Guest blog post by Deidra Shores, Scholastic Corporate Communications summer intern
I’m a huge Beyoncé fan, so to say that I was looking forward to her performance in The Lion King and the companion compilation/soundtrack “Lion King: The Gift” is an understatement.
The Afro-pop 27-track project channels the sounds of Nigeria, Guana, Reggae, and much more as Beyoncé worked with several talented African artists, producers, and composers to bring this celebration of black musical traditions to life. Listening to this project I felt uplifted, encouraged, and seen. Beyoné clearly had her children and others in mind during the creative process.
During my summer at Scholastic I’ve learned a lot about how important it is for childeren to see themselves in the books they read. Our Kids & Family Reading Report research has found that about six in 10 parents (58%) report diversity is extremely or very important in the books their child reads, and nearly four in 10 kids ages 9–17 (38%) agree. Because of that, I’ve put together a list of books featuring black characters and written by authors from across the African diaspora that pair perfectly with each track! This book playlist is great for readers of color looking to find something where they can see themselves.
“Bigger” by Beyoncé | Piecing Me Together by Renée Watson
The opening track "Bigger" sets the tone for the soundtrack with its emotion-evoking words and sultry tones. Beyoncé speaks with words of encouragement, reminding listeners “...we’re fighting something way bigger… we’re part of something way bigger,” The message that the role you play in this world is no more or less important than anyone else is also found in Piecing Me Together by Renée Watson. The protagonist Jade struggles with overcoming her circumstances and learning from the people around her when her world changes. In this award-winning title, Jade is encouraged by her mother and mentors to gain confidence and self-esteem.
“Find Your Way Back” by Beyoncé | Hair Love by Matthew A. Cherry
This track starts with rhythmic drums and background tones that you can't help but groove to. In this song, Beyoncé sings about how her father encouraged her to find her own place in the world without letting her go too far. Hair Love by Matthew A. Currydepicts a loving relationship between a father and daughter who has big, beautiful, kinky hair. Dad has to learn just how Zuri likes her hair and they both learn about the beauty of loving yourself just the way you are.
“Don’t Jealous Me” by Beyoncé featuring Tekno, Yemi Alade, & Mr Eazi | Marley Dias Gets It Done: And So Can You! by Marley Dias
While this track mainly features Nigerian artist Tekno, Yemi Alade, and Mr Eazi, it has become a stand out on the soundtrack because of its authentic Nigerian sound. This upbeat dance song discourages negative comparisons and encourages listeners to see the greatness in themselves. A book with a similar message is Marley Dias Gets It Done: And So Can You! by Marley Dias. In this “keep-it-real” guide Marley encourages activism, social justice, and equity. She tells students that through volunteerism, social media and conversation they can make positive changes in their communities.
“Ja Ara E” by Beyoncé featuring Burna Boy | Tar Beach by Faith Ringgold
Ja Ara E is a smooth, mysterious, and laid-back song with deep vocals by Nigerian singer-songwriter Burna Boy. It creates a classic, outdoor, family cookout vibe, but with a Nigerian twist. The background harmonies, saxophone, and soft drums help transport listeners to another world. A book with a similar effect for readers is Tar Beach by Faith Ringgold. In this tale, Cassie Louise Lightfoot flies above her apartment-building, the 'tar beach', looking down on 1939 Harlem. On her adventure, she learns about mastering her world and not being afraid of the world.
“The Nile” by Beyoncé & Kendrick Lamar | Hurricane Child by Kacen Callender
Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar start this track with beautiful harmonies and ocean waves in the background. The metaphors of water and natural beauty reminds listeners of the power of water and nature. This track goes perfectly with Hurricane Child by Kacen Callender, a story about a young girl in St. Thomas who is born during a storm faces loss and bullying. That is, until Kalinda arrives, becoming her first and only friend.
“Mood 4 Eva” by Beyoncé, Jay-Z, & Childish Gambino | Princess Truly in I Am Truly by Kelly Greenawalt and Amariah Rauscher and Princess Truly in My Magical, Sparkling Curls by Kelly Greenawalt and Amariah Rauscher
Mood 4 Eva featuring Jay-Z and Childish Gambino is one of my favorites. This track is more of a “flex” where both Beyoncé and Jay-Z remind listeners how important it is to love yourself. Beyoncé flexes her black girl magic on this one. A character who embodies this vibe is Princess Truly from the Princess Truly book series. Princess Truly loves using her black girl magic in her books to dream big and travel the world. Her magical hair is big and beautiful, which she uses to make the world better.
