By Julie Polter 12-21-2016

Where do we find quality stories for children about a diverse world? Not books that preach, but that evoke empathy and curiosity and different perspectives through good stories and/or art? As is the case across all publishing categories, books by and about people of color (or people who are not able-bodied or citizens or middle-class or otherwise conforming to a mainstream standard) are in the minority.

A lot is at stake, for all children. Children's book author Mitali Perkins described in the December issue of Sojourners magazine the questions on race and power she asks herself, both when she’s writing books for children and reading them. Because, as she writes, “Stories are powerful, and Jesus modeled storytelling that changes the hearer for good. But other stories can be propaganda that causes us to hate or fear the ‘other.’”

But by taking Perkins’ advice to heart, asking your librarian, bookseller, teachers, and other parents, and checking out online resources on children’s literature, quality books with diverse perspectives can be found. Here are a few books — some classic, some newer — that point to a world filled with stories to be told, no two the same.

1. The Snowy Day, by Ezra Jack Keats

This classic was also revolutionary, as Keats was a pioneer of depicting people of color in picture books. As he wrote, “Then began an experience that turned my life around — working on a book with a black kid as hero. … My book would have him there simply because he should have been there all along.”

2. Just a Minute: A Trickster Tale and Counting Book, by Yuyi Morales

This is a lushly illustrated tale of a wily grandmother who takes on death itself — that will also teach you to count in both English and Spanish.

3. The Day the Crayons Quit, by Drew Daywalt with illustrations by Oliver Jeffers

Duncan goes to do some coloring and finds that his crayons, with varied complaints, have gone on strike.

4. Mama's Nightingale: A Story of Immigration and Separation, by Edwidge Danticat with illustrations by Leslie Staub

A little girl, Saya, listens with deep longing to the taped stories her mother, held in an immigration detention center, sends to her. In the midst of her sadness, Saya finds a way to advocate for her mother.

5. Firebird, by Misty Copeland with illustrations by Christopher Myers

In this boldly beautiful picture book, Misty Copeland, the first African-American female principal dancer with the American Ballet Theatre, poetically encourages a little girl who wants to be a great dancer. Lessons in seeing circumstances and digging in to work toward dreams.

6. El Deafo, by Cece Bell

This autobiographical graphic novel tells about the artist’s hearing loss at a young age and how she turns a hearing device into a source of “superpowers.”

7. Inside Out and Back Again, by Thanhha Lai

In a decades-old story as fresh as today’s headlines, 10-year-old Hà flees the Vietnam War with her mother and brothers by boat, landing first in a tent city in Guam and eventually being connected to refugee sponsors in Alabama.

8. Bud, Not Buddy, by Christopher Paul Curtis

A boy sets out to find his father, meeting many perils and adventures along the way.

9. When the Sea Turned to Silver, by Grace Lin

In this novel inspired by Chinese folktales, Pinmei and her friend Yishan embark on an epic voyage in order to free her grandmother, the Storyteller, from the Emperor.

10. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, by Mildred D. Taylor

A story of a black family living in Mississippi in the 1930s, as they work to stay strong in the face of poverty, illness, and racists attacks. As circumstances chip at the protection provided by a loving family, 9-year-old protagonist Cassie Logan comes to a deeper understanding of injustice and why owning land is so important to her father.

Photo: Brandon Hook / Sojourners

Julie Polter is Senior Associate Editor at Sojourners.

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