When I teach writing I say, “If you want to write, read.” Taking that motto to heart, these ten books have guided me as I’ve written HALF-TRUTHS, my first young adult novel.


BLUE by Joyce Moyer Hostetter


In Hickory, North Carolina in 1944, Ann Fay Honeycutt assumes responsibilities after her father leaves for Germany. Both her brother and Ann Fay contract polio. At the hospital Ann Fay meets a black patient in the bed beside hers. They become friends, but when it’s time to leave the contagious ward the girls are separated into racially segregated areas. BLUE expertly integrates facts about segregation into a novel for young people.


FLYGIRL by Sheri Smith


FLYGIRL is a fictional account of Ida Mae Jones, a light-skinned African American teenager in Louisiana in 1941 who passes for white to become a WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilots). From the beginning when her best friend makes fun of her until the end when a white flight instructor shows romantic interest—the book is full of difficult decisions Ida Mae makes in pursuit of her goal. Since my own African American protagonist, Lillie Harris, is light-skinned and decides to pass, Ida Mae is a vivid illustration of these conflicts.


RIOT by Walter Dean Myers


In a little known story about the riot between African Americans and Irish immigrants in New York City in 1863, Myers places Claire, the daughter of a black man and an Irish woman. During the riots she asks, “If it’s my skin that makes me unsafe, can I take it off and put it in the drawer somewhere until the streets are safe again?” Although RIOT occurs ninety years before HALF-TRUTHS, it provides an intimate view of what a light-skinned teenager faces.


ROSA PARKS: MY STORY by Rosa Parks with Jim Haskins


Mrs. Parks is famous for sitting in the “WHITES ONLY” section of the bus in Alabama but these laws also governed Charlotte, NC where HALF-TRUTHS takes place. Mrs. Parks wrote, “Black people had special rules to follow. Some drivers made black passengers step in the front door and pay their fare, and then we had to get off and go around to the back door and get in. Often, before the black passengers got around to the back door the bus would take off without them…The first ten seats were reserved for whites, even if there were no white passengers on the bus.” (p. 77). Mrs. Parks’ memories informed the bus scenes in HALF-TRUTHS.




Minni and Kiera are eleven-year-old “one-in-a-million twins.” Their mother is black and their father is white. As a result, Minni’s skin is “milky white” and Keira’s is “cinnamon brown.” Their cocooned life changes when their black grandmother insists they participate in the Black Pearls of America beauty pageant. While shopping for dresses with their white grandmother, Kiera is treated like a second-class customer. Minni witnesses the clerk’s rudeness but doesn’t defend her sister. At the pageant, Minni is ostracized because of her skin color and finds out what it’s like to be the one who is different. The girls’ relationship is tested as they are pulled by new acquaintances and past loyalties.


BLUE WILLOW by Doris Gates


In HALF-TRUTHS my two protagonists discover a Blue Willow china cup that belongs to both families. Winner of a Newbery Honor in 1941, BLUE WILLOW recounts the story of a family during the Depression. Ten-year-old Janey Larkin longs for a permanent home for herself and for her most beloved possession, a blue willow china plate that belonged to her great-great grandmother. Her father is an itinerant farm worker and wherever they move, the plate goes with them but stays packed away. When both Janey and her plate find a home, a sense of belonging and the importance of inter-generational relationships seal this classic.




As a child Hiram Hillburn spent several years in Greenwood, Mississippi living with his paternal grandparents. Hiram returns to Greenwood as a teenager and meets Emmett Till. Hiram is shocked when following Emmett’s murder, his grandfather’s only concern is that the NAACP will invade their town and push integration. “But what about Emmett?” I asked. “They killed him. Doesn’t that make you mad?” Using deep point-of-view, MISSISSIPPI TRIAL shows how a white teenager’s understanding of the world changes after witnessing the results of prejudice. This helped me portray the responses of my white protagonist, Kate Dinsmore, to Lillie’s life.


CARVER: A LIFE IN POEMS by Marilyn Nelson


Using the medium of free verse, Nelson tells Carver’s story from his slavery roots through to his scientific discoveries. Some poems are from Carver’s point of view; others are written from the perspective of people who interacted with him. Woven together they build the narrative of Carver’s life. Seven years after his death in 1943, Carver is an inspiration to Lillie, an aspiring scientist.




LIONS is a fictional account of what happened after nine black students integrated schools in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1957. Both LIONS and HALF-TRUTHS explore friendship between a white girl and a black girl on the eve of civil rights; both involve a black girl who is light-skinned and passes; and both are stories about courage and change.


LOVING VS. VIRGINIA by Patricia Hruby Powell


This documentary novel combines free verse, black and white illustrations, period photographs, and copies of civil rights documents about the interracial couple who challenged Virginia’s anti-miscegenation law. The theme of passing and leaving one’s community is echoed in HALF-TRUTHS.


There are plenty of people

from our section,

who are mixed like I am–

and one day,

when they’re grown,

they leave home

and never ever

come back.

And we know they


into white society–

away from

where everyone knows you,

where everyone truly

cares about you.

I feel sorry for them

who pass-

and don’t come

home. (p. 82-3)


I appreciate these authors as well as many others. I have learned from all of them as I have written HALF-TRUTHS. My (hopeful!) path to publication is richer as a result of these mentor texts.


Carol Baldwin is an author, grandmother, and writing instructor. Follow her publishing journey, read book reviews, and enter giveaways on www.carolbaldwinblog.blogspot.com. Find her on Facebook or Twitter (@CBaldwinAuthor).