Podcast: Fabulous Books By BIPOC Authors
Laura: [00:00:00] Welcome to the Clermont County Public Library’s Booklovers Podcast. I’m your host Laura. And today I’m joined by two librarians with a passion for children’s books. Hey Cara. Hey Stacy. And today they’re going to give us some suggestions about books by BIPOC authors. Welcome to the show!
Cara: [00:00:31] Thank you so much.
Laura: [00:00:32] Cara, you’re going to kick us off?
Books by BIPOC authors
Cara: [00:00:35] Yes, thank you for having us. So, Stacy and I are going to be basing our discussion on a project that we started working on last summer. And it all started when I was approached by a long-time guest who had a college-bound reading list that her son was assigned for school over the summer.
She took a look at it and of course it had all the titles you could think of when you think of classics. I mean, To Kill a Mockingbird, 1984, anything that we think of as a standard was on there. So, it was a pretty lengthy list. But she approached me and said, I’m concerned about this list, especially in light of all the recent current events and movements for equality, like Black Lives Matter.
She said where are all the authors of color- I mean, there were a handful that were on that list, but it’s a very small percentage. She was questioning the validity of that list, which is totally understandable. I knew Stacy would be an awesome collaborator. So I reached out to her for some books and suggestions.
Updating the classics
This is a big project to try to recommend some alternate titles. We decided to write a blog post about BIPOC titles and authors. We’re not necessarily recommending that you do away with the classics. I think they’re always going to be around.
But it’s a way of bringing a much broader view into the discussion of the classics and a much greater perspective.
If you’re not familiar with the term, BIPOC is a newer acronym that stands for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. It’s considered to be more inclusive than previous terms. So that’s what we decided to use for our blog post.
Why update the classics
Stacy contributed half the titles and I contributed half. We just hope that they’re more contemporary voices. A lot of the classics – they’re classics because they’ve been around for a long time. So especially for high school readers, I think they’re a lot less relatable than the books that we chose with contemporary characters. A lot of them are teen characters, which if you’re talking about high schoolers, that’s a lot more relatable to them.
In libraries, we talk about books being windows and mirrors. So you either want people to be able to look into someone else’s life and develop empathy, or to be reflected back something about themselves and help them develop their own identity.
Opening those books up to a wider perspective can only be helpful.
Laura: [00:03:23] Yeah. I’m excited because a lot of those classics felt dated when I was reading them 40 years ago. All about a white centered, male centered experience. So I am so glad that you’re offering up alternative suggestions.
Stacy: [00:03:44] Sometimes the language can be off-putting. They’re old, the slang doesn’t make any sense anymore. The jokes don’t make sense anymore. Teens and young adults are just not going to relate to what we think of when we think of classic. So why not update those classics?
There are so many more books published today by BIPOC authors. Let’s include those on the list. Let’s try to broaden the view of what a classic can be. Cara and I both felt that the reader really makes a book what it is. If it’s popular, if it’s being highly lauded it’s by a BIPOC author, can it be considered a classic?
The Grapes of Wrath & Homegoing
Yes, it can. Absolutely. So, we decided to update this list and we’re going to give, I think one each, of an updated classic. I’m going to jump in with mine. We formatted this as, “Instead of reading this, try this.” So instead of The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, try Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi.
While Steinbeck’s piece focuses on a family driven to California to better their hopeless economic situation, Gyasi’s work depicts characters from multiple generations of the same family and the consequences of past choices. So, both are works of historical fiction and both place great importance on setting.
We tried to pull similar themes to try to make as much sense as possible as to why we chose these titles to update the classics. In both of these titles, the theme explored is circumstantial suffering at the hands of others. But in Homegoing choices are made by and forced upon two sisters of Ashanti descent, which is in modern day Ghana. And their choices impact their families for generations to come. There’s a huge importance centered on families. Homegoing would be a really great choice to read instead of The Grapes of Wrath.
Homegoing is available as a:
Complete list of updated classics
Cara: [00:05:59] Great! I’m going to share my updated classic suggestion.
I should mention that all our other choices are available on our blog, so I’m sure we can drop a link to them.
Laura: [00:06:09] Absolutely.
Cara: [00:06:10] And of course we’re always happy to give more suggestions. So if you need more, we’ll always have them.
The Scarlet Letter & With the Fire on High
My pairing was, instead of The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, to read With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo.
