A few weeks ago, I asked media specialist Lauren Bercuson of Happily Ever Elephants to put together a list of books with diverse main characters for Reading Wednesday. She said that her list of books was so long, she wanted to split it into two posts. You can read Part One of the list here.

I also want to say that having a selection of books about diversity, as well as books featuring a broad range of main characters from different backgrounds, is something that is highly encouraged at Mazzy and Harlow’s school. One of the first things that students do in kindergarten is mix paint to their skin color and give their color a unique name. In Harlow’s grade, parents are allowed to spend the first 15 minutes with their child in class and Harlow will often have me spend that time reading to her from one of the books in the class library. I’ve found that she really gravitates towards books that are either about diversity or about important people in black history. Partly because, I’m guessing, those are the books the teacher is reading to the class. In a culture where so many parents, even well-meaning ones, struggle to figure out how to approach topics of race with their kids, I think books make it very easy to start to the conversation and give us helpful talking points.

20 More Children’s Books with Diverse Characters

1) Carmela Full of Wishes

By Matt De La Pena and illustrated by Christian Robinson

This beautiful story, a testament to the power of wishes and an ode to underrepresented children around the country, is another stunner from the duo who brought us Last Stop on Market Street. It poignantly showcases a sibling relationship and one girl’s hurry to grow up, while at the same time relishing in everyday magic that is seen only through the most innocent eyes.

2) My Hair is a Garden

By Cozbi A. Cabrera

In this exquisite book, Mackenzie is frustrated because she is continually made fun of for her natural black hair. She seeks comfort from her neighbor, Miss Tillie, who, using the backyard garden as a metaphor, tells her how to maintain and care for her hair with love.

3) The Princess and the Pea

By Rachel Isadora

Isadora gives this classic fairy tale an innovative African twist! This is an awesome retelling of the traditional princess and the pea story about a prince looking for his true princess and the queen’s placement of a single pea underneath many mattresses. The wonderful artwork makes this rendition a winner.

4) Little Red and the Very Hungry Lion

By Alex T. Smith

This is another fractured fairy tale set in Africa, a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood that replaces the big bad wolf with a big bad lion. But in this story, Little Red is much too savvy for the lion, outsmarting him every step of the way!

5) We are Grateful: Otsaliheliga

By Traci Sorrell and illustrated by Frane Lessac

Otsaliheliga is a word used by members of the Cherokee Nation to express gratitude. This is a gorgeous “own voices” book that follows a year of holidays and celebrations of one group of Native Americans, and we simply love the way it honors everything from the animals to the land to the water.

6) Dreamers

By Yuyi Morales

This is an exquisitely crafted and collaged book about immigrants and the way in which words and stories changed the lives of a mother and her son upon arriving to the United States. It is a beautiful and poignant testament to the power of libraries, the magic of books, and the enormous promise that lies within the pages of every piece of literature.

7) The Snowy Day

By Ezra Jack Keats

In this classic, a young boy wakes up to discover snow has fallen during the night. He goes outside to fully experience the first snowfall of winter, and as he plays, his eyes open to the wonder and possibility of the new world at his fingertips, for everything changes when draped in a blanket of soft white.

8) Have you Seen Elephant?

By David Barrow

Elephant wants to play hide and seek, and he warns his sweet friend that he is really, really good at the game. This book will have you and your little ones in fits of giggles as the pictures totally contradict the text– the boy is truly astounded that he can’t find the elephant, yet the reader can see that the elephant is hiding in plain sight. A simple, fun read with beautiful illustrations that will give all of your family a laugh!

9) Dear Dragon: A Pen Pal Tale

By Josh Funk and Rodolfo Montalvo

Georgie and Blaise are pen pals, and they write to each other about everything under the sun. The two get along so well that they cannot wait to meet in person. But when they do finally meet, each is very different than the other anticipated. Why? Because Georgie is a person, and Blaise is a dragon! We love this story about looking beyond differences to appreciate what lies inside each of us.

