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. This article provides a great starting point for educators to begin to incorporate authors of color into their classroom library and teaching curriculum. As you mentioned, it is important for students of colors to see themselves in media forms, like books, and to have stories that speak to where they came from. On the flip side, it is important for white students to read works from authors of color to gain perspective. When students are presented with only white authors, it reinforces the internalized dominance and oppression among students who inherently start to believe that white authors are read in school because they are more intelligent, better writers, etc.

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