While it’s important for our kids to learn about different cultures and ethnicities, it’s also important for our kids to see what makes us all the same. In our library, we try to have books that use diverse characters in whatever story is being told, not just as supporting players, but as the heroes too.

This week for Reading Wednesday, I asked media specialist Lauren Bercuson of Happily Ever Elephants to put together a list of books with diverse main characters. There were so many great ones, which span a whole variety of topics, that we decided to split the list into Part 1 and Part 2.

Keep and eye out for the second list in a few weeks!

1) Kitchen Dance

By Maurie J. Manning

When a little girl wakes up during the night, she hears mysterious noises coming from the kitchen. She wakes her brother, and when the two creep downstairs, they find their parents dancing and singing as they clean the kitchen: “Como te quiero! Oh, how I love you!” The parents envelop the children into hugs and they all dance together, until the weary children are lulled back to sleep with a lullaby. A true gem!

2) Thank You, Omu!

By Oge Mora

In this beautiful debut, certain to become a classic, Omu makes a delicious red stew and its delectable scent travels all over the neighborhood. As one neighbor after another visits Omu to ask for a bowl of stew, Omu generously shares with all. But when she goes to make her own dinner, she realizes there is none left for her! Whatever will she do? A gorgeous story founded in Nigerian culture, highlighting generosity, selflessness and paying it forward. I am head over heels in love.

3) I Am Famous

By Tara Luebbe and Becky Cattie and illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff

Kiely has no doubt that she is unbelievably famous. Why? Because the adoring paparazzi follow her wherever she goes! And just who are the paparazzi? Kiely’s family, of course, documenting her every move with their cameras. This clever book will have kids in stitches while also reminding parents to put down their phones and be present with their children.

4) Monster Trouble!

By Lane Fredrickson and illustrated by Michael Robertson

Poor Winifred Schnitzel can’t seem to get rid of the neighborhood monsters that creep into her room at night and desperately try to scare the daylights out of her. Can she make them go away with a kiss? Fun rhymes and goofy illustrations make this a silly – not scary – monster book guaranteed to delight all children!

5) Mommy’s Khimar

By Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow and illustrated by Ebony Glenn

This is a quiet beauty about a young Muslim girl who plays dress-up in her mother’s colorful headscarf. It is a gorgeous and oh-so-important mirror book for Muslim children and a wonderful window book for others, especially as it so elegantly challenges Islamaphobia. Mommy’s Khimar exudes warmth, love and tenderness, and it is a relatable story for so many kids.

6) The Big Bed

By Bunmi Laditan and illustrated by Tom Knight

A young girl has no interest in sleeping in her own room (*ahem* nope, can’t relate to that one at all!) and wants only to sleep in her parents’ room in bed with her mom. So what does the girl do? She gifts her dad a camping cot and attempts to convince him that he should sleep there instead of his actual bed where he belongs. I love the way this books helps kids learn to frame an argument and explain their positions!

7) What If…

By Samantha Berger and illustrated by Mike Curato

This beautifully illustrated book celebrates the power of imagination and one child’s determination to express herself in any way she can, be it through song, dance, drawing or building. This magical story provides a stunning exploration of the power of creativity and perseverance.

8) Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut

By Derrick Barnes and illustrated by Gordon C. James

Crown blew me away on the first read through, with its striking illustrations, its fabulous pacing, and its breathtakingly phenomenal voice.  From the very first sentence, Barnes transports his readers right into barbershop culture through vivid details that come to life with brilliant authenticity. It is a celebration of self-confidence and self-worth, a beautiful window into one boy’s transformation that enables him to feel recognized and powerful.  The voice, the word choice, the rhythm – it is all astonishingly perfect.

9) Alfie: The Turtle That Disappeared

By Thrya Heder

Nia loves her pet turtle, but sometimes she grows frustrated. After all, he can’t talk or do any tricks. But on the night before her birthday, Nia discovers Alfie has gone missing. Did he run away? This innovative book switches perspective mid-way through to show readers how Alfie the turtle didn’t run away at all. Instead, he’s searching for Nia’s perfect birthday present! A fabulous and fun look at point of view.

