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Reading Pathways

Reading Pathways: Kekla Magoon

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Tirzah Price

Senior Contributing Editor

Most of Tirzah Price's life decisions have been motivated by a desire to read as many books as humanly possible. Tirzah holds an MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts, and has worked as an independent bookseller and librarian. She’s also the author of the Jane Austen Murder Mysteries, published by HarperTeen, and Bibliologist at TBR: Tailored Book Recommendations. Follow her on Twitter @TirzahPrice.

If you’re a reader of kidlit, then it’s more than likely that you’ve heard of Kekla Magoon, prolific author of over 20 books for children and young adults. In addition to writing books for nearly every age and across a wide range of genres — from historical fiction to sci-fi to contemporary realistic to picture book biographies — Magoon has also garnered multiple awards and honors for her work. She’s the winner of the John Steptoe New Talent Award, the Boston Globe Horn Book Award, and the NAACP Image Award. She’s collected numerous Coretta Scott King Honors as well as being a National Book Award longlist and finalist author. In 2021, she received the prestigious Margaret Edwards Award, given by the American Library Association for a lasting contribution to young adult literature.

Across the wide-ranging genres and topics of her work, Magoon often writes about teens and kids facing injustice in everyday life while still dealing with issues that feel relatable, such as friendship drama, characters wanting to prove themselves, and the ups and downs of coming of age in a complicated world. Her work can run the range from serious to funny, but her larger-than-life characters ground her fiction and make them relatable to readers. When it comes to her nonfiction, Magoon tends to write about Civil Rights and American history in the second half of the 20th century, and she’s written seven biographies for very young writers about famous and influential Black leaders.

There really is no wrong place to start in reading Magoon’s work! One of her more recognized works is X: A Novel, co-written with Ilyasah Shabazz, which is a novel account of Malcolm X’s teenage years. That’s a great novel to pick up, but below are three books that showcase Magoon’s range as an author and are all excellent entry points into her work!

How It Went Down cover

How It Went Down

This YA novel is certain to be a discussion starter and is perfect for those who are looking for readalikes to The Hate U Give. When Tariq Johnson, a Black teen, is shot by a white man who claims self-defense, Tariq’s entire community is rocked to its core. Magoon takes a premise that feels as though it might be ripped from the headlines and skillfully explores the people who surround Tariq and those who are affected by his death and the fallout. As readers learn about the people who think that they know what went down and those who are further removed from Tariq’s death by affected nonetheless, it becomes clear that some of the stories conflict, and a more nuanced and complicated picture of Tariq emerges.

cover of The Season of Styx Malone by

The Season of Styx Malone

Caleb and Bobby Green are always on the lookout for their next big adventure or escapade, and they know how to make a good deal. This summer, they’re itching for something more exciting than their sheltered small-town life, which is when they meet Styx Malone, an older boy who enlightens them about the Great Escalator Trade — trading something small for something slightly better. Styx has ideas that Caleb is especially excited about, but when his older friend’s secrets come to light, Caleb finds himself viewing everything — Styx, his family, and his own dreams — in a new light. This is a hilarious middle grade novel with tons of adventure and humor, but it has a sober undercurrent that will be a great conversation starter for young readers.

revolution in our time book cover

Revolution in Our Time

This nonfiction book is aimed at young adult readers, but it’s one that is essential reading for even adults and has garnered numerous awards and honors. It is the account of the Black Panther Party, which has often been maligned and misunderstood throughout history. The Black Panther Party was founded as a community aid group to teach Black Americans about their history and to offer support and community to people who were otherwise targeted or vulnerable. As a result, the Panthers faced immense backlash from the American government, and Magoon details the challenges they faced. This account is filled with photographs, news clippings, and plenty of supplemental material that makes history come alive and helps contextualize the history of the Panthers in the history of slavery, Civil Rights, and Black Lives Matter.

Looking for more reading recommendations? Check out our 20 must-read books about social justice for young adult and middle grade readers!