middle school

Unlock a World of Possibilities

Unlock a World of Possibilities: 100 Must-Read Books by Black Authors for Your Middle Schooler

As a parent and an educator, I know the struggle of watching a child grapple with reading. It’s like seeing a bird with clipped wings, isn’t it? But here’s the thing—sometimes the key to unlocking a love for reading is simply finding stories that resonate, stories that feel like a warm hug or a high-five.

That’s why I’ve poured my heart into curating this list of middle-grade books by Black authors. Trust me, it wasn’t a walk in the park to find these gems, but every page turned is a step toward a more inclusive and empowering world for our kids. And isn’t that what we all want?

These books are not just tales; they’re lifelines. They cover the simple yet profound aspects of life that we all navigate—friendships, family, and even the joy of a good meal. Each book is a mirror reflecting Black protagonists, penned with love by Black authors.

Whether your child is into contemporary stories or historical adventures, this list is a treasure trove that can turn “I don’t like to read” into “What’s the next book?”

To take the first step on this transformative reading journey, click on the book covers to visit their Amazon pages.

Let’s empower our kids, one book at a time, and experience the joy of watching your child fall in love with reading.

Here are 100 must-read middle school books by Black authors:

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“The Braid Girls” by Sherri Winston

1. “Betty Before X” by Ilyasah Shabazz and Renee Watson

Betty Before X is a powerful middle-grade fictionalized account of the childhood activism of Betty Shabazz, Malcolm X’s wife, written by their daughter Ilyasah Shabazz.

In Detroit, 1945, eleven-year-old Betty’s house doesn’t quite feel like home. She believes her mother loves her, but she can’t shake the feeling that her mother doesn’t want her. Church helps those worries fade, if only for a little while. The singing, the preaching, the speeches from guest activists like Paul Robeson and Thurgood Marshall stir African Americans in her community to stand up for their rights. Betty quickly finds confidence and purpose in volunteering for the Housewives League, an organization that supports black-owned businesses. Soon, the American civil rights icon we now know as Dr. Betty Shabazz is born.

Betty Before X

“The Braid Girls” by Sherri Winston

Maggie’s world is turned upside down when she learns that her father, whom she admires, has a second daughter, Callie, whom no one knew existed. But she won’t let a new family member get in the way of her summer plans with her best friend Daija. They’re determined to make tons of money braiding hair for kids around the neighborhood.

The Braid Girls

“When Winter Robeson Came” by Brenda Woods

The whole world seems to transform during the summer of 1965, when Eden’s cousin from Mississippi comes to visit her in L.A. just as the Watts Riots erupt, in this stirring new novel by Coretta Scott King Honor winner Brenda Woods.

When Eden’s cousin Winter comes for a visit, it turns out he’s not just there to sightsee. He wants to figure out what happened to his dad, who disappeared ten years earlier from the Watts area of L.A. So the cousins set out to investigate together, and what they discover brings them joy—and heartache. It also opens up a whole new understanding of their world, just as the area they’ve got their sights on explodes in a clash between the police and the Black residents. For six days Watts is like a war zone, and Eden and Winter become heroes in their own part of the drama. Eden hopes to be a composer someday, and the only way she can describe that summer is a song with an unexpected ending, full of changes in tempo and mood–totally unforgettable.

When Robeson Came by Brenda Woods

“When Life Gives You Mangos” by Kereen Getten

Named to Oprah Magazine’s Best Caribbean Books for Your 2021 reading list, imagination and adventure run wild in the most talked about middle-grade debut of the year! 

A small village on a Jamaican island.
A girl who doesn’t remember the previous summer.
A best friend who is no longer acting like one; a new girl who fills that hole in her heart.
A summer of finding fallen mangos, creating made-up games, and dancing in the rain.
Secrets she keeps from others…and herself.
The courage to face the truth even in the toughest of storms.

Inspired by the author’s childhood experiences, When Life Give You Mangos is a celebration of island life as well as a rich, lyrical mystery. 

