From board books to picture books, these books have characters with non-white skin tones and cultures –in other words, representative of the real world. No matter our skin color, ethnic, or cultural background, it’s important to read stories that show lots of different people so that we can build understanding (we are all human beings!) and empathy (we can imagine ourselves into the shoes of another).
Multicultural Children’s Picture Books with Diverse Main Characters
Whose Knees Are These? by Jabari Asim, illustrated by LeUyen Pham
This is a delightful celebration of a child’s strong, brown knees!
Girl of Mine by Jabari Asim, illustrated by LeUyen Pham
You’ll love this sweet board book about a playful girl and her imaginative father as he gets her ready for slumber.
Baby Dance by Ann Taylor, illustrated by Marjorie Van Heerden
Swing to and fro with this book that inspires moving and singing. Taken from a poem called “The Baby Dance” with exuberant main characters of color.
B is for Baby by Atinuke, illustrated by Angela Brooksbank
THE LETTER B, AFRICA
Dear Atinuke, can you make every letter of the alphabet into a book like this? Because this idea is genius! I love that it celebrates the culture and people of West Africa, too. Baby is going to take a basket of bananas to baba’s bungalow. (See all those “b” words?!) Big Brother doesn’t notice that he has a little stowaway in the basket — but we do. Readers will delight at seeing Baby’s little face peeking out of the basket while Brother rides his bike, passing a baobab, baboon, bus, and other words that start with the letter b before arriving at Baba’s. When Baba looks in the basket, out pops Baby! I’m in love with this book’s concept and the gorgeous illustrations.
Lullaby (For a Black Mother) a poem by Langston Hughes, illustrated by Sean Qualls
Sean Qualls transforms Langston Hughes poetic lullaby with swirls of blues, purples, and pinks of nighttime. “My little black baby, My dark body’s baby, What shall I sing For your lullaby? / Moon, Moon, Great diamond moon, / Kissing the night.” The poem captures a mother’s love as she sings her baby to sleep. Pure magic!
Peekaboo Morning by Rachel Isadora
Play peekaboo with this little girl, her family, her puppy, and more. Don’t you love the playful characters?
This is the Day You Begin by Jaqueline Woodson, illustrations by Rafael López
Evocative, lyrical text illuminates the awkwardness of a girl’s first days at school. She listens to other kids’ big stories of summer and feels like she doesn’t fit until …she finds out that she might have something in common with others after all. And can still be her unique self. It’s a book you want to live in because of the beauty and wisdom from both the words and pictures.
“This is the day you begin
to find the places inside
your laughter and your lunches,
your books, your travel and your stories,
where every new friend as something
a little like you–and something else
so fabulously not quite like you
Mary Had a Little Glam by Tammi Sauer, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton (diversity)
Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña, illustrated by Christian Robinson
CJ and his grandma ride the bus across town and CJ notices the many economic and cultural differences about the neighborhoods. Caldecott winner!
Twenty Yawns by Jane Smiley, illustrated by Lauren Castillo (diversity)
IslandBorn by Junot Díaz, illustrated by Leo Espinosa
Díaz captures Lola’s heartfelt longing to remember the island of her birthplace for a school assignment. She left the island as a baby so she can’t remember. Lola interviews her family and friends, listening to their snap-shot, detailed stories of the island’s bats, music, agua de coco, heat, and the Devil Monster. Through their stories, she creates her own tapestry of island memories that will always be in her heart. Stunning illustrations explode in colorful exuberance on every page of this 2018 picture book.
Those Shoes by Maribeth Boeltz, illustrated by Norah Jones
Jeremy wants the black, high-cut sneakers with stripes. But, his grandma can’t afford to buy them. When Jeremy’s own shoes fall apart, he buys the high-top sneakers at a thrift store in a too-small size. Those Shoes raises the relatable issue of wanting to fit in and the difference between a want and a need.
Chocolate Me! by Taye Diggs and Shane Evans
I really love this book. The boy feels so un-okay because of his skin color. It takes the eyes and wisdom of his mom for the boy to see how awesome he is, and embrace who he is and the color of his skin. It’s simple and meaningful.
Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts
Curious Ada loves questions and thinking just as much as she loves science experiments. Even when in time out, Ada is thinking and wondering . . . all over the wall. I love this spunky science-loving (multicultural) main character of color and know you will, too.
Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall
Jabari is ready to jump off the diving board. Mostly. His dad tells Jabari that he feels scared too, and sometimes after a deep breath and telling himself he is ready, the thing stops feeling scary and feels like a surprise instead. I really like this advice. And it works for Jabari, too. Beautiful illustrations, perfect text to picture ratio, and a helpful, relatable story with a diverse (multicultural) main character make this a new summer favorite.
