Oftentimes the focus of Black History Month gets repetitive, and relies solely on highlighting the same notable individuals year after year. While both #BlackGirlMagic and #BlackBoyJoy can include celebrating some very famous success stories, they are also about finding magic and joy in the everyday, and celebrating each and every Black girl and boy. The MAR Education Advocacy Team put together a list of 10 books highlighting Black Girl Magic and Black Boy Joy for you and your family to enjoy.
MAR Recommends: 10 Books on #BlackGirlMagic and #BlackBoyJoy
“CaShawn believes in the phenomenal power and skill that all Black women and girls possess. She knows that Black women are the original influencers of culture around the world. Black women and girls make everything or make everything better. Black girls and their magic deserve to be revered, celebrated, exalted and protected.” - from CaShawn Thompson’s website
“The climate in America right now is hostile, to say the least. Black men are dying at the hands of authority figures, and witnessing #BlackBoyJoy is a rare, much-needed break from the tragic headlines and hashtags. And let’s be real—the world is highly critical of young black men who express joy. So I want to celebrate this idea that young black men can be happy, too.
Black men rarely get the chance to revel in childhood or enjoy violence-free memories of making it home before the streetlights come on or spitting out sunflower seeds. Throughout history, our boys have been denied their childhood. When we learn about the stolen youth of Emmett Till, we’re reminded that young black boys are seen as men by society or, worse, as a threat. #BlackBoyJoy presents a teachable moment to social media that allows us to reclaim the innocence of black boyhood.
I realize the negative connotation around the word “boy” and recognize the racist history of its use by white supremacists throughout our dismal history. But I did not reach back to the 1800s and yank out the tongues of slave masters to taunt black men with the word “boy”; I wanted to remind all of us that there’s a beauty in black boyhood that’s often ignored and that our boys are forced to be men much too soon. This racist frame of mind is what killed children like Tamir Rice and Trayvon Martin.” - Danielle Young from Watch Out Loud: What is #BlackBoyJoy and Why Do We Need It?
In 2013, CaShawn Thompson began using the phrase “Black Girls Are Magic” in online spaces as a way to celebrate the triumphs and accomplishments of Black girls and women. The phrase quickly took off as a movement, shortened to the hashtag #BlackGirlMagic. Similarly, writer Danielle Young originated #BlackBoyJoy in 2016 after watching a performance by Chance the Rapper at the MTV Video Music Awards in which the artist radiated happiness. She wanted to highlight this joy as a stark contrast to the way Black boys and men are traditionally portrayed in the media.
February is Black History Month and the perfect time for MAR to highlight #BlackGirlMagic and #BlackBoyJoy through our monthly booklist. For many, Black History Month is acknowledged by highlighting pain, suffering, and trauma endured by Black people throughout history. While history is not to be ignored and there is certainly a time and place to acknowledge these atrocities, we also need to be very conscious of not creating additional pain and sorrow and retraumatizing the Black children in our lives. Instead, this month we’ve chosen to highlight positive depictions of Black people of all ages which celebrate their successes. However, oftentimes the focus of Black History Month gets repetitive, and relies solely on highlighting the same notable individuals year after year. While both #BlackGirlMagic and #BlackBoyJoy can include celebrating some very famous success stories, they are also about finding magic and joy in the everyday, and celebrating each and every Black girl and boy.
These two movements also both align perfectly with the notion that books should be “windows and mirrors”. It is not only important for Black children to see their identities represented and reflected in the stories that they read, but it is tremendously important for all children to see Black representation. For those of us raising white children, if we are truly “doing the work”, we need to ensure our children see positive representation of Black people, including the everyday alongside the extraordinary. We need to do exactly what #BlackBoyJoy was designed to do - provide an antidote to what is often portrayed on the news and show that growing up Black can be a joyful, hopeful experience. Those of us in mothering roles are often very protective over our children’s innocence, and childhood is such a sacred time. The spirit of both of these movements allows our children to be children, which is especially important for Black communities as many Black children have their childhood ended far too soon, as recognized in the above quote from Danielle Young. Both #BlackGirlMagic and #BlackBoyJoy provide positive role models for children to look up to while encouraging them to dream big and aim high. They give Black children permission to celebrate their own unique qualities and talents, and give hope for their future.
With that in mind, this month’s list includes a variety of books to appeal to a range of ages, most of which will be appropriate for elementary and/or middle school aged children. As always, we encourage you to pre-read titles before sharing with your children to ensure that they are developmentally appropriate. There are two different anthologies showcasing heroes, some of whom will likely be familiar to readers, and others who are lesser known names. Acknowledging that it is sometimes harder to find children’s books celebrating Black Canadians, the list also includes a picture book by Andre De Grasse which celebrates his accomplishments as an Olympian as he reflects on how he became a champion. There is also a picture book about Black hair and a photography book showcasing many representations of Black beauty. Finally, a note that while both #BlackGirlMagic and #BlackBoyJoy use binary terms to define gender, there are many different identities on the gender spectrum which are represented in these titles. Most notably, Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls: 100 Tales of Black Girl Magic was created through collaboration with both female and nonbinary authors, illustrators, and creators. We hope that children of all gender identities will enjoy these titles and find representation.
