7 Chapter Books with Young Female Protagonists of Color
Over the past few years, I have posted a few lists filled with diverse children’s book recommendations. You can find links to all those lists at the bottom of this post. Last week, a few readers asked if I had recommendations for chapter books featuring main characters of color for older kids as well. I always like to start from my own experience, so listed below are all chapter books that Mazzy read and loved in 4th and 5th grade.
Front Desk was the first book that Mazzy read on the list. Her 4th grade teacher read the book aloud in class and at Mazzy’s parent teacher conference, her teacher told me that reading Front Desk was Mazzy’s favorite part of the day. I mentioned that to Mazzy and she asked if we could read it together as well. So, after we read our regular bedtime books with Harlow, Mazzy and I would read Front Desk together in her bed. Over the course of the next few weeks, reading Front Desk with Mazzy became my favorite part of the day too. At first, I remember being really surprised by the maturity of some of the content. It teaches lessons about racism, poverty and immigration, all through the eyes of a ten-year-old girl. I think reading that book together helped me understand that Mazzy could handle these topics and that she gravitates to stories about girls her age facing adversity. Girls of all different colors and backgrounds, with whom she can find both similarities and differences. After we were finished, I started looking for similar books that would hold her interest, which led to the list below.
I’m sure there are many more chapter books with protagonists of color, but the eight books below are all books that Mazzy loved, so I can vouch for them personally. Our list is mostly female protagonists, because that’s what Mazzy picks out. Some we have read together and some she has read on her own. Her absolute favorites are Front Desk and the One Crazy Summer series. She is currently in the middle of Blended by Sharon Draper.
I put the book jacket descriptions underneath each title. I also listed both Bookshop and Amazon for where to purchase. I found out about Bookshop recently, because 75% of their profits support local and independent book shops. They also give their affiliates (like myself) a higher percentage of the sale than Amazon— 10% to be exact and then they give a matching 10% to independent bookstores. I currently have my own shop set up on there where I am going to add all my book lists.
But I know many people already have accounts with Amazon and it makes for an easier sale. So, I listed them both. Let’s call this a test!
7 Chapter Books with Young Female Protagonists of Color
1) One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia (grades 3-7)
Set in the 1968, this Newbery Honor novel tells the story of three sisters who travel from Brooklyn to Oakland, California to spend the summer with the mother who abandoned them. But when eleven-year-old Delphine and her two younger sisters, Vonetta and Fern arrive, their mother is nothing like they imagined. The girls hope to go to Disneyland and meet Tinker Bell, but instead, their mother sends them to a day camp run by the Black Panthers. Unexpectedly, Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern learn much about their family, their country, and themselves during one truly crazy summer.
2. Stella By Starlight by Sharon M. Draper (grades 4-8)
Stella lives in the segregated South–in Bumblebee, North Carolina, to be exact about it. Some stores she can go into. Some stores she can’t. Some folks are right pleasant. Others are a lot less so. To Stella, it sort of evens out, and heck, the Klan hasn’t bothered them for years. But one late night, later than she should ever be up, much less wandering around outside, Stella and her little brother see something they’re never supposed to see, something that is the first flicker of change to come, unwelcome change by any stretch of the imagination. As Stella’s community–her world–is upended, she decides to fight fire with fire. And she learns that ashes don’t necessarily signify an end.
3. Front Desk by Kelly Yang (grades 3-7)
Mia Tang has a lot of secrets. Number 1: She lives in a motel, not a big house. Every day, while her immigrant parents clean the rooms, ten-year-old Mia manages the front desk of the Calivista Motel and tends to its guests. Number 2: Her parents hide immigrants. And if the mean motel owner, Mr. Yao, finds out they’ve been letting them stay in the empty rooms for free, the Tangs will be doomed. Number 3: She wants to be a writer. But how can she when her mom thinks she should stick to math because English is not her first language? It will take all of Mia’s courage, kindness, and hard work to get through this year. Will she be able to hold on to her job, help the immigrants and guests, escape Mr. Yao, and go for her dreams?
4. Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson (grades 5-6)
Raised in South Carolina and New York, Woodson always felt halfway home in each place. In vivid poems, she shares what it was like to grow up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s, living with the remnants of Jim Crow and her growing awareness of the Civil Rights movement. Touching and powerful, each poem is both accessible and emotionally charged, each line a glimpse into a child’s soul as she searches for her place in the world. Woodson’s eloquent poetry also reflects the joy of finding her voice through writing stories, despite the fact that she struggled with reading as a child. Her love of stories inspired her and stayed with her, creating the first sparks of the gifted writer she was to become.
5. Blended by Sharon Draper (grades 3-7)
Eleven-year-old Isabella’s parents are divorced, so she has to switch lives every week: One week she’s Isabella with her dad, his girlfriend Anastasia, and her son Darren living in a fancy house where they are one of the only black families in the neighborhood. The next week she’s Izzy with her mom and her boyfriend John-Mark in a small, not-so-fancy house that she loves. Because of this, Isabella has always felt pulled between two worlds.
6. Merci Suárez Changes Gears by Meg Medina (grades 4-7)
Merci Suarez knew that sixth grade would be different, but she had no idea just how different. For starters, Merci has never been like the other kids at her private school in Florida, because she and her older brother, Roli, are scholarship students. They don’t have a big house or a fancy boat, and they have to do extra community service to make up for their free tuition. So when bossy Edna Santos sets her sights on the new boy who happens to be Merci’s school-assigned Sunshine Buddy, Merci becomes the target of Edna’s jealousy. Things aren’t going well at home, either: Merci’s grandfather and most trusted ally, Lolo, has been acting strangely lately — forgetting important things, falling from his bike, and getting angry over nothing. No one in her family will tell Merci what’s going on, so she’s left to her own worries, while also feeling all on her own at school. In a coming-of-age tale full of humor and wisdom, award-winning author Meg Medina gets to the heart of the confusion and constant change that defines middle school — and the steadfast connection that defines family.
7. A Good Kind of Trouble by Lisa Moore Ramée (grades 3-7)
Twelve-year-old Shayla is allergic to trouble. All she wants to do is to follow the rules. But in junior high, it’s like all the rules have changed. Shay’s sister, Hana, is involved in Black Lives Matter, but Shay doesn’t think that’s for her. After experiencing a powerful protest, though, Shay decides some rules are worth breaking.
Lastly, I wanted to include the graphic novel New Kid. Even though it’s about a boy, it’s one of Mazzy’s favorites. She has long history of loving graphic novels.
8. New Kid by Jerry Craft (grades 3-7)
Seventh grader Jordan Banks loves nothing more than drawing cartoons about his life. But instead of sending him to the art school of his dreams, his parents enroll him in a prestigious private school known for its academics, where Jordan is one of the few kids of color in his entire grade. As he makes the daily trip from his Washington Heights apartment to the upscale Riverdale Academy Day School, Jordan soon finds himself torn between two worlds—and not really fitting into either one.
Please let me know if you have any more recommendations in the comments! Mazzy is always looking for new books.
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