Children's Books with Non-white Characters
Berkeley Parents Network >
The Arts, Books, Entertainment, & Media >
Children's Books with Non-white Characters
Does anyone have recommendations for engaging children's books
(5-10 age range) with Asian/Asian American/Pacific
Islander/Hapa main characters? Even better are books with a
multicultural cast including at least one Asian. I checked the
BPN website and saw a great list of books but none with Asian
We just had our Book Fair, and the author was a local Asian woman
who wrote a book called Almond Cookies and Dragonwell Tea. Its
not widely available, but you can find it on Amazon or have a
local bookseller order it for you. The author btw is Cynthia
Chin Lee and the book is about an Asian girl who befriends a
Caucasian girl and introduces her to some of her family's
customs. Not sure if this is what you are looking for or not.
Maybe try the library first.
''The Squiggle'' by Carole Lexa Schaefer is a whimsical tale
about a little girl in Chinatown who finds a bit of string
while out on a walk with her preschool class. It turns into
everything from a full moon to a dancing New Year's Dragon.
Beautiful watercoler drawings from Pierr Morgan make it a real
favorite in our house.
There's a book called, I think, 1,000 cats? Which retells an
old (Japanese?) legend about a boy and a cat spirit.
Sorry I can't be more specific about the above title. I know,
however, that I've come across dozens of good kids' books
featuring Asian main characters. I'm sure you'll get a lot of
good titles from this list...or have you asked the children's
librarian at Albany or Berkeley libraries?
these are on the younger end of your age range but we've enjoyed
Jan Brett's Daisy Comes Home (up to 7 years?) and Molly Bang's
The Paper Crane. Amy Tan has written some children's books which
I haven't checked out yet. Sorry no multi-cultural books are
coming to mind presently.
Our family really likes books by Yumi Heo. One of our favorites
Father's Rubber Shoes. New York: Orchard Books, 1995.
Yungsu misses Korea terribly until he begins to make friends in
There are a wealth of API related books available by the
Heritage. Many of the stories do have ties to Hawaii but some
picture books include folktales from Asia. The books presented
website are just a sample of the books published by Island
Heritage over the
years. I'm sure if you were to do a sort on Amazon.com you may
out-of-print titles that may also be useful.
For older children, you may want to look at books by authors
Laurence Yep and Yoshiko Uchida.
Check out your local library, there's plenty of books for
children featuring Asian main and only characters! Esp. at the
Lafayette Library. Maybe because of the big Asian community
Some of our faves are:
The Name Jar
A pair of red clogs
Yoko's paper cranes
My children love these stories. We read them over and over and
There are also plenty of Chinese New Year stories and olde
Asian tales avaiable in the library.
The Story Teller book shop (independent in Lafayette) also
carries books with Asian main characters.
Where can you find good books for your kids? Remember there are
professionals who have dedicated their lives to answering this
question: your friendly neighborhood children's librarians!
The Berkeley Public Library has many good booklists, including
one called ''The Best of Both Worlds; Children's books on the
Asian Experience in America,'' available online at:
Or you can try San Francisco Public Library's online booklists,
including ''Our Asian Heritage: Books for Young People on the
Asian American Experience,'' at:
A Children's Librarian
If you go to the Japantown mall in San Francisco, there's a huge
bookstore with a childrens books section that's got all kinds of
childrens books with Asian main characters, for all different
Check out Eastwind Bookstore's website:
They have two stores: One in Berkeley (on University Ave and Shattuck), and one in
They have books that should fit your criteria.
There are lots of great ones-- In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson comes to
mind as an oldie but goodie. The Cooperative Children's Book Center publishes a
list of ''50 Multicultural Books Every Child Should Know'' which includes books with
Asian protagonists as well as a variety of other ethnicities. You can read it online at
You might try books by Allen Say. One of our favorites is
If you don't live too far from the Oakland Library Chinatown
branch you might want to spend a little time there. My local
branch told me they have a good selection of Asian themed books
for kids. It's something I plan to do over our winter break with
my child. I've also recently learned that parking is quite
reasonable in the center the library is housed in.
''Ruby's Wish'' & ''Round is a Mooncake'' have Asian protaganists.
Both are from Chronicle Books and are lovely, Ruby's Wish
especially. They also have one called ''Ten Mice for Tet'', (can
you tell I used to work there?) and while the mice aren't
technically Asian, it's a beautiful counting book with Asian
Books by Laurence Yep are great (Laurence is a Montery resident,
who was born in China, so the name is not mispelled). He writes
for different ages and in different genres (mysteries, folk
stories, history-based fiction, etc.)
East Wind in Berkeley carries his books and many other good
books. Berkeley Public Library has several of his books also.
