The Hate You Give is too violent for my ten-year-old cousin. How To Be An Antiracist will quite definitely not hold her attention.
I know that she is aware of what’s going on in America, with the BLM movement or even snatches of conversations about the soldiers in Afghanistan. So how do I get this exceptionally bright Indian-American material that helps her understand issues she shouldn’t have to?
The answer is, as it has been for a while, a good collection of middle grade that zeroes around the experiences of people of color.
Growing up, I don’t remember racial diversity in my middle grade books. Maybe it was a different time, maybe I didn’t consume the right material--but I’d see these depictions of grief, bullying--even sexuality, but never race as something that mattered.
I, just like most other kids in America, read about white kids. If they had friends of color, their races did not play a significant role in their characters.
This isn’t me saying shove your political opinions on children or that kids should know about these atrocities--it’s your choice what you choose to tell. But it is me wondering if there’s a way for extremely young people who stumble upon, or even experience racism, to be able to gain a better understanding of it through fiction.
I don’t want to expose her to too much of the world’s cruelty and weirdness, but I want her to know everything she sees and hears about. I don’t just want her to learn about textbook racism when chances are she’ll see it or experience it before she gets to middle school.
Enter: diverse and anti-racist middle grade, built best for an audience that shouldn’t know every terrible thing, but should be aware of existent issues in their society.
If you read my previous article on middle grade, I made a point to include the kind representation and consistent themes of hope in the genre. To raise a younger generation of aware, understanding, empathic individuals--who still get to keep their childhoods, these books are a necessity.
Here are nine of my favorites for you and the fourth through eighth graders in your life.
A Good Kind of Trouble by Lisa Moore Ramée
Twelve-year-old Shayla is allergic to trouble. All she wants to do is to follow the rules. (Oh, and she’d also like to make it through seventh grade with her best friendships intact, learn to run track, and have a cute boy see past her giant forehead.)
New Kid by Jerry Craft
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?
One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia
In the summer of 1968, after travelling from Brooklyn to Oakland, California, to spend a month with the mother they barely know, eleven-year-old Delphine and her two younger sisters arrive to a cold welcome as they discover that their mother, a dedicated poet and printer, is resentful of the intrusion of their visit and wants them to attend a nearby Black Panther summer camp.
Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
Raised in South Carolina and New York, Woodson always felt halfway home in each place. In vivid poems, she shares what it was like to grow up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s, living with the remnants of Jim Crow and her growing awareness of the Civil Rights movement. Touching and powerful, each poem is both accessible and emotionally charged, each line a glimpse into a child’s soul as she searches for her place in the world. Woodson’s eloquent poetry also reflects the joy of finding her voice through writing stories, despite the fact that she struggled with reading as a child. Her love of stories inspired her and stayed with her, creating the first sparks of the gifted writer she was to become.
Blended by Sharon M. Draper (the author of the renowned Out of My Mind)
Being split between Mom and Dad is more than switching houses, switching nicknames, switching backpacks: it’s also about switching identities. If you’re only seen as half of this and half of that, how can you ever feel whole?
Front Desk (trilogy) by Kelly Yang
Ten-year-old Mia Tang, an aspiring writer and hotel desk manager, battles racism and helps her parents hide immigrants in empty hotel rooms.
Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai
For all the ten years of her life, Hà has only known Saigon: the thrills of its markets, the joy of its traditions, and the warmth of her friends close by. But now the Vietnam War has reached her home. Hà and her family are forced to flee as Saigon falls, and they board a ship headed toward hope. In America, Hà discovers the foreign world of Alabama: the coldness of its strangers, the dullness of its food . . . and the strength of her very own family.
Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis
Bud, a motherless boy on the run, travels to find his father in 1936 Flint, Michigan.
The Moon Within by Aida Salazar
Celi Rivera's life swirls with questions. About her changing body. Her first attraction to a boy. And her best friend's exploration of what it means to be genderfluid.
But most of all, her mother's insistence she have a moon ceremony when her first period arrives. It's an ancestral Mexica ritual that Mima and her community have reclaimed, but Celi promises she will NOT be participating. Can she find the power within herself to take a stand for who she wants to be?
is a high school student in New Jersey. They like (in no particular order) books, music, science, history, running, and (of course) writing and are always up to learn something new! Find them on Instagram at @writing_stoot.