Many school districts across the country are temporarily closed in attempts to slow the spread of COVID-19. As a result, many caretakers of children are having to juggle concerns about employment, healthcare, and childcare. Quickly propelled into supplementing, or in some cases replacing, their children’s education for the foreseeable future, parents and guardians are turning to sources of entertainment and education that can enrich their children’s days. While virtual learning is a tool many are implementing, the picture book is an aspect of childhood that has not yet been abandoned. In fact picture books are an evolving and important resource for families with young children as they provide colorful and succinct lessons about navigating the world for the first time.

But the contents of these books must be as diverse as the people in our world’s communities, otherwise the picture we receive as children will be flat and narrow. The following alphabetical list of picture books shines a spotlight on characters, authors, and illustrators of color that provide important and engaging lessons for children of all backgrounds to familiarize themselves with and grow from.


A Shelter in Our Car Written by Monica Gunning, Illustrated by Elaine Pedlar

Recommended for ages 5+

“Zettie and her Mama left their warm and comfortable home in Jamaica for an uncertain life in the United States. With Papa gone, Mama can’t find a steady job that will sustain them and so they are forced to live in their car. But Mama’s unwavering love, support, and gutsy determination give Zettie the confidence that, together, she and her mother can meet all challenges… Monica Gunning’s moving and authentic story about homelessness in an American city was developed with the help of the Homeless Children’s Network in San Francisco. Elaine Pedlar’s strong and lively illustrations bring the story to life in vibrant chalk pastel.”


Amarys & Indigo series Written by Amira Shea, Illustrated by Sandee Chica

Recommended for ages 3 to 6

“Amarys and her brother Indigo are 4 years old. They play, learn, and have adventures at home and around the Island that they live on. They are very good children, except when they’re not!”


Catching the Moon: The Story of a Young Girl’s Baseball Dream Written by Crystal Hubbard, Illustrated by Randy DuBurke

Recommended for ages 6 to 9

“Full of warmth and youthful energy, Catching the Moon is the story of the girl who grew up to become the first woman to play for an all-male professional baseball team. Readers everywhere will be inspired by her courage to dream and determination to succeed.”


Charlotte and the Quiet Place Written by Deborah Sosin, Illustrated by Sarah Woolley

Recommended for ages 3 to 7

“Sometimes children need a break from our noisy, overstimulating world. Charlotte and the Quiet Place shows how a child discovers mindful breathing and experiences the beauty of silence. Children will relate to the unfolding adventure and message of self-discovery and empowerment. Parents, teachers, and caretakers of highly active or sensitive children will find this story especially useful.”


City Shapes Written by Diana Murray, Illustrated by Bryan Collier

Recommended for ages 4 to 7

“Far more than a simple concept book, City Shapes is an explosion of life. Diana Murray’s richly crafted yet playful verse encourages readers to discover shapes in the most surprising places, and Bryan Collier’s dynamic collages add even more layers to each scene in this ode to city living.”


Cora Cooks Pancit Written by Dorina K. Lazo Gilmore, Illustrated by Kristi Valiant

Recommended for ages 5 to 7

“Dorina Lazo Gilmore’s text delightfully captures the warmth between mother and daughter as they share a piece of their Filipino heritage. With bright and charming illustrations by Kristi Valiant, Cora’s family comes alive as Cora herself becomes the family’s newest little chef.” (Recipe included!)


Dalia’s Wondrous Hair / El cabello maravilloso de Dalia Written & Illustrated by Laura Lacamara

Recommended for ages 3 to 7

““By the time the rooster crowed, Dalia’s hair had grown straight up to the sky, tall and thick as a Cuban royal palm tree.” Dalia’s mother gasped and wondered what her clever daughter would do with her unruly hair…Bonus features include a guide to creating a butterfly garden, as well as a bilingual glossary of select plant and animal species native to the island of Cuba.”


DeShawn Days Written by Tony Medina, Illustrated by R. Gregory Christie

Recommended for ages 6 to 12

“Readers from all backgrounds will be charmed by this upbeat, compassionate, and creative young boy… In his first children’s book, author Tony Medina draws from his experiences growing up in the projects to create this dynamic character. Award-winning artist R. Gregory Christie beautifully captures the emotion, humor, and strength of the story through his powerful illustrations. An afterword from the author expands on his connection to the story and explains how he was inspired to become a writer.”


Every Little Thing Based on Bob Marley’s song ‘Three Little Birds’, Adapted by Cedella Marley, Illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton

Recommended for ages 3 to 6

“Bob Marley’s songs are known the world over for their powerful message of love, peace, and harmony. Now a whole new generation can discover one of his most joyous songs in this reassuring picture book adaptation written by his daughter Cedella and exuberantly illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton. This upbeat story reminds children that the sun will always come out after the rain and mistakes are easily forgiven with a hug.”


