Diverse books to add to your family library

3 June 2020

Mrs. Malavazos was my first grade teacher. I’m not sure why, but in addition to normal first grade stuff, she was passionate about exposing her classes to different cultures in a way that was notable and extraordinary to me even at the time. I loved it, and the books I remember from her shelves were some of the first I bought when we found out June was on the way. Those faces and stories had nestled in my heart, even after all those years. Books can do that – nestle into and open up our hearts in a way few things can.

Sally Clarkson, one of my favorites, speaks to this in The Lifegiving Home. She’s not speaking about diverse books in this context, but this quote helps illustrate how important it is to have them in our collections:

“Each of [these stories] describes the world to its child readers in terms of beauty, friendship, and joy. Their rich but simple language shapes the minds and hearts of their readers by helping them notice what is lovely, love what is beautiful, and value what is loyal and true. A mind filled with [these stories and images] will look on the real world not with indifference but with interest, curiosity, and affection.”

The faces and experiences we see in the stories we read help shape our ideas of what is good, what is beautiful, what is normal, what is valuable and valued.

Also: diverse books, as my newest Instagram follow, Shakira, points out, not only help diverse kids see themselves as the hero of the story — they help my kids see other kids who don’t look like them as the hero of the story. Both are beautiful and important.

With that, here are a few of our favorite children’s books with diverse heroes – and a few we’ve recently added or plan to add to our library! I’ve starred the books with black protagonists, since that is especially important for this moment we’re in.

One note as you pick and choose for your own kiddos, from this list or others: it might sound obvious, but just as I wouldn’t suggest following random black people in an earnest attempt to “diversify your feed,” don’t just buy random kid books that other people are recommending. June loves rainbows, dancing, and puppies, and Shep loves trucks and puppies, and I easily found books with black leads featuring all of these things :)

One final note: the books I saw dealing more explicitly with racism and anti-racism were recommended for ages 5 or older, and that feels right to me. I look forward to adding our picks in this category to updated book lists in the future!

Books we own and love:
The Not-So-Faraway Adventure by Andrew Larson
Corduroy* by Don Freeman
The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses by Paul Goble
The Snowy Day* by Ezra Jack Keats
The Night Is Yours* by Abdul-Razak Zachariah
This is How We Do It* by Matt Lamothe
How My Parents Learned to Eat by Ina Friedman
A Hundred Billion Trillion Stars* by Seth Fishman (my brother-in-law!!)
Max and the Tag-Along Moon* by Floyd Cooper
Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters* by John Steptoe
When God Made You* by Matthew Paul Turner (I love this one SO MUCH! The rhymes and message are just beautiful and it is my go-to baby gift these days!)

Books I added this week:
Black is a Rainbow Color* by Angela Joy
Me & Mama* by Cozbi Cabrera (This one doesn’t come out until August, but it looks so sweet! June is in a mama phase and I think she’ll just love this one.)
Love is a Truck* by Amy Novesky
Please, Puppy, Please* by Spike Lee and Tonya Lewis Lee

Other books I’m eyeing for future additions:
The Other Side* by Jacqueline Woodson
Big Hair, Don’t Care* by Crystal Swain-Bates
Lailah’s Lunchbox by Reem Faruqi
Ada Twist, Scientist* by Andrea Beaty
Ruby’s Chinese New Year by Vickie Lee
Rapunzel* by Rachel Isadora
Martin’s Big Words* by Doreen Rappaport
Ready to Fly* by Lea Lyon
Imani’s Moon* by Janay Brown-Wood
Yeh-Shen: A Cinderella Story from China by Ai-Ling Louie
Green on Green* by Dianne White
Mae Among the Stars* by Roda Ahmed
The Yasmin series by Saadia Faruqi (thank you, Sarah!)

For more, I would love to point you toward two accounts I’ve gotten great recommendations from this week and over the years: Here Wee Read and Occasions by Shakira. They both show the inside of many of these books in their Stories, which is so helpful in seeing whether they’d be a good fit for your family!

Friends, I’d love to hear: what children’s books with diverse characters do you love at your house? Or, if you don’t have kids, what grown-up books with diverse characters have you read and loved? I’d love to do a round-up of some of those favorites soon!

Though I’ve linked to Amazon for ease of shopping, I chose not to use affiliate links today. I’m grateful to the ladies mentioned above and others for sharing so many great books with me, and would love to point you toward their accounts to purchase through their affiliate links! If you’d prefer, you can also purchase through a Black-owned bookstore. xo

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June 3, 2020 6:56 am

I will 100% buy Ada Twist for June for her birthday. I love that book

June 3, 2020 4:08 pm

Lovely post on an important topic. Thank you!

