5 Books About Black History that I Read in Junior High

Over the past week, our country has been shaken by the death of George Floyd. The streets have been flooded with protesters and social media has been flooded with black squares.

These current events caused me think back on what shaped my understanding of our country’s racial history. As a tween and young teen, I faithfully kept a journal of books I read, so I pulled that journal out and took note of the books I read about slavery, the underground railroad, reconstruction, integration, inter-racial friendship, etc.

If you’re a young person wondering how to navigate and respond to current events, start with your Bible and prayer. But after that, if you want to understand the historical context, these books might help.

Parents and older siblings can also use stories like these as conversation starters or supplements to homeschool history curriculums.

Here are five titles by black authors that I read as a young teenager.

Breakthrough to the Big Leagues:  The Story of Jackie Robinson

Breakthrough to the Big Leagues, by Jackie Robinson

I went through a huge baseball phase when I was 12 and 13, and Jackie Robinson quickly surfaced as my all-time favorite player. I remember being so excited to discover that he had written an autobiography. Sadly, it seems the book is now out of print, but I think it’s well worth reading Jackie’s story in his own words.

The movie, 42: The Jackie Robinson Story is also a good way to learn more about Jackie Robinson.

Run Away Home by Patricia C. McKissack

Run Away Home, by Patricia C. McKissack

Patricia C. McKissack was a prolific writer of children’s books and was nominated for the Coretta Scott King award (a literary award recognizing African American authors) many times, winning the award twice.

This particular story is set in post-Civil War Alabama where a girl and her mother care for a ill Native American boy while dealing with white supremacists trying to force the family into sharecropping.

A Friendship for Today by Patricia C. McKissack

A Friendship for Today, by Patricia C. McKissack

Also by Patricia C. McKissack, this story jumps to Missouri in 1954, and tells the story of a girl who becomes the first African American to attend the white school in her town.

Silent Thunder: A Civil War Story by Andrea Davis Pinkney

Silent Thunder*, by Andrea Davis Pinkney

Also a prolific writer and Coretta Scott King award winner, Andrea Davis Pinkney was raised in my home state of Connecticut!

This book tells the story of a brother and sister determined to better themselves despite being enslaved. They determine that they will learn to read and find a way to participate in fighting for freedom.

*My childhood journal has a little square next to this title, my note to myself that the book had content that made me hesitate to recommend it to my friends. In looking over reviews on Goodreads, it is likely I made that mark because there is mention of slave owners fathering children by slave women. Parents who follow my blog should take this into consideration.

The Captive by Joyce Hansen

The Captive*, by Joyce Hansen

Another author nominated for the Coretta Scott King award, Joyce Hansen has been writing for children and young adults for over twenty years.

The Captive tells the story of a boy born a prince, sold to slave traders, purchased by a Puritan in Massachusetts, and eventually taken in by Paul Cuffe, a historical African American Quaker sea captain.

*This book also had a little square by it in my notebook, but I’m not sure why my 13-year-old self thought the material in the book was potentially too mature to recommend to my friends.

Please keep in mind that it has been over a decade since I read these books. I can’t vouch for writing quality or content. I just know that reading these books and others like them shaped my understanding of this element of our country’s history. I believe stories can create empathy and understanding that dates on the pages of a history book can’t.

What are some novels, biographies, and autobiographies have helped you learn about black history in the US?

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