This year, I’ve invited non Black people who are in someway connected to youth literature to share a list of 5-10 books written or illustrated by Blacks that will appeal to children. I asked for anything from board books and graphic novels to biographies and adult crossover. The authors or illustrators could be living or dead, U.S. residents or not. The results have been quite amazing! Some, such as this list from Dr. Angel Daniel Matos, are from educators who were kind enough to share the Black authored or illustrated books they use in their classes. Others, took my plain instructions and came up with variations that my readers will find quite useful. Angel’s thoughtfully curated list gets us off to the best start possible. By adding a film to his list, he reminds us of the numerous ways literacy is address in the classroom.
Angel Daniel Matos is an assistant professor of English at San Diego State University who specializes in youth literatures, queer studies, and screen cultures. He obtained his Ph.D. in English and a gender studies graduate minor from the University of Notre Dame in 2016. His work has been published in academic journals such as Children’s Literature, Research on Diversity in Youth Literature, The ALAN Review, QED: A Journal of GLBTQ Worldmaking, Queer Studies in Media and Popular Culture, and Research in the Teaching of English, in addition to a handful of edited volumes. In the fall of 2020, he will begin a new position as an assistant professor of Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies at Bowdoin College. His book, The Reparative Possibilities of Queer Young Adult Literature and Culture is expected to be published by Routledge in 2021.
For my recommendations, I selected three books that explore the intersections between Blackness and queerness in youth literature/media. While we have recently seen an uptick in queer representation in children’s and young adult texts, many of these books focus on the experiences of white, middle-to-upper class protagonists. The texts that I’ve listed below, either directly or indirectly, discuss the ways in which race inflects our understanding of queerness. While there are many people who try to reinforce a divide between Blackness and queerness, these texts disrupt this tendency, and depict the sorrows and heartaches of Black queer thought, experience, adolescence, and desire. Novels such as Callender’s King and the Dragonflies focus on the tension between queerness and Blackness in a Southern setting while also addressing other important topics such as grief, abuse, and prejudice. Novels such as Stone’s Odd One Out offer us rich and complex intersections of identity, in that they represent experiences that are often omitted in the wider collective of youth literature/media (including the experiences of biracial and bisexual characters). Lastly, I’ve also included a film that I’m teaching this semester, Rees’ Pariah, which explores similar themes to the books listed below, and that offers a heart wrenching and important representation of a Black teen lesbian. These texts have challenged me and educated me in important ways, and I hope they do the same for you!
· Kacen Callender’s King and the Dragonflies (Scholastic, 2020)
In a small but turbulent Louisiana town, one boy’s grief takes him beyond the bayous of his backyard, to learn that there is no right way to be yourself.
· Nic Stone’s Odd One Out (Ember, 2018)
High school juniors and best friends Courtney and Jupe, and new sophomore Rae, explore their sexuality and their budding attractions for one another.
· Jacqueline Woodson’s The House you Pass on the Way (G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2003)
When fourteen-year-old Staggerlee, the daughter of a racially mixed marriage, spends a summer with her cousin Trout, she finds herself attracted to Trout and catches a glimpse of her possible future self
· Dee Rees’ Pariah (2011 film)
In Dee Rees’s inspiring film, seventeen-year-old Alike strives to get through adolescence with grace, humor, and tenacity – sometimes succeeding, sometimes not, but always moving forward.