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Reading Recommendations: Children

There are thousands of children’s books out there that feature diversity. Some are preachy. Some are boring. Some are terrific! In partnership with Rochester Public Library, we've curated a list of recommendations for you that includes some of the best, with beautiful pictures, moving stories, and strong messages. Here you'll find stories of Somali, Sudanese and Hmong refugee children, stories of children with disabilities, folktales from around the world, and creative introductions to landmark works by Martin Luther King, Jr. and Langston Hughes. 

Note: The Diversity Council does not endorse the views presented in these books. We believe that story is one of the best ways to come to understand and empathize with people who are different from yourself, even when you disagree with their actions or ideas, and that understanding and empathy are vital pillars of a pluralistic society.

 

 

General

 

Gila Monsters Meet You at the Airport, by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat. A boy from New York City moves to Arizona and has to overcome his fear of “different.” Place on hold at the library

Different Just Like Me, by Lori Mitchell. April goes on errands with her mom and sees all kinds of different people, but she notices that just like her, they like to draw, push elevator buttons, and eat turkey sandwiches. Buy on Amazon

Culture & Folktales

 

Anything Illustrated by E.B. Lewis. African American artist E.B. Lewis illustrates stories of Ethiopian folktales, African American pioneers, and regular kids, bringing such beauty to ordinary people that you want to meet them all. See his books

 

Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters, by John Steptoe. This Caldecott Honor picture book tells a Cinderella story from Zimbabwe. Place on hold at the library

 

The Sandwich Swap, by Queen Rania Al Abdullah and Kelly DiPucchio. Lily and Salma are best friends. But will peanut butter and hummus sandwiches pull them apart? Place on hold at the library 

 

How My Parents Learned to Eat, by Ina Friedman. An American sailor courts a young Japanese woman and each tries, in secret, to learn the other's way of eating. Place on hold at the library

 

Tatterhood and Other Tales, edited by Ethel Johnston Phelps. A collection of 25 traditional tales from around the world, all featuring spirited heroines with extraordinary courage and wit. Place on hold at the library 

Afghan

Shooting Kabul, by N.H. Senzai. Escaping from Taliban-controlled Afghanistan in the summer of 2001, eleven-year-old Fadi and his family immigrate to the San Francisco Bay Area, where Fadi schemes to return to the Pakistani refugee camp where his little sister was accidentally left behind. Place on hold at the library

The Breadwinner, by Deborah Ellis. Because the Taliban rulers of Kabul, Afghanistan, impose strict limitations on women's freedom and behavior, eleven-year-old Parvana must disguise herself as a boy so that her family can survive after her father's arrest. Place on hold at the library

African American

Henry’s Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad, by Ellen Levine, illustrated by Kadir Nelson. Award-winning author and illustrator team up to tell this stirring story of a slave who mails himself to freedom. Place on hold at the library

All the Colors of the Earth, by Sheila Hamanaka. A beautifully illustrated book about children who come in all the colors of love. Place on hold at the library

 

Anything Illustrated by E.B. Lewis. African American artist E.B. Lewis illustrates stories of Ethiopian folktales, African American pioneers, and regular kids, bringing such beauty to ordinary people that you want to meet them all. See his books

Aunt Harriet’s Underground Railroad in the Sky, by Faith Ringgold. Cassie takes flight on an imaginary journey following the underground railway. Place on hold at the library

 

I, Too, Am America, by Langston Hughes. Langston Hughes’s classic poem, paired with beautiful illustrations, tells the story of African-American Pullman porters, who collect books, magazines and albums left behind by passengers on trains. They toss them off into the wind to spread knowledge and culture to everyone in the world. Place on hold at the library

 

I Have a Dream, by Martin Luther King, Jr., illustrated by Kadir Nelson. Introduce kids to the history of racial tensions in the U.S. with the simplicity of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous text. The book comes with an audio CD so kids can listen to Dr. King’s speech and follow along. Place on hold at the library

Brown Girl Dreaming, by Jacqueline Woodson. "Jacqueline Woodson, one of today's finest writers, tells the moving story of her childhood in mesmerizing verse. Raised in South Carolina and New York, Woodson always felt halfway home in each place. In vivid poems, she shares what it was like to grow up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s, living with the remnants of Jim Crow and her growing awareness of the Civil Rights movement.” –New York Times Book Review. A Newbery Honor Book and Winner of the National Book Award and the 2015 E. B. White Read-Aloud Award. Place on hold at the library