“Water” by Beyoncé, Salatiel, & Pharrell | The Water Princess by Susan Verde
Beyoncé teams up with Pharrell and Salatiel to create this upbeat bop with a fun family vibe. They speak about a sense of community and providing for one another. Similarly, The Water Princess by Susan Verde is about Princess Gie Gie who dreams of bringing clean drinking water to her kingdom. This colorful picture book brings attention to the ongoing struggle for clean water in her home and places like Flint, Michigan. It depicts the disadvantages that often come along with living in communities that are mainly of color or are poor.
“Brown Skin Girl” by Beyoncé, featuring Blue Ivy Carter, SAINt Jhn, & Wizkid | Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
“Brown Skin Girl” has likely become the most popular song on the tracklist because of its uplifting message. Beyoncé teamed up with several artists for this melanin celebration, but the most notable feature is the one and only Blue Ivy Carter. Beyoncé speaks to her daughter and tells her how beautiful her brown skin is. The lovely collab is a perfect companion to Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson. Her award-winning memoir features touching and powerful poems reflecting on Jacqueline’s childhood growing up in her brown skin in the 1960s and 1970s.
“Keys To The Kingdom” by Beyoncé featuring Tiwa Savage & Mr Eazi | Nelson Mandela by Kadir Nelson
This uplifting track by Tiwa Savage and Mr Eazi reminds listeners that their own greatness lies within. They speak about not giving up and remembering who you are. This encouraging song is much like the uplifting picture book biography Nelson Mandela by Kadir Nelson. This celebrated author captures the activist’s story gracefully with artwork that evokes the strength of the human spirit.
“Already” by Beyoncé, Shatta Wale, Major Lazer | Martin Rising: Requiem For a King by Andrea Davis Pinkney and Brian Pinkney
This track is another empowerment anthem that reminds listeners to see the royalty in themselves. “Long live the king, you a king” is repeated in different combinations over this afro-beat. The song's uplifting tone comes from a place of leadership, much like that of Martin Luther King, Jr., during the American Civil Rights Movement. Martin Rising is a set of 39 poems by Andrea Davis Pinkney that tell the story of the last days of the great leader's life leading up to his assassination. Her husband, Brian Pinkney, beautifully illustrates the faces of the movement, an incredible reminder of how important it is to see these faces in literature.
“Otherside” by Beyoncé | The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough
Opening with soft piano keys and Beyoncé’s delicate vocals, this track can immediately pull emotion out of listeners. Beyoncé sings about making the most out of life’s journey and meeting those you love on the other side. This theme is also explored in The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough. Two young people from different walks of life, Flora and Henry, share a love so strong that they can’t be apart. Brockenbrough explores the honest truth about interracial love in the 1920s and the pains of life and death.
“My Power” by Beyoncé, Tierra Whack, Nija, & Moonchild Sanelly | The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope by William Kamkwamba
Tierra Whack’s clever and quick rap skills are on display in this electric war anthem. Beyonce, Nija, and Moonchild all deliver a record that highlights the importance of honing your own energy and fighting against oppression. Much like William in The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind by William Kamkwamba, listeners will feel the ability to do anything. In this phenomenal 9th-12th grade novel William, the protagonist, uses his resources to help his Malawi village regain power when they are hit by a drought.
“Scar” by 070 Shake & Jessie Reyez | Unpunished Murderby Lawrence Goldstone
A slow tone begins this song with sounds of defeat and depression. It quickly changes beats once 070 Shake and Jessie Reyez begin to sing apologies filled with betrayal and revenge. An appropriate accompanying title, Unpunished Murder by Lawrence Goldstone, follows one of the most ghastly incidents of mass murder in American history carried out by a band of white supremacists in Louisiana and the ensuing ruling by the Supreme Court in which not one person was convicted. This decision paved the way for the Jim Crow era and helped institutionalize racism in the American justice system.
“Spirit” by Beyoncé | Pinned by Sharon G. Flake
The final track ends the album on an uplifting note, summarizing the messages and themes mentioned throughout the entire project. Beyoncé reminds listeners that their destiny is close and that giving up is not an option. Award-winning author Sharon G. Flake shares a similar message in Pinned, a novel tat sheds light on physical and mental disabilities in its story that follows two teens who face their special qualities head on in order to rise up and be confident in their differences.
If you would like more literature focused on uplifting young people of color check out these links!
- The Power of Story Catalog is a comprensive list of Scholastic books for all ages that represent diversity in race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, and physical ability, and more.
- This OOM post features books that celebrate natural hair.
- 1,000 Black Girl Books Database: This resource guide was created by Marley Dias, the creator of the #1000BlackGirlBooks campaign to highlight books focused on women of color.
- Inspriation for my book playlist came from this blog post by @ComfyGirlCurls on Twitter.