Culturally Diverse Books Selected by SLJ’s Review Editors

Playing upon and expanding Rudine Sims Bishop’s framework for understanding multicultural literature for children, the SLJ Reviews Editors select their favorite recent titles.
SLJ Diversity -web_eyebrow Illustration by Vanessa Brantley Newton

Illustration by Vanessa Brantley Newton

In her groundbreaking Shadow and Substance: Afro-American Experience in Contemporary Children’s Literature (NCTE, 1982), Rudine Sims Bishop first articulated a concept of multicultural literature that would become the framework by which generations of librarians and educators would think about books for children. She emphasized the critical importance of multicultural literature for children and used the metaphor of “windows and mirrors” to explain the ways in which children experience other cultures and see their own culture reflected and validated through the books they read. She later went on to develop several categories of multicultural literature: “culturally specific,” “generically American,” and “culturally neutral.”

Recent conversations on blogs, listservs, and other social media—as well as alarming new statistics on the state of multicultural literature for children—have underscored the continuing need for books that reflect the growing diversity of an increasingly global society. The debate over which kinds of multicultural literature are best or most needed has also been reignited.

To celebrate and shed much-needed light on books that feature cultural diversity, the SLJ Reviews editors selected recent titles that beautifully illustrate Bishop’s concept of “windows and mirrors.” The list is divided into two major sections, culturally specific and culturally generic or neutral (please see the margin notes for a definition of terms). Neither list is meant to be exhaustive or comprehensive; they comprise but a small selection of recently published titles that the SLJ reviews editors have particularly enjoyed and feel deserve a place on most library shelves. The month in which the full review appeared follows each annotation; previously starred titles are noted. We encourage our readers to contribute additional title recommendations in the comments section below.


Culturally Specific

Preschool to Grade 4

Defining "culturally specific"

Expanding upon Bishop’s original definition as books that “illuminate the experience of growing up a member of a particular, non-white cultural group,” we have selected fiction published since 2013 that features authentic and positive portrayals of people from diverse ethnic, racial, and religious backgrounds, as well as characters who identify as LGBTQ or are from underrepresented socioeconomic groups.

redstarCUNNANE, Kelly. Deep in the Sahara. illus. by Hoda Hadadi. 40p. glossary. Random/Schwartz & Wade Bks.. 2013. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780375870347; lib. ed. $20.99. ISBN 9780375970344. LC 2011050245.

Gr 2-4– Poetic text and evocative illustrations detail the story of a young Mauritanian girl who longs to wear a malafa—the head-to-toe covering worn by some Muslim women—like her mother and sisters. A positive and empowering portrayal of Muslim culture. (Nov. 2013)

redstarJohnson, Angela. All Different Now: Juneteenth, the First Day of Freedom. illus. by E. B. Lewis. 40p. S. & S. May 2014. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780689873768.

Gr 2 Up– Johnson’s stirring prose and Lewis’s stunning paintings tell the story of a Juneteenth celebration through the eyes of a young girl on a plantation in the South. Both joyous and somber, this picture book offers children a glimpse into what life was like for slaves before and after emancipation. (May 2014.)

redstarKHAN, Rukhsana. King for a Day. illus. by Christiane Krömer. 32p. glossary. Lee & Low. 2013. RTE $17.95. ISBN 9781600606595. LC 2013007506.

PreS-Gr 2– Malik, a Pakistani boy who also happens to be in a wheelchair, is looking forward to Basant, the springtime festival and annual kite-flying contest. Vibrant and detailed collage and mixed-media illustrations show off the beauty of Malik’s city and his exuberant joy as he wins the contest. Back matter offers readers additional information on the annual celebration of Basant. (Nov. 2013)

TONATIUH, Duncan. Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote: A Migrant’s Tale. illus. by author. 32p. glossary. websites. Abrams. May 2013. RTE $16.95. ISBN 9781419705830.

Gr K-2– When Pancho Rabbit’s papa goes to El Norte to work in the lettuce and carrot fields and does not return, the young hare goes in search of him, running into a villainous coyote who promises him safe passage for a bit of his food. This award-winning picture book offers an allegory for the struggles faced by many migrants. (Apr. 2013)

Grades 5 & Up

Agosin, Marjorie. I Lived on Butterfly Hill. tr. from Spanish by E. M. O’Connor. illus. by Lee White. S. & S./Atheneum. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781416953449. ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9781442494763.

Gr 6 Up– Inspired by events surrounding Pinochet’s takeover of Chile in the late 1960s, this is the story of 11-year-old Celeste, whose parents send her to live in Maine while her country is in turmoil. Strong supporting characters and rich details bring to life Celeste’s Chilean culture. (May 2014.)

redstarBassoff, Leah & Laura DeLuca. Lost Girl Found. 216p. chron. further reading. glossary. maps. Groundwood. 2014. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9781554984169; ebk. $14.95. ISBN 9781554984183.

Gr 8 Up– Poni, a Didinga girl caught in the midst of the brutal Sudanese civil war, must journey through many dangers to a refugee camp. Though much attention has been paid to the Lost Boys of the Sudan, Bassoff and DeLuca offer readers a heartbreaking look at what life was like for many women and girls who survived the conflict. (Apr. 2014)

redstarBURG, Ann E. Serafina’s Promise. Scholastic. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780545535649; ebk. $16.99. ISBN 9780545549943.

Gr 4-6– In this poignant novel in verse, Serafina, a girl living in poverty-stricken Haiti, wishes to become a doctor. Caught in the middle of the devastating 2010 earthquake, Serafina must overcome both physical and metaphorical obstacles in the pursuit of her dream. (Nov. 2013)

redstarEDINGER, Monica. Africa Is My Home: A Child of the Amistad. illus. by Robert Byrd. 64p. map. notes. Candlewick. 2013. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780763650384. LC 2012947752.

Gr 4-8– The events surrounding the Amistad slave ship and the famous trial are brought to life through the eyes of nine-year-old Magulu, abducted from her home in Sierra Leona. Meticulously researched, with folk-art–style illustrations that reflect her fears and hopes, Magulu’s story illustrates this wrenching and pivotal moment in the history of the slave trade. (Aug. 2013)

FREEDMAN, Paula J. My Basmati Bat Mitzvah. 256p. Abrams/Amulet. 2013. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9781419708060; ebk. $16.95. ISBN 9781613125236. LC 2013005791.

Gr 4-7– This humorous middle-grade novel introduces readers to 12-year-old Tara Feinstein, who is learning to navigate her religious beliefs and her own sense of self as a half-Indian, half-Jewish girl. Tara struggles realistically with the biased perceptions of others but ultimately finds strength and pride in her diverse heritage. (Dec. 2013)

PARRY, Rosanne. Written in Stone. 208p. Random. 2013. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-375-86971-6; PLB $19.99. ISBN 9780375969713; ebook $10.99. ISBN 9780375985348. LC 2012012491.

Gr 5-7– In 1918, a 13-year-old girl from the Makah tribe of the Pacific Northwest struggles with the sudden death of her father and tries to preserve the stories and ways of her people in the face of cultural and environmental upheaval by white whalers. (Jun. 2013)

redstarWiles, Deborah. Revolution. 544p. (The Sixties Trilogy: Bk. 2). Scholastic. May 2014. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9780545106078. ebk. $19.99. ISBN 9780545634007.

Gr 5 Up– This title follows the intersecting stories of a black boy and a white girl living in Mississippi during the tumultuous Freedom Summer. Through song lyrics, biblical verses, photographs, speeches, essays, and other ephemera, this documentary novel places readers in the middle of one of the most important—and dangerous—moments during the Civil Rights Movement. (May 2014.)

redstarWoods, Brenda. The Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond. 240p. Penguin/Nancy Paulsen Bks. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780399257148.

Gr 4-6– Eleven-year-old Violet, who has grown up in a mostly white environment, longs to reconnect with the African American side of her family. Violet’s struggles with not fitting wholly into either world reflect the reality of many biracial kids. (Mar. 2014)

Yang, Gene Luen. The Shadow Hero. illus. by Sonny Liew. 176p. First Second. July 2014. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781596436978.

Gr 7 Up– Rediscovering an obscure comic book hero from the 1940s, the Green Turtle, who may have been the first Asian American superhero, Yang and Liew have breathed new life into this hero, giving him a backstory. The son of Chinese immigrants, Hank’s an unlikely comic book protagonist: after all, his mother is the one who’s decided he’s destined to become a hero. Yang and Liew play expertly with the concept of clichés and racial stereotypes, creating both a fast-paced and action-packed tale of sequential art and a rich story laced with an intuitive understanding of cultural nuances. (Forthcoming Jun. 2014)


Culturally Generic/Neutral

Preschool to Grade 4

Defining "culturally generic/culturally neutral"

Combining and modifying Bishop’s categories of “generically American” and “culturally neutral” books, we selected fiction titles published since 2013 that feature positive portrayals of diverse characters. These books are those in which the main character(s) “just happen” to be a member of a non-white, non-mainstream cultural group. These stories, rather than informing readers about individual cultures, emphasize cultural common ground.

LIN, Grace. Ling & Ting Share a Birthday. illus. by author. 48p. Little, Brown. 2013. Tr $14.99. ISBN 9780316184052. LC 2012040965.

PreS-Gr 1– Lin has created another engaging beginning chapter book about a pair of Chinese American twins. Ling and Ting are real kids with individual strengths and weakness and their own brand of problem solving, here applied to familiar birthday topics as gifts, shopping, baking, wishing, and writing a story to capture the highlights of a special day. The gouache artwork extends the clever and amusing story line, which celebrates the fun and friendship aspects of twindom, while subtly reinforcing the cultural representation. (Aug. 2013)

Machado, Ana Maria. What a Party! tr. from Spanish by Elisa Amado. illus. by Hélène Moreau. 32p. Groundwood. 2013. Tr $18.95. ISBN 9781554981687.

PreS-Gr 1– A birthday party gets a bit out of hand when the host instructs guests to bring as many people and favorite foods as they like. The colorful fiesta explodes across the pages as diverse characters join in on the chaotic but exuberantly joyful celebration.

Montijo, Rhode. The Gumazing Gum Girl: Chews Your History. illus. by author. 128p. (Gum Girl: Bk. 1). Disney/Hyperion. 2013. Tr $14.99. ISBN 9781423157403.

Gr 2-4– A freak accident turns Gabby Gomez, bubble gum aficionado, into the sticky, super-powered Gum Girl. Readers will laugh along with and root for the daring Latina heroine in this graphic novel/chapter book hybrid. (Jul. 2013)

Thompson, Carol. One, Two, Three…Crawl! illus. by author. 12p. (Little Movers). Child’s Play. 2013. Tr $4.99. ISBN 9781846436147.

Baby/Toddler– With few words and charming illustrations, the latest addition to this board book series features an adorably diverse group of tots crawling around, exploring, and chewing on their gorgeously textured fabric and tissue-paper collage environment. For use one-on-one or in a baby storytime, this title begs for repeated readings.

Grades 5 & Up

redstarALEXANDER, Kwame. The Crossover. 240p. Houghton Harcourt. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780544107717. LC 4500437263.

Gr 6 Up– This lyrical novel in verse stars twin African American middle-school athletes, Josh and Jordan, who have both benefitted from their dynamic dad’s coaching and their mom’s firm but loving support. Conflicts arise as one boy is more successful socially and feelings of jealousy and abandonment affect their relationship on and off the court. Alexander’s poems can be powerful and propulsive, humorous and raucous, and introspective and moving. Ultimately, this family story hums with energy and touches readers where they live. (Mar. 2014)

BACIGALUPI, Paolo. Zombie Baseball Beatdown. 304p. Little, Brown. 2013. Tr $17. ISBN 9780316220781.

Gr 5-9– Though this fun read is an adventure-packed, thrill-a-minute zombie ride, it’s more than that; it’s also a hilarious and well-written story that addresses some serious themes: immigration, food safety and the meat industry, and more. While the characters touch on race and culture in meaningful but age-appropriate ways—first-person narrator Rabi is Indian American, and his friend Miguel is Hispanic—the underlying issues will appeal to a wide range of readers. (Aug. 2013)

DE LA PEÑA, Matt. The Living. 320p. Delacorte. 2013. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780385741200; lib. ed. $20.99. ISBN 9780-375989919; ebook $9.99. ISBN 9780375984358.

Gr 9 Up– Recipient of a 2014 Pura Belpré honor, this edge-of-your seat disaster thriller stars a biracial boy named Shy, whose job on a cruise ship lands him in the middle of “The Big One,” a massive earthquake that wreaks havoc on the California coast. Underneath the rollicking survival tale is a thoughtful exploration of race and class in modern America. (Oct. 2013)

FEDERLE, Tim. Five, Six Seven, Nate! 304p. S. & S. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781442446939; ebk. $10.99. ISBN 9781442446960. LC 2012051239.

Gr 5-8– In this follow-up to the multiple award-winning Better Nate Than Ever (S. & S., 2013), Nate juggles being an understudy in a Broadway production of E.T.: The Musical, having a secret admirer, and trying to find a boyfriend for his aunt. Federle’s gentle and positive exploration of the preteen’s sexuality, combined with charming supporting characters and laugh-out-loud high jinks makes this one of the best new middle-grade series. (Feb. 2014)

Johnson, Alaya Dawn. The Summer Prince. 304p. Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine Bks. 2013. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780545417792; ebk. $17.99. ISBN 9780545520775.

Gr 9 Up– Set in a futuristic Brazil in which sexuality is fluid and unrestrained, this gender-bending novel features budding graffiti artist June, who falls in star-crossed love (along with her best friend, Gil) with the daring and charismatic Enki. The pair create revolutionary masterpieces to rebel against the government’s strict laws banning new technology, all the while counting the days until Enki—the newly crowned Summer King—must die ceremoniously according to their matriarchal society’s customs. (Apr. 2013)

JOHNSON, Varian. The Great Greene Heist. 240p. Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine Bks. May 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780545525527; ebk. $16.99. ISBN 9780545525541. LC 2013029145.

Gr 5-8– Jackson Greene, a middle-school troublemaker with a heart of gold, concocts an elaborate con in order to help the girl he likes. Johnson’s characters are charming and funny and represent a refreshing diversity of ethnic backgrounds. (Mar. 2014)

redstarKADOHATA, Cynthia. The Thing About Luck. illus. by Julia Kuo. S. & S./Atheneum. 2013. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781416918820; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9781442474673. LC 2012021287.

Gr 5-8– Summer Miyamoto, daughter of wheat harvesters, has had a long year of bad luck. She’s hoping that a summer on the road, traveling from farm to farm with her grandparents and younger brother, will turn things around. Summer’s unique relationship with her Japanese immigrant grandparents--the quarrelsome Obaachan and gentle Jiichan--brings a tenderhearted depth to this multigenerational story. (Jun. 2013)

LaCour, Nina. Everything Leads to You. 320p. Dutton. May 2014. Tr $17.99. ISBN 978052 5425885; ebk. $10.99. ISBN 9781101593509.

Gr 9 Up– Emi is a mixed-race teen working her way up in the LA film industry and getting over her first love when she falls for a beautiful, mysterious girl who’s at the center of a Hollywood secret. The novel briefly touches upon the hardship some teens face upon coming out as LGBT but primarily focuses on the wonders of a burgeoning attraction and relationship, rather than the girls’ sexual identity. With likable characters, an interesting plot, and themes of love and loss, this one will have widespread appeal. (May 2014.)

redstarMEDINA, Meg. Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass. Candlewick. 2013. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780763658595; ebk. $16.99. ISBN 9780763663544. LC 2012943645.

Gr 8 Up– Piddy Sanchez just wants to make it through high school, but Yaqui Delgado tries to make life miserable for Piddy. This realistic portrayal of teen bullying features two Latinas against the backdrop of an ethnically diverse Queens neighborhood. (Apr. 2013)

What did we miss? Add your title recommendations in the comments section below.

SLJ’s reviews editors are: Kiera Parrott, Luann Toth, Shelley Diaz, and Mahnaz Dar.
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Katherine Del Monte

Lectura Books is a small bilingual publishing company that offers exceptional books in Spanish and English. The books offer experiences from the Latino perspective, as a way to engage Spanish-speaking parents in the reading process with their children, while developing English Language skills. Check out the website at: and watch the video about the kinds of books available for your diverse learners and their parents for parent and community engagement.

Posted : Nov 05, 2014 07:23

Misha Blaise

I recently wrote and illustrated a picture book for ages 3-7 that involves a diverse cast of characters but does not have any overt discussion of race. It's called "My Wondrous Cloud Odyssey." I specifically set out to reflect the diversity of our world through my illustrations. More info can be seen on my website The book is also available on Amazon

Posted : Sep 27, 2014 12:42

Melissa McAvoy

Zero Fade by Chris L. Terry-2013 by Curbside Splendor is a fabulous and very funny novel that 'chronicles eight days in the life of inner-city Richmond, Virginia teen Kevin Phifer as he deals with wack hair-cuts, bullies, last-year fly gear, his uncle Paul coming out as gay, and being grounded.' Set in the early 80's all characters are African American. We are a k-8 school and our eighth graders really like it. 8th and up.

Posted : May 21, 2014 10:02

Natasha Wing

The illustrator for my book, The Night Before Father's Day, did a great job in showing a culturally neutral family. Thank you, Amy Wummer, for showing a brown-skinned family enjoying celebrating dad.

Posted : May 08, 2014 09:42


The "I See the Sun in..." series of picture books for K-4 by Dedie King and Judith Inglese. A fictional, yet accurate representation of a day in the life of a child in each country covered. All in English and the language spoken in the country the book is about.

Posted : May 08, 2014 02:42


Thank you for the list, appreciate learning about any new titles I can share with my patrons. However, none of the books for PRESCHOOL TO GRADE 4 are appropriate for preschool or kindergartners. As a Youth Librarian that does at least five storytime a week, including Black Storytime, I am constantly searching for "multicultural" books for our youngest listeners. Where are they?

Posted : May 08, 2014 02:23

Anna McQuinn

I would love if you would use any of my Lola stories with your pre-schoolers. They all feature Lola - a feisty, book-loving pre-schooler in a book-loving family (who just happen to be African-American). Lola has friends from other cultural backgrounds, but the focus is always on her. Lola at the Library is especially good for preparing pre-schoolers for a Library visit. All are available from the wonderful Charlesbridge who publish a range of diverse and inclusive titles.

Posted : May 14, 2014 04:20

Martha G.

A great list to start. There are certainly many other great titles that were not recently published that celebrate diversity. Here are some recently published must-reads for the culturally diverse classroom and child! As a seasoned teacher, these books were extremely well received by my students. Also led to excellent discussions and lessons. Say, Allen. The Favorite Daughter Age Range: 4 - 8 years Grade Level: Preschool - 3 Hardcover: 32 pages Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books (May 28, 2013) Language: English ISBN-10: 054517662X ISBN-13: 978-0545176620 A father helps his daughter find pride and inspiration in this masterful picture book. Yuriko hates her name when the children make fun of it and call her "Eureka!" Though she is half Japanese, the teasing makes her want to hide, to retreat even from the art projects she used to love. Fortunately she has a patient, kind father who finds gentle ways of drawing her out and reminding Yuriko of the traditions they share that have always brought her joy: walks in lovely Golden Gate Park, lunch at their favorite sushi restaurant, watching the fog blow in off the bay. It's enough... it's more than enough to face down her challenges with confidence. Moore, Katrina. So Long Gnop-Jiye Paperback: 28 pages Publisher: Tate Publishing (February 18, 2014) Language: English ISBN-10: 1630630640 ISBN-13: 978-1630630645 A seven-year-old Chinese-American girl is forced to leave behind all of her dolls, friends, and her pet duck when her family moves to America. As a nation of immigrants, Americans have often heard the story as each new child attempts to find a place in our culture. But each child has a unique set of circumstances and brings something new to that culture. And so it is with the author’s mother – forced out of Hong Kong at a young age and plopped into a school where the language barrier is a big problem. As soon as seven-year-old Kuen Mun, renamed Mary, begins to understand, she is much happier. But she still dreams of the dolls, house, and pet duck, Gnop-Jiye, she left behind. Polacco, Patricia. The Junkyard Wonders Age Range: 6 - 9 years Grade Level: 1 - 4 Lexile Measure: 660L (What's this?) Hardcover: 48 pages Publisher: Philomel (July 8, 2010) Language: English ISBN-10: 0399250786 ISBN-13: 978-0399250781 When young Trisha finds out her class at the new school is known as ?The Junkyard,? she is devastated. She moved from her old town so she wouldn?t be in a special class anymore! But then she meets her teacher, the quirky and invincible Mrs. Peterson, and her classmates, an oddly brilliant group of students each with his or her own unique talent. And it is here in The Junkyard that Trisha learns the true meaning of genius, and that this group of misfits are, in fact, wonders, all of them. Based on a real-life event in Patricia Polacco?s childhood, this ode to teachers will inspire all readers to find their inner genius.

Posted : May 07, 2014 07:11


While I understand your use of the SEED concept of "windows and mirrors" as a framework for this piece, I think it's an outdated idea that anything can be "culturally generic/neutral." I feel that we do a disservice to the concept by claiming that some titles are somehow more universal because they don't contain certain "culturally specific" elements. (Language? Religious traditions? Foods? Hair styles? Skin color?) Culture cannot be divorced from context, nor is it in the titles you have selected in this list (except, perhaps, the Carol Thompson board book). Furthermore, I don't think we, as educators, *should* ever try to point to something as lacking a cultural context, and especially not in claiming this as a positive thing, or something to strive toward.

Posted : May 06, 2014 06:03

Sharron McElmeel

• Inclusion of Native American writers/books • Eliminating the "ulturally generic/culturally neutral" labels. Thank you for this first attempt at creating a list. I do know that first tries are often a huge learning curve. I certainly agree that titles representative of Native Americans must be included. I do wish the labels "ulturally generic/culturally neutral" would be eliminated. I think the problem comes when we think we have to differentiate between focused on culture (this is happening BECAUSE you are Native American, African American... ) and those books that deal with events that are universal in theme. I would submit that all well-written books are universal in theme -- even if a Native child reacts to an event in a manner different from the reaction that might come from an African American child, or a white child the emotions tend to be similar. That is the beauty of diverse books readers begin to understand that not all reactions to a common life event will be the same. That is what helps us understand the cultural heritage of others. Our immediate family includes Native Americans (Sioux and Arikara), African American, White European) and good friends with Asian heritage as well as family members with various special needs ... --all of these children need to see their own lives in books; and the lives of others that they know. IMHO there is NOTHING that happens in a one's life that is culturally "neutral" and if by some miracle it is, that book does not belong on a list of books focused on diversity. Each reader needs mirrors AND windows in the world of books. #weneeddiversebooks.

Posted : May 04, 2014 05:18


I'm disappointed to see that several choices are historical (when the issue is diversity), particularly the one about Native Americans. Children often aren't even aware that Native Americans are still around! And it's not right to expect little boys and girls to identify with a slave. How cruel! Diversity is different than history, although they are each important to read, of course.

Posted : May 04, 2014 12:17

Debby Dahl Edwardson

I applaud SLJ for attempting to address this issue, an issue which will increasingly define the viability of books in an increasingly diverse world. I speak in support of those pointing to the lack of books by Native writers--writers like Eric Gansworth's and his 2013 book, the wonderful IF I EVER GET OUT OF HERE. These books need to be a part of these kinds of lists. When they are not included a lot of people say, "oh, well, they must not exist." And I say this as a white writer who has lived the majority of her life in a Native community and whose books are and will continue to offer my unique and authentic view of a life well- lived in my Inupiaq home--but we need the books by those born into the Native world by blood. Theirs is a voice with its own melody--without it the music is just plain flawed. And PLEASE do not use the label "culturally generic/culturally neutral." Who in this world is culturally generic or culturally neutral? Who? Are you culturally neutral? Are any of us? PLEASE do not fall into this ultimately silly trap.

Posted : May 03, 2014 11:00


Also, take a good look at BIRD, a debut novel by Crystal Chan. It's the story of Jewel, a bi-racial girl whose brother died on the day she was born. An intense, heartful book, full of love and surprises too. KA

Posted : May 03, 2014 09:04


I would encourage you to add Padma Venkatramen's beautiful new book, A TIME TO DANCE, to your list. Not only does it feature a young Indian character, it also addresses disability and the challenges it represents. Exquisite, truly, and a paeon to the healing power of art, specifically dance. And for a lighter touch, who can forget Dini, the protagonist in Uma Krishnaswami's pair of recent middle grade novels, A GRAND PLAN TO FIX EVERYTHING and THE PROBLEM WITH BEING SLIGHTLY HEROIC? Though the stories themselves are light-hearted, Dini's quest to figure out where she belongs--India, the US, India, the US--reminds all of us that no matter where we go there we are. Thanks for starting this conversation. Sorely needed.

Posted : May 03, 2014 08:59

Crystal Brunelle

Some others that would work on such a list are Here by Patti Kim, Niño Wrestles the World, Farmer Will Allen and the Growing Table, Little You, Wild Berries/ Picaci-Minisa, The Garden of My Imaan, Saving Baby Doe, How I Became a Ghost, When I Was the Greatest, and Killer of Enemies.

Posted : May 03, 2014 08:54


Thank you for posting the initial list. Though it is not ideal, but it is a good beginning. I just ordered several books from this list for my 11-year-old, and they reflect several cultures and experiences. I look forward to the revised and expanded list, and I hope to see this becomes a regular column.

Posted : May 03, 2014 03:17

Michali Lerner

It is wonderful to see an increasing recognition for literature that reflects cultural and ethnic diversity in the US and our increasingly global world. However, sadly I also see major gaps here from fabulous independent publishers, many of which are exclusively dedicated to producing the highest quality multicultural, multi-ethnic literature for kids. Barefoot Books is just one of these that stands out -- name any country or ethnicity and I'd be hard pressed NOT to respond with a story from Barefoot that comes directly from that culture, including a wide range of Native American ones. It is so very important that children see both themselves and the larger world around them reflected in the books they read -- and it's heartening to see this being addressed. I would just like to see a wider net being cast in the future to include the smaller, independent publishers who have really worked to distinguish themselves in this area.