This is the Rope: A Story from the Great Migration, by Jacqueline Woodson. In this beautifully illustrated book, a rope passed down through the generations frames an African American family's story as they journey north during the time of the Great Migration. Place on hold at the library

The Crossover, by Kwame Alexander. This 2015 Newbery Medal winner is a novel in verse about fourteen-year-old twin basketball stars Josh and Jordan, who wrestle with highs and lows on and off the court as their father ignores his declining health. A story of sports, family, and racial identity. Place on hold at the library

One Crazy Summer, by Rita Williams-Garcia. In the summer of 1968, after traveling from Brooklyn to Oakland, California, to spend a month with the mother they barely know, eleven-year-old Delphine and her two younger sisters arrive to a cold welcome as they discover that their mother, a dedicated poet and printer, is resentful of the intrusion of their visit and wants them to attend a nearby Black Panther summer camp. A Newbery Honor book and a National Book Award finalist. Place on hold at the library

Bosnian

My Childhood Under Fire, by Nadja Halilbegovich. Nadja Halilbegovich could be any twelve-year-old: she enjoys school, singing, and being with friends in Sarajevo. One spring morning in 1992 school is cancelled; the next day sniper fire and explosions drive Nadja, her family and neighbors to the basement. The siege of Sarajevo has begun. Place on hold at the library

Gleam and Glow, by Eve Bunting. After his home is destroyed by war, eight-year-old Viktor finds hope in the survival of two very special fish. Place on hold at the library

Cambodian

Half spoon of rice: a survival story of the Cambodian genocide, by Icy Smith. Nine-year-old Nat and his family are forced from their home on April 17, 1975, marched for many days, separated from each other, and forced to work in the rice fields, where Nat concentrates on survival. Includes historical notes and photographs documenting the Cambodian genocide. Place on hold at the library

Running Shoes, by Frederick Lipp. Sophy, a determined young girl living in an impoverished Cambodian village, fulfills her dream of going to school--with the help of a pair of running shoes. Place on hold at the library
 

Hispanic

Claudia series, by Diana G. Gallagher. Share the middle school adventures of Claudia Cristina Cortez.  Place on hold at the library

Looking for Louie and the Fourth of July, by Kathy Whitehead. A boy gets a big surprise when the low riders take part in the Independence Day parade. Place on hold at the library

Don’t Say a Word, Mama = No digas nada, mamá, by Joe Hayes. Sisters Rosa and Blanca are so kind, thoughtful, and generous--and such good gardeners--that their Mamá who lives between the two winds up with a great deal of corn, tomatoes, and red hot chiles. Place on hold at the library
 
Under the Mambo Moon, by Julia Durango. Poems about the different people who stop by Marisol's father's music store on a hot summer night, looking for just the right songs to make their hearts fly home. Place on hold at the library

Hmong

Tangled Threads: A Hmong Girl’s Story, by Pegi Deitz Shea. After ten years in a refugee camp in Thailand, thirteen-year-old Mai Yang travels to Providence, Rhode Island, where her Americanized cousins introduce her to pizza, shopping, and beer, while her grandmother and new friends keep her connected to her Hmong heritage. Place on hold at the library

Basha: A Hmong Child, by Herve Giraud. Take a trip to Vietnam and see what life is like for a Hmong child. Place on hold at the library

Little Cricket, by Jacquelyn M. Brown. After the upheaval of the Vietnam War reaches them, twelve-year-old Kia and her Hmong family flee from the mountains of Laos to a refugee camp in Thailand and eventually to the alien world of Saint Paul, Minnesota. Place on hold at the library
 

Dia’s Story Cloth: The Hmong People’s Journey of Freedom, by Dia Cha. Illustrated with traditional Hmong embroidery, this book tells the story of the author’s family and their search for freedom when they were forced to flee their home in Laos. Place on hold at the library

Iraqi

 

The White Zone, by Carolyn Marsden. As American bombs fall on Baghdad during the Iraq War, ten-year-old cousins Nouri and Talib witness the growing violence between Sunni and Shiite Muslims. Place on hold at the library

Native American

 

The Birchbark House, by Louis Erdrich. Omakayas, a seven-year-old Native American girl of the Ojibwa tribe, lives through the joys of summer and the perils of winter on an island in Lake Superior in 1847. The first in a series of wonderful novels for middle grades. Place on hold at the library

