Multicultural Literature for Students, Parents and Teachers: So Many Options Now Available

Dr. David Childs, D.D., Ph.D.
Northern Kentucky University


While co-teaching a social studies methods and language arts course with my colleague at a historically Black college, we noticed that many of our mostly African American education  students had not been exposed to multicultural children’s literature. Although there are an increasing number of books available to children and young adults that reflect diversity in the US and in the world, many of the future teachers we worked with were only familiar with books that portrayed white male protagonists. As a result, my colleague and I set out to change that and expose our students to the diverse options available in children’s literature.



One way we did this is we decided to write our own young adult historical fiction novel that we could use in class. That collaboration resulted in a novel entitled Escaping from Home: A Novel about Slavery and Freedom. Furthermore, we spent the rest of the semester familiarizing them with multicultural children’s authors and books and guiding them in creating lesson plans and activities that helped them incorporate some of those books into their curriculum. Here is an article we previously published that offers a plethora of well-written and powerful multicultural children’s books that students and teachers can use in their classrooms.  

Originally published April 8, 2020 as “Our Children Need Multicultural Literature in Their Lives: Books to Check Out While In Quarantine.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776

At the time these words were written they only applied to wealthy, white males that owned property. But as time has progressed people have come to take these words as meaning freedom for every American citizen. And furthermore, those citizens have the right to be treated equally and should be afforded the same rights as anyone else. In this way, the notion of equality is thought to be a fundamental right in the US democracy, even though it does not always play out that way in society.

What kind of literature do you recall reading in your K-12 experience? Do you recall characters from a wide variety of cultures or were the protagonists predominantly white characters? Although I can probably count on one hand the number of multicultural books I had access to growing up, the handful I did read sparked an insatiable love for learning that I possess to this day. Primarily because I could identify with the characters in the books. My own experience points to the value of exposing students to a diverse curriculum and multicultural literature. With the United States becoming more culturally diverse and the world becoming smaller and smaller due to the advancement of technology, it behooves teachers to include materials that appeal to a wider range of people groups.

Educational scholar Dr. James Banks offers four approaches to effective multicultural education. In his transformational approach he states that teachers should provide a curriculum whereby students can reflect upon ideas from multiple perspectives as well as looking at their own. One way to do this is by reading literature that offers multicultural perspectives. In this article we have provided a number of examples of multicultural literature from various grade levels that can be used effectively in the classroom to provide resources that will allow students to view the world from multiple perspectives.  

List of Multicultural books and other resources
15 Great Asian Canadian and Asian American YA Books
Best Sellers in Teen & Young Adult Jewish Fiction
Six Native American AYA Themed Books
8 YA Books With Latino Protagonists We Wish We Had As Teenagers
Top Children’s/Y.A. Books Set in Africa
Popular YA Multicultural Books
The 50 Best Multicultural Picture Books of 2018
Fifteen Multicultural Children’s Books
Diversity Book Lists & Activities for Teachers and Parents
Learn About Nigeria Through Children’s Books
The Logonauts: Africa Is Not a Country
China for Kids with Children’s Books, Culture and Design


Multicultural Young Adult Fiction Books
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (Paperback)
by Sherman Alexie, Ellen Forney (Illustrator)
Bestselling author Sherman Alexie tells the story of Junior, a budding cartoonist growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Determined to take his future into his own hands, Junior leaves his troubled school on the rez to attend an all-white farm town high school where the only other Indian is the school mascot.

American Street (Hardcover)
by Ibi Zoboi (Goodreads Author)
The rock in the water does not know the pain of the rock in the sun. On the corner of American Street and Joy Road, Fabiola Toussaint thought she would finally find une belle vie—a good life. But after they leave Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Fabiola’s mother is detained by U.S. immigration, leaving Fabiola to navigate her loud American cousins, Chantal, Donna, and Princess; the grittiness of Detroit’s west side; a new school; and a surprising romance, all on her own. Just as she finds her footing in this strange new world, a dangerous proposition presents itself, and Fabiola soon realizes that freedom comes at a cost. Trapped at the crossroads of an impossible choice, will she pay the price for the American dream?

Gabi, a Girl in Pieces (Paperback)
by Isabel Quintero (Goodreads Author)
Gabi Hernandez chronicles her last year in high school in her diary: college applications, Cindy’s pregnancy, Sebastian’s coming out, the cute boys, her father’s meth habit, and the food she craves. And best of all, the poetry that helps forge her identity.

A Moment Comes (Hardcover)
by Jennifer Bradbury
As the partition of India nears in 1947 bringing violence even to Jalandhar, Tariq, a Muslim, finds himself caught between his forbidden interest in Anupreet, a Sikh girl, and Margaret, a British girl whose affection for him might help with his dream of studying at Oxford.

Homegoing (Hardcover)
by Yaa Gyasi
A novel of breathtaking sweep and emotional power that traces three hundred years in Ghana and along the way also becomes a truly great American novel. Extraordinary for its exquisite language, its implacable sorrow, its soaring beauty, and for its monumental portrait of the forces that shape families and nations, Homegoing heralds the arrival of a major new voice in contemporary fiction.