My son is currently reading the ''Tiger's Apprentice'' book 1 and
he's really enjoying it. We were lucky to have him visit our
school, Berkwood Hedge, a couple of years ago when he read from
''Tiger's Apprentice'' and ''Rainbow People''.
I highly recommend Laurence Yep's books.
This is a picture book with beautiful illustrations and the story
Author: Yee, Paul
Title: Ghost train / written by Paul Yee ; illustrated by Harvey
Publisher: Toronto : Groundwood Books, 1996
The story is about a 19th century Chinese girl who is an artist
whose father comes to the US west coast to work on the railroads.
He sends for her, but by the time she arrives he has died in an
accident. In dreams he guides her to use her art to free the
souls of the many Chinese whose lives were lost in the building
of the railroads. Sounds grizzly, but the story is poignant and
sweet and the artwork is outstanding.
It looks like it is still in print and available at amazon.com,
where there is a more detailed synopsis.
This recommendation could also go for books with strong girl
characters. I'm surprised this did not come up before unless
it has to do with Disney. Mulan, at least the Disney character
(there is another Mulan out there but I don't know the
differences), is a terrific character. She totally kicks the
bad guys' behinds by using her smarts. She starts out failing
to get the matchmaker's good graces and then gets the Emperor's
gratitude for saving the nation. I love the movie and you can
get a book as well.
I highly recommend Lee and Low Books, a small publisher based in
New York. Here's their mission statement:
Lee & Low Books is a children's book publisher with a specific
focus on multicultural themes. What this means to us is that we
publish stories that children of color can identify with, but
that all children can enjoy.
If you do an advanced search on their website, you will find a
list of books with Asian American themes:
Comparative Lit Major Mom
For the family who are looking for books with positive Asian
characters, please check out the catalog Asia For Kids
(www.asiaforkids.com or 1-800-888-9681) They offer a wealth of
materials ranging from books with Asian American characters,
books about Asian cultures, educational toys and classroom
I am looking for recommendations of books about Native Peoples
to share with my 4.5 year old. We'd particularly enjoy
historical fictions, simple biographies and folk tales.
Thanks in advance.
Believe it or not, our daughters LOVED the American Girl
Kaya series. I have seen them at Costco and at Barnes and
Noble. I, quite frankly, could not put them down (I kept
reading after the girls went to bed). We have a seven year
old and a four year old, and they both loved them. They are
fiction, but were written with the input and advice of a Native
American committee of Nez Perce as well as Native
I highly recommend that you use Oyate, a non-profit based in
Berkeley, as a resource to find books. Their website has a
catalog (and a list of books to avoid!). www.oyate.org
''Oyate is a Native organization working to see that our lives
and histories are portrayed honestly, and so that all people
will know our stories belong to us.'' (From their website)
Oyate is a publisher and distributor of books by and about Native
cultures in North & South America, including Canada. They have a
fantastic selection for all ages! You can order from their website
www.oyate.org, email the director Beverly Slapin at
firstname.lastname@example.org or you can call her at 848-6700 and make an
appointment to meet and pick up books. She's in Berkeley.
I discovered them at a book fair and found them to have really
everything you could ask for, stories, how to books (such as
crafts or building projects), history from Native perspectives,
etc. I think you find what you want there. Have fun!
We've really enjoyed reading ''Back in the Beforetime: Tales of
the California Indians'' by Jane Louise Curry.
The book is a collection of Native California-themed folk tales
featuring Coyote the Trickster and other animal characters that
kids seem to love. The reading level is 9-12 years old but my son
enjoyed hearing the stories starting at around 5 years old. I've
also read some of the shorter ones to a group of kindergartners
at a Sunday school class and they loved it.
Amazon has several used copies and one new copy (additional
copies are on order) for under $10.
Pact's multicultural booksource has a section for preschoolers
on Native American books. Here are some titles and authors from
the booksource. Baby Rattlesnake by Te Ata, The first
strawberries by Joseph Bruchac, Fox song by Joseph Bruchac, The
girl who loved wild horses by Paul Groble, The magic of spider
woman by Ileana C. Lee, Mamma's little one by Kristina Heath,
The mud family by Betsy James, The rough face girl by Rafe
Martin, The story of jumping mouse by John Steptoe, Two pairs of
shoes by Estehr Sanderson, The worry stone by Marianna Dengler.
Hope this helps.
Many thanks to all who responded to my query about books on
native peoples. Anyone else following this thread may want to
add to their list books by Paul Goble. My son (age 4.5) also
really enjoyed a book set in Yosemite called 'Two Bear Cubs' by
Souci and Souci.
A great resource for teachers and parents looking for books with non-white
main characters is Violet Harris' (ed.) "Using Multiethnic Literature in the
K-8 Classroom." she's got reams of recommendaitons, divided by ethnicity.
