Where Fiction and Reality Collide: Books and Black Lives Matter

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Below are six books for young readers that address police brutality and the Black Lives Matter movement.

‘All American Boys,’ by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely

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Jason Reynolds, left, and Brendan Kiely.

Credit
Tina Fineberg

Jason Reynolds still vividly recalls when his mother gave him “the talk” about how to behave around police officers. “That talk has saved my life many a time,” Mr. Reynolds said.

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In 2014, after an officer shot Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., Mr. Reynolds and the author Brendan Kiely decided to team up to write “All American Boys,” a young adult novel. In it, a quiet and artistic teenager is shopping for chips at a bodega when a police officer mistakes him for a shoplifter and assaults him.

Mr. Reynolds and Mr. Kiely assumed no one would publish the book, and planned to put it online for free if they couldn’t sell it.

“When Black Lives Matter started, it was polarizing,” Mr. Reynolds said. “Does any publishing company want to bring forth static around something so fresh?”

In fact, “All American Boys,” which came out in 2015, became a commercial hit, selling more than 120,000 copies.

‘Tyler Johnson Was Here,’ by Jay Coles

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Jay Coles

Jay Coles was 18 when he started writing his debut novel, “Tyler Johnson Was Here,” about a boy whose twin brother is a victim of police brutality. While the characters were fictional, Mr. Coles said he had been motivated to write the novel after Trayvon Martin, 17, was killed in Florida. “I put myself in a deep depression while writing it,” he said.

A few months ago, Mr. Coles, who grew up in Indianapolis and is now a senior in college, sold the book to Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, which will publish it next spring.

“I want people to leave with the understanding that it’s O.K. to be angry and loud when it comes to seeking justice,” he said.

‘Dear Martin,’ by Nic Stone

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Nic Stone

In Nic Stone’s debut novel, “Dear Martin,” Justyce, a smart, ambitious black high school scholarship student at an elite prep school, gets caught up in a heated exchange between his best friend and an off-duty police officer, who shoots at them. In the frenzied media coverage that follows, Justyce is stunned to find himself described as a gang member.

His story is interspersed with letters he writes to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., lamenting how little race relations have improved since the civil rights movement. Crown Books for Young Readers will publish the novel this fall.

Ms. Stone, 31, who lives in Atlanta and has two young sons, said she had written the book after a string of high-profile shootings of unarmed African-American teenagers left her feeling gutted.

“When it comes to the heavier issues, fiction gives you this bubble, where you can grapple with things without somebody in your face,” she said.

‘I Am Alfonso Jones,’ Written by Tony Medina and Illustrated by John Jennings and Stacey Robinson

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Tony Medina

In this forthcoming young adult graphic novel written by Tony Medina, a poet and prolific children’s books author, a teenager named Alfonso Jones is killed by an off-duty police officer, then watches from the afterlife as his family struggles to bring the shooter to justice.

The story will be illustrated by John Jennings, who illustrated the graphic novel adaptation of Octavia Butler’s “Kindred,” and Stacey Robinson, who works with Mr. Jennings as part of the collaborative team “Black Kirby. It will be published this fall by Tu Books, an imprint of Lee & Low Books.

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‘Ghost Boys,’ by Jewell Parker Rhodes

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Jewell Parker Rhodes

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Ángel Franco/The New York Times

Jewell Parker Rhodes, an award-winning children’s book author, has never shied away from emotionally challenging subjects. Her previous novels have addressed national tragedies like Hurricane Katrina and the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Her next novel, “Ghost Boys,” which Little, Brown Books for Young Readers will publish next spring, is a surreal tale that tackles recent police shootings and the country’s long history of racially motivated crimes.

The narrative unfolds from the point of view of a ghost — a young black boy who is shot by a white police officer and observes what happens after his death. In the afterlife, the boy meets the ghosts of other black boys, including the spirit of Emmett Till. Because of the book’s violent premise and its proximity to real events, the novel is being recommended for slightly older middle-grade readers, ages 10 and up.

“Children and teens are reading and hearing about this in the news all the time, and fiction gives them an entry point to understanding it better and helping them to empathize with all sides,” said Alvina Ling, the vice president and editor in chief of Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.

‘How It Went Down,’ by Kekla Magoon

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Kekla Magoon

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Kerry J. Land

The young adult novel “How It Went Down,” which was written by Kekla Magoon and came out in 2014, explores the aftermath of a shooting from multiple perspectives. After a white man shoots Tariq Johnson, a 16-year-old African-American boy, witnesses offer conflicting accounts of what happened — whether Tariq was armed, and what precipitated the violence.

In a review, School Library Journal said the book “raises such difficult, thorny issues and doesn’t try to offer any easy answers.”

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