No young person’s bookcase is complete without books by Black authors and illustrators. In the 24 titles below, you’ll find recent books for readers of every age, from the littlest of littles to teens and YA readers, full of mystery, laughter, music, romance and more.
The King of Kindergarten by Derrick Barnes, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton
The start of school is an event of regal import in The King of Kindergarten, as a young boy washes his face “with a cloth bearing the family crest,” puts on “handpicked garments from the far-off villages of Osh and Kosh,” downs a pancake breakfast and gets on the bus—“a big yellow carriage.” Barnes’ story is a fun reminder to readers that they have what it takes to succeed, accompanied by Brantley-Newton’s irresistible depictions of kindergarten life.
Big Papa and the Time Machine by Daniel Bernstrom, illustrated by Shane W. Evans
When a young grandson expresses first-day-of-school nerves, he becomes a passenger in Big Papa’s vintage car on a journey through the past. Author Daniel Bernstrom writes dialogue between the pair that’s honest and full of wisdom. Without veering into didactic or overly saccharine territory, Big Papa shows his grandson that courage is not the absence of fear, but the choice to carry on through it.
I Am Loved by Nikki Giovanni, illustrated by Ashley Bryan
Nikki Giovanni and Ashley Bryan first collaborated in 1996 with The Sun Is So Quiet, and they joined creative forces once again to bring a new gift to readers with I Am Loved. Complementing Giovanni’s luminous poetry, Bryan’s ever-gorgeous tempera-and-watercolor art is a jeweled treasure—a stained glass and patchwork-quilt vision of love.
What Is Given From the Heart by Patricia C. McKissack, illustrated by April Harrison
It seems both fitting and bittersweet that the last picture book written by Patricia C. McKissack, a towering figure in children’s literature, should be the first picture book illustrated by a talent as extraordinary as April Harrison, who would go on to win the Coretta Scott King-John Steptoe Award for New Talent for her work on it. The book itself is a poignant exploration of what it means to truly give of oneself, and readers should take solace in the many wonderful books created for them by McKissack, and hope in the many wonderful books Harrison is sure to create in the future—all of them gifts from the heart.
Saturday by Oge Mora
Saturday is Ava and her mother’s special day to spend together, but nothing seems to be going as planned today! Oge Mora’s picture book is a big-hearted ode to parent-child bonding as well as a reminder of what makes time truly well spent.
I Can Write the World by Joshunda Sanders, illustrated by Charly Palmer
Living in South Bronx, Ava wonders why news images and stories depicting her neighborhood don’t reflect or match her feelings and experiences, so she sets out to become a journalist who will report the stories that accurately reflect her vibrant, creative and loving neighborhood. Ava’s gentle first-person perspective provides a child’s insight into a New York City neighborhood and demonstrates to readers that that they, too, hold the power to seek out and tell stories.
The Old Truck by Jarrett Pumphrey and Jerome Pumphrey
The picture book canon of books about “things that go” gets a stunning new update in Jarrett and Jerome Pumphrey’s instant classic, The Old Truck, the story of a beloved farm truck that falls into disrepair until it’s rediscovered and restored to its former glory by an enterprising young farmer.
Another by Christian Robinson
As a girl sleeps in her bedroom, a mysterious portal to another plane of existence appears in the darkness. Illustrator Christian Robinson makes his authorial debut in this wordless tale made for twisting and turning in little hands. Robinson uses simple shapes—the oval of the portal, the triangle of the girl’s dress, the small squares of the stairs—to tell a multilayered, mind-blowing and truly out-of-this-world adventure.
Infinite Hope by Ashley Bryan
At the age of 96, Ashley Bryan, a hugely beloved figure in children’s literature, finally published a memoir in which he discussed his military service in World War II. Infinite Hope relates Bryan’s journey as a stevedore in the 502nd Port Battalion through mixed media, with large photographs interspersed with sketches, paintings and excerpts from his diary and letters. The result is both an intimate portrait of Bryan himself and a rare insight into the African American experience of World War II and the invasion of Normandy.
King and the Dragonflies by Kacen Callender
Kacen Callender brings their lyrical style to this story of a boy who believes his older brother isn’t dead but has instead been transformed into a dragonfly. Callender writes with honesty and kindness, and strikes the difficult but necessary balance between the two perfectly.
The Only Black Girls in Town by Brandy Colbert
Critically acclaimed YA author Brandy Colbert made her middle grade debut in this story of two girls who uncover a stack of journals in an attic. Equal parts mystery, coming-of-age narrative and coastal California travelogue, The Only Black Girls in Town is an affectionate tribute to friends, both new and old, and the ways they enrich our lives.
