This One’s For the Children

N927S32ABy Denise Balkissoon

I’m a former child bookworm who was hurt and confused by the racism in some of my favourites (I suppose Frances Hodgson Burnett was just “a product of her time”). I’m also a very new parent who wants my babe to love books, but avoid those icky feelings. So I was unhappy to see the stark stats in a recent New York Times piece about characters of colour in children’s books–of thousands of books published in the U.S. last year, not even 500 have African-American or Latina protagonists–and pleased that it sparked some good convos on Twitter.

I figured that compiling all of the suggested books into a handy list would be handy. Thanks to everyone for their suggestions, most especially Amena Rajwani of the Toronto Public Library . If you’ve got more, add them in the comments!

After the jump: a WHOLE BUNCH of multicultural books for babies, kids and teens (in absolutely no particular order):

Books for little kids: Molly Bang’s Ten, Nine, Eight; More, More, More said the Baby; When This Box is Full (kinda); Grace Lin’s books.

Asian-American kids books: Sam and the Lucky Money, Dumpling soup, Halmoni and The Picnic

@paolobacigalupi writes fun fantasy #kidslit with mixed race characters

This is great: Nine Picture Books that celebrate mixed race families.

Adventures of Boyzie Jones – series. Wooing of Beppo Tate.

 @Nalo_Hopkinson‘s YA fantasy The Chaos incorporates Caribbean folklore and is set in Canada.

Corduroy by Don Freeman, of course! That’s him above, being loved by Lisa.

Two Canadian publishers working to put out more books with aboriginal kids in them: Strong Nations Publishing out of BC, which currently provides books to several school boards in western Canada and Good Minds, from Ontario.

Board Books:

Boy of Mine by Jabari Asim, 2010

Everywhere Babies by Susan Meyers, 2001

Girl of Mine by Jabari Asim, 2010

Little You by Richard Van Camp, 2013 (One mom says “RVC has written some wonderful kids books too, really lovely board books too”)

Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes by Mem Fox, 2008

Whose Toes are Those by Jabari Asim,  2006

Whose Knees are These by Jabari Asim, 2006

Picture Books:

Baya, Baya, Lulla-by-a by Megan McDonald, 2003 (India)

Bee-Bim Bop! by Linda Sue Park, 2005 (Korea)

Brining In The New Year by Grace Lin, 2008 (Chinese American)

Brown Like Me by Noelle Lamperti, 1999 (African American)

Chicken Sunday by Patricia Polacco, 1992 (African American)

The Churki-Burki Book of Rhyme by Gita Wolf, 2010 (India)

Cora Cooks Pancit by Dorina Lazo Gilmore, 2009 (Filipino American)

Duck for Turkey Day by Jacqueline Jules, 2009 (Vietnamese American)

Elizabeti’s Doll by Stephanie A. Bodeen, 1998 (Tanzania)

The Giant Bear: An Inuit Folktale by Jose Angutinngurniq, 2012 (Inuit)

Grandfather Counts by Andrea Cheng, 2000 (Chinese American)

The Happiest Tree: A Yoga Story by Uma Krishnaswami, 2005 (East Indian American)

Happy to be Nappy by bell hooks, 1999 (African American)

He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands by Kadir Nelson, 2005 (African American)

Hot Hot Roti for Dada-ji by Farhana Zia, 2011 (East Indian American)

Hush! A Thai Lullaby by Minfong Ho, 1996 (Thailand)

I Love My Hair! by Natasha Tarpley, 1998 (African American)

The Kite Fighters by Linda Sue Park, 2000 (Korea)

Kumak’s Fish: A Tall Tale from the Far North by Michael Bania, 2004 (Inuit)

Lala Salama by Patricia MacLachlan, 2011 (Tanzania)

Lola at the Library by Anna McQuinn, 2006 (African American)

Mama’s Saris by Pooja Makhijani, 2007 (East Indian American)

Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match by Monica Brown, 2011 (Bicultural)

More More More Said the Baby by Vera B. Williams, 1990 (Multicultural)

My Chinatown: One Year in Poems by Kam Mak, 2002 (Chinese American)

My Dadima Wears a Sari by Kashmira Sheth, 2007 (East Indian American)

My First Chinese New Year by Karen Katz, 2004 (Chinese American)

Peekaboo Morning by Rachel Isadora, 2002 (African American)

Peter’s Chair by Ezra Jack Keats, 1967 (African American)

