10 Grown-Up Books for a More Woke Summer

Recently, we posted a list of 10 Books to Inspire Kids for the Summer, but parents deserve some reading love during break, too; besides, it’s just as important for us adults to push our minds and our limits as it is for our kids. With that in mind, the following is a list of books that should push your thinking, stretch your comfort zone a bit, and (at least for white parents and educators) challenge some of your conceptions of privilege, race, education, and access to systems.


Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Coates’ seminal work is simultaneously a powerful personal narrative, and at the same time a scathing indictment of systemic racism as it is practiced in the United States. It shines a light on this institution and its many facets that is frequently painfully, brutally bright, but always necessarily so. The book is not easy to read, but Coates’ voice and presentation make it both emotionally and literarily accessible.


The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, by Michelle Alexander

The New Jim Crow forces us to face the reality of racially-biased mass incarceration, the school to prison pipeline, and the modern extension of slavery (at present, most states ban uncompensated work in all cases except as punishment for a crime). Alexander’s work is powerful, painful, and still utterly salient six years after its original publication. (If this work speaks to you, we also highly recommend the Netflix documentary 13th).


The Skin We Speak, Edited by Lisa Delpit

The Skin We Speak is a collection of essays and reflections from teachers and teacher educators who have worked (and are working) to push back against the numerous structural iniquities facing students of color, queer students, and students of other marginalized identities in the United States. The book explores a variety of perspectives, and attempts to offer some broad solutions as to how to address these incredibly important issues. Delpit is a must-read author for educators and parents alike.


Multiplication is for White People: Raising Expectations for Other People’s Children, by Lisa Delpit

Every teacher will attest: students strive for the bar you set for them. Unfortunately, institutionalized racism has built a system wherein students of color are frequently held to the lowest possible standard. As a result, many educators and administrators ultimately then see what they expect (whether there or not), and students of color then bear that weight, only increasing their struggle to grow.


We Should All Be Feminists, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

We really feel that this title of this book speaks for itself (and should be common sense to everyone anyway), but if it doesn’t, or you’re looking to feel really inspired, we highly recommend that you watch Adichie’s TED Talk. Adichie’s book is a direct extension of her Talk, exploring why feminism is so important across all boundaries. Adichie does a wonderful job of meshing personal narratives with extensive research to frame the tremendous importance of practical feminism.


White By Law: The Legal Construction of Race, by Ian Haney López

We commonly think of race as a social construction, and in large part it is, but the reality is that race, and whiteness in particular, has been hotly contested from a legal perspective for more than a century in this country. White By Law explores this through a series of case studies that ultimately illustrate that whiteness has nothing to do with fairness of skin, and everything to do with a narrow set of ill-defined rules and designations that revealed whiteness to be, in essence, the absence of culture.


Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America, by Melissa V. Harris-Perry

Melissa Harris-Perry is perhaps best known for her long running show on MSNBC (now sadly cancelled), but she has also been a longtime professor at Tulane University, and an author. In Sister Citizen, Harris-Perry explores the intersection of Blackness and femininity, and how those combined identities can lead to both a tremendous amount of strength and leadership, and equally a deep well of pain. Moreover, she explores the many frameworks through which Black women have been framed in American culture. At the end of the day, this is a phenomenal book, and no words can do justice to how beautifully MHP delivers the ideas inside.


Feeling White: Whiteness, Emotionality, and Education, by Cheryl Matias

Dr. Cheryl Matias is a brilliant, invested, and engaging motherscholar, single parent to three wonderful children, and professor at the University of Colorado Denver. She is formerly a classroom teacher and a long-time teacher educator. As a result of her many roles, Dr. Matias has a unique perspective on the state of education, and this is exceptionally evident in her book. Feeling White is a deep and largely academic exploration of the impact of whiteness on education and the typical classroom in the United States.


Pedagogy of Freedom: Ethics, Democracy, and Civic Courage, by Paulo Freire

Freire is a staple of critical race theory (CRT) and post-colonial philosophy; he is best known for his book Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Pedagogy of Freedom is an extension of that work, looking at the developments and changes that have happened in education and CRT. It is a short book, but incredibly powerful, and still relevant decades on.


White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son, by Tim Wise

Wise is a well-known standout in social justice circles. He is a bit of a standout in pop culture – a cisgender white man who openly owns his whiteness, and is willing to stand up to institutional racism. Wise’s book White Like Me is a foundational piece, exploring his journey from privileged, ignorant white man to ally and activist. It was not an easy journey – it never is – but Wise presents it in a way that is incredibly accessible. For those just beginning to explore social justice as more than an abstract, this is a fantastic place to start.

Are there any other books you think should be on this list? Let us know in the comments!