21 Insightful, Accessible, & Fun Books that Tweens Won’t Want to Put Down | We Are Kid Lit Collective

School Library Journal has proudly partnered with We Are Kid Lit Collective to share and promote the group’s annual summer reading recommendations.

this week, SLJ will publish individual posts featuring their recommendations for picture books, transitional books, middle grade, and young adult titles. A PDF of the full list is also available for download.

The We Are Kid Lit Collective works to create materials and opportunities to recognize the humanity of Indigenous and People of Color (IPOC) in youth literature. Their work is premised upon the principles of social justice, equity, and inclusion and centers IPOC voices in children’s literature in order to identify, challenge and dismantle white supremacy and both internalized and systematic racism.

Their intended audience includes educators, librarians, caregivers, and young people. They look for ways to improve the literacies of IPOC children, promote books written by and about IPOC, and encourage gatekeepers to bring a lens of critical literacy to their work.

Adi, Hakim. African Migrations. (Thomson Learning, 1994). English.
This concise, readable history of the migrations of African people informs young readers of the contributions of Africans throughout the world.

Bryan, Ashley; illustrated with photos by Bill McGuinness. Words to My Life’s Song. (Atheneum, 2009). English.
This book from Ashley Bryan, who passed away in February 2022, features more than just the artist and storyteller’s fascinating life story. Part autobiography; part guided tour of Little Cranberry Island, her longtime home; and part visual sampler of the artist’s varied work, this title captures the man’s ebullient soul and acts as a fitting introduction to – and culmination of – Ashley Bryan’s remarkable career.

Coulson, Art & Traci Sorell; illustrated by Carlin Bear Don’t Walk & Roy Boney Jr. The Reluctant Storyteller. (Reycraft, 2020). English.
This illustrated collection, featuring a novella, a short story, and an essay, explores various facets of Cherokee culture and identity.

Davis, Tanita S. Partly Cloudy. (Katherine Tegen Books, 2021). English.
Madalyn, a young Black girl, and her parents think that changing schools would be the best way for her to reduce the microaggressions she faces all too often. To do this, Madalyn packs up to go live with her great uncle dela in his home dela that’s about three hours away. Madelyn finds that while the school may be better, she has so much to learn about family, community, and friendships.

Day, Christine. The Sea in Winter. (Heartdrum, 2021). English.
Christine Day, an enrolled citizen of the upper Skagit tribe, is the author of this middle grade novel. Maisie Cannon wants so badly to get back to her ballet training, but can’t because of her injury. As close and loving as her family is, they can’t understand how hopeless she feels. A family trip along the coast is meant to be a getaway for everyone. Maisie tries hard, almost too hard, to hide her feelings from her so everyone can have a good time. How can she work through this?

Ewing, Eve L.; illustrated by Christine Almeida. Maya and the Robot. (Kokila, 2021). English.
After learning that her best friends, Jada and MJ, are in a different class, Maya, an introverted young Black girl, becomes even more nervous about the fifth grade. When she finds a robot named Ralph, Maya uses her science skills to get him up and running, opening up a whole new world of connections.

Garcia, Lalena; illustrated by Caryn Davidson. What We Believe: A Black Lives Matter Principles Activity Book. (Lee & Low, 2020). English.
Guiding principles, activities, and coloring pages intersect activism, love, and solidarity within the Black Lives Matter movement and youth leadership for social change.

Harris, Duchess. The Scottsboro Boys. (Abdo Publishing, 2019). English.
Harris writes a historical account of nine Black teenagers who were arrested in 1931 in Alabama and put on trial for crimes they did not commit. The author relates the 90-year-old case to current events in the United States.

Hiranandani, Veera. How to Find What You’re Not Looking For. (Penguin Young Readers, 2021). English.
Ariel is a 12-year-old girl living through 1967 with her middle class Jewish family. Between the bullying she gets from classmates and her sister dela having to run away to be with her Indian American husband, Ariel faces the changing dynamics of her country, school, and family head on.

Kelkar, Supriya. American As Paneer Pie. (Simon & Schuster, 2020). English.
Twelve-year-old Lekha, born in the United States of immigrant parents, is the only Indian American in her suburban Michigan school. She’s trying hard to fit in and fly under the bullies’ radar. But, a special election brings out the xenophobes, and an Indian-born girl her age moves in across the street.

