13 Books Perfect for Girls Like Me

Last year, according to data collected by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s School of Education, less than 10% of the children’s books published in the U.S. were about African-Americans. And of that 10%, the CCBC found that less than half were actually written by African-Americans. And while this number has grown every year, this is still clearly an epidemic. 

We must do better. We must expect better. We must be better. Because in a society that often criminalizes brown skin, stigmatizes natural hair, and stereotypes grown women, it’s important that we expose brown/black girls to literature that depicts them in beautiful and natural ways — literature that’s written by brown/black girls, about brown/black girls, and for brown/black girls. Here’s a list of the 13 best books for brown/black girls. Take a look! Because whether you are a brown/black girl, are raising one, or are just looking for your next window, this is where it’s at. 

  1. 1. Brown Girl Dreaming by Jaqueline Woodson

    Why you should read: A biography reflecting on the author’s experiences growing up in two very different spaces — New York and South Carolina — during the 1960s, Brown Girl Dreaming offers an honest and provocative examination of a brown girl’s dreams and how institutions can shape them. 

  2. 2. I am Enough by Grace Byers

    Why you should read: You may recognize the author from her role as Annika Calhoun in the hit drama series, Empire. But Byers’s writing is just as provocative as her acting. An important message, disguised as a picture book, I Am Enough tells us all exactly what we need to hear.

  3. 3. More Than Enough by Elaine Welteroth

    Why you should read: Elaine Welteroth is a hero. Especially for young girls looking to succeed in fields historically dominated by people who look like, well, not them. More Than Enough details Welteroth’s rise to the top of Conde Nast as she struggled to claim her own space and define her own identity. Read it. It’s so good. 

  4. 4. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

    Why you should read: Yes, it was made into a movie last year. And if you still haven’t seen the movie, I highly recommend watching that too. But there’s only so much a two-hour and 13-minute movie can do with a 323-page book. The Hate U Give deals with real issues in a sensitive way — one of the first in a collection of YA novels trying to bring real issues to the attention of real teenagers. 

  5. 5. I Love My Hair by Natasha Tarpley

    Why you should read: It’s a book teaching girls how to love their hair. So yes, please!

  6. 6. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

    Why you should read: Zora Neale Hurston is one of the queens of African-American Literature. It’s a classic. But it’s also just really good. Really pretty. Highly recommend.

  7. 7. One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia

    Why you should read: Written in 2010, I’m still surprised more people haven’t read this. It attempts to expose a young audience to a serious topic. It was essentially The Hate U Give before The Hate U Give. Except it’s set in 1968 and written for a slightly younger audience. So there’s that too.  

  8. 8. Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

    Why you should read: Ward’s third novel explores the meaning of family and the institutions that complicate it. It’s powerful, relevant, and poignant. 

  9. 9. Wedding Party by Jasmine Guillory

    Why you should read: This is a fun one. Often times, books only explore the pain of being a brown woman in America. Guillory’s novel has characters with honest conversations, real bodies, and joyful experiences. It’s a good one. Definitely rated PG-13. 

  10. 10. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

    Why you should read: Each chapter tells a different story, while simultaneously telling the same story — the story of slavery, or its legacy, at least. Gyasi is brilliant and there is nothing she didn’t think of while writing Homegoing.  It’s just really powerful. I honestly can’t recommend it enough.

  11. 11. The Mothers by Brit Bennett

    Why you should read: The Mothers is a very unique story. Some argue it’s not about race at all, while some argue the story can’t be separated from the race of its characters. Me? I’ve spent a lot of time with this book and I just know this is a story about brown female relationships. There are men, obviously. But this is a book about women. The author asks its reader to think critically about the relationships in this book — they are not glamorous. They are honest. It’s kind of frightening, honestly. 

  12. 12. With the Fire On High by Elizabeth Acevedo

    Why you should read: Just released earlier this year, With the Fire on High, comes from award-winning author Elizabeth Acevedo. And, I mean, look at that cover!

  13. 13. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

    Why you should read: And finally, this list would not be complete without Toni Morrison. The Bluest Eye asks girls to think about beauty — what it means to them and society. It’s good. If you only read one book or author on this list, let it be this one. Toni Morrison wrote so that others could. She is our (s)hero.

The literature we read as children is an especially important part of our worldbuilding. It creates, transforms, and reflects. In fact, says, children's literature scholar and recipient of the Coretta Scott King - Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement, Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop, "Literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection we can see our own lives and experiences as part of a larger human experience.” 

Literature is meant to mirror the world we live in, reflect lived experiences, and teach us about ourselves. Brown/black girls need more mirrors. Literature that’s written by them and for them. Literature that builds them up. Literature that tells them they matter

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