Posted : May 02, 2014 11:49

Liz Hughes

Love that there is a growing call for diversity in children's books and lists like this are a great first start, but definitely agree with many of the comments above about the gaps in this list. I look forward to seeing a revised list with more/better choices!

Posted : May 02, 2014 07:00

Laurie Mattaliano

I always find it most surprising that Barefoot Books titles are never included in these lists & articles? EVERY single book published by that amazing publisher are multi-cultural, mutli-racial, and certainly culturally diverse. We could put an end to much of these 'We need" conversations but just showcasing the work of the most mindful children's publishers out there!

Posted : May 02, 2014 06:39

Nathalie Mvondo

Thank you for this article, and the list of recommended books you put together; I look forward to checking out several of them. I am concerned, though, by your current silence on the justified outcry regarding the lack of excellent recommendations about and by Native Americans. I have faith that you will not let the young and older readers down and that, after further research, you will add a few more books to your list. Please? Thank you, N.

Posted : May 02, 2014 05:59

Kiera Parrott

Hi everyone. I wanted to jump in briefly to say thank you for your honest criticism of our list. This is the first time the Review Editors have attempted to put together a list like this and we want each of our readers to know that we are reading your comments, your tweets, and your blog posts. We hear you and we want to incorporate your suggestions. Assembling a list of titles is a learning experience in and of itself, and having your feedback on what we missed is crucial. We are going to post an expanded list based upon your suggestions and recommendations. Please keep them coming in.

Posted : May 02, 2014 05:43

Debbie Reese

Thanks, Kiera. I was irate yesterday when I saw the list, and as you know, I did not put a lid on my emotional response to the book about Native people that is on the list. I don't apologize for the honest emotion I shared. Some might say I was mean or not being nice to you. I appreciate that appraisal but set it aside, because I think first-and-foremost about the children that will be impacted by the books that make their way into their hands, heads, and hearts. The F bomb? That puts people off, so I do apologize for using it. Such lists matter enormously, not just to the teachers, librarians, and parents that will use them to select books, but to publishers, editors, and authors, too, who look to see what a leader in the field recommends. For your expanded list, I hope that you'll use books I included in the two Focus On columns you invited me to do for you, in 2008 and 2013.

Posted : May 02, 2014 05:09

Kiera Parrott

Hi Debbie. Thank you again for your feedback--f-bombs and all. Your honesty and passion for literature for children on these topics is what keeps us aware and keeps us educated about what we need to improve. We rely on the expertise of you and the other incredibly well-read librarians and educators who've commented. I will absolutely be consulting your recent lists, articles, and blog posts. I hope others will continue to post their favorite titles and publishers. We want our expanded list to be as inclusive as possible and we truly do want to know what we've missed. It's a learning and growing experience for us and we hope that each time we produce a list like this, it gets better. We're compiling additional titles now and hope to have a bigger and even better list up next week. We also don't want these types of recommended lists and these discussions to only occur once per year. We'd like to ensure that all of our recommendations are representative and we want to continue to have these conversations throughout the year. #WeNeedDiverseBooks

Posted : May 02, 2014 08:13

Anita Merina

Circling back and agreeing with so many excellent comments here, we are all passionate about this because your audience is the very audience that fills classrooms and libraries, and your choices and comments mean something. I was fortunate to visit a school in Seattle where they created a new teacher position at Tulalip-quil ceda elementary school, a cultural liaison to the community, and the school's curriculum and library are filled with books that honor their culture. These students are so excited about reading stories from their culture and the other students are so excited to share these stories. How lucky they are to see and hear themselves. Let's do the same for all students and educators honoring cultures, orientation, etc.. We have to be equally vigilant in our choices because our students, librarians, teachers and readers depend on us, I know I'm inspired to do this now more than ever. i hope SLJ will as well.

Posted : May 02, 2014 03:57


There are so many talented Native American authors and illustrators. There's an aching need to have more books about contemporary Cherokee, Apache, Choctaw, Lakota, Dineh, Abenaki, and all the other Native nations too numerous to mention here, but who are alive and well in the US be represented in books, especially in books for children. It's time for our stories be told and illustrated by Native people.

