Favorite Children’s Books That Celebrate Diversity
I am white. My children are biracial. Genetics being a funny thing, my children are almost mini versions of their father. I think they are stunningly gorgeous which makes it very difficult to hear my daughter say that she wishes she was white like me. I also found this confusing because we live in a very diverse area and many of her good friends have her skin color (as well as darker and lighter), so it’s not like she’s an anomaly with her tan skin.
Apparently I was not the only one having this experience. A friend brought up this exact same situation recently and a number of other friends also raising biracial children (or in some cases, non-white children through marriage or adoption) all chimed in that it was something they went through or are going through, especially with their daughters.
Raising girls to be strong, confident, and impervious to society’s standards of beauty is a challenge no matter what, but when the very things that we think make them special, unique and extra beautiful to us are seen as a burden by them, I think it makes it even more difficult.
As a children’s librarian, I am pleased to see the publishing industry finally rising up to meet the need for more books with diverse characters that represent the full range of American families. More work needs to be done, but it helps that there are increasingly more options for children to see characters like them in books. I encourage parents and teachers to introduce books for to their children and students with characters that represent all ethnicities, skin colors, and heritage, including children that are multiracial. The more children see themselves represented positively and in everyday situations, the more confident and accepted they will feel.
Picture Book Recommendations
Here is a list of books I love that they either focus on portraying biracial children as beautiful and special, or emphasize that diversity is what makes us wonderful.
1. Black is Brown is Tan
Black is Brown is Tan by Arnold Adoff is a groundbreaking picture book that was one of the first to portray interracial relationships and mixed-race children. The children show pride in both parents and the colors that make up their own coloring. (For ages 4 to 8)
2. Mixed Me!
In Mixed Me by Taye Diggs, Mike, the confident and energetic main character, exclaims: “My mom and dad say I’m a blend of dark and light. “We mixed you perfectly, and got you JUST RIGHT!” His enthusiasm for who he is wonderfully contagious! (For ages 4 to 8)
EVERY girl should read Beautiful by Stacy McAnulty, in my opinion. This book is an homage to all girls and how beautiful and wonderful and smart and funny they are. It is a feel-good book that is wonderfully inclusive, even though race is not the point. (For grades PreK, K, 1 and 2)
4. Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match
Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match, by Monica Brown, is about Marisol who is half-Peruvian and half-Scottish with tan skin and red hair. It’s one of the many reasons she takes pride in her mixed identity. After an attempt to look and act more “traditional,” she discovers that’s not who she is and it makes her miserable to conform to society’s standards. She is much happier being her own self. (For grades PreK, K, 1 thru 5)
5. What I Like about Me!
What I Like about Me! by Allia Zobel-Nolan is a lively picture book that highlights all of our different looks and backgrounds. It celebrates the things that often make us insecure, like our hair, braces, glasses, ears, and bringing different foods for school lunch. It makes it clear that all the unique stuff that we could be teased for is what makes us special – and that is a very good thing. At the end of the book is a mirror so that the child can find the things that they like about themselves. (For ages 3 to 8)
This is slightly different than the situation that came up with my daughter, but it’s related and one that comes up with biracial children. Sometimes a child finds that they are not “enough” of one culture. In this book (by Isabell Monk), Hope, a biracial child, is made to feel that she is not dark enough by an adult’s thoughtless comment. She learns about both sides of her family and that mixed means that she is “mixed with lots of love.” (For grades PreK, K, 1 and 2)
7. What’s the Difference? Being Different is Amazing
Although focused primarily on racial differences, What’s the Difference? Being Different is Amazing by Doyin Richards celebrates the uniqueness of looking different than your friends and how diversity is important. It’s vague enough that is will also work as a feel-good, pride-generating book for those feeling insecure. (For ages 2 to 10)
8. Jalapeno Bagels
In Jalapeno Bagels by Natasha Wing, Pablo’s mother is Mexican and his father is white and Jewish. For International Day, he tries to find something that best represents who he is, coming up with Jalapeno bagels, because they are mixture of both cultures. (For grades PreK, K, 1 and 2)
To go beyond picture books, try:
9. The Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond
In The Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond by Brenda Woods, Violet is an 11 year old biracial child whose father died before she was born. Violet attends a predominantly white school and lives with her mother and sister, both of whom are blond and blue-eyed, leaving Violet to feel like an outcast. As she learns more about her African-American heritage, her confidence grows. (Ages 8 -12)
Chapter Book Recommendations
There are more and more books that have biracial or multiracial main characters, featuring combinations of different backgrounds. The following are my favorites chapter books. The Amy Hodgepodge and Lola Levine series skew toward readers just starting chapter books, while Full Cicada Moon will skew towards more advanced readers. Options to explore:
10. Cilla Lee Jenkins: Future Author Extraordinaire by Susan Tan
11. Karma Khuller’s Mustache by Kristi Wientge
12. Amy Hodgepodge: All Mixed Up! by Kim Wayans & Kevin Knotts
13. Dream On, Amber by Emma Shevah
14. Full Cicada Moon by Marilyn Hilton
15. Lola Levine is Not Mean by Monica Brown
More Recommended Resources
To look for more books featuring non-white characters, We Need Diverse Books has a great resource list on their website.
When it comes to any topic of cultural and racial diversity in literature, I would be remiss not to highlight Marley Dias. Marley is a young student who got tired of only reading books in school featuring white boys. She started #1000BlackGirlBooks, a movement complete with an online resource guide of books that feature black girls as the main character, highlighting the basic premise that children like to read books that prominently feature characters to which they can relate.
We also asked our contributor Kelly Hurst who is a social activist and educator for any additional thoughts on the issue. Kelly adds that in doing the work of anti-bias education, a huge piece is to discuss how children who are not white are forced to learn in a bicultural way. Children must understand and be invested in their own cultures as well as invest in the white culture that schools perpetuate. Louise Derman-Sparks is an expert in this field and this is a list of her books for early childhood educators.
Moreover, Kelly believes that what’s super important here is that early childhood is where white books, white dolls, white stories, white music, etc. are used and unless we interrupt that with real multiculturalism then we’re simply perpetuating and maintaining that whiteness is all students need to know about.
Photo source: Depositphotos/yulan
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