I have copies of her chapters on Mexican-American and African-American kids
in literature, if you'd like to borrow them. In the former, she recommends
Gary Soto's "Taking Sides" and "Pacific Crossing" (he's a local author,
too!); she also suggests Sandra Cisneros' "The House on Mango Street." In
the latter, she suggests all of Mildred Taylor's novels (song of the trees,
etc.), Virginia Hamilton's "Justice" trilogy (and everything else by her,
too!), Joyca Carol Thomas' "Marked by Fire," Mildred Walter's "Second
Daughter," Yarbrough's "The Shimmershine Queens," and Rita Williams-Garcia's
"Sisters on the Home Front." There are ltos more, but these are a good
start. Sorry I didn't write in in answer to your first request!
I did happen to recall a wonderful series of short chapter books, geared
toward younger readers, with (mostly) black characters. The first is
Stories Julian Tells, and there are several more in the series. They are
delightful. Also, Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell is about an
Aleutian native. Call It COurage, by Armstrong Sperry (I think) is about a
Polynesian boy. Wendy
Bright Lights Bookstore (www.brghtlghts.com?),
Bucket of Books (www.bucketofbooks.com),
Lee and Low Books (www.leeandlow.com)
sell multicultural books that you can buy on
the Arrowhead Library System
(http://als.lib.wi.us/AACList.html) maintains an
african american children's literature list from
picture books to chapter books..
and there is the Multicultural Book Reviews:
granted, their selections are few and most
are about overcoming hardship but there are
a few interesting ones in there !
non-white protaganists in chapter books:
PAACT, ad adoption organization that focuses on families with
children of color, has a list of books about race & culture as
well as adoption. Check it out at
http://www.pactadopt.org/. Also try multicultural resources for
children at http://falcon.jmu.edu/~ramseyil/multipub.htm. Look
for Black Books Galore! Guide to Great African-American
ChildrenFs Books. And talk to your local children's librarian!
Most of these were listed on my first e-mail but they are all really great and
have characters that are exactly like what you are talking about. My daughter
has enjoyed them all and has read them all a number of times. I'm not sure
age you are looking for so you might want to check age appropriateness.
"Marisol and Magdalena" by Veronica Chambers
About two friends of Panamanian decent living in New York. They are separated
when one of them spends a year in Panama with her grandmother. There is a new
sequel about the two girls and their quincea1eras. called
"Quincea1era Means Sweet Fifteen"
"Esperanza Rising" by Pam Mu1oz Ryan
About wealthy girl from Mexico during the Great Depression who loses
moves to California and ends up working in a labor camp.
"The Amah" by Laurence Yep
About girl of Chinese decent living in San Francisco who wants to be a
ballerina. She has
a hard time when her mom ends up being the caretaker of another girl who is
"A Jar of Dreams" by Yoshiko Uchida
About a Japanese family living in Berkeley during the Great Depression and
to make ends meet while confronting racism. Also
"Journey Home" has to do with a young girl and Japanese internment.
"Carlota" Scott O'dell
About a young Mexican girl living in Californian during the
Mexican-American war. She
is a real tomboy and ends up fighting against the US with the neighboring
"Island of the Blue Dolfins"
For a pre-teen or early teen, the "Cheeta Girls" chapter books are pretty
good. Most of the
characters are African American. The most recent book includes a white girl
who is the half-sister
of one of the African American girls.
If you are interested in chapter books by and about African Americans,
you might try Marcus Book Store (3900 MLK Jr. Way, 652-2344) as a
I've found it useful to take the advice of the experts --
children's librarians. The
American Library Association's Coretta Scott King Award has identified and
of great chapter books over the years; see
site includes detailed reading-level information.) ALA also sponsors the
Pura Belpre award
for children's literature about the Latino cultural experience, although
it's much newer and
so has not honored that many books yet. http://www.ala.org/alsc/belpre.html
The Berkeley Public Library (like a lot of other libraries) maintains lists
of suggested books
in many different categories. Some good ones are on being
Latino (http://www.infopeople.org/bpl/booklist/leamos.html) or just plain
(http://www.infopeople.org/bpl/booklist/beingdif.html). It's also been my
most children's librarians *love* being asked for specific recommendations.
Counted three on our bookshelves (plus one from the library). With the
of "The Diddakoi", these books are about true-to-life kids, with
(as opposed to fantastical, Harry Potter type adventures):
Roosevelt Grady-Louisa Shotwell
Bud, Not Buddy-Christopher Paul Curtis
In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson-Bette Bao Lord
The Diddakoi-Rumer Godden
Still looking for more, however!