Please, Baby, Please by Spike Lee and Tonya Lewis Lee, 2001 (African American)

The Polar Bear Son: An Inuit Tale by Lydia Dabcovich, 1996 (Inuit)

The Rice Bag Hammock by Shaeeza Haniff, 2011 (Guyana)

Silly Chicken by Rukhsana Khan, 2005 (Pakistan)

The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats, 1962 (African American)

T is For Taj Mahal: An India Alphabet by Varsha Bajaj, 2011 (India)

Tomás and the Library Lady by Pat Mora, 1997 (Mexican American)

Too Many Tamales by Gary Soto, 1993 (Mexican American)

Tummy Girl by Roseanne Thong, 2007 (Chinese American)

The Umbrella Queen by Shirin Yim Bridges, 2008 (Thailand)

Waiting for the Biblioburro by Monica Brown, 2011 (Columbia)

What Should I Make by Nandini Nayar, 2009 (India)

Yoko Writes Her Name by Rosemary Wells, 2008 (Japanese American)

Advanced Picture Books:

The American Wei by Marion Hess Pomeranc, 1998 (Chinese American)

An Mei’s Strange and Wondrous Journey by Stephan Molnar-Fenton, 1998 (Chinese American)

Babu’s Song by Stephanie A. Bodeen, 2003 (Tanzania)

The Best Eid Ever by Asma Mobin-Uddin, 2007 (Indo-Pakistani American)

Bringing Asha Home by Uma Krishnaswami, 2006 (East Indian American)

The Composition by Antonia Skarmeta, 2000 (Chile)

Coolies by Yin, 2001 (Chinese American)

Ganesha’s Sweet Tooth by Sanjay Patel, 2012 (India)

The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses by Paul Goble, 1978 (Native American)

Good-bye, 382 Shin Dang Dong by Frances Park, 2002 (Korean American)

Good Night, Commander by Ahmad Akbarpour, 2010 (Iran)

Henry’s Freedom Box by Ellen Levine, 2007 (African American)

Jazzy Miz Mozetta by Brenda C. Roberts, 2004 (African American)

Josias, Hold The Book by Jennifer Riesmeyer Elvgren, 2006 (Haiti)

The Last Dragon by Susan Nunes, 1995 (Chinese American)

The Librarian of Basra: A True Story from Iraq by Jeanette Winter, 2005 (Iraq)

Little Mamá Forgets by Robin Cruise, 2006 (Mexican American)

Monsoon by Uma Krishnaswami, 2003 (India)

Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters by John Steptoe, 1987 (Zimbabwe)

Nadia’s Hands by Karen English, 1999 (Pakistan)

Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story from Afghanistan by Jeanette Winter, 2009 (Afghanistan)

Nim and the War Effort by Milly Lee, 1997 (Chinese American)

The Quiet Place by Sarah Stewart, 2012 (Mexican American)

Romina’s Rangoli by Malathi Michelle Iyengar, 2007 (Bicultural)

The Rough-Face Girl by Rafe Martin, 1992 (Algonquin)

The Rumor by Anushka Ravishankar, 2012 (India)

Something Beautiful by Sharon Dennis Wyeth, 1998 (African American)

The Streets Are Free by Kurusa, 1985 (Venezuela)

Tar Beach by Faith Ringgold, 1991 (African American)

Tea With Milk by Allen Say, 1999 (Japan)

The Trip Back Home by Janet S. Wong, 2000 (Korean American)

The Umbrella Thief by Sybil Wettasinghe, 1987 (Sri Lanka)

The White Nights of Ramadan by Maha Addasi, 2008 (Kuwait)


Alvin Ho: Allergic to Dead Bodies, Funerals, and Other Fatal Circumstances by Lenore Look, 2011 (Chinese American)

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang, 2006 (Chinese American)

Anahita’s Woven Riddle by Meghan Nuttall Sayres, 2006 (Iran)

Ask Me No Questions by Marina Tamar Budhos, 2006 (Bangladeshi American)

Beneath My Mother’s Feet by Amjed Qamar, 2008 (Pakistan)

Bird by Zetta Elliott, 2008 (African American)

Born Confused by Tanuja Desai Hidier, 2002 (East Indian American)

The Breadwinner by Deborah Ellis, 2000 (Afghanistan)

The Country of Wolves = Amaqqut Nunaat by Neil Christopher, 2013 (Inuit)

