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Teens: Read from Another Perspective

Protest against systemic racism

August 18, 2020

A lot of events in the news recently, including that regarding institutional racism and the protests held by the Black Lives Matter movement and other groups, can bring up a lot of questions. It did for me, even as an adult. Why is this happening? What happened in the past, and how did we get here?

Those questions got me thinking about other social issues we’re currently facing right now, including immigration and transphobia. Why is life hard for so many immigrants, when we’re an entire nation of them? What’s the difference between gender and sexuality? As you start to examine history, you start to see that it’s a story created and controlled by the winners of wars and other conflicts. This got me wondering what it might be like to be a teen or an adult learning about these issues for the first time.

The list below is a starting point for teens to learn about some of the most pressing issues currently facing our country. It’s a list of books that will help you step out of your own shoes and into those of someone who may be completely different from you, and experience life in a totally different way. Learning about race and ethnicity, religious freedom, gender identity and about the backlash certain social groups often experience can help students understand these issues and provide them with information that will help them figure out their own beliefs.


Book Cover: WE ARE NOT YET EQUAL

"WE ARE NOT YET EQUAL" by CAROL ANDERSON

Also available as an e-book

While schools may teach that the United States has made significant progress toward Black equality, the reality is more complex. Milestones have been met with racist legal and political manipulation that have limited true progress. Examining five separate events that have impacted the lives of African Americans and all Americans, this book highlights how these events have led to our current day.

Book Cover: QUEER THERE AND EVERYWHERE: 23 PEOPLE WHO CHANGED THE WORLD

"QUEER THERE AND EVERYWHERE: 23 PEOPLE WHO CHANGED THE WORLD " by SARAH PRAGER

World history includes the accomplishments of countless gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans and queer people. Many of them you’ve never even heard of before. This book uncovers true stories that weren’t included in the history books for anyone who wants the real story of the queer rights movement.   

Book Cover: GAY POWER: THE STONEWALL RIOTS AND THE GAY RIGHTS MOVEMENT, 1969

"GAY POWER: THE STONEWALL RIOTS AND THE GAY RIGHTS MOVEMENT, 1969" by BETSY KUHN

Also available as an e-book

It was supposed to be a fun night; music was playing, the dance floor was rocking and the patrons are jammed in to booths. The Stonewall Inn was the one place where people could gather together without judgement. Unfortunately, they didn’t know that Manhattan’s First Division of Public Morals decided that June 27, 1969 was the night they were going to close it down. They didn’t expect the patrons to fight back and the Stonewall Riots began.  

Book Cover: TRANS MISSION: MY QUEST TO A BEARD

"TRANS MISSION: MY QUEST TO A BEARD " by ALEX BERTIE

Also available as an e-book

An isolated, often afraid transgender teen looking for answers, Alex recounts his struggles, and victories as a young trans man. He provides readers with accessible researched explanations of gender, sexuality and transitioning.

Book Cover: STONEWALL RIOTS: COMING OUT IN THE STREETS

"STONEWALL RIOTS: COMING OUT IN THE STREETS " by GAYLE PITMAN

The Stonewall Riots were a series of spontaneous demonstration by members of the LGBTQ+ community as a result of a police raid on the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village. This was the spark that started the LGBTQ+ movement. Starting out with the history of the LGBTQ+ community leading up to the Riots, and the aftermath, complete with interviews from people involved.

Book Cover: I AM THE NIGHT SKY, & OTHER REFLECTIONS BY MUSLIM AMERICAN YOUTH

"I AM THE NIGHT SKY, & OTHER REFLECTIONS BY MUSLIM AMERICAN YOUTH" by NEXT WAVE MUSLIM INITIATIVE WRITERS

Ten Muslim American teens came together to explore what it means to be young and Muslim in the era of post 9/11 stereotypes and fashion models in hijabi. These teens share the diversity within the American Muslim community.

Book Cover: STOLEN JUSTICE: THE STRUGGLE FOR AFRICAN AMERICAN VOTING RIGHTS

"STOLEN JUSTICE: THE STRUGGLE FOR AFRICAN AMERICAN VOTING RIGHTS " by LAWRENCE GOLDSTONE

The era of Reconstruction raised questions for those in power in the United States. Should former slaves be granted the right to vote. This vivid portrait of the systematic suppression of the African American votes, the author traces the history of injustice, though the eyes of individuals and draws direct links between their history and today’s threats to African American people.

Book Cover: UPROOTED: THE JAPANESE AMERICAN EXPERIENCE DURING WORLD WAR II

"UPROOTED: THE JAPANESE AMERICAN EXPERIENCE DURING WORLD WAR II " by ALBERT MARRIN

Also available as both an e-book and as an audiobook

During World War II, the United States Government took an extreme step to keep watch on its Japanese American citizens. They were rounded up, stripped of their property and sent to the high desert of California to live in camps based only on their ethnicity as Asian Americans. How could this have happened? The book looks at the roots of racism and how that racism led an American president to call for their interment.  

Book Cover: BRANDED BY THE PINK TRIANGLE

"BRANDED BY THE PINK TRIANGLE " by KEN SETTERINGTON

Also available as an e-book

Among the people persecuted by the Nazis were homosexuals. Raids, arrests and prison sentences were a daily reality for many. When the concentration camps opened, homosexuals were imprisoned along with Jewish, Romani and other “unwanted peoples.” A pink triangle was sewn onto their uniforms and this became a symbol of persecution. This book combines first person accounts and individual stories to bring this history to light for readers.

Book Cover: PORT CHICAGO 50: DISASTER, MUTINY AND THE FIGHT FOR CIVIL RIGHTS

"PORT CHICAGO 50: DISASTER, MUTINY AND THE FIGHT FOR CIVIL RIGHTS " by STEVE SHEINKIN

Also available as both an e-book and as an audiobook

In July of 1944, a massive explosion ripped through the segregated Navy base at Port Chicago, CA, killing and injuring many soldiers. On August 9, 244 men refused to return to work until the unsafe and unfair conditions were addressed and fixed. When the dust settled, 50 men were charged with mutiny, and faced time in jail and even execution.

Book Cover: FAREWELL TO MANZANAR

"FAREWELL TO MANZANAR" by JEANNE WAKATSUKI HOUSTON

Manzanar was created in the high desert of California, to house thousands of Japanese American citizens during World War II. Among them, the Wakatsuki family who had to leave their fishing business in Long Beach behind and could only bring what belongings they could carry. Jeanne, seven years old, recalls life in the camps through the eyes of a child.

Book Cover: DARK SKY RISING: RECONSTRUCTION AND THE DAWN OF JIM CROW

"DARK SKY RISING: RECONSTRUCTION AND THE DAWN OF JIM CROW " by HENRY LOUIS GATES JR.

After the Civil War, the war damaged South had many issues to contend with; new landowners arriving from the North, a changed social structure and freed slaves. Describing the emancipation, the struggle for freed slaves to gain citizenship and the beginning of racial segregation, this book uses real life stories to drive the narrative starting with the end of the Civil War. Reconstruction was supposed to heal all wounds, but instead it became the starting point for new laws and the Jim Crow era. Gates introduces readers to the resiliency of the African American people through this time of promise and betrayal.

Book Cover: UNPUNISHED MURDER: MASSACRE AT COLFAX AND THE QUEST FOR JUSTICE

"UNPUNISHED MURDER: MASSACRE AT COLFAX AND THE QUEST FOR JUSTICE " by LAWRENCE GOLDSTONE

Eight years after the end of the Civil War, a band of white supremacists massacred over 100 unarmed African Americans in Grant Parish, Louisiana. The court case that followed reached the Supreme Court and yet, in spite of being one of the most horrible incidents of mass murder in America, not one person was convicted. The Supreme Court set in motion a process that would help create a society in which black Americans were oppressed and denied their basic human rights, legally, according to the court. This ruling paved the way for Jim Crow and last the next 100 years.

Book Cover: THEY CALLED THEMSELVES THE KKK

"THEY CALLED THEMSELVES THE KKK " by SUSAN CAMPBELL BARTILETTI

When six restless young men raided a linen closet at a friend’s mansion, pulled pillowcases over their heads and cavorted through the streets of Pulaski, Tennessee in 1866, little did they know that their club would grow into an invisible empire with secret terrorist cells around the South. This is the story of how a secret terrorist organization became intertwined with American democracy using personal accounts and oral histories to highlight the growth of the Ku Klux Klan.

Book Cover: THE FAR AWAY BROTHERS

"THE FAR AWAY BROTHERS " by LAUREN MARKHAM

Also available as an e-book

The United States was a distant dream for identical twins Ernesto and Raul. Growing up in rural El Salvador, the twins were threatened by the regions brutal gangs and forced to flee from their home. Following the twins as they flee from El Salvador, across the Rio Grande and into the Texas desert. They land in the hands of immigration authorities and from there to their brother in California. Now they are attending school in a new language, working to pay down the debt they owe to the coyotes (people who help smuggle immigrants across the United States border for money) and facing immigration court. This book tells the tale of many immigrants looking for a better life.

Book Cover:  THE DOZIER SCHOOL FOR BOYS: FORENSICS, SURVIVORS AND A PAINFUL PAST

" THE DOZIER SCHOOL FOR BOYS: FORENSICS, SURVIVORS AND A PAINFUL PAST" by ELIZABETH MURRAY

Also available as an e-book

Opened in 1900, the Dozier School was supposed to reform boys and young men and guide them away from a life of criminality and toward a life as a productive citizens. Unfortunately, this ideal was far from the truth of life at Dozier. In spite of allegations of rape, torture and murder, the school remained open until 2011 after a Department of Justice investigation proved allegations of routine beatings, and killings made by survivors. Forensic anthropologists have so far uncovered 55 sets of human remains on the school grounds. This story of institutional abuse and the brave survivors who spoke out and the scientists who worked with them to bring this story to light both provide important details that help describe the horror of the Dozier School for Boys.

Book Cover: A QUEER HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES FOR YOUNG PEOPLE

"A QUEER HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES FOR YOUNG PEOPLE " by MICHAEL BRONSKI AND RICHIE CHEVAT

Also available as an e-book

Queer history doesn’t begin with the Stonewall Riots. The history of queer, lesbian, gay, transgender and bisexual people in the United States has been hard to uncover, especially because it doesn’t traditionally get taught in school. This book provides narratives, letters, drawings and more that encourage readers to feel pride at the accomplishment of LIBTQ+ people.

Book Cover: MARCH, BOOK  ONE

"MARCH, BOOK ONE" by JOHN LEWIS

Also available as an e-book

This three volume graphic novel series tells the life story of late Congressman John Lewis. Showing Lewis as he participates in the Civil Rights movement to his election, these books share the independence and courage of John Lewis. After reading book one, check out book two and book three.

Book Cover: AN INDIGENOUS PEOPLES' HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES FOR YOUNG PEOPLE

"AN INDIGENOUS PEOPLES' HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES FOR YOUNG PEOPLE " by DEBBIE REESE

Also available as an e-book

Changing the narrative from America as a country “discovered” to a story of settlers, colonialism and policies on the part of United States government that played in forming our current national identity. This book includes discussion topics, archival materials and original maps that encourage students and teachers to think critically about our place in history.