The books chosen this month showcase dreamers, thinkers, creators, and doers. We hope that you and the children in your life feel inspired and uplifted. Happy reading!
Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls: 100 Real-Life Tales of Black Girl Magic edited by Lilly Workneh, foreword by CaShawn Thompson
“Overall, the focus seems to be on the unexpected and individual strivers, with many stories demonstrating the role of persistence [...] The spirited narratives, each one page long, are compelling and are accompanied by vivid color portraits created by Black and nonbinary illustrators from around the world. A fresh, inclusive, and inspiring collective biography.” - Kirkus Reviews
Black Boy Joy: 17 Stories Celebrating Black Boyhood edited by Kwame Mbalia
“In the introduction to his anthology of the same name, Kwame Mbalia (author of the Tristan Strong series) confesses that he doesn’t like watching the news, because growing up it was “always reporting on some local shooting or some death or some other tragedy that made my mother shake her head and my father scowl … because nine times out of 10, a face like mine was on the screen.”
That’s why Mbalia invited 16 Black author friends to help him highlight “the revelry, the excitement, the sheer fun of growing up as boys in and out of the hood.” From stories (by the likes of Jason Reynolds, Varian Johnson and Tochi Onyebuchi) to poetry (Dean Atta) and comics (Jerry Craft), “Black Boy Joy” has something for every type of reader.” - New York Times
Black Girl Magic by Mahogany Browne
“And, much like a lot of spoken-word poetry, it is better recited out loud than read silently on the page. Yet in this rich historical moment in which black women are loudly and proudly claiming more and diversified ownership of their works and the media itself, this is as much a document of that moment as it is an emerging, beloved tome for black girls of all ages to read and share in classrooms and conferences, over brunch, on a lazy Sunday in autumn, or whenever or wherever one needs an assuring word.” - Kirkus Reviews
Race with Me! By Andre De Grasse and Robert Budd
“Lace up your shoes and get ready for race day with Canada's 2019 Athlete of the Year, Andre De Grasse! Find out what it was like for him as an underdog, and how he motivates himself to face every challenge, in this inspiring celebration of sport.
Filled with full-colour photos and illustrations, this book covers themes of reflection, mindfulness and gratitude sure to motivate all kinds of readers.” - CBC Books
Mae Among the Stars by Roda Ahmed
“The recurring line, "If you can dream it, if you believe in it, and work hard for it, anything is possible" is a chorus sure to resonate with children. The emphasis on Jemison's lifelong passion for space science will inspire readers to have confidence in the trajectory of their own interests.” - School Library Journal
I Am Every Good Thing by Derrick Barnes
“In a text brimming with imagination and Black-boy joy, Barnes lays the foundation for young Black readers to go forth into the world filled with confidence and self-assurance: “I am brave. I am hope. / I am my ancestors’ wildest dream. / I am worthy of success, / of respect, of safety, of kindness, of happiness.” Simultaneously, he opens a window for non-Black readers to see Black boys’ humanity. They have dreams, feel pain, are polite and respectful—the list of qualities goes on.” - Kirkus Reviews
Stella’s Stellar Hair by Yesenia Moises
“Black girl magic takes the solar system in Stella's Stellar Hair, a celebration of hair, family, and self-love from debut author-illustrator Yesenia Moises! It’s the day of the Big Star Little Gala, and Stella's hair just isn't acting right! What’s a girl to do? Simple! Just hop on her hoverboard, visit each of her fabulous aunties across the solar system, and find the perfect hairdo along the way. Stella’s Stellar Hair celebrates the joy of self-empowerment, shows off our solar system, and beautifully illustrates a variety of hairstyles from the African diaspora. Backmatter provides more information about each style and each planet.” - McMillan Books
Little Legends: Exceptional Men in Black History by Vashti Harrison
“This is a book many have been waiting for, and it does not disappoint. The winning formula that endeared Little Leaders to readers is employed again here: One page of biographical text faces a full-page portrait of a young-looking figure with a serenely smiling brown face with closed eyes. The figure’s clothing and the background setting design represent his field of contribution. The text begins with each leader’s early life and is held together with a thread showing how the leader found an interest, learned and improved, worked hard, and made his work matter in the lives of others.” - Kirkus Reviews
The Me I Choose to Be by Natasha Anastasia Tarpley
“A mantra-esque refrain unites Tarpley’s rhyming statements throughout, encouraging readers to embrace their multitudes: “My creativity and curiosity/ flow without end,/ and if I meet an obstacle,/ I just begin again.” Metaphors beginning with “I am” open each page, centering Black children as “a maker, a creator,” “joyful,” “a tiny bird,” “the night sky,” and more.” - Publishers Weekly
Glory: Magical Visions of Black Beauty by Kahran and Regis Bethencourt