Everybody’s probably familiar with The Scarlet Letter. I remember having to read this one in high school. Obviously, it’s very important as an early work of American literature. It’s got its roots in our colonial history. So, I understand why it’s taught. But it’s a very judgmental work, with the main character shamed for the rest of her life for one mistake. And obviously, all the characters are adults.
How relatable is it for a high schooler to be reading about these relationships that are happening? How relevant is a male’s perspective on a female who’s going through these things?
With the Fire on High – I love Elizabeth Acevedo. If you have a chance to check out her audio books, she reads them herself. She’s also a slam poet. She is fantastic at doing any kind of voice work.
So, listening to her convey her words is really awesome. Her first book, The Poet X, won so many awards. And I listened to the audio of that; it’s in verse. This one’s her first prose work.
With the Fire on High
In The Scarlet Letter, you have Hester Prynne who has had an affair and has a child as a result. Amani is in high school and has a child. So she’s a single mom. She’s now a senior in high school, so it’s not dealing with the direct aftermath of her having the baby. I believe she had the baby when she was a freshman, so her child’s a toddler now.
But it’s just extremely realistic. Her life is complex, so she’s a single mom, but it’s just kind of a fact of her life that she’s having to deal with all the things that come along with that: with daycare and dealing with the child’s father, who she’s no longer with, but also trying to move on with her life.
She’s really interested in cooking. That’s where the title comes from. And she has an opportunity to join a cooking class and go on a trip to Spain to learn all these cooking techniques and move into a culinary career. But she’s questioning, can she do that with all these limitations? Being a single mom?
So again, a very complex story that I think is really relatable for today’s teens. She’s dealing with, maybe, should she get into a new relationship? She’s got her family relationships going on, trying to find her place in life. Just a fantastic story, highly recommended
Stacy: [00:09:03] Even the cover appeal. That’s a new updated cover for The Scarlet Letter. It’s actually really pretty. But if you’re going to ask a teen, which one would they rather read?
With the Fire on High is available as:
Reading the classics
Cara: [00:09:20] Well, that’s the thing we were talking about, you know? Classic lists get assigned to high schoolers or college students a lot of the time. But even adults, I see a lot of times on social media – adults will be like, Oh yeah, this classic is popular so I’m going to try it again.
And I’m like, they’re probably trying to slog through it and figure out why people are still so interested in reading it. I mean, don’t waste your time on a bad book.
Laura: [00:09:44] Well, and I feel bad when I hear somebody say, Oh, I haven’t picked up a book since high school, or I haven’t picked up a book since I was in college because I’m like, there are so many wonderful books out there and you’re judging your experience on reading by this particular type of book. And I’m sure there are many books out there that would have way more appeal and you’d enjoy so much more.
Adult vs Young Adult books
Stacy: [00:10:07] And I think it’s worth mentioning when Cara came to me with this project, I was like, yes, this is so exciting. It’ll be like, kind of like a treasure hunt to find all these wonderful books.
And for some reason, then my mind went to find adult fiction titles to replace these classics. Because all the classics are considered adult fiction or literature, whatever you want to call it. And Cara picked all young adult books because she was like, well, it’s for teens.
Our list was like a really good mesh of both young adult and adult titles. But even though they’re adult titles, they still appeal to teens. And even though they’re young adult titles, they still appeal to adults.
Cara: [00:10:54] We just happened to make a really nice, varied list.
Sharing favorite BIPOC authors
Stacy: [00:10:59] Yes. So, we’re going to shift gears. And instead of talking about our project, we’re going to talk about some of our favorite BIPOC authors and titles.
I have a pairing here. What I decided to do was to pick two popular and well-loved young adult books by Black authors and give recommendations for brand new readalikes.
The Hate U Give
My first choice is The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. If somebody has not heard of this book, it is a best-selling book and a mega best-selling movie. The Hate U Give is about Starr Carter. She’s a Black girl who must navigate between her two very different worlds.
Her poor, mostly Black neighborhood where she lives with her family. Her awesome, hilarious, loving family, I should say. They are my favorite. All of her family members are my favorite characters in this book. She navigates between that world and then the upper class, mostly white elite high school that she attends.
And her world is just blown apart, shattered when she witnesses her best friend being murdered at the hands of police. The story really focuses on Starr’s rise as a social justice advocate and her struggle with it. She does struggle with that. So, she doesn’t just immediately get on a platform and start advocating. She really struggles with it. And I think that makes her so relatable. And this book shows readers what can happen when they stand up and speak up for what is right.
