The subject of race in America can’t be ignored. But talking about sensitive issues, like racism and discrimination, though absolutely necessary, is far from easy, especially at school.

Literature can help facilitate these discussions. Studying texts together creates a common ground for students to discuss tough topics in constructive ways. It gives students a safe outlet to process their thoughts and can help them build empathy toward others.

To support meaningful conversations on race with your students, consider introducing these twenty fiction, graphic novel, and nonfiction selections in the classroom.

Ghost Boys
Lexile Measure: HL360L
After twelve-year-old Jerome is killed by a police officer who mistakes his toy gun for a real weapon, his ghost observes the fallout that occurs within his family and community. In the afterlife, Jerome meets another spirit who shared a similar fate, a boy named Emmett Till. With Emmett as his guide, Jerome realizes how historical racism led to the events that ended his life. Perfect for middle-grade readers, Ghost Boys weaves past and current events together into an unforgettable story about what it means to be black in America.

Stella by Starlight
Lexile Measure: 740L
In the Depression-era South, avoiding discrimination is next to impossible for Stella and her family. But after she accidentally witnesses a Ku Klux Klan rally late one night, life in her segregated community changes for the worse. Told through Stella’s perspective, this novel presents themes relating to prejudice, bravery, and hope in an accessible and ultimately inspiring way.

Long Way Down
Lexile Measure: HL720L
After his brother is murdered, fifteen-year-old Will sets out for revenge, tucking his brother’s gun into the waistband of his jeans. But as he rides the elevator down from his family’s apartment, Will is confronted by the elevator’s ghostly occupants, all of whom were killed by gun violence. This verse novel by celebrated author Jason Reynolds takes an unflinching look at teenage gun violence and the perpetual cycle of destruction revenge can bring.

All American Boys
Lexile Measure: HL770L
In this novel co-authored by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely, one single act of violence is all it takes to completely change the lives of two teenagers. This bestselling novel will foster important and necessary discussions in your classroom about race relations, privilege, police brutality, and the meaning of community in modern America.

On the Come Up
Lexile Measure: HL550L
As the daughter of a late underground rap legend, sixteen-year-old Bri wants to become a hip-hop star of her own—not for the fame, but to lift her family out of poverty. Brilliantly interspersed with Bri’s rap lyrics, On the Come Up will hook your high school students with its diverse, complex characters and timely themes of inequality, prejudice, personal growth, and perseverance.

Piecing Me Together
Lexile Measure: 680L
To achieve her vision of success, teenager Jade believes she must leave her troubled neighborhood, even if that means taking opportunities that seem more humiliating than helpful. Award-winning author Renée Watson’s thoughtful story deals with themes of friendship, identity, privilege, and other issues your students experience every day.

They Called Us Enemy
Lexile Measure: GN680L
In this graphic memoir, actor and activist George Takei joins artist Harmony Becker and co-writers Justin Eisinger and Steven Scott to shed light on one of the darkest moments in American history. In 1942, five-year-old George and his family are rounded up without warning and imprisoned in a Japanese American internment camp thousands of miles from home. Students will be captivated by the book’s graphic novel format and the story’s touching and timely lessons on resilience, courage, loyalty, and love.

The Hate U Give
Lexile Measure: HL690L
Poignant and heartbreakingly topical, The Hate U Give is being lauded as one of this generation’s most important books. When a police officer kills sixteen-year-old Starr Carter’s childhood best friend, her world is irrevocably upended. This novel deftly tackles weighty themes of racism, police brutality, and societal injustice and will undoubtedly lead to interesting conversations, both in and out of the classroom.

Dear Martin
Lexile Measure: HL720L
After an act of violence forces Justyce McAllister to question the world around him and reevaluate his friendships, he turns to the writings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for guidance. Start a conversation in your classroom about racial injustice and identity with Dear Martin, a strong recommendation for fans of Angie Thomas, Walter Dean Myers, and Jason Reynolds.

Lexile Measure: GN760L
Congressman John Lewis, one of the key figures of the civil rights movement, presents the incredible story of his life through March, a graphic novel series created in collaboration with co-writer Andrew Aydin and artist Nate Powell. This first volume covers Lewis’s early involvement with activism, including his life-changing meeting with Martin Luther King Jr., and his participation in the Nashville sit-ins. Stunning artwork and the powerful lessons presented in Lewis’s story make March an excellent resource for learning about one of the most turbulent times in United States history.

