22 Diverse Book Choices for All Grade Levels
In a vibrant, multicultural society, it takes deliberate effort to represent the diversity of students’ lives in a class or school library, but it is possible. Including writers and fictional characters from a diverse range of backgrounds, beliefs, and life circumstances increases the likelihood that students will find both windows and mirrors in the library—books that reflect their own lives as well as books that provide insight into the lives and experiences of people who are different from them.
There is no way that a bookshelf could represent the entirety of this country. From the descendants of people who first arrived in this country more than 15,000 years ago to the most recent immigrants, we’re simply too many to handle. However, the comprehensive list of books below—many of which were recommended by multiple teachers—covers all grade levels and Lexile levels up to 1140L, and includes award-winners and bestsellers, classics that have stood the test of time as well as more recent releases. We hope that they reflect human diversity in the broadest sense possible, taking into consideration factors such as race and ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, and other unique circumstances.
PRE-KINDERGARTEN TO TWO-THIRD GRADES
The Adventures of a Crayon in the Color Red
Red, a blue crayon in a red wrapper, has several problems: He’s unable to properly color strawberries or fire engines, and he’s unsure of exactly what it is that he’s talented at. This charming picture book by Michael Hall conveys an important message to children: “Believe in yourself and be true to who you are.” It’s an important message for all children who feel different from their peers—LGBT children and children with learning differences, for example—as well as for their peers themselves.
Deena longs for her mother.
Deena is a previously well-behaved young lady who has become increasingly disruptive at school since her mother was sentenced to prison. Deena’s story, which has been sensitively illustrated by Leslie Jindalay Pyo, was written by high school students Jonae Haynesworth, Jesse Holmes, Lonnie Jones, and Kahliya Ruffin to reflect the lives of the children they were tutoring in Washington, DC. The story was written to reflect the lives of the children they were tutoring in Washington, DC. Parental incarceration is a shockingly common occurrence in the United States: more than 5 million children in the United States have had at least one parent incarcerated at some point.
Patricia Hegarty’s novel We Are Family has a book cover.
We Are One Big Family
This picture book about family ties, written by Patricia Hegarty and illustrated by Ryan Wheatcroft, presents children with a variety of family situations, including traditional nuclear families of different races, same-sex parents, grandparents raising a child, a single mother, and child, and multiracial families, all of which are united by love.
Market Street is the final stop.
This Newbery Medal-winning book, written by Matt de la Pea and illustrated by Christian Robinson, teaches children the importance of generosity as well as the importance of being content with what they have. On a bus ride, young CJ questions his grandmother about why they don’t have a car, among other things. What is the reason for one of the passengers’ blindness? After all, why are they getting off in such a squalid part of town? They are on their way from the church to volunteer at a soup kitchen on Market Street. Her responses assist CJ in discovering the beauty that exists in his immediate environment.
Paper Wishes for Students in Grades 3 to 5
After the attack on Pearl Harbor, 10-year-old Manami and her Japanese American family are forced to leave their home on Bainbridge Island, near Seattle, and relocate to an internment camp in the California desert, according to Lois Sepahban’s historical fiction. When Manami’s dog is taken away from her during the process, she becomes silent. This is an excellent introduction to the difficult subject of Japanese internment—as well as the personal and social costs of intolerance.
Drita, a close friend of mine
Between Maxie, a popular fourth-grade student, and the new kid in class, Drita, whose family has fled the war in Kosovo, an unlikely friendship blossoms. Jenny Lombard, a former public school teacher, investigates immigration and multicultural friendship by bringing together a refugee with limited English and an African American New York City kid.
Vashti Harrison’s Little Leaders is depicted on the cover of the book.
Little Leaders: Courageous Black Women Throughout History
‘What kind of dreams I might have had if I had known about all of these women when I was growing up is how Vashti Harrison describes her beautifully illustrated mini-biographies of 40 black female trailblazers, which she wrote for her younger self and hopes will be inspirational to all readers. Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman are among Harrison’s subjects, as are Mahalia Jackson, Shirley Chisholm, Octavia Butler, and Dominique Dawes—women who have served as role models in politics, sports, the arts and sciences, and a variety of other fields.
August Pullman, also known as Auggie, has undergone numerous surgeries to correct facial anomalies, but when he enters school in fifth grade after years of homeschooling, he still has a face that has earned him nicknames such as Freak and Freddy Krueger, among others. Auggie’s point of view, as well as the perspectives of his friends and family members, are presented in R.J. Palacio’s novel. “A meditation on kindness,” as author R.J. Palacio has described the novel.
THE SEVENTH TO EIGHTH GRADES
The Story of the Rose That Grew Out of Concrete
As a result of the fact that Tupac Shakur wrote this collection of poems while still a teenager, it has become a source of inspiration for young writers, particularly boys, who appreciate the musician’s authenticity. The poems are taken from Shakur’s journals, and many of them include small edits that he made along the way, providing a glimpse into his creative process.
The Time of Arrival
The Arrival is a sepia-toned marvel that tells the story of a man’s journey from his troubled home country to a new one entirely through images, with no dialogue. In this graphic novel, artist Shaun Tan puts the reader in the shoes of the immigrant by using an invented alphabet on the signs of the strange new world he has entered; the language is as impenetrable to the reader as it is to the protagonist.
