Spurred on by the We Need Diverse Books movement, literary agents and publishing houses are taking note of a variety of storytellers as they seek out new authors to weave their own tales with their own leads of likeness. We previously introduced seven Black women writers set to run the young adult sphere with their cutting-edge YA novels. Well, we are here again with ten authors who are writing and publishing fun and diverse stories for toddlers to tweens, ranging from contemporary novels on the racing track to flying dinosaurs in 19th century New York City.
New York Times bestselling author Jason Reynolds’ first goal is to not write boring books. He knows that a lot of young people hate reading and that many of them are boys, but he also knows that they don’t hate books, they just hate boredom. He agrees because even though he is a writer, he didn’t read a book until he was 17 years old because he hated boring books, too. Jason Reynolds is the author of the first Miles Morales Spider-Man novel (before the movie came out) and award-winning novels Long Way Down, All American Boys, and When I Was the Greatest, among several others. He may be best known for his four-book Track Series Ghost; Patina; Sunny; Lu that evolves around kids running to win as they compete on an elite track team. In that group, Ghost was voted as one of PBS’s 100 Most-loved American Books Ever Written. A message Jason Reynolds wants to pass on is, “Trust your gut….and remember, the most valuable thing you’ll ever own, the most expensive thing you’ll ever have, is your story.”
Kwame Alexander is best known for his Coretta Scott King and Newberry award-winning novel The Crossover, an angst-filled coming-of-age story in verse, about a basketball-loving 12-year-old boy who tells his family story through hip-hop beats and poetry as he tries to navigate middle grade on and off the courts. Kwame Alexander’s novels often center around sports or the arts with a young Black male as the protagonist. His newest lyrical novel, Swing, has music at the center while shining a light on the current issues our country faces as high school student, Walt, tries to use his voice to find more good things in the world; but he also wants to try and be cool while doing it. Kwame Alexander does not stop at only children’s books; he is a prolific writer with 28 books to his name that span genre and age categories, from children’s to adults, including poetry books and how-to guides. He is also a regular contributor on NPR’s Morning Edition.
A former EMS worker, Daniel José Older switched to fantasy writer with his hit debut series Shadowshaper which celebrated African and Latino heritage through an Afro-Latina Shadowshaper in magical New York who leads a fight against systems that oppress her community. As a Cuban American, diversity is very important in his stories especially when it comes to people with darker skin. Daniel José Older was at the forefront of the We Need Diverse Books movement that was instrumental in heralding the uptick in diverse books hitting bookstores now. His debut middle grade series, Dactyl Hill Squad, continues in that vein with an adventurous fantastical twist that reimagines a world where dinosaurs are still around and kids can control them. It follows the story of a group of Black and Brown kids from New York who use dinosaurs to break out of their orphanage in order to fight on the side of right in the Civil War.
Zetta Elliot was born and raised in Canada but has lived over 20 years in the U.S. A self-described Black feminist writer, Zetta Elliot uses her storytelling abilities through essays, plays, novels, and books for children. She is an advocate for greater diversity and equity in publishing that is reflected in her works. Her most recently published books are a middle grade series featuring dragons called Dragons in a Bag and The Dragon Thief that follows the trials and tribulations of Brooklyn resident Jaxon as he tries to raise three dragons as a witch’s apprentice and return them to their magical land.
Middle grade author Karen Strong oozes spooky southern charm in her debut novel Just South of Home about four witty and adventurous kids who just may have discovered ghosts in their town’s abandoned, and rumored haunted, church. Sarah, the leader of the pack, thinks the group needs to go into the woods in order to communicate with and save the souls that just might be trapped there. Karen Strong says that she spent most of her childhood summers at her grandmother’s house deep in the countryside. A favorite memory of hers is when she would leave the house at night and marvel at all the stars that adorned the sky. Just South of Home is inspired by her memories of growing up coupled with her desire to write fiction for kids that feature Black girls exploring all the mystery and adventure the world has to offer with a dash of spookiness.
Pharmaceutical metrologist, Kwame Mbalia, is a proud Howard University graduate and debut author of the novel Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky which is published in the debut year of Rick Riordan Presents for Disney Hyperion (Rick Riordan of Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief fame) that caters to diverse fantasy stories from diverse authors. Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky was pitched as a middle grade version of American Gods about a seventh-grade boy who might have accidentally created a hole in the universe that opens a portal to an ancient world where African gods clash with gods of African-American legend. Now he is on a race to find Anansi to repair the rip before monsters consume their world and ours.
Vashti Harrison has a background in cinematography and filmmaking that she wraps into an overall love for storytelling. Vashti is a filmmaker, illustrator, and writer best known for her debut children’s book, Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History, centered around little girls dressed up as famous women. She hoped to show that boldness can come in different shapes and sizes from the littlest to the biggest. She has expanded on this series to include Little Dreamers: Visionary Women Around the World featuring 40 stories of women creators and Dream Big, Little One which is a board book accompaniment to Little Leaders. She hopes to add a little boys book to her series soon.
Sharee Miller celebrates the diversity of Black hair and respecting one’s space in her two children’s books Princess Hair and Don’t Touch My Hair. Sharee Miller first got the idea for Princess Hair after undergoing her own natural hair journey. Princess Hair shows young girls the delightfulness in every texture and stress of hairdos from hair wraps to dreadlocks. But most importantly it tells little girls that, no matter the hair, you are a princess. In Don’t Touch My Hair, Ari cannot seem to go anywhere without someone or something wanting to touch her hair. From underwater mermaids to outer space aliens, Ari cannot seem to catch a break. Until finally, Ari says enough is enough! Don’t Touch My Hair is an entertaining introduction to the importance of asking for permission that every child (and adult) can learn from.
Vanessa Brantley-Newton’s books celebrate self love and acceptance of all cultures. Through her stories and illustrations, she hopes to inspire young readers to find their own voices. She has a host of books she has illustrated or written from educational stories on the Civil Rights Movement like Let Freedom Sing to fabulous stories of, well, fabulousness in Mary Had a Little Glam. In her newest book, Grandma’s Purse, Vanessa Brantley-Newton is the writer and illustrator of an adorable ode to grandmothers and the goodies they keep inside their bags, especially for their little grandbabies.
Daria Peoples-Riley is an author and illustrator who draws inspiration from her rich cultural background. Her debut picture book, This Is It, is a celebration of individuality and was inspired by her daughter as well as her first trip to New York City. It tells the story of a young dancer who finds confidence in her skills when her shadow springs to life and takes her on an energetic and joyous exploration of her city. Her follow up picture book, I Got Next, is due out this summer and brings to life the story of a young basketball player who gains inspiration for a sporting competition from an unexpected place.