The best YA and MG books about the Black experience

Shannon Gibney Author Of See No Color
By Shannon Gibney

Who am I?

I love stories and storytelling of all kinds – from YA to memoir to journalism to children's picture books. If there is a story worth telling I will pursue it, regardless of genre. I'm particularly fascinated by stories that are out of the mainstream, are hidden, or come from people and cultures at the intersections of place, race, and gender. See No Color, about a mixed Black girl adopted into a white family, was my first YA novel, and it was followed by Dream Country, which chronicles five generations of a Liberian and Liberian American family. I co-edited an anthology on BIPOC women's experiences with miscarriage and infant loss, What God Is Honored Here?

I wrote...

See No Color

By Shannon Gibney,

Book cover of See No Color

What is my book about?

Alexandra Kirtridge is a 16-year-old baseball prodigy. She's also a mixed Black girl adopted into a white family, who wonders about her racial identity, where she fits in in her family and among her peers. Then she discovers letters from her Black birth father that her white adoptive parents have kept from her and is propelled into a journey that changes her life forever.

The books I picked & why

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The Stars and the Blackness Between Them

By Junauda Petrus,

Book cover of The Stars and the Blackness Between Them

Why this book?

This beautifully-written queer love story is set in Minneapolis, and centers on Mabel and Audre – two girls from very different backgrounds who find themselves falling in love. Audre has just moved from Trinidad, sent by her conservative mother to live with a father she barely knows, in an effort to "correct" her sexuality. Mabel is just beginning to understand the deep feelings she has for girls when she is struck with a mysterious illness. Published in 2019, The Stars and the Blackness Between Them won a Coretta Scott King Honor award, and once you sample its gorgeous language and utterly engrossing characters, you will see why.

The Hate U Give

By Angie Thomas,

Book cover of The Hate U Give

Why this book?

This one may be a no-brainer, but it nevertheless must be mentioned in a list like this. By now, most of America has read this searing page-turner about a teenage girl who becomes part of the movement to end police violence against Black folks, after her close friend is murdered. If you are one of the few who still hasn't, make it a priority to do you won't regret it. Thomas' haunting portrayal of a community reckoning with its ongoing racism and racial bias through the lens of one girl and one family is utterly compelling, as well as deeply necessary. I couldn't put it down.

Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You: A Remix of the National Book Award-winning Stamped from the Beginning

By Jason Reynolds, Ibram X. Kendi,

Book cover of Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You: A Remix of the National Book Award-winning Stamped from the Beginning

Why this book?

My son loved this adaptation of Ibram X. Kendi's National Book Award-winning book, Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America. "It shows you things that are hidden," he said. "And reveals things that America doesn't want you to know about." This 12-year-old tore through the book, prepared for youth by brilliant KidLit writer Jason Reynolds. He found it utterly readable, and very compelling. If every middle and high school history class had Stamped as a required text, we would undoubtedly be having very different (meaning: better) discussions about race in this country.

Star Child: A Biographical Constellation of Octavia Estelle Butler

By Ibi Zoboi,

Book cover of Star Child: A Biographical Constellation of Octavia Estelle Butler

Why this book?

My love affair with Octavia Butler began early when I encountered her short story collection, Bloodchild, in college. I was so taken with the questions she was asking about the nature of being human, our seemingly innate need to form a hierarchy and dominate others, and possibilities for freedom and transformation. The best part was that she did it all through a sci-fi that she infused with a distinctly Black feminist perspective. I had never read anything like it. And now, we finally have a biography for young people (and really for everyone) about her life, her mind, and preoccupations as a young woman. Ibi Zoboi has deftly penned what she is calling a "biographical constellation" of a young Butler, written primarily in short poems, but also including micro-essays on the social context of her youth, and copies of some of her first writings. Anyone with an imagination will love this book.

Look Both Ways: A Tale Told in Ten Blocks

By Jason Reynolds, Alexander Nabaum (illustrator),

Book cover of Look Both Ways: A Tale Told in Ten Blocks

Why this book?

In 10 short stories set in a single neighborhood in the city, Jason Reynolds skillfully paints a layered picture of adolescence. Each story features a different block in the neighborhood, and a different group of kids confronting bullies, trying to tell their crushes how they feel, and generally inelegantly negotiating the wilds of growing up. The characters are as funny as they are believable, and their approaches to the issues they face will elicit compassion from any reader. 

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