Earlier this year, a piece on NPR highlighted how black girls are pushed out of schools at higher rates than their white counterparts. We have seen this front and center, too, thanks to the horrific and heart-shattering video of a school police officer assaulting a black girl in school. We saw it front and center this summer as a police officer in McKinney, Texas, manhandled a black teen girl. Black lives matter, and that mattering extends to those teen black girls who deserve to be listened to, acknowledged, boosted, and treated as human beings with immense potential, perspective, and possibility ahead of them. In this case, I hope a teacher or librarian or reader finds one of these books featuring great black female leads and understands that their story — their life — matters hugely. All are YA books featuring black girls front and center and they include fiction and some non-fiction.
Talk to a YA editor or take a stroll through that section at your local bookstore and it's evident that there's a growing number of books aimed at the young adult market—and those numbers include more titles geared specifically to African-American teens. As publishers are addressing the lack of material aimed at this market—many African-American teens have turned to popular adult authors because of this dearth—there has clearly been some improvement. These days publishers are offering black teens books that deal with serious issues, such as drug addiction and pregnancy, as well as pure entertainment; they're looking to introduce new authors and experiment with graphic novels and even historical fiction for teens, all while looking for creative ways to make sure parents, teachers and librarians—as well as the kids themselves—know what's on their lists specifically for black teens. Publishers Weekly talked with a number of editors and category buyers as well as an agent specializing in titles for African-American teens in order to get a better view of the past, present and future of titles aimed at black teenagers. There is also a selected listing of adult and children's African American titles online. Although black teens read plenty of books that feature no prominent black characters—Stephenie Meyer's titles, for example—the emergence of more young adult publishing programs geared toward African-Americans is in many ways a response to demand. Most editors contacted by PW agree that the publishing industry is starting to understand that black teens not only want to read about themselves but are also an economically viable readership.
As a child, my mother brought home a bundle of books every Friday evening. The genres would vary; poetry, fiction, plays, and more. She always made sure I had an abundance of texts to choose from. I would sit in a nook of our home and devour them one by one, waiting for Friday to arrive so I could feel new spines against my palms. One Friday, I said something to my mother that revolutionized our literary relationship. She went back to the store the next day to pick up some new books, ones that I might prefer.
So, in honor of Black History Month, we want to take a look at some of the books that have been influential in this wave of representation and encourage you to read your way through the month! Start this year off strong by reading these Black History Month books—and yeah, you can thank us later! Our 1 recommendation for Black History Month is already a classic. Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends.