Chapter books to read with my daughter

My daughter is getting to the age where we're reading chapter books together and I'm so excited to share some of my favorite ones from when I was a kid. However, most of those books were written a long time ago and feature strong girls, but mostly white protagonists e.g. Laura Ingalls Wilder books, Anne of Green Gables, Charlotte's Web, Nancy Drew, Ramona, etc. Although I haven't read these books in a long looonnng time, I am certain they would capture her imagination and want to her love reading as much as I do. I am also certain there will be some stuff that I find cringey and discriminatory today. 

We talk a lot about diversity, and have made a big effort to have a very diverse picture book library and I feel that it is a shame to go backwards in some ways. 

I am a person of color. My daughter is half-white. 

Anyone else thinking about this? Would welcome any thoughts, book recommendations or pointers for how to discuss this. 

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Hello!

My kid is a teen now, but reading to her remains such a happy memory. Here is a website that has some good resources: https://www.amightygirl.com/books

Happy reading!

This doesn't fully respond to your post, but I strongly recommend ashaybythebay.com bookstore as a great resource. They have books on their website by age category and also a series/chapter book section. I've also found them to be incredibly responsive and helpful when I've contacted them. Happy reading!

For finding new book recommendations, try asking the librarians at your public library or Oakland Public Library for recommendations! They have these awesome book bundles and like to have diverse characters: https://oaklandlibrary.org/category/tags/book-bundles

 

You might want to check out the Laurie Halse Anderson trilogy chains, ashes, forge... it might be too advanced still for you guys, but the narrators and protagonists are black kids during the revolutionary war and it’s a powerful story. 

When I was a kid, I really liked The Babysitter's Club. There were seven girls in the series and each had their own story - there was a Japanese American, African American, a Californian, redhead, the tomboy, New Yorker. Each book is a story about one of the girls - there are at least 100 books. I was drawn to "Kristy" because she opened up the babysitter club business, so I thought it was empowering that girls these age were that organized! I think I started reading these in third grade (1989). I gave my collection to my niece who is currently in fourth grade and she loves them. I'm sure it's pretty dated by now, and also the author wrote discussed stereotypes of that time. worth a shot for when your daughter is a bit older!

For fun reading, at her age now, she might ilke Amelia Bedelia, which is about a maid who makes a lot of mistakes cleaning houses, but makes up for it with her baking. The newer Berenstain Bears books are good too - ones written by their son, after the original authors passed. She might be outgrowing those though.  

I’m so excited to recommend Prairie Lotus by Linda Sue Park to you. You may have heard about it already it made quite a splash last year. It is a specific rejoinder to the Little House books… embracing what’s wonderful about those books while making important changes to the way frontier stories are told that include the perspectives of displaced native people and the overlooked non white heroes in this part of American history, as well as giving us important lessons about racism that are applicable in any time.

After we read Prairie Lotus, we ended up eagerly devouring the entire works of Linda Sue Park! They’re mostly historical fiction with elementary school aged protagonists. The best one featuring a girl that I would recommend to an early chapter book reader would be Seesaw Girl, although the best book of the lot is A Single Shard, although it features two male characters.

You are right about the "old-fashioned" (e.g. thoughtlessly, casually sexist and racist) milieu of many of our favorite books from childhood.  I have taken to reading a book before sharing it with my grandchildren. Turns out Peter Pan, Swiss Family Robinson and the Beverly Cleary books contain assumptions not really acceptable to modern awareness.  We do love Pippi Longstocking and the Oz books, and recommend them wholeheartedly.  A friend with reading-age children say they like the "feisty feminist" Lumberjanes books by Mariko Tamaki, which look fun if I can just get past the illustrations.
 

Hi- check out embracerace.org. Under the resources tab they have a section for lists of diverse children’s books.

If you personally haven't re-read the books from your childhood that you are thinking about sharing, I'd start there. Some of mine have had aspects that are not acceptable, but my kid has been old enough to discuss the issues and it's been a good learning experience alongside the story. I felt like others were really far off the mark and the issues were ones that he's not developmentally ready to tackle in meaningful ways yet. There are a lot of newer books with diverse characters who have lead and authentic roles in the stories and I've come to love them alongside my child, for example, the Dragon Masters series and the Upside Down Magic series. 

Hi!

