As a high school English teacher, one of my passions is literature. I stress the importance of learning from the world around us through reading to my students. Immersing ourselves in a book allows us to travel places we cannot visit otherwise, it allows us to travel backward in time, and it invites us into the minds and lives of others. One of the greatest ways to learn empathy and experience lessons in human diversity is through reading. With that in mind, I’d like to invite you to embrace the lives, minds, and journeys created by some pretty amazing Black women in honor of both I Love to Read Month and Black History Month. When students or librarians ask me for some suggested readings for Black History Month, these are my top suggestions (in no particular order).
- If you haven’t already, get yourself a copy of The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. This book has been widely talked about in the last few years due to the amazing story, the cultures it represents, and its inclusion of social justice. The movie adaption was good too, but left out some big things that were in the book (like a complete character!!). This story offers a raw and honest portrayal of a young woman’s struggle to live life in a Black neighborhood while going to a higher-class White school. Like book series? You are in luck. The prequel to this novel, Concrete Rose, came out in January! If there is a prequel, my guess (and hope!) is there will eventually be a sequel.
- One of my favorite books to teach is Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God. It was also one of the first assigned high school readings I enjoyed as a student. In this book, you travel along with the protagonist (a young, Black spitfire) Janie, in her search for herself, love, and independence in Florida in the 1920s. You are able to experience a variety of cultures (and dialects) unlike any other book I’ve read.
- This one is near and dear to my heart: The Color Purple by Alice Walker. I vividly remember reading this book in 9th grade and quickly requesting the movie adaption after finishing it. This novel was on a special “banned books” display, which caught my eye as a teen, as well as the book’s purple cover. I was immediately transported to another time (the early 1900s) and place (Georgia). I felt all the feels that protagonist Celie felt. I laughed and cried many times reading this book and walked away forever changed by Celie’s perseverance and strength. I’ve re-read it a couple of times since.
- This one is likely not surprising: Becoming by Michelle Obama. This memoir invites us into the life of a celebrity, idol, and political figure from her childhood to becoming not only the First Lady of the United States of America but also the First Black Lady. She’s incredibly vulnerable and transparent in describing the ups and downs, challenges and victories she experienced socially, academically, emotionally, and politically over her rise to the White House.
- This short list of suggestions would not be complete without I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by the iconic Maya Angelou. Known for her poetry, Angelou pieced together this memoir in a commanding and mesmerizing voice of both poet and storyteller, stretching from her childhood to adulthood. There is no voice like Angelou’s.
As a bonus, I’d also like to add some books that I often suggest because they are high on my to-read list:
Kindred by Octavia E. Butler
How to Be Antiracist by Ibram X Kendi
The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo
This post was first published in February 2021