I Walk with Vanessa: A Story About a Simple Act of Kindness by Kerascoët
When a classmate is being bullied, what can you do? This wordless picture book shows that sometimes it’s about showing someone that they are not alone. You can do what this girl does: show kindness and walk home with a lonely, hurting person. Added to: Picture Books About Kindness
Thunder Boy by Sherman Alexie, illustrated by Yuyi Morales
Thunder Boy wants a name all his own, not just a littler version of his dad. So he begins brainstorming the best name, all the while figuring out who he is. The story is humorous and playful while placing importance on knowing yourself. I also love that this particular multicultural story is about a family that is Native American.
Early Sunday Morning by Denene Millner, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton FAMILY & CHURCH
It’s Sunday and Sarah and her family are going to church. But this day, Sarah is singing her first solo in the choir. As we watch she and her family prepare for services, she gets advice to help her nervousness, and a wonderful surprise when she does sing. This picture book is a beautiful portrayal of an African-American family and their church culture accompanied by outstanding illustrations.
Princess Hair by Sharee Miller
I love this joyful celebration of the many styles, textures, and shapes of black hair! These princesses have dreadlocks, kinks, head wraps, curls, and bantu knots. “Princesses with AFROS do-si-do. // Princesses with BRAIDS throw parades.” All the princesses love their hair. We can see it in the exuberant illustrations of playful, happy little girls. This is a favorite picture book for 2017, Delightful Picture Books That Celebrate Hair, and a Must-Read Book for 3-Year-Olds.
Sleep Well Siba and Saba Nansubuga Nagadya Isdahl and Sandra van Doorn
Do Not Bring Your Dragon to the Library by Julie Gassman, illustrated by Andy Elkerton
Just in case, you better learn all the reasons why it’s not a good idea to bring your pet dragon to the library. Better read to him at home.
Luna Loves Library Day by Joseph Coelho, illustrated by Fiona Lumbers
Luna’s parents live apart. On library day, her mom drops her off to meet her dad. She and her dad look at books and read books and play. Luna loves library day. There’s a sweetness in Luna’s family situation as well as a playfulness around books that makes this a jewel of a book that shows a mixed race family. Love, love, love.
Crown An Ode to the Fresh Cut by Derrick Barnes, illustrated by Gordon C. James
Sitting on the barber’s chair, a young boy reflects on how, when he leaves, he’ll feel like royalty. Not to mention, people will take notice of his fresh cut — his teachers, his mom, and the girls in his class. Because he’ll be looking good. The author transports readers into this boy’s shoes as he celebrates his cool cut, the men around him on the chair, and the barber who cuts his hair. Rhythmic, vibrant words plus bold, oil painting illustrations give this barbershop experience a swagger of its own. (Also on: Delightful Picture Books That Celebrate Hair)
Drawn Together by Minh Lê, illustrated by Dan Santat
Oh, my goodness! This story shows how art brings together two generations separated by language and age. Mostly wordless, this is almost a graphic novel with exquisite artwork in comic-style panels. A boy arrives at his grandfather’s house. He’s frustrated because his grandfather doesn’t speak English. The two eat in silence. Then the boy begins drawing himself as a caped-superhero. Excited, his grandfather draws himself as a superhero, too — only one garbed in what appears to be a traditional ceremonial dress. Their connection continues through art — each with his own unique style. It’s beautiful on so many levels. Added to: Books about Grandparents
The Cazuela That the Farm Maiden Stirred by Samantha Vamos, illustrated by Rafael Lopez
Vamos writes a cumulative tale about making arroz con leche (rice pudding.) Throughout the story, she introduces nouns in Spanish, which, because of her format, repeat as she adds on. Vamos says she was inspired by This is the House that Jack Built. I love the diversity of this new version.
“This is the duck
that went to the market
to buy the sugar
to flavor the leche
made fresh by the vaca
while teaching the cabra
that churned the crema
to make the mantequilla
that went into the cazuela that the farm maiden stirred.”
Festival of Colors by Kabir Sehgal and Surishtha Sehgal, illustrated by Vashti Harrison
Under the Same Sun by Sharon Robinson, illustrated by A.G. Ford
This is a warm-hearted multicultural picture book about a grandmother’s visit to her son and grandkids in Tanzania based on the daughter of Jackie Robinson’s real family.
