Middle Grade Novels and Videos on Race and Civil Rights

Here are some great books and videos for older elementary and middle schoolers on the topic of race and civil rights.


From the Desk of Zoe Washington

By Janae Marks • Ages 8+

This book is about Zoe, a 12 year old girl who, after starting a correspondence with her incarcerated father, Marcus, sets out to prove his innocence. Zoe’s mother always kept Zoe from having a relationship with her father, who was serving time for murder, but one day, Zoe discovers a letter addressed to her from him and decides to write back. Zoe and her friend, Trevor, start to investigate Marcus’ trial conviction, learning about systemic racism in the justice system. While the subject is certainly very serious, Janae Marks has written a marvelously accessible story with likable, nuanced characters.

Book Extras from the author: http://www.janaemarks.com/book-extras.html  Includes links to Questions for Group Discussions, a middle grade Book Club Guide, an Official Playlist of all the songs mentioned and a Cupcake Recipe; all pertaining to the book.


The Parker Inheritance

By Varian Johnson • Ages 8+

Parents need to know that Varian Johnson’s The Parker Inheritance was named a 2019 Coretta Scott King (Author) Honor Book. It’s a fast-paced, complex mystery set in both the Jim Crow South and the present. The main characters are two smart, savvy African American kids who love books and brainteasers. The story deals frankly and thoughtfully with both subtle and blatant racism in the 1950s and today. Most racial slurs are alluded to, not spelled out, though one character is called “tar baby,” and another, “darkie lover.” Some whites threaten a young black girl with a doll that has a noose around her neck. Characters also deal with divorce, bullying by peers, and gay identity. Though the issues are serious, they’re woven skillfully into a suspenseful, page-turning plot, and there’s warmth and lightness in the families and friendships.

The author’s story behind this book: http://varianjohnson.com/books/the-parker-inheritance/story-behind-parker-inheritance


Harbor Me

By Jacqueline Woodson • Ages 10+

Six diverse kids are put together in a room at school as a place where they can talk about the issues they are facing in their lives. Their burdens are as diverse as their backgrounds; incarceration, racial profiling, possible deportation are just a few of the subject the middle schoolers need and want to talk about with each other. Woodson’s prose is gorgeous, almost poetic and the reader will come to care for all of the teens as they tell their stories.

Watch the author talk about the book https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FjKqwqpBgGM&feature=youtu.be

Short intro to the book by the author: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FjKqwqpBgGM



Systemic Racism Explained – Middle School/Lower Secondary   4 minute video.  https://ed.ted.com/best_of_web/j7Tzdz8r#review

Systemic racism affects every area of life in the US. From incarceration rates to predatory loans, and trying to solve these problems requires changes in major parts of our system. Act.tv takes a closer look at what systemic racism is, and how we can solve it.  After watching click on “Dig Deeper” and “Discuss” for further information.

Do You Think I’m Scary?  3 minute video  https://www.vox.com/videos/2020/9/1/21411366/black-lives-matter-kids

In June 2020, 11-year-old Californian Jolia Bossette decided to use her fifth-grade graduation speech as an occasion to give voice to her thoughts and feelings. In her speech, she reminisced about how she was “the cutest thing,” as a toddler, and asked, “But when did I stop being cute and start being scary?”