Kids' Books with Non-white Characters

Parent Q&A

  • Chapter books to read with my daughter

    (32 replies)

    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. 


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

    Happy reading!

    This doesn't fully respond to your post, but I strongly recommend 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:


Archived Q&A and Reviews



Children's Books with Asian Main Character

Dec 2004

Does anyone have recommendations for engaging children's books (5-10 age range) with Asian/Asian American/Pacific Islander/Hapa main characters? Even better are books with a multicultural cast including at least one Asian. I checked the BPN website and saw a great list of books but none with Asian protagonists. Thanks!! Cindy

We just had our Book Fair, and the author was a local Asian woman who wrote a book called Almond Cookies and Dragonwell Tea. Its not widely available, but you can find it on Amazon or have a local bookseller order it for you. The author btw is Cynthia Chin Lee and the book is about an Asian girl who befriends a Caucasian girl and introduces her to some of her family's customs. Not sure if this is what you are looking for or not. Maybe try the library first. Hilary

''The Squiggle'' by Carole Lexa Schaefer is a whimsical tale about a little girl in Chinatown who finds a bit of string while out on a walk with her preschool class. It turns into everything from a full moon to a dancing New Year's Dragon. Beautiful watercoler drawings from Pierr Morgan make it a real favorite in our house.

There's a book called, I think, 1,000 cats? Which retells an old (Japanese?) legend about a boy and a cat spirit. Sorry I can't be more specific about the above title. I know, however, that I've come across dozens of good kids' books featuring Asian main characters. I'm sure you'll get a lot of good titles from this list...or have you asked the children's librarian at Albany or Berkeley libraries? Good luck, Julie

these are on the younger end of your age range but we've enjoyed Jan Brett's Daisy Comes Home (up to 7 years?) and Molly Bang's The Paper Crane. Amy Tan has written some children's books which I haven't checked out yet. Sorry no multi-cultural books are coming to mind presently. Chris

Our family really likes books by Yumi Heo. One of our favorites is: Father's Rubber Shoes. New York: Orchard Books, 1995. Story synopsis: Yungsu misses Korea terribly until he begins to make friends in America. Enjoy! Gail

There are a wealth of API related books available by the publisher Island Heritage. Many of the stories do have ties to Hawaii but some of the picture books include folktales from Asia. The books presented on the website are just a sample of the books published by Island Heritage over the years. I'm sure if you were to do a sort on you may come across out-of-print titles that may also be useful. tml
For older children, you may want to look at books by authors such as Laurence Yep and Yoshiko Uchida. Caroline

Check out your local library, there's plenty of books for children featuring Asian main and only characters! Esp. at the Lafayette Library. Maybe because of the big Asian community there. Some of our faves are:
Ruby's Wish
The Name Jar
A pair of red clogs
Yoko's paper cranes

My children love these stories. We read them over and over and over...... There are also plenty of Chinese New Year stories and olde Asian tales avaiable in the library. The Story Teller book shop (independent in Lafayette) also carries books with Asian main characters. Happy reading!!!

Where can you find good books for your kids? Remember there are professionals who have dedicated their lives to answering this question: your friendly neighborhood children's librarians! The Berkeley Public Library has many good booklists, including one called ''The Best of Both Worlds; Children's books on the Asian Experience in America,'' available online at: Or you can try San Francisco Public Library's online booklists, including ''Our Asian Heritage: Books for Young People on the Asian American Experience,'' at: A Children's Librarian

If you go to the Japantown mall in San Francisco, there's a huge bookstore with a childrens books section that's got all kinds of childrens books with Asian main characters, for all different ages. Spike's mom

Check out Eastwind Bookstore's website: They have two stores: One in Berkeley (on University Ave and Shattuck), and one in SF. They have books that should fit your criteria. Lily

There are lots of great ones-- In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson comes to mind as an oldie but goodie. The Cooperative Children's Book Center publishes a list of ''50 Multicultural Books Every Child Should Know'' which includes books with Asian protagonists as well as a variety of other ethnicities. You can read it online at Elizabeth

You might try books by Allen Say. One of our favorites is ''Emma's Rug.'' River

If you don't live too far from the Oakland Library Chinatown branch you might want to spend a little time there. My local branch told me they have a good selection of Asian themed books for kids. It's something I plan to do over our winter break with my child. I've also recently learned that parking is quite reasonable in the center the library is housed in. anonymous

''Ruby's Wish'' & ''Round is a Mooncake'' have Asian protaganists. Both are from Chronicle Books and are lovely, Ruby's Wish especially. They also have one called ''Ten Mice for Tet'', (can you tell I used to work there?) and while the mice aren't technically Asian, it's a beautiful counting book with Asian themes. stephanie

Books by Laurence Yep are great (Laurence is a Montery resident, who was born in China, so the name is not mispelled). He writes for different ages and in different genres (mysteries, folk stories, history-based fiction, etc.)