My Little Sister and Me by Maple Lam
Today is a big day for this big brother — he gets to walk his little sister home from the bus stop all by himself. As they journey home, you see a caring big brother and sister relationship that ends in a sweet thank you note from little sister to big brother.
In Plain Sight by Richard Jackson, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney
Please, Baby, Please by Spike Lee and Tonya Lewis Lee, illustrated by Kadir Nelson
My kids LOVE this book so much — and repeated readings were no problem because so did I. The parents implore their spunky young child to please behave, PLEASE. Great use of repetition and so relatable. Added to: Best Books for 2-Year-Olds.
Goldy Luck and the Three Pandas by Natasha Yim, illustrated by Grace Zong
My daughter says this is SO MUCH better than the original Goldilocks and the Three Bears because in this story of a young Chinese girl named Goldy. Goldy returns to the scene of her crime to apologize and help fix things. This is a better ending, don’t you think?
One Day in the Eucalyptus, Eucalyptus Tree by Daniel Bernstrom, illustrated by Brendan Wenzel
When a snake eats him, the boy (from inside the snake’s tummy) encourages the snake to eat more — which he does. From grapes to bears, to a cat, to a beehive, . . . the list goes on (think Old Lady Swallowing a Fly) until just a small fly makes the snake burp everything all out. Good thinking on the boy’s part, eh!? The diversity in main character and setting plus the use of repetition make this one of the best books I’ve read this year. Added to: Favorite Books for 4-and 5-Year-Olds.
Under My Hijab by Hena Khan, illustrated by Aaliya Jaleel
A little girl shares her life with us starting with her grandma baking bread. We meet her mama working as a doctor and her auntie creating art in her studio. The significant women in this girl’s life wear hijabs and also, sometimes don’t. They inspire her with all that they do and who they are. It’s an important slice-of-life story featuring strong, inspiring Muslim women not to mention, an area of diversity that doesn’t have much representation in children’s literature. Ultimately, this is a strong choice to add to your bookshelves.
Another by Christian Robinson
In this exuberant celebration of imagination, a little girl is asleep in her bed when an oval door opens into the wall. She follows her black cat and the new cat into what seems to be another world of topsy-turvy colorful dots and rectangles, more oval doors, many diverse kids, and another girl and her cat that look exactly like them. The white space and repetition of shapes feel playful and fresh. A feast for the eyes and mind! Also on: Meaningful Activities with Wordless Picture Books and Best Books for 4-and 5-Year-Olds.
The Princess and the Pony by Kate Beaton
We loved this hilarious story of a warrior princess whose parents get her a kazillion cute sweaters — which warriors obviously DON’T NEED. When Princess Pinecone asks for a horse, she gets a cute pony instead. (But it is totally cute.) Pinecone and her pony watch for the right moment to join in a battle but Otto the Awful runs straight at them!!! Instead of attacking, he pets the cute pony. Soon all the warriors are petting the pony. To help the warriors show their cuddly sides, Pinecone gifts them all her cozy sweaters.
My Name is Yoon by Helen Recorvits, illustrated by Gabi Swiatkowska
Yoon loves writing her name in Korean but her father insists she must write her name in English. Yoon decides she isn’t sure about her name in English and wonders if another name would be better.
A Day’s Work by Eve Bunting
A young boy named Francisco accompanies his non-English speaking grandfather to look for day labor and gets him a job as a gardener, even though he knows nothing about it. Powerful.
Cece Loves Science by Kimberly Derting and Shelli R. Johannes, illustrated by Vashi Harrison
One Green Apple by Eve Bunting
Farah struggles to be new in a country where she doesn’t understand the language or culture. But a field trip to an apple orchard helps her find common ground with her new peers.
I Love My Hair! by Natasha Anastasia
Keyana’s mom combs her hair every night before bed. Sometimes the tangles hurt. When it does, her mom tells her how beautiful her hair is and together they think of all the great things about her hair.
Lola at the Library by Anna McQuinn, illustrated by Rosalind Beardshaw
We love this book about a little girl and her mom’s library ritual. It’s simple and absolutely wonderful. (I’m partial to the coffee at the library!)
Maya’s Blanket / La Manta de Maya by Monica Brown, illustrated by David Diaz
Share this warm-hearted story with brilliant illustrations about a little girl whose favorite blanket is wearing out as you cuddle under a big blanket. (This happened to my daughter’s favorite blanket, too!)
Pecan Pie Baby by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by Sophie Blackall
Gia is fed up with all the excitement over her sibling-to-be. But her mama helps Gia see that maybe she and the new baby will get along and have things in common.
