Walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. Discover what life is like for a kid who is like you on the inside…but who looks different on the outside.
Try one of these books–some historical fiction, some in contemporary settings. Think about what the world is like for everyone living in it, and decide how you can be part of it changing for the better.
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Lucky Broken Girl / Ruth Behar
Ruthie Mizrahi and her family recently emigrated from Castro’s Cuba to New York City. Just when she’s finally beginning to gain confidence in her mastery of English–and enjoying her reign as her neighborhood’s hopscotch queen–a horrific car accident leaves her in a body cast and confined her to her bed for a long recovery. As Ruthie’s world shrinks because of her inability to move, her powers of observation and her heart grow larger and she comes to understand how fragile life is, how vulnerable we all are as human beings, and how friends, neighbors, and the power of the arts can sweeten even the worst of times.
The Only Black Girls in Town / Brandy Colbert
Beach-loving surfer Alberta has been the only black girl in town for years. Alberta’s best friend, Laramie, is the closest thing she has to a sister, but there are some things even Laramie can’t understand. When the bed and breakfast across the street finds new owners, Alberta is ecstatic to learn the family is black-and they have a 12-year-old daughter just like her. Alberta is positive she and the new girl, Edie, will be fast friends. But while Alberta loves being a California girl, Edie misses her native Brooklyn and finds it hard to adapt to small-town living. When the girls discover a box of old journals in Edie’s attic, they team up to figure out exactly who’s behind them and why they got left behind. Soon they discover shocking and painful secrets of the past and learn that nothing is quite what it seems.
The Watsons go to Birmingham–1963 / by Christopher Paul Curtis
Enter the hilarious world of Kenny and his family, the Weird Watsons of Flint, Michigan. There’s Momma, Dad, little sister Joetta, and brother Byron, who’s thirteen and an “official juvenile delinquent.” When Byron gets to be too much trouble, they head South to Birmingham to visit Grandma, the one person who can shape him up. And they’ll be in Birmingham during one of the darkest moments in America’s history.
Blended / Sharon M. Draper
Isabella’s parents are divorced, so she has to switch lives every week: One week she’s Isabella with her dad, his girlfriend Anastasia, and her son Darren living in a fancy house where they are one of the only black families in the neighborhood. The next week she’s Izzy with her mom and her boyfriend John-Mark in a small, not-so-fancy house that she loves. Because of this, Isabella has always felt pulled between two worlds. Isabella feels stuck in the middle, more split and divided between them than ever. And she’s is beginning to realize that being split between Mom and Dad is more than switching houses, switching nicknames, switching backpacks: it’s also about switching identities. When her parents, who both get engaged at the same time, get in their biggest fight ever, Isabella doesn’t just feel divided, she feels ripped in two. What does it mean to be half white or half black? To belong to half mom and half dad? And if you’re only seen as half of this and half of that, how can you ever feel whole? It seems like nothing can bring Isabella’s family together again–until the worst happens. Isabella and Darren are stopped by the police. A cell phone is mistaken for a gun. And shots are fired.
Unstoppable Octobia May / Sharon G. Flake
Octobia May is girl filled with questions. Her heart condition makes her special – and, some folks would argue, gives this ten-year-old powers that make her a “wise soul.” Thank goodness for Auntie, who convinces Octobia’s parents to let her live in her boarding house that is filled with old folks. That’s when trouble, and excitement, and wonder begin. Auntie is non-traditional. She’s unmarried and has plans to purchase other boarding homes and hotels. At a time when children, and especially girls, are “seen, not heard,” Auntie allows Octobia May the freedom and expression of an adult. When Octobia starts to question the folks in her world, an adventure and a mystery unfold that beg some troubling questions: Who is black and who is “passing” for white? What happens when a vibrant African American community must face its own racism? And, perhaps most important: Do vampires really exist?
Armstrong & Charlie / Steven B. Frank
Charlie isn’t looking forward to sixth grade. If he starts sixth grade, chances are he’ll finish it. And when he does, he’ll grow older than the brother he recently lost. Armstrong isn’t looking forward to sixth grade, either. When his parents sign him up for Opportunity Busing to a white school in the Hollywood Hills, all he wants to know is “What time in the morning will my alarm clock have the opportunity to ring?” When these two land at the same desk, it’s the Rules Boy next to the Rebel, a boy who lost a brother elbow-to-elbow with a boy who longs for one.
From September to June, arms will wrestle, fists will fly, and bottles will spin. There’ll be Ho Hos spiked with hot sauce, sleepovers, boy talk about girls, and a little guidance from the stars. Set in Los Angeles in the 1970s, Armstrong and Charlie is the hilarious, heartwarming tale of two boys from opposite worlds, Different, yet the same.
