilmore Sustained the Montgomery Bus Boycott: Georgia Gilmore is a lovely example of how a person can partake in solid on the ground organization efforts and create incredible ripples of change throughout a community. So many organizers and activists have been erased from retellings in favor of uplifting a few key individuals in a simplified narrative. Having these stories told showcase how intricate community efforts are, and how everyone can become involved in making change.
Jabari Jumps: I really like this book because it is a wonderful example of a story about a lot of things, but being Black is not one of them. So many books with Black protagonists are about the past, oppression, and overcoming obstacles. This book is about a young boy being brave and jumping off the diving board. It shows a wonderful relationship between a young boy and his father, and it’s a beautiful example of Black Boy Joy. Gaia Cornwall is a white woman, and has just posted a wonderful list of Own Voices books on her Instagram in response to so many people mentioning her book.
Assata: An Autobiography: This book gives a look at what Modern Civil Rights activists faced from the police and government, who actively pursued them with the intent to assassinate.
How to be an Anti-Racist: This book is twofold in the way we read author Ibram Kendi’s words about his own anti-racist journey and learn facts and statistics to enhance the reader’s own journey.
Amazons, Abolitionists, and Activists: Since it is for an older audience, Triple A doesn’t sugarcoat history, especially the inequities faced by marginalized populations. It emphasizes the unfairness of Enslavement, Jim Crow laws, and various other historical settlements. There are a few fabulous two-page illustrations showing women of color fighting monsters with names like “Racism” and “Online Harassment” while white women are floating on clouds, protected from having to do the dirty work. This. Is. What. We Need.
This Book is Anti-Racist takes what young people know about the world and themselves and expands upon it, empowering young people to stand up for themselves and others by understanding the systems of oppression that are at work everyday. While this and so much more social justice education should be typical curriculum in schools, it’s often not. Even CRT classes are hardly offered in teacher education programs, which is a travesty. In order to create ripples of change, we need education. Not addressing the white supremacy and oppression that subversively operate is what keeps the wheels of marginalization turning effectively. This book is one that can be sand in the gears, teaching readers to examine their own lives and the world around them while seeking out ways to change it for the better.
Making Our Way Home: Coupled with gorgeous and very realistic illustrations, this is the type of history book I yearned for as a child. I devoured this book in a single sitting, loving that the historical figures I learned about in college are available to children. I was riveted, the facts weaving together in a way that was not dry or boring but instead ignited the desire to continue reading past my bedtime. There is also an extensive (almost 30 pages!) glossary that explains everyone referenced in the text as well as landmark court cases and activist groups. Seriously, do yourself a favor and read this one as soon as possible!
You can find all of these titles and more on our Bookshop.org page!