It’s important for books to reflect the diversity in our world. First, because when kids read stories with characters that look like them, it feels affirming. Second, because all kids need to read about the diversity in the world around them, it’s empathy building. Which is why we need quality books with diverse main characters!
Beginning Chapter Books with Diverse Main Characters
Meet Yasmin! by Saadia Faruqui, illustrated by Hatem Aly
What an adorable main character! Yasmin is an exuberant girl who is interested in everything from exploring to building to fashion. This book tells four short stories from Yasmin’s life, all in chapters with lively, full-color illustrations. Each story shows Yasmin as a creative problem solver even when things get hard. Her Pakistani American culture is embedded throughout the story such as the foods Yasmin’s family eats like naan or how she calls her father Baba. I LOVE the diversity, the gutsy main-character, and the beautiful design of the entire book.
King and Kayla and the Case of the Lost Tooth by Dori Hillestad Butler, illustrated by Nancy Meyers
Kins is Kayal’s beloved dog. He’s not just her best friend but in this story, he also helps her find her missing lost tooth.
The Year of the . . . book series by Andrea Chang
Growing up is challenging and in the first novel, The Year of the Book, Anna turns to books for company while she learns how to make friendships in real life. The subsequent books in the series are just as realistic and well-written. I highly recommend them.
Zoey and Sassafras Dragons and Marshmallows #1 by Asia Citro, illustrated by Marion Lindsay
This is an entertaining and well-written story with the coolest mix of science and magic, a diverse main character, and fantastic illustrations that will get kids reading and learning. Zoey, like her mom, can see magical creatures and is tasked to care for any injured creatures that might need help. In this story, she uses her science skills (including research and the scientific method) to figure out how to care for a sick baby dragon.
Jaden Toussaint, the Greatest Episode 1: The Quest for Screen Time by Marti Dumas
What kid doesn’t want more screen time? Jaden has a plan for convincing his parents that he needs more time — and he’s going to use his big brain and his fellow kindergarteners to help. So happy to see a GOOD story with a diverse main character and family!
My Life in Pictures (Bea Garcia) by Deborah Zemke
Sadly, Bea’s best friend and next-door neighbor moves away. When a new, mean boy named Bert moves in, Bea survives by drawing pictures of her life and her hopes for the future — including imagining Bert in various horrible geographic places. When her teacher finds Bea’s drawings, instead of getting in trouble, Bea’s artistry is celebrated. I like the diverse main character and the relatable topic.
Emma Is On the Air Party Drama! by Ida Siegal (series)
Lulu and the Rabbit Next Door by Hilary McKay
This is one of my favorite early chapter books! Lulu and her cousin help their neighbor Arthur learn to love and care for his (neglected) rabbit. She doesn’t want her neighbor to feel bad so she writes George the rabbit notes and gives him gifts from her pet rabbit named Thumper.
Ellray Jakes Walks the Plank by Sally Warner, illustrated by Jamie Harper
I bet a lot of kids will relate to this story about Ellray and his little sister. Little sister overfeeds Ellray’s class fish and kills it. Ellray takes the blame to protect his sister, after all family is family, and gets to help find a new class pet.
Perfecto! My Vida Loca is a warm-hearted beginning chapter book about the adventures of a spunky girl named Sophia — from her singing (that annoys everyone except abuela) to a cooking mishap of arroz con leche that her familia helps her fix. I love the bright pink text that indicates the Spanish words (maybe 1 or 2 a page). Illustrations are fun, capturing the emotions and action perfectamente.
Shai and Emmie Star in Dancy Pants! by Quvenzhane Wallis with Nancy Ohlin, illustrated by Sharee Miller
Sugar Plum Ballerinas by Whoopi Goldberg and Deborah Underwood, illustrated by Maryn Roos
First in the series of ballerina stories, this is about a 9-year old new girl, Alex, whose mom forces her to take ballet. Which she’s terrible at. Friendships grow as Alex perseveres but will her stage fright end everything she’s worked for?
Max Loves Muñecas by Zetta Elliott
Muñecas means dolls in Spanish. Max is fascinated by the dolls made in Señor Pepe’s shop and learns the story of how Pepe grew up and learned to sew for dolls. Soon Max doesn’t feel ashamed that he also wants to work with his hands to make dolls anymore. Great writing.
Danger! Tiger Crossing #1 by Lin Oliver
When 10-year old Tiger and his friend, Luna, investigate an unusual neighbor woman’s house, they discover a magical golden frame that transports them into famous paintings. They get stuck in a Henri Rousseau painting where they meet a boy who was trapped there 50 years prior. Will they be able to escape the painting before they’re trapped forever?
Princess Pink and the Land of Fake-Believe by Norah Z. Jones
This is a funny series that messes up familiar fairy tale stories. The cartoon-like illustrations and speech bubbles make it especially fun to read.