The Other Half of my Heart / Sundee T. Frazier
Twin daughters of interracial parents, Keira and Minna have very different skin tones and personalities, but it is not until their African American grandmother enters them in the Miss Black Pearl Pre-Teen competition in North Carolina that red-haired and pale-skinned Minna realizes what life in their small town in the Pacific Northwest has been like for her more outgoing, darker-skinned sister.
The Liberation of Gabriel King / K.L. Going
Gabriel King believes he was born chicken. He’s afraid of spiders, corpses, loose cows, and just about everything related to the fifth grade. If it’s a choice between graduating or staying in the fourth grade forever, he’s going to stay put-only his best friend, Frita Wilson, won’t hear of it. When Frita makes up her mind, she’s like a locomotive-there’s no stopping her. “First, you’re going to make a list. Write down everything you’re afraid of.” Gabe’s list is a lot longer than he’d like Frita to know. Plus, he can’t quite figure out how tackling his fears will make him brave. Surely jumping off the rope swing over the catfish pond can only lead to certain death . . . but maybe Frita knows what she’s doing. It turns out she’s got her own list, and while she’s watching Gabe face all his fears, she’s avoiding the fear that scares her the most.
Ruby Lee & Me / Shannon Hitchcock
Everything’s changing for Sarah Beth Willis. After Robin’s tragic accident, everyone seems different somehow. Days on the farm aren’t the same, and the simple fun of riding a bike or playing outside can be scary. And there’s talk in town about the new sixth-grade teacher at Shady Creek. Word is spreading quickly–Mrs. Smyre is like no other teacher anyone has ever seen around these parts. She’s the first African American teacher. It’s 1969, and while black folks and white folks are cordial, having a black teacher at an all-white school is a strange new happening. For Sarah Beth, there are so many unanswered questions. What is all this talk about Freedom Riders and school integration? Why can’t she and Ruby become best friends? And who says school isn’t for anybody who wants to learn–or teach? In a world filled with uncertainty, one very special teacher shows her young students and the adults in their lives that change invites unexpected possibilities.
The Lions of Little Rock / Kristin Levine
Marlee doesn’t have many friends until she meets Liz, the new girl at school. Liz is bold and brave, and always knows the right thing to say, especially to Sally, the resident mean girl. Liz even helps Marlee overcome her greatest fear – speaking, which Marlee never does outside her family. But then Liz is gone, replaced by the rumor that she was a Negro girl passing as white. But Marlee decides that doesn’t matter. Liz is her best friend. And to stay friends, Marlee and Liz are willing to take on integration and the dangers their friendship could bring to both their families.
For Black Girls Like Me / Mariama J. Lockington
Makeda June Kirkland is eleven-years-old, adopted, and black. Her parents and big sister are white, and even though she loves her family very much, Makeda often feels left out. When Makeda’s family moves from Maryland to New Mexico, she leaves behind her best friend, Lena–the only other adopted black girl she knows–for a new life. In New Mexico, everything is different. At home, Makeda’s sister is too cool to hang out with her anymore and at school, she can’t seem to find one true friend. Through it all, Makeda can’t help wondering: What would it feel like to grow up with a family that looks like me?Through singing, dreaming, and writing secret messages back and forth with Lena, Makeda might just carve a small place for herself in the world.
The Stars Beneath Our Feet / David Barclay Moore
It’s Christmas Eve in Harlem, but Lolly Rachpaul and his mom aren’t celebrating. They’re still reeling from his older brother’s death in a gang-related shooting just a few months earlier. Then Lolly’s mother’s girlfriend brings him a gift that will change everything: two enormous bags filled with Legos. Lolly’s always loved Legos, and he prides himself on following the kit instructions exactly. Now, faced with a pile of building blocks and no instructions, Lolly must find his own way forward. His path isn’t clear–and the pressure to join a “crew,” as his brother did, is always there. When Lolly and his friend are beaten up and robbed, joining a crew almost seems like the safe choice. But building a fantastical Lego city at the community center provides Lolly with an escape–and an unexpected bridge back to the world.
How High the Moon / Karyn Parsons
In the small town of Alcolu, South Carolina, in 1944, Ella spends her days fishing and running around with her best friend Henry and cousin Myrna. But life is not always so sunny for Ella, who gets bullied for her light skin tone and whose mother is away pursuing a jazz singer dream in Boston. So Ella is ecstatic when her mother invites her to visit for Christmas. Little does she expect the truths she will discover about her mother, the father she never knew and her family’s most unlikely history. And after a life-changing month, she returns South and is shocked by the news that her schoolmate George has been arrested for the murder of two local white girls. Bittersweet and eye-opening, How High the Moon is a timeless novel about a girl finding herself in a world all but determined to hold her down.
