Black Voices in Children’s and YA literature

The publishing world has seen an increase in the representation of Black women’s voices, and it is a welcome change.

The publishing world has seen an increase in the representation of Black women’s voices, and it is a welcome change. This movement can be seen in the young adult (YA) and picture book genres as well. Parents looking to share joyful stories of Black children, celebrate the history of a people or gently discuss the realities of racism will find these books to be welcome additions to their bookshelf or church library.

 

Josey Johnson’s Hair and the Holy Spirit
Esau McCaulley, Illustrations by LaTonya Jackson
InterVarsity Press, 32 pages
Published May 10, 2022

We are “fearfully and wonderfully made,” Josey’s dad reminds her, as she has her hair braided just in time for Pentecost worship. She is “special and worthy of honor,” something that Josey sometimes forgets when she doesn’t see girls who look like her on TV or at school. The exuberant story, with illustrations to match, manages to explain Pentecost, affirm Josey’s Blackness as “God’s work of art” and celebrate human difference as evidence of God’s plan for creation at the same time. That’s a lot for a picture book, but it works!

The Year We Learned to Fly
Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by Rafael Lopez
Nancy Paulsen Books, 32 pages
Published January 4, 2022

Gifted YA writer Jacqueline Woodson uses the classic children’s book dilemma of a boring, rainy day as a jumping off point for celebrating imagination, creativity and resilience in The Year We Learned to Fly. Whether the children are bored, lonely or contentious, their grandmother offers a solution: “Use those beautiful and brilliant minds of yours,” and she invites them to imagine their “flight” over their city in which its color and beauty are revealed. Rafael Lopez’ gorgeously illustrated flights of fancy offer an age-appropriate way to address a more serious issue — how, during horrific times, a people can not only survive but thrive.

Change Sings: A Children’s Anthem
Amanda Gorman, illustrated by Loren Long
Viking Books for Young Readers, 32 pages
Published September 21, 2021

“I can hear change humming/ In its loudest, proudest song. I don’t fear change coming,/ And so I sing along,” poet Amanda Gorman “sings” in Change Sings. Loren Long’s photos depict different kinds of children pitching in to serve others, clean up parks or simply playing together. This open-hearted picture book invites everyone to join in the song, making it clear that the changes underway in our country are not to be feared but embraced. Gorman’s message is clear, yet gentle, making this an ideal book to be read aloud in Sunday School or to accompany a church activity. “Change sings where? There! Inside me. Because I’m the change I want to see.” May Gorman’s words inspire this next generation to be the peacemakers and change agents our country so desperately needs.

The 1619 Project: Born on the Water
Nikole Hannah-Jones and Renee Watson, illustrated by Nikkolas Smith
Kokila, 48 pages
Published November 16, 2021

The story of Black Americans, Nikole Hannah-Jones and Renee Watson write, begins not with enslavement but when they “had a home, a place, a land.” With warm prose, the grandmother paints a picture of long-ago life in Africa and a “people of great strength.” She reminds the modern children in the story that their history is reason to be proud.

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