5 Books to Engage Young People on Race This Summer

There is perhaps no more damaging issue than race in America, and conversations about race continue to be mired in racism and stereotypes, even as the country is becoming increasingly diverse. As a child, I was told that there are two types of people: black people and white people. I was told that black people are inferior to whites. I was told that black people do not deserve the same rights as whites. I was told that white people are better than black people. I was told that black people should not be educated.

Summer is a great time to engage with youth about social justice issues. Here are 5 books that will help you do just that. 1.  The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks: A True Story of Medicine, Race, and the Dream of Human Supremacy by Rebecca Skloot I read this book first as a graduate student and it still inspires me to this day. Lacks is a pioneer, mother, and physician who died tragically at age 31. Despite her tragically short life, she has become a symbol of the power of black women to contribute to science. 2.  Love in a Dark Time: Black Women, Faith, and the Struggle for Justice by Marlene Jackson This book is a classic in the field of Black feminist

Since the recent election of Donald Trump, the topic of race has been a very important one in America. From his election campaign slogan to his policies on immigration and his words towards Mexicans, Muslims, and Asians, Trump has shown time and again that he values white males over everyone else. However, racism is a big problem in America and people of color are still discriminated against, not to mention the fact that people of color are disproportionately affected by crime. The following are some books that young people of color can use to engage themselves in the important social and political issues of the day.. Read more about we need diverse books and let us know what you think.In a national debate over how – and whether – teachers should pay attention to race in their classrooms, many teachers find that they don’t know how to do so.

Parents may also find it difficult to bring up racial issues in conversations with their teens.

As a former elementary school teacher and current educator, I have seen that literature can do much of the heavy lifting in these discussions.

Books offer educators and parents the opportunity to engage students in a particular topic over a long period of time. They also enable young people to think of and practice ways to combat inequality in society.

However, when it comes to books that deal with racism, I have found that it is helpful to read the text in a non-judgmental, anti-racist way.


Reading from an anti-prejudice and anti-racism perspective means that readers do certain things when they encounter scenes of evil or injustice. This includes, but is not limited to, summarizing what happened and naming the incident. Is that racist? Homophobia? Sexism? Ableism? Hate speech? By categorizing evil or injustice, readers can better understand it.

Readers should also pay attention to what is done in the story to repair the damage, whether done by another character or by society as a whole.

With that in mind, here are five books that I think could get young people talking about race in America.

1. Greenwood’s Angel (2021) by Randy Pink

This historical novel is primarily about love in the Greenwood neighborhood of Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1921, often referred to as Black Wall Street, a black community that thrived outside of Jim Crow America.

Angel and Isaiah fall in love with books about Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois just days before white rioters set fire to 35 blocks of their home, killing hundreds. Pink concentrates on love, literature, and family for two-thirds of this novel, because love takes time.

2. A Song Under the Sea (2020) by Bethany K. Morrow

A tale of fantastic characters is offered in this magical-realist novel told on behalf of two sisters: Tavia, who learns to use her voice by singing, and Effie, who performs as a mermaid at a local Renaissance festival.

Morrow is set in Portland, Oregon, home to Elocos – creatures that charm with melodies stored in medallions – protective gargoyles and powerful mermaids (some of whom are forced to wear chains with silencers). He confronts the modern drive to limit civil rights by examining issues of discrimination, bias to justify evil, and even hierarchy among creatures.

3. The land of the cranes (2020) by Aida Salazar

This novel, written in poetic form, is an act of activism as Salazar explores how terms like illegal can be used as weapons and how anti-immigration policies are a structure of racism.

In this story, a 9-year-old girl, Betita, and her pregnant mother are detained at the border between Mexico and the United States. Although the protagonist is still young, Betita is observant and wise and has caring parents who help her find courage and strength in the stories of her ancestors.

4. Dragon Hoops (2020) by Jin Luen Yang

This comic book tells several stories: the basketball program at Oakland High School, a teacher considering leaving his class, the history of basketball, and the rise of basketball as a sport in China.

With sarcasm, humor and cool basketball lessons, Young conveys the joy of the sport as well as subtle and overt racism.

5. Unbroken Hearts (2020) by Cynthia Leitch Smith

This realistic fantasy novel won the American Indian Library Association’s Children’s Literature Award. Louise, a high school student, reflects on her Muskogee heritage through an article contest in the school newspaper. When a high school musical in a predominantly white, middle-class Kansas town is rejected because a non-white person is starring in The Wizard of Oz, Louise reports from the newly formed Parents Against Revisionist Theater.

Photo by Andrey_Arkusha
, Adobe Stock-licensed.To encourage young people to get more involved in understanding race, help is available. There are many ways to approach this, some more profound and meaningful than others, and some which are downright gimmicky. For instance, there are books which encourage young people to stand up against racism, while at the same time encouraging them to get involved in other activities such as volunteering.. Read more about children’s books about race and diversity and let us know what you think.


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