25 Books Featuring Black Characters

As I posted earlier in February, I always craved representation in the books I read in school. Most of the books that we covered that featured Black characters dealt with issues of slavery or the Civil Rights Movement. 

While these are important aspects of Black culture, they are not the only way we should be represented. I am also a big believer of the idea that Black history should be learned about all year long, so this post is the start of me sharing information about Black culture in the form of literature and language.

Below is a list of the 25 books I recommend that can provide escapism and different views of Black culture whether they are realistic or pure fantasy.

Picture Books

Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena

Every Sunday after church, CJ and his grandma ride the bus across town. But today, CJ wonders why they don’t own a car like his friend Colby. Why doesn’t he have an iPod like the boys on the bus? How come they always have to get off in the dirty part of town? Each question is met with an encouraging answer from grandma, who helps him see the beauty—and fun—in their routine and the world around them.

Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut by Derrick Barnes

The barbershop is where the magic happens. Boys go in as lumps of clay and, with princely robes draped around their shoulders, a dab of cool shaving cream on their foreheads, and a slow, steady cut, they become royalty. That crisp yet subtle line makes boys sharper, more visible, more aware of every great thing that could happen to them when they look good: lesser grades turn into As; girls take notice; even a mother’s hug gets a little tighter. Everyone notices.

A fresh cut makes boys fly.

Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall

Working up the courage to take a big, important leap is hard, but Jabari is almost absolutely ready to make a giant splash.

Jabari is definitely ready to jump off the diving board. He’s finished his swimming lessons and passed his swim test, and he’s a great jumper, so he’s not scared at all. “Looks easy,” says Jabari, watching the other kids take their turns. But when his dad squeezes his hand, Jabari squeezes back. He needs to figure out what kind of special jump to do anyway, and he should probably do some stretches before climbing up onto the diving board. 

Hair Love by Matthew Cherry and Vashiti Harrison

Zuri’s hair has a mind of its own. It kinks, coils, and curls every which way. Zuri knows it’s beautiful. When mommy does Zuri’s hair, she feels like a superhero. But when mommy is away, it’s up to daddy to step in! And even though daddy has a lot to learn, he LOVES his Zuri. And he’ll do anything to make her—and her hair—happy.

Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beauty

Scientist Ada has a boundless imagination and has always been hopelessly curious. Why are there pointy things stuck to a rose? Why are there hairs growing inside your nose? When her house fills with a horrific, toe-curling smell, Ada knows it’s up to her to find the source. What would you do with a problem like this? Not afraid of failure, Ada embarks on a fact-finding mission and conducts scientific experiments, all in the name of discovery. But, this time, her experiments lead to even more stink and get her into trouble!

Juvenile Literature

My Life as an Ice Cream Sandwich by Ibi Zobi

In the summer of 1984, 12-year-old Ebony-Grace Norfleet makes the trip from Huntsville, Alabama, to Harlem, where she’ll spend a few weeks with her father while her mother deals with some trouble that’s arisen for Ebony-Grace’s beloved grandfather, Jeremiah. Jeremiah Norfleet is a bit of a celebrity in Huntsville, where he was one of the first black engineers to integrate NASA two decades earlier. And ever since his granddaughter came to live with him when she was little, he’s nurtured her love of all things outer space and science fiction. So even as Ebony-Grace struggled to make friends among her peers, she could always rely on her grandfather and the imaginary worlds they created together. 

In Harlem, however, she faces a whole new challenge. Harlem in 1984 is an exciting and terrifying place for a sheltered girl from Hunstville, and her first instinct is to retreat into her imagination. But soon 126th Street begins to reveal that it has more in common with her beloved sci-fi adventures than she ever thought possible, and by summer’s end, Ebony-Grace discovers that gritty and graffitied Harlem has a place for a girl whose eyes are always on the stars.

The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson

The letter waits in a book, in a box, in an attic, in an old house in Lambert, South Carolina. It’s waiting for Candice Miller.

When Candice finds the letter, she isn’t sure she should read it. It’s addressed to her grandmother, after all, who left Lambert in a cloud of shame. But the letter describes a young woman named Siobhan Washington. An injustice that happened decades ago. A mystery enfolding the letter-writer. And the fortune that awaits the person who solves the puzzle. Grandma tried and failed. But now Candice has another chance.

