MCCBD Feature: Books for Teens Featuring African-American Protagonists

Mike Mullin, author of Surface Tension, shares his book list “​Books for Teens Featuring African-American Protagonists.” Check out the preview below and the full list & 5 book giveaway on the Multicultural Children’s Book Day website.

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1. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor

I first read this novel the same year I first saw Star Wars, when I was ten or eleven. Both experiences linger in my memory nearly 40 years later. It wasn’t the first time I’d read books with Black protagonists (that would be Ezra Jack Keats’ brilliant picture books), but it was the first time I’d read about the brutality of racism. Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry is set in 1930’s Mississippi—Taylor sets the scene so well that by the time you’re done reading you’ll be able to taste the rust-colored dust of the dirt roads.

Cassie is an indomitable heroine. Every time I read her story, I alternate between feeling terror and elation as she confronts everything from racist insults to horrific threats against her person. But the true brilliance of the novel is the theme of fire running throughout it, beginning with the horribly burnt body of Mr. Berry and ending with a forest fire—it serves as a stark metaphor for the all-consuming nature of racism. [chapter book, ages 11 and up]


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2. M.C. Higgins the Great by Virginia Hamilton

I think I loved this book because I identified so strongly with the protagonist: Mayo Cornelius Higgins, a brainy, disaffected young man who watches the world from atop a 40’ steel pole. Like M.C., I climbed everything in sight. (Trees, buildings… I never had a 40’ pole, but I have no doubt I would have tried to climb it. My favorite place was a tree covered in vines—I could climb up, stick my head out the top, and gaze over what looked like a leafy meadow suspended 60’ above the ground.) I also identified with the alliance M.C. builds with his neighbors, the light-skinned, red-headed Killburns. I never tried to build a wall with the Black kids who lived next door to me—Mark, Todd, and Glen—but we did build some wicked BMX ramps together! Years after I first read M.C. Higgins the Great, I met Virginia Hamilton and she signed a copy for me. I wish I’d bought a hardcover, but at that point I was in college and nearly broke. I also wish my handwriting were half as lovely as hers:

If you enjoy M.C. Higgins the Great, don’t miss The Planet of Junior Brown and The House of Dies Drear, my other favorite Hamilton novels. [chapter book, ages 11 and up]


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3. Monster by Walter Dean Myers

I could have put lots of Myers books on this list, but this is the one that haunted my dreams for months after I read it. The protagonist, Steve, is facing 25-years to life for a crime he didn’t commit. Myers tells the story entirely through diary entries and a screenplay Steve is writing. But the real story here is Steve’s inner battle, as he struggles to reject the label society has already branded him with: Monster. [young adult, ages 13 and up]


Read the full list and enter the giveaway here.

MCCBD Feature: 8 Australian Multicultural YA Books

Melissa Keil, author of The Secret Science of Magic, shares her book list “8 Australian Multicultural YA Books.” Check out the preview below and the full list on the Multicultural Children’s Book Day website. 

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1. Looking for Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta

Josie Alibrandi navigates life with her wealthy Catholic school peers and her Italian-Australian family, while dealing with the reappearance of her estranged father, and the complexities of romance. With a wonderfully realized protagonist and heartfelt prose, Alibrandi is a modern Australian YA classic. [young adult, ages 13 and up]




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2. Laurinda (published in the US as Lucy and Linh) by Alice Pung

At an exclusive private school for girls, Lucy Lam enrolls as a scholarship student, finding herself tangling with a group of girls known as the Cabinet, who wield extraordinary influence over their peers and teachers. Timely and relevant YA that tackles the thorny issues of power, privilege, class and race. [young adult, ages 14 and up]


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3. Does My Head Look Big in This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah

Sixteen-year-old Amal decides to adopt the hijab full time, and deals with the repercussions from her schoolmates, parents and friends. With a great voice in the character of Amal, this book is a funny and moving look at confronting stereotypes and staying true to yourself. [young adult, ages 12 and up]



Read the full list here.

We’ve Been Waiting in the Wings Forever: A Queer Theater Story

By Amy Rose Capetta

I discovered the joys of theater in middle school for a sad but simple reason: I was quitting dance. At the age of twelve, I was told by my teacher that I couldn’t continue at an advanced level without losing a significant amount of weight. The issue of body policing in the performing arts comes up in my YA novel Echo After Echo, specifically for the main character, Zara, who is not the waifish ingénue people have come to expect. Fortunately, when I chose to leave dance behind, I fell into theater, and despite being a different body type than many of my fellow actresses, I found roles and fell in love with acting.

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My new life of green rooms and backstage bonding brought my first queer friends. It’s no real secret that the theater world, from the professional stages in NYC to the drama clubs in most schools are havens for creative and hardworking LGBTQIAP folks. Before I even knew I was queer, I found my people, and they shared my fervor for story-making, a heady mix of love and ambition that still drives me. We collected, we rehearsed, we constructed sets with questionable structural integrity, we held our hearts outside of our bodies night after night, we threw AMAZING cast parties.

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Staying Hyphenated

 By Mitali Perkins

My dad—technically a refugee from East Pakistan (now Bangladesh)—became a harbor engineer, traveled far and wide, stood in the presence of Winston Churchill, Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa, and Queen Elizabeth, and settled his family in California when I was in the seventh grade. He died this year, and I’m grieving hard, mourning the loss of his humor, loving company, and joyful spirit. I also miss his stories of Poshora, the village where seven generations of my family lived on a jute farm. Thanks to Dad’s deep roots in that particular place, no matter how people saw us, we didn’t identify ourselves as Asian-Americans, Indian-Americans, or even Bengali-Americans. I knew as a child that the Bose family was from Poshora in Faridpur, East Bengal.The problem is that now, without Dad’s witty, adept use of the Bangla language, recitations of Tagore’s poetry, and reminiscences from his childhood, it feels like the hyphen connecting my identities has taken a blow. Will it be fatal? My parents’ shift from country to country—something that I didn’t choose—has already cost me, leaving me to grow up far away from a supportive network of relatives and grandparents. Dad’s life and stories provided my particular connection to that faraway village in East Bengal. With Dad gone, will I tilt even more to the American side?

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