June 4, 2020 2:19 am

Such a good resource for purchasing books for friends who are expecting! Thank you!

June 4, 2020 9:21 am

Hi Em – you are always so thoughtful and generous. I wanted to point out that the Legend of the Indian Paintbrush is specifically not recommended by American Indians for issues including mashing up various distinct Native American cultures, whitewashing a story that has no roots in any Native American folklore, and using terms incorrectly.

In general you might consider interrogating more closely books about POC that are not written by authors of color, and thinking through why you might consider consuming those instead of similar books by authors of color.

June might enjoy the Yasmin series.

June 4, 2020 10:55 pm
Reply to  Em

I don’t disagree. At the same time, the work is in actually setting the characters of colors within their culture and history and context authentically. The Legend of the Indian Paintbrush is a good example of how the author did not do that work. It is a good book to read together with an older child to point out how the author, in stripping the story of tribal history, traditions, and accurate terminology, reinforces the notion of the American Indian as a monolithic culture. It is a difficult story to read with a young child.
Supporting authors of color writing about characters of color and supporting white authors incorporating more characters of color are not equivalent choices in the marketplace. When thinking about voting with our dollars, it is useful to think about our part in undoing the legacy of systematic racism and economic inequity through our choices.
Thanks as always for your openness. I understand that this comment may be uncomfortable for a reader, and I hope you can appreciate that discomfort as part of the necessary work towards becoming anti-racist.
“The beauty of anti-racism is that you don’t have to pretend to be free of racism to be an anti-racist. Anti-racism is the commitment to fight racism wherever you find it, including in yourself. And it’s the only way forward.” -Ijeoma Uluo

Molly Dansby
June 11, 2020 7:37 am
Reply to  Sarah

Thank you! Such a great point!

June 4, 2020 11:35 am

Thank you so much for these book recommendations – looking forward to adding several to our library! A children’s book my 1 year old loves is Flip Flop! by Dana Meachen Rau. Fun rhymes, and I really enjoy the illustrations. I also wanted to mention the book Seedfolks by Paul Fleischmann. This is a YA book, but one that I loved growing up, and feel impacted my understanding of people of different backgrounds. It’s a super quick read that I feel is definitely worth checking out!

June 4, 2020 2:46 pm

I run a diversity reading group at work and some of my (grown-up reads) favorites from the last few years are The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez, Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue, The Round House by Louise Erdrich, and A Tale for The Time Being by Ruth Ozeki.

June 4, 2020 8:12 pm

Hi Emily! I’m a children’s librarian and highly recommend a few black authors & illustrators that have many picture books available, all of which are amazing! Oge Mora, Vanessa Brantley-Newton, Cadella Marley, Kadir Nelson, Christian Robinson, and Vashti Harrison are just a few <3

June 4, 2020 9:58 pm

M loves the Yasmin books, so I agree those would be fun for June. Happy to see your list has some favorites and some new ones to check out!

June 4, 2020 11:36 pm

Speaking of Sally Clarkson, her children’s book “Only You Can Be You” does such a wonderful job of teaching that being different is a good thing and that our Maker intentionally made us that way. The illustrations are inclusive of different races and those with disabilities. I can’t recommend it enough!

June 5, 2020 12:13 pm

Late last year I wrote a story about Liberation Station Bookstore and I highly recommend purchasing books there. It’s local and you can shop online at liberationstationbookstore.com

June 5, 2020 5:08 pm

Love so many of these! I’ll also recommend a book whose author I know personally—Cailey’s Best Day is a sweet, inspiring book written by a friend of mine (who is a high school teacher) and illustrated by one of our former students. My two-year-old loves to read it, but a preschool/young elementary reader could love it as well.


We also really like “Say Hello! by Rachel Isadora, which is a board book that both of your kiddos might be able to enjoy together. :)


Laura M
June 5, 2020 9:51 pm

Thank you for sharing these! There are a lot of titles on this list that are new to me. We also love Last Stop on Market Street, Jabari Jumps, and The Day You Begin.
I have also been trying when possible to purchase books from Black owned bookstores instead of Amazon. Many will ship.
Here’s a starter list if you’re interested: https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.refinery29.com/amp/en-us/2020/06/9851084/black-owned-bookstores-independent-online

June 11, 2020 3:39 pm

This list was VERY influential on my recent shopping trip to diversify our boys’ reading library, too. I’m grateful for your sharing, Em!