We are currently living through a time of growing awareness surrounding systemic racism and the myriad of ways that our BIPOC (Black, Indigenious, People of Color) friends, loved ones, neighbors, coworkers, and fellow human beings have been discriminated against and have suffered. I know that many parents and educators are searching for resources to share with the middle schoolers in their lives. It’s imperative that we don’t gloss over teaching kids hard and painful truths, and that we point them towards necessary activism to work towards justice. But what’s the best way to teach our kids about racism? Starting with books is an excellent place to begin and I’d like to recommend 10 powerful antiracism books for middle schoolers!
The middle school years find kids in that strange “in between” time. Certain books begin to feel too young and immature but other books might not yet be appropriate due to mature content. The following books are geared specifically towards helping tweens identify and understand racism and bigotry. They offer education that is age-appropriate and honest, informative and powerful.
My hope is that these books will provide you and the middle schoolers in your life with the desire and motivation to seek social justice through learning, growing compassion, and grassroots activism.
10 powerful Antiracism Books for Middle Schoolers
Note: These are books that I was comfortable with my own children reading when they were in middle school and I’m comfortable recommending them to other parents and educators. But as always, do your due diligence to review these titles to make sure they’re a good fit for the middle schoolers in your life.
1. Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You: A Remix of the National Book Award-Winning Stamped From the Beginning
by Jason Reynolds
This important book is based on Ibram Kendi’s, Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America. Kendi collaborated with Jason Reynolds and asked if he would write a version for younger readers. The result is this conversational, approachable, and powerful book.
Educating us on the history of racism in America, we journey from past to present, breaking down the origin of racist ideas and learning how to work towards a more just and equal future for ALL.
A fantastic book to start with!
2. This Book Is Anti-Racist: 20 Lessons on How to Wake Up, Take Action, and Do The Work
by Tiffany Jewell and Aurelia Durand
This book examines racism and xenophobia by exploring the ways that different groups of people have been oppressed throughout history. It explores the experiences of Indigenous People throughout the world including powerful ways in which they stood up to oppression and hatred.
Offering readers realistic ways to disrupt racism in real life, we learn which language and phrases are useful so that we’re prepared to counter racism and xenophobia when we experience it.
There is also a journal available separately which offers 50+ activities designed to accompany this book.
3. Undefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team
by Steve Sheinkin
This is a great book for anyone who loves an underdog story! We learn about Jim Thorpe, a Native American, Olympic gold medalist, incredible football player, Ivy League graduate, and phenomenal athlete. In 1907 at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania, he and a group of other young men formed a football team. They went on to defeat many more privileged schools throughout their football career.
But it’s not all uplifting and inspirational. We’re provided with a devastating look into the relentless persecution of Native Americans by the U.S. government, specifically through schools that were made to eradicate the different Native American cultures.
A powerful true story that explores the often horrific history of the United States, as well as the resilience, strength, and inspiration of a football team who beat the odds.
4. American as Paneer Pie
by Supriya Kelkar
Lekha Divekar is the only Indian American kid in her small town. In order to fit in at school, she feels like she needs to hide her culture from the other kids and avoid confrontation at all costs.
When new neighbors arrive, Lekha realizes the family is Indian and that they have a girl named Avantika who is Lekha’s age. But Lekha’s shocked to discover that Avantika doesn’t try at all to hide her culture and assimilate with everyone around her.
A racist incident occurs in the community and Lekha realizes she must summon her courage to speak out.
A relatable and powerful example of speaking out against racism and bullying.
5. An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States for Young People (ReVisioning History for Young People)
by Jean Mendoza, Debbie Reese, and Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
This book has won all sorts of awards and is a fantastic look at the history of the Indigenous People of the United States.
Including discussion topics, powerful images, original maps, and recommendations for additional resources, we learn about the genocide of Native Americans and are asked to consider our place in history.
This is part of a 3-book series for young people and it’s definitely worth checking out the entire series!
6. A Different Mirror for Young People: A History of Multicultural America
by Rebecca Stefoff and Ronald Takaki
Ronald Takaki was one of the most recognized scholars of American ethnic history and diversity and the original author of A Different Mirror. Rebecca Stefoff has adapted this version for young readers, offering a rich and meaningful multicultural history of the United States.
Through recorded experiences included in letters, diary entries, and poems, history is brought to life through the words of real human beings, including young people.
A wonderful resource offering an abudance of unique experiences along with historical documentation.
7. Esperanza Rising
by Pam Muñoz Ryan
This book is often read in upper elementary school classrooms. But I think it’s a powerful story to read at any age which is why I’m not hesitating to recommend it for middle school. If your tween hasn’t read it yet, grab a copy!
Esperanza comes from a privileged background, living on her family’s ranch in Mexico. But an unexpected tragedy forces Esperanza and her Mama to flee to California where they settle in a Mexican farm labor camp. This all occurs during the time of the Great Depression and they experience prejudice and financial scarcity.
A moving story about the tragedy and difficulties faced by refugess.
8. Sylvia & Aki
by Winifred Conkling
Based on true events, this book tells the story of the California court case, Mendez vs. Westminster School Distric through the lives and friendship of Sylvia Mendez and Aki Munemitsu. Aki’s Japanese-American family was forced to leave their home and relocate to a Japanese internment camp after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Sylvia’s family rented from Aki’s family and cared for their property while they were interned, and the girls developed a lifelong friendship.
During this time, segregated schools were legal in the United States. Sylvia’s family fought for their children to attend the local all-white school, eventually leading to Mendez vs. Westminster which desegregated schools for Latino children in California. It also served as precedent to the 1954 Supreme Court case, Brown vs. Topeka Board of Education, which resulted in the desegregation of all schools in the United States.
A powerful story of discrimination, racism, the fight for equality, and the power of friendship.
9. Piecing Me Together
by Renée Watson
Jade is an ambitious girl who is striving to get out of her poor neighborhood. She rides the bus everyday to attend a private school where she seizes every opportunity that comes her way but also feels like an outsider.
For example, she’s invited to participate in a mentorship program for “at-risk” girls but she feels like she’s alwyas being singled out as someone who needs extra help.
Jade wants to be able to express herself and make positive change without feeling like she’s not good enough.
A compelling story about breaking down stereotypes and making a postiive difference in the world.
10. ghost boys
by Jewell Parker Rhodes
This is an incredibly powerful book! Jerome is a twelve year old who has been shot and killed by a police officer who mistakes his toy gun for a real one. In the story, Jermone is a ghost and he’s witnessing the sorrow and devastation that his family and community are experiencing since his death.
Jerome meets another ghost named Emmett, (the real Emmett Till who was lynched at the age of 14 in 1955). Emmett guides Jerome through processing what has happened to him and identifying how historical systemic racism likely led to his killing. Jerome also meets Sarah the daughter of the police officer who killed him, as she struggles with how to make sense of what her father has done.
A poignant look at racism in American, in the past, as well as modern day.
I hope this list of 10 powerful antiracism books for middle schoolers has inspired you to check out some of these titles with the tween(s) in your life!
be sure to check out these other resources too:
- Empowering Antiracism Books for Young Readers
- How to Teach Your Kids About Racism
- 10 Powerful Antiracism Books for Teens
- A Special Holiday Celebrating Interracial Marriage
- 25 Empowering Books for Girls
- How to Raise Compassionate Kids
- How to Raise Respectful Kids
I’d love to know if you have recommendations to add to this list so if you do, let me know in the comments below!
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