The best children's (and adult) books featuring every kind of person.
I work in a library by day and parent the rest of the time. I am passionate about good books representing the full spectrum of human diversity for every age group and reading level. This blog is my attempt to help parents, educators, and librarians find the best children's books authored by or featuring characters of color.
Our 14th board book is simple but surprisingly delightful.
The Hip Hop Board Book by Martin Ander.
Dokument Press, Arsta, Sweden, 2012.
Board book, 22 pages.
“Rap, Breakdance, Graffiti, & DJ:ing – now for the very youngest! The Hip Hop Board Book is a different, colorful picture book about culture and everyday life with fun and clear pictures for small children. A charming book with lots of humor and attitude.” ~Back Blurb
I wish I remembered finding this board book. It’s not brand-new, but hasn’t gotten much buzz – and it’s from Sweden, although the text is in English. Perhaps Amazon recommended it to me when I was ordering some other hard-to-find board books.
“Asha paused to flick the sweat from the crook of her elbow. Suddenly she caught sight of a face staring at her through the coconut leaves.” p. 31
Secret Keeper by Mitali Perkins.
Delacorte Press, Random House Children’s Books, New York, 2009.
Historical fiction, 225 pages.
Lexile: 800L .
AR Level: 5.3 (worth 7.0) .
Asha’s father has gone to America to look for a new job, leaving his family in the care of his older brother’s family. Already saddened by the move from Delhi to Calcutta, Asha, her beautiful older sister Reet, and their mother wait and try to fend off marriage proposals, rebukes from the other women, and a life of servitude and confinement.
Asha’s mother suffers from depression and fits that her daughters describe as visits from the Jailer, when her face and mind go blank. She attempts methods of coping such as knitting or cooking, but as their life circumstances deteriorate, she’s unable to function, leaving Asha in charge of their physical safety and everyday needs.
I’ve been reading some of Maya Angelou’s work, and what variety! I’d really never progressed beyond some of her more popular poems, so this has been very eye-opening for me.
Perhaps you are new to Angelou’s work, or just want more background? Check out her biography page on the Poetry Foundation website. You can get a good overview of her life and books as well as read a small sampling of her poems.
If you want to hear from the woman herself, check out this 2003 interview from Smithsonian magazine. The wide-ranging conversation covers her traumatic childhood, her writing methods, and so much more.
Of course, you can also watch clips of Angelou or hear her recite some of her poetry at her official website, which is still running with updates on the latest Angelou-related projects.
Or watch one of the final Angelou projects come to fruition after her passing:
That’s Harlem Hopscotch, one of her poems reimagined as a song on the Caged Bird Songs album. You can hear more on their website (this is the only music video, but they do have a few lyric videos available as well).
What’s your favorite Angelou book, poem, song, or project?
“Paris was not the place for me or my son. The French could entertain the idea of me because they were not immersed in guilt about a mutual history…” p. 165
Singin’ and Swingin’ and Gettin’ Merry Like Christmas by Maya Angelou.
Bantam, New York, 1977 (originally published 1976).
Adult autobiography, 242 pages.
In a funny coincidence, I gave away Angelou books (not even read yet… but better loved by someone else) and then a month later came across this in the free books. Of course I started reading this one immediately and it was fascinating. I’ve read quite a bit of her poetry before, but never one of her autobiographies. Upon reading this one I realized that they are probably best read chronologically.
This title is the third, and covers the time when she lived in San Francisco after her son was born, worked a wide variety of jobs, spent a few years married to a white man, and eventually found herself with an entertainment career that took her all over the world, but sadly separated her from her son.
“It would be easier to be a criminal fairly prosecuted by the law than an Indian daughter who wronged her family. A crime would be punishable by law rather than this uncertain length of family guilt trips.” p. 29
Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal.
William Morrow, HarperCollins, New York, 2017.
Realistic fiction, 298 pages + 14 pages of extras.
Nikki is a modern British girl, but financial troubles lead her back to the gurdwara, where she takes on a job teaching English classes to widows at the community center. Kulwinder is working hard to be accepted as an equal by the male leaders so she can advocate for other women, especially the widows who have little voice in the community. Both run afoul of the conservative group the Brothers, who feel it’s their duty to keep rebellious women in line.
Before we get to the book itself, the reaction people had to this cover was intriguing. Everyone seemed to assume it was very raunchy. Even at the cash register, this book merited a double take and pursed lips as I purchased it together with our normal family groceries (although no kids were with me). People had so many surprised or negative reactions that eventually I hid it in our room rather than face more awkward conversations.
Despite the title, this is not proper erotica. It’s highly literary, dark, yet comedic, with elements of the mystery and thriller genre along with a touch of romance and some steamy scenes. Or rather, it’s a book that’s likely to get typecast but difficult to classify.
“Today there are at least an estimated 3.5 million Americans of Arabic-speaking descent, and they live in all fifty states. […] The purpose of this book isn’t to separate them out but to fold their experience into the mosaic of American history and deepen our understanding of who we Americans are.” p. xi
A Country Called Amreeka: U.S. History Retold Through Arab-American Lives by Alia Malek.
Free Press, Simon & Schuster, New York, 2009.
Nonfiction, 292 pages.
A walk through American history through the lives of a wide variety of Arab-Americans.
I picked this book up on a whim, but it turned out to be very interesting nonetheless. Mostly, I wanted to know why America was misspelled in the title (Amreeka is the Arabic word for America), and after looking at the blurb, I thought this could be an interesting perspective on American history which I personally had not very much considered before.
Much like Prisoners Without Trial, this book opened my eyes to another important part of American history. Similar to that book, this one also deals with a limited time period, since immigration laws prevented large numbers of Arab immigrants prior to the 1960s. However, Malek tells her story in a very different (although just as engaging) way.
After a brief forward explaining the background, format and scope of the book, she takes snapshots from various Arab-American lives and uses them to illustrate a wide variety of experiences and time periods. In between these vignettes are brief chapters that give immigration statistics, updates on legal and cultural developments, and information about world politics that had bearing on Arab-American lives.
“My dad was always curious about humans, how we react in different situations. He asked us hard questions at a young age, and even better, he listened carefully and respectfully when we answered.” p. 39
Yes, My Accent is Real: and Some Other Things I Haven’t Told You by Kunal Nayyar.
Atria Paperback, an Imprint of Simon & Schuster, New York, 2015 (my edition 2016).
Personal essays, 245 pages.
At only 34, Nayyar is best known for playing the role of Rajesh, an Indian immigrant and astrophysicist with selective mutism, on the American sitcom The Big Bang Theory.
I have a soft spot for diverse celebrity memoirs, especially if I happen to actually know who the celebrity is. This was one of those guilty pleasure books that you know won’t be very filling but want to read anyway.
The format was unusual – more like short essays punctuated by “A Thought Recorded on an Aeroplane Cocktail Napkin” every so often. They are roughly chronological (although this isn’t an autobiography) and roughly written, so I believe Nayyar wrote this himself (or if not, his ghostwriter owes him a big refund).