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looking for books with African American characters

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Today I did a workshop at a men's prison (the men are writing books for their children), and as a part of the writing program there, used (or new, when the funding is there) books are laid out for the men to choose from when they come in. They are allowed to pick one book to have sent to each of their children each week. I noticed many of the men passed on books while others snatched them right up and when I asked the woman who runs the program why some of the men seemed so disinterested, she said some of the African American men only want books featuring AA characters for their children. If they see just white kids on the cover, they won't even consider it, and they've told her so. So I was hoping maybe you could help me think of some more titles we could get in there that might interest them.
I've come up with the following quick list from memory of those I've read, but any other suggestions would be appreciated:

So Not the Drama, by Paula Chase
Phillip Hall Likes Me, I Reckon Maybe, by Bette Greene
The Weird Watsons go to Birmingham, 1964; Bud, Not Buddy; Bucking the Sarge, all by Christopher Paul Curtis
Sahara Special, by Esme Raji Codell (I think the mc is an AA? It's been a while since I read it)
M.C. Higgins The Great, by Virginia Hamilton
A Girl Named Disaster, by Nancy Farmer (although the mc's African and not AA)
Rosa, by Nikki Giovanni and Bryan Collier
Salt in My Shoes, by Michael Jordan's mom and sister...


edited to say: I know I could receive hundreds of replies to this if I left it as it is, and I could certainly do a search myself on this if I just wanted any and all titles with AA characters in them--but please only send me suggestions for your favorites! Can be PB's, MG, YA...
#1 - March 29, 2007, 12:15 PM
« Last Edit: March 29, 2007, 12:21 PM by jules »


Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom (Caldecott Honor Book) 
by Carole Boston Weatherford (Author), Kadir Nelson (Illustrator)

Any of her books are fabulous. I am ordering my own copy of Moses today.

#2 - March 29, 2007, 12:22 PM

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How did I not know you were doing a workshop at a prison? 

Very nice. 

Have you seen the stuff Jo Knowles does at a women's prison?  They were featured on Vermont Public Radio this week.
#3 - March 29, 2007, 12:26 PM
VAMPIRINA BALLERINA series (Disney-Hyperion)
GROUNDHUG DAY (Disney-Hyperion, 2017)
among others

My fabulous writer friend has many many books that fit the bill.  Her name is Karen English and in particular, my favorite PBs are Speak to Me, Hot Day on Abbot Ave., Just Right Stew and The Baby on the Way - although they are all fabulous.  She also wrote a MG called Francie, that even though it has a female MC, my 9yo son just loved. 
#4 - March 29, 2007, 12:32 PM
Transcendence (Walker) - June 2012
Sequel (Walker) - June 2013
Dirty Little Secrets (Walker) - Feb 2010
6:00 in SF - 2009


Thanks for the suggestions and keep them coming! I don't know how you didn't know that, AM--it's in one of my handful of blog entries, too. Yes, I saw Jo's stuff, got some good ideas for writing exercises from her website.
#5 - March 29, 2007, 12:35 PM

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Tyrell, Coe Booth
Every Time A Rainbow Dies, Rita Williams-Garcia
The First Part Last, Angela Johnson
Walter Dean Myers and Jacqueline Woodson books
#6 - March 29, 2007, 12:50 PM
Film school grad. Time traveller. Billy Bragg fan. Canadian/Irish novelist of character-driven fiction from sci-fi to slice of life.


Michael Jordan's Mom and sis have another PB about young Michael too... something about teamwork.  I think their books are very sweet.

There is also a sequel to Philip Hall... can't recall the title, but I enjoyed it.  I love Phillip Hall!

There are a number of PBs I can think of but they're sometimes "issue" books and I don't know if that's the sort of thing you're after.  Such as "Visiting Day"--the one about the little girl visiting her dad in prison.

What's that poetry collection I like?  It has a little girl's name in the title... Destiny?  Shoot, I can't remember.  Ah ha--I looked it up--Danitra Brown books by Nikki Grimes.

Anything illustrated by Floyd Cooper!  Not all of them have to do with African American children, but many do, I think.  He illustrated Danitra Brown.  If you click on this:
Then click on his name, you'll get his books.

I still LOVE Stevie by John Steptoe.

You can even go for Peter's Chair and the Snowy Day (Keats).

Have fun with it!