The Parker Inheritence by Varian Johnson
Two friends uncover a clue to a treasure hunt left unsolved for generations in Varian Johnson’s page-turning The Parker Inheritance. With a nod to The Westing Game, Johnson pens a smart mystery that deftly explores modern-day discrimination, the history of segregation in the South, friendship, love and bullying.
The Season of Styx Malone by Kekla Magoon
Kekla Magoon’s tale of summer adventure begins as 10-year-old Caleb and his 11-year-old brother, Bobby Gene, trade their toddler sister, Susie, for a large bag of fireworks. Their summer really ignites when the brothers meet the titular Styx Malone, an older teen who hatches a plan to help the boys repeatedly “trade up”—with the goal of eventually buying a moped—in what he calls a “Great Escalator Trade.” Magoon’s thoughtful novel is a classic coming-of-age story about the pleasures and constraints of friendship, family, trust and betrayal.
From the Desk of Zoe Washington by Janae Marks
On her 12th birthday, Zoe discovers that her mother has been intercepting her father’s letters to her from prison and decides to write him back. When her father reveals the existence of an alibi that will exonerate him, Zoe sets out to track it down. Marks’ crisp writing and Zoe’s appealing first-person narration make for page-turning reading.
Look Both Ways by Jason Reynolds
In each of the 10 short stories that compose Look Both Ways: A Tale Told in Ten Blocks, the reader follows a different student to see what they get up to on their way home from school. Despite seemingly simple prose, Reynolds’ language sparkles.
Some Places More Than Others by Renée Watson
Some Places More Than Others is Oregon-born Watson’s love letter to her adopted home of New York City. In this story of a girl’s first visit to her grandfather’s Harlem home, Watson expertly balances her heroine’s outward adventures with her inner exploration of identity, family heritage, Black history and independence.
Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo
The stories of the lives lost on board Flight 587 and those of the families left behind, as well as author Elizabeth Acevedo’s own memories of trips to visit relatives in the Dominican Republic, inspired Clap When You Land. The book gets its title from the Dominican tradition of applauding when a plane touches down safely at its destination. By the story’s end, readers will be ready to give its two heroines and Acevedo herself a standing ovation.
When the Stars Lead to You by Ronni Davis
Through Devon’s struggle to recognize the importance of valuing herself within her romantic relationship, debut author Ronni Davis deftly illustrates one of the primary challenges of young love. Deeply moving and thought-provoking, When the Stars Lead to You takes readers on a journey through first love, heartbreak and the indispensable lessons they can bring.
Not So Pure and Simple by Lamar Giles
Two-time Edgar Award finalist Lamar Giles tells two stories at once in Not So Pure and Simple. One is a comedy of errors, as Del’s attempts to spend time alone with the object of his affection go increasingly awry. The other is a thoughtful exploration of gender roles and toxic masculinity told with empathy and humor.
Let Me Hear a Rhyme by Tiffany D. Jackson
When Quadir and Jarrell hear the music Steph had been recording before he died, they have an idea. Shouldn’t the world get to hear their friend’s lyrical genius? Readers will feel connected to these teens’ love of hip-hop, their loyalty to each other and their love for their community—even when they disagree over how to protect it. Let Me Hear a Rhyme is an engaging ode to ’90s hip-hop and to love in many forms.
Slay by Brittany Morris
Tired of playing video games in which the only characters of color are villains or dwarves, and weary of encountering racial slurs hurled at her by other players’ avatars, Kiera developed SLAY to create a place where Black gamers could play safely online. But when a Black teenager is shot to death over a SLAY-related dispute, Kiera begins to question everything. Readers will cheer for Kiera as she slays her own demons, and they’ll desperately wish SLAY were more than the product of Morris’ imagination.
The Field Guide to the North American Teenager by Ben Philippe
Debut author Ben Philippe’s The Field Guide to the North American Teenager mirrors his own experience and paints an authentic portrait of what it’s like to feel like a fish out of water—not only for his protagonist but also for a richly developed cast of supporting characters whose Breakfast Club-style stereotypes fall away to reveal teens who are just trying to find their places in the world.
Jackpot by Nic Stone
When a customer at the gas station where she works buys what might be a winning lottery ticket, it sets a whole new life in motion for Rico. But is a Jackpot really the answer to all her problems? Nic Stone structures Jackpot like a romance with a twist of mystery—Rico enlists rich kid Zan to help her track down the ticket holder, and their shared quest leads to mutual attraction—but there is so much more going on underneath its surface.
When You Were Everything by Ashley Woodfolk
Ashley Woodfolk’s second novel is a powerful close-up view of what it means to lose a best friend and to feel like you’re facing the world alone. In effortless prose, Woodfolk illustrates the depth of Cleo and Layla’s friendship, the chaos of its unraveling and the devastation of its aftermath as Cleo tries to pick up the pieces and find a way forward without her other half.