I’m comfortable in my skin
Sharon Flake’s debut novel, Maleeka Madison, is about an African American seventh-grader who struggles with poverty and self-consciousness about her dark skin—and who fights the people who try to help her. Maleeka Madison is a story about bullying and the adolescent drive to build an identity. Flake was awarded the Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award for New Talent for her work on the book.
Guadalupe Garcia McCall’s novel Under the Mesquite is depicted on the cover of the book.
In Under the Mesquite, Lupita, a Mexican American adolescent, struggles to care for her younger siblings while her mother battles cancer in this free-verse novel that makes effective use of Spanish interspersed throughout the narrative. In 1991, Lee & Low published Guadalupe Garcia McCall’s first novel, which has since become a staple in the company’s multicultural book publishing lineup.
In Ghost, written by Jason Reynolds, a National Book Award finalist, we follow the journey of an African American middle school runner who has the potential to qualify for the Junior Olympics—if only he can learn to control his temper first. Ghost has been having a lot of what he refers to as “altercations” lately because money is tight and his father is in jail. This is the first in a series of books about the members of a track team, and it is set in the year 2000.
A Chinese-American who was born in the United States
The three stories told in this graphic novel, which is the first to be nominated for a National Book Award, are as follows: a legend of the Monkey King, a master of martial arts; the story of a Chinese-American boy who wants to be just an American; and an illustration of Chinese-immigrant racial stereotypes, which includes a character named Chin-kee. When you weave these stories together, Gene Luen Yang explores Chinese American identities, bigotry, and assimilation as they relate to the United States.
Transgender fourth-grader George George wants to audition for the lead role in her school’s production of Charlotte’s Web so that her mother will recognize her as a girl. George George is a transgender fourth-grader who wants to try out for the lead role so that her mother will recognize her as a girl. Alex Gino depicts George’s struggles with bullying as well as the painful reassurance that she will “turn into a fine young man” in the course of the play. George was the recipient of a Stonewall Book Award, and his book was named to the American Library Association’s list of the 10 Most Difficult Books in 2016 and 2017.
THE 9TH TO 12TH GRADES
The True Story of a Part-Time Indian by a Part-Time Indian
Sherman is a city in the U.S. Arnold Spirit Jr., the protagonist of Alexie’s National Book Award-winning novel, is a teenager growing up on the Spokane Reservation. Junior attends a failing high school, and when he opens his geometry book, he discovers that his mother’s name was among the previous owners. Junior, a budding cartoonist, eventually transfers to a wealthy high school 20 miles away from home, where the only other Indian is the school’s mascot, which he designs himself.
Ultima, please accept my blessing.
Rudolfo Anaya’s coming-of-age story is a classic of Latino literature, and it is also an exploration of faith—Antonio, the young protagonist, makes his First Communion in the Catholic Church, but he also finds a spiritual guide in Ultima, an elderly curandera, or healer, who helps him explore indigenous traditions of New Mexico.
The Hate You Give (The Hate You Give)
As soon as it was published in 2017, Angie Thomas’s debut novel became a sensation, spending 50 weeks on the New York Times best-seller list. The story revolves around the shooting death of an unarmed black teen by a white police officer, which was witnessed by Starr, a 16-year-old who spends her days alternating between her predominantly black neighborhood and her predominantly white suburban school. The assassination of her friend Khalil pushes those two worlds even further apart than they were before.
Malcolm X’s autobiography is a must-read.
Alexandra Haley’s coauthored biography of the man born Malcolm Little is considered one of the most important memoirs of the twentieth century. Alex Haley was born in the same town as Malcolm Little. Malcolm’s upbringing and prison conversion to Islam, as well as his philosophies of black power and black nationalism, are described in this book based on interviews conducted over two years before his death in 1965, according to the author.
Adam Silvera’s They Both Die At The End is depicted on the cover of the book.
They both perish at the conclusion.
In this novel by Adam Silvera, which was named one of Book Riot’s Best Queer Books of 2017, a company called Death-Cast calls two New York City teenagers just after midnight with the bad news: this is the day they will die. The novel is set in New York City, and the characters are both gay. Rufus, a bisexual Cuban American, and Mateo, a Puerto Rican of Puerto Rican heritage, meet through the app Last Friend and spend their End Day together, making their way through the city and becoming friends—and then something more.
The House on Mango Street is a fictionalized account of a real-life house on Mango Street.
Esperanza Cordero, a Mexican American adolescent, longs to be free of her impoverished neighborhood in Chicago. Esperanza’s life is chronicled in short vignettes in Sandra Cisneros’s book, which spans a year as she transitions from childhood to adolescence. A pivotal moment, full of promise but also a little frightening, occurs when a neighbor gives Esperanza and her friends a pair of high-heeled shoes, marking a rite of passage into womanhood.
A Bengali couple’s children immigrate to the United States, which is the subject of Jhumpa Lahiri’s debut novel, conveys in rich detail the experience of many immigrant families: Even though they miss their homeland and primarily interact with other Bengalis, the parents strive to be American, and their American-born children resent the imposition of Bengali traditions that are foreign to them.