25 Fantastic Middle Grade Books by Black Authors
As a children’s bookseller, there are many days when parents, educators, and readers come looking for books written by Black authors, especially if they’re books about Black kids. Once upon a time it was a lot harder to find them, and while there’s still a long way to go, there’s a rapidly growing subset of middle grade books by Black authors featuring Black kids, as well as some books that have been around for a long time and are still entertaining and inspiring readers today. Read on for 25 middle grade books by Black authors across all genres: mystery, fantasy, historical fiction, graphic novel, contemporary, memoir, and verse. They range from fun and zany to gut-wrenching and heartbreaking, and some are a mix.
Betty Before X by Ilyasah Shabazz and Renee Watson
Inspired by the real life of activist Dr. Betty Shabazz, this fictionalized account from Shabazz’s daughter Ilyasah follows Betty through four important years of her childhood. Beginning in 1945 Detroit, where Betty starts volunteering for the Housewives League and sets out on her path toward activism.
Blended by Sharon Draper
After her parents’ divorce, 11-year-old Isabella feels divided. She splits her time between her parents’ houses. Her black father’s home, where he lives with his girlfriend and her son, is fancy—and they’re one of the only black families in the neighborhood. Her mom lives with her boyfriend in a house that’s small and not as fancy. Isabella doesn’t just switch lives every week but also identities. Her dad is black, her mom white, and Isabella is constantly peppered with questions about her racial identity. As her parents’ fights worsen, and the two get engaged at the same time, Isabella’s family seems like it will never be whole again. And neither will Isabella.
Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
Acclaimed author Jacqueline Woodson writes a memoir in verse of her childhood. Growing up Black in the 1960s and 1970s means contending with the aftermath of Jim Crow and the strengthening Civil Rights Movement, and for Woodson, also realizing her dreams of putting her voice and experiences to paper.
Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis
In 1936 Flint, Michigan, Bud (not Buddy) sets off on a journey to find his father. After the death of his mother and a string of abusive foster homes, Bud doesn’t have much to go on—just flyers advertising Herman E. Calloway and his band, the Dusky Devastators of the Depression—but he’s got a suitcase full of everything that matters to him, and nothing’s going to stop him from finding his father.
The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
In this novel in verse, twins Josh and Jordan are teammates on the basketball court and in life. Making their way through middle school and all its trials (homework, crushes, family issues), the two begin to pull apart for the first time.
Genesis Begins Again by Alicia D. Williams
Genesis hates many things about herself. Like that her skin is so dark that her family members and classmates call her names. Like that her father gambles away their rent so often that they’re regularly evicted. When Genesis and her mom find themselves with nowhere to go, they head to her grandmother’s house, where her mom and grandma fight all the time. Grandma wants Mom to leave her father and thinks she should have married a light skinned man to begin with. Despite this, Genesis is liking her new school, making some new friends, and the choir teacher thinks Genesis is talented enough to perform in the talent show. But neither the citrus fruits nor the lightening creams are working, so how can Genesis believe anyone else likes her or believes in her with her dark skin when her own family doesn’t seem to?
Ghost by Jason Reynolds
Though Ghost, real name Castle Crenshaw, has always been running—he’s just never done it on a track team. But after he challenges an elite sprinter to a race, and wins, suddenly a new path is open to him. The track coach thinks Ghost and his natural talent would make a perfect addition to the team. Ghost joins up, and finds the team is full of kids with their own problems, and that the running is much harder than he expected it to be. But he also knows that no matter how fast he runs, there are some problems that threaten to keep up with him.
Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes
After 12-year-old Jerome is shot by a cop who mistakes his toy gun for a real one, he returns as a ghost to witness the devastation caused by his killing. It’s not long before Jerome meets another ghost, Emmett Till, a boy who was lynched and murdered. Emmett helps Jerome process his death and the historical context that led to it. Later, Jerome also meets Sarah, the daughter of the cop who killed him, struggling with her father’s actions.
