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A Wonderful #BlackLivesMatter Teen Book List

Hand picked by librarian Chelsea Couillard-Smith

Libraries and librarians around the U.S. have been creating #BlackLivesMatter book lists that explore the history of race in America. The book lists are meant to be informative and encourage discussion on a variety of issues. The Oakland Public Library praised the #BlackLivesMatter movement for “inspiring action and conversation” and working to “stop violence and uplift Black humanity.”

Many have expressed outrage with the statement “black lives matter,” but the movement’s website has made an effort to explain what it means. “The statement ‘black lives matter’ is not an anti-white proposition. Contained within the statement is an unspoken but implied ‘too,’ as in ‘black lives matter, too’, which suggests that the statement is one of inclusion rather than exclusion,” they write. 

The School Library Journal reports that like the Oakland Public Library, Chelsea Couillard-Smith, a librarian at the Hennepin County Library (Minnesota), has turned to books to “support and educate” her community and to “provide a starting point for reflection and conversation.” Her book list, which focuses on books for teens, includes a variety of genres which cover issues of race, justice and privilege. Couillard-Smith explained why she chose the books she did: “I selected a small number of titles that I thought would be good conversation starters for teens engaged in discussions about race and justice.”

Here’s Couillard-Smith’s #BlackLivesMatter teen book list, complete with book descriptions and her reasons for including them:

How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon

 

“Told through multiple perspectives, this teen novel examines the shooting of a Black teen by a White man. Complex and thought-provoking, it highlights the weaknesses inherent in eyewitness accounts.”

 All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brandon Kiely


“Jointly written by authors Jason Reynolds and Brandon Kiely, this teen novel follows the experiences of Rashad, a Black teen savagely beaten by a police officer, and Quinn, a White teen who witnessed the attack. As lines are drawn in the community and at school, both teens struggle to make sense of the larger societal forces shaping their lives.”

 Monster by Walter Dean Myers


“In this teen novel, a Black 16-year-old on trial as an accessory to murder recounts the path that led him into trouble. As small moral decisions become gateways to larger problems, readers will wrestle with questions of innocence and culpability that are never clearly answered.”

 A Wreath for Emmett Till by Marilyn Nelson 

 

“In this heroic crown of sonnets, Nelson asks readers to bear witness to the brutal murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till, a Black teen lynched in 1955 for allegedly whistling at a White woman. The questions raised about our country’s racial history still resonate, and provide much for readers to discuss in the context of current events.”

 We Troubled the Waters: Poems by Ntozake Shange, illus. by Rod Brown

 

“This collection of poems about the Civil Rights movement examines both well-known historical figures and the everyday folks living under racial oppression. While often uplifting and triumphant, Shange is nonetheless honest about the strides yet to be made.”

Black Lives Matter by Sue Bradford Edwards


“This nonfiction book for teens examines a number of recent high-profile cases of police brutality and racial profiling, placing them in historical context and analyzing a wide range of viewpoints.”

 Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Phillip M. Hoose

 

“This juvenile biography of Black teen Claudette Colvin examines the role she played in helping to integrate Montgomery’s bus system during the Civil Rights Movement. An inspiring role model of activism for teens, Colvin’s story also highlights the machinery behind political movements and the interconnected communities that create and sustain change.”

Getting Away with Murder: The True Story of the Emmett Till Case by Chris Crowe

 

 “A juvenile nonfiction account of the horrific murder of a Black teen in 1955, and the way it galvanized the Civil Rights Movement in America. Full of primary source material, including haunting images of the victim and his killers, it will resonate with teens eager to discuss contemporary parallels.”

 No Choirboy: Murder, Violence, and Teenagers on Death Row by Susan Kuklin

 

“This nonfiction collection for teens of true stories features the experiences of teenage convicts on death row. Incorporating the voices of their families, victims, and those involved in their cases, it provides a complex view of our legal system and raises important questions about justice and racial equality in America.”

A Good Time for the Truth: Race in Minnesota edited by Sun Yung Shin


“A diverse collection of authors, educators, and artists share essays on their experiences of being “other” in Minnesota, and the current state of race in an increasingly diverse Midwestern landscape. Written for adults, it’s sure to spark discussions among teen readers, too.”

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehesi Coates


“Accessible to both teen and adult readers, Coates’ letter to his son highlights the long history of brutality against Black bodies in the United States, and reveals the hopes and fears of a Black father for his child.”

We would love to hear more suggestions!