African American Urban Fiction Blog Summary
African American Urban Fiction has become very popular- and that is not surprising considering our cultural climate today. It is essential to begin teaching students African American Literature as they begin to read novels-so elementary school. It becomes most essential when they begin to learn about American Literature in the 8th grade. There are several popular and new African American Urban fiction novels available today and I will help to eliminate the weeding out by providing a list of great African American Literature reading lists for you to get started on in your classroom.
African American Literature: “One Crazy Summer” by Rita Williams Garcia
“One Crazy Summer” by Rita Williams Garcia is a book about a girl and her two younger sisters who were abandoned by their mother as young children. They haven’t seen their mom, a.k.a. Cecile in years and do not remember her. Their grandfather believes it is time for them to meet their mother and sends the girls from Brooklyn, to Oakland, California. Cecile is cold, unkind, and anything but motherly as she does her best to welcome them into her home. The story is told from the point-of-view of the protagonist, an 11 year-old-girl and one of Cecile’s abandoned daughters. Cecile is part of the Black Panther Movement and left her children for complicated reasons. Although she is not let off the hook as a mother, we do get a glimpse into the very difficult and impossible life of a young girl that was Cecile. It is a book coming-of-age book about healing.
African American Literature Books: “Dear Justyce” by Nic Stone
“Dear Justyce” is a fictional novel written by Nic Stone. It is the sequel to “Dear Martin”. The reason behind Nic Stone deciding to write “Dear Justyce” is because the main character from “Dear Martin”-Justyce comes from a wealthy, privileged background. It can be predetermined that he would end up on a path toward wealth and prosperity. Stone decided to write the story from Quan’s perspective, one of the character’s from the “Dear Martin” novel. Quan grew up in poverty and was predetermined to end up in prison, as he does. She tells the story from the perspective of the poor kid who lived in an abusive household. Justyce comes back from a visit from college and decides to help Quan. Quan is innocent and is being tried for the murder of Castillo-the same police officer who killed Manny (Justyce’s best friend) in “Dear Martin”.
“The Boy in the Black Suit” by Jason Reynolds
“The Boy in the Black Suit” by Jason Reynolds is a story about a teen who loses his mom and is trying to survive with one alcoholic parent. The protagonist chooses to work in a funeral home because it brings him comfort after losing his mother. Through meeting different people and connecting with those around him and unlikely people who take care of him, it is a very healing coming-of-age novel.
African American Books Young Adult: “A Raisin in the Sun” by Lorraine Hansbury
“A Raisin in the Sun” by Lorraine Hansbury: A Raisin in the Sun is one of the most heartbreaking plays to read. It is about a family that is trying to catch a break, and when they finally do, it is at the expense of Walter Sr. (the grandfather’s death). The break they catch is the check they will receive from the insurance company for his death. Each member of this 5 person family has dreams of what they want to do with the money. Beneatha wants to be a doctor, Walter wants to open a liquor store, Mama wants to buy a new home etc. All of the characters crave the dream so badly that when it falls apart, there is an anger and bitterness that changes each of them forever. The message is that during this time period (post civil war) it was near impossible for African Americans to get ahead. They only experienced “dreams deferred”.
“Their Eyes Were Watching God” by Zora Neale Hurston
“Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston”: The story is about a young woman who doesn’t have much choice in a post civil world, who gets married twice. The first husband she is married off to by her parents and doesn’t love, and the second she runs off with named Teacake who she is madly in love with. The story shows the struggles, trials and tribulations as an African American, specifically an African American woman during post-civil-war-time. The scene where there is a storm is one of the most beautifully written scenes in literature and can be studied independently. Teacake, the love of her life dies from rabies in the end leaving her alone.
African American Urban Fiction Author: “Beloved” by Toni Morrison
Beloved by Toni Morrison: In the beginning a mom slits her babies throats in an attempt to save them from what she thinks is white men coming to take them into slavery. She has lived such a horrific life that she believes it is better to show her children mercy by killing them. This is a lot for high school level students to process, or connect with even a little. There are sexual metaphors, such as the cherry blossom tree that aren’t appropriate to get into as a high school teacher, and should be left for the college level.
African American Urban Fiction Author: “The Stars Beneath Our Feet” by David Barclay
“The Stars Beneath Our Feet” by David Barclay is a book that I suggest for the typical high school reading list. A story about a boy who loses his brother and is trying to find a way to cope with this loss. He becomes friends with many he never thought he would befriend and he uses legos as a creative way to deal with the pain of his loss. It’s is a well-crafted book with many themes and messages students can relate to and connect with today.
African American Literature Authors: “As Brave as You” by Jason Reynolds
“As Brave As You” by Jason Reynolds is a book about a young boy who is taken to live with his grandparents for a length of time. The boys’ parents are going through a divorce and they are going on one last trip prior to a separation. The boy spends the time with his grandparents, his brother, and some townspeople. The boy connects with his grandfather who is struggling with blindness. There are many themes that students can relate to and I think this is a great read for 9th grade.
African American Book Authors: “Ghost Boys” by Jewell Parker Rhodes
Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes: is a perfect read for today’s political climate. The book is about a young African American boy named Jerome who is shot and killed by a white police officer who gravely mistakes a toy gun for a real gun. There is a trial and the police officer is released with a slap on the wrist. “Ghost Boys”, visits the unfortunate, criminal issues that have been highlighted in our news. The Ghost Boys Gang includes Emmett Till as the ghost boys’ leader and Jerome goes on a journey of self-discovery, the awakening to American history, and healing.