After The Shot Drops (ebook)
by Randy Ribay (Goodreads Author)
A powerful novel about friendship, basketball, and one teen’s mission to create a better life for his family in the tradition of Jason Reynolds, Matt de la Pena, and Walter Dean Myers.    Bunny and Nasir have been best friends forever, but when Bunny accepts an athletic scholarship across town, Nasir feels betrayed. While Bunny tries to fit in with his new, privileged peers, Nasir spends more time with his cousin, Wallace, who is being evicted. Nasir can’t help but wonder why the neighborhood is falling over itself to help Bunny when Wallace is in trouble.

On the Come Up (Audio CD)
by Angie Thomas (Goodreads Author)
Sixteen-year-old Bri wants to be one of the greatest rappers of all time. Or at least make it out of her neighborhood one day. As the daughter of an underground rap legend who died before he hit big, Bri’s got big shoes to fill. But now that her mom has unexpectedly lost her job, food banks and shutoff notices are as much a part of Bri’s life as beats and rhymes. With bills piling up and homelessness staring her family down, Bri no longer just wants to make it—she has to make it.

Swing (Hardcover)
by Kwame Alexander, Mary Rand Hess (Goodreads Author)
Things usually do not go as planned for seventeen-year-old Noah. He and his best friend Walt (aka Swing) have been cut from the high school baseball team for the third year in a row, and it looks like Noah’s love interest since third grade, Sam, will never take it past the “best friend” zone. Noah would love to retire his bat and accept the status quo, but Walt has big plans for them both, which include making the best baseball comeback ever, getting the girl, and finally finding cool.



The Astonishing Color of After (Hardcover)
by Emily X.R. Pan (Goodreads Author)
Leigh Chen Sanders is absolutely certain about one thing: When her mother died by suicide, she turned into a bird. Leigh, who is half Asian and half white, travels to Taiwan to meet her maternal grandparents for the first time. There, she is determined to find her mother, the bird. In her search, she winds up chasing after ghosts, uncovering family secrets, and forging a new relationship with her grandparents. And as she grieves, she must try to reconcile the fact that on the same day she kissed her best friend and longtime secret crush, Axel, her mother was taking her own life.

The Inexplicable Logic of My Life (Hardcover)
by Benjamin Alire Sáenz (Goodreads Author)
A warmly humane look at universal questions of belonging, infused with humour, from the bestselling author of Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe.
Sal used to know his place with his adoptive gay father, their loving Mexican American family, and his best friend, Samantha. But it’s senior year, and suddenly Sal is throwing punches, questioning everything, and realizing he no longer knows himself. If Sal’s not who he thought he was, who is he?

American Panda (Hardcover)
by Gloria Chao (Goodreads Author)
At seventeen, Mei should be in high school, but skipping fourth grade was part of her parents’ master plan. Now a freshman at MIT, she is on track to fulfill the rest of this predetermined future: become a doctor, marry a preapproved Taiwanese Ivy Leaguer, produce a litter of babies.

The Hate U Give (Hardcover)
by Angie Thomas (Goodreads Author)
Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

When Dimple Met Rishi (Dimple and Rishi, #1)
by Sandhya Menon (Goodreads Author)
Dimple Shah has it all figured out. With graduation behind her, she’s more than ready for a break from her family, from Mamma’s inexplicable obsession with her finding the “Ideal Indian Husband.” Ugh. Dimple knows they must respect her principles on some level, though. If they truly believed she needed a husband right now, they wouldn’t have paid for her to attend a summer program for aspiring web developers…right?

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter (Hardcover)
by Erika L. Sánchez
Perfect Mexican daughters do not go away to college. And they do not move out of their parents’ house after high school graduation. Perfect Mexican daughters never abandon their family. But Julia is not your perfect Mexican daughter. That was Olga’s role. Then a tragic accident on the busiest street in Chicago leaves Olga dead and Julia left behind to reassemble the shattered pieces of her family. And no one seems to acknowledge that Julia is broken, too. Instead, her mother seems to channel her grief into pointing out every possible way Julia has failed.

Love, Hate & Other Filters (Hardcover)
by Samira Ahmed (Goodreads Author)
A searing #OwnVoices coming-of-age debut in which an Indian-American Muslim teen confronts Islamophobia and a reality she can neither explain nor escape—perfect for fans of Angie Thomas, Jacqueline Woodson, and Adam Silvera. American-born seventeen-year-old Maya Aziz is torn between worlds. There’s the proper one her parents expect for their good Indian daughter: attending a college close to their suburban Chicago home, and being paired off with an older Muslim boy her mom deems “suitable.” And then there is the world of her dreams: going to film school and living in New York City—and maybe (just maybe) pursuing a boy she’s known from afar since grade school, a boy who’s finally falling into her orbit at school.

