10 (+1) Diverse Children's Books With Characters of Colour
As a parent and as a teacher, it’s been my aim for the young people in my life to absolutely love reading and books. Being a British born Nigerian and having taught in Nigeria for a number of years, diverse books have become very important to me. This is because I believe that books aren’t just about “others”, But when we see people like ourselves in the media, including in fiction, we get a glimpse of who we might become, we feel validated and we feel relevant.
I totally recommend these diverse reads in no particular order and I hope you enjoy this list too.
1. Title: So Much!
- Author: Trish Cooke
- Illustrator: Helen Oxenbury
Chances are, if you grew up in London in the 90s you would have read this book at some point during your primary school program! In recent years, this book resurfaced into my life when I read it to my pupils in classes.I then bought my own copy to enjoy at home and it’s a winner all around, very much loved by my pupils, son and myself so much (excuse the pun!) It’s starts off with mummy and baby at home seemingly having a chilled out day, then the story fills up with various family members turning up and lavishing attention on the baby in their own unique ways! A seemingly impromptu party takes place which is often the case in many black households and is a feature we can relate with! The story also mixes in Caribbean dialect, offering us readers an opportunity to practise our very best Patois when reading it!
This is a classic children’s book in my opinion!
2. Title: Riley Can Be Anything
- Author: Davina Hamilton
- Illustrator: Elena Reinoso
This book is filled with undiluted encouragement and serves as a reminder to all kids that they can indeed be anything when they grow up! A range of occupations are explored and the rhyming sentences make it an enjoyable read for a wide range of ages. Often when I’ve read this with my son, it sparks another conversation about what he wants to be, and sure enough it changes every single time!
3. Title: Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History
- Author & Illustrator: Vashsti Harrison
This book features 40 black women whose achievements are nothing short of amazing! The women included range from the very famous e.g Oprah Winfrey, to the not so well known. I enjoyed discovering and learning about these women and their journeys and I know it’s a book that I’ll pick up again and again. Another great thing about this book is that the women who feature have such varied fields, some were/are great entertainers, physicians, scientists, writers, activists and many more; there’s career inspiration for any young child within the stories of these women. The illustrations are also super cute! All the women are illustrated with their eyes closed and depicted as “little learners” dressing up as the women whose stories are being told! I’d say that this book is great to use as a reference book in your home library. Older children can read it alone or it can be read to a younger child in small doses.
PS: My very own MP for my constituency, Diane Abbot, features in this book! (The UK edition). I didn’t realise just how much of a trailblazer she really is!
4. Anansi stories
by various authors
I couldn’t write a piece on books without mentioning Anansi, he’s often depicted as a spider but sometimes he’s a man and he’s the trickster of all trickers in African-Caribbean literature! There are many Anansi stories but one of my favourites is when Anansi tricks and captures the bees, snake and the leopard just so he can gain ownership of all the stories in the land! Behind every story there is a lesson to be learnt, whether it be on trust, respect, being humble or generosity. After reading a short Anansi story most young reader will grasp “the moral of the story”!
5. Title: Dressed In Peace
- Author & illustrator: Ny M Jones
We witness an alien being introduced to characters of many different backgrounds in this book, making it a great way to introduce different cultures/religions to young learners. My son recognised the way a few of the characters are dressed and enjoyed learning about the others that were new to him. Children (and adults too!) might study the colourful illustrations of the people and the various symbols on each page. The reoccurring rhyming phrases in the story really drilled in on the fact that that we all may appear to be different actually we are all the same and indeed we all want love and hugs!
6. Title: Full, Full, Full of Love
- Author: Trish Cooke
- Illustrator: Paul Howard
Yes! Another Trish Cooke book and this is one of my young son's absolute favourite books! It is essentially about all the family gathering together for Sunday lunch at Granny's house. A little boy is with Granny, helping her to prepare for the weekly family ritual. My son especially loves this book because he loves to cuddle in exactly the same position as shown on the front cover! He also enjoys and recognises all the delicious foods mentioned in the story. After reading this with your little ones you will definitely be left feeling warm inside with big smiles on your faces (and possibly hungry too!)
