So many children’s books contain only white characters. Or if they DO include non-white characters, they are often in minor roles and are rarely found in greater numbers than the white characters. This became painfully apparent to me after our daughter joined our family through International Adoption. I began searching for books with characters that looked like her and came up frustratingly short.
Give your children the gift of racially-diverse reads, no matter what their race. Here is a short list I created based on my family’s favorites. It is by no means exhaustive and admittingly leans toward books with black characters. I’m still growing in this area, so if you have some racially-diverse favorites, share them in the comments below!
1. My Heart Will Not Sit Down by Mara Rockliff
Why it’s great: The main character is an African girl who rises up to address a problem halfway across the world. It’s based on a true story and has a fantastic humanitarian angle. This book also shakes up a common misconception about Africa, but I won’t say more lest I give it away!
2. One Green Apple by Eve Bunting
Why it’s great: It follows a girl who recently immigrated to the US with her family from a country that is not an ally. It’s a story that deals with being the new kid, wanting to fit in, and the struggle to make friends. And it makes me cry every time I read it. It’s so beautiful.
3. Metal Man by Aaron Reynolds
Why it’s great: The main character seeks out an artist down the street who makes sculptures from old, recycled metal. They form a friendship and the boy learns an appreciation for art and an appreciation for his own creativity. It’s poetic with thoughtful word choices and descriptions. This book should have an award; it’s a treasure that I can’t stop reading.
4. Hope for Haiti by Jesse Joshua Watson
Why it’s great: This book deals with the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. It addresses the struggle between mourning and moving on, inter-generational friendships, and what it’s like to live in a shelter. It’s a great starting point for you to talk about natural disasters with your older children, and for your children to grow in their empathy as they hear about something challenging that another child experienced.
5. The Rains are Coming by Sanna Stanley
Why it’s great: Every kid loves a birthday party. In this story, Aimee is gathering her friends in Zaire for her birthday party and each child is slightly held up because they are quickly trying to finish a chore for their family before the rainstorm comes. This book showcases everyday life in Zaire, family values, and friendship.
6. Too Many Tamales by Gary Soto
Why it’s great: The family is celebrating Christmas Eve by making tamales and having their whole family over. All is fine until one of the children misplaces her mother’s prized possession. It’s a sweet story of family, tradition, and the importance of telling the truth.
7. Do Like Kyla by Angela Johnson
Why it’s great: A little sister wants to be just like her big sister, can’t we relate? This story goes through a day in the life of these sisters and is narrated by the younger sister. It’s charming and a great window into the everyday life of this family.
8. New Shoes for Helen by Ifeoma Onyefulu
Why it’s great: Through photographs taken in Ethiopia, the reader follows Helen around as she shops for new shoes for her Auntie’s wedding. It’s a familiar experience to most children – shoe shopping – but it takes place in Ethiopia. This is a unique way to infuse another culture into your child’s life and yet never have to take your child on an airplane. 🙂 Ifeoma Onyefulu has MANY wonderful books like this that take place in various African countries. Other titles include “Vicky Goes to the Doctor,” “Ife’s First Haircut,” “Clothes!” “Deron Goes to Nursery School,” “Omer’s Favorite Place,” and “Grandma Comes to Stay.” Do yourself a favor and get as many of these as possible from the library. They are wonderful!
9. My Three Best Friends and Me, Zulay by Cari Best
Why it’s great: There are four best friends in this story and only ONE of them is white. AND the teachers in the book are multiple races too. This impresses me, and I can honestly say I haven’t seen another book with this racial make-up before. Zulay, the main character, is blind and this book does a nice job sharing her dreams and fears, and it shows that with hard work and determination, you can do anything.
10. Lola at the Library by Anna McQuinn
Why it’s great: This book is about a little girl who goes to the library with her mom every Tuesday. Plain and simple. There are other Lola books including “Lola Reads to Leo,” “Lola Plants a Garden,” and “Lola Loves Stories.”
I hope you enjoy these reads with your family. We are fortunate to live in the Twin Cities with access to so many racially-diverse books through our county library systems. They are making great strides in boosting their collections to reflect the racial makeup of the metro.