African American Books for 5th Graders: “Class Act” by Jerry Craft
Class Act by Jerry Craft: A graphic novel in the “New Kid” graphic novel series. This is one of the books to read for teens. Once again Jordan returns to middle school finding himself in 8th grade where he faces new challenges. This is a sequel to “New Kid” focuses slightly less on Jordan and includes more secondary characters and their struggles. The class clown and bully has become isolated, and bullied in this version. I would not be surprised if the next book has a focus on him, and the effects of bullying.
African American Urban Fiction: Middle School-Track Series by Jason Reynolds
Track Series by Jason Reynolds: A 4-part-series referenced as the “Track Series” by Jason Reynolds. Patina is one of the four characters among Ghost, Lu, and Sunny. Each book is written from the perspective of each character as their lives intertwine with one another. They all suffer through different hardships and the one thing they have in-common, and is their grounding force-is track, and their track coach. Patina and her sister Maddy live with their adopted parents because their mom lost her legs due to diabetes; Sunny lives with his father and without his mother because she passed away. Ghost lives with his mother and no father because his father tried to shoot Ghost and his wife with a rifle and is in jail. Lu lives with both mom and dad but struggles greatly with his identity because he is an African-American albino and he doesn’t feel like he fits in either world.
African American Urban Fiction Middle School: “Booked” by Kwame Alexander
Booked by Kwame Alexander: is a crafty novel that makes the topic of books interesting. Kwame uses poetry, and a lot of imagination to draw the reader into the topic about a young boy whose father forces him to read. This boy is influenced by some amazing mentors: a teacher, librarian, and a new girlfriend and he is led to reading books and even joins a book club by the end of the novel.
African American Urban Fiction High School: “Monster” by Walter Dean Myers
Monster by Walter Dean Myers: a book about a young man who is on trial for his life for a crime he did not commit-or did he? Either way, if he had committed the crime of staking out a mini-mart to allow a robbery to take place, he should hardly be tried for capital murder. He unequivocally claims throughout the book that he was never in the store that day, however at the end there is a hint that he did in fact stake out the store that led to the death of a grocery clerk owner. This book comes as graphic novel or novel version.
African American Books 6th Graders: “New Kid” by Jerry Craft
New Kid another graphic novel. It’s about a boy in a new-private-middle school who deals with many of the issues that students deal with in middle school: bullying, fitting in, relationships, friendships, puberty, and racism. What I really like about this book is that the themes just mentioned are to the degree of making an impact on students without completely bringing them down. What I mean by this is that there is teasing and unkind words exchanged between classmates, but there isn’t a degree of bullying that students have to eat their lunch standing on a toilet, like there is in other books (Ghost Boys). The main character, Jordan goes to an almost all-white-student body school as an African American, and he deals with students and teachers making comments such as, “I bet you’d be good at basketball”, followed with “I didn’t mean that because, well, you know”. Other than these frustrations the book is light-hearted, each chapter is a malapropism for a movie, and portrays the average middle school student’s day-to-day life. The good, the bad, and the ugly. It’s important to first begin by teaching students how to read a graphic novel: thought bubbles, gutters, panels, etc. prior to reading a graphic novel. Some ideas during teaching is to cut out a scene, mix them up, and have students decide how to put them in order. You can delete dialogue from circles, and have students predict based on the images, what is being said. Lesson suggestion; I have heard teachers talk about how students are not able to practice critical thinking by imagining up a scene in a graphic novel. You can give the students the dialogue and have them draw what they imagine the scene to be.
African American Books for 7th Graders: “Rebound” by Kwame Alexander
Rebound by Kwame Alexander: It’s a new and different way to read a novel in that it is multiple poems strung together through the duration of an entire novel. It’s a bit like a string of dreams, or memories. Kwame is a master at writing and uses multiple literary devices on each page. He shapes his poetry to match the topic of a poem, and he engages middle school students in ways that most poetry cannot. The main character, Charlie, in “Rebound” is dealing with a lot. He has to deal with the loss of his father as well as puberty and all that it entails for a boy in middle school. Charlie is struggling to get along with his mom, who doesn’t seem to relate to him on any level. The person who can-is gone-Charlie’s father and Charlie misses him deeply. After Charlie gets into trouble a couple times, his mom decides to send him to his grandparents for the summer. Charlie is unhappy about it, but it seems to be what he needs to get his smile and his confidence back. It’s a coming-of-age book that includes: family, friends, death, and sports: exactly what he needs after his painful loss. Lesson suggestion: take one poem and have students turn it into the parts of a short story: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution.
African American Graphic Novels: “Long Way Down” by Jason Reynolds
Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds is a summarized version of what happens in the novel. There is a boy whose family has a long history of gang violence and he has lost multiple family members for this reason. Once the boy’s brother is killed, he feels he has to follow the rules which is to now kill the teen who killed his brother. That would then mean that he would be the next victim in line for death or prison. He wrestles with his conscience as he visits the multiple victims from his past in an elevator. There is a great impact in the graphics including when the main character’s brother is shot and killed, ghosts, and other victims that are not illustrated in the novel.
I’d love to hear about what African American Urban Fiction Authors you are teaching in the classroom! Please leave it in the comments section!
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