#7 - March 29, 2007, 01:01 PM


Anything by Virginia Hamilton--JUSTICE AND HER BROTHERS, THE HOUSE OF DIES DREAR, etc.

What about Peter Dickinson's KIN series?  They're pre-historical fiction, and IIRC take place in Stone Age Africa. (ya; read like fantasy)

For pbs, how about MUFARO'S BEAUTIFUL DAUGHTERS by John Steptoe?

Oh, I can't believe I forgot STORMWITCH by Susan Vaught!  Tremendous book. (ya historical fantasy)
#8 - March 29, 2007, 01:12 PM

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Two of my all-time favorite pbs have AA characters: The Girl Who Spun Gold, by Virginia Hamilton (and illustrated by the Dillons) and Circle Unbroken, by Margot Theis Raven, illustrated by EB Lewis. Both the text and illustrations on these are lovely, lovely, lovely!!

Modified to add: And don't forget the classic, The Grey Lady and the Strawberry Snatcher, by Molly Bang!
#9 - March 29, 2007, 01:57 PM

SWEET POTATO PIE by Kathleen Lindsey, a South Jersey gal.
It's a PB.
#10 - March 29, 2007, 01:58 PM


Corduroy, by Freeman.
Stories Julian Tells, by ?
Anything by Vera WIlliams, such as More, More, More Said the Baby.
Jackson Jones series by Quattlebaum.
Here are some more good names: McKissick, Eloise Greenfield, Julius Lester

If Hispanic is ok too, add Taking Sides, by Soto.
How about Seedfolk, by Fleishman.  It probably has African Americans on the cover.

I hope you don't mean that they reject animal characters? or non-fiction?
#11 - March 29, 2007, 02:09 PM

Some of my favorites from teaching kindergarten... all are PB's.

Do Like Kyla   by Angela Johnson & James Ransome
Hue Boy  by Rita Phillips Mitchell and Caroline Binch
Amazing Grace  by Rita Phillips Mitchell and Caroline Binch
Jamaica's Find  by Juanita Havill and Anne Sibley O'Brien
John Henry   by Julius Lester and Jerry Pinkney
Train Trip To Lulus  by Linda Howard

When I worked for NH PBS the Educational Director and I visited prisons. We videotaped the parents reading books for their child and then sent the video to the child.
#12 - March 29, 2007, 03:23 PM


When I was eight and crazy about a) SF and b) cats, I adored Andre Norton's Star Ka'at, which has an African-American heroine. There are two sequels as well, but I've forgotten their names.
#13 - March 29, 2007, 03:52 PM

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I love E. R. Frank, and her book AMERICA is about a black/white mixed boy. (YA)
#14 - March 29, 2007, 03:54 PM
BLACKOUT -- available now
DESERTED -- available now
SISTERS DON'T TELL -- available now

If you are looking for younger kids, Ezra Jack Keats has great picture books with African-American main characters.
#15 - March 29, 2007, 04:52 PM



I love The Watsons go to Birmingham if that's the kind of thing you're looking for.
Jules, how did you get involved with this program? It sounds interesting.
Good luck!
#16 - March 29, 2007, 05:14 PM


Christopher Paul Curtis' Mr. Chickee's Funny Money is a lighter, younger read that might fit the bill.

And I wanted to second the motion for Hot Day on Abbott Avenue.  It is wonderful.
#17 - March 29, 2007, 05:32 PM


My own book, Mr. Touchdown! African-American boy on the cover, football, basketball, racism and triumph. Please pass it along.
See my Web site below for its awards and reviews. I'd be happy to donate copies.
#18 - March 29, 2007, 05:42 PM

The Hundred Penny Box and The Stories Julian Tells are both very good.  Mufaro's Beautiful Daughters (John Steptoe?) is also excellent. What about the books NFL stars Tiki annd Ronde Barber have co-authored?
#19 - March 29, 2007, 05:45 PM


How about Faith Ringgold's books? And my picture book, BARK AND TIM: A TRUE STORY OF FRIENDSHIP might fit the bill.
#20 - March 29, 2007, 07:27 PM

The Other Side, by Jacqueline Woodson
Little Bill books, by Bill Cosby
Tar Beach, by Faith Ringgold
Minty (can't remember author, but it's about Harriet Tubman as a child)

#21 - March 29, 2007, 08:02 PM


Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People's Ears was always a favorite of mine when I was little.  It has an African character on the cover.
I also loved the Anansi stories when I was in grade school, and seem to remember that they were a series of paperback picture books. (I could be wrong- that was quite a while ago!) I did find a link on Amazon-
#22 - March 29, 2007, 08:43 PM


How could I forget the Grey Lady and the Strawberry Snatcher, ...and Corduroy! My kids loved those. Thank you all for your suggestions; I am going to pass them all on to the director of this program.

