Book Clubbing

I’ve been working in school libraries for about 12 years now, and one of the highlights of my career is the student and staff multicultural book club I co-lead at one of my high schools. I feel lighter and more hopeful whenever I leave one of our meetings, consistently impressed by students’ thoughtfulness and kindness. The world can seem so bleak sometimes, but being around smart, outspoken young people is a nice antidote to discouragement and disillusionment.

Book covers for The Marrow Thieves, Dear Martin, and The Night Watchman

The first session of the book club I ever hosted was in 2019. We read The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline, a dystopian book no one in my group enjoyed, including me. But despite not liking the book, we had fantastic conversations. Since I work in libraries and not classrooms, I only get a little time to talk with kids; I usually only see them in passing. The book club was the first time I had a chance to get to know students and witness them engage with a text. When I hear people say that kids don’t read anymore, I want to roll my eyes and bring them to a book club meeting.

When the pandemic shut down in-person schooling, we decided to try having the book club via Zoom. I was doubtful we’d have much success, but I’m happy to say how wrong I was. We had the most participation we’d ever had as we read and discussed Nic Stone’s Dear Martin, a powerful novel about police brutality and growing up as a young Black boy in predominantly white spaces. Even though we were faces on a computer screen, we were able to have important conversations about race, policing, violence, and friendship. Those are complicated topics, but students were always patient and understanding, even when there was disagreement. We had two more rounds of online club meetings before we got to meet in person again. As much as I love the in-person meetings, I look back on the online discussions with fondness and gratitude. They provided connection and community when we were desperate for both things. 

When we returned to the school building, we read The Night Watchmen by Louise Erdrich. I don’t read much historical fiction, so this book stretched me and challenged me, which I appreciated. Erdrich is an incredibly gifted writer, deserving of the many accolades she’s received over the years. (I really love Shadow Tag and The Round House.) In our meetings, we talked about missing and endangered Native women and discussed why their cases are too often ignored. We pondered Native resettlement together and marveled at the events that inspired the book. The Night Watchmen is heavy and long, but the students consistently showed up with things to say.

Book covers for When stars are scattered and Go tell it on the mountain

We strive to read a variety of genres and viewpoints, so we decided to switch things up and read graphic novels for the next book club session. One of the books we read was When Stars Are Scattered, a middle grade book that tells the story of Omar Mohammed and his brother growing up in a Kenyan refugee camp. A local refugee came in and spoke to us about her experience in a camp. Her story was moving and powerful, and I remain grateful that students could hear someone speak who was directly affected by the subjects we’d been reading about.

Right now, we have two more meetings before we finish Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin, one of my favorite novels. Having the opportunity to discuss Baldwin’s brilliant writing with a group of thoughtful readers is a joy. The theme we’ve focused on throughout the novel is identity. How does your family shape who you become? Can a person really change? What happens when someone is hungry for power? We’ve examined these questions and many others over the past few weeks.

Along with our primary texts, we pull in outside readings and media, such as poems, essays, interviews, and videos. I love doing this because it’s nice to connect different cultures and formats with the books we’re discussing. 

Over the years, many people have questioned why I like working at high schools. They think of teenagers as wild, rude, and uninterested in reading. But young people are some of the most thoughtful readers out there. They’re passionate, critical thinkers who speak their minds and ask great questions. It’s been an absolute joy being part of a community of kids and school staff who value literature and the benefits it brings to our lives. 

A group of nine book club members with their faces obscured by smiling heart emojis

A Black Lives Matter Book List for Teens and Children

Photo by Suad Kamardeen on Unsplash

The other day I posted a book list for adults who support the Black Lives Matter movement and want to learn more. Today I want to share a list of books for the teens and kids in your life.

Summaries are from NoveList.

Teen Books

Most of the books in this category are already on the shelves in my high school libraries, and the rest I’ll be purchasing soon.

Black enough book cover

Black Enough: Stories of Being Young and Black in America
Edited by Ibi Zoboi

Edited by National Book Award finalist Ibi Zoboi, and featuring some of the most acclaimed bestselling Black authors writing for teens today—Black Enough is an essential collection of captivating stories about what it’s like to be young and Black in America.

I'm not dying with you tonight book cover

I’m Not Dying with You Tonight by Gilly Segal and Kimberly Jones

Told from two viewpoints, Atlanta high school seniors Lena and Campbell, one black, one white, must rely on each other to survive after a football rivalry escalates into a riot.

stamped book cover

Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You
by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi

A history of racist and antiracist ideas in America, from their roots in Europe until today, adapted from the National Book Award winner Stamped from the Beginning.

