Skip To Content

    16 Middle Grade Historical Fiction Books By Black Authors

    There’s more to Black history than slavery.

    Black history may not always seem like a “pleasant” topic to read about, but it is necessary education. In my experience reading and writing about books for children, I have found Black authors and Black history to be relatively missing from the genre of historical fiction. Fortunately, more contemporary authors are writing about this topic, and not just about slavery, but also about Black joy.

    The books on this list include stories about segregation, slavery, and poverty, but also about Black kids who play music, tap-dance, enter beauty pageants, love outer space, and investigate mysteries. These kids are also grappling with regular tween issues like first crushes, sibling squabbles, and strained friendships.

    1. The Magic in Changing Your Stars by Leah Henderson

    Sterling Children's Books

    Eleven-year-old Ailey Lane is so confident about his dance moves that he’s sure he’ll land the role of the scarecrow in his school’s The Wiz play. But when he freezes during his audition, his dreams seem to be derailed. While Ailey is feeling dejected, his grandfather tells him of his own boyhood tap-dancing dreams, even showing him the tap shoes given to him by a famous mayor in the 1930s. When Ailey tries on the shoes in secret, he is transported to 1930s Harlem, where he meets his gramps as a boy and tries to undo the mistake that stopped Gramps from dancing. Full of heart, Black culture, and a cast of African American characters, this story is a luminous debut.

    Get it from Bookshop, Target, or your local indie through Indiebound here.

    2. Stella by Starlight by Sharon M. Draper

    Atheneum Books

    Young Stella is an aspiring writer living in the segregated South in the 1930s. Although she can’t enter every store she wants and the Black schools aren’t as nice as the schools for white kids, at least the KKK hasn’t bothered them for years. Until one night, when Stella and her brother discover a KKK meeting going on right there in their town. This well-loved book also highlights the warmth of Stella’s community as they enjoy Christmas pageants and support one another through the rough times.

    Get it from Bookshop, Target, or your local indie through Indiebound here.

    3. It All Comes Down to This by Karen English

    Clarion Books

    Set in 1960s Los Angeles, this book follows 12-year-old Sophie, whose family has just moved to an all-white neighborhood. She has befriended a white girl, Jennifer, whose family “doesn’t see color.” Sophie’s family is also dealing with several changes: Her sister Lily is getting set to go to college, her dad has been unfaithful to her mother, and the new housekeeper hates her. On top of all that, a friend is arrested during the Watts riots. This book manages to balance humor, the mundanities of tween summer living, and serious US history.

    Get it from Bookshop, Target, or your local indie through Indiebound here.

    4. Betty Before X by Ilyasah Shabazz and Renée Watson

    Square Fish

    Cowritten by Ilyasah Shabazz and Renée Watson, this middle grade book tells the childhood story of Shabazz’s mother, Betty Shabazz — who was Malcolm X’s wife. Although the book is a work of fiction, it is heavily inspired by Betty’s introduction to activism as a child in the 1940s. Readers will learn about her involvement with the Housewives’ League and about other prominent figures of the civil rights movement.

    Get it from Bookshop, Target, or your local indie through Indiebound here.

    5. Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis

    Yearling Books

    This classic is a funny, hopeful, and realistic story of a motherless boy on a journey to find his father. Bud is armed with a flyer of a popular band, convinced that the lead singer, Herman Calloway, is his father. He will deal with hunger and fear but will also find kindhearted people and a chosen family.

    Get it from Bookshop, Target, or your local indie through Indiebound here.

    6. One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia

    Quill Tree Books

    The first in Rita Williams-Garcia’s Gaither Sisters trilogy, One Crazy Summer is what 11-year-old Delphine and her two sisters experience when they travel from Brooklyn to California to spend a month with the mother they barely know. When they arrive, their mother is obviously resentful of their intrusion. She sends them to a Black Panther summer camp, where the girls learn about the Black Panthers, social justice, and making a change in their community.

    Get it from Bookshop, Target, or your local indie through Indiebound here.

    7. How High the Moon by Karyn Parsons

    Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

    It’s 1944, and 12-year-old Ella is being raised by her grandparents in South Carolina. After years of barely seeing her mother, she’s finally invited to visit her in Boston, where she’s pursuing her dream of becoming a jazz singer. Ella is pleasantly surprised by life in the desegregated North but is quickly shipped back South when her mother’s schedule suddenly changes. Back at home, she’s shocked to learn that a 14-year-old Black schoolmate has been arrested for the murder of two white girls. This book vividly portrays life within the juxtaposition of the civil rights era and World War II.

    Get it from Bookshop, Target, or your local indie through Indiebound here.