Kendall, Christine. Jamari. (Kweli Teen; http://www.kwelijournal.org/kweli-teen/2017/2/20/jamari-by-christine-kendall, 2017). English.
Jamel, an eight year-old Black boy, narrates this story about his twin brother, Jamari. His unbound curiosity about him seems to bother his teacher, Miss Anderson so much that she’s called the School Resource Officers to remove him from class. It seems Jamari’s desire to understand things has given him a much different perspective of the world. This story is available online at no charge on the Kweli Journal website.

Khan, Hena; adapted by Susi Grissom. Amina’s Voice: A Reader’s Theater Script. https://docs.google.com/document/d/1ZK4hEkubwNDWotAbIu3pZt8gm_HsA40TU4uRSyOogGg/edit (Bound to Stay Bound Books, 2019). English.
In this scene from Amina’s Voice, Pakistani American middle school student Amina, along with her friends Emily and Soojin, explore ways to make friends and fit in at school. This scene is available online at no charge on the site linked above.

LaMotte, Lily; illustrated by Ann Xu. Measuring Up. (HarperAlley, 2020). English.
While missing her grandmother back in Taiwan, Cici navigates the blending of her Taiwanese culture and her new American identity with heart, bravery, and cooking. This graphic novel is perfect for young foodies and comic book fans alike.

Lewis, Cicely. Mass Incarceration, Black Men, and the Fight for Justice. (Lerner, 2021). English.
ReadWoke librarian Cicely Lewis introduces readers to the concept of mass incarceration; its continued impact on Black people in the United States from slavery times to the present; and the work being done to end this injustice.

Martínez, Andrés Vera & Na Liu; illustrated by Andrés Vera Martínez. Little White Duck: A Childhood in China. (Lerner/Graphic Universe, 2012). English.
In this semi-autobiographical graphic novel, author Na Liu shares stories of growing up in Wuhan, China in the late 1970s. Readers see how the country changed politically, economically, and socially during her childhood.

Nash, Woodrow & Shelly Fraser Mickle. Sculptor Woodrow Nash: How I Search for My Ancestors. (Pelican, 2021). English.
African American Sculptor Woodrow Nash details his process for making life-size artwork of Africans who were enslaved in the Americas. In his process, he presents evidence on the details that inform his work.

Oh, Ellen. Finding Junie Kim. (HarperCollins, 2021). English.
A Korean American middle schooler avoids speaking out against racism and antisemitism in her school, risking her friendships and her integrity in the process. Through the stories of her immigrant grandparents who survived the Korean War in villages invaded by both sides, she learned the costs of silence and how to be strong in the face of hate. Junie turns to her family when she faces tough mental health issues.

Oshiro, Mark. The Insiders. (HarperCollins, 2021). English.
Héctor, a middle schooler whose family has recently moved, finds that his new town (and school) is not a safe place for a gay theater kid. Relentlessly bullied (with very little help from the adults at his new school), Héctor finds himself hiding in the janitors’ closet—but there’s something different about this hiding spot, which magically transforms itself into a room where Héctor can relax and be himself, and make new friends from different parts of the country.

Warga, Jasmine. The Shape of Thunder. (Balzer+Bray, 2021). English.
Cora and Quinn were once the closest of friends, but after what Quinn’s brother did to Cora’s sister, is it even possible for them to remain close? There was a shooting, and its aftermath is tearing the two girls apart. If only they could go back and change things! But, should they even have to? How much of this is really their responsibility? The story is told in the alternating voices of Cora, who lives with her Lebanese father and white maternal grandmother, and Quinn, who is white.

Weatherford, Carole Boston; illustrated by Floyd Cooper. Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre. (Carolrhoda, 2021). English.
The Greenwood neighborhood of Tulsa was known as Black Wall Street because of its thriving businesses and tight-knit Black community, until a false accusation in 1921 unleashed a white mob with guns, torches, and even an aerial bombing. This is the last of Floyd Cooper’s books to come out in his lifetime; he passed away in July 2021.

Yang, Kao Kalia; illustrated by Billy Thao. Yang Warriors. (University of Minnesota Press, 2021). English.
The Yang Warriors are a group of older children, risking it all to gather fresh greens for their malnourished younger cousins ​​and siblings in this fictionalized account from author Yang’s childhood in Thailand’s Ban Vinai Refugee Camp. Thao’s comic-style illustrations enhance the warriors’ superhero qualities.


2022 WE ARE KID LIT COLLECTIVE MEMBERS: Sam Bloom, Edith Campbell, Sujei Lugo Vázquez, and Lyn Miller-Lachmann.

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