We are not yet equal book cover

We Are Not Yet Equal: Understanding Our Racial Divide
by Carol Anderson with Tonya Bolden

From the end of the Civil War to the tumultuous issues in America today, an acclaimed historian reframes the conversation about race, chronicling the powerful forces opposed to black progress in America.

dark sky rising book cover

Dark Sky Rising: Reconstruction and the Dawn of Jim Crow
by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. with Tonya Bolden

Henry Louis Gates, Jr. presents a journey through America’s past and our nation’s attempts at renewal in this look at the Civil War’s conclusion, Reconstruction, and the rise of Jim Crow segregation.

dear martin book cover

Dear Martin by Nic Stone

Writing letters to the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., seventeen-year-old college-bound Justyce McAllister struggles to face the reality of race relations today and how they are shaping him.

kindred book cover

Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation
Adapted by Damian Duffy; illustrated by John Jennings

Presents a graphic novelization of Octavia E. Butler’s Kindred in which a young African-American woman is mysteriously transferred back in time leading to an irresistible curiosity about her family’s past.

Pride book cover

Pride by Ibi Zoboi

In a timely update of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, critically acclaimed author Ibi Zoboi skillfully balances cultural identity, class, and gentrification against the heady magic of first love in her vibrant reimagining of this beloved classic.

piecing me together book cover

Piecing Me Together by Renée Watson

Tired of being singled out at her mostly-white private school as someone who needs support, high school junior Jade would rather participate in the school’s amazing Study Abroad program than join Women to Women, a mentorship program for at-risk girls.

Long way down book cover

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

Driven by the secrets and vengeance that mark his street culture, 15-year-old Will contemplates over the course of 60 psychologically suspenseful seconds whether or not he is going to murder the person who killed his brother.

the hate u give book cover

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

After witnessing her friend’s death at the hands of a police officer, Starr Carter’s life is complicated when the police and a local drug lord try to intimidate her in an effort to learn what happened the night Kahlil died.

March book cover

March: Book One
W
ritten by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin; illustrated by Nate Powell

A first-hand account of the author’s lifelong struggle for civil and human rights spans his youth in rural Alabama, his life-changing meeting with Martin Luther King, Jr., and the birth of the Nashville Student Movement.

Middle School
& Elementary Books

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Genesis Begins Again by Alicia D. Williams

Thirteen-year-old Genesis tries again and again to lighten her black skin, thinking it is the root of her family’s troubles, before discovering reasons to love herself as is.

Ghost book cover

Ghost by Jason Reynolds

Ghost, a naturally talented runner and troublemaker, is recruited for an elite middle school track team. He must stay on track, literally and figuratively, to reach his full potential.

Ghost boys book cover

Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes

After seventh-grader Jerome is shot by a white police officer, he observes the aftermath of his death and meets the ghosts of other fallen black boys including historical figure Emmett Till.

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The Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond by Brenda Woods

A biracial girl finally gets the chance to meet the African American side of her family.

Frederick Douglass biography book cover

Frederick’s Journey: The Life of Frederick Douglass
Written by Doreen Rappaport; illustrated by London Ladd

Shares the life of the abolitionist, including his life as a slave, how he learned to read even though it was illegal for him to do so, and his work speaking out against slavery.

brown girl dreaming book cover

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

In vivid poems that reflect the joy of finding her voice through writing stories, an award-winning author shares what it was like to grow up in the 1960s and 1970s in both the North and the South.

one last word book cover

One Last Word: Wisdom from the Harlem Renaissance
by Nikki Grimes

The Coretta Scott King Award-winning author of What Is Goodbye? presents a collection of poetry inspired by the Harlem Renaissance and complemented by full-color artwork by such esteemed artists as Pat Cummings, Brian Pinkney and Sean Qualls.

blended book cover

Blended by Sharon M. Draper

Piano-prodigy Isabella, eleven, whose black father and white mother struggle to share custody, never feels whole, especially as racial tensions affect her school, her parents’ both become engaged, and she and her stepbrother are stopped by police.

