zeldathemes
K-12 Reading List

Back in May, a group of diverse authors made a public call to action in order to directly address the absence of diversity in children’s literature and the lack of action to fix the issue. They created the #weneeddiversebooks campaign. On May 1st, they asked people to post photos of themselves holding signs about how diverse books have enriched their lives and how the lack of diversity has affected them, on May 2nd they asked people to share their thoughts about diverse books via a twitter chat, and on May 3rd, they asked people to make the effort to diversify their shelves. The movement became a sensation, and has inspired even more people to make an effort to invest in diverse content that accurately reflects our population.

Behind the Book is elated that this movement exists. We’ve always championed the need for diverse books since we serve communities that are predominantly of color. Studies show that for kids, the lack of diversity in books is detrimental to their development, but seeing themselves reflected in protagonists raises their self-esteem and solidifies their sense of self in society. We also think it’s empowering for kids to see authors and illustrators that look like them as they’re responsible for creating the content the students love. This shows them that they too can become the authors of their own stories.

Now is the perfect time to diversify your reading material if you haven’t already. Whether you’re going on a plane to visit relatives, stuck on the train going to Coney Island, or bored at home, get lost in these fabulous stories of courage, love and family. Here’s our epic list of books that reflect the diversity of our wonderful city.

Harlem’s Little Black Bird by Renee Watson, a Behind the Book author

The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi

Anna Hibiscus by Atinuke

Brush of the Gods by Lenore Look

Niño Wrestles the World by Yuyi Morales

Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match by Monica Brown

Giant Steps to Change the World by Spike Lee and Tonya Lewis Lee

Big Red Lollipop by Rukhsana Khan

Bravo, Chico Canta! Bravo! by Pat Mora

One Love by Cedella Marley

This Jazz Man by Karen Ehrhardt

Bessie Smith and the Night Riders by Sue Stauffacher

Duck for Turkey Day by Jacqueline Jules

For descriptions, click behind the read more!

(Use the following links to be directed to the (early) Elementary, Middle Grade and High School lists)

1. Harlem’s Little Black Bird by Renee Watson, a Behind the Book author

Zora and Langston. Billie and Bessie. Eubie and Duke. If the Harlem Renaissance had a court, they were its kings and queens. But there were other, lesser known individuals whose contributions were just as impactful, such as Florence Mills. Born to parents who were former-slaves Florence knew early on that she loved to sing. And that people really responded to her sweet, bird-like voice. Her dancing and singing catapulted her all the way to the stages of 1920s Broadway where she inspired songs and even entire plays! Yet with all this success, she knew firsthand how bigotry shaped her world. And when she was offered the role of a lifetime from Ziegfeld himself, she chose to support all-black musicals instead.

2. The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi

Being the new kid in school is hard enough, but what about when nobody can pronounce your name? Having just moved from Korea, Unhei is anxious that American kids will like her. So instead of introducing herself on the first day of school, she tells the class that she will choose a name by the following week. Her new classmates are fascinated by this no-name girl and decide to help out by filling a glass jar with names for her to pick from. But while Unhei practices being a Suzy, Laura, or Amanda, one of her classmates comes to her neighborhood and discovers her real name and its special meaning. On the day of her name choosing, the name jar has mysteriously disappeared. Encouraged by her new friends, Unhei chooses her own Korean name and helps everyone pronounce it—Yoon-Hey.

3. Anna Hibiscus by Atinuke

Anna Hibiscus lives in amazing Africa with her mother, her father, her baby twin brothers, and lots and lots of her family. Join her as she splashes in the sea, prepares for a party, sells oranges, and hopes to see sweet, sweet snow.

4. Brush of the Gods by Lenore Look

Who wants to learn calligraphy when your brush is meant for so much more? Wu Daozi (689-758), known as China’s greatest painter and alive during the T’ang Dynasty, is the subject of this stunning picture book. When an old monk attempts to teach young Daozi about the ancient art of calligraphy, his brush doesn’t want to cooperate. Instead of characters, Daozi’s brush drips dancing peonies and flying Buddhas! Soon others are admiring his unbelievable creations on walls around the city, and one day his art comes to life! Little has been written about Daozi, but Look and So masterfully introduce the artist to children.

5. Niño Wrestles the World by Yuyi Morales

Señoras y Señores, put your hands together for the fantastic, spectacular, one of a kind … Niño! Fwap! Slish! Bloop! Krunch! He takes down his competition in a single move! No opponent is too big a challenge for the cunning skills of Niño—popsicle eater, toy lover, somersault expert, and world champion lucha libre competitor!

6. Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match by Monica Brown

Marisol McDonald has flaming red hair and nut-brown skin. Polka dots and stripes are her favorite combination. She prefers peanut butter and jelly burritos in her lunch box. And don t even think of asking her to choose one or the other activity at recess—she ll just be a soccer playing pirate princess, thank you very much. To Marisol McDonald, these seemingly mismatched things make perfect sense together.

7. Giant Steps to Change the World by Spike Lee and Tonya Lewis Lee

Academy Award nominated director Spike Lee, and his talented wife Tonya Lewis Lee offer up an inspirational picture book about activism and taking the big steps to set things right set to beautiful illustrations by the award-winning Sean Qualls. Using examples of people throughout history who have taken “giant steps”, this book urges kids to follow in their footsteps and not be hindered by fear or a sense that you are not good enough. Despite the challenges, even the smallest step can change the world. So, what’s your next step going to be?

8. Big Red Lollipop by Rukhsana Khan

Rubina has been invited to her first birthday party, and her mother, Ami, insists that she bring her little sister along. Rubina is mortified, but she can’t convince Ami that you just don’t bring your younger sister to your friend’s party. So both girls go, and not only does Sana demand to win every game, but after the party she steals Rubina’s prized party favor, a red lollipop. What’s a fed-up big sister to do?

9. Bravo, Chico Canta! Bravo! by Pat Mora

Chico Canta, the youngest of 12, is a tiny, mischievous, fearless mouse who lives with his family in an old theater. They love to go upstairs to see the plays and echo the audience shouting, “Bravo, bravo!” as the curtain falls. Mrs. Canta speaks many languages — not only English, Spanish, and Italian, but Spider, Cricket, and Moth as well. And she encourages her children to develop their own language skills. “Bilingual, bravo!” she is always telling them. One evening, after a wonderful performance of The Three Little Pigs, the mouse family narrowly escapes Little Gato-Gato. But, undaunted and inspired by the production, they decide to mount their own version of the play. On opening night, however, it is tiny Chico who is the star of the show when he spots Little Gato-Gato in the shadows and uses his own special gift for languages to avert disaster.

10. One Love by Cedella Marley

Adapted from one of Bob Marley’s most beloved songs, One Love brings the joyful spirit and unforgettable lyrics of his music to life for a new generation. Readers will delight in dancing to the beat and feeling the positive groove of change when one girl enlists her community to help transform her neighborhood for the better. Adapted by Cedella Marley, Bob Marley’s first child, and gorgeously illustrated by Vanessa Newton, this heartwarming picture book offers an upbeat testament to the amazing things that can happen when we all get together with one love in our hearts.

11. This Jazz Man by Karen Ehrhardt

In this toe-tapping jazz tribute, the traditional “This Old Man” gets a swinging makeover, and some of the era’s best musicians take center stage. The tuneful text and vibrant illustrations bop, slide, and shimmy across the page as Satchmo plays one, Bojangles plays two … right on down the line to Charles Mingus, who plays nine, plucking strings that sound “divine.” Easy on the ear and the eye, this playful introduction to nine jazz giants will teach children to count—and will give them every reason to get up and dance!

12. Bessie Smith and the Night Riders by Sue Stauffacher

Even though she can’t afford a ticket to see the great blues singer Bessie Smith perform, Emmarene listens outside Bessie’s tent—that is, until she bursts into the show to warn the crowd:The Night Riders have come! Bessie marches right outside and confronts the Night Riders by giving one of her famous low moans that says, “I may be down and out, but I ain’t gonna take it no more.” But will that be enough to scare them off ?

Based on a true incident, Bessie Smith and the Night Riders is a powerful story of facing down danger and standing up for what’s right.

13. Duck for Turkey Day by Jacqueline Jules

It’s almost Thanksgiving, and Tuyet is excited about the holiday and the vacation from school. There’s just one problem: her Vietnamese American family is having duck for Thanksgiving dinner - not turkey! Nobody has duck for Thanksgiving - what will her teacher and the other kids think? To her surprise, Tuyet enjoys her yummy thanksgiving dinner anyhow - and an even bigger surprise is waiting for her at school on Monday. Dinners from roast beef to lamb to enchiladas adorned the Thanksgiving tables of her classmates, but they all had something in common - family! Kids from families with different traditions will enjoy this warm story about “the right way” to celebrate an American holiday.

We’re always on the lookout for authors in the tri-state area. If  you are interested in becoming a Behind the Book author, please contact us at info@behindthebook.org.

You can also browse our shelves on Goodreads.

All book summaries were taken from Amazon, and some have been edited for our lists.

Enjoy!

(Behind the Book is a NYC-based literacy non-profit organization that brings authors into underserved public schools throughout New York City. Learn more about us and our programs via our website, and follow us on facebook!)