25 Books of Everyday Blackness
Black people do not solely exist in the narratives of slavery or #BlackExcellence. Thus, this February 2021 and Black History Month, our theme is "Everyday Blackness". Here are 25 titles ranging from children's board books to Adult non-fiction on the everyday Black experience that you can add to your library today.
Black History Month seems to be a place for tremendous success or significant struggle, but what about the in-between?
MAR Recommends: 25 Books of Everyday Blackness
February is Black History Month. Typically, acknowledgement of this means two things: celebrating Black excellence and/or lamenting over injustice and atrocities endured in the past by the Black community. Harriet Tubman. Martin Luther King Jr. Barack Obama. Viola Desmond. Jazz and Blues musicians. Star athletes. Slavery. The Underground Railroad. Segregation. The Civil Rights Movement. I could go on, but I assume you get the idea. Black History Month seems to be a place for tremendous success or significant struggle, but what about the in-between? What about what it means to be Black every day? What about the everyday experience of regular people? I am by no means suggesting that we erase history, as there is undoubtedly vital importance to acknowledging and learning about the past, but perhaps we need to do a better job of also acknowledging the everyday and the here and now. As well, perhaps the celebration of Black heroes and important figures should not just be reserved for February, but become embedded in our everyday lives.
As I began compiling this month’s booklist, my feelings and thoughts on what it means to be Black every day have changed. Initially, I approached this topic with a bit of trepidation. As a white woman, how could I possibly write on this subject and do it proper justice? How could I write about what it means to be Black every day when it is not my experience and not my story to tell? I began by looking for books with Black protagonists, written by Black authors, sharing stories of regular everyday people doing regular everyday things. I wanted books where race wasn’t the central focus, but where the characters were just living their regular lives and happened to be Black. If you’re starting to roll your eyes a bit at my thought process, stay with me here because I quickly had an “aha” moment. I first began to wonder if I was having trouble locating these books because of a gap in the publishing industry, but then it hit me. I was approaching this completely the wrong way, and certainly from a place of white privilege. Because, you see, the experience of being Black every day cannot be removed from the experiences of microaggressions, systemic racism, and racial injustice. These are the everyday experiences Black people are living. Here. Now. Not just in the past. Sure, books exist where the characters just happen to be Black. But many of these books are not written by Black authors. Books with Black characters written by authentic Own Voices authors are not like those with predominantly white characters, because their lived experiences are not like ours, and we have a VERY long way to go on our antiracism journey before injustice can be removed from the everyday. And so, instead of even attempting to continue a description of a lived experience which is not mine, I hope I’ve done justice in letting these Black authors do the talking this month.
You’ll find a variety of “everyday” experiences on this month’s list of recommended reads. To my surprise, I had slightly less difficulty finding board books with representation allowing Black babies and toddlers to see faces which look like their own within the pages, telling everyday stories of families and love. The picture book list contains two titles about Black hair: one in which a young girl learns important lessons about boundaries and consent, and the other which reads like a love letter to the Black barbershop. The YA and Adult lists contain some overlap, in that both audiences may find appealing titles on either of these lists, and I have endeavoured to include diverse experiences on both.
Happy reading, and Happy Black History Month.
Hey, Baby! A Baby’s Day in Doodles By Andrea Pippins
“Follow a baby throughout the day, from napping to snacking to playing–and everything in between! High contrast, lively illustrations combine with gorgeous, colorful photographs to showcase the warmth and tenderness between a mommy and her baby. This affectionate look at babyhood is sure to appeal to new parents and grandparents, who will recognize their own little one in the pages.” - Penguin Random House
Full, Full, Full of Love by Trish Cooke
“Jay Jay’s mother drops him off on her way to pick up his father, so he and Grannie, whose face is as soft and warm as a down comforter, wait for the other guests. Cooke portrays Jay Jay’s anticipation in true child form as he repeatedly asks if dinner’s ready yet and watches restlessly out the window. The focus on Jay Jay and Grannie in the beginning might lead the reader to expect more of a story about their relationship rather than a celebration of ritual and family, but a celebration it is. Cars full of relatives finally pull up and out tumble tired, but cheerful parents and excited kids.” - Kirkus Reviews
“A vibrant, playful verse that celebrates a beautiful brown baby’s sweet little knees, for fans of Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes. Snuggle with a child on your lap with this companion title to the popular board book Whose Toes Are Those?. With lush, adorable pictures from New York Times bestselling illustrator LeUyen Pham, reminiscent of the beloved work of Ezra Jack Keats, this interactive rhyme full of toddler appeal is a perfect baby gift for parent-child playtime.” - Hachette Book Group
“First spying someone over the mound of blankets heaped on the bed, it is “Peekaboo! I see . . . my mommy.” Peering over the edge of another bed, “Peekaboo! I see . . . my daddy.” Again and again, this smiling child sees someone else, even spying her own diapered image in the mirror.” - Kirkus Reviews
One Love by Cedella Marley
“As she did in Three Little Birds (Tuff Gong, 2006), Cedella Marley adapts a song by her late father, reggae musician Bob Marley. She takes liberties with the lyrics: other than the song’s chorus (“One love, one heart, let’s get together and feel all right!”), the prose bears no resemblance to the original song. Marley replaces religious references with nature-based reflections on love: ‘One love, what the flower gives the bee./ One love, what Mother Earth gives the tree.’” - Publishers Weekly
Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña
“Without being heavy-handed or didactic, it teaches the value, and fun, of acceptance, generosity, appreciation, and imagination in a less than perfect world. Nana, a strong, graceful African-American grandmother, believes in finding beauty in the world around her. And she lives by what she believes. By answering her grandson's questions, she gently imparts her wisdom to him on a crosstown bus trip that takes them from church to the soup kitchen where they help out each Sunday after church. The language is simple and poetic, the warm-hued artwork vibrantly energetic, and the tone lovingly accepting. This is a quiet book with an amazingly powerful message about learning to live comfortably amid the diversity of ordinary life.” - Common Sense Media
Don’t Touch My Hair by Sharee Miller
“Aria is an African-American girl who’s proud of her show-stopping hair “that grows up toward the sun like a flower.” But people keep confusing admiration with acquiescence: strangers, she laments, “are so curious about my hair that they try to touch it without even asking for permission!” It feels like the entire universe has lost its sense of boundaries. In a series of wonderfully expressive, humorous cartoons that mix full-page and spot art, Aria imagines encountering underwater creatures, forest animals, and even aliens who reach for her curls while cooing, “How do you get it so big?” She contemplates hiding; she loses her temper (“That’s it. That’s enough. DON’T TOUCH MY HAIR!”). Then she resolves to set limits, and, in speaking up for herself, she begins to feel free, respected, and in charge of her own body again.” - Publishers Weekly
Not Quite Snow White by Ashley Franklin
“Tameika is a bubbly, outgoing singer and dancer who loves the stage. She has played various roles, such as a cucumber, a space cowgirl, and a dinosaur, but never a princess. This charming tale tackles the complex subject of biases around race and body image when Tameika overhears her classmates’ whispers: “She can’t be Snow White”; “She’s much too chubby”; “And she’s too brown.” Tameika goes on a journey of self-acceptance as she grapples with her feelings about wanting to be a princess.” - Kirkus Reviews
Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut by Derrick Barnes
“With striking, oil-based paintings by Gordon C. James that showcase different hairstyles and personalities, it celebrates black barbershop culture and the transformative effects of a "fresh cut." Readers as young as 3 will be able to follow along and enjoy it as an introduction to the concept of haircuts, and kids 5 and up will understand the sophisticated language and swagger and really get it. Older reluctant readers can read it and not feel embarrassed to be reading a little-kid book -- it's that cool.” - Common Sense Media
All Because You Matter by Tami Charles
“Tami Charles is not the first author of a picture book to talk about mattering and Black children, and she won’t be the last, but in her book All Because You Matter she fights to tell the words in an entirely new way. To do this, she steps back and thinks about the very matter of the universe itself. She conjures worlds and galaxies and then dives down deep into the reality of the moment in which kids today live. There are plenty of inspiring picture books out there for kids. Few understand their purpose as perfectly as this book does.” - School Library Journal
The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
“Most interesting is the family dynamic that informs so much of the narrative, which always reveals, never tells. While Josh relates the story, readers get a full picture of major and minor players. The basketball action provides energy and rhythm for a moving story. Poet Alexander deftly reveals the power of the format to pack an emotional punch.” - Kirkus Reviews
From the Desk of Zoe Washington by Janae Marks
“This is one of only a small handful of middle grade novels to explore the experience of having a parent in prison, and the subject is handled with grace and sensitivity. It also exposes the important and timely issue of racial bias in the prison system in a way that is approachable to a middle grade audience. Zoe is a bright, compassionate protagonist for whom readers will root. She is supported by a loving family whose viewpoints differ yet who all want the best for her. The baking subplot will have readers itching to try out Zoe’s recipes.” - School Library Journal
The Season of Styx Malone by Kekla Magoon
“A baby sister for a bag of fireworks. What could go wrong? When Caleb and Bobby Gene make a deal with the local bully (who has always wanted a baby sis) they never thought they’d be left holding the bag (literally). But at the end of the day their sister is returned, the fireworks are theirs, and they have no idea what to do with them. It takes a chance encounter in the woods behind their house to make their path clear. Enter, Styx Malone. He’s mysterious. He’s trouble. He’s a teenager. And he makes impossible promises with a tongue smooth as silver. It isn’t long before Caleb falls completely under Styx’s sway. Caleb has always believed that he was destined for bigger, better things. Now with Styx at his side the future is shiny, bright, and involves a motorized scooter that can take him far far away. Trouble is, there may be far more to Styx than meets the eye. And it’s not all good.” - School Library Journal
Blended by Sharon M. Draper
“Timely and genuine, this novel chronicles a biracial girl’s struggle to define her identity and find her voice amid personal and societal expectations. After her parents’ divorce, competitive pianist Isabella, 11, divides her time between her white diner-waitress mother and her wealthy black father. The constant back and forth and her family’s tense weekly exchanges cause her intense stress, as do the microaggressions Isabella experiences regularly. When a history class discussion about student protests and the history of lynching ends with a noose being placed in a black classmate’s locker, Isabella’s awareness of racist behavior skyrockets, as does her need to define who she is for herself.” - Publishers Weekly
As Brave as You by Jason Reynolds
“Eleven-year-old Brooklynite Genie has “worry issues,” so when he and his older brother, Ernie, are sent to Virginia to spend a month with their estranged grandparents while their parents “try to figure it all out,” he goes into overdrive. First, he discovers that Grandpop is blind. Next, there’s no Internet, so the questions he keeps track of in his notebook (over 400 so far) will have to go un-Googled. Then, he breaks the model truck that’s one of the only things Grandma still has of his deceased uncle. And he and Ernie will have to do chores, like picking peas and scooping dog poop. What’s behind the “nunya bidness door”? And is that a gun sticking out from Grandpop’s waistband? Reynolds’ middle-grade debut meanders like the best kind of summer vacation but never loses sense of its throughline.” - Kirkus Reviews