Picture Books

crown book cover

Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut
Written by Derrick Barnes; illustrated by Gordon C. James

Celebrates the magnificent feeling that comes from walking out of a barber shop with newly-cut hair.

hair love book cover

Hair Love
Written by Matthew A. Cherry; illustrated by Vashti Harrison

An ode to self-confidence and the love between fathers and daughters by the former NFL wide receiver depicts an exuberant little girl whose dad helps her arrange her curly, coiling, wild hair into styles that allow her to be her natural, beautiful self.

woke baby book cover

Woke Baby
Written by Mahogany L. Browne; illustrated by Theodore Taylor III

This lyrical and empowering book is both a celebration of what it means to be a baby and what it means to be woke. With bright playful art, Woke Baby is an anthem of hope in a world where the only limit to a skyscraper is more blue.

dream bnig book cover

Dream Big, Little One by Vashti Harrison

Features female figures of black history, including pilot Bessie Coleman, politician Shirley Chisholm, mathematician Katherine Johnson, poet Maya Angelou, and filmmaker Julie Dash.

the undefeated book cover

The Undefeated
Written by Kwame Alexander; illustrated by Kadir Nelson

The Newbery Award-winning author of The Crossover pens an ode to black American triumph and tribulation, with art from a two-time Caldecott Honoree.

I Am Enough
Written by Grace Byers; illustrated by Keturah A. Bobo

This is a gorgeous, lyrical ode to loving who you are, respecting others, and being kind to one another—from Empire actor and activist Grace Byers and talented newcomer artist Keturah A. Bobo.

I Am Perfectly Designed
Written by Karamo Brown with Jason “Rachel” Brown; illustrated by Anoosha Syed

In this empowering ode to modern families, a boy and his father take a joyful walk through the city, discovering all the ways in which they are perfectly designed for each other.

A Black Lives Matter Book List for Adults

Photo by Nicole Baster on Unsplash

Two of the things I appreciate most about literature is that it nurtures empathy and furthers knowledge. When it comes to issues of race, I, as a white woman, desperately need both of those things. I will never read enough books to completely understand what it’s like to live in a black body, but I can learn from those who do.

As the news stories keep coming in about George Floyd, I think of some who were killed before him.

Michael Brown.
Trayvon Martin.
Breonna Taylor.
Eric Garner.
Tamir Rice.
Philando Castile.

I don’t know enough about their lives or the violence which led to their deaths. When I realize my shortcomings in a particular area, the first thing I do is turn to books. Today I’m sharing books that have helped give me the empathy and knowledge I’m seeking and am also listing some of the books I plan to read next. I hope this post is helpful for those of you trying to learn along with me.

Most summaries are from NoveList.

I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness
by Austin Channing Brown

A leading new voice on race and justice lays bare what it’s like to grow up a black woman in white Christian America, in this idea-driven memoir about how her determined quest for identity, understanding, and justice shows a way forward for us all.–Goodreads

If beale street could talk book cover

If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin

When a pregnant Tish’s boyfriend Fonny, a sculptor, is wrongfully jailed for the rape of a Puerto Rican woman, their families unite to prove the charge false.

such a fun age book cover

Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid

A story about race and privilege is centered around a young black babysitter, her well-intentioned employer and a surprising connection that threatens to undo them both.

The nickel boys book cover

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

Follows the harrowing experiences of two African-American teens at an abusive reform school in Jim Crow-era Florida.

Homegoing book cover

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Two half-sisters, unknown to each other, are born into different villages in 18th-century Ghana and experience profoundly different lives and legacies throughout subsequent generations marked by wealth, slavery, war, coal mining, the Great Migration and the realities of 20th-century Harlem.

The fire next itme book cover

The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin

A plea and a warning to citizens to examine the actual state of America after a century of emancipation.

The fire this time book cover

The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks about Race
edited by Jesmyn Ward

The National Book Award-winning author of Salvage the Bones presents a continuation of James Baldwin’s 1963 The Fire Next Time that examines race issues from the past half century through essays, poems and memoir pieces by some of her generation’s most original thinkers and writers.

Salvage the bones book cover

Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward

Enduring a hardscrabble existence as the children of alcoholic and absent parents, four siblings from a coastal Mississippi town prepare their meager stores for the arrival of Hurricane Katrina while struggling with such challenges as a teen pregnancy and a dying litter of prize pups.

American sonnets from my past and future assassin book cover

American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin
by Terrance Hayes

One of America’s most acclaimed poets presents 70 poems bearing the same title that, written during the first 200 days of the Trump presidency, are haunted by the country’s past and future eras and errors, its dreams and nightmares.

Passing book cover

Passing by Nella Larsen

First published in 1929, Passing is a remarkable exploration of the shifting racial and sexual boundaries in America. Larsen, a premier writer of the Harlem Renaissance, captures the rewards and dangers faced by two negro women who pass for white in a deeply segregated world.

