Black History Month: Chapter Books for Older Readers

As your older readers move past picture books, even as an in-class tool, you may struggle to keep Black History Month fresh and relevant for your students. Here is a selection of chapter books that can supplement your in-class instruction in an interesting and age-appropriate way. If you’re looking for a list of teaching aids for Black History Month, check this post.

1. Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis

  • In 1859, eleven-year-old Elijah Freeman, the first free-born child in Buxton, Canada, which is a haven for slaves fleeing the American South, uses his wits and skills to try to bring to justice the lying preacher who has stolen money that was to be used to buy a family’s freedom.

2. The Watsons Go to Birmingham — 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis

  • The ordinary interactions and everyday routines of the Watsons, an African-American family living in Flint, Michigan, are drastically changed after they go to visit Grandma in Alabama in the summer of 1963.

3. Day of Tears: A Novel in Dialogue by Julius Lester

  • Emma has taken care of the Butler children since Sarah and Frances’s mother, Fanny, left. Emma wants to raise the girls to have good hearts, as a rift over slavery has ripped the Butler household apart. Now, to payoff debts, Pierce Butler wants to cash in his slave “assets”, possibly including Emma.

4. How I Found the Strong: A Civil War Story by Margaret McMullan

  • Frank Russell, known as Shanks, wishes he could have gone with his father and brother to fight for Mississippi and the Confederacy, but his experiences with the war and his changing relationship with the family slave, Buck, change his thinking.

5. Nightjohn by Gary Paulsen

  • Twelve-year-old Sarny’s brutal life as a slave becomes even more dangerous when a newly arrived slave offers to teach her how to read.

6. One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia

  • In the summer of 1968, after traveling from Brooklyn to Oakland, California, to spend a month with the mother they barely know, eleven-year-old Delphine and her two younger sisters arrive to a cold welcome as they discover that their mother, a dedicated poet and printer, is resentful of the intrusion of their visit and wants them to attend a nearby Black Panther summer camp.

7. Ninth Ward by Jewell Parker Rhodes

  • In New Orleans’ Ninth Ward, twelve-year-old Lanesha, who can see spirits, and her adopted grandmother have no choice but to stay and weather the storm as Hurricane Katrina bears down upon them.

8. Bronx Masquerade by Nikki Grimes

  • While studying the Harlem Renaissance, students at a Bronx high school read aloud poems they’ve written, revealing their innermost thoughts and fears to their formerly clueless classmates.

9. The Land by Mildred D. Taylor

  • After the Civil War Paul, the son of a white father and a black mother, finds himself caught between the two worlds of colored folks and white folks as he pursues his dream of owning land of his own.

10. Witness by Karen Hesse

  • A series of poems express the views of various people in a small Vermont town, including a young black girl and a young Jewish girl, during the early 1920s when the Ku Klux Klan is trying to infiltrate the town.
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