10 Essential Black Middle Grade Authors To Read Every Month Of The Year

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Margaret Kingsbury

Contributing Editor

Margaret Kingsbury grew up in a house so crammed with books she couldn’t open a closet door without a book stack tumbling, and she’s brought that same decorative energy to her adult life. Margaret has an MA in English with a concentration in writing and has worked as a bookseller and adjunct English professor. She’s currently a freelance writer and editor, and in addition to Book Riot, her pieces have appeared in School Library Journal, BuzzFeed News, The Lily, Parents,, and more. She particularly loves children’s books, fantasy, science fiction, horror, graphic novels, and any books with disabled characters. You can read more about her bookish and parenting shenanigans in Book Riot’s twice-weekly The Kids Are All Right newsletter. You can also follow her kidlit bookstagram account @BabyLibrarians, or on Twitter @AReaderlyMom.

Black History Month often finds non-Black caregivers searching for Black middle grade authors to read to their kids, and while supporting Black authors is always a good thing, books about Black experiences and Black authors need to be read every month of the year, something Black kids and caregivers know well. In a study done by WordsRated, there was a 23% decrease in Black characters in children’s bestseller lists from 2020 to 2021, a fact attributed to the fading interest in the Black Lives Matter Movement.

I decided to do some research into the 2023 New York Times best-seller middle grade list, making a list of every time a book by a Black author appeared. In 52 weeks, 14 different middle grade books by Black authors appeared on the list 53 times. That means Black authors made up only 9.8% of the New York Times middle grade bestseller list in 2023. Here are the books that made it onto the middle grade best seller list in order of the number of times they appeared:

There are many wonderful Black middle grade authors that deserve to be read and enjoyed by a lot more kids. I have listed only ten below. I tried to choose a variety of Black middle grade authors, both well-known and under-the-radar and across many genres. Some are funny writers, others moving, some write in verse, some write fantasy, and some write a little bit of everything. Regardless, I hope you’ll check out these ten Black middle grade authors.

10 Essential Black Middle Grade Authors

cover of The Crossover

Kwame Alexander 

Kwame Alexander is a powerful, Newbery Award-winning author who often writes in verse. His books span all age categories, from stunning picture books like An American Story to searing adult poetry collections like Light for the World to See. He also writes young adult. He’s best known for his middle grade verse series The Crossover, which includes three books and two graphic novel adaptations. The first book follows Black basketball-playing twins Josh and Jordan and explores brotherhood, family, first crushes, school, race, and, of course, basketball. Alexander’s most recent middle grade novel-in-verse, The Door of No Return, is a gorgeous historical novel set in 19th-century Ghana.

Cover of Isaiah Dunn is My Hero by Baptist

Kelly J. Baptist

Kelly J. Baptist has written five middle grade novels so far and is the winner of a We Need Diverse Books short story contest and a Lee and Low New Voices Honor Award recipient. In her most popular novel, Isaiah Dunn is My Hero, Isaiah tries to cope with his father’s death while his family is wracked by grief. He finds solace in reading some of his father’s old stories about a superhero. Baptist writes in both prose and verse formats. Her middle grade novel-in-verse Eb and Flow alternates perspectives between two tween kids after they’re suspended for fighting with one another. Her most recent novel, Ready, Set, Dough!, is written in prose and follows sixth-grader Zoe Sparks as she tries to sell as much cookie dough as she can to win a laptop, which will help her follow her dream of becoming a journalist.

Book cover for King and the Dragonflies

Kacen Callender

Kacen Callender has written numerous books for kids, teens, and adults, and their middle grade novels have won the Stonewall Award, the Lambda Literary Award, and more. King and the Dragonflies, his most-read novel, is a poignant novel about growing up and coming out as a queer, Black boy in the rural South. Callender has written two other middle grade novels. Hurricane Child is about a 12-year-old girl who lives on St. Thomas of the US Virgin Islands and is developing her first crush. Moonflower follows a child with depression as they visit their guardians in a spirit realm. Callender’s writing is luminous and powerful.

cover of Dragons in a Bag by Zetta Elliott; illustration of a young Black boy with a dragon in a bag

Zetta Elliott

Zetta Elliott is best known for her action-packed fantasy series Dragons in a Bag, where a young Black boy takes care of baby dragons and journeys to the realm of magic. The fifth and final book in the series, The War of the Witches, was released in January. Elliott has written several other middle grade novels, including Moonwalking, a novel-in-verse co-written by Lyn Miller-Lachmann and set in 1980s Brooklyn, about an interracial friendship between two boys, one who loves punk music and the other who loves graffiti art. Elliott has written picture books and young adult fiction and nonfiction as well.

