A Family Affair:: Reading Diverse Books with your Tweens and Teens

A Family Affair:: Reading Diverse Books with your Tweens and TeensWhen I was growing up in the olden days – the 70’s and 80’s – it was almost impossible to find diverse books with protagonists who looked like me:: a curious, strong willed, opinionated and smart Black girl. Thankfully, all these years later, things have changed, and my adolescent daughters have much more to choose from when it comes to books written by Black authors about the Black experience. Additionally, today’s selections are no longer solely focused on slavery, Jim Crow or the Civil Rights Movement. While these are important parts of American history, there’s so much more to the story of African Americans in society.

My girls and I love to read and we love sharing our thoughts and opinions of books with each other. It’s kind of like a mini book club! Today, in recognition of Black History Month, I’m sharing some of our favorite recent reads with you and your family. So, I guess I should say, “Welcome to the club!” Since both of my daughters are in junior high school, the book selections are suited for tweens and teens, and enjoyable to young people {boys, too!} of all ethnicities. All of the following titles has been read by me and/or my daughters, unless otherwise noted and age recommendations are my own.

Pride by Ibi Zoboi {13+}

It’s Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, but with a modern twist! Zoboi uses the premise of Afro Latina girl {Zuri}, meets African American boy {Darius} to bring together cultures and cross social boundaries.  Against the backdrop of high school drama, college admissions stress and family pressures, these two find common ground in the most unlikely of circumstances.

While I am still a fan of Jane Austen’s novel, I appreciate the updated story line. My 13-year-old daughter immediately connected with Zuri’s independent spirit and no-nonsense approach to boys and romance. In order to make the story her own, Zoboi uses modern day Brooklyn, New York as the setting. The narrative is not so much a lesson in manners and appropriateness as the original, but much more a lesson in humility, empathy and acceptance. And, yes, it’s still about finding your first love. 

Houston Moms Blog "A Family Affair:: Reading Diverse Books with your Tweens and Teens" #houstonmomsblog #momsaroundhoustonJust Mercy by Bryan Stevenson {13+}

A Harvard law graduate, Bryan Stevenson’s memoir, Just Mercy, is a very moving and timely book detailing his work as the founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative {EJI}. EJI seeks justice for those who have been unjustly incarcerated and are otherwise treated unfairly within the criminal justice system. The book, originally published for an adult target audience, has been adapted for young adult readers, which is the version my daughters have read. The reader follows along as Stevenson tells of the first time he visited a man wrongfully condemned to death row and the pursuit of justice that followed. He speaks of other cases that led him to the belief that the criminal justice system is deeply flawed and often lacking in mercy when it comes to the most vulnerable members of society. 

This can be a difficult topic for adults to digest and even more so for young people. I love that the author took the time to make this understandable for a younger audience. Let’s face it, memoirs about social justice are not usually very interesting to junior high and high school students. Quite often our kids prefer novels of fantasy and science fiction. Here, Stevenson tells his story with such sincerity, honesty and conviction that the reader is pulled into a very compelling, yet true, journey.

Houston Moms Blog "A Family Affair:: Reading Diverse Books with your Tweens and Teens" #houstonmomsblog #momsaroundhoustonHarbor Me by Jaqueline Woodson {10+}

Poet and novelist Jaqueline Woodson’s novel, Harbor Mefollows the lives of 6 5th grade students who are struggling with various family issues. The lives of a multicultural group of both boys and girls who tend to be social outsiders, center around issues of race, immigration, poverty and incarceration. Realizing their vulnerability, their teacher provides them with the time and space to build relationships with one another and a safe space to heal.  

Jaqueline Woodson has become one of the preeminent voices in young adult African American literature. She is a masterful storyteller and I don’t think I’ve ever read one of her novels that hasn’t had a lasting emotional effect on me. Harbor Me touches on so many topics that kids are dealing with today. Woodson, simultaneously gentle, yet raw, leaves the reader feeling connected to each character. More importantly, my girls really understood the messages the author was trying to convey. The characters and stories are completely relate-able and the book is a lesson in compassion.   

Houston Moms Blog "A Family Affair:: Reading Diverse Books with your Tweens and Teens" #houstonmomsblog #momsaroundhoustonAll the Days Past, All the Days to Come, by Mildred Taylor

This is the one book that neither me or by daughters have read; however, I am a huge fan of Mildred Taylor and you should be, too! Taylor is the author of the critically acclaimed Logan Family series of diverse books which includes the classics Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry; Let the Circle Be Unbroken and The Road to Memphis. My sister gifted me Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry when I was a kid and I’ve reread it many times since. In my opinion it is one of the best books ever written and Mildred Taylor is a true literary gift. 

All the Days Past, and All the Days to Come is the final installment in the Logan Family series and was published in January 2020. The book series follows the story of the Logans, a black family of sharecroppers in Mississippi during the Great Depression progressing through the Jim Crow era. It is a tale of people determined to claim the land as their own and build a life with dignity and integrity in the face of a society that desires to deny them of what is theirs, both physically and emotionally.  It is a vibrant, beautiful and sometimes painful story that simply sings. If you have never read any of the diverse books in the series, you simply must.  My copy of this book is on order and I can’t wait to read it.

Black History Month comes around once every year, but making a commitment to reading diverse books can happen year-round. There’s a rich selection of titles and authors to choose from to make this your best year of reading yet. Hey, if by chance you and your kids actually read any of the above mentioned diverse books, please share your thoughts with me. I look forward to hearing from you and happy reading!

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