Let’s take a little trip down memory lane. Back in 2014, I was packing up my classroom library in preparation of changing schools. As I was organizing and purging, I realized that my classroom library wasn’t very diverse. I mean literally like 90% off my fiction books had White or animal main characters. It made me so sad. I could do better. I knew my students deserved to see Black, Brown, Yellow, Tan characters lead a story. So, I made a promise to build a more diverse library that included more books about diverse characters in leading roles. It was a small change, one that I am still working on.
So lately, many of you have been asking for book recommendations as you create a classroom library that celebrates diversity and inclusion, too. As teachers, we work hard to find quality text that supports diversity and represents our students in our classroom. Thank you for being intentional and proactive about incorporating books that represent diverse cultures, races, and backgrounds.
So today I thought I’d share some of the books I’ve picked up over the years in my effort to find mirrors and windows for my students. These are just a few of the amazing books that are out there and it’s only a peek at some of my books, but these are 20 of my must-reads for adding more diversity to your classroom library.
Collectively, these books cover a variety of backgrounds, cultures and beliefs, races, and traditions. Not to mention, they lay the foundation for conversations about topics like taking action on an important cause, oppression, slavery, overcoming hardship, embracing differences, and welcoming others.
Please note this post contains affiliate links. If you do follow my links, please know that I do make a very, very small commission from your purchase. There is no cost to you, but this extra coinage usually helps feed my book addiction. For this post, however, all proceeds earned from affiliate marketing is being donated to WeNeedDiverseBooks.org It’s a small way I’m working to give mirrors and windows to kids all over. To see how WeNeedDiverseBooks is working to expand classroom libraries and uplift diverse authors, click here! #bookloversunite
20 Must-Have Diverse Books for your Classroom Library
If your time is short and you just want to check these books out on Amazon, you can click the links below! Or, read on to learn more about each book in the descriptions and details below!
- We Are All Welcome 2. The Name Jar 3. A Chair for My Mother 4. Those Shoes 5. Same, Same, But Different 6. Sofia Valdez Future Prez 7. The Patchwork Path 8. Jabari Jumps 9. Letters from Minty 10. Juneteenth for Mazie 11. Henry’s Freedom Box 12. Goodbye Summer, Hello Autumn 13. Fry Bread 14. Skin Like Mine 15. Last Stop on Market Street 16. Festival of Colors 17. Little Red and the Very Hungry Lion 18. Under My Hijab 19. Round is a Tortilla 20. Hair Like Mine
1. All are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold & Suzanne Kaufman
Summary: This book follows a group of students through their day where kids in patkas, hijabs, yarmulkes all play together with friends in baseball caps. The students learn and grow from each others’ traditions as they all come together to celebrate the Lunar New Year.
Why it’s a must read: This New York Times Bestseller delivers a hugely relevant message about celebrating diversity and inclusion, all while encouraging and supporting all kids, in a very age-appropriate way. Create a safe space for your students with this one, letting them know that they ALL are welcome and have a place in their school, no matter their culture, background, beliefs, or race.
Perfect for: Kindergarten through 3rd Grade
2.Hair like Mine by LaTashia M. Perry
Summary: A little girl doesn’t like that her naturally curly hair looks different from the other kids’ hair around her. She goes on a quest to find someone with hair like hers, but discovers that everyone has features and things that make them unique and beautiful.
Why it’s a must read: Use this easy read to help your students understand and appreciate that we are all special because of the things that make us unique and different, not in spite of them.
Perfect for: Kindergarten to 6th Grade
3.Festival of Colors by Kabir Sehgal & Surishtha Sehgal
Summary: Brother and sister duo, Mintoo and Chintoo, gather flowers to make into colorful powders to toss in the air during Holi, the Hindu Festival of Colors. It is a tale of new beginnings, friendship, and forgiveness that teaches readers about Indian culture, country, and community, as well!
Why it’s a must read: Packed with gorgeous colors and pictures, this is a great way to teach students about other cultures and their holidays and festivals.
