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As I’ve written before, one part of a meaningful, transformational, humble, and holistic response to the history and current reality of injustice and social division in our nation is to learn and to listen. Over the course of the past few years, I’ve offered lists of resources—books, podcasts, and films—that have helped me in my own growth in understanding that leads to action. In this post, I’ve gathered those recommendations in one place for easier reference.
I’ve selected five to six books/films/podcasts in each category (except memoir, where I couldn’t resist offering ten). There are hundreds more in each category, but these will give you a place to start. This guide includes, in this order:
Children's Book Recommendations
Links to other lists of recommendations curated by people of color
Coretta Scott King Book Award Winners
Common Sense Media’s take on ”outstanding African American authors and illustrators of books for children and young adults that demonstrate an appreciation of African American culture and universal human values.”
The Brown Bookshelf
The Brown Bookshelf is a website devoted to “push awareness of the myriad Black voices writing for young readers.”
The following recommendations come from our own family’s reading:
Dancing in the Wings by Debbie Allen
A story based on the author’s own life about a young Black girl becoming a ballerina.
The Story of Ruby Bridges by Robert Coles
The true story of the hateful discrimination experienced by a 6-year old black child integrating an all-white school in New Orleans and of her resilience and grace
God’s Very Good Idea by Trillia Newbell
An explicitly Christian explanation of why God created people in our wide diversity.
Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena
A child and his grandmother ride through a bustling city together as she helps him see his world as both beautiful and good.
Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson
A picture book about a group of girls who aren’t kind to a new girl in school and the regret and hope that comes from this experience.
ELEMENTARY CHAPTER BOOKS
The Birchbark House series by Louise Erdrich
A story set around the same time period as the Little House books, but this time told from the perspective of Native Americans
Song of the Trees by Mildred Taylor
This story is about a black family in the Jim Crow south struggling to retain ownership of their land in the face of white opposition.
Who Was series
Biographical books in the “Who Was?” series, including Harriet Tubman, Martin Luther King, Michelle Obama, Barack Obama, and Frederick Douglass. These are simple and short profiles of Black leaders that help kids understand both the hardship many African Americans have endured and the reasons we all have to admire and respect their many contributions to our nation.
FOR MIDDLE SCHOOL
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor
A classic story based on Taylor’s own family history in Mississippi in which three Black men are lynched and a young girl struggles to understand and respond.
Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson
This story is about an enslaved girl in the northern states during the time of the revolutionary war.
Jefferson’s Sons by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Although it is very much historical fiction, this novel imagines what it would be like to grow up with an enslaved mother and a white father who is also the President.
March (graphic novels - 3 volumes) by John Lewis
Civil Rights leader and Congressman John Lewis uses the form of a graphic novel to describe the protests and history of the 1960s
Letters from a Slave Girl by Mary E. Lyons
A fictionalized account of Harriet Jacobs’ experience of growing up as an enslaved person in Edenton, North Carolina (my home town) and then hiding for seven years in an attic crawl space before finally securing her freedom.
FOR OLDER MIDDLE SCHOOL AND HIGH SCHOOL
House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
A classic, short book about a young Mexican-American girl growing up in Chicago.
Stars Beneath Our Feet by David Barclay Moore
I haven’t read this one, but William recommends it as a story about a young Black boy grieving the loss of his older brother and trying to make sense of the hard and good aspects of life in his complex family and neighborhood.
A Good Kind of Trouble by Lisa Moore Ramee
I also haven’t read this one, but Penny recommends it as a book that explains why a middle school girl might choose to protest a cause, and what it might cost her to make her views publicly known.
Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes
This hard and hopeful story imagines a 12-year old boy who has been shot by a police officer and remains on earth as a ghost who travels back in time to talk with other “ghost boys” who were killed in the past.
The Hate U Give and On the Come Up by Angie Thomas
Both of these novels describe life in an urban and predominantly Black neighborhood, with the hardship of institutionalized racism and violence as well as the beauty of family and church and community life.
Non-fiction book and podcast recommendations for adults
NON-FICTION BOOKS FOR ADULTS
Strength to Love by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Each chapter emerges out of a biblical text, like a sermon and invites the reader to deeper spiritual sustenance, to live differently, with more love, more justice, more grace.
Playing in the Dark by Toni Morrison
This collection of essays from the 1990s explores the presence of African Americans within “classic” (which is to say, white) American literature.
The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson
This Pulitzer Prize-winning, comprehensive history of the Great Migration of African American men and women from the South to the West, Midwest, and Northeast of the United States gives a compelling overview of the past hundred years of African American history and offers a helpful background for understanding where we are in the present day.
Locking Up Our Own by James Forman Jr.
Forman, a lawyer and the son of a civil rights activist, exposes the white power structures at work in the criminal justice system alongside the ways black communities supported laws and policies that have led to a disproportionate number of black men especially behind bars.
Why are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? by Beverly Daniel Tatum
This classic book, now 20 years old, offers a winsome and helpful guide through the concept of developing a racial identity.
The Color of Compromise by Jemar Tisby
Tisby details the ways racism has influenced church history in America from the very start.