The Marrow Thieves
Lexile Measure: HL810L
In Cherie Dimaline’s dystopian world, people have lost the ability to dream—and it’s believed the Indigenous people of North America carry the cure within their bones. To save both their lives and their cultural history, Frenchie and his companions must journey north to safety, avoiding those who seek to harvest their marrow on the way. Winner of the 2017 Kirkus Prize for Young Readers' Literature, this futuristic story of survival comments on the true impact of colonialism and systemic racism Indigenous peoples in Canada still experience today.

There There
Lexile Measure: HL810L
The untold story of urban Native Americans is brought to life in this groundbreaking novel about twelve people who attend the Big Oakland Pow Wow. They each have a different relationship with their native backgrounds, but they all have been shaped by a hardship that goes back generations. Winner of the 2019 PEN/Hemingway Award, this book will speak to students who feel powerless in the face of the invisible forces that influence their lives.

Sing, Unburied, Sing
Lexile Measure: 840L
In Jesmyn Ward’s award-winning novel, set in the heart of Mississippi, young Jojo and his family embark on a road trip to pick up his father from prison. Family legacies, violence, and the brutalities of racism seem to define his family—until he meets a literal ghost at the prison who has something very important to teach Jojo. Rich with lyricism, this southern Gothic ghost story will captivate your students.

Invisible Man
Lexile Measure: 870L
Unquestionably a milestone in American literature, Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man is a book that has continued to engross readers since its publication in 1952. Describing the unnamed narrator's experiences growing up in a black community in the South, attending and being expelled from college, and moving to New York to join "the Brotherhood," a Communist organization, this book paints a vivid portrait of twentieth-century black America.

The 57 Bus
Lexile Measure: 930L
In 2013, two lives changed forever after an assault during a bus ride home from school. As part of a prank gone wrong, 16-year-old Richard lit another passenger—an agender teen named Sasha—on fire. Told in a narrative format by journalist Dashka Slater, this nonfiction work explores the incident and its subsequent court case and media fallout from all angles. If you’re looking to incorporate social justice, racism, and LGBTQ+ topics into your curriculum, The 57 Bus makes a compelling choice.

Brown Girl Dreaming
Lexile Measure: 990L
As a child, Jacqueline Woodson struggled with reading and writing, and in this award-winning bestseller, she uses poetry to bring her stunning memoir to life. Students will find Woodson’s eloquent poems a great source of inspiration, as she recounts what it was like growing up in the middle of the civil rights movement.

The Other Wes Moore
Lexile Measure: 990L
This powerful work of nonfiction attempts to answer how the lives of two boys raised in similar neighborhoods develop in wildly divergent ways: One became a Rhodes scholar, and the other is a convicted murderer. The Other Wes Moore will make your students think about the ways in which social class, socioeconomic disparity, education, and parental support shape the individual—for better or for worse.

Between the World and Me
Lexile Measure: 1090L
Following a meeting with Barack Obama, Ta-Nehisi Coates was determined to explore his own relationship with race in modern America. This National Book Award winner, written as a letter to Coates’s teenage son, is one of the most honest and striking nonfiction books of the last 20 years and will drive discussions in your classroom like few others will.

Just Mercy
Lexile Measure: 1130L
Early in his career, Bryan Stevenson founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice for the poor, the wrongly convicted, and children. One of his first cases, that of a man sentenced to death for a murder he didn’t commit, drew Stevenson into a messy world in desperate need of compassion. This powerful, true story of one of America’s most committed lawyers examines the inequalities of the justice system through a life dedicated to defending those most in need.

The New Jim Crow
Lexile Measure: NC1390L
This nonfiction work by legal scholar Michelle Alexander explores the rippling effects of racial discrimination by the American justice system on individuals, families, communities, and society at large. Although Jim Crow laws no longer exist in the United States, mass incarceration, an arguably new form of legal oppression, has disproportionately affected minorities—notably African American men. The New Jim Crow takes an unflinching look at this epidemic by examining court cases, historical events, statistics, case studies, and other data.

What books would you add to this list? Let us know in the comments below.