A Good Kind of Trouble / Lisa Moore Ramée
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.) But in junior high, it’s like all the rules have changed. Now she’s suddenly questioning who her best friends are and some people at school are saying she’s not black enough. Wait, what? Shay’s sister, Hana, is involved in Black Lives Matter, but Shay doesn’t think that’s for her. After experiencing a powerful protest, though, Shay decides some rules are worth breaking. She starts wearing an armband to school in support of the Black Lives movement. Soon everyone is taking sides. And she is given an ultimatum. Shay is scared to do the wrong thing (and even more scared to do the right thing), but if she doesn’t face her fear, she’ll be forever tripping over the next hurdle. Now that’s trouble, for real.
Ghost / Jason Reynolds
Ghost. Lu. Patina. Sunny. Four kids from wildly different backgrounds with personalities that are explosive when they clash. But they are also four kids chosen for an elite middle school track team–a team that could qualify them for the Junior Olympics if they can get their acts together. They all have a lot to lose, but they also have a lot to prove, not only to each other, but to themselves. Running. That’s all Ghost (real name Castle Cranshaw) has ever known. But Ghost has been running for the wrong reasons–it all started with running away from his father, who, when Ghost was a very little boy, chased him and his mother through their apartment, then down the street, with a loaded gun, aiming to kill. Since then, Ghost has been the one causing problems–and running away from them–until he meets Coach, an ex-Olympic Medalist who sees something in Ghost: crazy natural talent. If Ghost can stay on track, literally and figuratively, he could be the best sprinter in the city. Can Ghost harness his raw talent for speed, or will his past finally catch up to him? Read the stories of the other track team members as well.
Ghost Boys / Jewell Parker Rhodes
Jerome is shot by a police officer who mistakes his toy gun for a real threat. As a ghost, he observes the devastation that’s been unleashed on his family and community in the wake of what they see as an unjust and brutal killing. Soon Jerome meets another ghost: Emmett Till, a boy from a very different time but similar circumstances. Emmett helps Jerome process what has happened, on a journey towards recognizing how historical racism may have led to the events that ended his life. Jerome also meets Sarah, the daughter of the police officer, who grapples with her father’s actions.
The Hero Two Doors Down / Sharon Robinson
Stephen Satlow lives in Brooklyn, New York, which means he only cares about one thing-the Dodgers. Steve and his father spend hours reading the sports pages and listening to games on the radio. Aside from an occasional run-in with his teacher, life is pretty simple for Steve. But then Steve hears a rumor that an African American family is moving to his all-Jewish neighborhood. It’s 1948 and some of his neighbors are against it. Steve knows this is wrong. His hero, Jackie Robinson, broke the color barrier in baseball the year before. Then it happens–Steve’s new neighbor is none other than Jackie Robinson! Steve is beyond excited about living two doors down from the Robinson family. He can’t wait to meet Jackie. This is going to be the best baseball season yet! How many kids ever get to become friends with their hero?
Clean Getaway / Nic Stone
How to Go on an Unplanned Road Trip with Your Grandma:
– Grab a Suitcase: Prepacked from the big spring break trip that got CANCELLED.
– Fasten Your Seatbelt: G’ma’s never conventional, so this trip won’t be either.
– Use the Green Book: G’ma’s most treasured possession. It holds history, memories, and most important, the way home.
What Not to Bring:
– A Cell Phone: Avoid contact with Dad at all costs. Even when G’ma starts acting stranger than usual.
Set against the backdrop of the segregation history of the American South, take a trip with this New York Times bestseller and an eleven-year-old boy who is about to discover that the world hasn’t always been a welcoming place for kids like him, and things aren’t always what they seem–his G’ma included.”
Mississippi Bridge / Mildred Taylor Cassie Logan and her brothers watch as the weekly bus from Jackson comes splashing through a heavy rainstorm–they are there to see their grandmother off on a trip. One by one, the passengers board the bus. But this is Mississippi in the 1930s, so when several white passengers arrive at the last minute, the driver roughly orders the black passengers off the bus, including Cassie’s grandmother. Then, disaster strikes in the rain, and the children witness a shocking end to the day’s drama.
Some Places More Than Others / Renée Watson
All Amara wants for her birthday is to visit her father’s family in New York City–Harlem, to be exact. She can’t wait to finally meet her Grandpa Earl and cousins in person, and to stay in the brownstone where her father grew up. Maybe this will help her understand her family–and herself–in new way. But New York City is not exactly what Amara thought it would be. It’s crowded, with confusing subways, suffocating sidewalks, and her father is too busy with work to spend time with her and too angry to spend time with Grandpa Earl. As she explores, asks questions, and learns more and more about Harlem and about her father and his family history, she realizes how, in some ways more than others, she connects with him, her home, and her family.