Bob, Not Bob! by Liz Garton Scanlon & Audrey Vernick, illustrations by Matthew Cordell
Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman, illustrated by Caroline Binch
Don’t miss this beautiful story! Grace is a girl with a big love for stories and even bigger imagination. She confidently tries out for the role Peter Pan despite her classmate’s assertion that Grace couldn’t possibly get the role because of her gender and skin color. Excellent. Also read: Princess Grace.
Tar Beach by Faith Ringgold
Set in 1939 Harlem, a little girl imagines watching her family and neighbors on their building’s rooftop (their own beach made of tar) and other important places to her as she flies in the sky above them. Gorgeous artwork!
Hair / Pelitos by Sandra Cisneros
I used this bilingual book often in the classroom to teach descriptive writing because it’s a sensory celebration of the different kinds of hair in her family.
Come On, Rain! by Karen Hesse, illustrated by Jon J Muth
Tess is hoping for rain. And when it rains, it pours! She and her family welcome the rain with their own dance celebration. Beautifully written with glorious language.
Abuela by Arthur Dorros
Abeula and Rosalba fly over New York City, seeing the sites and sounds from above with Spanish words peppered throughout.
Dancing in the Wings by Debbie Allen, illustrated by Kadir Nelson
Sassy, nicknamed for her mouth, is tall with big feet but she doesn’t let that stop her from working toward her dream of being a ballerina.
Double Happiness by Nancy Tupper Ling, illustrated by Alina Chau
The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats
My favorite picture book from childhood still endures today as a classic! It has finally snowed and the little boy can’t wait to go play…
Too Many Tamales by Gary Soto, illustrated by Ed Martinez
Christmas Eve is for family and tamales. Except on this holiday, Maria accidentally buries her mother’s diamond ring in the batch of tamales. Now what will she do?
One Word from Sophia by Jim Averbeck, illustrated by Yasmeen Ismail
This picture book is a great way to teach kids summarizing! Sophia really wants a pet giraffe for her birthday. She sets out to convince her family. She starts with her mother, a judge, and presents her case. Mother says that Sophia’s argument is too verbose. She tries fewer words with Father. But he says her presentation is too effusive. Sophia continues with each family member until she reaches her last-ditch attempt and says one word: PLEASE. And that one word works!
Land of Milk and Honey by Joyce Carol Thomas, illustrated by Floyd Cooper
We travel by train with our young heroine from Oklahoma to the land of milk and honey in this true story of Joyce Carol Thomas’ own life. The prose evokes excitement, hope, and wonder. Thought-provoking.
Look at the people!
And their fascinating faces
Look at the people!
All ages, all races
Green Is a Chile Pepper A Book of Colors by Roseanne Greenfield Thong, illustrated by John Parra
Explore colors with the delicious tastes and details of Latin culture — red is salsa and a skirt for baile folklorico, orange is the platos for special bread on Day of the Dead.
Round Is a Tortilla: A Book of Shapes by Roseanne Greenfield Thong illustrated by John Parra
As we journey through the day, we notice shapes all around us. “Triangles are crunchy chips for guacamole and other dips.” I absolutely love this book. I’m so glad to see a book of shapes that stands out from the crowd and celebrates Latin culture. “Stars for parties, stars for light, lining streets with colors bright. There are so many shapes wherever you go. How many more shapes do you know?”
Abuelo by Arthur Dorros, illustrated by Raul Colon
I’m in love with the illustrations in this bilingual picture book, and the lyrical story of a boy’s memories of his abuelo. His abuelo teaches him that there are many ways to be strong, fuerte; that it’s good to laugh, es bueno reirse; and to look, mira, at the stars. Even when the boy moves to the big city, his abuelo is always with him in spirit.
The New Small Person by Lauren Child
Emma and Julia Love Ballet by Barbara McClintock
A Chair for My Mother by Vera B. Williams
A little girl named Rosa helps save every penny to get a comfortable chair for her mom who gets tired after a long day of working in this heart-warming picture book with diverse main characters.
Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match by Monica Brown, illustrated by Sara Palacios
LOVE this book. You’ll adore Marisol, too because she’s a spunky girl with a unique Peruvian-Scottish-American background. Meaning, she doesn’t match. She doesn’t fit into a box or to a label and that’s okay with her. Ultimately, the story is about self-acceptance!
Grace for President by Kelly S. DiPucchio, illustrated by LeUyen Pham
Grace is spunky and smart. She’s horrified that there are no girl presidents and with her teacher determines to run for president of the class. Will she win against the popular Tom? The class is divided into states and learns about the electoral vs. popular vote.
