There is a need for sustained attention on children’s and young adult literature that reflects non-dominant racial and cultural experiences. Nancy Larrick’s study about what she called “the all-white world of children’s books” in a 1965 New York Times piece is sadly still quite relevant today. In 2014, the late, prolific author Walter Dean Myers published an editorial (also in the New York Times) titled “Where Are the People of Color in Children’s Books?” The piece caused a swell of attention from people who care about getting meaningful books into young people’s hands, and from those responsible for creating the books in the first place. This bibliography is my attempt to carve out a space for those books that tell the stories of people of color, books that present counter-narratives to dominant ways of thinking, and books that carry forth histories that may otherwise be forgotten.
Whether you are a librarian, teacher, parent, literacy coach, or book lover, I hope that you unearth new stories by using this site. Harriet Jacobs' life story is worth getting to know: Harriet grew up as a slave on a plantation in Edenton, North Carolina, and served a cruel and perverted master whose harassment of her was relentless. At the age of twenty-one, Harriet hid in a tiny crawl space between the roof and the ceiling of an addition to her grandmother’s house, and stayed there for nearly seven years in secrecy. Harriet spent most of her time in the tomb-like attic reading and sewing. Her pursuit of freedom was unstoppable, and when she escaped North, she became an anti-slavery activist and founded a school.
Her autobiography Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1861) was re-imagined in a format more accessible to younger readers. Search this site for Letters from a Slave Girl: The Story of Harriet Jacobs (2007) to locate the book at a library near you.
The story of Japanese internment camps in the United States during World War II is worth getting to know. Search this site for two selections that tell remarkable, hidden, stories of how families endured racist and xenophobic treatment after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Children of Topaz: The Story of a Japanese Internment Camp (1996) and I am American: A True Story of Japanese Internment (1994), both make that history more visible to those of you responsible for choosing books for young readers.
Identifying high quality, and also diverse, informational texts is ever popular now, in part because of the roll-out of Common Core State Standards. The site also features three “special collections” libraries: the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center at Howard University; the Arne Nixon Center at California State University—Fresno; and the Kerlan Collection at the University of Minnesota—Twin Cities. These libraries are a treasure trove of rare and often unpublished content, including photographs and sketches. A visit by you (alone or with a group of young people) would be eye-opening and memorable.
Boyd, F., Causey, L., & Galda, L. (2015). Culturally Diverse Literature: Enriching Variety in an Era of Common Core State Standards. The Reading Teacher, 68(5), 378-387.
I am tremendously grateful for being awarded a Carnegie-Whitney Grant from the American Library Association to carry out this project. The contributions of Kathleen Patton (project assistant) were invaluable, and advice from Felicia Orozco and Lauretta Dawolo Towns—two teachers who responded to early ideas of the bibliography—were appreciated. My thanks also go to the staff and curators at the libraries I visited, whose kindness made my research easier and fun. Lastly, I’d like to thank the skillful web designer and fellow champion of books, Asa Diebolt, for being a part of this effort.
A note about methodology
We chose high quality nonfiction literature in the social sciences and humanities which depicts people of African descent, Hispanics and Latino/as, Native Americans, Asians and Asian Americans. We consulted an array of sources, including award and honor lists, reputable bloggers, and publishers’ front and back lists. In some cases, we wrote the annotations ourselves after viewing the book, but in many more cases we used annotations available at existing sources.
While you know the maturity and skills of your reader best, we used the following general age guidelines:
- early (approximately 0-4 years)
- primary (approximately 4-8 years)
- intermediate (approximately 8-11 years)
- advanced (approximately 12 and up)
Accuracy and cultural authenticity are important factors to consider when compiling a book list of this nature. We have attempted to make sure that each book accurately tells a facet of historical and contemporary life among people of color and Native Americans in authentic ways.