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African American Literature and History for Young Adults

Updated: February 28, 2015

A selected list of notable books for young adults about African American history and the African American experience, chosen by LAPL librarians.

by Brimner, Larry Dane.
Call Number: 323.4092 S562Br
Grades 6 and up. Birmingham, Alabama was one of the major battlegrounds in the Civil Rights Movement. On one side was the Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth, a civil rights leader who fought for equal rights for African Americans, and was frequently the target of Ku Klux Klan threats and violence. On the other was Eugene "Bull" Connor, the segregationist Birmingham Commissioner of Public Safety, who employed brutal tactics against protesters. A must-read account of the civil rights movement, filled with photographs and primary sources.

by Brown, Linda Beatrice, 1939-
An eleven-year-old runaway slave, a nine-year-old freed by her master, and a seven-year-old son of a plantation owner find themselves alone during the Civil War and must rely on each other to survive.

by Lester, Joan Steinau, 1940-
Call Number: YA
After her parents' divorce, biracial teenager Nina Armstrong doesn't feel like she fits anywhere; however, she finds meaning and inspiration when she learns about her great-great grandmother's escape from slavery in the 1850s.

by Langan, Paul, 1972-
When Darell moves from Philadelphia to California, he finds that along with a new school also comes a new bully. Will he keep running from bullies, or will he learn to fight back?

by Senna, Danzy.
Call Number: Ed.a
Highly readable novel about a girl with a white mother and black father who struggles with her mixed race identity.

by Anderson, Laurie Halse.
Isabel, a young American Revoluntionary-era slave, wades through the dangerous shoals of staying loyal to her disabled sister, spying for the rebels, and facing her Tory master's cruelty. This book was a National Book Award finalist. Be sure to check out the sequel, Forge, as well.

by Hoose, Phillip M., 1947-
Call Number: 323.4092 C727Ho
Grades 5-8. In 1955, 15-year-old Claudette Colvin allowed herself to be arrested for refusing to give up her seat to a white person on a Montgomery, Alabama bus. Though Rosa Parks became the public face of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, this little-known story of a teenager who fought for the cause of civil rights is well worth reading.

by Sinclair, April.
Call Number: Ed.b
Growing up in the 1960s, Stevie Stevenson's clashes with her parents' traditional values and her own interest in the opposite sex are further complicated by her fellow students' increased political awareness and activism for civil rights.

by Wilson, August.
Call Number: 812 W7464-1
Two garbage men argue about and explore the links between the aftermaths of slavery, the legalized discrimination of Jim Crow America, and African American lives during the 1950s. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize.

by Smith, Sherri L.

During World War II, 18-year-old Ida Mae Jones passes for white so she can join the Women's Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs), serve her country, and fulfill her lifelong dream of flying. Smith tells a riveting story about a little-known chapter of World War II history, set against the backdrop of Jim Crow America.

by Crowe, Chris.
Call Number: 323.109762 C953
Emmett Till, a Chicago teen visiting family in Mississippi, was kidnapped, beaten and lynched for allegedly whistling at a white woman. This 1955 murder kicked off a maelstrom of outrage that focused national attention on Southern segregation.

by Johnson, Mat.
Call Number: 740.9999 J677
This graphic novel is loosely based on the daring investigations undertaken by Walter White in the 1920s. White "passed" for white to infiltrate southern lynchings, and then reported names and photographs to the press (White would go on to head the NAACP through the 1930s and 1940s). Johnson's fictionalized account also draws from film noir and hard-boiled detective novels, for a suspenseful, plot-driven story that also succeeds as a thoughtful examination of a dark time in American history.

by Bradley, Kimberly Brubaker.
Call Number: YA
Set at Monticello during the last two decades of Thomas Jefferson's life, this novel is told from the perspective of two of Jefferson's sons by Sally Hemings, and another enslaved boy. A well-researched fictional account that will give readers much to reflect upon.

by Taylor, Mildred D.
Call Number:
After the Civil War, Paul, the son of a white father and a black mother, finds himself caught between two worlds as he pursues his dream of owning his own land.

by Crowe, Chris.
In Mississippi in 1955, a sixteen-year-old finds himself at odds with his grandfather over issues surrounding the kidnapping and murder of a fourteen-year-old African American from Chicago.

by Myers, Walter Dean, 1937-
Call Number: YA
While on trial as an accomplice to a murder, sixteen-year-old Steve Harmon records his experiences in prison and in the courtroom in the form of a screenplay as he tries to come to terms with the course his life has taken. Winner of the 2000 Printz Award.

by Brooks, Bruce.
Call Number: x Ed.a
A black boy and an emotionally troubled white boy in North Carolina become friends in this award-winning YA classic.

by Elkeles, Simone.
Paired up for a senior chemistry project, gang member Alex and cheerleader Brittany are surprised to find they have much more in common than their friends would ever guess.

by Hansberry, Lorraine, 1930-1965.
Call Number: 812 H2485 1994
The Youngers, a working-class black family, struggle against economic hardship and racial prejudice. Winner of the New York Drama Critic's Award and the first play written by an African American woman to be produced on Broadway.

by Wright, Richard, 1908-1960.
Call Number: Ed.a
When fifteen-years-old Johnny Gibbs is told that he is really a foster child, he runs off into the street of Harlem and meets up with a gang that wants him to participate in a mugging.

by Shakur, Tupac, 1971-1996.
Call Number: 811 S5273
A collection of poetry by rap artist and actor Tupac Shakur, written at the age of 19, before he became famous.

by Wright, Simeon, 1942-
Call Number: 323.109762 W953
In 1955, 12-year-old Simeon Wright saw his cousin, Emmett Till, whistle at a white woman outside a grocery store. Two nights later, Simeon witnessed the kidnapping of 14-year-old Emmett from his own bed. Two white men abducted Emmett, and beat him so savagely his body was nearly unidentifiable. This horrible crime became a rallying point for the civil rights movement.

Against her parent's wishes, Denim is dating Dre, her friend since they were kids. One lie, one party, and one bullet change the course of both of their lives forever.

by Flake, Sharon.
Call Number:
Maleeka is embarrassed by her extremely dark skin, but she gets encouragement from a teacher who has appearance issues herself.

by Beals, Melba.
Call Number: 371.974 B366 1995a
Grades 7 and up. Melba Pattillo Beals was one of "the Little Rock Nine," the African American teenagers selected to integrate Central High School in 1957. Beals recounts the bullying, intimidation, threats of violence - and unexpected kindnesses - she experienced. A breathtaking and moving memoir by a woman of tremendous courage.

by Flake, Sharon.
Short stories and poems about boys and the tough situations they face in life.

by Bell, William, 1945-
Half Jewish and half African American, Zack learns more about his heritage from his grandfather in Mississippi.