14 Jan Best Children’s Books featuring Multicultural Characters
Some children are lucky to have the opportunity to experience our multicultural world first-hand in the way that they live or how they travel. Others learn from the books they read–books that spark curiosity, books that inspire them to adventure into the world to learn about others, books that show them the similarities we share and the differences that make us unique and wonderful.
Pack-n-Go Girls is lucky to host the January blogging carnival for Multicultural Kid Blogs. Bloggers from around the world have collaborated with us to bring you some of the best children’s books featuring multicultural characters. So if you are looking for the next book to inspire your little boy or girl to appreciate other cultures, explore these links to find a gem that opens the door to the world.
Third Culture Mama reviewed six beautiful multicultural books. These books feature an African American family and characters from Kenya, Asia, Ghana, and Pakistan. I especially liked the Mandarin prose in I See the Sun in China. It’s great to introduce children to different languages, even if they can’t read them. They can see the differences in language such as Mandarin, Japanese, or Thai. And sometimes, they can see the similarities with languages such as Spanish or German. And as a mother to a daughter with a physical disability, I appreciated seeing the story of Emmanuel from Ghana, which added the diverse message that “disability is not inability.”
If you are looking for books featuring Arab characters, A Crafty Arab has already compiled a list of her favorites for you. In Silent Music, a young Iraqi boy describes some of his favorite things, including soccer, loud music, dancing, and Arabic calligraphy: “I love to make the ink flow . . . stopping and starting, gliding and sweeping, leaping, dancing to the silent music in my head.” Books like this can be great conversations starters with your child, discussing how your child may like similar things like soccer and music. And there may also be wonderful differences between your world and Ali’s world, allowing you to explore and teach your child about things like Arabic calligraphy.
Tina from Desperate Homeschoolers has put together a top 10 list of books about other cultures from a 9-year-old’s perspective. In this list, you can find quite a few books with Native American characters, along with a few other multicutural books.
If you are looking to diversify your bookshelf, The Educators Spin On It has put together an extensive list of diverse books. Chinese, African-American, Hispanic Native American, Japanese, African, Cuban-American, Brazilian, and a host of other multicultural characters are featured on this list. A few of the books on the list are what I would call “around the world” books that look at several different cultures within the book.
All Done Monkey put together a short list on children’s books about Mongolia, as well as a more extensive list of books featuring Hispanic characters and heritage in California. Additionally, if you are looking for a Latino bedtime story, look no further than this booklist. You’ll find plenty of options including lullabies, traditional Latina nursery rhymes, counting sheep in Spanish, and bilingual families. Leanna also reviewed some global travel adventure books featuring multicultural characters from India, Thailand, and Austria. For some STRONG Japanese characters, check out her children’s books list on Ninjas, Samurai, and Karate.
On Multicultural Kid Blogs, you can find a detailed review of The Elders Are Watching, which features Ya-A, a Native American character who visits with his grandfather to learn about the elders. They also put together a Read Around the World Summer Reading Series each year which has introduced children to characters such as Frida, Diego Rivera, an Indian Princess named Aisha, Miffy the Dutch bunny, Ang Unang baboy sa Langit a Filipino pig, a Russian boy Uncle Fred and his friends the dog and the cat, and Polly a little girl from Alaska. If you are into princess books, check out their review of Princess Truly, an African-American princess with magical hair. I also had to check out their review on The Magic Poof. I mean, what the heck is a “magic poof” anyway? You’ll have to check out this review to find out more about this great book featuring Ange-Marie and Ling.
InCultureParent has a multitude of book reviews for parents raising little global citizens. Most of them feature multicultural characters, and a few really caught my eye. The Sofia Martinez series, an early chapter book series, features a seven-year-old Latina girl facing everyday challenges and getting out of funny predicaments. I love books with strong female characters! And along that note, I also noticed My Friend Mei Jing, a book that celebrates cross-cultural friendship. Told from the perspective of Monifa, who’s family is originally from Nigeria, she and Mei Jing from China discover how similar, yet different, their cultural practices and customs are. I also had to check out their list 10 Multicultural Children’s Books that Make Adults Cry. Not that I like to cry all that much, but these must be compelling reads. This list features multicultural characters from the US (African-American, Hispanic, and Native American), Eastern Europe, Afghanistan, Somalia, Poland, and Korea. Plus, there are some great historical insights from these books.
