Black books: Elana K. Arnold

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 recommendations are nothing short of superb.

Today’s suggestions are from Elana K Arnold, the author of critically acclaimed and award-winning young adult novels and children’s books, including the Printz Honor winner Damsel, the National Book Award finalist What Girls are Made Of, and Global Read Aloud selection A Boy Called Bat and its sequels. Elana provides a solid list of recommendations that range from classic African American literature to picture books and young adult novels. 



Here’s Elana Arnold


I’m thrilled to recommend a few titles:


Calling My Name, by Liara Tamani, a coming of age story told in lyrical vignettes (Greenwillow/HarperCollins 2017)

The Blossom and the Firefly, by Sherri L. Smith, a finely researched love story set in World War II Japan (Penguin, 2020)

The Only Black Girls in Town, by Brandy Colbert, the middle grade debut by an award winning author (Little, Brown, 2020)

Don’t Touch my Hair by Sharee Miller, a first-person POV picture book by a wonderful author/illustrator (Little, Brown, 2018)

Pet by Akwaeke Emezi, a profoundly weird and wonderful young YA about real monsters (Make Me A World, 2019)

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, her debut novel (Plume, 1970)

Lucy by Jamaica Kincaid, an immigration story about a young artist coming to America from the West Indies (Farrar, Strauss, Giroux, 1990)

Passing by Nella Larson, a book about race, gender, and class set in the New York of the 1920s (Martino Publishing, 2011 Reprint of 1928 Edition)

Light it Up by Kekla Magoon, a multiple POV story about the aftermath of a police shooting of a black teen boy (Henry Holt, 2019)

The Jumbies (The Jumbies #1) by Tracey Baptiste, a spooky middle grade novel with roots in Caribbean folklore (Algonquin, 2015)

I could go on, but this is ten!

Many of Elana’s books are Junior Library Guild selections and have appeared on many best book lists, including the Amelia Bloomer Project, a catalog of feminist titles for young readers. Elana teaches in Hamline University’s MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults program and lives in Southern California with her family and menagerie of pets. Visit her at