Wednesday, December 11, 2019

12 Days of Giving: Diversify Your Bookshelves

You may have read about the importance of diverse books for kids. If not, check out We Need Diverse Books for more information. Keep in mind that diverse books are not just for families of minority races (although representation and making sure all kids see themselves in books is super important, too). Books are wonderful windows to expose kids to families that are different from yours, even if you live in a homogenous area. I have tried to include diverse books on every list I've made this year, but if you're in need of diversifying your kids' bookshelves, this is the post for you. These are sure-bet choices by #ownvoices authors that make great gifts.

This is only a smattering of the great titles available! For more suggestions, check out my We Need Diverse Books tag or my authors-of-color bookshelf on GoodReads.

For babies and toddlers:

Please, Baby, Please by Spike Lee & Tonya Lewis Lee, illustrated by Kadir Nelson (Simon & Schuster, 2002). This sweet and funny book going through all the things babies do (both endearing and exasperating) is illustrated by the award-winning Kadir Nelson, so it's beautiful, too. It's available in board book format (which I have bought MANY times for baby gifts).

Pride Colors by Robin Stevenson (Orca, 2019). This beautifully colorful board book endorses unconditional love for children who live in all different kinds of families. As it goes through the colors and meanings of the colors in the Pride flag, the book shows photographs of adorable children and families that your little one will love to pore over.

Besos for Baby by Jen Arena, illustrated by Blanca Gomez (LB Kids, 2014). This sweet board book incorporates Spanish words in a simple story perfect for sharing with the very young (along with many besos - kisses!).

We Sang You Home by Richard Van Camp, illustrated by Julie Flett (Orca, 2016). This lyrical board book makes an awesome gift for new parents or grandparents. It was the very first book read to my newest niece - I brought it when we visited her in the hospital - and its moving message of welcome for sure made my mom cry (not difficult). The illustrations feature a First Nations family and the message of celebrating a new baby in the family is universal.

Picture books:

A Big Mooncake for Little Star by Grace Lin (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2018). This darling picture book is perfect for kids who enjoy a pourquoi tale as this folktale-style picture book imagines why the moon changes shape in the sky. Pair this one with Grace Lin's newest that came out this year, A Big Bed for Little Snow, which is just as great.

Grandma's Purse by Vanessa Brantley-Newton (Knopf, 2018). My 3-year-old niece delights in nothing more than going through her grandma's purse. This adorable book shows granddaughter and grandma going through grandma's purse and all the wonderful things in there together.

Hair Love by Matthew A. Cherry, illustrated by Vashti Harrison (Kokila, 2019). A doting dad does his daughter's hair, taking a few tries to get it right in this adorable and super sweet book. I especially like the expressions on the little girl's face as her dad tries different styles before they settle on the perfect one.

Julian is a Mermaid by Jessica Love (Candlewick, 2018). Riding on the subway, Julian spies a trio of ladies spectacularly dressed up. To him they look like mermaids and he wants nothing more than to look like them, too. He's not sure how his abuela will feel about him dressing up like a mermaid, but to his joy she reacts with nothing less than love and support. If you have a little dress-up fan in your life, this is a great book to read together.

NiƱo Wrestles the World by Yuyi Morales (Roaring Brook, 2013). If you have a young wrestling fan in your life, this is a really fun and action-packed book. A young boy dons his luchadore mask and wrestles everything that comes his way. This is particularly fun for any kids who have seen luchadore wrestling, but I think any wrestling fans or kids of wrestling fans would enjoy it, too.
Easy chapter books: 

The Buried Bones Mystery by Sharon Draper (Aladdin, 1994). Originally published in the 90s, but rebranded and repackaged in 2011, the Clubhouse Mysteries series is a great mystery series for readers who enjoy The Boxcar Children. A diverse group of African American boys build a clubhouse, but when they're building they find bones buried in Ziggy's backyard. Not only is this an engaging mystery series, but I love that the boys do research and learn things to solve each mystery in the books. A Clubhouse Mysteries box set would be a great gift!

Jasmine Toguchi, Mochi Queen by Debbie Michiko Florence (Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 2017). Jasmine is a spunky heroine worthy of any comparison to Judy Moody or Clementine. In this series starter, she longs to be a part of her Japanese American family's mochi making, but the fun parts are reserved only for boys and men. Can she lift the mochi hammer and will she even be allowed to try?

