'Ruby in Ruby's Wish' is a determined protagonist any boy or girl can learn from.
Ruby in Ruby’s Wish is a determined protagonist any boy or girl can learn from.

By Aly Seidel, NPR

In children’s books, it can be easier to find talking pandas than characters of color.

Only six percent of children’s books published in 2012 featured diverse characters. Last Saturday, the first ever BookCon in New York city came under severe scrutiny for featuring all-white speakers (and one Grumpy Cat). NPR’s Bilal Qureshi reported on the controversy and the resulting hashtag campaign, #WeNeedDiverseBooks.

We asked around the NPR headquarters, checked out our library and compiled a list of books with authors hailing from around the world, including Korea, India and the South Dakota Sioux reservation.

These books tackle themes like international adoption, bi-racial families and cultural history, to name a few. Not all of the authors are minorities, but every book features a protagonist of color that children can point to and say, “That’s me!”

The Boy Who Didn’t Believe in Spring by Lucille Clifton

King Shabazz gets tired of everyone telling him that “spring is right around the corner,” so he and his friend Tony start turning street corners to chase this elusive spring — after putting their caps on backwards to show they mean business! (Find the book here. Ages 3-5)

Bravo, Chico Canta! Bravo! by Pat Mora and Libby Martinez

A multilingual mouse and his family live upstairs in an old theater. They love to go to the plays and shout “Bravo!” when the curtain falls. But when Gato-Gato, the theater cat, finds them, Chico Canta must use his gift for languages to save his family. (Find the book here. Ages 4-7)

Bringing Asha Home by Uma Krishnaswami

Arun can’t wait for his little sister to come home — she’s been adopted all the way from India. But India is far away and Asha’s adoption frustratingly takes nearly a year. While waiting for their newest addition, Arun and his family find ways to welcome Asha into their hearts, even if she isn’t in their home. (Find the book here. Ages 4-9)

Brush of the Gods by Lenore Look

“Brush of the Gods” is about Wu Daozi, a famous seventh-century Chinese artist. The author imagines Wu Daozi as a young man trying to learn calligraphy, but when he sits down to write, he creates beautiful paintings instead! An imaginative tale that thoughtfully brings life to one of China’s master painters. (Find the book here. Ages 4-8)

The Christmas Coat: Memories of My Sioux Childhood by Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve

As winter comes to Virginia’s reservation, she can’t wait for the charity boxes from the East, full of coats for the winter. However, her parents expect her to put other people’s needs before her own and she is devastated when her classmate takes the rabbit fur coat that Virginia wanted. This is a story about selflessness and the spirit of Christmas. Winner of the American Indian Youth Literature Award. (Find the book here. Ages 5+)

Come on, Rain! by Karen Hesse

Summers in the city aren’t always easy, and a blistering heat wave has settled in. When a storm finally rolls in to cool everyone down, Tess and her friends celebrate in the streets with swimsuits and no umbrellas. Any kid can relate to this easy read with beautiful illustrations. (Find the book here. Ages 4-8)

Corduroy by Don Freeman
Race is incidental to this beloved 1968 tale about a stuffed bear and the girl who loves him. One ofSchool Library Journal’s “Top 100 Picture Books” of all time (2012) and the National Education Association’s “Teachers’ Top 100 Books for Children.” (Find the book here. Ages 2-5)

Dumpling Soup by Jama Kim Rattigan

This New Year’s Eve, Marisa finally gets to help her family make the traditional meal, but she worries nobody will like her oddly-shaped dumplings. Each page has illustrations with lots of activity and feel-good themes. (Find the book here. Ages 4-8)

The Fortune-Tellers by Lloyd Alexander

Set in Cameroon, the story follows a poor carpenter as he becomes a fortune teller who can’t read fortunes. Both parents and children will laugh: children at the absurdity of the situation and parents at the crafty humor that goes over children’s heads. You can spend more time looking at the complex, detailed illustrations than actually reading the book. (Find the book here. Ages 3-5)

The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses by Paul Goble

A young Native American girl has an almost sacred connection to the horses in her tribe. One day, an angry storm scares the horses while she dreams and they stampede, carrying her away. A story about community and identity, the art is stunning and poetic. Winner of the Caldecott Medal. (Find the book here. Ages 5-8)

