Black books: Ed Spicer

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! 

Today’s guest is Ed Spicer. I’ve had the pleasure of working with Ed on the We Are Kidlit Collective summer reading list. In a previous life, he was a 1st grade teacher, that kind of teacher I would have wanted my children to have. As you can see from his annotations, literacy is personal to him.

In addition to reviewing, Ed still works with publishers, librarians, teachers, and other book lovers on selecting authors, illustrators, and titles to use with children. He has completed over 70 curriculum guides for several publishers and has used his Reading Specialist knowledge to review both finished texts and manuscripts. Ed has been on many local, state, and national book selection committees.

thumbnail_image0Here’s Ed’s list!

Screen Shot 2020-02-05 at 4.06.11 PM.pngTaylor, Mildred. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry (Dial, 1976) First solo father/daughter read. Later in Ella’s life, when she pretty much ONLY read Tamora Pierce, she asked me to take a picture of her in front of here Pierce bookshelf. Only one non-Pierce book made this bookshelf and Roll of Thunder is clearly visible! And I can still hear my sobbing Screen Shot 2020-02-05 at 4.15.12 PM.pngdaughter say, “I never thought I would cry for TJ!”I should also include The Land, (Puffin Books, 2001) which was a family read during the years Antoine lived with us.

Curtis, Christopher Paul. The Watsons Go to Birmingham. (Bantam Doubleday, 1995) Still my favorite of all his books because of the humor, the sadness, the heart, …

Screen Shot 2020-02-05 at 4.14.59 PM.pngElliott, Zetta (with Steptoe winning Shadra Strickland). Bird.  (Lee & Low, 2008) I loved this book from the get go, well before I met Zetta. Seeing such a poignant book celebrating art, valuing art (when many will not) made me hopeful. I met Shadra and her mom at the King Breakfast (and was very disappointed that Lee and Low did not bring Zetta to Chicago). This book is also that example of a picture book for somewhat older students.

Screen Shot 2020-02-05 at 4.18.56 PM.pngAtinuke, author; Lauren Tobia, illustrator. (series) Anna Hibiscus. (Kane Miller, 2007) I love this sweet mixed family community! The negatives directed toward the series concern the country/continent issue. I did a video with the author who explains why she made this choice. I’ve read these to first graders quite successfully for years. The benefits definitely outweigh the Africa, Amazing Africa (Eric Carle’s “cocoon” anyone?) If you want to choose just one book, Have Fun Anna Hibiscus is one fine choice—deals with Anna’s trip to Canada where she meets dogs for the first time.

Screen Shot 2020-02-05 at 4.22.08 PM.pngBolden, Tonya. Wake Up Our Souls: A Celebration of Black American Artists. (Abrams, 2004) This book is how I first found out about Augusta Savage and how we destroyed her phenomenal artwork. This project was done in conjunction with the Smithsonian and features several fabulous artists and stories such as the story of Spiral.

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Pinkney, Andrea Davis. Rhythm Ride: A Rode Trip Through Motown Sound. (Faber and Faber, 2017) This chronology/biography is written with so much style and flair—I love it and have read sections to various students very successfully.


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Zoboi, Ibi. My Life As An Ice Cream Sandwich. (Dutton, 2019) This is a spot-on coming of age story blending science fiction with popular culture in a 1984 Harlem setting—so GREAT.


Screen Shot 2020-02-05 at 4.32.06 PM.pngGrimes, Nikki author and R. Gregory Christie illustrator. (series) Dyamonde Daniels. (G. P. Putnam’s Sons) This series now sports much better covers and STILL deals with things like eating disorders, not enough money, and trying to make and hold onto friends.


Screen Shot 2020-02-05 at 4.34.33 PM.pngLockington, Mariama J. For Black Girls Like Me. (Farrar, Strauss, Giroux, 2019) [Brand new book that deals with a white family adopting Makeda June Kirkland, an 11-year old young Black woman. Her family will not allow her school to get away with racism and yet the reader clearly sees the family is still a victim of a racist system they do not always see or understand. And as much as they love her, they don’t always understand what it means to be Black and turning 12.

Screen Shot 2020-02-05 at 4.40.17 PM.pngAlexander, Kwame. The Crossover. (Turtleback Books, 2014) Of course I remember when this book was still in the wrong color galley copy. I remember messaging Kwame for permission to post a video reading of one of his poems (which he was happy to grant because the audio of that book is awful). I remember trying to arrange a school visit and a party with librarians at my house because, as I told Ann, “We can’t lose this voice!” Remember that this was many months before Midwinter!

And even though Ed is clearly enjoying retirement (aka his Crack of Noon Club), he hopes there is at least one more book committee with his name on it. Contact Ed via email (edspicer at, or follow him on Facebook. His Twitter handle is @spicyreads and his website/blog is