Gritty, Maybe, But Also Real

Takeyla Benton’s Quest To Inspire African-American Boys To Read

By Laura Anne Bird | Photographed By Kaia Calhoun

Takeyla Benton is on a mission. This mother of two and bank branch manager spends her spare time promoting a love of reading and writing throughout the community.

Not only is Benton working on a novel and volume of poetry, but she has served as co-producer and reader for Madison’s “Listen to Your Mother” show. She also started We Write Too, an online space where black women can seek writing advice.

But she decided this wasn’t enough.

“I have a 10-year-old who struggles with finding books that interest him,” Benton says. So in November she launched We Read Too, a book group for boys of color.

Benton facilitates the “high-energy” discussions and says they have caused her to rediscover the power of young adult fiction. “I’m surprised at how gritty and real-life these books get,” she says. “We forget that kids have to deal with some pretty grown-up things.”

Some of Benton’s recommendations are:

The Stars Beneath Our Feet. By David Barclay Moore.

Lolly, who has lost his older brother to violence, finds comfort in Legos. He learns that creativity and imagination can save him from grief and the perils of his troubled Harlem neighborhood. “This book has big stuff like gangs and bullying,” Benton says. “But it also teaches patience and perspective.”

Black Panther: Who is the Black Panther? By Jesse J. Holland.

Inspired by Marvel Comic’s superhero, T’Challa is a warrior-king in the African nation of Wakanda. Known as the Black Panther, he prepares to ward off invading mercenaries. “There’s depth to this prose novel, even if it’s ‘easy’ to read. It has character development, plot and theme,” Benton says. “It’s great storytelling.”

Ghost. By Jason Reynolds (National Book Award Finalist for Young People’s Literature).

Ghost wants to be the fastest sprinter on his track team. As he grapples with family troubles and a hot temper, his coach and fellow runners teach him perseverance. “Reynolds hated boring books as a kid, so this one’s a no-brainer. It’s got hip hop, sports and relevance,” Benton says.

Visit for more information about Benton’s book group, which is geared for fourth though seventh graders and meets monthly on Saturday afternoons at the Goodman South Madison Library. Regulars, drop-ins and parents welcome.

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