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

Introduction
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

7 Comments

  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.

  3. This article gave insight to why African American authors should be included into school curriculum. Books written by African American authors allow students of the same race to relate to the author or the content in the book. It gives the opportunity for African American students to feel like they are appreciated instead of reading books dominated by Caucasian authors. As I reflect back on my experience of books in elementary school, I honestly can say I do not remember reading any books by diverse authors, and that is the problem. Being a Caucasian, I cannot begin to understand what it feels like to not be able to relate to content written or an author, but part of becoming an educator is to make sure all students are included and understood in the classroom, and I think that starting with a diverse range of authors in my classroom library is a step in the right direction to making a culturally diverse classroom possible!

  4. Reading this post was both eye-opening and thought provoking. As someone who was born and raised in Eastern Kentucky, there was not a lot of diversity in my schools nor my community. I was not exposed to many books written by BIPOC authors, and therefore my world view, or lack thereof, was affected. In incorporating diverse literature into my classroom, my goal is to ensure that all students feel like they can relate to the things we learn, read, and talk about. It shouldn’t be a question of whether we should incorporate books with diverse cultures, races, and sexual orientations, but instead we should question why aren’t we including these perspectives in classrooms. All people and families look different, so we should celebrate that in our classrooms.

  5. This article gave great insight into how important diverse authors and their experiences are and how to share them with students. I, too, grew up in a predominantly white community, but this would’ve been a great lesson to listen to other people’s perspectives and form an understanding of where they were coming from and how their voice matters too! As a future educator, it is so important to create an inclusive environment that can touch on some of the same experiences that my students will encounter. Diving in to why an author wrote a story a certain way is just as important as understanding the story in which they wrote. This extends beyond race, but also for gender, ethnicity, and religion.

  6. This article provided a lot of insight on why it is important to not just represent diversity through characters in books, but also through the authors and illustrators. By introducing students to a diverse range of authors it allows for students to be able to find someone or something they can relate to. I think it is important to include books in my classroom library that showcase diverse authors, but I think it is even more important to show and read students books that were written by a variety of diverse authors.

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