A Good Kind of Trouble by Lisa Moore Ramee
Twelve-year-old Shayla only wants to follow the rules. But now in middle school, she’s no longer sure what the rules are. Not with her friends and not with her classmates. Her sister’s involved in Black Lives Matter, which Shayla doesn’t think is for her. But after a protest, Shayla decides some rules are okay to break, and she starts wearing an armband to school in support of BLM. The principal announces that the armbands aren’t allowed, and Shayla’s given an ultimatum. Though Shayla’s always tried to avoid trouble, she might be in even more trouble if she can’t face her fear and do what she knows is right, even if someone else has decided it’s wrong.
Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson
Once a week, six kids meet up in an empty room, with no adults around, to talk about whatever they want. They call it the ARTT (A Room to Talk) Room, and there, the kids can open up about everything troubling them, like Haley’s father being in prison and Esteban’s dad being deported. As the kids talk more, they begin to see the strength they draw from the little community they’ve built, and they see that the support they can get from each other is how they’ll withstand their struggles.
How High the Moon by Karyn Parsons
In 1944, 12-year-old Ella leaves her small town in South Carolina to spend a month in Boston with her jazz singer mother. Though Ella’s initially thrilled to get the chance to spend time with her mother, and ask her questions about the father she’s never known, what she finds is unexpected. Busy Boston is an entirely different world compared to the Jim Crow South Ella left. While Ella’s there, there are some big changes taking place in her hometown, and when Ella returns home she finds her classmate has been accused of murdering two white girls.
Hurricane Child by Kheryn Callendar
A child born during a hurricane is said to be unlucky, and 12-year-old Caroline has had plenty of bad luck already. Everyone at her school hates her, she can see things no one else can, and her mother has abandoned her. Caroline’s luck begins to turn when she meets new student Kalinda. She also seems to have visions no one else does, and she becomes Caroline’s only friend—and her first crush. Now Caroline has to find a way to brave her feelings for Kalinda, a spirit haunting her island, and a hurricane, so she can find her mother and face the reason she left her.
The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste
Corinne isn’t afraid of anything, especially not jumbies. Those are just trickster creatures parents make up to scare their kids into behaving. When Corinne spots a beautiful woman named Severine in the town market, she knows something big is about to happen. And when it comes, it’s Severine at her house, bewitching her father, and it’s only the first step in Severine’s plot to claim the island for the jumbies. To save her home, Corinne must face the jumbies and draw on magic she didn’t know she had.
Last Last-Day-of-Summer by Lamar Giles
Local detectives Otto and Sheed are legendary, and have put their skills to use saving their town from all manners of mischief. And on the last day of summer, they’ll have to use all their skills to save their town when Mr. Flux arrives with a camera that stops time.
Like Vanessa by Tami Charles
As the Miss America pageant unfurls on a stage in 1983, Vanessa Martin watches from home. Her life couldn’t be more different. While Vanessa struggles with her self-esteem, she can hardly remember her mother, and her grandfather is struggling with addiction. But then her school organizes a pageant, and Vanessa, with the help of a teacher and a friend, decides to enter.
My Life As an Ice Cream Sandwich by Ibi Zoboi (August 27, Dutton Books for Young Readers)
Ebony-Grace has lived with her grandfather in Huntsville, Alabama, for most of her life. There, her grandfather, one of the first black engineers to integrate NASA, passed along his love of outer space and science fiction. But in the summer of 1984, Ebony-Grace is sent to Harlem to live with her father. For sheltered Ebony-Grace, Harlem is thrilling but also scary, and she plans to stay safe in her imagination. But it’s not long before Harlem shows Ebony-Grace how much it has to offer her, and how much it has in common with her favorite sci-fi adventures.
New Kid by Jerry Craft
Though Jordan wants nothing more than to go to art school where he can perfect his cartoon drawings, his parents have other ideas. Instead, Jordan’s sent to an upscale prep school where he’s one of only a few kids of color. Struggling to fit in with his new classmates, and to maintain his friendships with his neighborhood friends, Jordan must find a way to remain true to himself as he straddles the line between two worlds.
