NYPL Launches "Vibrant Voices," Great Books for all Ages by Authors of Color

Vibrant Voices: A Booklist Celebrating Stories of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color is selected by New York Public Library staff to help students, parents, and educators discover a world of new perspectives and narratives through literature.

We’ve all seen the viral photos by now. An adorable little two-year-old named Kenzo, smiling proudly at his TV as he watches the new Disney movie Encanto. Why is he smiling? Because he thought the character of Antonio, who bears a striking resemblance to him . . . was him. At two years old, Kenzo was incredibly excited to see himself on screen.

To relate to a character. To be seen, and know he matters.

Librarians certainly know the importance of representation in all forms of creative expression, including books. We see it every day in our branches. The way a child’s eyes light up when they can relate to a character in their favorite story. The way they engage with stories that reflect their experiences.

My colleague Nicole Nelson, library manager at New York Public Library’s Countee Cullen branch, shared a beautiful example in a blog post she wrote last year: “I helped a little girl . . . find a book with a Black grandmother and a Black granddaughter, and she goes, ‘I’m going to call my grandma when I get home and show her the book. It looks like me and grandma when we spend time together.’ And her mother said, ‘Thank you, you don’t know what this means to me and what this means to my daughter and my mom.’ It brought a tear to my eye, because I was a part of this moment.”

Libraries aren’t looking to sell books. They aren’t stocking the shelves with material to prepare kids for tests (although of course they support classroom learning). The unique role of public libraries is to spark a lifelong love of reading in children, and we know part of that is connecting kids with the books that elicit emotion. That means being seen in the pages.

This is why libraries are perfectly positioned to support school systems across the nation as they work to implement culturally-responsive teaching, a model that incorporates the cultural identities of students into every lesson, allowing those students to build on existing experiences and knowledge to learn. It has proven to be extremely effective, and it’s understandable. If one can’t understand or relate to what they’re learning, how will that information ever resonate? How can a child feel a part of history when they don’t see themselves in it?

A first of its kind booklist

At the New York Public Library, we have partnered with the New York City Department of Education in a variety of ways, and hope that moving forward we can offer support and expertise in this area. As a starting point, in January 2022 we launched the reading list Vibrant Voices: A Booklist Celebrating Stories of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. The list, the first of its kind and selected by expert library staff, supports parents, teachers, and the overall school community in discovering a world of new perspectives and narratives through literature. Specifically, the books offer educators an array of titles to incorporate in their classrooms that will promote discussion, expand understanding, and celebrate diverse voices.

The Library created this list as part of its newly-launched Center for Educators and Schools, a new initiative which aims to make all of the Library’s resources accessible and useful for educators. The project includes an educator guide to support the list with activities and discussion suggestions, as well as a number of webinars (found on the Center website) to support educators and librarians in using these new titles in their lessons and programming.

There are titles for kids and teens (as well as adults). We hope the list is helpful, and we hope that it sets an example for fellow public library systems across the nation, who are uniquely positioned to support schools, parents, and educators implement culturally-responsive learning, and connect students with books that help them feel seen, learn, and grow.

The lists can be found at nypl.org/vibrantvoices and below. They include genre- and age-spanning works from authors of color, stories that reflect kids’ lives and communities, characters that introduce readers to new and different experiences, books that promote discussion, expand understanding, and celebrate diverse voices, and more. Take a look, and let’s start a true new chapter in 2022.

Top 10 Titles


  1. A Little Devil in America: Notes in Praise of Black Performance by Hanif Abdurraqib
  2. Black Buck by Mateo Askaripour
  3. Black Girl, Call Home by Jasmin Mans
  4. Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner
  5. Hola Papi! How to Come Out in a Walmart Parking Lot and Other Life Lessons by John Paul Brammer
  6. My Time Will Come By Ian Manuel Foreword by Bryan Stevenson
  7. Sorrowland by Rivers Solomon
  8. Stone Fruit by Lee Lai
  9. Sure, I'll Be Your Black Friend Notes from the Other Side of the Fist Bump by Ben Philippe
  10. You'll Never Believe What Happened to Lacey by Amber Ruffin and Lacey Lamar


  1. Ahmed Aziz’s Epic Year by Ahmed Aziz
  2. Ancestor Approved: Intertribal Stories for Kids Edited by Cynthia Leitich Smith
  3. Black Boy Joy: 17 Stories Celebrating Black Boyhood Edited by Kwame Mbalia
  4. Cece Rios and the Desert of Souls by Kaela Rivera
  5. Dream Street by Tricia Elam Walker
  6. Laxmi’s Mooch by Shelly Anand
  7. Take Back the Block by Chrystal D. Giles
  8. The Many Meanings of Meilan by Andrea Wang
  9. Thao: A Picture Book by Thao Lam
  10. Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre by Carole Boston Weatherford

Young Adult

  1. Black Birds in the Sky by Brandy Colbert
  2. Firekeepers' Daughter by Angeline Boulley
  3. From a Whisper to a Rallying Cry: the Killing of Vincent Chin and the Trial that Galvanized the Asian-American Movement by Paula Yoo

Shauntee Burns-Simpson is associate director, school support & outreach at New York Public Library and President of the Black Caucus of the American Library Association.

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