I've always prioritized reading diverse books with my girls too and once they got to the chapter books stage, it was definitely harder to find diverse books. But they are out there! Here are some of the ones we enjoyed:

The Sofia Martinez series

The Jannah Jewels series (this was our favorite and I liked it so much I gifted it to so many people who also loved it).

Meet Yasmin

Katie Woo

Ling and Ting

Zooey and Sassafras series

Jasmine Toguchi series

Juana and Lucas

Nikki and Deja series

Book Uncle and Me

Also this great org has awesome diverse book suggestions by grade (including chapter books)--you have to sign up but it is worth it. I started a book club with some friends thanks to their lists and curriculum: https://girlsleadership.org/resources/book-club-sign-up-form/

Also, the good thing about this reading stage is that the chapter book stage doesn't last long. Once she moves into middle grade books, there are many options for diverse books again, thankfully. Of course the publishing world still needs to publish many, many more diverse stories, but we have been able to find a lot we love. I liked this list once you get to that stage to get started: https://www.incultureparent.com/10-diverse-middle-grade-novels-for-older...

Happy reading!

Hi! I have been thinking about this, too, because a friend recently asked for suggestions. My daughter is older now (12), but when she was younger I read the Little House on the Prairie series to her and her younger brother. They both (but especially her), like realistic fiction -- they loved thinking about what life was like for Laura and her family and how different it is to our life now. It generated a lot of discussion. I also made sure that we talked about the Ingalls' bigotry against Native Americans, and what it might feel like to an African American to read about Pa dressing up in blackface.  At the time, and now too, I felt it was a teachable moment. But I have lately wondered if that is true. Even though we talked about it, is that enough? Or were they too young to understand what I was trying to teach them? Did their love for the characters lead them to conclude their behavior was OK? I am curious what other folks think. 

I would also love to hear suggestions as my 9 year old son is a reluctant reader, but is engaged if the series captures his imagination. He read some of the Akissi books (graphic novels), all of Avatar and Zita the Spacegirl. Together we are reading Harry Potter -- again a series with white main characters -- so maybe our next series could have more diversity. (We are a white family.) Thanks all!

A good transition from picture books to chapter books is the Julian and Huey series by Ann Cameron.  They center on the adventures of Julian, Huey and Gloria.  The boys are brothers and Gloria is their friend.  All the characters are African-American.  The illustrations are great.  And the stories are humorous, imaginative and thoughtful.

Contact the library! Librarians spend a lot of time thinking about this exact question. Oakland Public Library has a service called Book Me where you fill out an online form describing what you like or what you're looking for and a librarian emails you personalized recommendations. When I've used this I've gotten really amazing responses with lots of titles to choose from. There is also a "great reads" page on the "kids" part of OPL's website that has lists of kids' books about characters of color and lists of other resources to check out: https://oaklandlibrary.org/kids/great-reads Other libraries offer similar services and probably also have lists of recommendations ready to go.  

We're just starting to read chapter books in my household, but so far we've loved the Zoey & Sassafras series by Asia Citro. They're about a Black girl protagonist and her scientist mom, and their secret work helping magical animals (dragons, unicorns, etc) by doing science experiments. 

Grace Lin's Pacy Lin books have a sort of Ramona-like feel (in that they're about daily life and trials & tribulations of school, friends, & family - not as wacky as Ramona) but with a Taiwanese-American protagonist. They're also Lunar New Year-themed, so now is an appropriate time to start them! Year of the Dog is the first one in the series.

I completely related to this post! There are a lot of ways to come at this. My daughter really loved the entire Little House series and I was grateful that I read it to her rather than having her read it herself (we started around age 5). There is A LOT of racism in old books (we also read Mary Poppins and Pippi Longstocking). I found this to actually be a tangible way to have discussions about racism and other prejudices with her so we would pause whenever we came to a part where something came up and talk about it. I was actually glad to be reading books with overt racism in them because we had a lot to talk about, in terms of history and how people thought back then — and how some people still think today. I think if you are ready and willing to stop reading when something hard or inappropriate comes up it can start conversations naturally that might be hard to have otherwise.

