January 19, 2022
I recently saw a surprising statistic about children’s books. After white characters, the second most common protagonist in juvenile literature are animals. Black lead characters come in third. There are more books with animals as the hero than children of color. Being able to see yourself in characters is very important to young people, but for children of color, finding a book that reflects them can be a challenge.
So, in honor of Dr. King’s birthday this month, here are some great books that feature African American boys in the lead role:
- Black Boy Joy edited by Kwame Mbalia – These short stories explore the happy times that are so often missing from literature about Black boyhood. From a child who shares his love of cooking with his grandmother to a young man learning that it is okay to dance even if people laugh.
- Garvey’s Choice by Nikki Grimes – Garvey feels like a disappointment to his Dad. He is overweight and prefers Star Trek to football. However, when Garvey realizes he has a talent for singing, he discovers he has more in common with his father than he imagined.
- Playing the Cards You’re Dealt by Varian Johnson – Anthony learned to love the game of Spades from his Dad. When the yearly tournament is about to take place, he plans on winning it to make his father proud. Unfortunately, Ant’s father seems to be back to his old habits of gambling and drinking.
- Black Brother, Black Brother by Jewell Parker Rhodes – Donte’s father is white, and his mother is Black, so he and his brother look very different. Trey is light-skinned, while Donte is the spitting image of Mom. Because of this, the boys are treated very differently at the private school they attend. After being bullied by a member of the fencing team, Donte decides to learn the craft from a retired Olympian to prove that he is more than just “the Black brother.”
- The Usual Suspects by Maurice Broaddus – Thelonious is stuck in special education with other kids who have “issues.” He is the first to get questioned whenever anything happens, including when a gun is found nearby. This is way beyond any prank he would ever pull, but now under suspicion, Thelonious must find the culprit and clear his name.
- EllRay Jakes is Magic by Sally Warner – EllRay’s class is horrified when they are told they must audition for the school talent show, so they all try to figure out acts guaranteed to fail the audition. But when EllRay’s magic act ends up making the grade, he is desperate to get out of performing.
- Donovan’s Double Trouble by Monalisa DeGross – Donovan’s trouble with his math is exacerbated by concern over his Uncle Vic. Grandmother wants Vic to do a program for Heritage Week, but Uncle Vic is still adjusting after losing both of his legs. Donovan realizes he must start over with math, and Vic must start over in life.
You will find all of these titles and many more on the shelves of MCPL. Happy Martin Luther King Day!