Dawn and Dusk by Alice Mead, 2007 (Iran)

The Fire Horse Girl by Kay Honeyman, 2013 (Chinese American)

The Garden of My Imaan by Farhana Zia, 2013 (East Indian American)

Homeless Bird by Gloria Whelan, 2000 (India)

In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson by Bette Lord, 1984 (Chinese American)

Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai, 2011 (Vietnamese American)

Koyal Dark, Mango Sweet by Kashmira Sheth, 2006 (India)

The Lightning Dreamer: Cuba’s Greatest Abolitionist by Margarita Engle, 2013 (Cuba)

Looking for Bapu by Anjali Banerjee, 2006 (East Indian American)

Lowji Discovers America by Candace Fleming, 2005 (East Indian American)

Monsoon Summer by Mitali Perkins, 2004 (India)

My Name is Maria Isabel by Alma Flor Ada, 1993 (Puerto Rican American)

Nine Days by Fred Hiatt, 2013 (Chinese American)

The No Dogs Allowed Rule by Kashmira Sheth, 2012 (East Indian American)

Paper Daughter by Jeanette Ingold, 2010 (Chinese American)

Ruby Lu, Empress of Everything by Lenore Look, 2006 (Chinese American)

Saraswati’s Way by Monika Schröder, 2010 (India)

The Savage Fortress by Sarwat Chadda, 2012 (India)

Selavi, That is Life: A Haitian Story of Hope by Youme Landowne, 2004 (Haiti)

Shabanu: Daughter of the Wind by Suzanne Fisher Staples, 1989 (Pakistan)

Shadow Spinner by Susan Fletcher, 1998 (Iran)

Tasting the Sky: A Palestinian Childhood by Ibtisam Barakat, 2007 (Palestine)

The Tiffin by Mahtab Narsimhan, 2011 (India)

Totto-Chan: The Little Girl at the Window by Tetsuko Kuroyanagi (translated by Dorothy Britton), 1982 (Japan)

When My Name Was Keoko by Linda Sue Park, 2002 (Korea)

The Year of the Books by Andrea Cheng, 2012 (Chinese American

Younguncle Comes to Town by Vandana Singh, 2006 (India)

For older kids: Rick Riordan’s Egyptian books and the Marty Chan mystery series both have young men of colour as their heroes. There are also kids books by Joseph Bruchac, an Abenaki writer.

EZRA JACK KEATS! Remarkable man, wonderful books. A must.

Todd Parr’s stuff is super sugary, but cute.

A Mother for Choco points out that a family doesn’t have to look alike to be a family.

Lists: Best Sellers in Children’s Multicultural Story Books

Canadian Children’s Book Centre: “Canadian Multicultural-themed Books for Kids”

Cooperative Children’s Book Center: “Multicultural Literature”

Delightful Children’s Books (Amy Broadmoore): “Read Around the World”

Goodreads: “African American Picture Books”

Goodreads: “Asian Young Adult and Middle Grade Fiction”

Goodreads: “Best Asian-American teen fiction”

Goodreads: “Best Multicultural Books for Children”

Goodreads: “It’s Good To Be Me”

Goodreads: “Multicultural Children’s Books”

Goodreads: “Multicultural Children’s Lit”

Goodreads: “Multicultural Picture Books for the Classroom”

Goodreads: “Read Around the World”

Michigan State University: “Award Winners and Recommended Diverse Children’s Books”

PragmaticMom: “Multicultural Books for Children: 40+ Book Lists”

Reading Is Fundamental: “RIF’s Multicultural Booklists”

Roberta F. Hammett: “An Annotated Bibliography Of Canadian Multicultural Picture Books Published Since 1990”


5 thoughts on “This One’s For the Children

  1. This is such a great list, Denise!

    I will add: The Nutmeg Princess by Richardo Keens-Douglas (West Indian) and Shin-chi’s Canoe by Nicola I. Campbell (First Nations). I can picture illustrations from others, but don’t have my childhood bookshelf in front of me. Definitely something to make note of next time I’m home.

  2. I’d like to add my own little book website to your “go-to” places to find books for teens and young adults of Color. Alien Star Books,, features science fiction and fantasy with main characters of Color. Because it’s about inclusion, there’s room for all good books. I do include parental warnings, including some on the “classics” warning that they were written in a different era and may include ideas and words not socially acceptable in today’s world.

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