Middle grade:

Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi (Rick Riordan Presents, 2018). Aru Shah must save the world when she accidentally stops time in this fantasy adventure based on Hindu mythology. This is the first book from Rick Riordan's imprint and it's a phenomenal readalike for Percy Jackson. If you have fantasy adventure mythology fans, you can't go wrong with any of the Rick Riordan presents series, all of which are diverse and written by #ownvoices authors.

El Deafo by Cece Bell (Abrams, 2014). Okay, this one has a special place in my heart, being one of my Newbery books. I bought it for my niece who was 9 at the time and she read it over and over again and even slept with it under her pillow. Cece Bell's anthropomorphized comic memoir takes young Cece through starting at a new school while wearing a giant hearing aid called the Phonic Ear. It's hilarious and poignant at turns and a sure bet for readers who enjoy comic memoirs like Raina Telgemeier's.

Front Desk by Kelly Yang (Scholastic, 2018). Mia Tang helps her parents run a motel in 1980s California, working the front desk while they clean rooms, in this spirited novel based on the author's own childhood. This has been a super favorite with kids all over the country since it came out last year and it's a wonderful book.

The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani (Kokila, 2018). This historical novel takes place during the partition of India and Pakistan with one young girl caught in the middle. Hand this to readers of Anne Frank's diary or fans of Malala.

Pie in the Sky by Remy Lai (Henry Holt, 2019). In this hilarious and highly illustrated novel, Jingwen writes about immigrating to Australia and feeling like he's on Mars. He can't understand the language, it's hard to make friends when you can't really talk to anyone, and the only thing that makes him feel better is baking elaborate cakes. This is a great choice for kids who enjoy humorous stories like Diary of a Wimpy Kid or Big Nate.


The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee (Putnam, 2019). Jo Kuan works as a lady's maid, but by night she writes a column for an Atlanta paper, published pseudonymously as "Dear Miss Sweetie". Jo tells it like it is, but as her her column gains popularity she risks being found out. This historical novel has a fun, plucky main character and a ton of crossover appeal for adults as well as teens.

Frankly in Love by David Yoon (Putnam 2019). Frank Li, caught between his Korean immigrant parents and the expectations of his American culture, is in love. But not with a Korean girl, like his parents demand. With a white girl. So, to hide his relationship, he starts fake dating a Korean-American friend. What could go wrong? This is a funny and moving teen love story.

I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo (Farar, Strauss, & Giroux, 2017). An overachieving high schooler makes a plan to win the guy of her dreams and her plan is based on the Korean soap operas her father loves to watch. This is a fun, funny light-hearted romance perfect for tweens and teens who loved To All the Boys I've Loved Before.

With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo (HarperTeen, 2019). Emoni keeps her head down and works hard to support her two-year-old daughter and finish high school. She finds solace in the kitchen and dreams of being a chef. When a new culinary arts elective is offered at her school she enrolls even though it would probably be smarter to stick with her study hall. The class is more challenging than she suspected, but it just might open up doors to her future... if she can afford them. This is a great choice for foodie teens.


Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations by Mira Jacob (One World, 2019). This is a book that has stuck with me all year since I read it. I couldn't put it down once I started it. Through conversations with her young son, author Mira Jacob looks back on her childhood growing up as an immigrant, her young adulthood, her interracial marriage, and what it all means in the era of Trump. This one's not for your conservative friends, but it's a riveting, eye-opening true story for those ready to hear it.

Miracle Creek by Angie Kim (Sarah Crichton Books, 2019). After a terrible accident in the "miracle submarine", a hyperbaric chamber alleged to cure ailments as diverse as autism and impotence, two people are dead. But was it an accident or could one of the parents have set fire to the chamber on purpose? This courtroom thriller is a great choice for anyone who enjoyed Big Little Lies.

There, There by Tommy Orange (Knopf, 2018). The Big Oakland Powwow brings all kinds of people together for all kinds of different reasons. Readers meet a large cast of characters and slowly begin to find out how they're all connected as the story unfolds. But something unexpected will happen at the Powwow. This is a great choice for readers of modern literary fiction, particularly set in urban locations.