The color purple book cover

The Color Purple by Alice Walker

The lives of two sisters–Nettie, a missionary in Africa, and Celie, a southern woman married to a man she hates–are revealed in a series of letters exchanged over thirty years.

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Jazz by Toni Morrison

In Harlem, 1926, Joe Trace, a door-to-door salesman in his fifties, kills his teenage lover. A profound love story which depicts the sights and sounds of Black urban life during the Jazz Age.

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This Will Be My Undoing: Living at the Intersection of Black, Female, and Feminist in (White) America by Morgan Jerkins

An influential literary critic presents a highly anticipated collection of linked essays interweaving incisive commentaries on subjects ranging from pop culture and feminism to black history, misogyny and racism to confront the challenges of being a black woman in today’s world.

Between the world and me book cover

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Told through the author’s own evolving understanding of the subject over the course of his life comes a bold and personal investigation into America’s racial history and its contemporary echoes.

The Books I’m Reading Next

How to be an antiracist book cover

How To Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi

From the National Book Award–winning author comes a bracingly original approach to understanding and uprooting racism and inequality in our society—and in ourselves. Ibram X. Kendi’s concept of antiracism reenergizes and reshapes the conversation about racial justice in America—but even more fundamentally, points us toward liberating new ways of thinking about ourselves and each other.

Stamped from the beginning book cover

Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi

A comprehensive history of anti-black racism focuses on the lives of five major players in American history, including Cotton Mather and Thomas Jefferson, and highlights the debates that took place between assimilationists and segregationists and between racists and antiracists.

The cross and the lunching tree book cover

The Cross and the Lynching Tree by James H. Cone

The cross and the lynching tree are the two most emotionally charged symbols in the history of the African American community. In this powerful new work, theologian James H. Cone explores these symbols and their interconnection in the history and souls of black folk.–Goodreads

Just Mercy book cover

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson

The founder of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama recounts his experiences as a lawyer working to assist those desperately in need, reflecting on his pursuit of the ideal of compassion in American justice.

So you want to talk about race book cover

So You Want to Talk about Race by Ijeoma Oluo

A Seattle-based writer, editor and speaker tackles the sensitive, hyper-charged racial landscape in current America, discussing the issues of privilege, police brutality, intersectionality, micro-aggressions, the Black Lives Matter movement, and the “N” word.

10 Books for Black History Month (And the 11 Other Months, Too)

February is Black History Month, and I couldn’t let the month go by without sharing some of my favorite titles by black writers. Diversifying my reading has been a priority for me over the past few years, and following through on that goal has been wonderfully illuminating. Reading books by people who don’t look like me, have grown up in different environments than I have, or who have faced discrimination that I will never know is incredibly important for developing my empathy and understanding. Have you read any of these books? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Americanah book cover

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

At its heart, Americanah is a love story between Ifemelu and Obinze, two Nigerians who fall in love as kids. They go their separate ways, however, when Ifemelu heads to America and Obinze goes to London. This novel has much to say about immigration, identity, and finding your place in the world. It’s beautifully written and engaging from beginning to end.

Becoming by Michelle Obama

Becoming is the story of Michelle Obama’s life from her childhood in Chicago to her role as First Lady of the United States. All of the political stuff is as fascinating as you imagine it is, but Obama’s focus on family and education are my favorite parts of this outstanding and inspiring memoir.

Bluebird, bluebird book cover

Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke

If you’re paying attention, you know that the publishing industry is primarily white. That seems especially true when it comes to the mystery genre. I think Bluebird, Bluebird is the first mystery I’ve read by and about a person of color. Texas Ranger Darren Mathews begins investigating two murders in the small town of Lark. One of the victims is a black lawyer from out of town, and the other is a local white woman. Attica Locke has delivered an unputdownable mystery that’s also a smart look at racism and justice.

Born a crime book cover

Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood
by Trevor Noah

You probably know Trevor Noah as host of The Daily Show, but you’ll know him a lot better after reading this fantastic memoir. In it, Noah talks about growing up biracial in South Africa during apartheid, what it’s like to grow up poor, how his mother survived an abusive relationship, and how he found his way to comedy. Born a Crime is funny, sad, and ultimately hopeful.

Homegoing book cover

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Homegoing is in a rare category of books that left me stunned. Somehow, first-time novelist Yaa Gyasi includes 300 years of Ghanian history in a mere 320 pages and does so beautifully. Each chapter tells the story of a different person who is a descendant of either Effia and Esi, two sisters born in the eighteenth-century. Homegoing is an unforgettable and frank look at the horrific legacy of slavery.

