Why Diverse Books are Essential in the Classroom

No matter whether you are teaching a diverse population or not, there is a great need to incorporate diverse books into your instruction. Our teaching needs to be inclusive and reflect people from all parts of our world. This post offers recommended titles.

No matter whether you are teaching a diverse population or not, there is a great need to incorporate diverse books into your instruction. Our teaching needs to be inclusive and reflect people from all parts of our world. We live in a multicultural society. Sadly, the books we tend to choose may not include characters from all cultures. There are often lots of misconceptions made out of a lack of experiences and knowledge about other people. In this post, I’ll be sharing is diverse books and resource options I’ve found to help teachers quickly plan ways to work these books into their lessons.

How My Experiences Informed My Use of Diverse Books

Before I share what I’ve pulled together from my research, I need to give a little background on my experience growing up and in teaching. In my 27 years in the classroom, I’ve learned and grown a lot. I grew up in a small Midwest town, and I do not believe I met a person from another race until maybe high school. Certainly, I had no understanding of what growing up was like for people of color. In fact, I may be the last person who should be giving advice on selecting diverse books.

After working with a diverse population of students, I discovered how important it is to see and hear points of view other than your own AND that regardless of skin color, we ALL benefit by reading diverse books. When all you have to frame your understanding of others is what you see on TV or read in the newspaper, then how can you truly appreciate and understand other points of view?

No matter whether you are teaching a diverse population or not, there is a great need to incorporate diverse books into your instruction. Our teaching needs to be inclusive and reflect people from all parts of our world. This post offers recommended titles.

Teaching in Arizona

After college, I took my first teaching job in Superior, Arizona, a LONG way from home. Superior was a small mining town outside of Phoenix, and my first class was 95% Hispanic and 5% Caucasian. It was the best first year a teacher could have. It was filled with lots of teaching growth, fantastic potluck lunches, rich classroom celebrations (fiestas), and the most amazing kids a teacher could ask for in a first class.

Since I was in my first year of teaching, I really did not have much in the way of books much less, diverse books. At the end of that one amazing year, I got married and relocated to St. Louis. I think I cried for an hour leaving Arizona, but I never forgot those kids. The children’s Mexican heritage and customs were such an integral part of our day to day school experiences.

Moving to Virginia

Eventually, I moved with my husband east to Virginia where I continued teaching as a classroom teacher and eventually reading specialist. In Virginia, the rest of my career was spent working in Title 1 schools with diverse populations. Through these relationships, I learned the value of communication, seeing things from different points of view, and most importantly, that every child needs to be valued, needs to see themselves in the materials we use for teaching, and needs opportunities to connect with diverse authors too. With careful selection, we can help each student connect and learn about others. This helps students avoid going through life with misconceptions or stereotyped thinking.

Books that Feature Hispanic/Latino Characters

Since my career began in Arizona with primarily Hispanic children, I’ll share books that feature Hispanic characters first. There truly is a lack of books to choose from. From this list, I’m familiar with about half of them. However, all of the books in this list have great reviews. I’ll highlight those I’m most familiar with. 

Too Many Tamales by Gary Soto

The first is one of my favorites. Too Many Tamales by Gary Soto is a holiday book. It tells how a family prepares tamales for their meal, a process all Latino children learn and treasure. Gary Soto does have several novels with Latino characters too, and his specialty is sports fiction. 

No matter whether you are teaching a diverse population or not, there is a great need to incorporate diverse books into your instruction. Our teaching needs to be inclusive and reflect people from all parts of our world. This post offers recommended titles.

Harvesting Hope

The second on my list is Harvesting Hope by Kathleen Krull. It is a beauty about the life of Cesar Chavez. Her biographies are always well done. (Wilma Unlimited is another by her.) Yuli Morales is the illustrator. She’s illustrated quite a few in this list actually. Cesar Chavez was a civil rights leader, and this biography is a great one to show perseverance and history. 

Waiting for the Biblioburro by Monica Brown

Next, I’ll share Waiting for the Biblioburro by Monica Brown. It made it’s way into our LLI kits, and my students were fascinated by it. It’s about a traveling library. The librarian would ride the burro to homes where children couldn’t easily get to a public library on their own. This book is a great one to use to introduce problem solving and needs versus wants. It is a true story about a man named Luis Soriano.

Abuela by Arthur Dorros

Another favorite is Abuela by Arthur Dorros. It tells about a young girl who dreams of flying across New York City with her Abuela (grandmother). This book is a great choice for descriptive language or writing. It would be a great text to have students pattern with their own descriptions of home.

Sonia Sotomayor by Jonah Winter

The next must read is Sonia Sotomayor by Jonah Winter. This biography has captured the attention of many. It is another book of overcoming challenges to do great things. If you work with students who struggle, I’d include this title as an inspirational book and try to build a theme around this topic. 

Rainbow Tulip by Pat Mora

The Rainbow Tulip by Pat Mora is on my list. It is about a young girl’s experience being “different” than others and celebrates the importance of diversity. My blogging friend, Deb Hanson, highlighted The Rainbow Tulip in a link up during this past year. You can visit her blog post [HERE] for a free lesson on making inferences.