Posted : May 02, 2014 02:27

Melissa Posten

Don't be The BookCon, SLJ - add some Native American-authored titles to this list, along with an apology for the oversight.

Posted : May 02, 2014 01:29

Naomi Bishop

I'm not impressed by the lack of Native Authors. The American Indian Library Association announced it's 2014 award winners and instead of choosing one of the best, there is a book on this list that is not representative of Native Americans. SLJ editors and reviews better pay attention. It is not ok to continue to promote books that our not represenative of American Indians. I'm speaking out because we need diverse books that represent us and our not just published by writers that misinform readers. Fiction or non-fiction, it impacts children. I continue to speak out against fictional books that misrepresent Native Americans because fictional books can cause major harm and impact people for hundreds of years. Have you ever heard of Karl May? People that don't know any 21st century American Indians do not realize the harm and damage they are inflicting. I get questions all the time from people asking me about my tribe and traditions. I'm happy to engage in conversations and educate them. I continue to tell people about Native Authors and Illustrators that do represent American Indians in the 21st century and encourage them to read new books and support Native artists. Here are some new Youth books for you to enjoy!

Posted : May 02, 2014 01:21

Allie Jane Bruce

I agree with Jason 100%. One of the nice things about the internet age is that electronic mistakes can be rectified so much easier than print mistakes. What a great opportunity to right a wrong here, and to demonstrate how discourse can be productive. Also, you'll be doing right by scores of Native (and non-Native) young readers.

Posted : May 02, 2014 12:51

Jason Low

I agree with all those who have posted before me regarding the omission of Native American authored books. Unlike print, where a mistake is one we have to live with, on the web this is not the case. SLJ would do justice to its first diversity issue ever by adding books by and about Native American and truly be the inclusive tool this issue is meant to be.

Posted : May 01, 2014 11:42

Beverly Slapin

Can the reviewers who put this list together explain why NOT ONE children's book by a Native American author appears here? Surely, you must know about Joseph Bruchac, Tim Tingle, Eric Gansworth, and a host of other gifted authors, yet you chose instead to promote Roseanne Parry's awful WRITTEN IN STONE, fatally flawed in so many ways, a book that Debbie Reese and others have critiqued in detail. Why? Is this just an oversight on your part or is it--despite the term "diversity" that is now often thrown around--a manifestation of the same old pattern of power and privilege? To borrow from the great philosopher Stevie Wonder's song, "You Haven't Done Nothing": "I am amazed but not amused..."

Posted : May 01, 2014 11:17

Chris Barton

I would *love* to see such a list become a regular feature of the SLJ site.

Posted : May 01, 2014 10:55


Agreed. Hope the list will be amended to include Native authors.

Posted : May 01, 2014 10:47

John D. Berry

I am disappointed in SLJ's inclusion of "Written in Stone" as a diversity selection. It is a flawed work in it's content and misrepresents Native people. Additionally, there are many fine Native writers not listed here. Don't your SLJ people ever talk to the American Indian Library Association? Does no one ever read Dr. Debbie Reese's blog on American Indian Children's Literature? Diversity yes, inaccurate, non-representative literature - NO. John D. Berry, AILA Past Pres., 1999-2000

Posted : May 01, 2014 10:35

Debbie Reese

Echoing Nikki and Arvina... There are some terrific books by Native writers that could be on the list. With them, teachers, librarians, and parents can hold them up and say, for example, "Tim Tingle, author of HOW I BECAME A GHOST is Choctaw" or "Eric Gansworth, author of IF I EVER GET OUT OF HERE is Onondaga." Being able to use that verb--is--is important in conveying the fact that Native people are part of today's U.S., and that some of us are writers who write books based on our lived experiences as Native people.

Posted : May 01, 2014 10:34

Anita Merina

To be inclusive and more complete in your list, let's not forget recent books by Native American writers, Josheph Bruchac's Killer Enemies is getting a lot of attention for having a Native American protagonist and he continues to publish terrific books, and his 2013 book My Father is Taller than a Tree features fathers and children from diverse cultures, And Tim Tingle just published Ghost Crow. NEA's Read Across America is also committed to doing more to feature, promote, share, books by diverse authors, featuring diverse characters and we look forward to working with school librarians, publishers, authors, and literacy advocates in doing more and making this a hallmark of our program.

Posted : May 01, 2014 10:19

Nikki Grimes

Interesting list, but what happened to books by Native American writers of children's books? Where are they? If we're going to talk diversity, these authors and their books cannot be left out of the equation.

Posted : May 01, 2014 10:01



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