Book Cover: UNTOLD HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES: YOUNG READER’S EDITION, VOL. 1

"UNTOLD HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES: YOUNG READER’S EDITION, VOL. 1" by OLIVER STONE

The notion that America is a country full of exceptional people continues to skew our understanding of the nation’s role in the world. Tracing the American empire through repeated interventions, covert operations and wars around the world and using the latest findings and recently declassified documents, the author document the “people’s history” of the American empire, including a wide range of heroes and villains as they show far the United States has drifted from the democratic principles our nation was built upon.

After checking out Vol. 1, don't forget to pick up Vol. 2

Book Cover: A YOUNG PEOPLE’S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

"A YOUNG PEOPLE’S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES " by HOWARD ZINN

Often the stories of history privilege the “winners,” but the stories of others, like slaves, immigrants, women and Native Americans are rarely included. Beginning with the arrival of Columbus through the eyes of the native Arawak Indians, this book leads the reader through the struggles for recognition and ends with the current protests against American imperialism.

Book Cover: THEY CALLED US ENEMY

"THEY CALLED US ENEMY " by GEORGE TAKEI

Also available as an e-book

George Takei has captured hearts with his portrayals from the small screen to the stage. But years before, George was a four year old, forced to journey with his family into an uncertain future. Takei gives a firsthand account of life in one of ten relocation centers. He shares the joys and terrors of growing up in an openly racist world, his mother’s hard choices and his father’s faith in democracy. These experiences planted the seeds for his own astonishing future.

Book Cover: DREAMLAND: THE TRUE TALE OF AMERICA’S OPIATE EPIDEMIC

"DREAMLAND: THE TRUE TALE OF AMERICA’S OPIATE EPIDEMIC " by SAM QUIONES

Also available as an e-book

Portsmouth, Ohio has a community swimming pool the size of a football field. They named it Dreamland, because it was such a vital center for the community. Now Portsmouth has been devastated by America’s opium epidemic. Weaving together a tale of capitalism colliding with the unfettered prescribing of pain medications, especially the extremely addictive OxyContin. Meanwhile, an influx of black tar heroin, a cheap and potent opioid, flowed into the United States. These two things conspire to wreak havoc in small towns across the country. The book is an account of these corrosive threats facing America’s heartland.

Book Cover: THE 57 BUS: A TRUE STORY OF TWO TEENAGERS AND THE CRIME THAT CHANGED THEIR LIVES

"THE 57 BUS: A TRUE STORY OF TWO TEENAGERS AND THE CRIME THAT CHANGED THEIR LIVES " by DASHKA SLATER

Also available as an e-book

Two high school students from Oakland, California would never have crossed paths if not for the 57 bus. Sasha, white and genderqueer, lived a middle class life and attended a private school. Richard, a black teen, lived in a crime plagued neighborhood and attended a large public school. Each day, their paths crossed on the 57 bus. One day, as a joke, Richard lights Sasha’s skirt on fire, leaving Sasha severely burned and Richard charged with a hate crime. What really happened on the 57 bus on that day?

Book Cover: AMERICANIZED: REBEL WITHOUT A GREEN CARD

"AMERICANIZED: REBEL WITHOUT A GREEN CARD " by SARA SAEDI

Also available as an e-book

Bright, straight A student Sara Saedi discovers a family secret. She is breaking the law, simply by living in the United States. She was only 2 when her family fled Iran, Sara didn’t discover her illegal status until her older sister applied for a job and needed a social security card. This book follows her journey as she works to get her green card and discovers everything from how to tame her unibrow to her parent’s secret divorce to facilitate her mother’s receiving a green card. Caught between teen anxieties and fears that she will be deported, this memoir, moving and hilarious is for everyone.  

Book Cover: STAMPED: RACISM, ANTIRACISM AND YOU

"STAMPED: RACISM, ANTIRACISM AND YOU" by JASON REYNOLDS AND IBRAM X. KENDI

Also available as an e-book

This book helps you understand why we are here today, in the middle of calls for changes to our racist country. The way we understand race has always been used to gain and keep power and keep certain groups silent and separate. This reimagining of Dr. Kendi’s “Stamped from the Beginning,” reveals the historic racism and racist ideas in America. This book will inspire hope for an antiracist community, shows the issues that cause African Americans to feel as they do and how the poison of racism lingers on destroying communities and cities.

