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Ciarra Chavarria (@girlsreadtheworld) shares her top diverse and inclusive reads for World Children's Day – celebrating children who take action! The perfect book list to show young people that they have a voice and that their stories matter.
World Children's Day commemorates a day of action for children, by children. And this year, it’s also the 30 year anniversary of the Convention of the Rights of a Child. So we can take the day to appreciate all the amazing kids who are taking action, and who are bringing people together to make the world a better place (think Mari Copeny, Kelvin, Doe, or Melati and Isabel Wijsen, to name only a few!). And we also can stand up for those children who can’t advocate for themselves - because ALL children have a right to education, to healthcare, to family, to a clean world, and a world free of intolerance and injustice.
While there are plenty of ways to celebrate this day, you can always celebrate with a book. And you’re in luck, because I’ve got 10 diverse books to help you do just that. The characters in each of these fantastic books face different kinds of challenges - from loving themselves to dealing with family or economic hardship to facing widespread injustice. But what all of these books have in common is that they show children (and young adults) that no matter what they look like, no matter where they are from or where they live, no matter how much they have or don’t have - they, their voices, and their stories matter.
Not Quite Snow White by Ashley Franklin & Ebony Glenn (ages 4-8)
Tameika knows she is a star. She just is, plain and simple. She was born to perform, to sing, to dance, to be on stage. So when she sees the audition notice for the first grade performance of Snow White, she knows it's meant to be.
But even Tameika's confidence is shaken when she hears other kids suggesting that she's too big, too tall, and too brown to be Snow White. How can she possibly try out for Snow White now? Luckily, she’s got parents who remind her that she’s exactly who she needs to be, and her confidence comes soaring back. *Spoiler alert* She gets the part!
Mira's Curly Hair by Maryam al Serkal & Rebeca Luciani (ages 4-8)
Mira does not like her curly hair. In fact, she tries everything she can to tame it. She just wants straight and smooth and beautiful hair, like her mama. But on a magical rainy day, Mira discovers a secret about her mama that makes her realize that her curly hair might be wonderful after all. The subtle, gorgeous setting of the book in the United Arab Emirates adds to the beauty of this one.
My Footprints by Bao Phi & Basia Tran (ages 6-8)
Thuy hasn’t been having the best time at school. Kids keep making fun of her - for having two moms, for being Vietnamese-American, for being a girl. As she makes her way home one day, she imagines herself as each of the animals whose footprints she encounters. When she finally arrives home, she and her moms imagine what other animal she might be, and they bring to life beautiful creatures to remind Thuy of the strong, kind, magnificent Thuy she already is.
All the Impossible Things by Lindsay Lackey (ages 8+)
Ruby (aka Red) has been in the foster system for a while. Almost three years to be exact. She's literally counting down the days until her mother is released from prison. It isn't easy to pass the time, and it isn't easy to control the power that she has over the wind. And she's just been placed in a new home.
But (thankfully) the Grooves are like no other family she's been with yet. Red's still not convinced that this one is going to be any better than the last, but little by little, she begins to allow herself some hope. She begins to settle in to life with her new, loving foster parents, their petting zoo animals, and a new friend and neighbor, Marcus. But the wind that Red's worked so hard to keep under control finally breaks free, along with news from her mother, and before she knows it, everything's gone sideways. Now it's up to Red to face her fears, find the possible in impossible things, and find a place for her and her magic in the world.
More to the Story by Hena Khan (ages 8+)
This modern retelling of Little Women features Jameela, Aleeza, Bisma and Maryam (Jo, Amy, Beth and Meg - get it?), four Pakistani-American sisters growing up in Georgia. The story is narrated by Jameela, aspiring newspaper reporter and middle sister. Aleeza is the annoying, bossy little sister, Bisma is the quiet soul, and Maryam is the gorgeous oldest sister. Jameela is laser-focused on her journalism, determined to write the most epic newspaper article, but with her father in Abu Dhabi, and Bisma suddenly seriously ill, Jameela realizes there might be more important things in life. More to the Story tracks many of the major plot points of Little Women (father overseas, a little sister who is seriously ill, a cute new boy), but brings it into the present with strong Muslim-American girls at the forefront.
A Place to Belong by Cynthia Kadohata (ages 10+)
Set (mostly) in Japan just after WWI, A Place to Belong is the story of 12-year-old Hanako. Hanako is an American citizen, but her family's Japanese heritage meant that they were placed in internment camps during the war. The war has ended, but Hanako's parents, disillusioned by and frustrated with the country that rejected them, have renounced their citizenship and returned to Japan, a place Hanako has never seen.
As Hanako and her family arrive in Japan, they are horrified by the devastation left by the atomic (and other) bombs, but are grateful to find that her grandparents escaped the worst on their tenant farm outside of Hiroshima. Hanako slowly gets to know her grandparents and struggles to adjust to life in a new country that is itself struggling to adapt to post-war change.
Roll With It by Jamie Sumner (ages 10+)
Ellie’s just moved in with her grandparents. Ellie loves her grandparents, but moving to a trailer park in a brand new town to help her mom take care of her grandpa who has dementia is definitely a challenge. For starters, her new school has no idea how to accommodate a kid like her with cerebral palsy. But for the first time, kids aren’t looking down on her because she’s in a wheelchair. Nope, they’re whispering behind her back because her grandparents live in the trailer park, which is, apparently, not cool. Ellie throws herself into her baking (her passion!) hoping just to get by. But it isn’t long before she makes a friend or two, and she starts to realize that maybe her new life isn’t so bad after all.
With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo (young adult)
Emoni Santiago is over the moon. Her high school is going to be offering a culinary arts class, and there's even a trip to Spain at the end. Cooking is in her blood, in her bones, and she works magic whenever she's in the kitchen - she dreams of making a career out of it. Enrolling in the class isn’t the smooth sailing she envisioned, but even with everything else going on in her life, it’s the start of something big. Author Elizabeth Acevedo takes readers on a lyrical, sensory journey as Emoni navigates and balances her senior year of high school, being a teenager, raising her two-year-old daughter, and following her culinary dreams.
This Time Will Be Different by Misa Sugiura (young adult)
Katsuyamas never quit. That’s what CJ has heard all her life. But the family motto has never quite been her thing. She’s content to help her aunt Hannah in the family flower shop. But when CJ’s mom decides to sell the shop, CJ has to figure out what it is that she really wants. This Time Will Be Different is also loaded with diverse, flawed characters, touches on race, gender, identity and culture, and is infused with the history of the Japanese internment during WWII.
Ciarra Chavarria is a lifelong bookworm and girl power advocate. She channels these passions into her Instagram feed @girlsreadtheworld where she shares her latest girl power book finds. By day, Ciarra is a nonprofit attorney in Manhattan. She lives with her husband and two super cool little girls in New Jersey.