In choosing these historical novels, I aimed to capture of a variety of events from the Civil Rights movement. You will find the Freedom Riders, Little Rock Nine, Ku Klux Klan, and Black Panthers in these pages. You will also experience the day to day struggles of segregation in public places and the racist comments black people faced on a daily basis. It’s hard to believe all of this is relatively recent in American history.
One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia
11-year-old Delphine is excited to spend the summer in California with her sisters. She quickly learns that her mother has no intention of taking care of them. It’s up to Delphine to be the adult and entertain herself. The Black Panthers movement plays prominently in the story.
Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson (verse)
This is an autobiographical story written in verse. Woodson’s early years are spent in South Carolina with her grandparents and later in New York with her mother. She describes the cultural differences in her two childhood experiences from a civil rights perspective.
The Watsons Go to Birmingham by Christopher Paul Curtis
Two brothers growing up in Flint, Michigan during the Civil Rights movement are unaware about what is going on in the south until they drive to Alabama to visit their grandmother. Told from the point of view of the younger brother who is harassed by his older, rebellious brother. Humorous.
Stella by Starlight by Sharon Draper
The South is segregated in the 1930s. When Stella and her brother wander outside one night, they stumble upon the Ku Klux Klan burning a cross. Things aren’t getting better after all. Stella observes the inequality all around her, but nothing prepares her for her mother’s brush with death when the black doctor is out of town and no one will help her.
The Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine
12-year-old Marlee goes to an all-white school and isn’t into socializing. When darker skinned Liz shows up, they become instant friends. Liz helps Marlee overcome her fears. Then one day Liz is gone without a word. When Marlee finds out why, the pair are determined to stand up to the injustice.
Glory Be by Augusta Scattergood
It’s summer and Glory is excited to swim at the city pool. Word has it that a civil rights group is trying to desegregate the pool, so the city simply closed it to avoid the situation. Glory’s family is sympathetic to the cause, but doesn’t know how involved they should be or what they can do to affect change.
Night on Fire by Ronald Kidd
As a child, Billie was oblivious to the racism around her. Now she’s 13, and questioning what she sees. Injustice is everywhere. When the Freedom Riders bus rolls into her Alabama town, she watches, like many others, as it is mobbed and set on fire. She is tired of standing on the sidelines and decides to take action.
Witness by Karen Hesse (verse)
Typical of Karen Hesse, this story is written in verse. The Ku Klux Klan has infiltrated a small Vermont town in the 1920s. The story is told through the perspectives of various community members, including a black girl and Jewish girl.
It All Comes Down to This by Karen English
Sophie’s family has just moved to a mostly white upper middle class neighborhood in Los Angeles. She becomes good friends with Jennifer, but most of the white girls deliberately exclude her because of her skin color. When a friend is unfairly arrested in the Watts riots Sophie learns that life is simply not fair if you’re black.