It is important that middle school English teachers spend time discussing African-American literature—not only on its own, but also by incorporating it into other subjects. For instance, spend an entire unit discussing only African-American literature, but then incorporate African-American work into other units as well such as poetry and short story units. Reading young adult books should be both fun and educational for students.
5 African-American books for middle school students
- “Junebug in Trouble”: This book by Alice Mead is set in the present day, and deals with issues that many children in middle school might be able to recognize. While the protagonist and many of the characters are African American, it is an important book that shows that just because people have a different skin color does not mean they don’t feel the same things and experience the same challenges.
- “Leon’s Story”: This autobiographical account of Leon Walter Tillage’s life as a child in the South during the pre-Civil Rights era is told through the eyes of a boy who was around middle school age during a turbulent time in the United States. The story promotes the theme of family bonding and discusses other issues that are relevant to all middle school students.
- “Night Boat to Freedom”: To document another important part of American history, middle school English teachers should have their students read this novel by Margaret Theis Raven. The story follows the challenges a young boy faced while trying to escape a life of slavery by fleeing to the free state of Ohio.
- “Yankee Girl”: This novel by Mary Ann Rodman takes place during the 1960s which is when white and black school children were just beginning to study together in many parts of the country. It tells the story of two young girls, one white and one black, and the difficulties they encounter during their friendship because of their races.
- “Dangerous Skies”: This story by Suzanne Fisher Staples follows the lives of a white boy and a black girl who have grown up as brother and sister. While the two have decided that their races do not matter to them, it poses some difficulty for others around them.
It is important that teachers who will be teaching African-American history explain to their students that there will be racial situations in the books and in classroom discussions that might make them uncomfortable. Teachers should provide context for the students, and have discussions about why these comments and slurs contained in these works are wrong.