Chinook, you asked how I got involved in this and I wish I knew what to tell you other than that I was called by the director of this program who originally got grant money to do this through the University of Virginia. She's done it for a few years now at this same men's prison but she told me it's based on a national program called Read To Me that originally started in women's prisons. Maybe if you google Read to Me, you can find something that will direct you to a program in your area.

Thanks for all your ideas!
#23 - March 30, 2007, 06:06 AM



              My favorite, Yo! Yes! by Chris Raschka.         

#24 - March 30, 2007, 06:33 AM


The Hello Goodbye Window by Chris Raschka (a bit indeterminate, but I think it works)

Teammates, Game Day, and By My Brother's Side, all by by Tiki and Ronde Barber

Jackie And Me or Satch and Me by Dan Gutman

#25 - March 30, 2007, 07:10 AM


Jules, I have a few to add in the mix.  The ones with an * are all contemporary, as in falls outside of the box of the traditional problem novel type books for readers of color.

Copper Sun by Sharon Draper
Roll of Thunder hear My Cry  and the entire Logan family series(classics!) by Mildred D Taylor
*Drama High - L.Divine
*The Payton Skky Series by Stephanie Perry Moore (and this summer she'll release the Perry Skky series for boys)
*Nothing But Drama, Reshonda Tate Billingsly
*Simply Divine by Jacquelin Thomas
*Spin it like that, Chandra Sparks Taylor
*Indigo Summer, Monica McKayhan

Those last three are '07 releases and I'm not entirely sure Simply Divine and Spin it like that are out yet.  But I'm on a listserve with the authors.

I think it's great that these men are passing on the love of reading to their kids.  I hope that, somehow, once their kids see themselves portrayed in fiction they'll widen their choices and hunger for all types of fiction.  Though, trust me, I understand the inmates desire to find books that depict A.A. characters.  Guess I'm just greedy and want it both ways - want kids to see themselves in books but also have curiosity to venture beyond.

#26 - March 30, 2007, 07:16 AM


Jules, here's a few more:

Double Dutch by Sharon Draper
Fresh Girl by Jaira Placide
Leaving Atlanta by Tayrari Jones (adult book but focuses on young characters)
Who I am With Him by Sharon Flake
The Friends by Rosa Guy
The House of Dies Drear by Virginia Hamilton
Bird by Angela Johnson
First Part Last by Angela Johnson

Hope this helps,

#27 - March 30, 2007, 07:38 AM


I knew I had some reviewed on my blog and went back to look:

Dizzy by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Sean Qualls

Henry's Freedom Box by Ellen Levine, illustrated by Kadir Nelson

MOSES:When Harriet Tubman . . . by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Kadir Nelson

Thanks a Million: Poems by Nikki Grimes, illustrated by Cozbi S. Cabrera

Dear Mr. Rosenwald by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Gregory Christie

JAZZ by Walter Dean Myers, illustrated by Christopher Myers

Jazz ABZ by Wynton Marsalis, illustrated by Paul Rogers

Show Way by Jaqueline Woodson, illustrated by Hudson Talbott

Grandmama's Pride by Becky Birtha, illustrated by Colin Bootman

Bessie Smith and the Night Riders by Sue Stauffacher, illustrated by John Holyfield

A Wreath for Emmitt Till by Marilyn Nelson, illustrated by Philippe Lardy

Earth Mother by Ellen Jackson, illustrated by Leo & Diane Dillon

Vive La Paris! by Esme Raji Codell

Hot Day on Abbott Avenue by Javaka Steptoe

In Daddy's Arms, I Am Tall by Javaka Steptoe
#28 - March 30, 2007, 07:52 AM


Wow, now the problem would be how to choose...
#29 - March 30, 2007, 08:49 AM


You've got some good stuff here, Jules.  A common thread among books with AA characters tends to be the serious tone.  So maybe finding those with that traditional tone along with some of the newer, lighter books will provide a good balance.

Good luck.  Tough choices ahead.

#30 - March 30, 2007, 09:25 AM


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