Sherlock Sam and the Ghostly Moans in Fort Canning by A.J. Low
Set in Singapore, Sherlock Sam and his friends use their brains to solve mysteries. In this case, they’re determined to discover the cause of the ghostly sounds from an abandoned military fort. Could it be a ghost? Their adventures are funny and exciting; this is a well-written chapter book in a new series. (See also: Sherlock Sam and the Missing Heirloom in Katong.)
Stella Diaz has Something to Say by Angela Dominguez
Lola Levine Is Not Mean by Monica Brown
Second-grade soccer-loving Lola, daughter of a Peruvian mom and Jewish dad, is misunderstood. Her classmates think she’s mean but really she’s just a competitive person. When she accidentally hurts someone’s ankle playing soccer, she feels terrible especially since her classmates say she’s mean. But, things turn around for Lola when her class does science time with her brother’s kindergarten class. Loved the diversity and the topic — many kids will be able to relate to this charming story.
Three Tales of My Father’s Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett
This is one of the classic adventure/fantasy stories for beginning readers. The first story is about a boy (now a father retelling the stories to his son) who rescues a dragon held hostage on a wild island.
Keena Ford and the Second Grade Mix-Up by Melissa Thomson
Written in journal form, we find that life for Keena, like most 2nd graders, is filled with challenges and life lessons.
The Buried Bones Mystery by Sharon M. Draper, illustrated by Jesse Joshua Watson
In this book, the group of diverse best friends, aka. the Black Dinosaurs, find a box of bones that leads them to a mystery to solve.
Ruby and the Booker Boys #1: Brand New School, Brave New Ruby by Derrick Barnes, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley Newton
Ruby, age 8, is the youngest of four kids. Her life is full of brothers, third grade, and a best friend named Theresa.
Little Shaq Takes a Chance by Shaquille O’Neal
Trying new things isn’t what Little Shaq wants to do. Only when he does, he learns that they can be fun.
Allergic to Girls, School, and Other Scary Things by Lenore Look
Second grader, Alvin Ho, is afraid of everything, especially school. A school he’s quiet but at home, he’s Firecracker Man, superhero. While not the most compelling read ever, I like that the main character deals with fears like many children.
Nikki and Deja by Karen English, illustrated by Laura Freeman
This is a slice of life story about third-grade friends who feel anger, jealousy, and meanness when a new girl arrives on their block.
MVP #1 The Gold Medal Mess by David A. Kelly, illustrated by Scott Brundage
It’s almost time for Olympics field day at school but someone is threatening the activities. These friends decide to solve the mystery so the games can go on.
Make Way for Dyamonde Daniel by Nikki Grimes illustrated by R. Gregory Gregory Christie
She’s the new girl but Dyamonde is determined to make friends, even with the boy she calls “Rude Boy.”
Little Robot by Ben Hatke
This is a lovely, heart-warming story about the friendship between a little girl and a robot. The little girl takes good care of the robot she finds and even makes him robot friends. As always, Ben Hatke’s artwork is gorgeous.
Little Dee and the Penguin by Christopher Baldwin
A group of seemingly random animals (penguin, dog, brown bear, polar bears, vulture) and the little girl, Dee, are off on a world adventure. It’s fun and silly with a big message about belonging.
West Meadow Detectives: The Case of the Snack Snatcher by Liam O’Donnell, illustrated by Aurelie Grand
Myron’s new school isn’t too bad because there’s a mystery — who is stealing the snacks every morning? He and his new friend, Hajrah, both in a special class for half the day, determine to get to the bottom of this mystery. I liked the diversity of students in this well-paced and interesting story.
Little Rhino My New Team by Ryan Howard and Krystle Howard
You’ll find the themes about making friends and dealing with bullies to be both realistic and helpful. Little Rhino joins a little league baseball team only to discover that the boy who bullies him is on his same team. His wise grandfather and daily lunch at the dinosaur table help Rhino and his shy friend gain new social skills and the confidence to deal with the bully.
Have Fun, Anna Hibiscus! by Atinuke
Anna Hibiscus lives in amazing Africa but in this story, she goes by herself to visit her Granny Canada in Canada where it’s snowy and cold. Anna gets to wear warm clothes and eat new foods. She even gets comfortable with Granny Canada’s dog and makes new friends. This is a delightful story of a sweet girl on an exciting new adventure.
Freddie Ramos Takes Off (Zapato Power) by Jacqueline Jules and Miguel Benitez
Freddie’s new shoes (zapatos) give him super speediness. My teacher friend in Denver Public Schools tells me her students totally love this beginning chapter book series with diversity.
Dog Days by Karen English, illustrated by Laura Freeman
It’s tough being the new kid at Carver Elementary. Gavin had lots of friends at his old school, but the kids here don’t even know that he’s pretty good at skateboarding, or how awesome he is at soccer. And when his classmate Richard comes over and the boys end up in trouble, not only does Gavin risk losing his one new friend, he has to take care of his great aunt Myrtle’s horrible little dog as punishment.
Calvin Coconut by Graham Salisbury
This is a series of easy chapter books about fourth-grader, Calvin, who lives in Hawaii. I include it here for the diversity but it’s not my favorite.