7. Handas Surprise
- Author & Illustrator: Eileen Browne
This is another classic perfect for very young children. Handa sets off on a journey to visit her friend and to surprise her with a selection of delicious tropical fruits. However, upon reaching her destination it’s not only Handa’s friend that gets a big surprise, Handa does too! This story is set in a Kenyan village with glorious illustrations that depict African village life beautifully. Handa’s surprise is followed by another title called “Handa’s Hen which is a delightful counting story!
8. Title: My Friend Jen A Little Different
- Author: Jenica Leah
- Illustrator: Aditya Permana
From the front cover of this book, you might have no idea what it would be about! But as you turn each page you will discovered a little girl who is full of life and smiles and has an amazing friend who really cares about her. For kids aged 5/6 and older, this book will educate them on what sickle cell is and some of the lifestyle adjustments a person with sickle cells needs to make. It’s not a sad book but very bright and uplifting! The author has managed to balance awareness, kindness and hope all into one book! My son (aged 4) didn’t really grasp the sickle cell element to the story but he commented on the amazing friendship between the two characters and the kindness and care displayed from one friend to another! A great book to read!
9. Title: 15 things NOT to do with a baby
- Author: Margaret McAllister
- Illustrator: Holly Sterling
I’m sure there are way more than 15 things - however there are absolutely certain things you should DO with a baby! This story is totally perfect for any child that's about to welcome a new sibling into the family! It's witty and silly and your child/children will love it!
10. Title: Mixed Blessing
- Author: Marsha Cosman
- Illustrator: Kyra Kendall
Here we have a story which aims to celebrate mixed raced relationships and children! Did you know that here in the UK, this is the fastest growing ethnic group in recent years? The author who is from the Caribbean and whom is married to a man from Ireland describes a time where she couldn’t find many books on this subject matter to help her son understand his mixed background; and therefore she wrote one! I found it so innocently cute reading the part about mixing ice cream together to illustrate “mixedraceness”! With simple rhyming sentences and clear, crisp illustrations this story can serve as a perfect introduction to conversations surrounding race to little mixed race children if/when parents see this as necessary.
*Bonus +1 book!*
The Tinga Tinga story Collection
Technically these stories don’t have diverse characters as such (the characters are all from the animal kingdom). However they are set in Africa and I just absolutely love them! Ever wondered why the giraffe has a long neck or why monkeys swing on trees? I’m sure the question of why the chameleon changes colour has crossed your mind at some point too! Well, the stories in the Tings Tinga collection have all the answers to these questions in addition to many more! I guess that we (myself, my son and past pupils) all adore these stories because somewhere deep down we believe that they are quite possibly totally the truth! These picture books feature amazing Tinga Tinga artwork which originates from Tanzania and honestly it’s just so stunning to look at. Highly recommended!
So there you have it, my top 10 plus 1! Have you or your kids read any of these? Share your other recommendations!
Cynthia's love for books especially diverse books is so evident and when I stumbled on her instagram page @welovecolourful_books, I knew I had to get her to share her fave ones with us all. Ethnic diversity and representation is one I'm so keen about and I agree with her how we view and feel about ourselves can greatly be influenced by what we see and read. I remember reading a few books as a kid which referred to blonde hair and blue eyes. But it seemed so vague and far from my actual reality growing up in Nigeria. I'm excited we have more diverse books and I'd definitely be stocking up on most of these. Also a friend recommended the online shop noordinarybookshop.co.uk. Check it out for more diverse books.
We're also excited to be giving away two copies of "Riley can be Anything".
To enter, follow the Instagram page above and leave a comment on this post saying what you wanted to be when you were young, and tell us a bit about the child love to reading to or win this for. Please note we can only ship to the UK - but you may enter from anywhere in the world.
Don't forget to share in the comments other diverse books you love!