Mama Smiles reviewed the I See the Sun series. These picture books feature characters from Nepal, Myanmar, Afghanistan, China, and Russia. While children have the common reference of the sun, they can also learn about other cultural differences and similarities. As an added bonus, MaryAnne has over 200+ additional links to multicultural books on this page!
Melibelle in Tokyo offers an insightful post on Teaching Character, Place & Empathy. She reviews five books that expand one’s ideas of friendship and discovery. I was drawn to the young adult review of Gadget Girl, a Japanese-American with cerebral palsy, as well as to the younger Ezra Jack Keats series, featuring an African-American character. Ezra Jack Keats (1916-1983) is the Caldecott Medal winning author of The Snowy Day, which broke ground in 1962 as one of the first picture books for young children to portray a realistic, multicultural urban setting. And, “in A Letter for Amy, Peter invites his friend, Amy, to his party. She is the only girl, much to his friends’ chagrin. Hello, friendships beyond gender. Hello, children seeing others as friends and not the enemy.” I also really like Melibelle in Tokyo’s review of the Yoko series where “YOKO, like many of our children, doesn’t quite fit. She is across two worlds.” She sums this one up perfectly: “Yes, kids will look different, act differently. No one is totally alike! We come from a wealth of backgrounds, languages, and experiences. DNA. Fingerprints. No one is the same, but we can become aware of the similarities that bridge gaps and help us understand bigger things.” YUP.
Crafty Moms Share offers a neat series of fairy tales in different cultures. You can explore fairy tales characters from France, Vietnam, Egypt, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Thailand, Mexico, Chile, Morocco, Algeria, Ukraine, Antarctica, just to name a few. She also provides some cool crafts to go along with many of her reviews, of course. Additionally, she’s reviewed books with characters from Cambodia, Phillippines, Japan, China, Iran, Vietnam, and the Navajo Nation, as well as the Inuit, and Native American characters. So pick a country, and take a look!
Kid World Citizen compiled this great list of multicultural chapter books, 25 to be exact. These books are targeted at upper elementary though middle school. You’ll find books with African-American, Native American, Asian/Pacific/Asian-American, Latino/Hispanic, and North African/Western Asian characters.
If you speak French, don’t miss La Cité des Vents review of Crocolou aime les voyages (Crocolou loves travel). The review is in French, as well as the book series. It features a young boy half-wolf and half-crocodile. If you don’t speak French, that’s okay. I love to “read” books in different languages to my kids so they can see the differences and similarities between books in other countries and our own. You can also do a “picture walk” of the book and try and guess what the words are saying. And you can introduce them to Google translate of course!
If you are searching for books from India, check out this list from The Logonauts featuring picture books from India. Here you can find books about peacocks, royal elephants, bengal tigers, Hindu mythology, banyan trees, the Ganges river, and roti. For a multicutural twist on Cinderella stories, check out Katie’s lists of Worldwide Cinderellas Part 1 and Part 2. If you have a little girl at home, it would be interesting to read these and discuss the various Cinderella characters and the differences and similarities they see from the Cinderella they know. There are stories featuring Native American, Mexican, Cajun, Carribbean, Appalachian, Alaskan, Canadian, Chinese, Korean, Indian, Philippine, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Hmong, Indonesian, Egyptian, Persian, Middle Eastern, Islamic, African, French, German, Greek, Irish, and Jewish characters.
Mother in the Mix has compiled an extensive list, 23 to be exact, of books with interracial families. I especially liked her review of Dumpling Soup, “The young girl describes her family as chop suey, which means “all mixed up” because her extended family is comprised of people of Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Native Hawaiian, and haole (Hawaiian for white people) descent. Her grandma claims that their special mixture gives “more spice” to the family.” Check out her list for more great book ideas.
