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

All American boys

Reynolds, Jason,
Call Number: YA

Told in alternating voices, this is the compelling and nuanced story of two Springfield High School students: Rashad, a black 16-year-old ROTC member and aspiring artist, and Quinn, a white senior and varsity basketball player, and what happens when an off-duty officer and family friend of Quinn viciously assaults Rashad at a corner store after wrongly assuming he was stealing a bag of chips. 


Bad boy : a memoir

Myers, Walter Dean, 1937-2014.
Call Number: 813 M996M 2002

Prolific Young Adult author Walter Dean Myers turns the spotlight on himself as he recounts coming of age in Harlem in the 1940s-1950s. This is a timeless story, both introspective and entertaining, about a boy's search for his racial identity and early beginnings as a writer.

Black & white : the confrontation of Reverend Fred L. Shuttlesworth and Eugene "Bull" Connor

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.

Black angels

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.

Black, white, other

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.

Boy in the black suit

Reynolds, Jason.
Call Number: YA

A job at a funeral home helps seventeen-year-old Matt come to terms with his own grief and struggles.



Quick, Matthew, 1973-
Call Number: YA

As the only white player on his high school basketball team, Finley doesn’t understand why his coach insists that he befriend Russell, a troubled black superstar who has just moved to their town outside Philadelphia.  Finley lives in a violent neighborhood controlled by the Irish mob.  Though Russell comes from a privileged existence on the West Coast, ever since his parents were murdered, he can barely function.

The bully

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?


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.

Chains : seeds of America

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.

Claudette Colvin : twice toward justice

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.

Coffee will make you black

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.

Double victory : how African American women broke race and gender barriers to help win World War II

Mullenbach, Cheryl.
Call Number: 940.5315326 M958

Meet the war correspondents, Red Cross workers, activists, entertainers, and others who did extraordinary things to help their country during World War II.


Fake ID

Giles, L. R. (Lamar R.).
Call Number: YA

Nick Pearson has gotten good at flying under the radar since his family joined the witness protection program, but he’s willing to risk his cover after a classmate dies under mysterious circumstances in this Edgar Award-nominated thriller.


Fences : a play

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.


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.

Getting away with murder : the true story of the Emmett Till case

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.


Reynolds, Jason,
Call Number: YA

Ghost, aka Castle Crenshaw, is used to running away from things. Fast. So when he stumbles upon a track club practicing in the park and finds himself challenging their fastest sprinter, he attracts the attention of the club's coach who recruits him to join and in the process challenges him to look inside himself.

Give me wings : how a choir of former slaves took on the world

Lowinger, Kathy,
Call Number: 789.14 J915Lo

This is the story of Ella Sheppard who founded the Jubilee Singers of Fisk University to save the school from an uncertain financial future. She also led them on a successful European tour in the 1800s during which they sang for Queen Victoria.

How I discovered poetry

Nelson, Marilyn, 1946-
Call Number: 811 N4282N

Newbery Honor Winner and National Book Award finalist Marilyn Nelson writes a memoir in verse about coming of age during the Civil Rights Movement and finding her identity as an artist.

How it went down

Magoon, Kekla.
Call Number: YA

When a black teenager is shot and killed by a white man, the community is thrown into chaos as every witness has a different story to tell.


In the shadow of Liberty : the hidden history of slavery, four presidents, and five black lives

Davis, Kenneth C,
Call Number: 326.0973 D262

Davis sheds light on an often-overlooked part of our nation's history in this biography of five enslaved individuals - Billy Lee, Ona Judge, Isaac Granger, Paul Jennings, and Alfred Jackson - and the U.S. Presidents who owned them.


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.

Jefferson's sons : a founding father's secret children

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.

The land

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.

Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina

Copeland, Misty.
Call Number: 793.324 C782

Misty Copeland overcame the odds of a dysfunctional home, racism, and a late start with ballet lessons to became a star and soloist with American Ballet Theatre.  No matter what the odds, obstacles or pain, in life and in ballet, her autobiography conveys her indomitable spirit and passion for dance.


