A recent article in The Reading Teacher* comments on the paucity of female African American protagonists featured in transitional books, then analyzes and recommends three outstanding series, described below. All books are available in bookstores or through Amazon.com.
The Dyamonde Daniel books by Nikki Grimes (grades 2 and up) feature a “third grader with wild-crazy hair and a zippy attitude” (book jacket description). Dyamonde is a smart, funny, warm girl with a big heart. She is relatively new to her school, and her struggles to fit in, chronicled in the first book in the series Make Way for Dyamonde Daniel, may resonate with some girls. Dyamonde demonstrates a commitment to education and a sensitivity toward the plights of her friends, values which are illustrated throughout the series.
Nikki and Deja (grades 1 and up), a series by Karen English, follows endearing best friends and neighbors Nikki and Deja as they navigate the treacherous waters of middle-grade friendship and work toward realizing their career aspirations. For example, Nikki dreams of being a reporter and always carries a notebook and pencil with her; in one of the books, she plans to start a community newsletter. Their experiences and relationships with each other, their families, and members of the community ring true and provide good lessons that don’t feel preachy.
The Willimena Rules! series by Valerie Wilson Wesley (grades 2 and up) is about a spunky girl whose adventures are both amusing and touching. For example, in the first book in the series, How to Lose Your Class Pet, the class’s pet guinea pig escapes on Willie’s watch. In another, How to Lose Your Cookie Money, Willie learns that two of her friends have don’t have money for lunch at school and buys them food for a week and a half before running out of funds – funds which she earned selling Girl Scout cookies and must now pay back somehow. Quirky cartoons accompany the stories in these charming, clever books.
*McNair, Jonda C. and Brooks, Wanda M. (2012). “Transitional Chapter Books: Representations of African American Girlhood.” The Reading Teacher, 65(8).