Honoring Students by Selecting Books that Reflect Them

If you're looking for mentor text ideas that celebrate diversity, check out this post for a list of titles and how they're used. This post focuses on books that Hispanic and African American characters.
No matter whether you are teaching a diverse population or not, there is a great need to incorporate literature into your teaching that reflects people from all parts of our world. We live in a multicultural society, and 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 share book titles and resource options I've found to help teachers quickly plan ways to work these books into their lessons.


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. For starters, I grew up in a small town in the midwest. I do not believe I met a person from another race until maybe high school or college, and I certainly had no understanding of what growing up was like for them. In fact, I may be the last person who should be giving advice on selecting diverse materials. I guess the reason I want to put this post together is that after working with my students, I have come to realize how important it is to see and hear about other points of view than just your own. 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?

It's important to be inclusive not only in your classroom, but in the literature that you use in the classroom. In this post, titles are shared in order to help teachers build a resource list of diverse books.
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 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. It was my first year of teaching though, so I really did not have much in the way of materials, and certainly, my library did not reflect the students I was working with at all or other cultures. At the end of that one amazing year, I got married. 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. In fact, on a family vacation last December, I got the opportunity to visit Superior and had dinner with one of my kids who had reached out to me. She's now a therapist which makes my teacher heart so proud!

Eventually, I moved with my husband east to Virginia where I continued teaching as a classroom teacher and eventually reading specialist and literacy coach. In Virginia, the rest of my career was spent working in Title 1 schools with diverse populations. As a Title 1 reading specialist, I worked very closely with my parents. 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 and needs to see themselves in the materials we use for teaching. Was I always successful with the materials chosen? I can say that I gave my very best to thoughtfully choose the best books. I truly believe that we need to be intentional in the books we use. With careful selection, I think we can help each and every student connect and learn about others which helps students avoid going through life with misconceptions or stereotyped thinking.


Certainly, the list of books that feature Hispanic or Latino characters isn't that deep, but in this post, titles are highlighted with tips on how to use them.
Since my career began in Arizona with primarily Hispanic children, I'll start by sharing books that feature Hispanic characters. Let's just say that their truly is a lack of books to choose from. I can honestly say that from this list, I was only familiar with about half of them. However, all of the books in this list have received great reviews. I'll highlight those I'm most familiar with. 

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

Harvesting Hope by Kathleen Krull 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 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 is 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 is a biography that's 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. 

The Rainbow Tulip by Pat Mora 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. 

One 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 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.


It's so important for children to see themselves in the books we use. These wonderful pieces of literature feature African American characters perfect for your mentor text lessons and for guided reading.
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 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 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 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.

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 a Black History Month Bundle. Of course, I believe these titles need to be worked into the reading routine all year. Most are biographies, so using them as the basis of research papers or a unit on biographies/autobiographies is perfect.

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.

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.


If you're looking for mentor text ideas that celebrate diversity, check out this post for a list of titles and how they're used. This post focuses on books that Hispanic and African American characters.
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.

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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