Integrating African American Authors into Your Curriculum

From Sulwe by Lupita Nyong’o, Illustrated by Vashti Harrison (2019, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers)

By Dr. David J. Childs, Ph.D.
Northern Kentucky University

When I was growing up in my inner city predominantly Black elementary school I do not ever remember reading any Black authors. In fact, I do not remember reading the work of any authors of color until I attended college. One might argue that it does not matter the color of the author’s skin, as long as the piece of literature is insightful, educative, thought-provoking and/or entertaining. And that race or ethnicity should not be a factor in how effective a literary piece is. While I agree with this idea to a certain extent, it is a surface level and somewhat naive notion that many Americans have heard and subscribed to. This sort of color blind understanding of what an effective author looks like ignores the cultural nuances and insight a person of color can bring into their writing.

As an African American youth I longed for writings and other media in the arts and humanities that spoke to who I was a person. In college it was a breath of fresh air to read authors who spoke my language, understood what it was like to grow up in a Black community, in a Black family and have similar values as we did. One of the hallmarks of a democracy is the idea that multiple perspectives and voices can be heard. It is with this idea in mind that teachers should be intentional about diversifying their curriculum and building a more diverse classroom library. It is often touted that Western Civilization is best and that white authors are the standard. This of course is not the case, as intelligence and genius come in all shapes and sizes. Therefore to counter that false idea we would like to present some AYA and children’s books by Black authors that can be used in classrooms. Immediately below we have also included discussion questions for reflection.

Discussion Questions:
1. Why is it important to introduce children to books from authors of various cultural backgrounds?
2. Discuss why you think these sorts of books are not integrated into school curricula throughout the US?
3. Were you exposed to Black, Brown or indigenous authors in your K-12 experience?
4. What are ways we can incorporprate these kinds of books into our family rituals and traditions?
5. What are creative ways educators can incorporate these books into their curriculum?

YA Fiction by Black Authors- For Middle School, High School and Undergraduate
Smash It by Francina Simone
When You Were Everything by Ashley Woodfolk
Dear Justyce by Stone
Legendborn by Tracy Deonn
Punching the Air by Ibi Aanu Zoboi
Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko
Grown A Novel by Tiffany D. Jackson
Charming As A Verb by Ben Philippe
A Song of Wraiths and Ruin by Roseanne A. Brown
You Should See Me in A Crown by Leah Johnson
Here is a list of 74 books by African American AYA Authors

African American Authors- For Elementary
Layla’s Happiness by Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie, Illustrated by Ashleigh Corrin
Sulwe by Lupita Nyong’o, Illustrated by Vashti Harrison
Jacopo Jacopo Football Star: A 10 year old boys football journey
By Phina Oruche
Black, White, Just Right! by Marguerite W. Davol, Illustrated by Irene Trivas
Boonoonoonous Hair by Olive Senior, Illustrated by Laura James
The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander, Illustrated by Kadir Nelson
Whose Knees Are These? by Jabari Asim
New Kid by Jerry Craft
Genesis Begins Again by Alicia D. Williams
A Song for Gwendolyn Brooks by Alice Faye Duncan, Illustrated by Xia Gordon
Baby Says by John Steptoe
The Skin I’m In by Sharon G. Flake
The Season of Styx Malone by Kekla Magoon
Sing to the Moon by Nansubuga Nagadya Isdahl
So Tall Within: Sojourner Truth’s Long Walk Toward Freedom by Gary D. Schmidt, Illustrated by Daniel Minter
Sisters and Champions: The True Story of Venus and Serena Williams by Howard Bryant, Illustrated by Floyd Cooper
Top 154 Recommended African-American Children’s Books


  1. I found this article served as an agent for reflection on my education and how I would want to teach others. It is extremely important to hear the perspectives of people from different groups due to the simple fact that they have lived differently than those in our immediate commuinities. Like you say, my experiences would be varied greatly from someone who lives in another country, climate, culture, or as a different racial, sexual, or gendered background from myself. That extends to students in the classroom and highlights the importance to learn about learn about these different perspectives at such a crucial point in their lives. I’ve known a lot of people with implicit fears and assumptions about people of other races without ever meeting someone from that group. Reading literature from authors of these groups like African Americans can help provide some sense of exposure.

  2. Reading this made me reflect back on all the books I was read in elementary school. I scrolled through the list of African American authors for elementary and realized the only book I recognized reading was A Song for Gwendolyn Brooks, and that wasn’t until my sophomore year of college. I grew up in a predominantly white school so I never gave a thought about the lack of diversity that was being displayed through the books we were exposed to. I would never want to be an educator that wasn’t always making an effort to be as inclusive as possible. This article is a good reminder to think about the kinds of books I’ll select for my classroom library.

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