Help Your Kids Find Books with Diverse Characters

We're seeing a positive trend -- kids of all backgrounds teaming up in stories.
Regan McMahon Senior Editor, Books | Mom of two Categories: Reading, We Recommend
Senior Editor, Books | Mom of two

There's been a lot of talk lately about the lack of diversity in books for kids and teens. The late Newbery Award-wining children's author Walter Dean Myers caused quite a stir with his 2014 New York Times essay "Where Are the People of Color in Children's Books?"

The numbers don't lie (one study found that in a study of 3,200 of the 5,000 children’s books published in 2013, just 93 were about black people). But as a children's book critic, I'm definitely seeing a trend in authors featuring diverse casts in the novels that come across my desk.​ What these books of all genres have in common is telling stories with diverse characters where race isn't the central issue in the storyline. Instead, the issues are solving mysteries, defeating bad guys, coping with loss, following your destiny, and more. And readers see reflected a multicultural world where it's normal for young people of different cultures and national heritage to work together to get the job done. ​​

Here are just five examples: 

  • Randi Rhodes Ninja Detective: The Case of the Time-Capsule Bandit (age 8+)
    In this mystery series for tweens by Oscar-winning actress 
    Octavia Spencer, strong female main character Randi is white, her amateur detective friends are a hearing-impaired Latino boy and an African-American boy, and her nanny is Chinese-American. 
  • Spirit Animals (age 8+)
    In this multi-platform fantasy series written by various authors, including Brandon Mull and Maggie Stiefvater, the four main characters are black, Asian, white, and a street urchin of unspecified race.
  • Heroes of Olympus (age 10+)
    Rick Riordan's fantasy adventure series -- a Percy Jackson series spin-off -- features a Chinese-Canadian character, an African-American girl from New Orleans, and a Mexican-American boy. (And Riordan's Kane Chronicles books center on siblings with a black father and white mother.)
  • Counting by 7s (age 10+)
    In Holly Goldberg Sloan's stunning coming-of-age novel, the 12-year-old protagonist is a self-described "person of color" who cobbles together a family with a Mexican taxi driver, a white school counselor, two Vietnamese-American teens, and their Vietnamese mom.
  • Dust Girl (age 12+)
    This trilogy has a strong female main character who's half-human and half-fairy, and her human side is half-white and half-African-American. An intricate blend of fantasy and historical fiction, it mixes in Celtic, African-American, and Native American folklore and musical traditions. 

We know how challenging it can be for parents of children of color to find books in which characters of their ethnicity are represented -- and not limited to tired stereotypes or only relegated to minor characters. And we know how beneficial it can be for kids of all backgrounds to understand the motivations, points of view, and cultural and historical issues of people unlike themselves through stories. 

To help families find these kinds of books, we've created a Top Picks list called Books with Characters of Color. It includes more than 80 books of all genres for early readers through teens in high school.

Let us know what you think in the comments below. 

About Regan McMahon

Regan has been reviewing children's books for more than a decade. A journalist and former book editor for the San Francisco Chronicle, she cites as one of her toughest assignments having to read and review the 784-page... Read more

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Comments (3)

Parent written by leste

I agree, kids of color should be shown in children's books..my two children's picture books has white, black, and Asian characters. Titles: Where is Scales and At the park with Tommy and scales. .it's just a fun book for the kiddos to read. Tommy takes his pet lizard Scales to school and the lizard just want to have fun, so he slips out of Tommy ' s pocket. Tommy and his friends search high and low for their favorite pet lizard. available on amazon and ipad and kindle Http://amzn.com/1601311168 Http://amzn.com/1601311397
Teen, 17 years old written by rebma97

I'm not a parent yet but I'm glad CSM decided to write this article. The older I get, the more I realize the need for more diversity in movies, books, TV shows, etc. I know, personally, as an African-American girl, it's nice to see people who look like you.
Parent of a 8 and 11 year old written by Mtn-Thyme

Thank you so much for the recommendations. My kids are mixed race and we DO have a hard time finding books with people of color represented as just regular people. My well meaning white mom tries to find us books with black characters, she gave us a book called "the People who could fly" and it's mostly about the lives of slaves including stories about slaves who were beaten to death and flew to heaven. NOT what I want to be reading with my young kids! I really appreciate this list, thanks again.