Top 5: Multicultural Children’s Books

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Hello, everyone! Welcome to our first Top 5 list of the new year! If you didn’t know, this past Friday, January 27th, was Multicultural Children’s Book Day, a day in which parents, educators, and children were encouraged to #ReadYourWorld, exploring kidlit that highlights different cultures and diversity in general. We wrote a post about it on our Facebook page (which can be read here), but I feel like this wonderful graphic by David Huyck sums it up well:

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Yup, more children’s books published in 2015 had animals or inanimate objects as protagonists than black, Asian, Latinx or First Nations protagonists.

Anyone who reads our reviews knows that The Baby Bookworm advocates for diversity in children’s literature. It raises better-educated, more tolerant young people, and helps children who belong to minorities of race, religion, gender, culture, disability, appearance and/or orientation feel represented and a valuable part of the world they live in, which every child has a right to. So, in the spirit of Multicultural Children’s Book Day, and reading diverse books to children year-round, here are The Baby Bookworm’s Top 5 Multicultural Children’s Books:

1. Rice & Rocks (Sandra L. Richards)

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One of my absolute favorite concepts for a book about cultural unity ever. Tying together Jamaican, Japanese, Puerto Rican and New Orlean cultures through their shared use of rice and beans (“rice & rocks”) in their cuisine, it shows children that even vastly different cultures can have similarities. The magical journey that Giovanni and his Auntie take with his magical bird Jasper is one that inspires the imagination while educating children that our differences are not always so great, that cuisine can be an important part of our cultures, and that great food will always bring people together.

2. Thunder Boy Jr. (Sherman Alexie)

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A wonderful book about a little boy and and his relationship with his father, with a deeply meaningful subtext about cultural identity and honoring tradition while still growing into an individual. Native American characters are represented authentically (Alexie is Spokane-Coeur d’Alene), never becoming a stereotype or caricature, and instead telling the story of a family and a culture with heart and delicate grace. Add in some stunningly gorgeous art, and this is a wonderful book about a woefully unrepresented culture that can be enjoyed again and again.

3. 14 Cows For America (Carmen Agra Deedy)

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Yes, we’ve featured this book in a list before, but it absolutely deserves to be included here (and it’s no secret that it’s one of our favorites). This is deeply affecting story of a young Maasai man who, while studying abroad in America, returns to his home and tells the story of the September 11th attacks to his people. What follows is a remarkable gesture of solidarity and friendship to a nation shattered by grief. Based on the true experience of Wilson Kimeli Naiyomah, this touching story is also notable for it’s exploration of the Maasai, their culture, and their values. Features the jaw-droppingly gorgeous art of Thomas Gonzales, this is a wonderful tale of cultural unity, and how no true kindness is ever too small.

4. The Wheels On The Tuk Tuk (Kabir Sehgal & Surishtha Sehgal)

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This was one of the most fun reviews we’ve ever done. Taking “The Wheels On The Bus” and re-writing it to reflect Indian culture, cuisine, and traditions, The Wheels On The Tuk Tuk takes the reader on a rollicking ride through an Indian street scene that features explosively colorful and adorable art, introducing (or re-introducing) the reader to yogis, sacred cows, poppadoms, chai, rupees, Diwali, and much more. It’s wonderfully easy to sing along to (JJ laughed maniacally as I bounced her on my knee and sang the text), and even includes a comprehensive glossary in the back of the book to explain each element it depicts. It’s a fantastically fun and educational ride.

5. Ten Little Fingers And Ten Little Toes (Mem Fox & Helen Oxenbury)

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Told in rhyme, the precious art of Helen Oxenbury and peacefully sweet text of Mem Fox introduces us to babies of a great many different cultures, shapes, and sizes, each born with ten little fingers and ten little toes. It’s a fabulous book for even the youngest of bookworms, and reinforces a classic message: though we may all be wonderfully different, we all start out just the same; small, curious, full of wonder, and free from hate.

There we are, friends! Our Top 5 Multicultural Children’s Books! Did we leave any out? What are some of your favorite multicultural book for children? Do you plan on sharing any of these books with your kids? Let us know in the comments, or message us from the contact page, we’d love to hear from you! Thanks so much for joining us, now go and #ReadYourWorld!

People (Peter Spier)


Hello, friends! In honor of Multicultural Children’s Book Day, we read People by Peter Spier, a stunningly illustrated exploration of worldwide cultures.

There are a great many people that share our earth, billions to be exact. And those billions of people come in all shapes and sizes, colors, cultures, religions, and more. People eat different foods, they celebrate different holidays, they speak different languages. All of these things are beautiful, unique, and part of what makes our diverse, multicultural world wonderful.

Visually, this is a stunning book. Spier’s detailed, intricate illustrations are endlessly fascinating, and you could spend an hour picking out the fine details included on every page. Plus, the core message, that diversity is one of the great and precious elements of our world, is important and treated with earnest reverence. But in a book published nearly 40 years ago, there are some cringe-worthy bits (outdated statistics, Inuits referred to as “Eskimos,” a depiction of Black Peter, to name a few). It’s also an overtly honest book, discussing death, inequity of power, poverty, and other realities of life, a fact that can be viewed positively or negatively based on your preference. It even features a bit of nudity in a title page that depicts a tiny Adam and Eve (just their bare tushies, but still).

I’ve heard that in later editions, some updates to the text were made, but I cannot speak to them (we read the original 1980 copy). Overall, this is a gorgeous book that means well, but shows its age. JJ really enjoyed it, too, so I’m torn. I would say give this one a read first (the updated version would likely be preferable), and see if it’s right for your child. But for its art and overall message, we’ll call this Baby Bookworm approved (with an asterisk).

The Name Jar (Yangsook Choi)


Hello, friends! Happy MLK Day! In honor of Dr. King, we took the Read Your World pledge to read a children’s book about diversity today, and we chose The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi. This is a lovely story about a little girl who, after emigrating from Korea, considers taking an “American” name.

When Unhei moves from Korea to New York City, she is nervous for many reasons. Everything in America is different, even the names. When some older children on the bus tease her over her name, she decides that she might like a different one, and tells her new class that she will decide her name by the week’s end. To her surprise, her new classmates support her and provide her with a jar full of suggestions. Unhei begins to feel more welcome, and enjoys going through the names, but none of them feel quite right. Will Unhei decide to take an American name, or will she have the courage to keep the name she feels is hers?

This was a great book about cultural identity and how many kids can feel peer pressure to abandon theirs for the comfort of “fitting in.” I LOVED that Unhei’s classmates immediately supported her decision both ways: when she wanted to change her name AND when she decided to keep it. Plus, it was a great way to subtly introduce the real practice of immigrants adopting anglophone names, and the emotional conflict it can bring (I went to a high school that was around 50% Asian & Pacific Islander, and many of my friends had two names). It’s a complex subject that can spur thoughtful conversations about how our names, our cultures, and our personal identities can often be interconnected.

In addition, the illustrations are great and suit the story very well. This book is a bit long for baby bookworms (JJ was starting to get antsy), but it’s a great one for older kids and we recommend it. Baby Bookworm approved!