Somali

The Color of Home, by Mary Hoffman. A moving picture book telling the story of Hassan, a Somali first-grader who was forced to flee his home because of war and make a new home in America. Place on hold at the library

A Gift for Sadia, by Marie Fritz Perry. A young Somali girl immigrates to Minnesota and through the friendship of a wounded Canada goose learns how to accept her new life in America. Place on hold at the library
 

Sudanese

Brothers in Hope, by Mary Williams. This Caldecott Honor book tells the story of the arduous journey made by the Lost Boys of Sudan. Eight-year-old Garang, orphaned by a civil war in Sudan, finds the inner strength to help lead other boys as they trek hundreds of miles seeking safety in Ethiopia, then Kenya, and finally in the United States.  Place on hold at the library

Home of the Brave, by Katherine Applegate. A beautiful story told in free verse from the perspective of a young Sudanese refugee boy, newly arrived in Minnesota. Place on hold at the library

A Long Walk to Water, by Linda Sue Park. When the Sudanese civil war reaches his village in 1985, eleven-year-old Salva becomes separated from his family and must walk with other Dinka tribe members through southern Sudan, Ethiopia, and Kenya in search of a safe haven. Based on the life of Salva Dut, who, after emigrating to America in 1996, began a project to dig wells in Sudan. Place on hold at the library

The Red Pencil, by Andrea Davis Pinkney. After her tribal village is attacked by militants, Amira, a young Sudanese girl, must flee to safety at a refugee camp, where she finds hope and the chance to pursue an education in the form of a single red pencil and the friendship and encouragement of a wise elder. Place on hold at the library

My Great-Grandmother’s Gourd, by Christina Kessler. Residents of a Sudanese village rejoice when a traditional water storage method is replaced by modern technology, but Fatima's grandmother knows there is no substitute for the reliability of the baobab tree. Place on hold at the library
 

 

Vietnamese

Inside Out and Back Again, by Thanhha Lai. Through a series of poems, a young girl chronicles the life-changing year of 1975, when she, her mother, and her brothers leave Vietnam and resettle in Alabama. A Newbery Honor Book and winner of the National Book Award. Place on hold at the library 

The Lotus Seed, by Sherry Garland. A young Vietnamese girl saves a lotus seed and carries it with her everywhere to remember a brave emperor and the homeland that she has to flee. Place on hold at the library

 

Refugees


Four Feet, Two Sandals, by Karen Lynn Williams and Khadra Mohammed. Two Afghan girls in a refugee camp in Pakistan each find one sandal from a matching pair. Deciding that it is better to share the sandals than for each to wear only one, they soon become friends. Place on hold at the library

Shooting Kabul, by N.H. Senzai. Escaping from Taliban-controlled Afghanistan in the summer of 2001, eleven-year-old Fadi and his family immigrate to the San Francisco Bay Area, where Fadi schemes to return to the Pakistani refugee camp where his little sister was accidentally left behind. Place on hold at the library

Little Cricket, by Jacquelyn M. Brown. After the upheaval of the Vietnam War reaches them, twelve-year-old Kia and her Hmong family flee from the mountains of Laos to a refugee camp in Thailand and eventually to the alien world of Saint Paul, Minnesota. Place on hold at the library

 

The Red Pencil, by Andrea Davis Pinkney. After her tribal village is attacked by militants, Amira, a young Sudanese girl, must flee to safety at a refugee camp, where she finds hope and the chance to pursue an education in the form of a single red pencil and the friendship and encouragement of a wise elder. Place on hold at the library

Immigrants

One Green Apple, by Eve Bunting. While on a school field trip to an orchard to make cider, a young immigrant named Farah gains self-confidence when the green apple she picks perfectly complements the other students' red apples. Place on hold at the library

Lupita Manana, by Patricia Beatty. To help her poverty-stricken family, 13-year-old Lupita enters California as an illegal alien and starts to work while constantly on the watch for "la migra." Place on hold at the library

My Two Blankets, by Irena Kobald. A homesick little girl who has recently moved to an unfamiliar country comforts herself by clinging to an old blanket, but when she meets a new friend, the relationship helps her take her first steps into a new culture. Place on hold at the library
 

