If there were ever a time to read books that celebrate Black girls and women, we are living in it. For a long time, Black women have been shouldering hatred from all sides. In a speech given in Los Angeles in May of 1962, Malcolm X said that the most disrespected, unprotected, and neglected person in America is the Black woman.
Black girls are hypersexualized and perceived as older than their white counterparts. Our schools criminalize and more frequently suspend Black girls than any other gender or race. Adults see Black girls as difficult and disrespectful, resulting in treatment that denies them childhood.
Furthermore, this continues into adulthood, where the angry Black woman stereotype runs rampant. Black women receive disproportionately subpar healthcare. They are more vulnerable to abuse. Black women, especial trans women, are more frequent victims of assault and murder.
Undoubtedly, this disregard of Black women has been exemplified in the recent cases of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, and Breonna Taylor. Months after his death but only days after a video of the murder went viral, Arbery’s killers were arrested and charged. All of the police officers involved in Floyd’s death have been arrested and charged.
However, Breonna Taylor’s killers remain free. Of course, many victims of police brutality and white supremacy have not gotten the justice they deserve. Yet, in stark contrast to Arbery and Floyd, Breonna Taylor exemplifies the treatment of Black girls and women in the U.S. We are minimized, silenced, and forgotten.
We need to collectively shift the narrative about Black women and girls. Everyone, and I mean everyone, needs to spend more time reading books that celebrate Black girls and women. This list includes books across genres that center Black girls and women so that you can buy, read, and share #BlackGirlMagic with everyone you love.
You can never be too young to start reading books that celebrate Black girls and women. Children of all races and genders should be given opportunities to connect to and learn about those that make up our society. In education circles, we often refer to “mirrors and windows.”
Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop explains mirrors as books where students see themselves reflected. Conversely, window books allow students to look into other lives. This is crucial for students from dominant social groups, who can otherwise “grow up with an exaggerated view of their importance and value in the world—a dangerous ethnocentrism.”
My Mommy Medicine by Edwidge Danticat and Shannon Wright
This gorgeous picture book showcases the love between a mother and daughter. Written from the child’s perspective, the story captures all the loving ways mothers make their children feel better. Whether they’re sick or sad, mom knows just how to fix it!
I’m A Pretty Little Black Girl! by Betty K. Bynum and Claire Armstrong Parod
The title makes it pretty clear that this book celebrates Black girlhood. This book follows Mia, an energetic girl who loves her life. She twirls and sings and dances through the pages. She loves her friends, who are Black girls of different shades. This is a fun story your children will want to hear again and again.
Middle Grade and YA
As children move into middle and then high school, reading books that celebrate Black girls and women can support them. Importantly, they’re figuring out who they are, who they want to be, and who they want as friends. They don’t always treat themselves and others well, so it’s a great time to build compassion and empathy through literature.
If you’re looking for more YA, check out my list “What YA Book Should You Read Next Based on Your Enneagram Type”?
Patina by Jason Reynolds
This book celebrates Black girls and women in all of their complexity. Award-winning author Jason Reynolds presents this sequel to his beloved novel Ghost. Patina follows a new girl on the track team who is running from all the bad things in her life. She has a sick mother that she can’t live with, a sister to take care of, and a new school where she doesn’t fit in. Unfortunately, she can’t run from everything. On the track team, Patina will have to face her greatest challenge—learning to depend on other people.
Watch us Rise by Renee Watson
This YA novel from acclaimed writer Renee Watson follows Jasmine and Chelsea, two high school friends who are finding their voices. They are sick of the way women are treated and they decide to do something about it, but they face obstacles at every turn. When they start a Women’s Rights club, they aren’t surprised to deal with online trolls; but when the issues bleed over into real life, the principal shuts them down. Fortunately, they will not be silenced or stopped.
A Song Below Water by Bethany C. Morrow
Of all the books that celebrate Black girls and women on this list, this is my current personal favorite. The story follows sisters Effie and Tavia as they navigate the complexities of family and identity. Set against the backdrop of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, their story provides a glimpse into life as a Black girl in America. Also, Tavia is a Siren and Effie survived an apparent Sprite attack that turned her friends to stone. The sisters, along with the Gargoyle that protects them, stick together while Effie tries to figure out what she is, Tavia tries to hide her Siren secret from a hostile world, and a mean girl Eloko bullies them both.
Comics and graphic novels are known for addressing “uncomfortable” topics and for pushing the boundaries of traditional representation. It’s a perfect genre for books that celebrate Black girls and women. If you like these, check out “4 Comics Starring Black Heroines in STEM” by my fellow Book Rioter.
Omni by Devin Grayson and Alitha E. Martinez
Omni follows Dr. Cecelia Cobbina, a brilliant physician from Doctors Without Borders. When she gains super intelligence and the ability to answer almost any question, she leaves her job to travel the world helping others like herself. Her new mission is to figure out how—and why—people all over the world are suddenly developing superpowers.
Livewire by Vita Ayala and Raul Allen
Livewire is a Black woman superhero who fights to protect others—both average humans and superhumans—from threats. Unfortunately, these threats sometimes include her own government. Livewire’s intriguing technopathic abilities and life-or-death decision-making keeps the pages turning. She has a fantastic arc that explores what it means to be a hero or villain.
It’s important that we read books that celebrate Black girls and women in everyday situations, experiencing joy, and living full lives. Black women need to be seen as lovable and desirable. Romance is a great place to explore the beauty of Black women in love and being loved. If you like romance, check out these other great Book Riot posts: “15 Must Read Black-Authored Historical Romance Novels” and “Black History, With Love“.
The Proposal by Jasmine Guillory
New York Times bestselling author Jasmine Guillory presents this tale of when a public proposal goes wrong. This whole premise tickles me beyond reason because I always imagine people in movies saying no to grand romantic gestures. Anyway, heroine Nik has to deal with the backlash after a stadium full of baseball fans watches her reject the proposal of her silly boyfriend of five months. Her rebound relationship helps her put that all behind her, but maybe accidentally becomes more than a fling.
Currently, bestseller lists are full of books about anti-Blackness and anti-racism. There are so many resources out there on this topic, many that center Black women, that I’m not going to rehash them here (though I highly recommend you look into them). Instead, here are a couple of less familiar nonfiction books that celebrate Black girls and women.
King Peggy by Peggielene Bartels and Eleanor Herman
This fascinating memoir tells the true story of an American who is elected king of a fishing village in Ghana. The town of Otuam is a beautiful home to 7000 people, but the traditional village is full of challenges for its new king. Town elders are stealing money, there is no doctor or running water, and the people are set in their ways. The book chronicles King Peggy’s reign and her successful transformation from secretary to beloved leader.
Black Girl Dangerous by Mia McKenzie
Founder of the Black Girl Dangerous website, Mia McKenzie, presents this collections of writings on race, queerness, class, and gender. In her blunt and honest voice, McKenzie addresses questions and challenges of Black women’s intersectional identities. Her work will touch you, make you laugh, make you mad, and, most importantly, push you to see Black women more clearly.