East Wind in Berkeley carries his books and many other good books. Berkeley Public Library has several of his books also.

My son is currently reading the ''Tiger's Apprentice'' book 1 and he's really enjoying it. We were lucky to have him visit our school, Berkwood Hedge, a couple of years ago when he read from ''Tiger's Apprentice'' and ''Rainbow People''.

I highly recommend Laurence Yep's books. Rosa

This is a picture book with beautiful illustrations and the story is compelling:

Author: Yee, Paul
Title: Ghost train / written by Paul Yee ; illustrated by Harvey Chan
Publisher: Toronto : Groundwood Books, 1996

The story is about a 19th century Chinese girl who is an artist whose father comes to the US west coast to work on the railroads. He sends for her, but by the time she arrives he has died in an accident. In dreams he guides her to use her art to free the souls of the many Chinese whose lives were lost in the building of the railroads. Sounds grizzly, but the story is poignant and sweet and the artwork is outstanding.

It looks like it is still in print and available at, where there is a more detailed synopsis. - Charis

This recommendation could also go for books with strong girl characters. I'm surprised this did not come up before unless it has to do with Disney. Mulan, at least the Disney character (there is another Mulan out there but I don't know the differences), is a terrific character. She totally kicks the bad guys' behinds by using her smarts. She starts out failing to get the matchmaker's good graces and then gets the Emperor's gratitude for saving the nation. I love the movie and you can get a book as well. Sharon

I highly recommend Lee and Low Books, a small publisher based in New York. Here's their mission statement: Lee & Low Books is a children's book publisher with a specific focus on multicultural themes. What this means to us is that we publish stories that children of color can identify with, but that all children can enjoy.

If you do an advanced search on their website, you will find a list of books with Asian American themes: Comparative Lit Major Mom

For the family who are looking for books with positive Asian characters, please check out the catalog Asia For Kids ( or 1-800-888-9681) They offer a wealth of materials ranging from books with Asian American characters, books about Asian cultures, educational toys and classroom activity sets. anon

Books on Native Peoples for 4.5 year old

Dec 2003

Hi, I am looking for recommendations of books about Native Peoples to share with my 4.5 year old. We'd particularly enjoy historical fictions, simple biographies and folk tales. Thanks in advance. Ashley

Believe it or not, our daughters LOVED the American Girl Kaya series. I have seen them at Costco and at Barnes and Noble. I, quite frankly, could not put them down (I kept reading after the girls went to bed). We have a seven year old and a four year old, and they both loved them. They are fiction, but were written with the input and advice of a Native American committee of Nez Perce as well as Native American historians. Mary

I highly recommend that you use Oyate, a non-profit based in Berkeley, as a resource to find books. Their website has a catalog (and a list of books to avoid!).

''Oyate is a Native organization working to see that our lives and histories are portrayed honestly, and so that all people will know our stories belong to us.'' (From their website) Deborah

Oyate is a publisher and distributor of books by and about Native cultures in North & South America, including Canada. They have a fantastic selection for all ages! You can order from their website, email the director Beverly Slapin at oyate [at] or you can call her at 848-6700 and make an appointment to meet and pick up books. She's in Berkeley.

I discovered them at a book fair and found them to have really everything you could ask for, stories, how to books (such as crafts or building projects), history from Native perspectives, etc. I think you find what you want there. Have fun! nadja

We've really enjoyed reading ''Back in the Beforetime: Tales of the California Indians'' by Jane Louise Curry. The book is a collection of Native California-themed folk tales featuring Coyote the Trickster and other animal characters that kids seem to love. The reading level is 9-12 years old but my son enjoyed hearing the stories starting at around 5 years old. I've also read some of the shorter ones to a group of kindergartners at a Sunday school class and they loved it. Amazon has several used copies and one new copy (additional copies are on order) for under $10. --Sharon

Pact's multicultural booksource has a section for preschoolers on Native American books. Here are some titles and authors from the booksource. Baby Rattlesnake by Te Ata, The first strawberries by Joseph Bruchac, Fox song by Joseph Bruchac, The girl who loved wild horses by Paul Groble, The magic of spider woman by Ileana C. Lee, Mamma's little one by Kristina Heath, The mud family by Betsy James, The rough face girl by Rafe Martin, The story of jumping mouse by John Steptoe, Two pairs of shoes by Estehr Sanderson, The worry stone by Marianna Dengler. Hope this helps. f.c

