By: Hannah Rapp, Teen Librarian
As you almost certainly know already, from school if nothing else, February is African American History Month. Now, if you’re anything like me, you know this month celebrates interesting, important, and often overlooked people and events in history. But if you’re anything like me, you also prefer reading novels to textbooks or lectures. Luckily for us, historical fiction exists! While of course these books are fiction, good historical fiction is always rooted in great research and real events, so it’s a wonderful way to learn a little while still immersing yourself in a good book. With that in mind, here’s a few of the many books you could read to help you celebrate African American History Month!
Copper Sun by Sharon M. Draper – Stolen from her village, sold to the highest bidder, fifteen-year-old Amari has only one thing left of her own: hope.
Amari’s life was once perfect. Engaged to the handsomest man in her tribe, adored by her family, and living in a beautiful village, she could not have imagined everything could be taken away from her in an instant. But when slave traders invade her village and brutally murder her entire family, Amari finds herself dragged away to a slave ship headed to the Carolinas, where she is bought by a plantation owner and given to his son as a birthday present.
Survival seems all that Amari can hope for. But then an act of unimaginable cruelty provides her with an opportunity to escape, and with an indentured servant named Polly she flees to Fort Mose, Florida, in search of sanctuary at the Spanish colony. Can the elusive dream of freedom sustain Amari and Polly on their arduous journey, fraught with hardship and danger? (Description from Goodreads.com.)
Willow by Tonya Cherie Hegamin – In 1848, an educated slave girl faces an inconceivable choice — between bondage and freedom, family and love.
On one side of the Mason-Dixon Line lives fifteen-year-old Willow, her master’s favorite servant. She’s been taught to read and has learned to write. She believes her master is good to her and fears the rebel slave runaways.
On the other side of the line is seventeen-year-old Cato, a black man, free born. It’s his personal mission to sneak as many fugitive slaves to freedom as he can. Willow’s and Cato’s lives are about to intersect, with life-changing consequences for both of them. Tonya Cherie Hegamin’s moving coming-of-age story is a poignant meditation on the many ways a person can be enslaved, and the force of will needed to be truly emancipated. (Description from Goodreads.com.)
X by Kekla Magoon and Ilyasah Shabazz – I am Malcolm. I am my father’s son. But to be my father’s son means that they will always come for me. They will always come for me, and I will always succumb.
Malcolm Little’s parents have always told him that he can achieve anything, but from what he can tell, that’s nothing but a pack of lies—after all, his father’s been murdered, his mother’s been taken away, and his dreams of becoming a lawyer have gotten him laughed out of school. There’s no point in trying, he figures, and lured by the nightlife of Boston and New York, he escapes into a world of fancy suits, jazz, girls, and reefer.
But Malcolm’s efforts to leave the past behind lead him into increasingly dangerous territory when what starts as some small-time hustling quickly spins out of control. Deep down, he knows that the freedom he’s found is only an illusion—and that he can’t run forever.
X follows Malcolm from his childhood to his imprisonment for theft at age twenty, when he found the faith that would lead him to forge a new path and command a voice that still resonates today. (Description from Goodreads.com.)
Invasion by Walter Dean Myers – Walter Dean Myers brilliantly renders the realities of World War II.
Josiah Wedgewood and Marcus Perry are on their way to an uncertain future. Their whole lives are ahead of them, yet at the same time, death’s whisper is everywhere.
One white, one black, these young men have nothing in common and everything in common as they approach an experience that will change them forever.
It’s May 1944. World War II is ramping up, and so are these young recruits, ready and eager. In small towns and big cities all over the globe, people are filled with fear. When Josiah and Marcus come together in what will be the greatest test of their lives, they learn hard lessons about race, friendship, and what it really means to fight. Set on the front lines of the Normandy invasion, this novel, rendered with heart-in-the-throat precision, is a cinematic masterpiece. Here we see the bold terror of war, and also the nuanced havoc that affects a young person’s psyche while living in a barrack, not knowing if today he will end up dead or alive. (Description from Goodreads.com.)
Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley – In 1959 Virginia, the lives of two girls on opposite sides of the battle for civil rights will be changed forever.
Sarah Dunbar is one of the first black students to attend the previously all-white Jefferson High School. An honors student at her old school, she is put into remedial classes, spit on and tormented daily.
Linda Hairston is the daughter of one of the town’s most vocal opponents of school integration. She has been taught all her life that the races should be kept separate but equal.
Forced to work together on a school project, Sarah and Linda must confront harsh truths about race, power and how they really feel about one another.
Boldly realistic and emotionally compelling, Lies We Tell Ourselves is a brave and stunning novel about finding truth amid the lies, and finding your voice even when others are determined to silence it. (Description from Goodreads.com.)
These books cover just a few moments in American history, but there are many more out there. Check out other books by these authors, or come by and ask a librarian if you need more good historical fiction suggestions this month!