So with the help of Brandon Jones, the quiet boy across the street, she begins to decipher the clues in the letter. The challenge will lead them deep into Lambert’s history, full of ugly deeds, forgotten heroes, and one great love; and deeper into their own families, with their own unspoken secrets. Can they find the fortune and fulfill the letter’s promise before the summer ends?

Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky by Kwame Mbalia

Seventh-grader Tristan Strong feels anything but strong ever since he failed to save his best friend when they were in a bus accident together. All he has left of Eddie is the journal his friend wrote stories in. Tristan is dreading the month he’s going to spend on his grandparents’ farm in Alabama, where he’s being sent to heal from the tragedy. But on his first night there, a sticky creature shows up in his bedroom and steals Eddie’s journal. Tristan chases after it — is that a doll? — and a tug-of-war ensues between them underneath a Bottle Tree. 

In a last attempt to wrestle the journal out of the creature’s hands, Tristan punches the tree, accidentally ripping open a chasm into the MidPass, a volatile place with a burning sea, haunted bone ships, and iron monsters that are hunting the inhabitants of this world. Tristan finds himself in the middle of a battle that has left black American gods John Henry and Brer Rabbit exhausted. In order to get back home, Tristan and these new allies will need to entice the god Anansi, the Weaver, to come out of hiding and seal the hole in the sky. But bartering with the trickster Anansi always comes at a price. Can Tristan save this world before he loses more of the things he loves?

Hide and Seeker by Daka Hermon

I went up the hill, the hill was muddy, stomped my toe and made it bloody, should I wash it?

Justin knows that something is wrong with his best friend.Zee went missing for a year. And when he came back, he was . . . different. Nobody knows what happened to him. At Zee’s welcome home party, Justin and the neighborhood crew play Hide and Seek. But it goes wrong. Very wrong.

One by one, everyone who plays the game disappears, pulled into a world of nightmares come to life. Justin and his friends realize this horrible place is where Zee had been trapped. All they can do now is hide from the Seeker. 

The Only Black Girls in Town by Brandy Colbert

Beach-loving surfer Alberta has been the only black girl in town for years. Alberta’s best friend, Laramie, is the closest thing she has to a sister, but there are some things even Laramie can’t understand. When the bed and breakfast across the street finds new owners, Alberta is ecstatic to learn the family is black-and they have a 12-year-old daughter just like her.

Alberta is positive she and the new girl, Edie, will be fast friends. But while Alberta loves being a California girl, Edie misses her native Brooklyn and finds it hard to adapt to small-town living.

When the girls discover a box of old journals in Edie’s attic, they team up to figure out exactly who’s behind them and why they got left behind. Soon they discover shocking and painful secrets of the past and learn that nothing is quite what it seems.

Young Adult Fiction

Cinderella is Dead by Kalynn Baron

It’s 200 years after Cinderella found her prince, but the fairy tale is over. Teen girls are now required to appear at the Annual Ball, where the men of the kingdom select wives based on a girl’s display of finery. If a suitable match is not found, the girls not chosen are never heard from again.

Sixteen-year-old Sophia would much rather marry Erin, her childhood best friend, than parade in front of suitors. At the ball, Sophia makes the desperate decision to flee, and finds herself hiding in Cinderella’s mausoleum. There, she meets Constance, the last known descendant of Cinderella and her stepsisters. Together they vow to bring down the king once and for all–and in the process, they learn that there’s more to Cinderella’s story than they ever knew . . .

A Phoenix Must Burn, edited by Patrice Caldwell

Sixteen tales by bestselling and award-winning authors that explore the Black experience through fantasy, science fiction, and magic.

Evoking Beyoncé’s Lemonade for a teen audience, these authors who are truly Octavia Butler’s heirs, have woven worlds to create a stunning narrative that centers Black women and gender nonconforming individuals. A Phoenix First Must Burn will take you on a journey from folktales retold to futuristic societies and everything in between. Filled with stories of love and betrayal, strength and resistance, this collection contains an array of complex and true-to-life characters in which you cannot help but see yourself reflected. Witches and scientists, sisters and lovers, priestesses and rebels: the heroines of A Phoenix First Must Burn shine brightly. You will never forget them.

Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender

Felix Love has never been in love—and, yes, he’s painfully aware of the irony. He desperately wants to know what it’s like and why it seems so easy for everyone but him to find someone. What’s worse is that, even though he is proud of his identity, Felix also secretly fears that he’s one marginalization too many—Black, queer, and transgender—to ever get his own happily-ever-after.

When an anonymous student begins sending him transphobic messages—after publicly posting Felix’s deadname alongside images of him before he transitioned—Felix comes up with a plan for revenge. What he didn’t count on: his catfish scenario landing him in a quasi–love triangle….

But as he navigates his complicated feelings, Felix begins a journey of questioning and self-discovery that helps redefine his most important relationship: how he feels about himself.

The Meet Cute Project by Rhiannon Richardson

Mia’s friends love rom-coms. Mia hates them. They’re silly, contrived, and not at all realistic. Besides, there are more important things to worry about—like how to handle living with her bridezilla sister, Sam, who’s never appreciated Mia, and surviving junior year juggling every school club offered and acing all of her classes.

So when Mia is tasked with finding a date to her sister’s wedding, her options are practically nonexistent.

Mia’s friends, however, have an idea. It’s a little crazy, a little out there, and a lot inspired by the movies they love that Mia begrudgingly watches too.

Mia just needs a meet-cute. 

Early Departures by Justin A. Reynolds

Jamal’s best friend, Q, doesn’t know he’s about to die . . . again.

He also doesn’t know that Jamal tried to save his life, rescuing him from drowning only to watch Q die later in the hospital. Even more complicated, Jamal and Q haven’t been best friends in two years—not since Jamal’s parents died in a car accident, leaving him and his sister to carry on without them. Grief swallowed Jamal whole, and he blamed Q for causing the accident.

But what if Jamal could have a second chance? An impossible chance that would grant him the opportunity to say goodbye to his best friend? A new health-care technology allows Q to be reanimated—brought back to life like the old Q again. But there’s a catch: Q will only reanimate for a short time before he dies . . . forever.

Jamal is determined to make things right with Q, but grief is hard to shake. And he can’t tell Q why he’s suddenly trying to be friends with him again. Because Q has no idea that he died, and Q’s mom is not about to let anyone ruin the miracle by telling him. How can Jamal fix his friendship with Q if he can’t tell him the truth?

Adult Fiction

Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid

In the midst of a family crisis one late evening, white blogger Alix Chamberlain calls her African American babysitter, Emira, asking her to take toddler Briar to the local market for distraction. There, the security guard accuses Emira of kidnapping Briar, and Alix’s efforts to right the situation turn out to be good intentions selfishly mismanaged.

Heads of the Colored People by Nafissa Thompson-Spires

A stunning new talent in literary fiction, Nafissa Thompson-Spires grapples with black identity and the contemporary middle class in these compelling, boundary-pushing vignettes.

Each captivating story plunges headfirst into the lives of new, utterly original characters. Some are darkly humorous—from two mothers exchanging snide remarks through notes in their kids’ backpacks, to the young girl contemplating how best to notify her Facebook friends of her impending suicide—while others are devastatingly poignant—a new mother and funeral singer who is driven to madness with grief for the young black boys who have fallen victim to gun violence, or the teen who struggles between her upper middle class upbringing and her desire to fully connect with black culture.

Swing Time by Zadie Smith

Two brown girls dream of being dancers—but only one, Tracey, has talent. The other has ideas: about rhythm and time, about black bodies and black music, about what constitutes a tribe, or makes a person truly free. It’s a close but complicated childhood friendship that ends abruptly in their early twenties, never to be revisited, but never quite forgotten, either.

Dazzlingly energetic and deeply human, Swing Time is a story about friendship and music and stubborn roots, about how we are shaped by these things and how we can survive them. Moving from northwest London to West Africa, it is an exuberant dance to the music of time. 

Washington Black by Esi Edugyan

Washington Black is an eleven-year-old field slave who knows no other life than the Barbados sugar plantation where he was born.

