Walter Dean Myers
August 12, 1937 – July 1, 2014
“Once I began to read, I began to exist.”
Walter Dean Myers, beloved author wrote over 100 children’s books, including picture books, young adult novels, poetry, and non-fiction. His literary work has been recognized nationally, winning two Newbery Honors, six Coretta Scott King Awards/Honors, and numerous other prestigious awards. Myers spoke often about the extreme racial imbalance in children’s literature and highlighted social issues is his award winning books. “He wrote books for the reader he once was, books he wanted to read when he was a teen. He wrote with heart and he spoke to teens in a language they understood. For these reasons, and more, his work will live on for a long, long time,” said Susan Katz, President and Publisher of HarperCollins Children’s Books.
I found solace in books. My mother read to me from a very young age. From my comfortable perch on her lap, I would watch as she moved her finger slowly across the page and I’d imagine the characters. Reading pushed me to discover worlds beyond my landscape, especially during dark times when my uncle was murdered and my family became dysfunctional with alcohol and grief.
A turning point for me was the discovery of a short story by James Baldwin about the black urban experience. It gave me permission to write about my own experiences. Somehow I always go back to the most turbulent periods of my own life. I write books for the troubled boy I once was, and for the boy who lives within me still. It’s what I do. (walterdeanmyers.net)
Black Male Initiative Reading List
The Barber’s Cutting Edge by by Gwendolyn Battle-Lavert
Mr. Bigalow’s barbershop is a familiar place to talk, to play dominoes, to read, and in Rashaad’s case, to get a little extra help with his schoolwork. Not only does Mr. Bigalow know all the latest styles, he also knows all the words on Rashaad’s vocabulary list. This is a celebration of the relationship between a young African American boy and his mentor.
Those Shoes by Maribeth Boelts
All Jeremy wants is a pair of those shoes, the ones everyone at school seems to be wearing. Though Jeremy’s grandma says they don’t have room for “want,” just “need,” when his old shoes fall apart at school, he is more determined than ever to have those shoes, even a thrift-shop pair that are much too small. But sore feet aren’t much fun, and Jeremy soon sees that the things he has are worth more than the things he wants.
Marvelous Me: Inside and Out by Lisa Bullard
Alex is a marvelous little boy who is just like other people in some ways, such as getting angry sometimes, but also unique because of his special laugh, his grizzly hugs, and his own interesting thoughts.
Chocolate Me by Taye Diggs
It tells the story of a dark-skinned boy with curly hair who is made fun of because of his appearance. The message: Be comfortable in your own skin.
Daddy Calls Me Man by Angela Johnson
This book includes short verses about the happy home life of a young African-American boy. Family love and the shared stories and symbols that connect the generations are pervasive themes.
Salt in his Shoes: Michael Jordan in Pursuit of his Dream by Deloris Jordan
As a child, Michael almost gave up on his basketball dreams, all because he feared he’d never grow tall enough. That’s when his mother and father stepped in and shared the invaluable lesson of what really goes into the making of a champion — patience, determination, and hard work.
Brown Like Me by Noelle Lamperti
Filled with wonderful pictures, this book will speak to any child trying to find herself reflected in the people and things around her. Brown Like Me affirms a strong and positive self-image.
In Dad’s Arms I am Tall: African Americans Celebrating Fathers by Javaca Steptoe
Fatherhood is celebrated with honor, humor, and grace in this intergenerational collection of poetry by new and established African-American writers. The book testifies to the powerful bond between father and child, with a profound message to people everywhere that family is the greatest gift and that fathers are among the most influential heroes.
Tyrell by Coe Booth (Grades 7 – 9)
Tyrell is a young African-American teen who can’t get a break. He’s living (for now) with his spaced-out mother and little brother in a homeless shelter. His father’s in jail. His girlfriend supports him, but he doesn’t feel good enough for her — and seems to be always on the verge of doing the wrong thing around her. There’s another girl at the homeless shelter who is also after him, although the desires there are complicated. Tyrell feels he needs to score some money to make things better. Will he end up following in his father’s footsteps? (coebooth.squarespace.com)
Bronxwood by Coe Booth (Grades 9 – 11)
Tyrell’s father is just out of jail, and Tyrell doesn’t know how to deal with that. It’s bad enough that his brother Troy is in foster care and that his mother is no help whatsoever. Now there’s another thing up in his face, just when he’s trying to settle down. Tyrell’s father has plans of his own, and doesn’t seem to care whether or not Tyrell wants to go along with them. Tyrell can see the crash that’s coming — with his dad, with the rest of his family, with the girls he’s seeing — but he’s not sure he can stop it. Or if he even wants to. (coebooth.squarespace.com)
Forged by Fire by Sharon M. Draper (Grades 9 – 12)
When Gerald was a child he was fascinated by fire. But fire is dangerous and powerful, and tragedy strikes. His substance-addicted mother is taken from him. Then he loses the loving generosity of a favorite aunt. A brutal stepfather with a flaming temper and an evil secret makes his life miserable. The one bright light in Gerald’s life is his little half sister, Angel, whom he struggles to protect from her father, Jordan Sparks, who abuses her and from their mother, whose irresponsible behavior forces Gerald to work hard o keep the family together (sharondraper.com).