10) My Pet Wants a Pet

By Elise Broach and illustrated by Eric Barclay

One little boy begs his mom for a puppy – so much so, that she finally gives in. Oh, how he loves caring for his new animal! It doesn’t take long though, before he realizes that the puppy wants something to care for too. So the puppy gets a pet cat… but then the puppy realizes that his cat wants something to care for too. What happens when the pet wants a pet wants a pet wants a pet? This one had us giggling for days!

11) Maybe Something Beautiful

By F. Isabel Campoy and Theresa Howell

This book tells the story of young Mira, a girl who believes that just a little splash of color can make a big, big difference in her otherwise dreary community.  Based on the true story of the Urban Art Trail in San Diego, Mira shows us how even kids can accomplish great things – including transformation.

12) A Big Mooncake for Little Star

By Grace Lin

In this whimsical book, Little Star mama bakes her a big, beautiful Mooncake. It looks so delicious, in fact, that Little Star simply cannot resist a nibble! This wonderful book, a modern day myth, tells an enchanting — and totally delightful — story about the different phases of the moon.

13) A Different Pond

By Bao Phi and illustrated by Thi Bui

This was a 2018 Caldecott Honor Book, one brimming with hope, tradition and authenticity. Bao tells the story of going to fish early in the morning with his father, but the fishing was for food, not fun, and they had to get home quickly so Bao’s father could subsequently rush to work. This tale of an immigrant family beautifully weaves together a father’s life in Vietnam and a son’s role as the youngest child in a family of refugees.

14) Hey Wall: A Story of Art and Community

By Susan Verde and illustrated by John Parra

This is the story of one creative young boy who is increasingly frustrated at an abandoned wall in his neighborhood, finding it not just bleak, but a poor reflection of the happiness and joy bubbling from within the towns’ homes and buildings. So the boy sets out to make a change, and with the help of family and neighbors, he uses art to transform the community.

15) My Heart Fills With Happiness

By Monique Gray Smith and illustrated by Julie Flett

Without explicitly stating it, this gorgeous book celebrates and supports the wellness of indigenous children. It honors those special moments that fill our hearts with joy and encourages children to always remember those things that make them happy.

16) The Very Last Castle

By Travis Jonker and illustrated by Mark Pett

We simply love the way this book challenges the preconceived notions of an entire community – all, that is, but one small, curious girl! This is a fabulous story in which a child overcomes fear of the unknown lurking within an old castle. In the process, she discovers her inner courage, makes a new friend, and creates a big change right within her community.

17) When’s My Birthday?

By Julie Fogliano and illustrated by Christian Robinson

In this exuberant book, one child eagerly awaits her birthday, counting down the days, dreaming of presents she would love, and thinking of every tiny thing that will make her birthday the very best one yet. This is such a winner, and we are always captivated by its lyrical prose and gorgeous illustrations!

18) The Field

By Baptiste Paul and illustrated by Jacqueline Alcántara

A group of children assemble on a field and get ready for a game of soccer. They have their bol (ball), soulye (shoes) and goal (goal), and just like that, they are off! Paul weaves Creole words into the narrative, and the story buzzes with energy, from the vibrant illustrations to the fast paced game, reminding us that we can weather all challenges, no matter how daunting they may seem.

19) Thank You, Omu!

By Oge Mora

Everyone in the neighborhood follows the delicious scent of stew to Omu’s doorstep, where Omu (meaning “queen” in the Igbo language of the author’s parents) dishes her meal out with love. But when it comes time for Omu to sit down to eat her own dinner, she realizes she left no stew for herself! This is a gorgeous, timeless story of generosity and community.

20) I am Human: A Book of Empathy

By Susan Verde and illustrated by Peter Reynolds

This is the most beautiful book to remind us that we are all human, all works in progress. Sometimes we make mistakes, sometimes we even hurt others — but we can always improve and better ourselves through good choices, thoughtfulness and kind actions.

If you’d like to find out about twenty more books featuring diverse main characters, go to Part One of the list.


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.