When Life Gives You Mangos by Kereen Getten

“Love Like Sky” by Leslie Youngblood

In this heartfelt middle-grade novel that “brims with charm and compassion” (Vashti Harrison, New York Times bestselling author of Little Leaders), eleven-year-old G-baby must bring her family together when her little sister faces a dangerous illness.

G-baby and her younger sister, Peaches, are still getting used to their “blended-up” family. They live with Mama and Frank out in the suburbs, and they haven’t seen their real daddy much since he married Millicent. G-baby misses her best friend back in Atlanta and is crushed that her glamorous new stepsister, Tangie, wants nothing to do with her.

Love Like Sky by Leslie Youngblood

“Blended” by Sharon Draper

Eleven-year-old Isabella’s blended family is more divided than ever in this “timely but genuine” (Publishers Weekly) story about divorce and racial identity from the award-winning and New York Times bestselling author of Out of My Mind, Sharon M. Draper.

Eleven-year-old Isabella’s parents are divorced, so she has to switch lives every week: One week she’s Isabella with her dad, his girlfriend Anastasia, and her son Darren living in a fancy house where they are one of the only black families in the neighborhood. The next week she’s Izzy with her mom and her boyfriend John-Mark in a small, not-so-fancy house that she loves.

Her dad is black, her mom is white, and strangers are always commenting: “You’re so exotic!” “You look so unusual.” “But what are you really?” She knows what they’re really saying: “You don’t look like your parents.” “You’re different.” “What race are you really?” And when her parents, who both get engaged at the same time, get in their biggest fight ever, Isabella doesn’t just feel divided, she feels ripped in two. What does it mean to be half white or half black? To belong to half mom and half dad? And if you’re only seen as half of this and half of that, how can you ever feel whole?

Blended by Sharon Draper

“From the Desk of Zoe Washington” by Janae Marks

#1 Kids Indie Next List * Parents Magazine Best Book of the Year * Chicago Public Library Best of the Best Book of the Year * SLJ Best Book of the Year * Kirkus Best Book of the Year * Junior Library Guild Selection * Edgar Award Nominee * Four Starred Reviews Bank Street Best Children’s Book of the Year An Indie Bestseller *

From debut author, Janae Marks, comes a captivating story full of heart, as one courageous girl questions assumptions, searches for the truth, and does what she believes is right—even in the face of great opposition.

From the Desk of Zoe Washington by Janae Marks

“New Kid” by Jerry Craft

Winner of the Newbery Medal, Coretta Scott King Author Award, and Kirkus Prize for Young Readers’ Literature! 

Seventh grader Jordan Banks loves nothing more than drawing cartoons about his life. But instead of sending him to the art school of his dreams, his parents enroll him in a prestigious private school known for its academics, where Jordan is one of the few kids of color in his entire grade.

As he makes the daily trip from his Washington Heights apartment to the upscale Riverdale Academy Day School, Jordan soon finds himself torn between two worlds—and not really fitting into either one. Can Jordan learn to navigate his new school culture while keeping his neighborhood friends and staying true to himself?

New Kid by Jerry Craft

“Genesis Begins Again” by Alicia Williams

This deeply sensitive and “compelling” (BCCB) debut novel tells the story of a thirteen-year-old who must overcome internalized racism and a verbally abusive family to finally learn to love herself.

There are ninety-six reasons why thirteen-year-old Genesis dislikes herself. She knows the exact number because she keeps a list:
-Because her family is always being put out of their house.
-Because her dad has a gambling problem. And maybe a drinking problem too.
-Because Genesis knows this is all her fault.
-Because she wasn’t born looking like Mama.
-Because she is too black.

Genesis is determined to fix her family, and she’s willing to try anything to do so…even if it means harming herself in the process. But when Genesis starts to find a thing or two she actually likes about herself, she discovers that changing her own attitude is the first step in helping change others.

Genesis Begins Again by Alicia Williams