Cover of Garvey's Choice by Nikki Grimes

Nikki Grimes

Nikki Grimes has written numerous books for children, teens, and adults and has won just as many awards and honors, from five Coretta Scott King Author Honors to her recent induction into the Black Authors Hall of Fame. Her most-read middle grade novel is Garvey’s Choice. Written in verse, it’s about a child learning to love himself when he joins the school chorus. There’s now a graphic novel adaptation of the book. While many of Grimes’s novels are written in verse format, some are written in prose. One such example is The Road to Paris, which follows a young girl who bounces from foster home to foster home with her brother until the two are separated.

Cover of Tight by Torrey Maldonado

Torrey Maldonado

Torrey Maldonado is a phenomenal writer whose four middle grade novels follow Black boys trying to figure out what the right thing to do is. Maldonado writes in both prose and poetry formats, and his books are accessible and engaging. In his most popular book, Tight, a comic book-loving kid starts getting into trouble when his friend pressures him into risky activities. I recently finished Hands, a moving novel-in-verse about a kid grappling with his stepfather hitting his mother and trying to decide whether he should use his hands for art or boxing.

Cover of Tristan Strong Punches the Sky by Kwame Mbalia

Kwame Mbalia

Kwame Mbalia is best known for his fantasy series Tristan Strong. In the first book, Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky—a Coretta Scott King Author Honor book—Tristan finds a portal into another world where Black American gods John Henry and Brer Rabbit are trying to save our world from iron monsters. Mbalia is also the author of the Afrofuturist middle grade series Last Gate of the Emperor and edited the short story collection Black Boy Joy. His books are often action-packed, funny, and full of joy in their explorations of African American folklore and African mythology.

cover of Ghost by Jason Reynolds

Jason Reynolds 

Jason Reynolds hardly needs an introduction. Reynolds writes books for all ages and has won numerous awards: the Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award, the Schneider Family Book Award, a Newbery Honor, and many more. His most popular middle grade series, Track, begins with the novel Ghost, about a young Black boy who joins a track team, but he’s also running from a past that haunts him. My daughter and I started with Stuntboy, in the Meantime, a fun graphic novel about a kid pretending to be a superhero to help with his anxiety. Reynolds is a master storyteller who can write just about anything.

cover of President of the Whole Fifth Grade

Sherri Winston 

Sherri Winston has written numerous middle grade novels centering Black girls and Black girl joy. In her most popular series, which begins with President of the Whole Fifth Grade, future cupcake-baking extraordinaire Brianna Justice is determined to become class president, but she’s not the only one. Her most recent middle grade, Shark Teeth, is about a young girl with hyperdontia who’s been in and out of foster care with her siblings and is hoping her mom can make it work this time. I also love Lotus Bloom and the Afro Revolution, where 12-year-old Lotus Bloom, a violin player, stands up to the school administration when they try to enforce rules about her hair. Winston has so many wonderful novels to choose from.

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson cover

Jacqueline Woodson

Jacqueline Woodson has written numerous books for all ages and has won about as many awards for them, including the National Book Award, the Coretta Scott King Book Award, and the Goodreads Choice Award. Her most well-known middle grade, Brown Girl Dreaming, is Woodson’s stunning memoir-in-verse about growing up as a Black girl in the South during the 1960s and ’70s. Her most recent middle grade, Remember Us, depicts a basketball-loving girl growing up in 1970s Brooklyn as arson becomes a problem in her neighborhood. Woodson writes both in prose and verse, and both historical fiction and contemporary fiction. Her work is phenomenal.

Also, be sure to check out this list of 25 fantastic middle grade books by Black authors, this discussion about the rise of horror in middle grade and young adult novels by Black authors, and this roundup of Black kids on the covers of middle grade novels.