You Don’t Even Know Me by Sharon G. Flake (Grades 8 – 11)
They fall in love, plot revenge, seek to be understood. They sit in class, show their colors, date your daughter and dream of making it big. But do you know them, these brazen, brilliant, bold young men walking among us? In my new novel, young men celebrate love, mentor younger boys, wrestle with HIV and contemplate suicide. They dodge adults, brag about becoming president and wonder if they’ll be alive in the morning. Boys: Do we know ‘em? (sharonflake.com)
Fast Talk on a Slow Track by Rita Williams Garcia (Grades 9 – 12)
Success has always come easily to Denzel Watson and, for the first time in his life, he must come to terms with the specter of failure. He graduates from high school with a 98% grade point average, as president and valedictorian of his class, with plans to enter Princeton in the fall. While at Princeton as part of a six-week minority candidate summer program, Denzel continues to wing it through his classes as he had done throughout his school career. It doesn’t work. The son of a middle-class family who participated in and remember the civil rights movements of the 1960s and who have strong feelings of racial identity and pride. Denzel is not supposed to fail. He returns home and spends the rest of the summer selling candy door to door with dropouts and losers who have no other options in life. He decides he will attend a local college in the fall rather than Princeton, but lacks the courage to tell his parents. Denzel’s coming to terms with the possibility of failure, as well as his attitudes and eventual confrontation with his family, makes a novel that is very hard to put down.
First Part Last by Angela Johnson (Grades 7 – 12)
Bobby’s a classic urban teenager. He’s restless. He’s impulsive. But the thing that makes him different is this: He’s going to be a father. His girlfriend, Nia, is pregnant, and their lives are about to change forever. (ajohnsonauthor.com)
All the Right Stuff by Walter Dean Myers (Grades 7 – 9)
After his father is shot and killed, Paul Dupree finds a summer job at a Harlem soup kitchen. Elijah, the soup man, questions Paul about tough life choices, even though Paul would rather be playing basketball. Over the summer, Paul begins to understand the importance of taking control of your life. (walterdeanmyers.net)
Monster by Walter Dean Myers (Grades 9 – 11)
Steve Harmon, a teenage boy in juvenile detention and on trial. Presented as a screenplay of Steve’s own imagination, and peppered with journal entries, the book shows how one single decision can change our whole lives. (walterdeanmyers.net)
Game by Walter Dean Myers (Grades 9 – 12)
Drew Lawson knows basketball is taking him places. It has to, because his grades certainly aren’t. But lately his plan has run squarely into a pick. Coach’s new offense has made another player a star, and Drew won’t let anyone disrespect his game. Just as his team makes the playoffs, Drew must come up with something big to save his fading college prospects.(walterdeanmyers.net)
Locomotion by Jacqueline Woodson (Grades 3 – 5)
When Lonnie Collins Motion “Locomotion” was seven years old, his life changed forever. Now he’s eleven, and his life is about to change again. His teacher, Ms. Marcus, is showing him ways to put his jumbled feelings on paper. And suddenly, Lonnie has a whole new way to tell the world about his life, his friends, his little sister Lili, and even his foster mom, Miss Edna, who started out crabby but isn’t so bad after all. (jacquelinewoodson.com)
Peace, Locomotion by Jacqueline Woodson (Grades 6 – 9)
Lonnie and his sister Lili are in foster care after the death of their parents. They live with separate families and this book is Lonnie’s letters to Lili that he writes to stay connected to her and as he says “to be the rememberer” while they are living separately. (jacquelinewoodson.com)
Miracle’s Boys by Jacqueline Woodson (Grades 6 – 8)
Three brothers who are orphaned by the death of their mother, are trying to get by. Twelve year old Lafayette tells the story of what happens to him and his older brothers, fifteen year old Charlie and twenty-one year old Ty’ree, after Charlie comes home from a juvenile detention center where he has spent time for armed robbery. (jacquelinewoodson.com)
From the Notebook of Melanin Sun by Jacqueline Woodson (Grades 9 – 12)
Thirteen year old Melanin Sun has a great life with his single mom. He feels like she’s the person he can tell anything to. His friends think she’s beautiful and tease Melanin about how they’d love to go on dates with her. Then one day, his mother brings a white woman named Kristin home. Melanin dislikes Kristin the minute he meets her and because of her, his life with his mother will never be the same again. (jacquelinewoodson.com)
The Pact: Three Young Men Make a Promise and Fulfill a Dream by Sampson Davis, George Jenkins, and Rameck Hunt ((Grades 9 – 12)
These three doctors grew up in the streets of Newark, facing city life’s temptations, pitfalls, even jail. But one day these three young men made a pact. They promised each other they would all become doctors, and stick it out together through the long, difficult journey to attaining that dream. This is a story about the power of friendship. Of joining forces and beating the odds. A story about changing your life, and the lives of those you love most…together.
Letters to a Young Brother: Manifest your Destiny by Hill Harper (Grades 9 – 12)
Offering inspirational advice in a down-to-earth style, this unique compilation of letters provides wisdom, guidance, and heartfelt insight to help the reader chart their own path to success. Based on the author’s motivational speaking at inner-city schools across the country, the letters deal with the tough issues that face young people today.