One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia
It’s the summer of 1968, and Delphine—along with her sisters Vonetta and Fern—have traveled from Brooklyn to Oakland, California, to reunite with the mother, who left them to pursue a radical new life as a poet. When they arrive, they find their mother to be nothing like they imagined, and instead of getting to spend their summer exploring Disneyland, their mother sends them to a summer camp run by the Black Panthers.
The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson
One summer, Candice finds a letter in the attic. It’s addressed to her grandmother, who left their town of Lambert, South Carolina, in shame. Candice isn’t sure she should read it. But when she does, the letter describes a mysterious young woman, a decades-old injustice, a mysterious letter-writer, and a fortune awaiting the person who can decipher the letter and solve its clues. With the help of Brandon, the quiet boy across the street, Candice gets to work, and their investigation leads them deep into Lambert’s forgotten history.
President of the Whole Fifth Grade by Sherri Winston
After Brianna’s celebrity chef idol traces her own success back to being president of her fifth grade class, Brianna decides she too must become fifth grade class president if she wants to have her own cupcake empire one day. But Brianna has more competition than anticipated in the form of new student Jasmine, and suddenly Brianna doesn’t find working fairly alongside her friends to campaign as attractive as the opportunity to steal votes by revealing as embarrassing secret about her opponent.
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor
This Newberry-winning middle grade classic follows Cassie Logan and her family, trying to survive in the middle of the Great Depression. Their family’s land is their lifeblood, and as Cassie and her family endure a turbulent year of night riders and burning and casual degradation from white people, Cassie realizes how invaluable it is for their family to have a place of their own.
Season of Styx Malone by Kekla Magoon
Caleb Franklin and his brother Bobby Gene are looking forward to a summer of venturing beyond their tiny town, but their dad doesn’t want them straying too far. Enter new neighbor Styx Malone, 16 years old, well-traveled, and impossibly cool. Styx promises that three of them together can accomplish the Great Escalator Trade, exchanging small things for something greater over and over until they can reach their wildest dreams. But the trades get bigger, and it’s not long before the brothers are overwhelmed and it before it becomes clear that Styx hasn’t been completely honest with them.
So Done by Paula Chase
Ever since they were toddlers, Tai and Mila have been inseparable. But after a summer spent apart, Tai seems to be the only one excited to reunite. When Mila returns from her summer vacation, she’s more interested in preparing for an upcoming dance audition. And both are keeping secrets from each other: though Tai has always loved their community and enjoys keeping to its rule, Mila no longer feels safe there, and the reason is much closer to Tai than she knows.
Stars Beneath Our Feet by David Barclay Moore
Still reeling from his brother’s death in a gang shooting, Lolly is looking for a way forward, and the pressure to join a crew, as his brother did, follows him everywhere. After Lolly and his friend are attacked, it seems joining a crew might be their safest option, but instead Lolly finds solace in a gift of two giant bags of Legos. Though Lolly’s prided himself on being able to piece together Legos perfectly with the help of instructions, he doesn’t have any this time, and he’ll have to piece his own way forward.
Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky by Kwame Mbalia (October 15, Rick Riordan Presents)
Sent to Alabama to recover from an accident that killed his best friend, 7th grader Tristan Strong hasn’t felt very strong in a long time. On his first night in Alabama, a creature comes into his bedroom and steals his lost friend’s journal, and Tristan has no choice but to follow. In the chaos that ensues, Tristan punches a tree, inadvertently opening a chasm into the Midpass, a land of burning ships and volatile creatures hunting the people of our world. In Midpass, Tristan finds himself in the center of a battle that has worn down its warriors, Black folk heroes John Henry and Brer Rabbit. To close the opening to Midpass, Tristan and his new allies will have to seek out Anansi the Weaver and find a way to barter with the trickster that won’t mean Tristan losing everything else he loves.