I'm still here book cover

I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness
by Austin Channing Brown

In this memoir, Austin Channing Brown discusses what it was like to grow up black and Christian in a predominantly white culture. Brown cares deeply about racial justice, and that passion shines through each page of this book. I’m Still Here is a good book for anyone to read, but it should be required reading for white Christians who want to do better about honoring black lives and stories.

The mothers book cover

The Mothers by Brit Bennett

When Nadia is seventeen, she gets pregnant by Luke, the pastor’s son. How Nadia handles this pregnancy is what fuels the drama of this excellent novel. The Mothers is a page-turner but is also a smart meditation on grief, secrets, and love.

The nickel boys book cover

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

The Nickel Boys was a novel that I couldn’t stop reading even when I wanted to put it down. It’s about a terrible reform school in Florida that leaves physical and emotional scars on its students. Two of those students are Elwood and Turner, who face abuse, violence, and racism. The Nickel Boys is a bleak, haunting, but ultimately essential story of life in the Jim Crow era.

Sing unburied sing book cover

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

Sing, Unburied, Sing is one of my favorite novels from the past few years. At the heart of the story are Jojo and Kayla, two young biracial kids living with their grandparents. Their mostly-absent mother, Leonie, is in and out of their lives due to drug addiction, and their father is in prison. He’s about to be released, though, so Leonie loads up the kids and her best friend and sets off on a road trip to pick him up. Like The Nickel Boys, this novel can be a challenging read due to its bleak subject matter, but it’s also a gripping look at how love can sustain us even when things are falling apart.

An untamed state book cover

An Untamed State by Roxane Gay

I think Roxane Gay is a brilliant writer. She writes essays, memoir, short stories, and criticism and executes each flawlessly. An Untamed State is her first and only novel about a woman named Mireille. Like Gay, Mireille is of Haitian descent but currently living in America. On a trip to visit her wealthy parents in Port au Prince, Mireille is kidnapped by violent criminals who want money from her father. If you’re a sensitive reader, know that this book contains some rather graphic depictions of assault. It’s a difficult but excellent novel.


What other books by black authors should I add to my reading list? Leave a comment below and let me know your thoughts.

My 2019 Reading Goals

A few years ago, I chose all kinds of reading goals for myself. I didn’t complete any of them, felt like a failure, and decided not to set any goals for the next couple of years. But even though I’m happy with my reading life, I know it can get even better, so I’m back to the goal-setting this year. There’s a caveat, though: I love reading, am a mood reader, and refuse to make it feel like work, so these goals are more like loose guidelines. I’d like to see these goals happen, but if they don’t, that’s okay too, as long as I tried. 

Goal #1: Read more books by people of color. 

Less than 10% of the books I read this year were written by a person of color. I’d like that number to be much higher for two reasons. The first is that reading helps develop empathy and understanding toward people who don’t look like me. The second reason is that people of color aren’t always provided with the same opportunities white writers are given, so it’s important to seek out and support their work. 

Goal #2: Read more books in translation.

I only read two books in translation in all of 2018. Two. That’s a shame since there is a plethora of great literature throughout the world that I’ve been ignoring. This goes along with goal #1,  but I’d like to read more about different cultures and experience new-to-me settings. If you have suggestions for this goal, I’d love to hear them. 

Goal #3: READ THE BOOKS I ALREADY OWN.

This goal is in all caps because I’m yelling at myself; it’s that important to me. I love working in libraries, but the one problem is that I’m regularly checking out new books. I read book reviews online, decide I need to read a book immediately, place a hold, and check it out so it can sit in a tote bag with 15 other new releases. This wouldn’t be a big deal if I didn’t have hundreds (yes, hundreds) of unread books at home. I’m immensely grateful for the books I have, and I need to follow through and acknowledge that privilege by actually reading them. I have plenty of titles by people of color and even a few in translation, so working on this goal will help me with my other goals, as well. 

Goal #4: Read 75 books.

Reading 50-60 books a year is my reading sweet spot. That’s my natural range, but I think I could read even more if I were consistently mindful of how I spend my time. I know I could read more if I scrolled Instagram less and read on my phone instead. I could read more if I remembered to put my Kindle in my purse every day. There are times when I’m tired and don’t want to think, and the mindless scrolling is perfect for those times. But I rely on it too often and know I can make better use of the hours I’m given in a day. 


Those are my four goals loose guidelines for 2019. Do you set reading goals? If so, what are some of yours? I’d love to hear them. 


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