The Name Jar, by Yangsook Choi. Unhei is nervous that her new classmates won’t be able to pronounce her Korean name, so she tells them she will choose a new name from a jar in a week. But while she practices becoming Suzy, Laura, and Amanda, someone discovers her real name and steals the jar! Place on hold at the library

A Piece of Home, by Jeri Watts. Hee Jun who faces daunting challenges when has to move from Korea to West Virginia, becoming suddenly a “different” kid instead of just one of the crowd. A sweet, insightful story about the trials and triumphs of starting over in a new place while keeping family and traditions close. Place on hold at the library

The Thing About Luck, by Cynthia Kadohata. Just when twelve-year-old Japanese-American Summer thinks nothing else can possibly go wrong in a year of bad luck, an emergency takes her parents to Japan, leaving Summer to care for her little brother while helping her grandmother cook and do laundry for harvest workers. Generations and culture clash in this National Book Award winner. Place on hold at the library

Sexual Orientation

In Our Mother’s House, by Patricia Polacco. Three young children experience the joys and challenges of being raised by two mothers. Place on hold at the library

Molly’s Family, by Nancy Garden. When Molly draws a picture of her family for Open School Night, one of her classmates makes her feel bad because he says she cannot have a mommy and a momma. Place on hold at the library


My Two Uncles, by Judith Vigna. Elly's grandfather has trouble accepting the fact that his son is gay. Place on hold at the library

Mini Mia and her Darling Uncle, by Pija Lindenbaum. Ella, whose nickname is "Mini Mia" because her favorite soccer player is Mia Hamm, loves spending time with her eccentric uncle Tommy, but finds herself a bit put out when she has to share him with his new boyfriend Fergus. Place on hold at the library
 

Gender Identity

George, by Alex Gino. When people look at George, they think they see a boy. But she knows she's not a boy. She knows she's a girl. George thinks she'll have to keep this a secret forever. Then her teacher announces that their class play is going to be Charlotte's Web. George really, really, wants to play Charlotte. But the teacher says she can't even try out for the part, because she's a boy. With the help of her best friend, Kelly, George comes up with a plan. Place on hold at the library

10,000 Dresses, by Marcus Ewert. Bailey longs to wear beautiful dresses but is ridiculed by his/her unsympathetic family which rejects her true perception of herself. Place on hold at the library

Be Who You Are, by Jennifer Carr. Nick was born in a boy's body, but has always felt like a girl inside. Nick's family supports him when he says he no longer wants to be called a boy or dress like a boy; "Always remember to be who you are Nick. Remember that we love you, and we are so proud of you." (p. 17). Nick's parents find a group for families like theirs. With their support, Nick expresses a desire to be addressed as "she", and then to be named "Hope." Based on the author's experiences with her children. Place on hold at the library
 

Gender Roles

The Green Bicycle, by Haifaa Al-Mansour. Since girls do not ride bikes in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, eleven year old Wadjda has to scheme to get her own. Place on hold at the library Since girls do not ride bikes in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, eleven year old Wadjda has to scheme to get her own. Place on hold at the library

Nate Ballerino, by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. After seeing a ballet performance, Nate decides he wants to learn ballet but he has doubts when his brother Ben tells him that only girls can be ballerinas. Place on hold at the library  

William’s Doll, by Charlotte Zolotow. William's father gives him a basketball and a train but these do not make him want a doll less. Place on hold at the library

 

Tatterhood and Other Tales, edited by Ethel Johnston Phelps. A collection of 25 traditional tales from around the world, all featuring spirited heroines with extraordinary courage and wit. Buy on Amazon

Disability

Out of My Mind, by Sharon Draper. Considered by many to be mentally retarded, a brilliant, impatient fifth-grader with cerebral palsy discovers a technological device that will allow her to speak for the first time. Place on hold at the library

Wonder, by R.J. Palacio. Ten-year-old Auggie Pullman, who was born with extreme facial abnormalities and was not expected to survive, goes from being home-schooled to entering fifth grade at a private middle school in Manhattan, which entails enduring the taunting and fear of his classmates as he struggles to be seen as just another student. Place on hold at the library

My Buddy, by Audrey Osofsky. A young boy with muscular dystrophy is teamed up with a dog trained to do things for him that he can't do for himself. Place on hold at the library

Thank You, Mr. Falker, by Patricia Polacco. At first, Trisha loves school, but her difficulty learning to read makes her feel dumb, until, in the fifth grade, a new teacher helps her understand and overcome her problem. Place on hold at the library