When his master’s eccentric brother chooses him to be his manservant, Wash is terrified of the cruelties he is certain await him. But Christopher Wilde, or “Titch,” is a naturalist, explorer, scientist, inventor, and abolitionist.

He initiates Wash into a world where a flying machine can carry a man across the sky; where two people, separated by an impossible divide, might begin to see each other as human; and where a boy born in chains can embrace a life of dignity and meaning. But when a man is killed and a bounty is placed on Wash’s head, Titch abandons everything to save him.

What follows is their flight along the eastern coast of America, and, finally, to a remote outpost in the Arctic, where Wash, left on his own, must invent another new life, one which will propel him further across the globe. 

Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James

Tracker is known far and wide for his skills as a hunter: “He has a nose,” people say. Engaged to track down a mysterious boy who disappeared three years earlier, Tracker breaks his own rule of always working alone when he finds himself part of a group that comes together to search for the boy. The band is a hodgepodge, full of unusual characters with secrets of their own, including a shape-shifting man-animal known as Leopard.

Graphic Novels

Moon Girl and the Devil Dinosaur by Amy Reeder

Lunella Lafayette is an inhuman preteen genius who wants to change the world!

That job would be a lot easier if she wasn’t living in mortal fear of her latent Inhuman gene. There’s no telling what she’ll turn into – but Luna’s got a plan. All she needs is an Omni-Wave Projector. Easy, right? That is, until a red-scaled beast is teleported from the prehistoric past to a far-flung future we call…today! 

Together they’re the most Marvelous Team-Up of all – the Inhuman Moon Girl and time-tossed Devil Dinosaur! But will they be BFFs forever, or just until DD’s dinner time? And Lunella soon learns that there are other problems with a having a titanic T. Rex as a pet in the modern-day Marvel Universe. School, for one. Monster hunters are another – especially when they’re the Totally Awesome Hulk! Then there’s the fact that everyone’s favorite dino didn’t journey through time alone. Can Lunella handle all this turmoil… and keep herself from transforming into an Inhuman monster? 

Bingo Love by Tee Franklin

Bingo Love is a story of a same-sex romance that spans over 60 years. A chance meeting at church bingo in 1963 brings Hazel Johnson and Mari McCray together. Through their formative years, these two women develop feelings for each other and finally profess their love for one another.

Forced apart by their families and society, Hazel and Mari both married young men and had families. Decades later, now in their mid 60’s, Hazel and Mari are reunited again at a bingo hall. Realizing their love for each other is still alive, what these grandmothers do next takes absolute strength and courage.

Black Sands: The Seven Kingdoms by Manuel Godoy

Black Sands, the Seven Kingdoms is an epic tale about ancient Egyptian mythology. The story follows the young prince Ausar and his kin as he travel the world trying to prove he has what it takes to become Pharaoh. A war breaks out between seven kingdoms and the kids are dragged right into the center of it. 

Quincredible by Rodney Barnes

Invulnerability is a pretty useless superpower if you’ve only got a one-hundred pound frame to back it up. That’s what Quinton West’s life became when he went from small guy who got beat up to the small guy who can’t get hurt after the meteor shower dubbed “The Event” gifted him the power of invulnerability but no other powers to compliment it.

But there’s more to Quin than meets the eye, and after some encouragement from his new mentor—a local New Orleans–based superhero named Glow—Quin realizes that he can use his quirky hobby of creating Rube Goldberg devices to outsmart the opposition. But being a hero paints a target on your back, and Quin has to risk it all to join the ranks of the superheroes he looks up to. It’s a good thing he can take a punch.

Black Panther: Nation Under Our Feet by Ta-Nehisi Coates

A new era for the Black Panther starts here! “A Nation Under Our Feet” is a story about dramatic upheaval in Wakanda and the Black Panther’s struggle to do right by his people as their ruler. The indomitable will of Wakanda — the famed African nation known for its vast wealth, advanced technology and warrior traditions — has long been reflected in the will of its monarchs, the Black Panthers. But now the current Black Panther, T’Challa, finds that will tested by a superhuman terrorist group called The People that has sparked a violent uprising among the citizens of Wakanda. T’Challa knows the country must change to survive — the question is, will the Black Panther survive the change?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s