In the spring, even before the anti-racism movement went mainstream, I was another Black mom looking for diverse children’s books. We have some at home, but I was trying to get my 5-year-old ready for kindergarten by reading a ton of new stuff.
I reached out to Emily Akins, a friend, children’s book aficionado, and host of the podcast “The Beginning of Your Life Book Club,” for some recommendations. She gave me a bunch, then sent me to some sites (listed below) so I could do more digging. I found so many new favorites, and in honor of National Book Month, I’m sharing just a few of them with you.
Here are a few beautifully written, diverse children’s books that feature characters of color
I Am Every Good Thing by Derrick Barnes
Young Black men deserve to be celebrated. That’s what I Am Every Good Thing does, with both its pictures and its words. The book came out Sept. 1 and I preordered it because I knew it would be amazing.
Author Derrick Barnes is a former local resident and a former Hallmarker like me. He has a way with words that is enviable: “I am every good thing that makes the world go round. You know — like gravity, or the glow of moonbeams over a field of brand-new snow. I am good to the core, like the center of a cinnamon roll. Yeah, that good.”
I cried reading it to my son, and he really likes it, too. We have two of Barnes’ other children’s books featuring Black characters — Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut and The King of Kindergarten. Buy them all.
The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson
We heard The Day You Begin on KC Library Dial-A-Story last year before my son started pre-K. We checked it out from the library in the spring after Emily recommended it. It also made me cry, and now we own it, and I tell every parent to buy it.
“There will be times when you walk into a room and no one there is quite like you,” the book begins. Hello, relevant to my situation. My son is the only chocolate drop in his kindergarten class.
But what I love about this children’s book is how it features characters of color, but it’s also appropriate for kids who are immigrants, or those who don’t have as much money as their classmates, or those who are maybe just a little bit different.
“There will be times when the world feels like a place that you’re standing all the way outside of …”
Don’t we all feel the way sometimes? It talks about finding your voice and sharing your story, and I only wish it had existed when I was a little girl.
Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match by Monica Brown
This one is my husband’s favorite because he grew up in a household with one immigrant parent and one white parent and feels the tug of both sides of his ancestry. Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match tells the story of a girl with mixed heritage like my husband — and our children — and she doesn’t play by the rules.
Marisol’s mother is Peruvian and her father is white. She has brown skin and red hair, and she likes peanut butter and jelly burritos.
“I know, I know, it doesn’t match, but it sure tastes good,” she says in the book.
For a little while, Marisol tries to match, but she decides she doesn’t want to. The book is written in English and Spanish. We checked it out from the library and got a talking copy, which is good, because my husband speaks Spanish, but I don’t.
Brown said the book was inspired by her own life. Watch her read the story, then snag a copy.
Not Quite Snow White by Ashley Franklin
When I was popping in to pick up a stack of books from the library, I spotted Not Quite Snow White in someone else’s stack and decided to place a hold myself. The book is about Tameika, a little girl who loves to perform, and wants to be Snow White in a school play.
Some other students at school tease her about her appearance, but my favorite part is when her mom tells her, “You are tall enough, chubby enough, and brown enough to be a perfect princess.”
It’s such a cute story, and my son (who also loves to perform) likes it, too. I don’t know that I ever wanted to be in a play, and I’m not tall, but I was a chubby brown girl, so this one is close to my heart.
Julián Is a Mermaid by Jessica Love
Julián Is a Mermaid is about a little Latinx boy who admires the women he sees on the subway and wants to dress up like them, so he does. He thinks his abuela will get mad, but she doesn’t, she shows him what unconditional love looks like.
I hesitated to include this one because it’s the only one not written by an author of color, but I decided to share it because it tells an important story of being yourself and being accepted. It also depicts a character perhaps being raised by a grandma, and I had to explain to my son that not everyone lives with a mom or dad.
The book doesn’t have a ton of words — the author/illustrator uses mostly pictures — but it’s a sweet and easy way to teach your kids about both diversity and gender fluidity.
What I love about all of these books are not just the diverse representation they offer for kids of color like mine, but the lessons they teach for every kid. In different ways, all these books express that it’s OK to be different, and it’s more than OK to celebrate that individuality.
This list isn’t exhaustive by any means, there are so many others I love, but for those of you reading on your phone, I kept it at five.
Let me know your favorite diverse children’s books in the comments below and check out these resources for even more recommendations:
- The Conscious Kid
- Biracial Bookworms
- The Brown Bookshelf
- We Need Diverse Books
- Black Lives Matter: Books for Young Readers