What’s Wrong With Timmy? By Maria Shriver. Making friends with a mentally retarded boy helps Kate learn that the two of them have a lot in common. Place on hold at the library
 

Susan Laughs, by Jeanne Willis. Susan laughs, sings, rides, swings. She gets angry, she gets sad, she is good, she is bad. Not until the last adorable picture do readers see that Susan has a wheelchair. Place on hold at the library

 

Looking After Louis, by Lesley Ely. Louis has autism, but through imagination, kindness, and a special game of soccer, his classmates find a way to join him in his world. Then they can include Louis in theirs. Place on hold at the library


My Friend Isabelle, by Eliza Woloson. Isabelle and Charlie are friends. They both like to draw, dance, read, and play at the park. They both like to eat Cheerios. They both cry if their feelings are hurt. And, like most friends, they are also different from each other. Isabelle has Down syndrome. Charlie doesn't. Place on hold at the library

 

All Dogs Have ADHD and All Cats Have Asperger Syndrome, by Kathy Hoopman. A playful introduction to two of the common learning disabilities children may see in their classrooms. Buy on Amazon

 

Generations

Grandmother and I, by Helen E. Buckley. A child considers how Grandmother's lap is just right for those times when lightning is coming in the window or the cat is missing. Place on hold at the library

Nana Upstairs and Nana Downstairs, by Tomie DePaola. A small boy enjoys his relationship with his grandmother and his great-grandmother, but he learns to face their inevitable death. Place on hold at the library

The Hundred Penny Box, by Sharon Bell Mathis. Michael's love for his great-great-aunt who lives with them leads him to intercede with his mother who wants to toss out all her old things. Place on hold at the library

Sadie and Ori and the Blue Blanket, by Jamie S. Korngold. When Sadie and Ori are born, Grandma knits them a soft blue Together Blanket, but as Grandma gets older, the activities they can do together change. Place on hold at the library

Mrs. Katz and Tush, by Patricia Polacco. A long-lasting friendship develops between Larnel, a young African-American, and Mrs. Katz, a lonely Jewish widow, when Larnel presents Mrs. Katzwith a scrawny kitten without a tail. Place on hold at the library
 

 

Religion

White Nights of Ramadan, by Maha Addasi. Noor and her family prepare for the festival of Girgian. Place on hold at the library

The Garden of My Imaan, by F. Zia. The arrival of new student Marwa, a fellow sixth-grader who's a strict Muslim, helps Aliya come to terms with her own lukewarm practice of the faith and her embarrassment over others' reactions to their beliefs. Place on hold at the library

Hanukkah, Shmanukkah, by Esme Codell. In this spin on A Christmas carol, Old Scroogemacher is a tyrant to the poor workers in his waistcoat factory, even on the last night of Hanukkah. Visited by three rabbis, Scroogemacher travels from the time of the Maccabees to present day. Place on hold at the library

Buddha Stories, by Demi. A collection of ten Jataka tales from Buddha. Place on hold at the library

The Broken Tusk, by Uma Krishnaswami. A collection of stories about the pantheon of Hindu gods, centering on the sometimes greedy, sometimes impulsive, but always generous, elephant-headed Ganesha. Place on hold at the library

Kingfisher Children’s Bible, by Trevor Barnes. Illustrated stories from the Old and New Testaments with a reference section that includes maps, diagrams, and historical background. Place on hold at the library
 

 

Poverty

The Orange Shoes, by Trina Hakes Noble. Delly Porter enjoys the feel of soft dirt beneath her feet as she walks to and from school, but after a classmate makes her feel ashamed of having no shoes she learns that her parents and others, too, see value in things that do not cost money. Place on hold at the library

The Land of Forgotten Girls, by Erin Entrada Kelly. Abandoned by their father and living in poverty with their heartless stepmother in Louisiana, two sisters from the Philippines, twelve-year-old Sol and six-year-old Ming, learn the true meaning of family. Place on hold at the library

The Kite, by Luis Garay. Since his father's death, Francisco's small earnings are essential for the family's livelihood. Each morning he has three wishes: that he will sell all of his papers in the marketplace; that his mother's baby will be born soon; and hat the kite that he longs for will still be hanging in Senor Gonzalez's toy stall. Place on hold at the library