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Pittsburgh Parenting Blog by Sewickley Academy

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Young Reader Recommendations: Books That Deal with Race

In December, in the season of top-everything lists, NPR published a recommended list of books that deal with race for young adult readers. The list, which you can view here along with the many comments, piqued the interest of our Middle School English faculty, who know a thing or two about adolescents and how so many of them gravitate to novels about race and racial identities. Their conversation quickly turned into their own list of titles, which is below. Each book on the list offers a perspective into racial identities or race relations that our faculty found were compelling for young adult readers. As with all book lists, it is important to do further research into each title and topic and see if it is a good fit for your reader. If you see a title that you want to know more about, you can start by asking your English teacher!

Here are a few of our Middle School English faculty’s highlights and favorites from the list.



“For a reader who appreciates more mature content, Seedfolks uses vignettes from the point of view of characters of different ages, religions, races, and heritages to create a story about how a vacant lot can be transformed and help a diverse community connect and ‘grow’ together.” - Ms. Jessica Hecht, English 7








“I picked The River Between Us because it tackles race in both subtle and head-on ways. It asks readers to ponder how much skin color affects identity, and what determines race. In my experience, it has led to frank discussions about how and why we categorize ourselves and others.” - Ms. Anna Brock, English 6 and 7








“I have never encountered someone who has read The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian and not been deeply affected by it; it’s one of those books that can be startling on first read but grows richer with ongoing consideration.” ~ Ms. Deborah Golden, English 8







Here’s the rest of the list and the perspectives each one highlights.

A Million Shades of Gray by Cynthia Kadohata (Vietnamese, Vietnam War)
A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry (African American)
Absolutely true diary of a part-time Indian by Sherman Alexie (American Indian)
American Born Chinese by Gene luen Yang (Chinese American)
Before We Were Free by Julia Alvarez (Dominican)
Breadwinner by Deborah Ellis (Afghanistan)
Briar Rose by Jane Yolen (WWII/ Polish/ Nazi)
Children of the River by Linda Crew (Cambodian American)
Code Talker by Joseph Bruhac (Navajo)
Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton (South Africa under Apartheid)
Homeless Bird by Gloria Whealan (Indian)
Jackie and me by Dan Gutman (African American)
Milkweed by Jerry Spinelli (Jewish, Holocaust)
Money Hungry by Sharon Flake (African American)
Monster by Walter Dean Meyers (African American)
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Fredrick Douglass (African American)
Not so-star-Spangled life of Sunita Sen by Mitalia Perkins (Indian American)
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor (1930s, African-American)
Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman and Judy Pedersen (Multi-Cultural American)
Sold by Patricia McCormick (Napali)
Summer of My German Soldier by Bette Greene (WWII, Nazi)
Sunrise of Fallujah by Walter Dean Myers (American and Iraqi)
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne (Nazi and Jewish)
The Girl in the Green Sweater by Krystyna Chiger (WWII/ Polish/ Nazi)
The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros (Hispanic American)
The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore (African American, urban v. suburban)
The River Between Us by Richard Peck (Civil war, African-American)
The Skin I’m In by Sharon Flake (African American)
The Thing About Luck by Cynthia Kadohata (Japanese- American)
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston (African American)
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe (Nigerian)
Ties that Bind, Ties That Break by Lensey Namioka (Chinese)
Watsons go to Birmingham by Christopher Paul Curtis (African American)
When My Name was Keoko by Linda Sue Park (Korean under Japanese rule)
When the Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka (Japanese-American internment camps in WW2)
Zlata’s Diary: A Child’s Life in Sarajevo by Zlata Filipovic (Bosnian)

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Topics: Book Review