My Year in the Middle / Lila Quintero Weaver
In a racially polarized classroom in 1970 Alabama, Lu’s talent for running track makes her a new best friend – and tests her mettle as she navigates the school’s social cliques. Miss Garrett’s classroom is like every other at our school. White kids sit on one side and black kids on the other. Sixth-grader Lu Olivera just wants to keep her head down and get along with everyone in her class. Trouble is, Lu’s old friends have been changing lately – acting boy crazy and making snide remarks about Lu’s newfound talent for running track. Lu’s secret hope for a new friend is fellow runner Belinda Gresham, but in 1970 Red Grove, Alabama, blacks and whites don’t mix. As segregationist ex-governor George Wallace ramps up his campaign against the current governor, Albert Brewer, growing tensions in the state – and in the classroom – mean that Lu can’t stay neutral about the racial divide at school. Will she find the gumption to stand up for what’s right and to choose friends who do the same?
Revolution / Deborah Wiles
It’s 1964, and Sunny’s town is being invaded. Or at least that’s what the adults of Greenwood, Mississippi, are saying. All Sunny knows is that people from up north are coming to help people register to vote. They’re calling it Freedom Summer. Meanwhile, Sunny can’t help but feel like her house is being invaded, too. She has a new stepmother, a new brother, and a new sister crowding her life, giving her little room to breathe. And things get even trickier when Sunny and her brother are caught sneaking into the local swimming pool–where they bump into a mystery boy whose life is going to become tangled up in theirs.
One Crazy Summer / Rita Williams-Garcia
Delphine is like a mother to her two younger sisters, Vonetta and Fern. She’s had to be, ever since their mother, Cecile, left them seven years ago for a radical new life in California. But when the sisters arrive from Brooklyn to spend the summer with their mother, Cecile is nothing like they imagined. While the girls hope to go to Disneyland and meet Tinker Bell, their mother sends them to a day camp run by the Black Panthers. Unexpectedly, Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern learn much about their family, their country, and themselves during one truly crazy summer.
The Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond / Brenda Woods
Violet is a smart, funny, brown-eyed, brown-haired girl in a family of blonds. Her mom is white, and her dad, who died before she was born, was black. She attends a mostly white school where she sometimes feels like a brown leaf on a pile of snow. She’s tired of people asking if she’s adopted. Now that Violet’s eleven, she decides it’s time to learn about her African American heritage. And despite getting off to a rocky start trying to reclaim her dad’s side of the family, she can feel her confidence growing as the puzzle pieces of her life finally start coming together. Readers will cheer for Violet, sharing her joy as she discovers her roots.
The Unsung Hero of Birdsong USA / Brenda Woods
On Gabriel’s twelfth birthday, he gets a new bike–and is so excited that he accidentally rides it right into the path of a car. Fortunately, a Black man named Meriwether pushes him out of the way just in time, and fixes his damaged bike. As a thank you, Gabriel gets him a job at his dad’s auto shop. Gabriel’s dad hires him with some hesitation, however, anticipating trouble with the other mechanic, who makes no secret of his racist opinions. Gabriel and Meriwether become friends, and Gabriel learns that Meriwether drove a tank in the Army’s all-Black 761st Tank Battalion in WWII. Meriwether is proud of his service, but has to keep it a secret because talking about it could be dangerous. Sadly, danger finds Meriwether, anyway, when his family receives a frightening threat. The South being the way it is, there’s no guarantee that the police will help–and Gabriel doesn’t know what will happen if Meriwether feels forced to take the law into his own hands.
My Life as an Ice Cream Sandwich / by Ibi Zoboi
In the summer of 1984, Ebony-Grace Norfleet makes the trip from Huntsville, Alabama, to Harlem, where she’ll spend a few weeks with her father while her mother deals with some trouble that’s arisen for Ebony-Grace’s beloved grandfather, Jeremiah. Jeremiah Norfleet is a bit of a celebrity in Huntsville, where he was one of the first black engineers to integrate NASA two decades earlier. And ever since his granddaughter came to live with him when she was little, he’s nurtured her love of all things outer space and science fiction–especially Star Warsand Star Trek, both of which she’s watched dozens of time on Grandaddady’s Betamax machine. So even as Ebony-Grace struggled to make friends among her peers, she could always rely on her grandfather and the imaginary worlds they created together. In Harlem, however, she faces a whole new challenge. Harlem in 1984 is an exciting and terrifying place for a sheltered girl from Hunstville, and her first instinct is to retreat into her imagination. But soon 126th Street begins to reveal that it has more in common with her beloved sci-fi adventures than she ever thought possible, and by summer’s end, Ebony-Grace discovers that gritty and graffitied Harlem has a place for a girl whose eyes are always on the stars.
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Find out what the world is like for kids who are different from you. Only the living can make the world better. Read, live and make the world better.