As a celebration of Black History Month, each week a Hope College professor or student will recommend their favorite books or films dealing with issues facing Black Americans today and throughout history. This first week is dedicated to Young Adult literature.

Book: Gifted Hands by Ben Carson (1990)

Reading Level: 3rd-5th grade

Gifted Hands is an inspiring autobiography about the neurosurgeon and politician Ben Carson. In this touching story of his journey to becoming a successful neurosurgeon, he describes growing up with a single mother who suffered from depression in inner-city Detroit. Though the odds were against him, Ben Carson graduated from Yale University and went on to University of Michigan Medical School. At the young age of thirty-three, Dr. Carson became the director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital, and has performed many life-saving surgeries on children, as described in his book.

Faith is an important aspect of Dr. Carson’s life, and therefore his story. Throughout the book, Dr. Carson mentions the hands of God directing him in miraculous ways, from his childhood to life as a successful surgeon.

Gifted Hands is a great book for anyone looking for an inspirational story focusing on one perspective of the Black experience in America.

Book: Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor (1976)

Reading Level: 4th-6th grade

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry is about a Black family of sharecroppers living in rural Mississippi during the early 1930s. Although set at the height of the Great Depression, the story mostly focuses on the economic disadvantages caused by racial disparities in the South during the Jim Crow era. Throughout the novel, multiple characters encounter racial discrimination and hate crimes like lynching at the hands of white southerners. This book explores the importance of family, racial equality, and faith during hard times. 

Book: The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo (2018)

Reading Level: 6th-8th grade

The Poet X  is about a fifteen-year-old Afro-Latina girl living in Harlem, born into a religious family. Through writing her own slam poetry, Xiomara reflects on the religion she was born into and the way her race and gender have impacted her life. This coming-of-age story is about making sense of personal identity at a time when racial tensions are high, and is essential for a society that still represents many minority groups as stereotypes. Therefore, this novel is a breath of fresh air in that it is a more realistic depiction of a young girl wrestling with her identity as an Afro-Latina woman.

Book: Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson (2014)

Reading Level: 6th-8th grade

Written in verse, this novel is about the author, Jacquline Woodson’s childhood growing up near the end of the Civil Rights Movement. While born in Ohio, Woodson ends up moving to South Carolina at a time racism and discrimination are rampant in the South. Eventually, Woodson moves to New York, and she grows to love it. Throughout the novel, Woodson learns more about the Civil Rights Movement, Black Panthers, and feminism, and by the end, considers herself to be an activist and writer. Overall, this novel describes the experiences of one Black writer and activist and her journey to self-discovery amidst the tensions of race in America since the Civil Rights Movement.

Book: All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely (2015)

Reading Level: 9th-12th grade

All American Boys is a co-written novel that deals with the racism Blacks still deal with today, focusing primarily on law enforcement. This book has two main characters, Rashad, an innocent Black teenager who gets beaten by a police officer, and Quinn, a white teenager who slowly comes to realize the unfair treatment Blacks in America still receive today. It would have been easy for this novel to paint the racial disparities depicted as good versus evil, but instead it shows the humanity of every character, no matter what choices they make, good or bad. This novel is a great way to look at issues that face Black Americans today such as police brutality and unfair representation in media.

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