The lack of diversity in children’s books is, sadly, nothing new — as NPR pointed out in a new article on the subject, book critics have been talking about the problem for some 50 years. The latest statistics, though, are alarming, especially in the face of America’s changing demographics. According to NPR, only “3 percent of children’s books are by or about Latinos — even though nearly a quarter of all public school children today are Latino.” Add that to the fact that “nearly half of today’s children under 5 years old are non-white” and it seems especially ridiculous that parents still have to look to find books with protagonists who look like their children. Well, here’s a start: Flavorwire has compiled a list of a few great children’s books with diverse characters and stories, sure to be gobbled up by any child you know.
Tar Beach , Faith Ringgold
In this gorgeous book — a work of quilted art with story woven in — a little girl dream-soars above 1939 Harlem, looking down at the eponymous tar beach of her family’s roof. Evidence that imagination can overcome most anything.
Alvin Ho: Allergic to Girls, School, and Other Scary Things , Lenore Look and LeUyen Pham
Second-grader Alvin Ho is scared of everything — especially school, which frightens him so much he can’t say a word. Adorable and immensely relatable, everyone will fall in love with Alvin as he worries over his descent from “farmer-warriors who haven’t had a scaredy bone in their bodies since 714 AD” and takes pride in his “gentleman in training” status.
The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses , Paul Goble
Goble’s Caldecott-winning 1978 story of a Native American girl swept up in a stampede is a masterpiece, surely one of the most beautiful children’s books of all time. For every little girl who has ever felt a deep connection to horses. You probably know some little girls like that.
Inside Out and Back Again , Thanhha Lai
The Vietnamese-American writer Thanha Lai’s debut novel, which won the National Book Award in 2011, tells the tale of Hà, a ten-year-old girl who flees to Alabama with her family during the fall of Saigon. The language is beautiful and the story, based on the author’s own experiences, is quite touching.
Esperanza Rising , Pam Munoz Ryan
This chapter book follows 13-year-old Esperanza as her wealthy family loses everything during the Great Depression. She and her mother are forced to flee their fancy ranch in Mexico to California to work on a farm. Esperanza must remake herself in this new, physically and mentally demanding world — but after all, “esperanza” means “hope.”
Bud, Not Buddy , Christopher Paul Curtis
“It’s funny how ideas are, in a lot of ways they’re just like seeds,” muses ten-year-old Bud-not-Buddy, on the lam from a foster home to find his father in 1930s Michigan. “Both of them start real, real small and then… woop, zoop, sloop… before you can say Jack Robinson, they’ve gone and grown a lot bigger than you ever thought they could.” A delightful modern classic and the winner of the 2000 Newbery Medal and Coretta Scott King Award.
Some stories, like the Red Riding Hood tale, strike so close to the human heart that they re-pattern themselves across cultures and countries — if perhaps wearing different cloaks. This beautifully illustrated, immensely powerful book — dedicated “To all the wolves of the world for lending their good name as a tangible symbol for our darkness” — is the version your literary editor grew up with.
My Name is Maria Isabel , Alma Flor Ada
María Isabel Salazar López is the new girl in school, and her teacher insists on calling her Mary. How can María make her see that her name — her proper name — means everything to her? A sweet story about heritage and standing up for yourself.
The Composition , Antonio Skarmeta and Alfonso Ruano
The winner of the Americas Award for Children’s Literature and the Jane Addams Children’s Book Award, this picture book follows two young boys in a village in Chile after one of their fathers is arrested and the agents of the dictatorship try to turn children against parents. Serious, edgy, and brilliant.
The Snowy Day , Ezra Jack Keats
But of course. Keats’s beloved Caldecott Medal-winning book, published in 1962, made history for being the first full-color picture book to feature an African-American protagonist. Add to that the beautiful collage-style illustrations and Peter’s charming, understated adventure, and you have an all-time classic that never seems to age.