Grandfather’s Journey by Allen Say

The author’s grandfather travels to America and falls in love with the beauty of the country. He settles down in California and raises a family, but he feels homesick for Japan. However, when he moves back to Japan, he aches for America. It’s an emotional tale with detailed and profound illustrations. Winner of Caldecott Medal. (Find the book here. Ages 4-8)

The Hello, Goodbye Window by Norton Juster

The kitchen window is this young girl’s favorite place. It’s where she checks the weather, says goodnight to the stars and — most importantly — where she first says hello to her Nanna and Poppy when she visits. The creative illustrations makes this a hit for grandchildren everywhere. Winner of the Caldecott Medal. (Find the book here. Ages 4+)

How My Family Came to Be: Daddy, Papa and Me by Andrew Aldrich

An African-American boy tells the story of how he was adopted by a white, gay couple. Humor and cartoon-like illustrations keep the mood light, while underlining the point that love is what brings family together. (Find the book here. Ages 4+)

I’m in Charge of Celebrations by Byrd Baylor

This story centers around a young Native American girl who creates her own celebrations, not just the ones school closes for. In one year, she created 108 celebrations for nature, herself and everything in between. (Find the book here. Ages 6-9)

Life Doesn’t Frighten Me by Maya Angelou; edited by Sara Jane Boyers

Words: a poem by Angelou. Pictures: Jean-Michel Basquiat. The whole: sublime. Also includes brief biographies of each artist. (Find the book here. Ages 2-8)

Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match by Monica Brown

Marisol no combina — Marisol doesn’t match. From her polka dot shirt and striped pants, down to her brown skin and red hair, Marisol is an assertive protagonist that likes her mismatched world. The book includes colorful illustrations and the text is in English and Spanish. (Find the book here. Ages 4-8)

My Name is Yoon by Helen Recorvits

Poor Yoon. In Korean, her written name looks like dancing figures, but in English, they’re flat on the page. Her distaste for her English name is mirrored by her distaste for America, a place she barely understands. The story follows Yoon as she tries to find her name and sense of belonging. Winner of the Ezra Jack Keats New Illustrator Award and an American Library Association’s Notable Children’s Book. (Find the book here. Ages 4-8)

Niño Wrestles the World by Yuyi Morales

This exciting, action-packed book focuses on Niño, an energetic young wrestler who only has one thing to fear — his sisters. With colorful illustrations, punchy typefaces and Spanish phrases throughout, this is a fun book for boys and girls alike. Just don’t read it right before bed — no child can be expected to keep still after reading this exciting tale. Winner of the Pura Belpré award for illustrations. (Find the book here. Ages 4-8)

Ruby’s Wish by Shirin Yim Bridges

Ruby is determined to go to university, just like her brothers. But in turn-of-the-century China, this is an unprecedented move. This story reveals Ruby’s tenacity, passion and dedication as she finds her way towards an education. Winner of Publishers Weekly Best Children’s Book and winner of the Ezra Jack Keats Award. (Find the book here. Ages 5-8)

The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats

This classic picture book, published in 1963, was the first to feature a young black hero–no overt racial themes, just a small boy enjoying his urban neighborhood. (Find the book here. Ages 0-5)

Tomás and the Library Lady by Pat Mora

Based on the life story of Tomás Rivera, the son of Mexican migrant workers who grew up to become a chancellor in the University of California system, this story about the love of reading has illustrations reminiscent of Diego Rivera’s murals. (Find the book here. Ages 2-6)

The Storyteller’s Candle by Lucia Gonzalez

It’s 1929 and New York City is a cold place for cousins Hildamar and Santiago. They try to adjust, but fiercely miss Puerto Rico until their local librarian shows them community can be found anywhere. Written in both English and Spanish, this is a sweet story about finding where you belong. Winner of the Pura Belpré Award. (Find the book here. Ages 6+)

Umbrella by Taro Yashima

Momo can’t wait for a rainy day so she can debut her birthday presents — red rain boots and an umbrella. It’s a colorful book with striking illustrations that will have kids checking the weather every morning. A Caldecott Honor book. (Find the book here. Ages 4+)

When the Shadbush Blooms by Carla Messinger and Suzan Katz

A Lenni Lenape girl spends her time imagining how her grandmother was a young girl too, doing all of the things she does now. The story takes place “today and yesterday”, focusing on the customs that keep a family connected to each other. (Find the book here. Ages 3-7)

Yo! Yes? by Chris Raschka

This book shows how friendships can form in less than 35 words. Two boys meet on the street and communicate in short, one- to two-word sentences. Readers must focus on the watercolor illustrations to fully understand the interactions. A Caldecott Honor book and an American Library Association’s Notable Children’s Book. (Find the book here. Ages 4+)

This is by no means a comprehensive list. A search of the #WeNeedDiverseBooks and #DiversifyYourShelves hashtag brought up some wonderful ideas, while our friends at Tell Me More featured guests with even more recommendations.