The Bitter Side of Sweet (Hardcover)
by Tara Sullivan (Goodreads Author)
Two young boys must escape a life of slavery in modern-day Ivory Coast. Fifteen-year-old Amadou counts the things that matter. For two years what has mattered are the number of cacao pods he and his younger brother, Seydou, can chop down in a day. This number is very important. The higher the number the safer they are because the bosses won’t beat them. The higher the number the closer they are to paying off their debt and returning home to Baba and Auntie. Maybe. The problem is Amadou doesn’t know how much he and Seydou owe, and the bosses won’t tell him. The boys only wanted to make some money during the dry season to help their impoverished family. Instead they were tricked into forced labor on a plantation in the Ivory Coast; they spend day after day living on little food and harvesting beans in the hot sun—dangerous, backbreaking work. With no hope of escape, all they can do is try their best to stay alive—until Khadija comes into their lives.

Last Night I Sang to the Monster (Hardcover)
by Benjamin Alire Sáenz (Goodreads Author)
Zach is eighteen. He is bright and articulate. He’s also an alcoholic and in rehab instead of high school, but he doesn’t remember how he got there. He’s not sure he wants to remember. Something bad must have happened. Something really, really bad. Remembering sucks and being alive – well, what’s up with that?

Mexican Whiteboy (Hardcover)
by Matt de la Pena (Goodreads Author)
Danny’s tall and skinny. Even though he’s not built, his arms are long enough to give his pitch a power so fierce any college scout would sign him on the spot. Ninety-five mile an hour fastball, but the boy’s not even on a team. Every time he gets up on the mound he loses it. But at his private school, they don’t expect much else from him. Danny’ s brown. Half-Mexican brown. And growing up in San Diego that close to the border means everyone else knows exactly who he is before he even opens his mouth. Before they find out he can’t speak Spanish, and before they realize his mom has blond hair and blue eyes, they’ve got him pegged. But it works the other way too. And Danny’s convinced it’s his whiteness that sent his father back to Mexico.

This Side of Home (Hardcover)
by Renée Watson
Identical twins Nikki and Maya have been on the same page for everything—friends, school, boys and starting off their adult lives at a historically African-American college. But as their neighborhood goes from rough-and-tumble to up-and-coming, suddenly filled with pretty coffee shops and boutiques, Nikki is thrilled while Maya feels like their home is slipping away. Suddenly, the sisters who had always shared everything must confront their dissenting feelings on the importance of their ethnic and cultural identities and, in the process, learn to separate themselves from the long shadow of their identity as twins.



Brown Girl Dreaming (Hardcover)
by Jacqueline Woodson (Goodreads Author)
Jacqueline Woodson, one of today’s finest writers, tells the moving story of her childhood in mesmerizing verse. Raised in South Carolina and New York, Woodson always felt halfway home in each place. In vivid poems, she shares what it was like to grow up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s, living with the remnants of Jim Crow and her growing awareness of the Civil Rights movement. Touching and powerful, each poem is both accessible and emotionally charged, each line a glimpse into a child’s soul as she searches for her place in the world. Woodson’s eloquent poetry also reflects the joy of finding her voice through writing stories, despite the fact that she struggled with reading as a child. Her love of stories inspired her and stayed with her, creating the first sparks of the gifted writer she was to become. 

Please share what resources you find useful for your teaching.

We are open to feedback and discussion. If you see any typos or grammatical errors please feel free to email the author and editor at the address below:
childsd1@nku.edu

6 Comments

  1. I enjoyed reading this text because it helped me realize that I did not read the multicultural text until about high school and even then it was very little. Reading about how things could’ve been different inspires me when I become a teacher myself. It will help expose other students to character development and different outcomes.

  2. I was never exposed to multicultural books growing up. Around high school is when teachers would try to introduce texts like this but it never stuck around. I think its great that these kinds of texts are being introduced and it allows them to look up the stories they want to hear about.

  3. I wish I grew up in a generation that had more exposure to more media, more literature, just more exposure to things that are multicultural! I read as a lot as a kid. The figures I typically read about were usually people that were white, straight, and cis. I am someone who relates to none of these, so finding books about people like me was nearly impossible in the early 2000’s.

    Some books I’ve added to my list after reading through the list are: Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero, The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan, I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez, Last Night I Sang to the Monster by Benjamin Alire Sáenz, and Mexican Whiteboy by Matt de la Pena.

  4. Throughout grade school, there was very little multicultural books that we read, mostly just learning about slavery through a textbook, not a novel. In high school, as a junior, we read The Hate U Give, and this book really began to open my eyes to the world we live in. It is hard to believe that we live in a world that does not give ample opportunities to read multicultural books, as this is still a problem in the world we live in today.

  5. I was not exposed to multicultural books growing up. I do remember learning about slavery but the books we read were written by white people. It was not until I was in High School I had an English teacher who was African-American and she exposed us to multicultural texts. I am a teacher who works in a school that is predominantly African American and the best part of reading stories to my 1st graders that include diverse people is when the kids can related to a character in the story. It makes learning so much more meaningful.

  6. It is crazy to think about how secluded my reading palette is given how many books I have read over the years. As an avid reader, I am ashamed to look back on the books that I have read and note that barely any of them consisted of non-white main characters.

    Some books to add though for educators and people who just like to read are, “Long Way Down” by Jason Reynolds and “Legendborn” by Tracy Deonn. Both are centered around black students

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