Human beings are a social species by nature. In our adult lives, this manifests through our time spent with family, friends, and co-workers. As children, we seek out experiences, dialogue, and try to continuously make sense of the world around us.
The social climate in the US has shifted dramatically. We’re pursuing a better understanding of each other – our differences, commonalities, and what makes us unique. Children are absorbing this, and while their social groups at school, home, and with friends will undoubtedly aid in making sense of the world, books and the act of reading with your child at home also have a profound effect.
The science around reading is in – it’s incredibly important. Reading helps children develop their vocabulary, stimulate creative thinking, aids immensely with comprehension, and naturally lead to sound writing skills. The world is diverse, but unfortunately, not all children’s books offer diverse viewpoints or even feature culturally and ethnically different characters. This article has more information about the importance of reading with your kids.
For kids coming of age in 2020, having stories that feature distinct cultures and races is extremely important. The saying “diversity floats all boats” has been around for decades now. We know it is a net positive, so having multicultural books on hand to read with your children is vital to their eventual integration into an increasingly complex, but beautiful world.
CONTENTS: Go Directly To Your Question Here, Or Continue Reading
- 1 So, What is a Multicultural Book?
- 2 The 10 Best Multicultural Children’s Books To Read With Your Kids
- 2.1 Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History by Vashti Harrison
- 2.2 One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia
- 2.3 The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi
- 2.4 Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story by Kevin Noble Maillard
- 2.5 Júlian is a Mermaid by Jessica Love
- 2.6 Islandborn by Junot Diaz
- 2.7 Sofia Valdez, Future Prez by Andrea Beaty
- 2.8 Just Ask!: Be Different, Be Brave, Be You by Sonia Sotomayor
- 2.9 The Arabic Quilt: An Immigrant Story by Aya Khalil
- 2.10 Bippity Bob Barbershop by Natasha Anastasia Tarpley
- 3 To Sum it Up…
So, What is a Multicultural Book?
A multicultural book is one that principally contains characters of color. A useful way to think about this is imagining you are staring at a shelf full of Barbies at a toy store in 1985. The selection was vast – Barbie in jeans, Barbie in a dress, Barbie with Ken, Barbie and a Camaro, etc. Yet, the one commonality in all the Barbies was her skin color. As time went on, the brand evolved, and today Barbie dolls come in a range of hues, reflecting the cultural diversity of our world and not merely one color or race.
For years children’s books contained overwhelmingly white, European characters. Multicultural books shed light on other realities in our world, putting characters of color in protagonist positions, and writing on themes and topics that arise in their world. Again, the diversity in viewpoints is what’s essential in 2020.
Multicultural books are also those written by authors of color, or illustrated by illustrators of color. They are also books that touch on disabilities (physical and socio-emotional). The messaging speaks to our empathic nature and encourages children to place themselves in positions that require deep thinking and consideration.
In this article, we will present ten excellent multicultural books to enjoy with your children.
The 10 Best Multicultural Children’s Books To Read With Your Kids
Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History by Vashti Harrison
Author Vashti Harrison is not only a writer, but she draws and paints as well. The illustrations in this book (as well as the words) are all hers. Featuring a collection of 40 notable Black women who have played a prominent role throughout US history, this is a beautiful book that sheds light on a host of stories that are likely unknown to most children.
Each woman in the book is described and drawn. In addition to ground-breaking women such as abolitionists Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman, Harrison also highlights people like filmmaker Julie Dash and Air Force General Marcelite J. Harris. A handful of reviews praised the book for focusing equally on Black women who will end up appearing in many children’s history books, along with those who won’t, but should.
To learn more, click here.
One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia
The plot is a bit difficult to stomach at first – a father sends his three daughters, grades 4 to 7, to California to spend time with their poet mother, who had abandoned them years earlier. They are immersed in the Black Panther movement, and while their mother wrote, the girls learned more about the movement from the ground up. It is a real page-turner and a powerful social and familial message.
Like it? Click here to buy now.
The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi
Author Yangsook Choi is from Seoul, Korea. You can presume, although it is not confirmed, that the protagonist of this story, Unhei, might have been her. The Name Jar tells the tale of a little girl that moves from Korea to the States. She is nervous, as one likely would be. Her new classmates welcome her, but Unhei is far from comfortable.
As the name suggests, Unhei proposes to pick a name out of a jar the following week with a name instead of telling her classmates her real name. Her fear is they will pronounce it wrong, or worse, bully her. But when she ends up picking her name, her classmates surprise her with a twist. The Name Jar is an excellent book for anyone who has moved to a new school or wants to teach their child how to accept and make someone new feel welcome.
To learn more about this book, click here.
Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story by Kevin Noble Maillard
The metaphors run deep in Fry Bread, but for kids, they will invariably take to the storytelling of this book and the fantastic illustrations. Author Kevin Noble Maillard is originally from Oklahoma and a member of the Seminole Nation, Mekusukey band. Illustrator Juana Martinez-Neal is Peruvian and now resides in Arizona, where she paints and illustrates.
Food is a staple in all cultures. This story brings together generations around a shared staple, touches on ancestral legacy, the importance of family, and celebrates that no single recipe fits all communities. This is a delightful book for kids 3 to 6.