Perfect for: Young children, up through 3rd Grade
4.Sophia Valdez, Future Prez by Andrea Beaty
Summary: Sofia Valdez is in 2nd grade when her beloved Abuelo hurts his ankle at Mount Trashmore, the local landfill. Sofia decides the town would be better off with a park instead of a landfill. While Sofia is nervous at the prospect of talking to the town leaders at City Hall, she works up her courage and goes down to present her idea. When she is told no, she is spurred on to action.
Why it’s a must-read: So many of your students will relate to Sofia, a young girl who wants to initiate change in her world. After discussing possible changes that would benefit their community, have students write up a plan of action for getting the job done. Use it as a launching point for empowering your students to pursue lasting change not only in class, but also in the school, their families, and the local community!
Perfect for: 1st Grade to 4th Grade
5.The Patchwork Path by Bettye Stroud
Summary: Hannah and her Papa are on the run for their freedom. Brilliantly, they use hidden clues in Mama’s patchwork quilt to guide them along the Underground Railroad as they escape slavery to freedom in Canada.
Why it’s a must read: This one is such a beautiful foundation on which to begin teaching your students about African-American history, slavery, and the Underground Railroad. Plus, they’ll love figuring out the clues, which will keep them engaged and wanting to learn more as a groundwork for teaching this crucial topic.
Perfect for: Kindergarten to 3rd Grade
6. Fry Bread by Kevin Noble Maillard
Summary: Written by a member of the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma, this book is not so much a story, but more a poetic ode to the role of fry bread in Native American culture and community. The fry bread becomes a symbolic way to tell a story about Native American families and their rich history.
Why it’s a must read: Award after award after award-winning, this book really gets to the heart of the Native American culture and heritage, in a unique and lovely way, providing a launching point to endless options for units and lessons. It’s easy to read and also provides more facts about Native American history, culture, food, art, and so on at the end of the book… even a recipe for fry bread!
Perfect for: Young children, Kindergarten and 1st Grade
7.Last Stop on Market Street by Matt De La Mesa
Summary: Every Sunday after church, CJ and his grandma ride the bus across town. On their travels, CJ wonders why they don’t own a car or have an iPod. Each question is met with an encouraging answer from grandma, who helps him see the beauty—and fun—in their routine and the world around them.
Why It’s a Must Read: Well, did you see all the awards this book has won?? Here are just a few of those accolades:
-Winner of the 2016 Newbery Medal
-A 2016 Caldecott Honor Book
-A 2016 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Book
-A New York Times Book Review Notable Children’s Book of 2015
-A Wall Street Journal Best Children’s Book of 2015
This book has all these awards for good reason. It is the perfect combination of quality literature, diverse characters, and a lesson learned at the end. The simple text structure shrouds the deeper meaning, but as the readers progress through the book, eventually they come to better understand the two main characters.
Perfect for: pre-k through 2nd Grade
8.Those Shoes by Maribeth Boelts
Summary: All Jeremy wants is a pair of shoes that everyone at school seems to be wearing. Unfortunately, Jeremy’s grandma says they don’t have room for “want,” just “need.” So when his old shoes fall apart at school, he is more determined than ever to have those shoes! But sore feet aren’t much fun, and Jeremy soon sees that the chance to help a friend is worth more than any of his wants.
Why It’s a Must: Every child in your classroom has wanted something as bad Jeremy does in this book, making the connection with Jeremy and the story that unfolds all the more relatable. If you’re in need of a book that teaches about selflessness, this is your go-to! Want week-long lesson plans for this book? Check out my Close Reading All Year Bundle with this book included!
Perfect for: Kindergarten up to 3rd Grade
9.Little Red and the Very Hungry Lion by Alex T. Smith
Summary: In this safari-themed spin on the classic Little Red Riding Hood, Little Red is on her way to visit her aunt with a basket of goodies and medicine when she meets the Very Hungry Lion who wants to eat her! However, his plan doesn’t quite turn out how he had hoped.
Why it’s a must: The fun, bold art will really capture your students’ attention. Then, the content will help pave the way for students to find solutions to challenges instead of just walking away and giving up. I love using this book as part of a compare and contrast lesson with Little Red Riding Hood.
Perfect for: Kindergarten through 2nd grade
10.Goodbye Summer, Hello Autumn by Kenard Park
Summary: Simple text follows a young girl on a walk through town. She says hello to the nature she sees – like the flowers and animals – as she walks through her town and the nearby forest admiring the signs of the coming season. The natural elements respond by explaining ways they each change as the season turns from summer to autumn.
