Black representation in books is crucial to allow Black readers to feel heard and seen. For a long time, a disproportionate number of books published in North America were by white writers. In recent years, however, publishers have been trying to even the playing field by focusing on #ownvoices, a movement about introducing novels from people of other groups. With representation in literature progressing, we can do a better job of staying educated about both Black history and major issues that POC continue to face today.
I have put together a list of five books of different ages and genres that have influenced this fight against the lack of Black representation. They vary from fantasy featuring strong and inspiring Black characters, to more serious novels focusing on activism and racism, making them all a great read for Black History Month. Or any month, for that matter!
Heads of the Colored People by Nafissa Thompson-Spires is a collection of short stories told from the point of view of 12 different, captivating characters. Each story varies, showing humorous tones and serious and poignant moments while examining the notion of Black identity. Thompson-Spires consistently engages in the “ongoing conversations about race and identity politics.”
Marley Dias Gets It Done, written by activist Marley Dias, carries a humorous and inspiring tone for younger ages. Marley shares her journey of how she began her movement #1000blackgirlbooks, and touches on topics such as political theory, personal narrative, and even ranking Disney princesses according to their wholeness. It also serves as a self-help manual by including tips on activism.
Have I Ever Told You Black Lives Matter, by Shani Mahiri King, is a great book to educate children and celebrate Black accomplishments in music, art, journalism, politics, science, entertainment, and sports. This book consistently affirms the message that Black Lives Matter. Although this is evident, its importance needs to be frequently repeated and acknowledged by children from an early age. And this book does just the job.
Punching the Air tells a story in-verse of a young black boy struggling in jail for being wrongly convicted of a crime. The novel addresses topics such as racism, coming of age, police brutality, discrimination against the Black community, family dynamics, and the injustices that follow these cases. It has been described by readers as a “painful and beautiful novel.”
Kingdom of Souls adds a touch of magic and fantasy to Black History Month while featuring a strong and inspiring Black woman. In the novel, she has no gifts and must bargain for the power to fight her own mother’s dark schemes. She becomes desperate enough to turn to a forbidden, dangerous ritual where she’ll have to buy magic—by trading away years of her own life.