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10 Books with Black Protagonists for Middle Schoolers

Updated: Feb 22, 2023

Books are one great way to learn about Black history and the Black experience. From fiction to nonfiction, graphic novel to autobiography, here are 10 books suitable for middle schoolers to read. Some were my personal favorites growing up. I hope you can find a story (or several!) that you enjoy, and that you continue to seek out diverse voices.

Bone Black: Memories of Girlhood by bell hooks

Genre: nonfiction, memoir

A raw and honest look into bell hooks’ childhood growing up in poverty in the racially segregated South. Through her struggles and joys, we follow bell hooks as she blossoms into a perceptive, feminist writer.

Flygirl by Sherri L. Smith

Genre: historical fiction

Ida Mae Jones, a mixed black woman, “passes” as white in order to join the women airforce during WWII. She must hide this big secret as she pursues her childhood dream, friendship, and romance.

Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis

Genre: historical fiction

Bud, a 10-year-old boy living in Michigan, runs away from his new foster family in search of his biological father, who he is convinced is famous jazz musician Herman E. Calloway. His journey to reconnect with his roots is hilarious at times and touching at others.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Genre: fiction, social justice

16-year-old Starr’s life is shattered when her best friend Khalil is shot and killed by a police officer. Starr navigates her grief in two different settings: her predominantly black neighborhood and her predominantly white prep school. She comes to terms with her own identity and her role in the community’s fight for justice. 

Note: The book was adapted into a 2018 movie starring Amandla Stenberg.

New Kid by Jerry Craft

Genre: graphic novel, fiction

This graphic novel — yep, that means pictures! — follows Jordan as he enrolls at a prestigious private academy where there are few fellow kids of color. Middle school is hard enough as it is. Will Jordan be able make friends while staying true to who he is?

The following five books may be more suitable for advanced readers, although many of them have Young Reader's adaptations:

Born A Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah

Genre: nonfiction, memoir

Trevor Noah, the host of The Daily Show, tells the funny and insightful story of growing up in apartheid South Africa. Born to a white father and black mother in a country where interracial relationships are outlawed, Trevor’s literal existence was the product of a crime.

Note: Some language.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

Genre: nonfiction, science

Henrietta Lacks’ “immortal” cells were taken from her without her knowledge and used to develop the polio vaccine, learn more about cancer, experiment with cloning, and more. It is one glimpse into the long history between black people and medical research.

Note: There is a Young Reader’s edition available for budding readers.

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Brian Stevenson

Genre: nonfiction, memoir

The powerful true story of lawyer Brian Stevenson, who founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a non-profit dedicated to defending those who may not have had a fair trial. Stevenson takes on the case of Walter McMillian, a young man sentenced to die for a murder he didn’t commit.

Note: The book was adapted into a 2019 movie starring Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Foxx. There is also a Young Adults adapted version.

Hidden Figures: The Untold True Story of Four African-American Women who Helped Launch Our Nation into Space by Margot Lee Shetterly

Genre: nonfiction, science

America’s journey to the moon could not have been accomplished without the help of NASA’s “human computers” — which included a group of black women responsible for calculating flight paths. We follow the stories of five brilliant women as they set their sights on outer space.

Note: The book was adapted into a 2016 movie that was nominated for three Oscars. There is also a Young Readers version available.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Genre: nonfiction, memoir

In this letter to his 15-year-old son, author Ta-Nehisi Coates explores and explains blackness as seen in current society. It’s a difficult, but very real read.

Note: May be more appropriate for more advanced readers.

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