I run a book project called Reach Out and Read, and we give used books
away in the waiting room at Kaiser in Richmond and new ones to children
when they come for a well check up. I received a donation one day after
9/11/01, and in the bag was the book "Whoever You Are" by Mem Fox. It's
beautifully illustrated and the message is about how "There are little
ones just like you all over the world, and even though their skin may
be different or their homes may be different, their hearts are just
like yours and their smiles are just like yours...joys are the same,
love is same, tears are the same, blood is the same" etc... I would
love to see all parents here in the USA reading this book as a reminder
to the ADULTS about children everywhere.
Like many of you, my heart is heavy these days as I think of the children
in NY who have lost their parents, homes, and schools, and as I think of
children in the Middle East who are suffering and afraid.
Mem Fox is a great children's writer and story teller. Her new book for
parents is called "Reading Magic". It gives great suggestions about
reading to your child from birth, and she really communicates the value
in having fun while you read. She will be here for a book tour on Nov.
1st in Corte Madera at the Book Passage at 1:00PM.
At Kaiser in Richmond we will continue to give her book "Whoever You
Are" to children ages 3-5 years, as a part of our program. I suggest
you may want to check it out, and give a gift to the young children,
and adults, in your life.
In a recent UCB Parents message a parent was asking about multicultural
books for a list she/he is putting together for her/his child's class. I
deleted it but since I saw this flyer I thought I would pass on this
The Educational Loft Program, presented by USF School of Education, will
lead an evening discussion on: Awe and Imagination in the World of
Multicultural Children's Books led by Daphne Muse. Thursday April 30, 1998
6:30-8pm Univ. of San Francisco - Harney, Room 232 (located on Golden Gate
Ave next to Gleeson Library). For queries or additional information, call
(415) 422-6525 . No charge for this event.
Daphne Muse has published more than 150 feature articles, reviews and
commentaries. She is an employee of UCB, a research coordinator for the
McNair Scholarship Program if those who can't make the talk want to get in
touch with her.
Harding Elementary School has a Multicultural Committee and lending
library. Please call the school at 525-0273 and leave a message for
the Multicultural Committee asking for a list of books they have and
maybe set up a time to meet with them. Good luck.
The Berkeley Public Library (Children's Dept) used to have a list of
highly recommended multicultural books. Check with the children's
librarians there; they are very helpful and knowledgeable. You might
also check their web site (not sure of web address), and can send
inquiries by email and they will get back to you.
One great resource is the
Children's Literature Web Guide
One of the links on the home page is Lots of Links, which includes
Best Books lists for 1994-1997, as well as lists for specific
subjects. In my quick scan I didn't see any specifically
"multicultural" lists, but I did see headings for Jewish Religion and
Culture, Latino People, History, and Culture, Native American Books,
and Multiracial Families, among others; and I'm sure a more thorough
perusal of this site will turn up many other lists.
Another terrific web site is Berkeley Public Library's
Librarians Index to the Internet
The Kids page has links to many resources, including the Children's
Literature Web Guide mentioned above.
You didn't say how big your list has to be. If what I've given you so
far is overkill, you may want to head to the children's room at BPL's
Central Library , at Kittredge and Shattuck. It seems to me that in
the past I've seen staff- created reading lists of the type you're
seeking; even if my memory is faulty one of the librarians should be
able to help out. I know that there are a number of bibliographies to
multicultural children's literature in print.
Hope this gets you started!
A great resource for multi-cultural books is "Let's Hear it for the
Girls" this book lists and describes "375 books for readers 2-14" that
have strong female characters and many are multi-cultural. It is
published by Penguin and is compiled by Bauermeister & Smith. I have
found some great relatively unknown books which my family has really
The Berkeley Public Library's children's staff has produced a number of
lists suggesting children's books by topic and age group. For instance:
African American Folklore and Poetry
All Together Now; Recent Multicultural Books for Children
Children's books on the Asian Experience in America 9/93
Cornbread and Cornrows; African American Fiction for Children 2/96
Families and Friends; African American Picture Books 1/96
Freedom's Children; True Stories for Children about African
They also maintain in-house bibliographies on a variety of topics,
including social issues, multicultural titles.
You may need to focus on what is meant by "multicultural." Are you
looking for books with characters of many colors, or are you looking for
books which portray aspects of different cultures within the U.S., or are
you looking for world cultures? And does multicultural mean ethnicity,
or also include sexual orientation, religion, etc.? Obviously your
school has something in mind when they give you an assignment such as
this, but I find that commonly used words such as multicultural or
diverse often have many different interpretations.
Here are a couple of good websites:
Books with Multiracial Families
Children's Literature Web Site (many lists)
this page was last updated: May 25, 2012
BPN is now a 501(c)(3) non-profit and we are building a new website!
Read more, and see how you can help:
The opinions and statements expressed on this website
are those of parents who subscribe to the
Berkeley Parents Network.
Disclaimer & Usage for
information about using content on this website.
Copyright © 1996-2014 Berkeley Parents Network