Sara Ackerman knows children’s books. She teaches kindergarten and reads stories of varied genres to not only her students, but to her own daughter too. Recently, she pointed out in the New York Times that only four percent of her daughter’s books featured a minority as a protagonist.
As a white mother to a four-year-old black girl, Ackerman was ashamed that she didn’t catch on sooner. Concerned that her daughter did not see herself reflected in the main characters of her stories, Ackerman set out to adorn her daughter’s bookshelves with more diversity.
According to the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, only about 14% of children’s books have multicultural storylines or characters, and though that percentage is small, it’s slightly higher than it was a couple years ago. In 2014, We Need Diverse Books was created to advocate for books rich in multicultural content for classrooms and personal libraries.
Whatever your background or skin color, it’s important to fill your child’s bookshelf with stories that represent different cultures, experiences and characters. To help you diversify your child’s book collection, we’ve compiled a list of some of our favorite books:
1. Ten Little Fingers And Ten Little Toes by Mem Fox
These are the sweetest little words you’ll share with your little one. The pages describe how babies all over the world may look different on the outside with different skin color and hair, but each has ten little fingers and ten little toes, and each means the world to his or her parents.
2. Tiktala by Margaret Shaw-MacKinnon
Aimed at six- to eleven-year-olds (though we believe most ages would love the beautiful, soft illustrations), Tiktala shares the story of an Inuit girl looking to not only find her purpose in life, but her place in the world with the other creatures of the planet, particularly her ‘spirit animal’, a seal.
3. The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi
This unique look at being the ‘new kid’ shows how a little girl from Korea assimilates to her new country, America, which includes choosing an “American” name. In the end, however, her friends show her that her own name is a gift, and there is much to be learned from different cultures.
4. One Green Apple by Eve Bunting
Targeted toward children ages five through eleven, acclaimed author Bunting shares the touching story of a young Muslim immigrant who feels alone in her new country. A field trip takes her class to an apple orchard, where she learns that she shares more similarities with the other kids than differences, and that there is room for all to belong.
5. Friends From The Other Side by Gloria Anzaldua
This story is the tale of a young boy and his mother who have crossed into the U.S. illegally, looking for a better life. A young American girl befriends him, and the reader sees the difficult lives people leave in order to make new, better ones for themselves. Aimed at children seven and above, it’s a realistic look at the hardships of immigration.
6. Tar Beach by Faith Ringgold
Written from the perspective of a little girl in Harlem in 1939, this book touches on universal themes such as desiring freedom, fantasizing about dreams coming true and finding hope as a child. Author Faith Ringgold weaves part of her childhood into this rich book — children and adults alike will recognize the social injustices of the times, and find inspiration in the story.
7. Red: A Crayon’s Story by Michael Hall
A book geared toward elementary-aged children, this story is one that anyone, anywhere can identify with. Readers see ‘Red’ desperately try to live up to his label, but in the end, realize he is who he is — blue. He celebrates finding himself and being the best he can be.
8. A Fire Engine For Ruthie by Leslea Newman
This delightful story shows the love of a little girl and her very traditional Nana. They adore each other, but Ruthie has a hard time convincing Nana that girls do indeed like playing with ‘boy’ things, and that there really doesn’t have to be any ‘boy’ or ‘girl’ toys or behaviors. It’s a story of understanding and ultimately, of acceptance of your loved ones for who they are.
9. Mrs. Katz and Tush by Patricia Polacco
Polacco is well-known for her culturally diverse and rich stories, but we particularly love how sweetly she evolves the bond between Mrs. Katz, a Jewish Polish immigrant and Larnel, a young African American in a time where social injustice runs deep. The two see that there is much to be shared with their mutual historical backgrounds, and children from five to 15 won’t be able to deny the filling of their hearts as the story unfolds.
10. Mirror by Jeannie Baker
This beautifully illustrated book chronicles the side-by-side days of two young boys — one in urban Australia and one in rural Morocco. There are few words, as the pictures do an amazing job comparing the lives from the beginning of the day to the end. The author shows how simple daily experiences can be so different, and still, so similar, even worlds apart.
11. Early Sunday Morning by Denene Millner
Who doesn’t love Sunday mornings? This wonderful book follows a girl named June as she prepares for a special church choir performance. Nervous about her performance, she finds strength and support from her family, particularly, her father. The author shows the great influence a strong, supportive family has on a child. This is a lovely read for anyone and everyone — whether or not your family attends church.
What multi-culturally diverse books would you add to this list? We’d love to know, and continue to grow our libraries, our minds and our hearts!