“A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.”-C.S. Lewis
I’m with Lewis on this one. Children’s novels have an honest way of capturing the imagination and exposing readers to new experiences and cultures quickly. They’re also a nice pick-me-up for after you’ve read Bearheart and want to restore some faith in humanity. So for my first suggestions post I figured starting at what most people see as the “basic books” would be a refreshing way to go. So here’s ten diverse children’s book for you or a pint sized human in your life:
You can find the Goodreads list for this post here.
1. The Egypt Game
This is a personal favorite of mine. It features a white girl, an black brother sister duo, a Chinese American girl, Japanese American boy, and another boy of Romani descent. I read this book as a child, and it’s never left me (I actually have the copy from my elementary school library). The story is set in a small college town in California, and follows the creation of a sustained imaginative game, the “Egypt Game”, by the group of elementary schoolers listed above. Together they reimagine ancient Egypt, participating in imagined rituals and creating their own alphabet, but soon their fantasies are threatened by a criminal loose in the neighborhood. The book was published in 1967, so some of the language is a bit dated/offensive (black people referred to as negros), but I still stand by this novel as a solid read.
2. Red Scarf Girl
Consider this the Chinese equivalent of Anne Frank’s Diary. Following young Ji-li during the growth and dramatic takeover of the Chinese Communist Party during the Cultural Revolution, it showcases he struggles in school, with her family, and with policies she doesn’t fully understand. Told in diary format, this is a raw book, exploring childhood at an explosive time in Chinese history that still has ramifications into the modern day.
3. Island of the Blue Dolphins
This book was a lot more brutal than I expected it to be. It follows a Native American brother sister duo who are left on an island after their tribe leaves. It mostly focuses on the female protagonist, allowing readers to see the way she copes with loss, loneliness, and her identity as a person without the influence of others.
4. Yang the Youngest and His Terrible Ear
A book that deals with societal as well as familial pressure, featuring a Chinese family who immigrated to America. It deals with immigration, showing the culture shocks and reactions of what happens when such a dramatic shift happens. It also takes on stereotypes and misconceptions about Chinese families in a light-hearted way, as well as challenge the input and pressure parents put upon their children at a young age. (Plus, there’s baseball, and who doesn’t like that?)
5. One Crazy Summer
I haven’t read this one yet (fight me), so here’s the summary: In the summer of 1968, after travelling from Brooklyn to Oakland, California, to spend a month with the mother they barely know, eleven-year-old Delphine and her two younger sisters arrive to a cold welcome as they discover that their mother, a dedicated poet and printer, is resentful of the intrusion of their visit and wants them to attend a nearby Black Panther summer camp
6. The Diary of Anne Frank
There are few who don’t know about the power behind this book. Anne shows her own positivity, personality, and contemplations in this book. Focusing on Anne’s experience as a young Jewish girl during Nazi Germany readers are helpless to save her, watching how she takes on the trials of her time and attempts to make it her own, even when it’s the end of her.
7. Brown Girl Dreaming
This is actually on my summer TBR, so have the summary: Raised in South Carolina and New York, Woodson always felt halfway home in each place. In vivid poems, she shares what it was like to grow up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s, living with the remnants of Jim Crow and her growing awareness of the Civil Rights movement. Touching and powerful, each poem is both accessible and emotionally charged, each line a glimpse into a child’s soul as she searches for her place in the world. Woodson’s eloquent poetry also reflects the joy of finding her voice through writing stories, despite the fact that she struggled with reading as a child. Her love of stories inspired her and stayed with her, creating the first sparks of the gifted writer she was to become.
8. Bud, Not Buddy
It’s been a long time since I’ve read this book, but it’s characters have stayed with me since third grade. Bud is a strong character in his own right, learning how to navigate life without any help while searching for his nameless father. He finds character and pluck on the rails, never once straying from his own self.
9. Walk Two Moons
Another summary: Thirteen-year-old Salamanca Tree Hiddle’s mother has disappeared. While tracing her steps on a car trip from Ohio to Idaho with her grandparents, Salamanca tells a story to pass the time about a friend named Phoebe Winterbottom whose mother vanished and who received secret messages after her disappearance. One of them read, “Don’t judge a man until you have walked two moons in his moccasins.” Despite her father’s warning that she is “fishing in the air,” Salamanca hopes to bring her home. By drawing strength from her Native American ancestry, she is able to face the truth about her mother.
10. Esperanza Rising
This one focuses on a Mexican girl who’s forced to uproot her life alongside her mother and move to America, where her previously upper class style of living vanishes and she is forced to work as a migrant worker during the Great Depression. It showcases personal and financial struggle, familial relationships, and acceptance within a community.