Recently, our country was harmed by another racist tragedy. On February 23rd, Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man, was jogging through a neighborhood and was followed and murdered by two White men. Yet, it took until THIS week, after more media attention, for the two men to be arrested even when there was video evidence. This is injustice and racism at its very malicious core. My heart goes out to Ahmaud Arbery’s family and community. 

My family and I have been in intense reflection about this incident. It kills me that no matter how much racial equity and anti-racist work I do, it never feels like enough to physically protect my loved ones and family who are apart of the Black community. However, I am a big believer that this does not mean I just get to stop, it does not mean that WE just get to stop. We need to use this tragedy to fuel our desire for racial justice even more! 

One way to combat racism and achieve racial justice is understanding and countering our implicit biases. Implicit biases are malleable. And, as educators, families, and librarians, we have access to a tool to change them: Multicultural Books/Diverse Books. While diverse books aren’t a magic cure for our nation’s racism, they do act as counternarratives that counteract the negative images in media (social media, television, books, magazines, etc.) of communities of color that flood into our brain and can lead to implicit biases. As we know implicit biases lead to structural racism, microaggressions, and explicit racism that harm communities of color. 

Therefore, as an actionable step to help address racism towards the Black community, I have created a list of books featuring Black male characters to act as counternarratives. I chose to list 8 books (4 picture books, 2 middle grade books, and 2 young adult books) in remembrance of Ahmaud Arbery because his birthday is today, May 8th. Each of these books are written by Black authors and most are written by Black men. My hope is that you chose one, some, or all the books to showcase in your classes, homes, and libraries while also holding discussions about racism and how to be an advocate for your community or a good ally. As a nation, there is so much work we need to do, but one easy step we can take right now is to add books and positive images that show that Black lives matter and Black men matter. 

Picture Books

Cool Cuts, by Mechal Renee Roe

The Spectrum for Multicultural Lit.: Between Exploration & Representation

Age Range: 3-7 years old

This picture book promotes strong self-esteem while also celebrating the diversity of Black hairstyles. Each couple of pages has a positive self-affirmation and a different hairstyle. I love the illustrations and the positivity beaming on each page!

Every Little Thing, by Bob Marley and Cedella Marley

The Spectrum for Multicultural Lit.: Representation

Age Range: 3-5 years old

Cedella Marley, the daughter of Bob Marley, adapted the words to his famous song and turned it into a picture book. In Every Little Thing, a little boy goes about his day not letting anything bring him down. It is a counternarrative that showcases the cheerfulness in the Black community. 

The King of Kindergarten, by Derrick Barnes and Vanessa Brantley-Newton

The Spectrum for Multicultural Lit.: Representation

Age Range: 3-6 years old

The King of Kindergarten is a picture book about a little boy getting ready and going to his first day of Kindergarten. Barnes and Brantley-Newton beautifully position the little boy as a king ready to take on a new adventure with their illustrations and figurative language. The King of Kindergarten  is a great story for every child and it specifically helps empower our Black boys. It shows that they not only belong in school, but that they are kings and can achieve so much! 

Little Legends: Exceptional Men in Black History, by Vashiti Harrison

The Spectrum for Multicultural Lit.: Dependent on the Chapter

Age Range: 8-12 years

Vashiti Harrison followed up Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History with this book! In each chapter of Little Legends, she focuses on one brilliant man in Black history. She illustrates them and writes a little blurb about what they did in history. Share each of these counternarratives of amazing Black men throughout history!

Middle Grade/YA Books

Arcade and the Triple T Token (The Coin Slot Chronicles), by Rashad Jennings

The Spectrum for Multicultural Lit.: Representation

Age Range: 8+ years

The Coin Slot Chronicles are a middle grade chapter book series about Arcade Livingston, an eleven-year old, whose life changes when an old woman gives him a mysterious gold arcade token. With that arcade token, Arcade is now able to travel time and go on adventures with his older sister, Zoe. This is a great series to use as a counternarrative that features a Black male character going on adventures and as a resilient and courageous character. I also love the dedication Rashad Jennings adds, “‘No matter what it takes, I’m going to be the best version of myself!’ Truly, that is when your own Arcade adventures begin. And may they never end…”

As Brave As You, by Jason Reynolds

The Spectrum for Multicultural Lit.: Mostly Representation

Age Range: 10+ years

Another amazing middle grade chapter book written by a phenomenal Black author. As Brave As You, by Jason Reynolds follows Genie during his summer adventures with his brother at their grandparents’ place in Virginia. Throughout the book, Genie has to negotiate his concepts of bravery, and what it means to “be a man”. Reynolds’s book is a must-read and showcases strong and authentic Black characters!

We Could Be Brothers, by Derrick Barnes

The Spectrum for Multicultural Lit.: Mostly Conversation

Age Range: 11+ years

We Could Be Brothers is about two thirteen-year-old Black boys coming together during a three-day after-school suspension. Robeson Battlefield and Pacino Clapton seem like they come from two different worlds, but eventually come together and talk about many different topics that affect them and their community, including the use of the N-word, masculinity, and identity. When you read this counternarrative, Black characters can speak for themselves versus assumptions being made. 

Solo, by Kwame Alexander and Mary Rand Hess

The Spectrum for Multicultural Lit.: Representation & some Exploration

Age Range: 11+ years

Kwame Alexander and Mary Rand Hess write this young adult book in all verses. In Solo, Blade Morrison, a seventeen-year-old, struggles with his life as the son of Rutherford Morrison, a rock star and drug addict. After a huge family secret is revealed, Blade leaves for Ghana to find answers about his life. This book is a great young adult counternarrative that showcases representation of complex Black male characters. 

There are so many other great books featuring Black male characters that we could list. Check out the instagram hashtags #blackbooks and #diversebooks to find more! We, at Colorful Pages, Mr. Ahmaud Arbery, will always remember you and hope to fight for justice for you and many others. 

One thought on “Kings & Counternarratives: 8 Books Featuring Black Male Characters

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