KQED’s Forum program discussed other great diverse children’s books too.

This post originally appeared on NPR. Copyright 2014 NPR.
  • Pingback: Reading for Kids | Intentionality: The Great Struggle()

  • Hey everyone,
    I would like to introduce my newly published children’s book to our young readers. “The Bling Fairies of Junkett Falls.” It is a unique and very creative book that targets the ages of 8-12. It is about little fairies that live and thrive out of our jewelry boxes. You will never look at your jewelry box the same way again after reading my book. I did all the colorful illustrations, as well, that really make the story come to life. It is 35 pages of story and illustrations. The main character is a fairy named Velvy and she is about to go on a spin for the evening. A spin the in the Bling fairy world is akin to our graduation, as it is about honor, respect and accomplishment. While on her spin, she has to overcome some difficult challenges along the way. The fairies and creatures of Junkett Falls come to her aide. Boys and girls will enjoy this book. I used my knowledge of vintage bakelite jewelry as inspiration for some of the characters. It is available via Xlibris online bookstore (www.xlibris.com), Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble.com, and E-Reader. One can also learn more by visiting my website: http://www.theblingfairiesofjunkettfalls.com.
    Maureen Sky, Bernardston, MA

  • Pingback: Summer Reading Project – 2014 | Monday Math Message()

  • Yolanda

    Children who like thrillers might try The Dark-Thirty: Southern Tales of the Supernatural. By Patricia McKissack, illustrated by J. Brian Pinkney. It’s a current favorite in our house.

  • Chris Horsefield

    My Nephew is 10 and would not read anything until we gave him the Jason Steed series to read. Once he started on book 1, Fledgling he was hooked, after the series he went onto other books and now has an account (With his moms help) on Goodeads. It is VERY important to get kids to read.

  • debreese

    Aly–two books on your list are ambiguous with respect to Native people. Lack of specificity contributes to the idea that we are a monolithic people, when we are–in fact–quite diverse. Those two are Goble’s THE GIRL WHO LOVED WILD HORSES and Baylor’s book on Celebrations. If you want in-depth info, here’s my blog post on Goble: http://americanindiansinchildrensliterature.blogspot.com/2014/06/paul-gobles-girl-who-loved-wild-horses.html

  • jj

    “Jacob’s New Dress” by Sarah and Ian Hoffman

  • Rajdeep Paulus

    And if you’re looking for Young Adult Fiction for you teens, add Swimming Through Clouds and Seeing Through Stones by Rajdeep Paulus. 🙂 Loved that #WeNeedDiverseBooks made a roar at BEA this year!! Kudos to the organizers.

  • Pingback: Diverse Books | Rita the Writer()

  • Skalta

    Another good one– “Everywhere Babies” is a board book by Susan Meyers. It’s your standard baby board book but they just do a great job showing lots of different family types in the drawings– single parents, same sex parents, interracial families, adoptions, kids being raised by grandparents, etc. It’s very subtle and it’s so nice to see these many types of families in a book without the book being ABOUT diversity. A great one!

  • Tamara

    This is one of my favorite books for kids of all ages, and it happens to suit this list, too:

    Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin

    Here’s a review I wrote for it on Amazon in 2010:
    I am a Mom of two boys, ages 7 & 10. I checked this out at the library for myself, though. I just finished it tonight, and I have to say — I am delightfully satisfied. This is a story I will read to my children, and I am buying a copy, because it is the rare kind of book that I will keep for my children to read to their children someday. I have no doubt I will read it again just for me, too, and it is sure to be gifted by me to a friend or two. It is THAT good. It is an engaging story, with meaningful stories within the story. It is rich with lessons about friendship, adventure, gratitude, and the secret of happiness. Minli is a heroine to fall in love with, and Grace Lin is an author to watch. This is one of those rare books worth not only buying, but passing down.