Featuring the characters of Amir and Frankie, author Felicia Capers tackles the issues of bullying. Check out the book review of Enough of Frankie Already on The Creative World of Varya.
To illustrate religious differences, Faith Seeker Kids reviewed Ned and the World’s Religions. This book features a cast of multicultural characters. Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism, Islam, and the Native American tradition are included in this particular book.
For books that take children to other cultures, check out the Agatha mystery series reviewed by Mommy Maleta. Here, she reviewed the Pearl of Bengal, which takes place in India. These books are targeted at children 8-11.
Having lived in Uijeongbu, Korea, for a year a while back, I was really interested to take a look at the Korean folk tales in English reviewed by Our Multiasian Family Life. I think I am going to have buy a few of these to show my kids. I have pictures of Korea hanging in my office over my desk and they often ask me about it. This looks like a great opportunity to share with them some Korean culture.
As a multicultural family, Mommy Factor is always looking for books that appeal to her son and her community. She writes, “In Baby Born my son enjoyed opening lifting the flaps on certain pages as I read the story to him. In Wave Goodbye we both enjoyed trying the different ways of ‘waving’ using our hands, noses and our belly.”
Discovering the World Through My Son’s Eyes provided a great list of children’s books celebrating diversity. What I like about each of these books is that they really highlight “that though we’re different, we’re the same making the world a fun place!” Her blog reviews even more multicultural, Spanish, bi-lingual, and English books here, including On This Beautiful Island, a picture book about Puerto Rico. “The story is about Guanín a Taíno boy who lives On This Beautiful Island called Borikén. (The Taínos were the first inhabitants of Puerto Rico).”
And, of course, our mission at Pack-n-Go Girls is to introduce children to different countries around the world. Our Pack-n-Go Girls Adventures are targeted to girls 6-9 (but boys read them too!) and features diverse characters from around the world. In our Austria series, Brooke from Colorado travels to Austria and meets Eva, where they discover haunted castles, secret places, and magical Christmas markets. Our Mexico series features Izzy from Seattle and Patti from Barra de Navidad, Mexico. They explore spooky lagoons, quaint villages, and unsolved mysteries. In our Thailand series, Jess, an African-American from Boston travels to Thailand, the mysteries land of elephants, ancient treasures, and golden temples, where she joins Nong May to solve a mystery. Our latest release features Sofia, a Cuban-American from Miami, and Julia from Manuas, Brazil. Pack-n-Go Girls early chapter book adventures are packed with spooky mysteries, international friendships, and lots of fun and easy multicultural learning. AND, adventurous, female, multicultural characters! To see a few reviews of the Pack-n-Go Girls books, check out Pint Size Gourmets‘ review of Mystery of the Golden Temple as part of the 2016 Multicultural Children’s Book Day (MCCBD), as well as Crafty Moms Shares’ review. Also see reviews of Mystery of the Ballerina Ghost from Family in Finland and Mystery of the Disappearing Dolphin from Look We’re Learning.
And, don’t miss out on Multicultural Children’s Book Day (MCCBD) on January 27, 2016. Despite census data that shows 37% of the US population consists of people of color, only 10% of children’s books published have diversity content. The mission of MCCBD is to not only raise awareness for the kid’s books that celebrate diversity, but to get more of these types of books into classrooms and libraries. This year, MCCBD’s main focus will also be putting multicultural children’s books on shelves and into the hands of deserving families through book donations and fundraising. The MCCBD project is also adding a Multicultural Children’s Book Day Classroom Reading Challenge where teachers, classroom and readers are challenged to win FREE Diversity Books for their Classroom Library. Follow the #ReadYourWorld hashtag to find out more. And visit their list of multicultural books for even more multicultural characters!
Last, as a special gift to our readers, Pack-n-Go Girls is offering a free, printable story starter activity for you to inspire your children to write their own stories featuring multicultural characters! The more great writers we have, the more books we can enjoy in the future!