Thirteen African American Authors We’re Reading

Here at LEE & LOW, we believe in reading diversely year round. We know that reading diversely doesn’t happen by accident, it requires a regular and concerted effort. Ethnic heritage months like Black History Month can be a double-edged sword as people often only look at their ethnic book collections during these months. In her TedTalk, author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie warns of the dangers of a single story. By allowing for only one kind of narrative, we can fall into the danger of stereotyping.

In honor of Black History Month, LEE & LOW staff shares seven books by African American authors that we’ve read recently, as well as seven of our favorite LEE & LOW titles by African American Authors:

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates – This National Book Award-winning title is written as a letter from the author to his son. It is a brilliant meditation on what it means to be a black man in America. Coates really helps readers understand his experience in a visceral way. His argument is strongly grounded in a deep morality, as he wrestles with finding a way to move forward in a country that he views as, in some ways, irredeemable.

This Way Home by Wes Moore with Shawn Goodman – Elijah loves to play basketball, whether on the courts of his neighborhood or in tournaments. A gang tries to force Elijah and his friends to wear the gang’s colors at a televised tournament. Elijah and his friends take a stand against the gang which comes at a terrible price.

The Beautiful Struggle by Ta-Nehisi Coates – This memoir explores author Ta-Nehisi Coates’ relationship with his father, Paul Coates, a Vietnam veteran and Black Panther.

All-American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely – A woman accidently trips over Rashad, a black boy, in a grocery store, but the store clerk is convinced that he is stealing. His white classmate, Quinn witnesses his best friend’s older brother pummeling Rashad outside the store. When the incident is caught on camera and explodes nationwide, both Rashad and Quinn are forced to face racism head-on.

Balm by Dolen-Perkins Velasquez – At the end of the Civil War, three individuals find themselves in Chicago to search out a new life. Each has their own reason for choosing Chicago, but ultimately they must address events in their past to move forward with their future.

The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl by Issa Rae – Issa Rae, the creator of the award-winning web series “The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl,” debuts her collection of essays where she covers everything from love, work, friendship, and “rapping.”

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson –This is the true story by a lawyer who founded the Equal Justice Initiative. Bryan Stevenson explores the broken criminal justice system with court cases and profiles of clients he has worked with. This powerful book captures the systemic racism and invisibility of our justice system.


Here are seven of our favorite LEE & LOW titles by African American authors:

Ira’s Shakespeare Dream, written by Glenda Ira's Shakespeare DreamArmand and illustrated by Floyd Cooper – This picture book biography explores the life of Shakespearean actor Ira Aldridge. Through perseverance and determination, Ira was able to overcome racism to become one of the most celebrated Shakespearean actors of his time. Buy here.

Perfect Liars by Kimberly Reid – White Collar meets Veronica Mars in this YA heist novel. Good girl Drea Faraday gets a job tutoring at Justice High, an alternative high school that’s a last stop before juvie. When it turns out that Drea and the kids she tutors have a common enemy, they join forces to bring him down. Buy here.

Catching the Moon, written by Crystal Hubbard and illustrated by Randy DuBurke – Young Marcenia Lyle loved to play baseball. Despite the objections of her family and baseball coaches, she wins a place on a summer camp sponsored by the St. Louis Cardinals. This book is inspired by the life of Toni Stone. Buy here.

Little Melba and Her Big Trombone, written by Katheryn Russell-Brown and illustrated by Frank Morrison – This award-winning biography follows the life of legendary jazz trombonist, composer, and arranger Melba Liston. At the age of 7, Melba fell in love with the trombone. Later, she broke racial and gender barriers tobecome a famed trombone player and arranger, spinning rhythms, harmonies, and melodies into gorgeous songs for all the jazz greats of the twentieth century: Randy Weston, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Billie Holiday, and Quincy Jones, to name just a few. Buy here.

Poems in the Attic, written by Nikki Grimes and illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon – A young girl discovers a box of poems written by her mother growing up. Her mother traveled with her family to many army bases around the world. Inspired by her mother’s poetry, the daughter writes her own poems. Buy here.

Yummy: The Last Days of a South-Side Shorty, written by G. Neri and illustrated by Randy DuBurke – This award-winning graphic novel follows 11-year-old Roger as he tries to make sense of the death of his classmate, Robert “Yummy” Sandifer’s death. This is a compelling dramatization based on events that occurred in Chicago in 1994. Buy here.

It Jes’ Happened: When Bill Traylor Started to Draw, written by Don Tate and illustrated by R. Gregory Christie – Bill Traylor was born into slavery. When slavery ended, his family remained on the farm as sharecroppers. Later on, he moved to Montgomery, Alabama, where he drew pictures of people, places and animals from his earlier life, as well as what was around him. Today, Bill Traylor is considered one of the most important self-taught folk artists. Buy here.

Further Reading:

Celebrate Black History Month with Five Collections from LEE & LOW BOOKS

Interview with Joseph McGill, Founder of the Slave Dwelling Project

7 Core Values to Celebrate During Black History Month

Why You Should See Selma

Katheryn Russell-Brown on the Research Behind Little Melba and Her Big Trombone

Protesting Injustice Then and Now

Resources for Teaching About Wangari Maathai and Seeds of Change

Three Ways to Teach Etched in Clay

The Origins of the Coretta Scott King Award

Who Is Ira Aldridge?

Remembering Cortez Peters

Why Remember Bill Traylor?

Why Remember Florence “Baby Flo” Mills?

Why Remember Author Ashe?

Why Remember Robert Smalls?

Why Remember Toni Stone?

Storyline Online: Catching the Moon

More Resources:

The Problem with Ethnic Heritage Months

The Danger of a Single Story

Lesson for Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche’s The Danger of a Single Story

African American History Month (Library of Congress)

Black History Month (PBS.org)

Black History Month (Smithsonian Education)

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