PODCAST RECOMMENDATIONS FOR ADULTS
Capeup: Voices of the Movement
Capehart ran a series of nine short, informative, and moving episodes interviewing icons of the Civil Rights movement. (And host Jonathan Capehart is a Black man who does a great job interviewing people more broadly the rest of the time too.)
Scene on Radio: Seeing White
Scene on Radio podcast is an incredibly compelling exploration of what it means to be white in America, how this concept of whiteness was created, and what it has meant over time.
Serial: Season Three
Host Sarah Koenig spends a year inside a courthouse in Cleveland, Ohio in a sobering commentary on our criminal “justice” system and an even-handed look at the ways race, class, and education factor into that system.
Osheta Moore: Dear White Peacemaker Season
The title of this podcast series might say enough: if you are a white person who wants to make peace, Osheta Moore, who is black, wants to help you learn and grow.
Ask Code Switch: What About Your Friends?
The Code Switch podcast in general discusses race in a way that is helpful for white listeners, but this conversation in particular reminded me that one role I have as a white parent is to talk with my kids about the cultural power they hold simply because they are white.
Memoirs for adults
I’m Still Here by Austin Channing Brown
An inside look at what it feels like to be a black woman in American society.
Tattoos on the Heart by Gregory Boyle
A white priest moves into an impoverished neighborhood in South Los Angeles and discovers the common humanity he shares with gang leaders there.
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Coates, a national correspondent for the Atlantic, offers a bleak portrait of American life as he writes a letter to his son about what it is like to be a black man in America.
Walking with the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement by John Lewis
For anyone interested in contemporary United States history, the theology of nonviolent resistance, love, hope, and/or the ongoing struggle for justice and equality—these 500 pages by John Lewis (with Michael D’Orso) are well worth your time.
The Color of Life by Cara Meredith
I so appreciated Cara’s memoir about her marriage to James Meredith, a black man who came from a prominent southern family, and her journey to understand racial identity and love as they began their own family together.
Becoming by Michelle Obama
Obama provides a well written and honest window on the challenges and possibilities she faced as a Black woman growing up in Chicago.
My First White Friend by Patricia Raybon
A gentle and honest story of a black woman who grew up with the specter of overt racism and looked for ways to choose love and hope in the midst of it.
A Sojourner’s Truth: Choosing Freedom and Courage in a Divided World by Natasha Robinson
Robinson not only tells of her own journey through success (Naval Academy, Marine Corps, working for the Department of Homeland Security, seminary, founding a non-profit, becoming an author…) and suffering, but she does so in conjunction with the story of Moses and the people of Israel in Exodus.
Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
A black lawyer writing about the criminal justice system from the perspective of a man who has been defending largely poor, black, southern men facing the death penalty for most of his career and who holds out hope for healing.
Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward
Ward suffered the loss of five men she loved over the course of a few years, and this memoir traces those years and those deaths and places them in the larger context of the precarious nature of being a black man in America.
Fiction for adults
Song Yet Sung by James McBride
McBride’s story of enslaved people trying to escape for freedom intertwines with the slave-catcher who pursues them and shows us how without justice none of us are free.
Beloved by Toni Morrison
Morrison’s magical-realism telling of a family that escapes from enslavement to freedom taps into the haunting loss that the legacy of slavery brought to generations of people.
Where the Line Bleeds by Jesmyn Ward
This first novel of the National Book Award winning Ward depicts twin brothers struggling to grow up after graduating from high school on the gulf coast of Mississippi.
The Hate U Give and On the Come Up by Angie Thomas
Recommended for kids and adults, both of these novels describe life in an urban and predominantly Black neighborhood, with the hardship of institutionalized racism and violence as well as the beauty of family and church and community life.
Go Tell it on the Mountain by James Baldwin
Baldwin’s first novel is a semi-autobiographical account of his own family’s experience of poverty, religion, and abuse in Harlem.
A film based on Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow, it explores how the United States became the nation with the largest prison population in the world and the reasons for the disproportionate number of men of color behind bars.
This film focuses on the Civil Rights march from Selma to Montgomery as a way of telling the story of the 1960s and Martin Luther King with power and grace and an invitation for viewers to join in the march towards justice and equality.
The true story of Harriet Jacobs, an illiterate enslaved woman who escapes and goes back to lead more people to freedom. (for families)
The true story of three African American women whose leadership and abilities contributed immensely to the first American trip to the moon. (for families)
A Wrinkle in Time
Ava Duverney’s take on Madeleine L’Engle’s novel offers kids a way to imagine a classic story with Black children and mentors (including Oprah!) as the protagonists. (for families)
A blockbuster take on a comic story that can open up conversations about race, power, and possibility. (for families)
CCDA, Christian Community Development Association
Founded by John Perkins, this organization supports “relocation, redistribution, and reconciliation” as means of establishing communities of justice and healing
Racial Equity Institute
An organization that teaches white people about the construction and history of whiteness and what that has to do with our current moment
Spiritual resources for Christians who want to recognize the systems of injustice, repent of their part in those systems, and respond with love and hope
To read further with Amy Julia:
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I will be referring back to this list frequently. Over the next few weeks, I will continue working to align my writing more closely with my ideal audience and this list will be very useful. Thanks!