Today is National Freedom Day, marking the day that Abraham Lincoln signed the 13th Amendment into the Constitution, officially ending slavery. It's also the first day of Black History Month. We'll be covering multiple aspects of Black History over the course of the month, but today, in honor of Freedom Day, here's a list of teen books about American slavery of Africans.
A few books that I already covered include The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation (as part of my favorite Printz awards). Day of Tears and Copper Sun (as part of my favorite Coretta Scott King awards.)
Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson. Set during the Revolutionary war, two young girls are betrayed when the freedom they were promised doesn't happen. Sold to a Loyalist couple instead, Isabel spies on them for the Revolution.
Come August, Come Freedom: The Bellows, The Gallows, and The Black General Gabriel by Gigi Amateau. In 1800, a slave named Gabriel led a failed uprising near Richmond, Virginia. Interweaving historial documents, Amateau writes a fictional account of his life (many details are unknown, making a complete nonfictional biography impossible) and the rebellion he led.
The Middle Passage: White Ships/ Black Cargo by Tom Feelings. In this "picture book for adults" Feelings brutally and honestly captures the reality of the middle passage. It's only 80 pages long, but it's definitely for older readers and not one to be lightly dismissed.
Nightjohn by Gary Paulsen. When the new slave Nightjohn starts teaching the others how the read and write, young Sarny eagerly learns. She sees the horrors of slavery around her and is astounded by Nightjohn--a man who could be free, but stays to teach.
47 by Walter Mosley. An intriguing mix of historical fiction, magical realism and science fiction come together in this tale narrated by 47, a 14-year-old slave. Then Tall John, a runaway slave appears, claiming to be from another planet and fighting evil across the galaxy. He shows 47 the evil in the plantation owners and the power he needs to fight back.
Underground by Jean Ferris. Charlotte is a slave at the Mammoth Cave hotel. She soon learns the hotel and the caves are used by the Underground Railroad and must decide if she will run away, or stay with Stephen a fellow slave and cave tour guide.
Harriet Tubman, Secret Agent: How Daring Slaves and Free Blacks Spied for the Union During the Civil War by Thomas B. Allen. Focusing on the spy craft, Allen gives several examples of why slaves and freed blacks were important secret agents during the Civil War, and details the codes and methods they used, as well as the information they uncovered. Allen gives enough information that many of these can be recreated. The codes, particularly, will be handy as he has placed several throughout the text that readers will need to decipher.
Kindred by Octavia Butler. Dana is a black woman living in LA in the 70s. Then, she suddenly finds herself transported through time to a plantation in Maryland, in order to save a young white boy. He is one of Dana's ancestors and if she doesn't save him, she will cease to exist. Although she is returned to her time and place, she keeps getting drawn back to save the boy in different situations and returning to the present becomes harder and harder.
When I Was a Slave: Memoirs from the Slave Narrative Collection edited by Norman R. Yetman. This volume lets former slaves tell their tales of life under slavery in their own words. Offering up a wide-range of experiences, it picks out the highlights of the Slave Narrative Collection, collected during the Depression by the Federal Writer's Project.
What are your must-read books about American slavery?
Links to Amazon are an affiliate link. You can help support YA Reading List by purchasing any item (not just the one linked to!) through these links.