10 YA Novels by Authors of Color for Your HS English Classroom
A classroom library that reflects the diversity of teens’ lived experiences enriches their learning. Here are 10 YA books by writers of color to add to yours.
As part of the commitments we made in our anti-racist statement back in June, we are reviewing our educational offerings for opportunities to make them more equitable and to see where we can uplift and center voices of color and those from underrepresented communities. One way we can do this is in our curricular units, such as iThrive Curriculum: Sam's Journey—an English Language Arts and humanities unit for high school students. The narrative at the center of Sam's Journey is the game A Normal Lost Phone, which is unpacked message by message as players unlock information in Sam's phone.
In our equity review of the unit — and inspired by the game's mechanism of telling a story largely through text messages and emails — we found there were opportunities to extend the unit by linking it to epistolary novels we love (or that have been recommended to us) that were authored by writers of color.
We combed through our favorite YA books and asked our teacher friends for recommendations. Here are 10 awesome young adult epistolary books by authors of color that you may wish to use in your classroom:
- Monster, by Walter Dean Myers. In movie script format, 16-year-old Steve Harmon tells the story leading up to the most pivotal event in his life.
- To All the Boys I've Loved Before, by Jenny Han. Lara Jean writes love letters to every boy she's loved and keeps them safe in a special place. Everything changes when the letters make their way out into the world.
- Dear Martin, by Nic Stone. Justyce Mcalister has had a brush with police brutality. In trying to make sense of it, he begins journaling to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., inquiring about the usefulness of those teachings today.
- The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie. Junior is growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation, and he tells his story through a mixture of writing and art.
- The White Tiger, by Aravind Adiga. Balram Halwai shares the story of his life in India through a letter to a Chinese political figure.
- Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates. In letters to his adolescent son, author Ta-Nehisi Coates shares the experiences that have evolved his understanding of his place in the world as a Black man.
- The Color Purple, by Alice Walker. In letters to God, Celie shares the story of her life and her journey toward self-acceptance.
- Tears of a Tiger, by Sharon Draper. In letters, homework assignments, and articles, the story of high school student Andy's journey of grief and guild is unveiled.
- In the Time of Butterflies, by Julia Alvarez. This novel shares the story of four sisters who fight against an authoritarian regime in the Dominican Republic.
- Zenzele: A Letter for My Daughter, by J. Nozipo Maraire. A mother writes letters to her daughter, sharing life lessons and her experience of Zimbabwe's struggle for independence.
You can find many of these books on commonsensemedia.org to assess their themes and age appropriateness for your classroom. We hope this list is helpful in building out resources for high school classrooms that elevate the voices of people of color.