Why it’s a must: The illustrations are beautiful. It lends itself perfectly to the ability to introduce a fall unit or as part of a seasons study – especially because it is part of a series. The conversations she has with nature help students understand the subtle changes in seasons as summer turns to autumn. We use it as a way to introduce our “Autumn” thematic unit!
Perfect for: K through 3rd grade.
11.Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall
Summary: Jabari has finished his swim lessons and passed his tests, so now he is ready to jump off a diving board for the first time! Follow Jabari at the community pool as he works up the courage – with help from dad who tells him it’s okay to be scared – to make the big jump.
Why it’s a must read: This story will help your students learn that it’s okay to have fear, but still take action. It doesn’t need to paralyze us. Something may feel unfamiliar or uncomfortable, but that is why it is all the more worthwhile once you accomplish it! This is important for them to know as they tackle race issues and seek to help others through action and change within their circle and community as they grow up.
Perfect for: Kindergarten through 2nd Grade
12.Letters from Minty by Students at Gateway Christian Academy, FL
Summary: This book is a pretty incredible and creative peek into the life and thoughts of a young Harriet Tubman, whose birth name is Araminta… aka Minty. It follows her dream for freedom from age 7 to age 15 through snippets and letters from her life.
Why it’s a must-read: Well, to start with, it’s written and illustrated BY kids – 4th and 5th graders to be exact!! How cool is that? It actually won the 2016 Scholastic “Kids Are Authors” Award. I used this book as a way to introduce expository writing. My students loved that it was written by kids, just like them. But, we also discussed how much research the authors had to conduct in order to write the story, then had to be creative with presenting the information. Bonus: It gives your students a look into the heart of this beautiful woman who started the Underground Railroad as it opens up dialogue.
Perfect for: 1st-5th grade
13.Skin like Mine by LaTashia M. Perry
Summary: From the Creators of Hair Like Mine, Skin Like Mine is a fun, easy-to-read book making it perfect for beginning readers. An entertaining yet creative way to address and celebrate diversity among young children. Guaranteed to make you smile and a bit hungry.
Why it’s a must-read: This is an easy read that offers a fun and creative way to address and also celebrate diversity among your students by exploring different skin tones.
Perfect for: Kindergarten through 5th Grade
14.The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi
Summary: Unhei just moved from Korea and is the new kid at school. She is nervous that the American kids won’t like her or be able to pronounce her name. So, she decides to go name-less, letting her class know that she will choose a name by the next week. Her classmates all help by filling a jar with names for her to pick out – like, Suzy and Laura. But, one of her classmates learns her real name and its meaning; then, her name jar goes missing. In the end, Unhei embraces her own Korean name – thanks to encouragement from her new friends – and helps everyone learn how to say it: Yoon-Hey.
Why it’s a must-read: What a great way to help your students learn how exciting and beautiful differences can be and how to truly welcome new classmates, no matter where they are from or what they look like! I like using this book at the beginning of the year as a way to embrace all the “names” that make up our class! We follow it up with a get to know you game called the “name game” where students share their name by making it an alliteration with an adjective that describes them.
Perfect for: Kindergarten to 2nd Grade
15. Round is a Tortilla by Roseanne Greenfield Thong
Summary: This book helps children learn about shapes in their world around them in everyday use. For example, slices of watermelon and quesadillas are triangles.
Why it’s a must-read: It includes fun pictures, rhyming text, and even a glossary to maximize learning. Many of the objects featured are Latino in origin. In our classroom, I used it as a lead in to our geometry unit and in kindergarten, I used it as a way to show how we can make shapes from different shapes.
Perfect for: Pre-k through 2nd
16. Same, Same but Different by Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw
Summary: Two pen pals – Elliot in America and Kailash in India – exchange letters and pictures. Through their correspondence, they learn that they both have pets, go to school, and love to climb trees. They may be from different places in the world, but they are actually really similar.
Why it’s a must read: This book is will leave your students wanting to have a friend from another place or another culture. Because of that, it contains such an opportunity in the pages. It will be a truly great launching point in the classroom – from school community projects to learning through artwork to diversity awareness and inclusion messages. We used it as a way to introduce our pen pal project one year!