A Squiggly Story by Andrew Larsen, illustrated by Mike Lowery
This children’s picture book with a diverse main character proves that all of us are writers — even when we can’t write letters or words quite yet! And this determined young diverse main character writer proves it.
The Summer Nick Taught His Cats to Read by Curtis Manley and Katie Berube
Nick, our main character, does everything with his cats — except read books. That’s why Nick decides to teach his cats to read, too. Verne, the cat, is interested but Stevenson, the cat, is not. Until . . . Nick discovers Stevenson’s drawing. All Stevenson the cat needs are words and he’ll write his own story to read!
Beautiful Moon: A Child’s Prayer by Tonya Bolden, illustrated by Eric Velasquez
The little boy considers all of the people around the world and says a prayer for each — the people with no homes, the sick, the soldiers fighting wars, his teacher, his turtle, and more. It’s a beautiful reminder to think of others (with a lot of diversity) accompanied by gorgeous pictures.
My Two Blankets by Irena Kobold, illustrated by Freya Blackwood
Cartwheel arrives in a new country where no one speaks like her and everything sounds and feels strange and lonely. She meets a friendly girl at the park and they play on the swings but she still doesn’t understand what the girl is saying. But, the girl helps her learn new words every time they play. Soon Cartwheel begins to feel comfortable in her new home. What a great example of kindness!
Lizard from the Park by Mark Pett
Leonard takes good care of his egg and the lizard it hatches. When the lizard grows and grows, it’s clear that he’s unhappy so Leonard decides he must return his pet to the park. Very sweet story.
Little Red Gliding Hood by Tara Lazar, illustrated by Troy Cummings
Little Red is an ice skater in need of a partner in this fractured fairy tale with a main character of color. She’s determined to win the pairs skating competition and win a new pair of skates. Will wolf be the perfect partner?
Little Kunoichi The Ninja Girl by Sanae Ishida
If your kids are like mine, they LOVE ninjas. In this book, children can see what a real ninja does for training. The problem is that this girl isn’t doing well at ninja school. When she meets a boy, Chibi Samurai, who is training to be a samurai and not doing so well at his school either, the two pair up and train together shugyo style. Thus, their combined, new goal is to be better, not perfect, and to have fun. Added to: Best Ninja Picture Books for Kids
I’m New Here by Anne Sibley O’Brien
Back home Jin and Fatimah knew their languages and were included in their classes. Being new, they now feel lonely and confused. This book gently shows how it feels to be new and the process of making friends from the perspective of children from different cultures and countries.
Inside Outside by Lizi Boyd
If you’ve never read a wordless picture book, you must read this one with a diverse main character. And when I say read, I mean to engage in the story through the detailed illustrations on kraft paper and the revealing die-cuts sharing glimpses of more.
The Song of Delphine by Kenneth Kraegel
We loved this story about a servant girl in an African palace who sings to help with her loneliness. When the giraffes hear her songs, they befriend her. But the princess has her locked up — until the Queen hears her sing. Delphine finds her happily ever after with her new friend, the apologetic princess.
Police Officer (Busy People) by Lucy M. George, illustrated by AndoTwin
Seth is a police officer who protects people in the community. Follow along as he and his partner, Officer Thea, go to a local festival where they help a lost boy find his parents. You’ll learn about Officer Seth’s duties, uniform, and other busy people that work with him. This nonfiction series is excellent for children, it’s spot on with pacing, text to picture ratio, and vocabulary and it’s diverse main characters reflect the diversity in our multicultural world.
The Piñata That the Farm Maiden Hung by Samantha R. Vamos, illustrated by Sebastia Serra
You’ll have a blast reading this cheerful bilingual diverse picture book with a diverse main character! The farm maiden hangs the piñata. Who is it for? How did it get to be ready? You will see in this clever cumulative tale how the farmer, his family, and the animals helped to prepare the piñata and the birthday party festivities. Spanish words are in bolded capital letters and supported with lively illustrations so readers can infer what each word means. The repetition will help reinforce each new word. Ultimately, I love this sparkling celebration of culture and family! Also read: The Best Cumulative Picture Books.
Children Just Like Me: A Unique Celebration of Children Around the World by Anabel Kindersley and Barnabas Kindersley
Absolutely relatable, relevant, and fascinating — this multicultural children’s book is one you’ll be pouring over for hours and days and weeks. Because learning about kids that are your own age, or close to it, and where they live, what they eat, what kind of school they attend, and all about them is SO interesting! I love how much you can learn about diverse cultures and countries.