By Susanna Klingenberg
Take a quick look at your kidlit collection. Does your shelf mirror your family’s life? Or is it a window into the big, wild, diverse world around us?
I recently asked these questions of my own kidlit collection, inspired by recent Black Lives Matter protests and a well-timed podcast with Lamar Giles--author and founding member of the nonprofit We Need Diverse Books.
What I found on my bookshelf made me cringe at my own unintentional bias: only 3% of our kidlit library included any characters of color, even in minor roles. And we have a big library!
It bothered me for lots of reasons--some of which I don’t have good words for yet. But here are two things I can articulate. First, I want my two boys to understand that their white skin means they have a privilege they didn’t earn...and that they can use it for good. And second, I want them to feel wonder at our world, in all its big, wild, beautiful diversity.
And so, I went way (way) down a rabbithole of diverse books for kids--books about, by, and including people who don’t look or live like our family.
Book lists by and about Black people are plentiful right now, so I started there, expanded my search to the “We Need Diverse Books” website, asked a librarian for ideas, and followed along with friends’ discoveries.
And what did I find? A treasure-trove of awesome reads, of course! The ones I’m sharing below could be enjoyed by many different ages, but they’re tailored to my 3 and 5 year olds. They also mostly exemplify the kind of stuff my family likes to read--books with poetic language and colorful illustrations. If they’re not to your taste, head to www.theconsciouskid.org or www.diversebooks.org for lots more options.
A Short List of Diverse Reads From The Klingenberg Family
This is How We Do It: One Day in the Lives of Seven Kids From Around the World by Matt LaMothe. This non-fiction book explores exactly what’s in the title, with engaging pictures and plenty of opportunities for “hey, we kind of do that too!” or “whoah, I wish we did that!” A gentle step away from U.S.-centrism and toward a wider world-view.
Jabari Jumps words and illustrations by Gaia Cornwall. Remember the feeling at the top of the high dive? This charming book will take you back to that moment and open a conversation about working through fear.
Windows by Julia Denos, illustrations by E.B. Goodale. A lush and quiet exploration of a city as the sun sets, from one child’s perspective. The perfect bedtime book.
Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena, illustrations by Christian Robinson. A boy and his grandmother ride the bus across town, and his Grandma brings the world of the city alive for him. This book is a lesson in love, on several levels. A favorite!
How to Read a Book by Kwame Alexander, illustrations by Melissa Sweet. This book truly is an instruction guide, of sorts, but with words you’ll savor and advice that will remind you why you love reading in the first place. Really magical.
Ada Twist, Scientist (and other books in the Questioneers series) by Andrea Beaty, illustrations by David Roberts. Ada is a born scientist, and her family just doesn’t know what to do about her neverending questions and experiments. Until...they do. Funny and endearing with incredible rhyme and endlessly entertaining pictures.
BONUS FOR GROWN-UPS:
The Book of Delights by Ross Gay: This is one of the best books I read this year. Which is saying something, because it was a great reading year! The book is just what it sounds like: a collection of short essays about life’s various delights. But it addresses--in ways that are sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes hilarious, and always beautiful--the realities of being a black man today. It will definitely be a re-read for me.
Questions for Windows read-aloud:
Do you ever look out the windows of your home at night? What do you see?
If someone out for a walk were to look in your window at night, what would they see?
If the main character lived in a different place, would he see different things on his evening walk? What if she lived in a different period of history?
Questions for Ada Twist, Scientist read-aloud:
Have you ever had a question that no one could answer? What did you do?
What made Ada a good scientist?
Do you smell something right now--either good or bad? Put on your scientist cap and design an experiment to find out what it is!
Susanna is a Raleigh-based editor, storyteller, kidlit enthusiast, and mom of two. These days, she thinks a lot about ice cream and A/C.