As part of my blog series this month, I’ve also invited scholars of children’s literature to share African American literature selections used in their courses.
Today’s guest is Dr. James Blasingame. He focuses on Young Adult Literature, Indigenous education, secondary writing instruction, preparing pre-service teachers, and cowboy poetry at Arizona State University. Here’s James!
For my Literature for Young Adults class, students must read and write annotations for 21 books of their own choosing. I bring a cart with 300+ books on it every day from which students may borrow. Every two weeks or so, I change the books on the cart from the thousands of books we have on shelves in our building. Each day I open class with a spoken word poem and then make three book recommendations. New books come in regularly from the publishers and I add them to the cart and recommend the promising new books and authors, but the books on this list have remained favorites of mine and of my students. The next to last book on the list, Unbought and Unbossed (1970, by Shirley Chisholm), tkes me all the way back to my first presidential election in which I wrote in Congresswoman Chisholm in 1972. From these authors, we have had local or class visits in which students could meet and visit with the authors from Jason Reynolds, Nikki Grimes, Jackie Woodson, Kekla Magoon, Carolinia Herron, and Christopher Paul Curtis.
The Beast. Anthony leaves his neighborhood in Harlem for his senior year at a private academy in Connecticut. A subtle racism awaits him, and he soon finds himself navigating the world he left behind, as well as the world he is entering. Iconic writer Walter Dean Myers deeply develops characters and conflicts that can trip Anthony up at any moment. (Scholastic, 2003, grades 8 and up)
The Boy in the Black Suit. After his mother dies, a young man learns about life while working in an inner city funeral home. Jason Reynolds (Atheneum, 2015, grades 7 and up)
Bronx Masquerade. Students in a diverse classroom reveal their hopes, dreams, and struggles in verse on Fridays in their English classroom’s open microphone. From iconic author Nikki Grimes. (Dial/Penguin, 2001, grades 7 and up)
Brown Girl Dreaming. Autobiography in verse by National Book Award and Coretta Scott King winner Jacqueline Woodson. (Penguin, 2014, ages 10 and up)
Fallen Angels. African American draftees face death with every step in the war in Vietnam. Legendary author Walter Dean Myers fictionalizes the death of his brother, debunking romanticized accounts of war and combat. (Scholastic, 1988, grades 8 and up)
The First Part Last. In this prequel to Heaven, Bobby’s life changes abruptly and dramatically when he becomes a single father at age 16. From Printz Award winner Angela Johnson. (Simon and Schuster, 2003, grades 7-12)
Hidden Figures. True story of African American women calculating key mathematical algorithms enabling US space program to send manned flights into space. Written by Margot Lee Shetterly illustrated by Laura Freeman, (HarperCollins Children’s Books, 2018, primary grades and up)
How It Went Down. When an African American teen is shot and killed by a white man, accounts of what happen vary dramatically. Told from seven different perspectives. From Kekla Magoon (Henry Holt and Co., 2014, grade 9 and up)
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Autobiography through age 16 of Maya Angelou, Presidential Medal of Freedom and Women’s Hall of Fame (Random House, 1969, grade 9 and up)
The Land, fictionalized account of the true story of iconic author Mildred Taylor’s family history in Mississippi starting in the 1870s. Prequel to four earlier books. (Dial-Penguin Random House, 2001, grades 7-12)
March: Book One, March: Book Two, and March: Book Three. Graphic novel history of the Civil Rights Movement by U.S. Congressman John Lewis & Andrew Aydin. National Book Award Winner (Top Shelf Productions, an imprint of IDW Publishing, a division of Idea and Design Works LLC, 2013, 2015, 2016, grades 8 and up)
Nappy Hair: A celebration of natural hair and cultural heritage. From Carolivia Herron, illustrated by Joe Cepedea (Knopf Books for Young Readers, 1997, ages 5 and up)
The People Could Fly: American Black Folktales. A collection of folktales from McArthur Genius Award winner Virginia Hamilton, illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon. (Knopf, 2004, grades 3-9)
Sit-in: How Four Friends Stood Up By Sitting Down. Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Brian Pinkney (Little Brown, 2010, grades 3-6)
Tears of a Tiger. Drinking and driving cut short young lives as team members celebrate a big victory. One of the first YA books about suicide. Sharon Draper (Atheneum, 1994, grades 9 and up)
Unbought and Unbossed. Shirley Chisholm. Autobiography of the first African American congresswoman (Houghton, 1970, grades 8 and up)
Watsons Go to Birmingham-1963. Historical fiction including the 1963 church bombing in Birmingham, by iconic author Christopher Paul Curtis. (Delacorte, 1995. Grades 6 and up)
Dr. James Blasingame is the executive director of the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents of the National Council of Teachers of English (ALAN) and has also been ALAN president and The ALAN Review co-editor. For 14 years he was editor of the “Books for Adolescents and Adults” pages of the Journal of Adult and Adolescent Literacy. He is the author or coauthor of John Green: Teen Whisperer, Stephenie Meyer: Into Twilight, Using Mentor Texts: Middle School, Books That Don’t Bore ‘Em: Young Adult Literature for Today’s Generation, Gary Paulsen (Teen Reads: Student Companions to Young Adult Literature, Teaching Writing in Middle and Secondary Schools, and They Rhymed with Their Boots On: A Teacher’s Guide to Cowboy Poetry. He is a winner of the ILA Arbuthnot Award and has been the ASU Parents’ Association Professor of the Year, the ASU Zebulon Pearce Professor for the Humanities, the Pat Tillman Veterans’ Professor, and the Arizona Humanities Council Dan Shilling Public Scholar Award. Before coming to Arizona State University in 2000, Blasingame spent 24 years in his home state of Iowa, where he was a school bus driver, a high school teacher, a rural high school principal, and a college wrestling coach.