Many thanks to all who responded to my query about books on native peoples. Anyone else following this thread may want to add to their list books by Paul Goble. My son (age 4.5) also really enjoyed a book set in Yosemite called 'Two Bear Cubs' by Souci and Souci. Ashley

Books for young readers with non-white characters


A great resource for teachers and parents looking for books with non-white main characters is Violet Harris' (ed.) Using Multiethnic Literature in the K-8 Classroom. she's got reams of recommendaitons, divided by ethnicity. I have copies of her chapters on Mexican-American and African-American kids in literature, if you'd like to borrow them. In the former, she recommends Gary Soto's Taking Sides and Pacific Crossing (he's a local author, too!); she also suggests Sandra Cisneros' The House on Mango Street. In the latter, she suggests all of Mildred Taylor's novels (song of the trees, etc.), Virginia Hamilton's Justice trilogy (and everything else by her, too!), Joyca Carol Thomas' Marked by Fire, Mildred Walter's Second Daughter, Yarbrough's The Shimmershine Queens, and Rita Williams-Garcia's Sisters on the Home Front. There are ltos more, but these are a good start. Sorry I didn't write in in answer to your first request! Jessica

I did happen to recall a wonderful series of short chapter books, geared toward younger readers, with (mostly) black characters. The first is Stories Julian Tells, and there are several more in the series. They are delightful. Also, Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell is about an Aleutian native. Call It COurage, by Armstrong Sperry (I think) is about a Polynesian boy. Wendy

Bright Lights Bookstore (, Bucket of Books (, Lee and Low Books ( sell multicultural books that you can buy on the web.

the Arrowhead Library System ( maintains an african american children's literature list from picture books to chapter books.. and there is the Multicultural Book Reviews: granted, their selections are few and most are about overcoming hardship but there are a few interesting ones in there ! -- Carrie

non-white protaganists in chapter books: PAACT, ad adoption organization that focuses on families with children of color, has a list of books about race & culture as well as adoption. Check it out at Also try multicultural resources for children at Look for Black Books Galore! Guide to Great African-American ChildrenFs Books. And talk to your local children's librarian!

Most of these were listed on my first e-mail but they are all really great and have characters that are exactly like what you are talking about. My daughter has enjoyed them all and has read them all a number of times. I'm not sure what age you are looking for so you might want to check age appropriateness.

Marisol and Magdalena by Veronica Chambers About two friends of Panamanian decent living in New York. They are separated when one of them spends a year in Panama with her grandmother. There is a new sequel about the two girls and their quincea1eras. called Quincea1era Means Sweet Fifteen

Esperanza Rising by Pam Mu1oz Ryan About wealthy girl from Mexico during the Great Depression who loses everything, moves to California and ends up working in a labor camp.

The Amah by Laurence Yep About girl of Chinese decent living in San Francisco who wants to be a ballerina. She has a hard time when her mom ends up being the caretaker of another girl who is also twelve.

A Jar of Dreams by Yoshiko Uchida About a Japanese family living in Berkeley during the Great Depression and their struggle to make ends meet while confronting racism. Also

Journey Home has to do with a young girl and Japanese internment.

Carlota Scott O'dell About a young Mexican girl living in Californian during the Mexican-American war. She is a real tomboy and ends up fighting against the US with the neighboring rancheros.

Also Island of the Blue Dolfins Liza

For a pre-teen or early teen, the Cheeta Girls chapter books are pretty good. Most of the characters are African American. The most recent book includes a white girl who is the half-sister of one of the African American girls. Dianne

If you are interested in chapter books by and about African Americans, you might try Marcus Book Store (3900 MLK Jr. Way, 652-2344) as a resource.

I've found it useful to take the advice of the experts -- children's librarians. The American Library Association's Coretta Scott King Award has identified and honored lots of great chapter books over the years; see (This site includes detailed reading-level information.) ALA also sponsors the Pura Belpre award for children's literature about the Latino cultural experience, although it's much newer and so has not honored that many books yet. The Berkeley Public Library (like a lot of other libraries) maintains lists of suggested books in many different categories. Some good ones are on being Asian-American (, Latino ( or just plain different ( It's also been my experience that most children's librarians *love* being asked for specific recommendations. Jane

Counted three on our bookshelves (plus one from the library). With the exception of The Diddakoi, these books are about true-to-life kids, with true-to-life problems (as opposed to fantastical, Harry Potter type adventures): Roosevelt Grady-Louisa Shotwell Bud, Not Buddy-Christopher Paul Curtis In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson-Bette Bao Lord The Diddakoi-Rumer Godden Still looking for more, however! Mara

October 2001

I run a book project called Reach Out and Read, and we give used books away in the waiting room at Kaiser in Richmond and new ones to children when they come for a well check up. I received a donation one day after 9/11/01, and in the bag was the book Whoever You Are by Mem Fox. It's beautifully illustrated and the message is about how There are little ones just like you all over the world, and even though their skin may be different or their homes may be different, their hearts are just like yours and their smiles are just like yours...joys are the same, love is same, tears are the same, blood is the same etc... I would love to see all parents here in the USA reading this book as a reminder to the ADULTS about children everywhere.

