"Books transmit values. They explore our common humanity. What is the message when some children are not represented in those books? Where are the future white personnel managers going to get their ideas of people of color? Where are the future white loan officers and future white politicians going to get their knowledge of people of color? Where are black children going to get a sense of who they are and what they can be?" —Walter Dean Myers (1937-2014)
If the year 2014 will be remembered for anything in the world of children's literature, it will be the groundswell of discontent over the lack of diversity and the subsequent #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign. On March 15, the New York Times published an op-ed piece by author Walter Dean Myers, who asked, “Where are the people of color in children’s books?” It’s not the first time he's asked that question, as nearly 30 years earlier, Myers raised the same issue in another Times article, “I Actually Thought We Would Revolutionize the Industry" (1986).
While the market continues to reflect a disparaging lack of diversity in children's literature, there are fortunately lots of people who make it their job to write, read and share books that feature main characters of all colors, ethnicities, religious persuasions, sexual orientations and socioeconomic backgrounds. Myers will be missed dearly, not just as an author but as a champion for diversity in books. So we honor Myers—and all authors like him—with a list of a few of our favorite multicultural books so far this year:
Abuelo by Arthur Dorros and Raúl Colón
Spanish words are sprinkled throughout Dorros' sweet story of a young boy's adventures with his abuelo as they explore the Argentian countryside on horseback. When the boy's family moves to the city, these memories stay with him, and his connection to his grandfather and their heritage remains despite the distance. Colón's warm and windy illustrations are just perfect for this story. (And if you're as big a fan of Colón's work as I am, watch for his next book, Draw!, coming September 16.) Read our review.
Bird by Crystal Chan
On the day Jewel was born, her brother tried to fly off a cliff and died. Twelve years later, Grandpa has still not uttered a word, and Jewel feels stifled by her moody parents. She meets a boy who calls himself John (which was her brother's name), but Grandpa's convinced that the boy is a duppy, a type of malevolent spirit. Chan drew on her own mixed-race upbringing for this heartbreaking story, as Jewel takes pride in her Jamaican heritage but gets frustrated when people expect her to speak Spanish—even more frustrated when strangers ask what she is instead of who. Read our review.
The Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond by Brenda Woods
Coretta Scott King Honor-winning author Woods (The Red Rose Box) was inspired to write Violet’s story by the circumstances of a biracial daughter of a friend who was unable to trace the African-American side of her family. From this true story comes the uplifting tale of a biracial 11-year-old girl who meets the African-American side of her family for the first time. After a rocky start, Violet and her dad's family build a relationship around personal prayer, her family’s difficult history and her own racial identity, all while dancing to old records and whipping up some delicious meals. Read our review.
The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
This novel-in-verse about family and basketball is full of quick wordplay, deft rhymes and allusions to classical and jazz music. Twelve-year-old Josh and his twin brother Jordan live for the game, but their home life is just as strong. Their mother is tough but fair with the boys, and their father is an ex-player whose pro dreams faded after an injury. After an irreplaceable loss, familial bonds become even more important. This book definitely has a rhythm all its own, as the verses here are more than just a device to encourage reluctant readers. It is kinetic, gripping poetry. Read our review.
The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
Created by Chinese American artist Chu F. Hing and first appearing in 1944 in Blazing Comics, the Green Turtle was the very first Asian-American superhero. National Book Award finalist Yang and artist Liew rescued the Green Turtle from obscurity with this funny origin tale. Nineteen-year-old Hank was just an average boy—until his mother decided he should be a hero. Now he's training in martial arts and getting in over his head with the local crime scene. Fortunately a dash of Chinese mythology gives him the chance to fulfill her dream. Read our review.
Girls Like Us by Gail Giles
Special-ed teenagers Quincy and Biddie have just graduated from high school and must enter the real world. They've been matched up as roommates (though mixed-race Quincy isn’t sure how she feels about interacting with a white landlady), and as they learn how to fend for themselves, the girls find unexpected friendship with each other as well as with their landlady. The story unfolds in dual voices that are truly unforgettable, revealing their progress and fears, as well as physical, mental and sexual trauma. It's a frank and honest story about physical and mental disabilities that never feels cliche or sensationalized. Read our review.
When I Was the Greatest by Jason Reynolds
Ali lives with his mom and sister in the Bed-Stuy neighborhood of Brooklyn. He hangs out with his best friends Noodles and Needles—who was born with Tourette's syndrome and knits to help focus his attention—on the streets and on the brownstone stoop, and of course they get themselves in a bit of trouble. Reynolds' depiction of urban life is authentic, and his characters are well developed and relatable. This debut immediately announced Reynolds as an author to watch. (I'm serious about that . . . his follow-up, The Boy in the Black Suit, is coming out next January. Watch for it.) Read our review.
Readers, share in the comments below! What should be added to this list?