Book Cover: MAUS: A SURVIVOR'S TALE

"MAUS: A SURVIVOR'S TALE" by ART SPEIGLEMAN

A classic that investigates the Jewish Holocaust through the eyes of a survivor, “Maus,” uses animal characters to help the reader reconsider history, the antisemitism of Germany and the ensuing “final solution.” Art talks with his father about his time in Germany during the war. Eventually through Art’s questions, he comes to numerous realizations regarding history and a person’s place in it. 

Book Cover: WE ARE DISPLACED

"WE ARE DISPLACED" by MALALA YOUSAFZI

Also available as both an e-book and as an audiobook

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai shares her experiences visiting refugee camps and learning the stories of girls and young women. Hearing their stories helps Malala reconsider her own time as a displaced person in Pakistan. All of these young women and girls have lost their community, relatives and often the only world they’ve ever known.

Book Cover: THE BEST WE COULD DO

"THE BEST WE COULD DO" by THI BUI

Also available as an e-book

In the 1970’s, Thi Bui’s family escaped Vietnam after the fall of the South. Now they must face building new lives for themselves. But the true heart of her story is a universal struggle—what it means to be a parent. She examines the strength of family, the importance of discovering your identity and the meaning of home.

Book Cover: ENRIQUE’S JOURNEY

"ENRIQUE’S JOURNEY " by SONIA NAZARIO

Also available as an e-book

This is the story of one boy’s quest to find his mother, who was forced to leave their home in Honduras  to find work in the United States to support her family. Now Enrique is traveling to the United States, hanging dangerously to side of trains, managing to avoid bandits, cops and thugs to reach his mother.

Book Cover: SUPERMAN SMASHES THE KLAN

"SUPERMAN SMASHES THE KLAN " by GENE LUEN YANG

Having just moved from Chinatown to Metropolis, Roberta and Tommy Lee and their family wake one night to find their house surrounded by the Klan! Who will protect them? Superman leaps into the action, but he’s slowed by exposure to a glowing green rock. Can Roberta and Tommy help Superman smash the Klan?

Book Cover: GENDER IDENTITY: THE ULTIMATE TEEN GUIDE

"GENDER IDENTITY: THE ULTIMATE TEEN GUIDE " by CYNTHIA WINFIELD

What does it mean to be a man or a woman? In current culture, these distinctions have become too narrow to define the wide spectrum of humanity. Encouraging teens to think beyond the male/female binary to understand the differences between sex and gender, what kinds of legal protections are available and learning both sides of the public debate.

Book Cover: ACCUSED: THE TRIALS OF THE SCOTTSBORO BOYS

"ACCUSED: THE TRIALS OF THE SCOTTSBORO BOYS" by LARRY DANE BRIMNER

While riding the rails in the South during the era of Jim Crow, two white women accuse nine African American youths of rape. They were hoping for a new start, but instead found themselves fighting for their literal lives, because being accused of rape by a white women in the South was tantamount to a death sentence, either from the electric chair or by being lynched. This book chronicles the struggles of these defendants to have a fair trial in a time and a place where they were almost assured of a death sentence.

Book Cover: ALMOST AMERICAN GIRL

"ALMOST AMERICAN GIRL" by ROBIN HA

Also available as an e-book

For as long as she can remember it has been Robin and her mom against the world. There was nothing they couldn’t do together. When their vacation from Seoul to Alabama becomes a permanent relocation, Robin is devastated, not just because she can’t go home again, but because her mom is getting married. Her life is completely different; trying to survive in a school where she doesn’t know the language, missing her Korean friends and has no access to her comics. Will Robin survive in the United States?


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