Love it? Click here to buy now.
Júlian is a Mermaid by Jessica Love
This book by Jessica Love has received rave reviews from not only individuals online, but also major literary outlets. It follows the story of a young boy who realizes early on that he wants to be different from everyone else.
Júlian is a Mermaid is a book about perseverance, finding oneself, swimming against the norm, and, most importantly, being happy. Moreover, the illustrations are incredible on their own. Love writes and illustrates, and clearly has a future with both.
To read the latest reviews, click here.
Islandborn by Junot Diaz
Like many Latin American countries, the Dominican Republic went through a dictatorship (or two or three) over the past 75 years. Islandborn presents us with Lola, a little girl who left the island when she was a baby because of dictator Rafael Leónidas Trujillo. She is now in the US, struggling to come to grips as to where she came from, how that shapes her identity, and the beautiful elements of her homeland worth appreciating.
In many ways, Islandborn is a story that first-generation immigrants to the US can relate to. Many arrived due to challenging socio-political environments, but still retain a deep connection, naturally, to their country of origin. This is a beautiful book to teach children about the reality of some countries, and the importance of never forgetting your heritage.
To learn more, click here.
Sofia Valdez, Future Prez by Andrea Beaty
Growing up is no walk in the park. There are great times, trying times, learning moments, and simply time to absorb everything happening around you. It is easy to see politicians on TV and naturally think, “that looks hard, and I don’t even look like that person. I could never do that.” This is all too normal for many kids, which is why this book is a breath of fresh air for many parents.
As one commenter reviewed, “…What an inspiration to young people to be told their voice matters, that they can make a difference, that they can bring their community together towards a common positive goal.” Sofia Valdez, Future Prez is an inspirational story that is sure to do the same for young people. If it doesn’t, then your kid likely wasn’t paying attention.
Ready to buy? Click here.
Just Ask!: Be Different, Be Brave, Be You by Sonia Sotomayor
If you were wondering if the author, Sonia Sotomayor, is the same Sotomayor that serves on the Supreme Court, you’d be right. Who knew Justice Sotomayor had spare time to write a children’s book. But not only did she write a children’s book, she did it exceptionally! This is one of few books for kids that touches on disabilities. It is a wonderful book for kids who suffer from asthma, hearing and vision impairments, dyslexia, autism, etc., or to educate those on the challenges that come with these conditions.
Feeling different as a kid is tough. Nearly every child wants to fit in, and Sotomayor’s book highlights the richness that comes with being different. She empowers those with differences, and does not talk about them from the point of weakness, but rather strength and pride. We’re all born with advantages and disadvantages. The objective is to invest in ourselves, be brave, and be your true self.
Love it? Click here to buy now.
The Arabic Quilt: An Immigrant Story by Aya Khalil
The United States attracts immigrants from around the world, and while many arrive and never look back, their arrival is not without its bumps along the way. The Arabic Quilt tells the tale of Kanzi, a little girl who moved with her family from Egypt to the US. On her first day of school, Kanzi left her kofta sandwich at home. Kanzi’s mother shows up with the sandwich, dressed in a hijab, and upon her departure, the teasing commenced.
This is all too normal in many schools in the US. Most kids handle it, but it doesn’t mean it’s not bothersome or doesn’t affect them. We won’t give away the ending, but if there is a book on this list capable of making an adult cry, this is it. It’s a wonderful story of immigration and acceptance.
To learn more, click here.
Bippity Bob Barbershop by Natasha Anastasia Tarpley
Some of us are frequent guests at the barbershop. Others, not so much. But this book isn’t about a barbershop. Instead, it’s about feeling comfortable with the features you were born with, celebrating them, and understanding that you’re not alone. Author Nastasha Anastasia Tarpley is no stranger to writing for kids, having also authored I Love My Hair!, Princess Tiana and the Royal Ball, among others.
An online reviewer echoed what many others felt, writing, “My 5 year-old nephew enjoyed reading this book, it was easy enough for him to read on his own. It’s so great that he could see a reflection of himself in literature…kudos to the author.”
To read more reviews, click here.
To Sum it Up…
Perhaps the best result of reading multicultural books is the natural points of inquisition that follow. Many kids will ask questions along the lines of – “Why was Richie bullied,” or “They didn’t like Tracy just because her hair was different?” These are invaluable teaching moments for parents, and the conversations that tend to result from reading multicultural books are rich and extremely necessary.
A multicultural book is typically one with persons of color serving as main characters and books authored or illustrated by persons of color. They communicate realities that are not widely written on in mainstream literature and encourage some readers to step out of their reality and place themselves in a different one. Nearly all multicultural books contain a strong moral message and leave the reader pondering on what they might have done in a similar situation.
Our list of multicultural books in this article was difficult to narrow down; there are so many exceptional choices nowadays, and thankfully kids in 2020 have an infinitely wide selection compared to merely one decade ago. Change up story time for the better by starting with one or all of our ten multicultural books presented here.
Looking for a place to put all those books? Check out The Best Kids Book Storage Ideas next!