Books for Teens – Black History Month

By Tracey Dowdy

February is Black History Month. Although we should celebrate the accomplishments of people of color here in America as well as around the world every day, this is an opportunity for you to educate yourself and your children about black scientists, musicians, authors, educators, innovators, and heroes who helped shape this country. 

These books are a great place to start. 

No list would be complete without Michelle Obama’s autobiographical memoir, Becoming, that follows her journey from her childhood on the South Side of Chicago to becoming America’s first African American First Lady. With over 7,000 positive reviews and a 4.9-star rating on Amazon, it’s a book that will both inspire and challenge you. 

Jason Reynolds, New York Times bestselling coauthor of All American Boys, described Nic Stone’s novel first novel “Dear Martin” as “Raw and gripping.” The story follows Justyce, a black teenage boy, who goes on a journey of discovering the hardships of being a black male growing up in Atlanta. The story takes an unflinching look at racism and how black men are treated by society solely because of the color of their skin. 

Americanah” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie first popped up on my radar when I saw it on former president Barak Obama’s past summer reading list. The story chronicles two Nigerians trying to make their way in the U.S. and the UK while raising questions of race and what it means to belong. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is probably best known for her TED talk on the danger of a single story, but she also appeared on Beyonce’s song “Flawless.” She’s the author of many other works such as her essay “We Should All Be Feminists.” 

The title of Trevor Noah’s Born A Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood, stems from his birth to a white Swiss father and a black Xhosa mother at a time when such a union was illegal in South Africa and punishable by five years in prison. Living proof of his parents’ indiscretion, Noah’s mother kept him mostly indoors for the earliest years of his life in order to hide him from a government that could, at any moment, seize him and take him away. His stories are by turns hilarious, heartwrenching, and make the reader think deeply about class, culture, and the racial tensions that transcend international borders. 

Black Enough” by Ibi Zoboi is a collection of mesmerizing short stories about what it’s like to be young and black in America. Stories range from kids who’ve been told they are “acting white” to those who are marginalized for being mixed race. It’s an honest look at the complexities that come with racial identity in contemporary American culture.

In “The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas, sixteen-year-old Starr moves between the poor neighborhood where she lives and the posh suburban prep school she attends. When Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her unarmed childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer, things escalate quickly when his death becomes a national headline. The story could be pulled from real-life headlines and will break your heart and make you pause the next time a tragedy like this makes the news. 

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

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