There are also some more modern books that have strong girls of color in them (Zoey and Sassafrass; some of the chapter books from the Rebel Girl series; Anna Hibiscus; The Great Cake Mystery). There's also an excellent series about a girl named Violet Mackerel. If you get the Australian printings (rather than American), Violet becomes best friend's with a Black little girl when she moves in next door and their friendship is lovely. My daughter now reads these to herself at 8, she loves them so much. Good luck in your search :)

Hello, dear fellow parent! I love that you are on the hunt for good books. I have recently re-read Anne of Green Gables, and I did not find anything in there to cause cringing. Of course, as you note, all of the characters are white. (Me, too.) The Laura Ingalls Wilder books are also pretty solid; the main thing is that Laura's mother is quite openly racist - but Laura describes it pretty clearly. I think that the main issue with Charlotte's Web is also likely to be that again, everyone is white. 

I just asked my 20 year old avid reader whether she has any recommendations; she mentioned a great app called We Read Too, which has recommendations for books by and about people of color for each age group. I hope this is helpful!

https://www.wereadtoo.com/

There seem to be a bunch of great book recommendations on this site: https://feministbooksforkids.com/books-about-black-girls/

Here are some suggestions, mostly for kids 8/ 9/ & 10+:

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia (set in West Oakland)

A good Kind of Trouble by Lisa M. Ramee

For Black Girls Like Me by Mariama Lockington

Jada Sly: Artist & Spy by Sherri Winston

The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson

The Vanderbeekers of 141st St by Karina Yan Glaser

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor

Blended by Sharon Draper 

Children's literature is getting more & more diverse and representative of the big beautiful global mosaic.  Enjoy that precious reading aloud time! I miss it with my now nearly grown kids :)

You don't say how old your child is but if they're in the 8-12 range, I have really enjoyed reading books by Jewell Parker Rhodes with my daughter (10). She writes from the perspective of BIPOC persons and the content, while heavy, is relevant to today's current events.  

Yes! It is so tricky. Some books from my childhood I let go of altogether because my values were too different, especially ones for the 5-8 range. I never want to spend all that time on a read aloud that I am not comfortable with. As my kid got to the 8-12 range we talked more and compared/contrasted some of those "classics" vs contemporary books, many with non-white protagonists. My friend hosted a book club that compared/contrasted Little House with the Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich. They are both the first books in a series set in the same region of the US. My kid did not want to keep reading the Ingalls series after reading the chapters with very dehumanizing descriptions of Indian people. She knew those people from the Birchbark books and it did not feel right to her. Some wonderful series: One Crazy Summer trilogy (set in Oakland in the first book!) and Birchbark House series. Mildred D. Taylor has a moving series for 4th-5th grade up too that we read in parallel.

Some series we enjoyed when my daughter was read aloud age with non-white authors and characters: Ann Cameron has a series that starts with "Stories Julian Tells."  These a great pretty easy stories for early readers early read aloud.  Grace Lin has a series that starts with the book "Year of the Dog".  We read these when my daughter was in third grade and several times after.  Mildred Taylor wrote a series about an African American family in the south during the depression.  First book is "Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry."   These are written for older children and contain more graphic details about what it means to grow up Black in America.  Appropriate for  5th or 6th grade and up.  Also in case you do not know about them Little Feminist book club has a subscription series for 7-9 years that will have more currently written books I haven't had the pleasure to read.  https://littlefeminist.com/giftshop/

 Great question, thanks for asking

Some recommendations: Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, and The Birchbark House

I hear you on this. Our 3yo has really enjoyed the Zoey and Sassafras series, about a Black girl (and her cat) who use the scientific method to help sick and injured magical animals — it’s not an #OwnVoices series since the author is white, fwiw. And while there’s a bunch of good Instagram accounts out there that highlight books with good representation, my recommendation is to make use of Oakland Library’s free Book Me service and get some recs that are really tailored for your kid. 

Hi! There are some great lists compiled online of chapter books for girls with POC main characters! Try this one, compiled by the Chicago Public Library: Juvenile chapter book series for 1000 Black Girl Books! https://chipublib.bibliocommons.com/list/share/381551987/1151590940 Or I guess, technically, the list was started by the Grass Roots Community Foundation: https://grassrootscommunityfoundation.org/1000-black-girl-books-resource-guide/

Here are a few that were favorites when my daughter was that age:

  • Anna Hibiscus series by Atinuke (I loved these too!)
  • Katie Woo series by Fran Manushkin 
  • Zooey and Sassafras

She liked Whoopi Goldberg’s series about the Sugar Plum Ballerinas too, though I quickly tired of them!  

Feminist Books for Kids has some great lists that include some of these and many others. 

