As pretty much anyone who knows me will tell you, I’m passionate about my job. I devour children’s books, love the creative process of putting together programs, and can’t get enough of school outreach. The thing I love most, though, is the opportunity I have to promote diverse books, to offer children mirrors as well as windows.
There’s only one problem: As a white, cisgender, non-disabled individual, I’ve never personally dealt with a lack of representation in books. While I’m in no way saying librarians and teachers can’t recommend books featuring characters unlike themselves, I feel it’s important for the children and families in my library to hear about diverse books from people who have struggled – and in many ways still struggle – with a lack of representation. So, once a month I host a diverse booktalk where local authors and/or illustrators come to the library to share some of their favorite titles. The line-up for this year so far includes such talented voices in children’s and YA lit as Dhonielle Clayton and Ashley Woodfolk, Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich, and Arvin Ahmadi.
Last month, author/illustrator Melissa Iwai came to 53rd Street Library to share some of her favorite diverse picture books. Melissa is the author of the recently-released Pizza Day and its predecessor Soup Day. She’s always tried to consciously illustrate diverse families, partly as a response to the lack of diversity she saw in the books she read as a child: “I never saw picture books with kids who looked like me. Maybe one or two, [but mostly old Japanese folktales]. It was never anything that related to my daily life as a Japanese-American.”
Because she’s an amazing human being, Melissa came prepared with a title list – complete with brief descriptions – to share with patrons. The list was quite extensive, so I’ve selected 10 titles to share below. All title selections and descriptions, as well as the resource and hashtag guides at the end, are Melissa’s.
This book is written by my friend, Kristen Balouch, and it’s the only one I can think of that features an Iranian-American protagonist. It’s a beautiful story of a boy’s relationship with his grandfather, who still lives in Iran.
Umbrella features a little Japanese-American girl living in New York and her anticipation of finally using her new umbrella on a rainy day. It was originally published many years ago, and I’m sory I never saw it growing up; I only came across it as an adult.
I love this sweet story by my friend, Aram, about Yoomi’s quest to finally eat spicy kimchi like her big brothers and prove she’s not a baby. The characters are cats, but they clearly have a Korean heritage. It also features a really good kimchi recipe at the end of the story!
This is a beautifully illustrated (Caldecott Honor winner) and moving story about the square in New Orleans where people of African heritage, both enslaved and free, danced and played music on Sunday afternoons. The intermingling of the different African, Caribbean, and European music led to the development of new styles, including jazz.
This book is just gorgeous; the paintings have such a quiet, calming energy. It tells the story of the journey the author’s grandfather makes to the US from Japan and of the similar journey the author later makes as an adult.
Just a simple, sweet story about the fun and excitement of playing in and experiencing snow – but I love that the main character is Asian for no specific reason. This is the kind of book I wish I had grown up with.
This is a cute book about T’uv Shevat, a Jewish holiday celebrating the new year for trees. This publisher, Kar Ben, publishes many Jewish-themed picture books.
This story is about a little girl and her visits to her two sets of grandparents – one on Saturdays and one on Sundays (domingos). Both sets of grandparents have very different cultural backgrounds but they share a love for their granddaughter. There’s a lot of Spanish works sprinkled in the text, which is nice.
Kulu is an Inukitut term of endearment, and Sweetest Kulu is a beautiful poem about all the different wild animals who visit the newborn bearing various gifts.
This is a really fun book to read aloud. It’s about a young boy’s journey with his family from the country to Havana in their old, rattling car, Cara Cara. The illustrations really capture the warmth and beauty of Cuba.
- Multicultural Children’s Book Day’s Diversity Booklist
- Children’s Book Council’s Diversity Blog
- Helping Kids Rise
Hashtags You Should Know:
Today’s guest post was written by Kaitlin Frick. Kaitlin is a Senior Children’s Librarian with the 53rd Street branch of the New York Public Library. Aside from her regular programming, Kaitlin plans and implements a twice-yearly after-hours family event as well as a monthly author program focused on booktalking diverse titles for children and teens. She can be found on Twitter @UnheardMelodies or reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please note that as a guest post, the views expressed here do not represent the official position of ALA or ALSC
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