    8. Like Vanessa by Tami Charles

    Charlesbridge Publishing

    It’s 1984 and Vanessa Williams has just been crowned Miss America. Vanessa Martin lives in a housing project in Newark, New Jersey, chubbier and darker skinned — nothing like Queen Vanessa. She is also poor, has a mother in jail, and is being raised by an alcoholic grandfather. Yet when a new teacher convinces Vanessa to enter a school beauty pageant, she learns that her worth is more than her appearance. This young YA book tackles a variety of gritty topics in a fashion accessible to both middle schoolers and high schoolers.

    Get it from Bookshop, Target, or your local indie through Indiebound here.

    9. Sugar by Jewell Parker Rhodes

    Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

    Sugar is a free-spirited 10-year-old living during the period of Reconstruction. Slavery is over, but Sugar and her father still have to work very hard on a plantation. Yet the spunky protagonist finds ways to make a little joy. She befriends the white plantation owner’s son and forges a bond with Chinese workers brought in to help during the harvest. This middle grade book is full of heart and community.

    Get it from Bookshop, Target, or your local indie through Indiebound here.

    10. Finding Langston by Lesa Cline-Ransome

    Holiday House

    This sweet ode to libraries, poetry, and family follows 11-year-old Langston, who moves from Alabama to Chicago with his father after his mother’s death. Feeling alone and bullied at school, Langston is comforted to find that the public libraries in Chicago welcome people of all races. There he discovers a love of poetry, as well as the poet after whom his mother named him. This short book is under 150 pages and part of a moving series of books.

    Get it from Bookshop, Target, or your local indie through Indiebound here.

    11. My Life as an Ice Cream Sandwich by Ibi Zoboi

    Puffin Books

    Ibi Zoboi’s imaginative middle grade debut stars 12-year-old Ebony-Grace, who is visiting her father in Harlem for the summer while her mother deals with some issues that Ebony-Grace’s grandfather — who was one of the first Black engineers to integrate NASA in the 1960s — is having back home in Huntsville, Alabama. Now, in 1980s Harlem, Ebony-Grace copes with the newness by retreating into her imagination. Soon, however, she learns that New York City can also nurture her dreams and she can forge new friendships far from Huntsville. This book is packed with Star Trek references and zooms into 1980s rap culture.

    Get it from Bookshop, Target, or your local indie through Indiebound here.

    12. The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson

    Arthur A. Levine Books

    Lovers of mystery will eat up this contemporary middle grade book with ties to the 1950s US. After her parents’ separation, Candice goes with her mother to Lambert, South Carolina, for the summer to clean up her deceased grandmother’s things. Bored, Candice begins hanging out with a quiet, bookish boy, Brandon. The two stumble upon a letter by Candice’s grandmother and get involved in a decades-long mystery. This wonderfully woven story alternates between the modern day and flashback historical settings while tackling several timeless themes, from bullying to racism.

    Get it from Bookshop, Target, or your local indie through Indiebound here.

    13. Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis

    Scholastic

    Elijah is an 11-year-old boy born into freedom in a runaway settlement in Buxton, Canada, near the US border. Things get complicated for him when he goes after a former slave who stole money from his friend. On his journey back to America, Elijah is horrified to see the life of slavery his parents fled by running away to Canada.

    Get it from Bookshop, Target, or your local indie through Indiebound here.

    14. Midnight Without a Moon by Linda Williams Jackson

    Houghton Mifflin

    Thirteen-year-old Rose is stuck in Mississippi with her brother and Ma Pearl after her mother moves North with her new family. She’s hoping that she’ll get called by her mother away from the cotton fields in the 1950s South when a 14-year-old Black boy, Emmett Till, is murdered in a nearby town. The rising tensions seep into Rose’s family as they witness the movement in the civil rights era.

    Get it from Bookshop, Target, or from your local indie through Indiebound here.

    15. Clean Getaway by Nic Stone

    Crown Books for Young Readers

    Nic Stone is well known for her YA, and her middle grade debut is just as compulsively readable. This is a fast-paced story of a young Black boy, William, who goes on an unplanned road trip with his eccentric white grandmother. As the two traverse the US South in her RV, William learns about his family’s history, the Green Book, and a time when the color of his skin would have barred his access to so many places.

    Get it from Bookshop, Target, or your local indie through Indiebound here.

    16. The Watsons Go to Birmingham by Christopher Paul Curtis

    Yearling Books

    Ten-year-old Kenny and his hilarious family live in Flint, Michigan, in the 1960s. When they decide to take a road trip to Birmingham, Alabama, the family is confronted by the stark realities of America’s South. Yet this story is full of humor and adolescent antics. It is sure to warm any reader’s heart while giving them an education in US history.

    Get it from Bookshop, Target, or your local indie through Indiebound here.

    Want great book recommendations in your inbox every week? Sign up for the BuzzFeed Books newsletter!

    Newsletter signup form