Available as a:
When You Look Like Us
If you enjoyed The Hate U Give, I recommend When You Look Like Us by debut author, Pamela N. Harris, and her book is out this month.
In this book, our main character is Jay and he is just so over always covering for and keeping an eye out for his younger sister, Nic. But then after a party with her boyfriend, Nic doesn’t come home, she goes missing and the police are of no help. In fact, they barely even look for her. So, Jay decides to take matters into his own hands and he is determined to find Nic and bring her home safely. So, this debut really just shines the light on the real-world issue of society placing little value on the lives of people of color.
Available as a:
Why they’re readalikes
Both of these titles, The Hate U Give and When You Look Like Us, they feature dynamic characters and very timely circumstances. And they focus on difficult issues and show readers, especially readers of color, that they can make a difference. I’m really excited to read this brand-new title. The cover is phenomenal.
There’s a trend, especially in young adult fiction; instead of focusing on illustrated covers, now we’re getting covers of real people, like faces of real people. And I love it. I think we’re going to see a lot more of that.
Cara: [00:14:32] I am excited for that one. And mine really flows right in with the same theme. I picked two pairs of books that are by the same authors.
Monday’s Not Coming
My first pair is by Tiffany D. Jackson. And Monday’s Not Coming is her older title, that is absolutely fabulous. If you like true crime, it reads a lot like that. It’s a mystery.
The main character Claudia is looking for her friend Monday, who’s gone missing. So just like Stacy was talking about, I listened to an author interview with Tiffany D. Jackson, and she said she really wanted to highlight how society just doesn’t seem to care when black children go missing.
She actually based this book on research that she did on two real cases. Claudia is dealing with, nobody seems to care, nobody at school, even Monday’s family won’t answer any of her questions. And so she’s really struggling with what happened to her best friend. And I listened to the audiobook of this one.
There’s a huge twist at the end, so I don’t want to say too much more, but if you like mysteries or true crime, I would definitely check this one out.
Available as a:
And then her newer title that just came out in 2020 is called Grown. This is the story of Enchanted Jones who is going through a difficult time.
Her family just moved to a new neighborhood and she’s really unhappy there. But she’s an aspiring singer. And she gets noticed by an R & B artist named Corey Fields. She actually starts a relationship with him. And then the premise of the book is that he ends up dead and she’s got blood on her hands and she doesn’t know what happened.
She has no memory of what happened. So kind of another mystery/suspense. The author, in another interview, talked about how she wanted to explore that dynamic of relationships between teens who think they’re grown, but they’re really not yet, and these adult men who should know better, but get into relationships with them and can be really manipulative, and possibly abusive.
So I would definitely recommend that one as well.
Available as a:
Stacy: [00:17:01] Those both sound so good. And that cover for Grown is gorgeous.
Children of Blood and Bone
My second pairing – if you like Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi – Let me explain what Children of Blood and Bone is about because it’s a big book. It takes place in a world inspired by West Africa and it follows our main character is Zélie who is fighting to bring magic back to her people. There is a huge cast of dynamic characters who at turns are infuriating, and they also capture your heart.
But Adeyemi brilliantly weaves her language and the culture of Orisha into a complex and spellbinding tale of Black girl magic.
Like Cara, I watched an interview with Tomi on Jimmy Fallon on his show and he was so excited to have her on and he just loved the book.
Did you watch this? It’s such a fun interview.
Cara: [00:18:13] Like Seth Myers has a ton of authors on, but yeah, Jimmy will have them on occasionally and they have authors on and get excited about their books.
Stacy: [00:18:24] Yes. And not just like, you know, big name, adult authors, but YA authors, which I think is really cool.
So, Tomi has like the most sparkling bubbly personality. I love watching her do interviews or talk. She’s just awesome. She really talked about wanting to write this epic fantasy world that features all Black characters and this powerful Black young woman who basically saves her people and saves the world.
BIPOC authors and representation
Because Tomi grew up reading books, being a reader, loving to read, loving to write, but not seeing herself in any of the books. These authors who are coming out with all these wonderful titles are really placing themselves, placing kids, teens who look like them in these main character roles. And it’s really fun to read, Children of Blood and Bone and the sequel which is Children of Virtue and Vengeance.
Children of Blood and Bone is available as:
Children of Virtue and Vengeance is available as:
The Gilded Ones
If you enjoyed those, you will want to try brand new debut author Namina Forna’s The Gilded Ones. Another gorgeous cover. I love it so much.