Like many of you, my heart is heavy these days as I think of the children in NY who have lost their parents, homes, and schools, and as I think of children in the Middle East who are suffering and afraid. Mem Fox is a great children's writer and story teller. Her new book for parents is called Reading Magic. It gives great suggestions about reading to your child from birth, and she really communicates the value in having fun while you read. She will be here for a book tour on Nov. 1st in Corte Madera at the Book Passage at 1:00PM. At Kaiser in Richmond we will continue to give her book Whoever You Are to children ages 3-5 years, as a part of our program. I suggest you may want to check it out, and give a gift to the young children, and adults, in your life. Rona

1998 From: Julianna

In a recent UCB Parents message a parent was asking about multicultural books for a list she/he is putting together for her/his child's class. I deleted it but since I saw this flyer I thought I would pass on this information:

The Educational Loft Program, presented by USF School of Education, will lead an evening discussion on: Awe and Imagination in the World of Multicultural Children's Books led by Daphne Muse. Thursday April 30, 1998 6:30-8pm Univ. of San Francisco - Harney, Room 232 (located on Golden Gate Ave next to Gleeson Library). For queries or additional information, call (415) 422-6525 . No charge for this event.

Daphne Muse has published more than 150 feature articles, reviews and commentaries. She is an employee of UCB, a research coordinator for the McNair Scholarship Program if those who can't make the talk want to get in touch with her.

From: Aleta

Harding Elementary School has a Multicultural Committee and lending library. Please call the school at 525-0273 and leave a message for the Multicultural Committee asking for a list of books they have and maybe set up a time to meet with them. Good luck.

From: Dianne

The Berkeley Public Library (Children's Dept) used to have a list of highly recommended multicultural books. Check with the children's librarians there; they are very helpful and knowledgeable. You might also check their web site (not sure of web address), and can send inquiries by email and they will get back to you.

From: Greg

One great resource is the Children's Literature Web Guide

One of the links on the home page is Lots of Links, which includes Best Books lists for 1994-1997, as well as lists for specific subjects. In my quick scan I didn't see any specifically multicultural lists, but I did see headings for Jewish Religion and Culture, Latino People, History, and Culture, Native American Books, and Multiracial Families, among others; and I'm sure a more thorough perusal of this site will turn up many other lists.

Another terrific web site is Berkeley Public Library's Librarians Index to the Internet

The Kids page has links to many resources, including the Children's Literature Web Guide mentioned above.

You didn't say how big your list has to be. If what I've given you so far is overkill, you may want to head to the children's room at BPL's Central Library , at Kittredge and Shattuck. It seems to me that in the past I've seen staff- created reading lists of the type you're seeking; even if my memory is faulty one of the librarians should be able to help out. I know that there are a number of bibliographies to multicultural children's literature in print. Hope this gets you started!

From: Alice

A great resource for multi-cultural books is Let's Hear it for the Girls this book lists and describes 375 books for readers 2-14 that have strong female characters and many are multi-cultural. It is published by Penguin and is compiled by Bauermeister & Smith. I have found some great relatively unknown books which my family has really enjoyed.

From: Natasha


The Berkeley Public Library's children's staff has produced a number of lists suggesting children's books by topic and age group. For instance: African American Folklore and Poetry All Together Now; Recent Multicultural Books for Children Children's books on the Asian Experience in America 9/93 Cornbread and Cornrows; African American Fiction for Children 2/96 Families and Friends; African American Picture Books 1/96 Freedom's Children; True Stories for Children about African Americans They also maintain in-house bibliographies on a variety of topics, including social issues, multicultural titles. You may need to focus on what is meant by multicultural. Are you looking for books with characters of many colors, or are you looking for books which portray aspects of different cultures within the U.S., or are you looking for world cultures? And does multicultural mean ethnicity, or also include sexual orientation, religion, etc.? Obviously your school has something in mind when they give you an assignment such as this, but I find that commonly used words such as multicultural or diverse often have many different interpretations. Here are a couple of good websites: Books with Multiracial Families Children's Literature Web Site (many lists)>