The last book I’ll highlight is Día de los Muertos by Roseann Thong since it’s great for this time of year. Dia de los Muertos means Day of the Dead, a celebration of those who have passed. It is not a sad day, but rather filled with memories and good times. Sandy from Sweet Integrations highlighted this book in her recent post for our diverse books link up. You can download her free lesson on vocabulary [HERE],For other great titles, please check out Goodreads HERE or Reading Rockets HERE

Authors of Diverse Books that Feature Hispanic Characters

Authors with books about Latino or Hispanic characters include:

  • Pam Munoz Ryan
  • Gary Soto
  • George Ancona
  • Yuri Morales
  • Monica Brown
  • Alma Flora Ava,
  • and Pat Mora.

Diverse Literature that Features African American Characters

No matter whether you are teaching a diverse population or not, there is a great need to incorporate diverse books into your instruction. Our teaching needs to be inclusive and reflect people from all parts of our world. This post offers recommended titles.

Books that feature African American characters are much more plentiful than those with Hispanic character, and certainly, efforts have been made for more diverse books to be published. Still, there is room for improvement that’s for sure. Here are notable books that I love using and how I use them.

A Chair for My Mother

A Chair for My Mother by Vera Williams is a favorite of mine. I love how this family comes together to provide for each other as they recover from a house fire. It is a great mentor text about economics and the importance of saving.

Amazing Grace

Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman is hands-down one of the most inspirational books I’ve used, and I always included it as a guided reading text with my striving readers who not only need support in reading, but also inspiration to follow their dreams and persevere.

Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut

Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut by Derrick Barnes is a new and fresh title covered with all kinds of great awards. Use it for small moment writing and for vocabulary. I think it’s the total package and a must buy! Be sure to look back at THIS POST for my vocabulary lesson ideas.

Diverse Books Literacy Bundle

Wilma Unlimited by Kathleen Krull, When Marian Sang by Pam Munoz Ryan, Sojourner Truth’s Step Stomp Stride by Andrea Pinkney, Martin’s Big Words by Doreen Rappaport, Salt in His Shoes by Deloris and Roslyn Jordan, Henry’s Freedom Box by Ellen Levine, and The Story of Ruby Bridges by Robert Coles are all biographies that I use throughout the year. I created this Diverse Books Bundle which includes all of these plus Each Kindness and Amazing Grace. They work well for Black History Month or any time of year. Most are biographies, so using them as the basis of research papers or a unit on biographies/autobiographies is perfect too.

Last Stop on Market Street

Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena is a MUST buy too. It is great for small moment writing and for word choice. I love the active verbs and description within this story. It’s all about a simple ride on the city bus, but connects to so many children’s lives and experiences.

Books by Jacqueline Woodson

Three books that are must reads by author, Jacqueline Woodson are Each Kindness, The Other Side, and her latest title, The Day You Begin. You can learn more about Each Kindness in THIS POST on my blog where I use it for teaching theme, but also for establishing classroom routines and expectations, and The Day You Begin was just featured for making inferences by my bloggy buddy, Chrissy over at Buzzing with Ms. B. She shares a free lesson to use with the book, so take a moment to drop by and download her lesson. You can download an interactive readaloud lesson from Sadler HERE. Jacqueline Woodson is a fantastic author and one who writes about her own life experiences.

Certainly, I could go on about the titles I chose to include in the image above. There are so many wonderful stories, and they all need to be in your classroom libraries and part of your instruction either in guided reading groups, as mentor text lessons, and at the very least, available for independent reading.

Notable Authors to Include

In addition to these titles, I want to leave you with notable African American authors and illustrators you must seek out. The first is Kadir Nelson. The books he’s illustrated will leave you speechless. The illustrations are just that amazing. Just check out his site so that you recognize his style.

Another great new author is Kwame Alexander. He writes mainly for upper elementary/middle school, but his books are certainly drawing lots of attention and are great for novel studies.

No matter whether you are teaching a diverse population or not, there is a great need to incorporate diverse books into your instruction. Our teaching needs to be inclusive and reflect people from all parts of our world. This post offers recommended titles.

Nikki Grimes is author number three for me. She’s a poet and author of many children’s books and novels including the Dyamonde Daniels series, Barack Obama: Son of Promise, Child of Hope, and more.

Andrea Pinkney is another fantastic author with a bazillion published books about African American characters. Her newest book is a tribute to Ezra Jack Keats (another author to add to this list). It is called, A Poem for Peter. She’s also the author of Sojourner Truth’s Step-Stomp Stride, Boycott Blues, and a few other great biographies. THIS BUNDLE for Ezra Jack Keats includes companions for six of his books.

I’ll close with just ending with a final list. Each of these authors are linked to their sites, so be sure to check out their wonderful works of art: Faith Ringgold (Tar Beach and Aunt Harriet’s Underground Railroad in the Sky) and Donald Crews (Big Mama’s, Shortcut, Freight Train).  Truly, it’s hard to stop!

Which books are your favorites? I know I left many great titles out already! (Those Shoes, Ada Twist, Scientist, I Love My Hair!, and Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters). Please share your thoughts in the comments and how you use your favorites.

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