I’ve been spending a lot of time in libraries lately, picking up DVDs to enliven winter weekends or browsing new cookbooks, but mostly hanging out in the children’s section. Last summer I had a short library internship position, and my favorite part of it was what the library world calls “reader’s advisory,” which is really just a fancy term for book recommendations. It was such fun to guide a child or parent to the shelves to find a coveted book or watch them check out a huge stack of novels. One of the things I enjoy about handing over books across the checkout desk is connecting kids with characters who physically resemble them. A little secret smile appears on my face every time I give Anne of Green Gables to a girl with red hair, or one of the Harry Potter books to a boy with glasses. Growing up, stories for me were always that much more special when I could immediately find a point of connection (such as, “hey, we look alike!”) with my favorite characters.
Recently, however, I’ve become convicted of the fact that, while handing out those lookalike books is easy for me to do with kids resemble me—white kids from the suburbs—I don’t have the same skill with the majority of children who show up at the urban library I frequent on a regular basis. These kids are African American or Hispanic or multi-racial. We come from different socioeconomic backgrounds and sometimes we don’t even speak the same languages. I certainly want to give these kids good books, but I’m coming to realize that most of the books that I love and know and seek out to read feature white faces. I’d like that to change. I want to look at the wide variety of skin colors and nationalities represented at my library and be able to think of a book to hand each of those kids that stars someone like them. I absolutely believe that the inner lives of characters are important too, and that we can love and learn from stories with characters completely different from ourselves; but I also think there’s something powerful in holding a story and knowing that the character in it has a physical body that looks like yours, the one you live your daily life in.
So, this is one of my reading goals for 2015. If you’d like to join me, you’re more than welcome to. I’m going to read as many books featuring multicultural characters as I can, and when I find those good ones that I can cheer for and recommend, I’ll tell you about them. I’m particularly interested in contemporary fiction. There are lots of great books out there that tell important and true stories about racial conflicts or highlight a specific culture; there is absolutely a place for those, but I also want to find more plain ‘ol good tales, ones where a character’s physical appearance isn’t a plot point, but a part of their everyday adventurous life, just like the kids in my library. I’m including a short list of those stories below, that I’ve read and loved and would hand to anyone. I wish it were longer, and hopefully by this time next year, it will be.
Hold Fast by Blue Balliett
Boys of Blur by N.D. Wilson
Chasing Vermeer, The Wright 3, and The Calder Game by Blue Balliett
Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy by Gary D. Schmidt
Do you have any books that would fit in this list that you can recommend to me? I’d love to hear about them!
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Carrie Givens says
Great start to the list. A few more that came to mind:
Bud, Not Buddy – Christopher Paul Curtis
A Single Shard – Linda Sue Park
Three Go Searching & Star of Light – Patricia St. John
Carrie, good call on “Bud, Not Buddy” and “A Single Shard.” I really enjoyed both of those. I’ll have the check out the other two!
This has been an issue of much discussion at the (predominantly white) small town library at which I work.
An interesting article (written for librarians, but I think more widely applicable):
Tim, thanks for sharing that blog–looks like a great conversations is happening. I’ve bookmarked it to read more in-depth later!
Kayla Conrad says
The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling
Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell
Sign of the Beaver and/or The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Speare
The Between Two Flags Series by Lee Roddy
Africa Schaumann says
Jaqueline Woodson, Walter Dean Myers, Sharon Draper, Sharon Flake and Christopher Paul Curtis are the most well known African American authors in YA.
_The Crossover_ just won the newberry award written by Kwame Alexander.
Sandra Cisneros is good for Latino lit: _House on Mango Street_. Pat Mora and Gary Soto.
An Na and Linda Sue Park for Asian characters.
Also this list has a mix of Adult and YA: https://www.goodreads.com/shelf/show/multicultural-fiction
Thanks, Africa! I’ve already got “The Crossover” and “Brown Girl Dreaming” on my hold list at the library. 🙂 I’ve been meaning to check out Sharon Draper, too. YAY! So many new books to read!
Sarah Chafin says
I was just going to suggest Brown Girl Dreaming. I love that book!
Helena Sorensen says
What about Julie of the Wolves? Would that qualify?
For sure – I love Julie! There were some books I thought of but didn’t include in the post simply because I think they’re already pretty well-known or were written a while ago, and I’d love to discover some more contemporary authors.
Helena Sorensen says
Of course. Makes perfect sense. Right now I spend so much time reading picture books. I’m only just beginning to move into the middle-grade and YA lit, but I love what you’re saying about diversifying our reading lists and helping our kids see from new and fresh perspectives.
You can check Coretta Scott King award winners, too. (Bud Not Buddy is one of the past winners.)
I love Mitali Perkins’ books.
I have this list saved on my computer: http://www.theguardian.com/childrens-books-site/2014/oct/13/50-best-culturally-diverse-childrens-books
The Crossover is on my nightstand; I’m still waiting for all the non-white Caldecott honor and medal winners from this year that my library doesn’t have. (I did get Abuelo, which is nice.
A list of Korea picture books: http://www.readingtoknow.com/2015/02/korean-picture-books.html
LeAnna Alderman Sterste says
We recently discovered the Anna Hibiscus series by Atinuke. They’re chapter books for young readers that feature an awesome loving family from Africa. We also enjoyed The Year of the Dog by Grace Lin.
Paula Nix says
My daughter and I both loved Bud, Not Buddy. I’d also recommend Esperanza Rising, Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes, the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson, and Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry. Along the same lines (kind of) I’ve also been thinking about the fact that my son (when he is a little older, he’s 4 now) should be exposed to great books with female main characters. We should all realize that beautiful stories come with characters who are both like us and different from us : )
An NYPL librarian that I follow on Twitter just posted this really helpful list that she calls “African-American Experience Children’s Literary Reference Guide.” It’s all books from 2010-2014, which I love, and sorted by picture books, early chapter books, middle grade fiction, and non-fiction. http://blogs.slj.com/afuse8production/2015/02/17/african-american-experience-childrens-literary-reference-guide-2010-2015/
Gwyn Holt Mullins says
My husband teaches a diverse 5th grade class, and his favorites (some of which I read and enjoyed also) are Where The Mountain Meets the Moon, Esperanza Rising, Starry River of the Sky, and A View from Saturday.
Stephen Lackey says
“Boys of Blur” sets up a great story in the midst of a very real, very broken family situation.
I’ve been thinking on this, and wanted to add a few that we received as gifts this year, all by Norah Dooley. They are:
Everybody Bakes Bread
Everybody Brings Noodles
Everybody Serves Soup
Everybody Cooks Rice
These books tell the story of an urban neighborhood with kitchens full of people & cuisines from all over the world. The bonus? Lots of great recipes at the end!