Books That Help Teens Make Sense of Racial Conflict

In the wise words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. "A riot is the language of the unheard." In fact, I'm not even calling what's happening in Minneapolis and Louisville, New York City and Denver, Columbus, Phoenix and Memphis riots anymore. I'm adopting the word academic, author, and activist Marc Lamont Hill suggests we use instead: rebellion.

Black people of color are fighting back against insitutionalized racism and systemic oppression that stretches historically to slavery. Lawyer and social justice activist Bryan Stevenson says "Slavery didn't end in 1865, it just evolved." 

Teens and tweens may have a difficult time understanding what is happening in our world today. Seeing a group of people set a building on fire or loot a store might be interpreted as nothing more than irrational destruction. But there is more to the story. Helping our young people understand the history of what black people of color have been through in the United States and the modern experience many teens and tweens of color continue to have in our country is our work as librarians, educators, and parents. 

In honor of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and all of the black lives lost at the hands of civilian or police violence, I have compiled this list of books that can offer teens and tweens another perspective on racial conflict or validate their own lived experiences and hopefully help them feel less alone. 

Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You

This is NOT a history book. This is a book about the here and now. A book to help us better understand why we are where we are. A book about race.

The construct of race has always been used to gain and keep power, to create dynamics that separate and silence. This remarkable reimagining of Dr. Ibram X. Kendi's National Book Award-winning Stamped from the Beginning reveals the history of racist ideas in America, and inspires hope for an antiracist future.

I'm Not Dying With You Tonight

Over the course of one night, two girls with two very different backgrounds must rely on each other to get through the violent race riot that has enveloped their city.

All American Boys

In this Coretta Scott King Honor Award–winning novel, two teens—one black, one white—grapple with the repercussions of a single violent act that leaves their school, their community, and, ultimately, the country bitterly divided by racial tension.

Tyler Johnson Was Here

"When Marvin Johnson's twin brother, Tyler, is shot and killed by a police officer, Marvin must fight injustice to learn the true meaning of freedom"-- Provided by publisher.

The Hate U Give

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer.

Anger Is A Gift

Moss Jeffries is many things—considerate student, devoted son, loyal friend and affectionate boyfriend, enthusiastic nerd. But sometimes Moss still wishes he could be someone else—someone without panic attacks, someone whose father was still alive, someone who hadn’t become a rallying point for a community because of one horrible night. 

How It Went Down

When sixteen-year-old Tariq Johnson is shot to death, his community is thrown into an uproar because Tariq was black and the shooter, Jack Franklin, is white, and in the aftermath everyone has something to say, but no two accounts of the events agree.

X

Co-written by Malcolm X's daughter, this riveting and revealing novel follows the formative years of the man whose words and actions shook the world. X follows Malcolm from his childhood to his imprisonment for theft at age twenty, when he found the faith that would lead him to forge a new path and command a voice that still resonates today.

Dear Martin

Writing letters to the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., seventeen-year-old college-bound Justyce McAllister struggles to face the reality of race relations today and how they are shaping him.

Lies We Tell Ourselves

In 1959 Virginia, Sarah, a black student who is one of the first to attend a newly integrated school, forces Linda, a white integration opponent's daughter, to confront harsh truths when they work together on a school project.

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