A few off the top of my head:

One Crazy Summer (Rita Williams-Garcia...takes place in Oakland)

Esperanza Rising (Pam Munoz Ryan)

Becoming Naomi Leon (Pam Munoz Ryan)

Underground Abductor (Nathan Hale graphic novel)

Sadako and the 1000 paper Cranes (Coerr)

Alvin Ho (series)

I Am Malala (kids version)

Brown Girl Dreaming

I HIGHLY recommend you talk to a children's librarian at your local branch. They LIVE for this kind of question/problem, and will offer lots of choices. 

Hi! I totally feel the same way about reading with my daughter, though she isn't ready for chapter books yet. I'm a librarian and mixed race (my daughter is mixed race, too), so I think about diversity and representation in books a lot. If you haven't looked at We Need Diverse Books' (WNDB) Where to Find Diverse Books resources (https://diversebooks.org/resources-old/where-to-find-diverse-books/), I highly recommend it. Great resources for finding books that don't have white protagonists and I'm biased being a librarian, but I do recommend looking at the awards lists for some great titles (linked from the WNDB page). Book Riot also has tons of articles and lists and other resources for finding books (https://bookriot.com/category/childrens/) and have a ton of different newsletters you can sign up for (for free) to get notices of new books coming out. I hope these resources help. Also (again biased because I'm a librarian), you can always ask your children's librarian at your local public library for recommendations--they'll probably have a lot of great suggestions, too! 

I have a younger kid and have been thinking about making edits to books (gender is my big issue at the moment - like his beloved Good Night Construction site book in which all the trucks are "he" when they should be "they"). At some point when he realizes that we've made edits to the books, we can discuss why more. I've already told him that I don't like the Curious George books because the adults are always yelling at George when he's just curious and trying to be helpful and they leave him alone instead of helping him. He still likes the books but hopefully I'm showing him that we can and should be critical about stories. And I never choose them to read.

I wonder if the same could be true for some of the books that you loved and want to share with your daughter. Could they open the door for discussion about issues in the past and how they affect the current issues in this country? Laura Ingalls Wilder in particular writes some really racist stuff toward native peoples that I remember cringing at as a kid but also didn't have parents who addressed it. Pairing her books with books written by native people might help her understand the context better and why Laura's family was part of the problem (some of which is addressed in "Pioneer Girl," a recent biography about her). At the very least, you can talk about it and help her be a critical consumer of historical information - who's story is being told? Who's isn't? There's also a lot of issues with female roles in historical novels and I remember reading them and being so thankful that I had more choices in my life than the female protagonists and I think it made me a stronger feminist. A lot of the books that you mention also stuck with me because of the relationships of children to other children and general struggles in growing up, which taught me some social-emotional skills. 

However, there are lots of new and wonderful chapter books out there should you choose to ditch these older books - your librarian or daughter's teacher should be able to make some recommendations, in addition to lists that you can search for on the internet. I've also been learning that I need to read books before my kid so I know if there are any issues!

Yoshiko Uchida's novels about growing up Japanese-American in Berkeley, and the internment camps, are wonderful. (Uchida was about to graduate from Cal Berkeley when she and her family were rounded up and sent to Tanforan Racetrack in San Bruno and later to Topaz, Utah.) Her style is very clear and straightforward, but she packs a lot of quiet moral authority as well. Suitable for kids about 9 to 12.

https://www.thriftbooks.com/a/yoshiko-uchida/211207/

Thanks for asking this question, curious to see what replies you receive as I am wondering too.

I can highly recommend any of Grace Lin’s books, with Where the Mountain Meets the Moon being one of our very favorites. Beautifully written! 

I highly recommend talking to Mr. Michael, the children's librarian at the Claremont Branch (the corner of Ashby in Elmwood) of the Berkeley Public Library. My son met him when his class went to the library and he requested we visit to get more book suggestions from Mr. Michael. I am not sure what his schedule is now, but we used to visit him in the library on Wednesday afternoons.  He has wonderful suggestions! Absolutely love Mr. Michael! 

I stumbled upon the Heidi Heckelbeck series by Wanda Coven and just love reading them with my daughter, who is almost 5. The stories are sweet yet relatable (with a little bit of magic thrown in), and the adventures and emotions keep my daughter engaged. I also like that the pictures are sparse, so the focus remains on reading the words. We can finish the whole book, which is about 10 chapters, in one sitting. Good luck! I'll be printing out the other replies and going book hunting...