One of the most shameful aspects of the kid lit book publishing industry is the lack of books published each year that feature people of color. Did you know:
A study published in 1965 concluded that 6.7% of picture books contained one or more African-American characters.
Fast forward almost 60 years and the percentage of people of color featured in kids' books made a minor increase to roughly 10 percent. And, guess what? That percentage hasn't budged upward in nearly 20 years!
And in the meantime, I'm pretty sure you've heard about the projections regarding the explosive growth of the non-white U.S. population?
Kids of color need to see their faces reflected in the media they consume. At the same time, if books no longer reflect the real make-up of the world around them, kids (and their parents), white, brown, green, purple, or otherwise, will turn away from books to something more accurate. With these points in mind, multicultural kids' books are more important than ever.
I'm very excited to have joined up with other bloggers via Multicultural Kid Blogs and will write about a Global Pick of the Day once a month. For January, I've put together a list of my favorite multicultural picture books published in the last few years for you to share with your children. If you are related to or teach children of color, these books are a perfect way to help them see themselves in media. And even if you aren't or don't, they are also excellent (and fun!) titles in their own right.
Ling and Ting: Not Exactly the Same! by Grace Lin (series)
This is the first book in an award-winning series by author Grace Lin, who's written loads of wonderful picture and chapter books featuring Chinese and Chinese-American characters. Ling and Ting is her first foray into writing easy/beginning readers, which are written for children who are just learning to read. Ling and Ting are identical twins who enjoy adorable adventures together in three books.
At the Same Moment Around the World by Clotilde Perrin
I learned about this book from a super-helpful staff person at Carmichael's Kids Bookstore when I visited my hometown last month for the holidays. Written by a French author, At the Same Moment is really cool because it shows what people are doing all around the world at one time, reflecting global time zones and cultures. So while Mitko runs after his school bus in Bulgaria, Allen and Kiana watch the sunset in Hawaii. It even has a fold-out map at the end, in which kids can see each location in the story, as well as an explanation of time zones and timekeeping. Both my five and nine year olds loved it!
Pecan Pie Baby by Jacqueline Woodson and Sophie Blackall
When two of my favorite kid lit creators get together, I anticipate something great will happen. That's exactly true of Pecan Pie Baby, which tells the universal story of a child getting ready to become a sibling for the first time. Not only does Woodson demonstrate a clever, positive way to deal with change, but diversity is front and center: Main character Gia has a mixed-race extended family, and her mother is a single parent.
Take Me Out to the Yakyu by Aaron Meshon
This award-winning picture book wonderfully combines an "all-American" cultural tradition with a multicultural story. I work with a lot of baseball obsessed kids and very few of them know that baseball is just as popular in Japan as it is in the United States. This is such a fresh take on a well-known topic; a biracial boy describes trips with his American grandfather to see baseball games in America and compares them with similar outings with his Japanese grandfather overseas. Meshon fleshes the story out with a glossary of Japanese terms and a note on baseball in Japan.
Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña and Christian Robinson
I am so excited to share this brand new picture book with you, which was just released today! I highly recommend de la Peña's chapter books and non-fiction, and Christian Robinson has illustrated two other favorites of mine, so you can bet these two came together to create something amazing. Last Stop on Market Street has already received several starred reviews, and you can see more of it and learn more about it here.
As they wait for the bus, CJ questions his grandmother about why he has to do things differently than other kids, including using public transport, living in the "dirty" city, and not owning an iPod. Nana teaches CJ to look at the world through a different lens, with answers like, "Sometimes when you're surrounded by dirt, CJ, you're a better witness for what's beautiful." The story ends powerfully, as CJ and Nana arrive at a soup kitchen. The incredibly-talented Robinson portrays a multicultural urbanity that is simple and realistic. This is a book not just for kids of color, but for all children, everywhere.
Big Red Lollipop by Rukhsana Khan and Sophie Blackall
I love a story rooted in a non-Anglo culture that touches on universal experiences to which many children of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds can relate. I think the most powerful multicultural picture books often tell a tale with details specific to one culture, but a plot that rings true across the world. In this way, kids learn that while we celebrate our differences, we are all essentially human.
Big Red Lollipop is such a picture book; it tells of a girl who attends an American birthday party and doesn't want to take her younger sister along, despite her mother's insistence. While the book deftly portrays issues of immigrant assimilation for a young elementary audience (no small feat in itself), it also manages to couch the plot in the universal quandary of sibling rivalry. Khan, a Canadian of Pakistani descent, writes an engaging story about an immigrant family, based on her own experience. This wonderful title is also an American Library Association Notable Book. You should make sure to check out Khan's most recent picture book, King for a Day, which received two starred reviews, and takes place in Pakistan.
Tiger in My Soup by Kashmira Sheth
I just couldn't leave this book off my list, which my five-year-old son had me read about a hundred times to him last spring. He liked it so much, he found it on the library shelf in Kindergarten this fall, and brought it home so we could read it a hundred more times. Read my full review here.
Green is a Chile Pepper: A Book of Colors by Roseanne Greenfield Thong and John Parra
Thong and Parra produced this follow-up on the heels of the success of Round is A Tortilla: A Book of Shapes. Lots of bright universal appeal here, as these concept books will suit very young children as well as older kids who will readily pick up on the Mexican-American flavor. I love that this book can be used in so many ways, as it features colors, the Day of the Dead, folk dance, and cooking ... so many extension possibilities!
Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns: A Muslim Book of Colors by Hena Khan and Mehrdokht Amini
Khan, a Pakistani-American, has penned a lovely picture book, once again using colors, to introduce kids to Muslim culture with a young girl as their guide. The warm illustrations and simple text offer an easy way to teach young kids some of the basics of another culture.
Maps by Aleksandra and Daniel Mizielinski
There is so little I can write to do justice to this book, which you simply have to pick up and peruse to appreciate. Take your kids around the world with Polish author/illustrators Aleksandra and Daniel Mizielinski, while never leaving the comfort of home. Kids (and adults!) will enjoy poring through the maps and gleaning tons of interesting information on the people, customs, foods, and more of many, many cultures. Here are some beautiful interior images to whet your whistle. And know that this is not simply an atlas, but much, much more!
Simon and the Bear: A Hanukkah Tale by Eric A. Kimmel and Matthew Truman
I'm hoping that the word "Hanukkah" in the title doesn't deter you from getting your hands on this magnificent picture book post-holiday season. This is a wonderful story in its own right, a tale of immigration, survival, and miracles. Read my full review here.
I hope I've given you a fun list of titles to try out. You can find even more new multicultural picture books here:
In future months we'll take a look at some wonderful folklore from all over the world that you can share with your kids. Folktales are always storytime hits, so I can't wait to share them with you!
All statistics and research were taken from the We Need Diverse Books website. Much appreciation to this group for their hard work for a worthy cause!
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