10) Jabari Jumps

By Gaia Cornwall

Jabari is quite excited to jump off the diving board at the city pool – if, of course, he can first conquer his fears. In her debut, Cornwall created lovable, memorable characters in both Jabari and his compassionate father who together make a perfect pair. Couple the gentle story with mixed-media illustrations that both complement and accentuate Jabari’s fear and joy, and you’ve got a winning picture book to add to both school and home collections.

11) Imagine!

By Raul Colon

This exquisite wordless picture book depicts one boy’s first experience at the Museum of Modern Art and his discovery of some of the world’s greatest artists, including Picasso, Rousseau and Matisse. While pondering a painting, the characters in the painting come alive, break free from the canvases, and join the boy through an exhilarating jaunt around Manhattan.

12) Mary Had a Little Glam

By Tammi Sauer and illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton

In this twist on the Mother Goose poem, Mary is a style maven who helps other nursery rhyme characters get their glam on. But will they be too dressed up for recess? A total hoot, especially for your budding fashionistas!

13) I Am Enough

By Grace Byers and illustrated by Keturah A. Bobo

This is a lovely poem about finding your inner beauty, respecting yourself and treating others with kindness. If you are looking to teach your kids about self worth and confidence, this lyrical book is the perfect tool!

14) Drawn Together

By Minh Le and illustrated by Dan Santat

A young boy visits his grandfather, only to find a giant chasm between them as they do not speak the same language. But then the two sit down to draw, and that’s when magic happens. Drawn Together is a testament to the power of art to transcend words, and this stunning book perfectly encapsulates that bonds can be found and formed even when we may not share the same language.

15) The Word Collector

By Peter H. Reynolds

Jerome discovers something amazing – words contain magic! Big words, small words, short words, sweet words. No matter their size or shape, words carry so much significance- not just to create change, but also to empower. When we share our words with the world, our impact can be magnificent!

16) Harriet Gets Carried Away

By Jessie Sima

Harriet loves playing dress up! As she and her dads decorate for her super special costume party, they realize they’ve forgotten the super special party hats. So Harriet, dressed up in her penguin costume, goes on in adventure in search for hats. What she finds instead is a flock of real penguins – and they may just whisk her away. Is Harriet prepared for the arctic, or will she find her way back to her dads?

17) Julián Is a Mermaid

By Jessica Love

Julian, a young boy, is dazzled while riding the subway – he sees three women dressed up as beautiful mermaids. He can think of nothing better than dressing up just like them, with his own tail and a magical headdress, so he attempts to do just that. But what will Abuela think about the way Julian sees himself?

18) Ada Twist, Scientist

By Andrea Beaty and Illustrated by David Roberts

Curious Ada has a head full of questions, questions, and more questions! When she is tinkering at home one day, she sniffs something awful. What is that horrible smell? Ada must get to the bottom of the problem, and by utilizing the scientific method, she may discover her answers.

19) I Walk with Vanessa: A Story About a Simple Act of Kindness

By Kerascoet

A stunning, wordless exploration of the harmful act of bullying, and how one simple act of kindness by an upstander can be a change agent for the entire community. I absolutely love letting children ponder these pictures and tell their own stories. The “plots” they come up with are intriguing and insightful – and their words will give you such a significant glimpse into their minds and hearts.

20) Green Pants

By Kenneth Kraegel

So many of our children are attached to an object – be it a lovey, a stuffed animal, or a favorite article of clothing. In this sweet story, Jameson is attached to his green pants! But he has a decision to make: if he wants to be in his cousin’s wedding, he must wear black pants instead. Will he find a way to make his family happy while also staying true to himself?


Lauren Bercuson shares children’s literature reviews and other bookish fun on Instagram @happily.ever.elephants, on Facebook, on Twitter @KidLitLauren and on her blog Happily Ever Elephants.