BIPOC Voices in Middle School Books

I spent most of my tween years doing homework and reading at CPL's South Chicago Branch, where my father taught classes for adults. I read everything, especially The Baby-Sitters Club and books by Judy Blume. While I loved mostly everything, I always felt something was missing. That "something" was my life experience, my cultura and the reality of my neighborhood. 

Where were the stories of families that lived in apartments with tias and primos (aunts and cousins)? Were there any books with characters that spoke Spanish or had to translate for their parents?  Were there any book characters that ate pozole, tamales or paletas, or whose family members faced deportation?

I would love to say that a lot has changed since then, but it hasn't. There are still not enough books by BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) authors and about BIPOC characters. The statistics are shocking. According to surveys in 2018 and 2019, there are more children's books featuring animal characters than featuring BIPOC characters.

But there are BIPOC authors and characters giving us hope for the future. Let's celebrate the ones we can, including these books for middle schoolers.

Author Torrey Maldonado confronts issues of identity and police violence in What Lane?, an excellent coming-of-age story.

Dominican culture, including cocuyos and breakfast spreads of salchichón and fried cheese, shines in Claribel Ortega's Ghost Squad. Friends Lucely and Syd cast spells and work together to save the family home and keep their traditions alive.  

Debut author Janae Marks presents From the Desk of Zoe Washington, the story of a 12-year-old girl who finds out her biological dad is in prison. Family drama and institutionalized racism are key to this book. 

Efrén Divided shows the struggles U.S.-born children face when their parents confront the possibility of deportation. It is such a timely and important read.

I Can Make This Promise by Upper Skagit author Christine Day is a 2020 Youth Media Award winner that paints 12-year-old Edie's journey to find her family's Native American history.

BIPOC authors and their stories are essential as we work toward more empathy and equity in this country. Who are your favorite BIPOC authors?