Lewis, John, 1940 February 21-
Call Number: 323.4092 L674-2

March is popping up all over the place on best graphic novel lists for 2013, and rightfully so. This is the first book in a planned trilogy that tells of the struggle of Congressman John Lewis, his first hand experience of the Jim Crow South, and his experience living through segregation and choosing to fight against it through his participation in key Civil Rights moments, such as the March on Washington and the Selma-Montgomery March. Fantastic assignment book for teachers looking for an engaging document to bring the struggle for racial equality for African Americans to light.

March. written by John Lewis & Andrew Aydin ; art by Nate Powell. Book two

Lewis, John, 1940 February 21-
Call Number: 323.4092 L674-2 v.2

Congressman John Lewis powerfully recounts his journey in the 1960s' civil rights movement as the chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). The strength of March is the ability of Congressman John Lewis to teach a new generation about the events of the civil rights movement in a way that both entertains and educates.


March. written by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin ; art by Nate Powell ; edited by Leigh Walton. Book three

Lewis, John, 1940 February 21-
Call Number: 323.4092 L674-2 v.3
Winner of the 2017 Michael Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature. U.S. Congressman and civil rights leader John Lewis continues his story in the concluding volume of this graphic novel trilogy, which opens with the bombing of the Birmingham Baptist Church, Freedom Summer and ends with the Voting Rights Act of 1965 being signed into law.

Mississippi trial, 1955

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.


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.

The moves make the man : a novel

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.

Out of darkness

Perez, Ashley Hope.
Call Number: YA

Set against the backdrop of a deadly school disaster, Perez’s award-winning book also deals with the romance between an African American boy and a Mexican American girl in segregated 1930s East Texas.


Perfect chemistry

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.


Colbert, Brandy.
Call Number: YA
Theo is an aspiring ballerina with the talent and dedication to go all the way to the top. She’s headed for great things, but Theo also has some demons in her past, and she’ll have to figure out how to face them before she can move forward with her life. Readers who love complex stories with imperfect and achingly real characters should be sure to check this one out.

The porcupine of truth

Konigsberg, Bill,
Call Number: YA

New Yorker, Carson Speier is forced to spend the summer in Montana so his mother can tend to Carson’s estranged, sick father. Once there, he meets Aisha, who has been kicked out of her home after coming out as a lesbian to her conservative father. The two of them soon embark on a road trip after Carson discovers secret letters his grandfather sent to Carson’s dad, who was under the impression he’d been abandoned as a child long ago. 


A raisin in the sun

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.

Rite of passage

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.

The rose that grew from concrete

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.

Simeon's story : an eyewitness account of the kidnapping of Emmett Till

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.

Sixteen Going on Twenty-One

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.

The skin I'm in

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

This side of home

Watson, Renee.
Call Number: YA

Twin sisters Maya and Nikki navigate their senior year of high school and come to terms with issues of racial identity - and racial injustice - against the backdrop of their gentrifying Portland neighborhood.


Turning 15 on the road to freedom : my story of the Selma Voting Rights March

Lowery, Lynda Blackmon, 1950-
Call Number: 323.409761 L917

Lynda Blackmon Lowery, the youngest marcher in the 1965 voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, tells her story here in this powerful and award-winning memoir.

Voices from the March on Washington

Lewis, J. Patrick,
Call Number: 811 L6743-1

This poetry collection captures a multitude of voices from the 1963 March on Washington - and a multitude of experiences, hopes, and emotions.

Six fictional characters, in cycles of linked poems, relate their memories of the historic day in 1963 when more than 250,000 people from across the United States joined together to march on Washington, D.C., calling for civil and economic rights for African Americans.

Warriors don't cry : a searing memoir of the battle to integrate Little Rock's Central High

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.

When I was the greatest

Reynolds, Jason.
Call Number: YA

Set in Brooklyn, fifteen-year-old Ali and his two best friends, brothers Needles and Noodles, learn about themselves and each other after they get caught up in a dangerous situation that tests their friendship.

X : a novel

Shabazz, Ilyasah.
Call Number: YA

This fictionalized account of Malcolm X’s childhood and teenage years was co-written by his daughter and shows both the injustices he endured and the formative experiences and people who helped make him a leader.


You don't even know me : stories and poems about boys

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


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