Perfect for: Kindergarten to 3rd Grade
17.A Chair for My Mother by Vera B. Williams
Summary: When a fire destroys their home and belongings, Rosa, her mother, and her grandmother all work to save and save until they have enough money to buy a huge, comfortable chair that all three of them can share and enjoy together.
Why it’s a must-read: Teach your students decision-making, saving, and self-management. But, most importantly, they’ll see a family going through a real struggle, which is a phenomenal opportunity to teach empathy for others.
Perfect for: 1st to 3rd Grade
18.Henry’s Freedom Box by Ellen Levine & Kadir Nelson
Summary: Little Henry is torn away from his family and put to work in a warehouse, all the while dreaming of freedom. He grows up and gets married, but then his family is sold at the slave market. Again and again, his dream falls apart. So he makes up his mind right there – he is going to do something about it! He finds a crate at the warehouse, gets inside, and mails himself to freedom!
Why it’s a must-read: Henry’s story of perseverance can help your students begin to understand the horrors of slavery but in an accessible way for students.
Perfect for: 2nd Grade through 5th Grade
19.Under My Hijab by Hena Khan
Summary: Follow a young Muslim girl as she observes how six different women in her life all wear their hijab in their own diverse way. Through their examples, she discovers so many possibilities, not just for how she can express her own personality through her hijab, but also for her future!
Why it’s a must read: This is a darling book. It truly honors and takes pride in diversity and culture, and will open the door for your students to share something unique – like the hijab – to their families too! I came across this book when I found that many of my hijab wearing students didn’t have anyone who looked like them in the books of my library. As soon as this one hit my shelf, it was an instant love of those girls, but everyone else too!
Perfect for: 1st and 2nd Grades
20. Juneteenth for Mazie by Floyd Cooper
Summary: Mazie is ready to celebrate. In this book, students learn more about the celebration of liberty and freedom through Mazie’s eyes. Juneteenth is the day Mazie’s ancestors were no longer slaves. Mazie remembers the struggles and the triumph, as she gets ready to celebrate Juneteenth.
Why it’s a must read: This book takes students through the events of the day enslaved people learned of their freedom in Galveston, Texas. It continues on as it follows Mazie’s family through historic events throughout history and encourages us all to stay strong even in the face of adversity. It is a perfect book for helping your students better understand Juneteenth in your primary classroom.
Perfect for: k through 4th Grade
Diverse Books for Your Primary Classroom
There are so many other amazingly rich diverse reads out there! These are only just a few. I’ve also compiled these books and a few more in an idea list on my Amazon Store page! You can check that out here.
If you’re looking for more book ideas, I suggest following @diversereads and @diverse_kids_books on IG! Vera from Diverse Reads shares amazing books and how to use them in your classroom. Divers Kids Books offers books by age level, so if you’re hoping to match your students (or your own children) up with books that offer mirrors and windows I suggest you check out their highlights! While you’re there you can always check me out, @appliciousteacher too!
If you’re looking to make an even bigger impact and are not sure where to start, donating to WNDB is a great place to start.
WNDB works to:
- Diversify classrooms: WNDB in the Classroom is an initiative that will bring the opportunity to explore a diverse author’s book to a different classroom every month of the school year. Our vision is that classrooms will share their discussion about each diverse book on the web, meeting with authors at the end of the month either in person or via Skype to talk about their reading experience. Our goal is to bring diverse authors into the classrooms of the students who need to see them the most.
- Support diverse authors: Through our Walter Dean Myers Award & Grant program, “The Walter” will recognize outstanding diverse contributions by authors in Young Adult and Middle-Grade literature, and provide funds to help develop new diverse authors and artists.
- Promote diverse programming: WNDB will continue to have a presence at conferences and festivals across the country, aiming to foster positive, honest, and constructive discussions on diversity and show people that a diverse book is just a good book that any child can enjoy.
- Develop educational kits: In conjunction with the School Library Journal and the American Booksellers Association, WNDB is creating educational kits to introduce teachers, librarians and booksellers to select diverse books.
You can click here to donate or learn more!
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