This summer, School Library Journal teamed up with Scholastic Book Fairs for the Scholastic Book Fairs Reading Summit in Chicago, IL and Austin, TX. Kiera Parrott, reviews director, and Mahnaz Dar, reference and professional reading editor, presented “Identifying and Evaluating Harmful Stereotypes & Tropes in Children’s Literature,” an abbreviated version of their typically full-day workshop, and also shared their “SLJ Recommends” collection of titles. In this guest post, Kathy Ishizuka, Executive Editor of SLJ, expands on the need for diverse books that span a wide range of cultures, characters, and themes, with recommended reading lists.
Books that explore, illuminate, and celebrate the full diversity of human experience are so needed—now, perhaps, more than ever.
And demand is high. Across the board, from K–12 schools to public libraries, in communities across the U.S., librarians are acquiring more diverse books (defined here as titles with protagonists and experiences that feature underrepresented ethnicities, disabilities, cultural or religious backgrounds, gender nonconformity, or LGBTQIA+ orientations).
That’s according to a recent survey by School Library Journal, which found that 68 percent of librarians purchased an increased number of children’s/YA (young adult) titles with diverse characters in the past year. Moreover, the vast majority of librarians, 81%, consider it “very important” to have a diverse book collection for kids and teens.
“This is very important to me,” Nancy Snow, a school librarian at Bancroft Elementary School in Andover, MA, told SLJ. “Especially in our current political climate, I feel it is essential to educate my students so they do not see diversity as a problem, but rather as a strength of our country and community.”
Finding quality titles in this area for children and teens, however, can be a challenge, even for librarians. “I welcome any new authors or books that I find, and it is getting better, but still has a long way to go,” said Dawn Nelson, a librarian at Oak View Elementary School, Osseo Area Schools, in Maple Grove, MN.
We heard you, Dawn. Among the following recommendations curated by SLJ contributors and editors are our latest Great Books lists, created in response to specific needs cited by survey respondents, from Muslim representation to the LGBTQIA+ experience.
Below are 12 curated lists, with recommended reading for kids and teens, spanning a range of books that encompass diverse cultures, characters, and themes.
By Alec Chunn
From mysteries to summer adventures to first loves, these 12 titles validate queer youth, and youth in queer families, who are navigating those ever-confusing years before young adulthood.
By Brigid Alverson
“Every LGBTQ kids’ book that manages to make its way onto a bookstore or library shelf is a life raft,” says Melanie Gillman, creator of the graphic novel As the Crow Flies. Columnist Brigid Alverson considers LGBTQIA+ themes in the graphic format, with recommended titles for young readers.
By Sara G. Ahmed, Mahasin Abuwi Aleem, Ariana Sani Hussain, & Hadeal Salamah
From romance to fantasy to memoir, these books represent a rich scope of experiences.
By Cicely Lewis
Books featuring people of color in outer space and alternative worlds.
By Debbie Reese
Children's literature scholar Debbie Reese highlights recent picture books, fiction and nonfiction, that celebrate American Indian heritage.
By Daryl Grabarek
Recently published books celebrating African American women and girls highlight their important contributions to the arts, activism, literacy, politics, science, and other fields too numerous to name.
By Della Farrell
Add these selections about historical figures with big dreams, from board books to YA memoirs, to your collection and display year-round.
By Kristyn Dorfman
While no one book list can adequately explore all the variations in culture and traditions embodied within the broad category of the “Asian/Pacific American Experience,” readers who identify as Asian American and/or Pacific American—especially as first-generation Americans—will find reflections of their own stories in these novels.
By Terry Hong
Celebrate poetry with these 16 middle grade and YA #OwnVoices titles.
By Rachel Kamin
Holidays (particularly Hanukkah) and the Holocaust are dominant themes in children’s literature with Jewish content, but this does not represent the totality of the Jewish experience in America or around the world and should not be the only books with Jewish content that children are exposed to.
By Bindy Fleischman
2019 Outstanding International Books list, developed by the United States Board on Books for Young People (USBBY), represents literature from every continent.
By Shelley Diaz
Top fictional works about Latinx experiences.
In addition, the following lists are recommended resources for further exploring diverse books:
- We Need Diverse Books
- “Reading While White” blog
- American Indians in Children's Literature: Best Books
- The Brown Bookshelf
- Colorín Colorado
For more resources from School Library Journal, visit:
Image courtesy of School Library Journal