Here for the Joy: 9 Black Joy Books
At my day job, I work with one of my cousins. Now, I know that most people shy away from working with family for understandable reasons. But I am very fortunate that she’s a family member that I don’t have to worry about those unpleasant reasons with.
We were recently having a discussion about reading Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome for a work-related initiative. And I remember telling her that this would definitely foster a good discussion. I also suggested that it would be a good idea to also focus on ‘lighter’ books.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s important to read books like that, as well as titles like How to Be an Anti-Racist and The New Jim Crow. But it is is also true that the Black experience is more than just their trauma. And I cannot articulate how much I agree with that. Yes, I’ve read those two books mentioned and don’t have any arguments on their importance. But I also know that I can’t have a steady diet of books like that. Otherwise, I will turn into this compacted ball of unmitigated fury, ready to take out anyone who crosses my path. And I don’t like being that, which is why I always look for more joyful books.
Which is what is leading to this list today! Here are some of the books that I feel highlight the Black joy experience. You’ll notice that these Black joy books include multiple age ranges and genres. But all are designed to put a feeling of happiness in your heart.
Children’s Black Joy Books
Hair Love by Matthew A. Cherry, Illustrated by Vashti Harrison
This book is about Zuri, a little girl who is doing her best to tame her natural locks to for a very special day and a dad who is trying his best to help where he can, even though he knows even less than she does. Not only does this showcase the importance of being proud of your hair, it also showcases a strong loving relationship between a little girl and her dad, something that we don’t see a lot of in literature when we really should.
Crown: An Ode to a Fresh Cut by Derrick D. Barnes, Illustrated by Gordon C. James
This book, told in verse, highlights the importance of a young Black boy or man having a fly haircut. I know that there are a lot of books about embracing your hair for little Black girls out there, like the one mentioned above. But hair is also important to little Black boys and the barbershop is a important part of their upbringing since it gives them a safe space to explore creativity with their hair.
Middle Grade Black Joy Books
It’s the End of the World and I’m in my Bathing Suit by Justin A. Reynolds
When Eddie’s summer long procrastination of not doing his laundry is finally caught by his mom, he is stuck doing it while the super fun Beach Bash is going on. Mid-cycle the power goes out, and he goes out to explore what could have happened. Outside he finds a handful of other kids who also skipped the party and they slowly realize that they are the only people left in their neighborhood and maybe the world. A new friendship circle, summer shenanigans, and a possible apocalypse? Sign me up!
Love Double Dutch by Doreen Spicer-Dannelly
MaKayla is looking forward to the summer and competing with her double-dutch team at Madison Square Garden’s National Jump-Off. So, she is not happy when she finds out that she has to go stay with her aunt and snooty cousin, Sally, in the South. Hope springs eternal when she finds out that double-dutch is big there, so the cousins put aside their issues to put together a team, and complete. Double-dutch is huge in the Black community and books like this help to highlight this and how fun it can be.
Black Boy Joy edited by Kwame Mbalia
This anthology of short stories from some of the best known voices in youth literature is exactly what its title implies: joyful. The stories here vary from picking out outfits for the first day of school to finding your voice and standing up for what’s right and is sure to bring a smile to everyone’s faces.
Young Adult Black Joy Books
Instructions for Dancing by Nicola Yoon
Ever since her parents divorced, Evie no longer believes in love. So she is a bit flummoxed when she suddenly develops the power to see how a couple’s love story will play out if she witnesses them kissing. When a set of circumstances lead her to enter a dance competition for the La Brea Dance studio, she meets X and, despite her best efforts, is drawn to him. However, will she risk her heart for a chance at love, even when she knows what the outcome will be?
Happily Ever Afters by Elise Bryant
Tessa is a budding writer who was recently accepted in the writing program at a prestigious arts academy. Of course, that is also when she’s hit with the worst case of Writer’s Block she’s ever had. Together with her friend, she comes up with a “Romcom Checklist” to not only help bring her muse back but catch the eye of Nico, a fellow student. However, as she goes through the list, she begins to notice that her friend and neighbor, Sam, may actually be the hero of this romance.
Adult Black Joy Books
A Cowboy to Remember by Rebekah Weatherspoon
After celebrity chef Evie is pushed by a former vindictive competitor, she wakes up with no memory of who she is and anything about her past. Not wanting this to get out, her publicist arranges for her to return to the ranch she grew up at, hoping this will help to jog her memory and give them time to come with a plan. Her ranch family opens their arms to welcome her back, eager to help as they can. This is especially true of Zach, her first love who sees this as an opportunity to right the wrongs of the past and give them both a second chance at romance.
D’Vaughn and Kris Plan a Wedding by Chencia C. Higgins
D’Vaughn and Kris are paired together for the reality show Instant I Do and have just six weeks to convince their families that they are in love and going to get married. The chemistry between the two of them is undeniable so selling that part is an easy feat. What’s trickier is knowing if the other person is really in it for love or for the money, because both women are finding that they are quickly falling for one another.
This list, which is in no means a full comprehensive list, are still great examples of focusing on Black Joy. They really show that there is more to us than just the bad things that have happened in the past. Thanks for reading and I hope that you found at least one book to pick up soon. Happy reading and stay hydrated!
For more joyful reads, check out these Own Voices YA books with a Black main character that aren’t about Black pain.