Some books introduce us to characters who are different from us, allowing us to see the world from a new perspective. But for children in the process of figuring out who they are, and who they want to be, it is just as important to also read stories about characters they can relate to, and see themselves in. The desire to read more books about girls like herself inspired 11-year-old Marley Dias to take action. She launched a campaign, using the hashtag #1000BlackGirlBooks, to collect 1,000 books featuring black female protagonists and donate them to a school in the parish of Jamaica where her mother was raised. In honor of Marley’s inspiring cause, and her commitment to promoting the importance of books featuring black female lead characters, we’ve rounded up 15 of our favorite such books (including those we’re donating to Marley’s book drive) for readers of all ages.
The Quickest Kid in Clarksville, by Pat Zietlow Miller and Frank Morrison
It’s 1961, and sweet, spunky Alta wants to be the fastest runner in Clarksville, TN, just like her idol, three-time Olympic gold medalist Wilma Rudolph. But just before the town throws a big parade in Wilma’s honor, a new girl arrives wearing fancy new shoes, and challenges Alta to a race. What if she isn’t the quickest kid in Clarksville?
Ruby’s Sleepover, by Kathryn White and Miriam Latimer
Ruby and her friend Mai decide to camp out in the yard where scary shadows appear and mysterious figures emerge. Clever text and playful visuals give this book a few campy thrills and titillating chills—which are both, of course, essential to the ultimate sleepover experience.
Amazing Grace, by Mary Hoffman and Caroline Binch
Grace loves stories and she loves acting them out. So, when she wants to play Peter Pan in the school play, nothing is going to stop her. This is a story about how you can do anything by being capable, talented, and determined.
A Sweet Smell of Roses, by Angela Johnson and Eric Velazquez
This is the story of two sisters who secretly join a Civil Rights rally and march led by Dr. Martin Luther King. It honors youth involvement in the Civil Rights Movement and proves that kids who want to see change can participate in causes that are important to them.
Grace for President, by Kelly DiPucchio and Leuyen Pham
When Grace enters a world no girl has before—her school presidential election—a world of adventure and new experiences challenge her. An entertaining story with a strong protagonist and an explanation of the voting and Electoral College process that even adults can learn from!
Izzy Barr, Running Star by Claudia Mills and Rob Shepperson
Each student of the Franklin School Friends series is a stand out at something, and Izzy Barr is the best runner around. Unfortunately for her, her brother is also a great athlete and possibly the apple of their father’s eye. Will things turn around for Izzy when the big 10k comes to town? For the budding track athlete or distance runner in the family—or for the kid who wants a fun way to pass the time while mom and dad run, pick up Izzy Barr!
The Lulu series, by Hilary McKay, illustrated by Priscilla Lamont
Seven-year-old Lulu loves animals. All animals. And animals seem to love Lulu, including dogs, cats, hamsters, rabbits, hedgehogs, and ducks. The books in this series really chronicle the everyday life of Lulu and her best friend Mellie; things like school, and sleepovers, and vacations. But each book also introduces a new animal friend, whether it’s one of Lulu’s many pets, or one she rescues along the way. Lots of lighthearted antics, humor, and expressive black-and-white illustrations make for a fun, easy read.
The Keena Ford series, by Melissa Thomson
Keena Ford, the most “important person in her journal” because it’s hers, is a lovable troublemaker who has to find her way out of the most sticky situations. From birthdays, to field trips, to the day her journal is discovered by Tiffany Harris, the “meanest muffinhead” in second grade, following Keena out of each mix-up is a delight.
Middle Grade Books:
Brown Girl Dreaming, by Jacqueline Woodson
In moving verse, Woodson shares the story her coming of age during the civil rights movement. Her perspectives on God, family, and the world around her depict her love of words and story, and masterfully reveal her place as a young girl in the beautiful space of becoming.
Flygirl, by Sherri L. Smith
Flygirl is about Ida Mae Jones, a young black girl in the 1940’s who wants to fly just like her pilot father whom, since his death, she feels closest to in the air. When the Army forms WASP—Women Airforce Service Pilots—during World War II, Ida decides to pose as a white girl in order to join, but soon learns that being true to herself is more important.
Bayou Magic, by Jewell Parker Rhodes
It’s 10 year old Maddy’s turn to have a summer in Bayou Bon Temps with her grandmother; it will be her first time away from home in the city. Her four big sisters, who have each already had their turn, have complained about the primitive living conditions down in the bayou, and have told her their grandmother is a witch, so Maddy is nervous. But when she arrives at her grandmother’s home, she finds a place that’s just right for her.
From the Notebooks of a Middle School Princess, by Meg Cabot
Olivia Grace Clarisse Mignonette Harrison, who is being raised by her Aunt’s family, has always known that she was different. Even so, she is in for a surprise when Mia, Princess of Genovia, arrives with the shocking (yet not surprising) news that they are half-sisters…and that she, Olivia Grace Clarisse Mignonette Harrison, is the newest princess of Genovia.
The Mighty Miss Malone, by Christopher Paul Curtis
As an African American family in Gary, Indiana, the tight-knit Malones have been hit hard by the Great Depression, but their whip-smart twelve-year-old daughter, Deza, has a bright future: her teachers say she is destined for greatness. Deza is soon forced to channel her smarts in new ways when her father leaves town to find work and the rest of the family sets out to catch up with him. Met with trials and uncertainty at every turn, unflappable Deza puts her faith in the one thing she can count on: her family’s unbreakable bond.
Ninth Ward, by Jewell Parker Rhodes
Ninth Ward tells the story of twelve year old Lanesha and her struggle to survive in the aftermath of the horrible flooding of her home during Hurricane Katrina. It is a moving story of friendship, love, and adventure.
Serafina’s Promise by Ann E. Burg
This exquisite story is about eleven-year-old Serafina, who lives in a rural village in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and dreams of becoming a doctor. With little money or resources but lots of hope and resolve, Serafina must overcome the forces of nature that destroy her home and devastate her country. This unforgettable story will break your heart open, and then stitch it back together again.
What books would you add to this list?