  • Pingback: The heroic reader | Alma Alexander: Duchess of FantasyAlma Alexander: Duchess of Fantasy()

  • Mginiafriend

    The Great Brain series by F Scott Fitzgerald. Paddington by Michael Bond…both older series but about the mishaps of a bear from Deepest, Darkest Peru in London (Paddington) and the Great Brain is set in Utah in the 1800s….And Boy howdy does the Brain get himself into and out of trouble.

  • Pingback: Books That Diversify Kids’ Reading Lists This Summer Part 1 | My School of Thought()

  • Pingback: 25 Books That Diversify Kids’ Reading Lists This Summer | Global Digital Citizen Foundation()

  • Pingback: Books That Diversify Kids’ Reading Lists This Summer Part 2 | My School of Thought()

  • Pingback: Weekly Smart Picks -- Dad's Day Edition (#19) - Zoobean Blog()

  • Pingback: Diversify your reading! | jeugdliteratuur.org weblog()

  • Pingback: Books That Diversify Kids’ Reading Lists This Summer Part 3 | My School of Thought()

  • kiersten

    One of my favorite teen books even as an adult is The Education of Little Tree. There are some difficult aspects of the book but a tremendous read!

  • Pingback: A lire cet été: 25 bouquins pour enfants "25 Books That Diversify Kids’ Reading Lists This Summer" | merefrancophoneauxusa()

  • Miranda Holman

    Check out ReaAnne Thayne’s new book Wild Iris Ridge on review at Goodreads!


  • gwenhlt

    You might try “The Stone Lions.” It was listed on the children’s book review as a diversity book. The story takes place in Islamic Spain during the late 1300 in a harem.



  • Pingback: Speaking Out: A Rainbow of Reasons We Need Diverse Books - Shaping Youth()

  • Barbara Ann Mojica

    Yo, Yes says it all and proves that less IS more!

  • SAV

    I am looking for good (diverse) chapter books for my eight year old. Many of these look like picture books. Any recommendations?

    • A. McBride

      I highly recommend the “Precious” series by Alexander MacCall Smith. My daughters (7 & 9) read “Precious and the Mystery of Meetkat Mansion” and they are wanting more. These books are good for both boys and girls and the authors gift of descriptive phrases will captivate and amuse your young reader. He truly paints a picture with his phrasing.

      This is the same author who writes the “No. 1 Ladies Detective” series and is about the protagonist, Precious Ramotswe, as a young girl growing up in her native country of Botswana. There are two other books in this series and we hope he continues to write these in addition to his adult series.

      • A. McBride

        Ugh! Should read “Meerkat Mansion”!!! Sorry!

  • Pingback: Children's Books « Cultural and Linguistic Diversity()

  • 何 小惠

    25 Books That Diversify Kids’ Reading Lists This Summer,Rich kids comprehensive knowledge.スニーカー通販http://www.spmeno.com/

  • Pingback: Intentional Reading | Confessions from Momville()

  • Mark

    This is a great list of book ideas. I particularly like “The Snowy Day” given this is a classic picture book for young kids. My readers at http://www.excitedkids.com will enjoy these recommendations and I will post a link. Thanks

  • Janet

    Alot of the links don’t work. Where can I purchase these?

  • Michael

    Raven: A Trickster Tale from the Northwest by Gerald McDermott has always been one of my favorites.

  • Lenae

    I wrote a book about diversity two years ago…Please add to your list! http://www.amazon.com/Lost-Found-Book-About-Diversity/dp/160131115X

  • دانلود بازی
  • Pamela Huffman Albrecht

    Amy Hodgepodge is a great chapter series. Two other books that children love are “Storm Boy” and “Frog Girl”, both are by Paul Owen Lewis.

  • Bonnie Sparling

    Lovely choices–great to see the list. But….we need a list like this (heck, we need authors writing books) for kids ages 12, 13, 14 that are NOT romance centered, escapist, dystopic, dead-mom oriented, GREAT books! C’mon writers across the world! Write some fabulous LITERATURE with meaningful, purposeful messages for kids between childhood and high-school. <3

  • Lenaemadonna

    And don’t forget “Lost and Found” a book about diversity for young chilcren.


    and on Facebook: Lost and Found- A Children’s Book About Diversity by Lenae Madonna

  • Guest

    < col Hiiiiiii Friends….'my friend's mom makes $88 every hour on the internet . She has been unemployed for eight months but last month her payment was $13904 just working on the internet for a few hours. try this site HERE’S MORE DETAIL


Sponsored by

Become a KQED sponsor