In this book Deka who is 16 is already a bit of an outcast and she’s looking forward to the Ritual of Purity. And it is a rite of passage that all girls must go through to be deemed fit for marriage and motherhood.
They draw blood during this Ritual of Purity. And if they bleed red, they are deemed pure. And they are fit for their lives ahead of them as wives and as mothers. But during this ritual Deka bleeds gold and what the heck does that mean?
She is summoned to join an army of other girls that possess powers to fight these vicious monsters known as death shrikes. It is the first book and a rumored to be trilogy.
Why they’re readalikes
And both of these worlds, Children of Blood and Bone and The Golden Ones focus on the power of girls.
They are set in complex and rich West African inspired worlds, and they are both epic fantasies that feature Black girl magic. I’m really excited for this one.
Laura: [00:21:19] The Gilded Ones is on my TBR list and I have to admit that I’m shallow enough that the cover caught my eye. And then when I read the description I was sold.
Stacy: [00:21:31] Totally up your alley. I think up the alley of probably every teen librarian or anybody interested in teen fiction. It sounds like it’s made for the big screen. Like so good.
Laura: [00:21:46] That’s awesome.
Cara: [00:21:48] My last pair is by Justin A. Reynolds. They are both realistic fiction, mostly, with kind of a sci-fi twist.
So that’s what I like about his books: they feel very realistic, if you like realistic fiction, with Black main characters and how they navigate their lives and relationships. So that’s mostly what I like to read. But then it just has a slight sci-fi element to it.
Opposite of Always
So Opposite of Always is about Jack and Kate and about how they meet and fall in love.
And it’s just a precious love story. It’s one of those that you just feel like it’s so relatable, so real. And you just love it. And then Kate dies. So yeah, pretty big twist. And what happens to Jack when Kate dies is that he goes back to the moment they met, back in time. So it kind of has a Groundhog Day feel to it.
He keeps reliving the same timeframe. So I believe it’s over a couple of months, from when he meets Kate to when she dies and he keeps trying to save her. But when he makes changes, he is also affecting his relationships with his family and friends. It’s interesting to see what impact his choices have.
And I listened to the audiobook of this one. I do a lot of audiobooks while I’m driving and I really enjoyed this one. I definitely recommend his books.
Available as a:
I haven’t read his newest, Early Departures. This came out in fall of 2020 but has kind of a similar concept. The main character, Jamal, tried to save his best friend Q from a drowning accident, but he dies anyway in the hospital.
But there’s a new technology that allows Q to be reanimated for a couple of weeks. His family opts to do this, but his mom doesn’t want anyone to tell Q that he’s actually dead and he’s going to die again. And the problem with this is that Jamal and Q haven’t actually been best friends in about two years.
Since Jamal’s parents died in a car accident and he blamed Q for it, they had a falling out. But he wants to try to fix things while Q is reanimated. So, again, another sci-fi twist while they’re trying to navigate these relationships and figure out how to make things work. So, I really like his contemporary view of Black relationships.
Laura: [00:24:22] That is a fascinating premise for a novel.
Available as a:
Stacy: [00:24:25] Very, it reminds me of Noggin a little bit by John Corey Whaley.
Cara: [00:24:31] They reanimate him, like his head is put on somebody else’s body. I read that one too.
Stacy: [00:24:40] So funky. But set in a realistic time and setting. I find those types of books really fascinating. So that sounds really good.
Available as a:
So many good books
Laura: [00:24:52] Yes, it does. Thanks to both of you for all of those amazing suggestions! I heard so many books that must go onto my To Be Read list, which is always a great thing.
Stacy: [00:25:06] I had an arc of The Gilded Ones and I gave it away because I know I should’ve kept it, but I was like, I have so many books checked out right now. I have so many other arcs, like I’ll share the love and I’ll give it to someone else. But now I’m like, I should’ve kept it.
Laura: [00:25:25] It was very kind hearted and generous of you to give it away. It’s good that we all work in a library and you’ll be able to check it out, right?
Stacy: [00:25:33] Yes, I should get this one very, very soon. So, no worries.
Laura: [00:25:38] So thank you to our listeners and our viewers. Remember to subscribe to the Clermont County Public Library’s YouTube channel for this and other great library content.
Subscribe to the Booklovers Podcast, wherever you listen to your podcasts so you don’t miss an episode. So thank you everybody for joining us.
Stacy: [00:26:15] Thanks so much.
Cara: [00:26:16] Thank you.