Giving Thanks: A Native American Good Morning Message Written by Chief Jake Swamp, Illustrated by Erwin Printup

Recommended for ages 5 to 12

“For as long as anyone can remember, Mohawk parents have taught their children to start each day by giving thanks to Mother Earth. Also known as the Thanksgiving Address, this good morning message is based on the belief that the natural world is a precious and rare gift. The whole universe — from the highest stars to the tiniest blade of grass — is addressed as one great family… Now readers of all ages can share in this tribute to the environment, adapted especially for children by Chief Jake Swamp, whose efforts to share this vision of thanksgiving take him all over the world.”


How Far Do I Love You Written & Illustrated by Lulu Delacre

Recommended for ages 5 to 8

“Based on a bedtime game author/illustrator Lulu Delacre played with her young daughters, How Far Do You Love Me? is an “I love you” book with a twist… With every expression of love, readers visit one of thirteen different locations around the world, each a beautifully illustrated scene of adults and children in a place of natural beauty..”


Kamik’s First Sled Writer Matilda Sulurayok, Illustrator Qin Leng

Recommended for ages 4 to 9

“Matilda Sulurayok is an elder who resides in Arviat, Nunavut. She was born and raised on the land near Chesterfield Inlet, Nunavut. She was raised by her parents and her grandmother, and she remembers much of what her grandmother taught her. Matilda’s family lived a traditional life and raised several sled dogs. Kamik’s First Sled is the first book to be based on Matilda’s memories of traditional dog rearing”


Last Stop on Market Street Written by Matt de la Peña, Illustrated by Christian Robinson

Recommended for ages 5 to 7

“Every Sunday after church, CJ and his grandma ride the bus across town. But today, CJ wonders why they don’t own a car like his friend Colby. Why doesn’t he have an iPod like the boys on the bus? How come they always have to get off in the dirty part of town? Each question is met with an encouraging answer from grandma, who helps him see the beauty — and fun — in their routine and the world around them.”


Little Melba and Her Big Trombone Written by Katheryn Russell-Brown, Illustrated by Frank Morrison

Recommended for ages 6 to 11

“Brimming with ebullience and the joy of making music, Little Melba and Her Big Trombone is a fitting tribute to a trailblazing musician and a great unsung hero of jazz.”


My Name is Yoon Written by Helen Recorvitz, Illustrated by Gabi Swiatkowska

Recommended for ages 4 to 8

“Yoon’s name means “shining wisdom,” and when she writes it in Korean, it looks happy, like dancing figures. But her father tells her that she must learn to write it in English. In English, all the lines and circles stand alone, which is just how Yoon feels in the United States. Yoon isn’t sure that she wants to be YOON. At her new school, she tries out different names — maybe CAT or BIRD. Maybe CUPCAKE!”


Peeny Butter Fudge Written by Toni Morrison, Illustrated by Joe Cepeda

Recommended for ages 4 to 8

“Nana and the kids make a batch of peeny butter fudge, a secret family recipe. Mother returns and sees the huge mess that Nana and the kids made. However, before she can begin to reprimand, she catches a whiff of the delicious peeny butter fudge and remembers making it herself as a child. Want to make peeny butter fudge? There is a recipe in the back of the book!”


Seeds of Change: Planting a Path to Peace Written by Jen Johnson, Illustrated by Sonia Sadler

Recommended for ages 6 to 12

“Seeds of Change: Planting a Path to Peace brings to life the empowering story of Wangari Maathai, the first African woman, and environmentalist, to win a Nobel Peace Prize. Engaging narrative and vibrant images paint a robust portrait of this inspiring champion of the land and of women’s rights.”


TuTu Goes Green, Written by Tulani Thomas, Illustrated by Seitu Hayden

Recommended for ages 5 to 7.

“TuTu cares about many things. She cares about her family and her friends. TuTu also cares about the earth. That is why TuTu lives a green life. She wants to take care of the earth.”


Up Home, Written by Shauntay Grant, Illustrated by Susan Tooke

Recommended for ages 8 to 12.

“Short, staccato lines, musicality and the use of real, spoken language, and Susan Tooke’s breathtaking illustrations using real models from the community, combine in a sensory experience that is sure to wow readers of all ages. Grant’s memories of growing up reflect a magical place where landscape, food, history and, most of all, people come together in a community filled with love and beauty. A powerful story with positive images of one of Nova Scotia’s most important black communities.”


Visiting Feelings, Written by Lauren Rubenstein, Illustrated by Shelly Hehenberger

Recommended for ages 4 to 8

“Beautifully descriptive prose and delightful illustrations cultivate a message of mindfulness and emotional awareness to help children fully experience the present moment… Includes a ‘Note to Parents’ to provide more information about emotional awareness, and suggests ways to seamlessly incorporate mindfulness practices into your child and family’s daily routines.”


What Should I Make? Written by Nandini Nayar, Illustrated by Proiti Roy

Recommended for ages 3 to 7

“Neeraj’s mother is making chapatis and she’s given him a handful of the dough. What should he make with it? A snake? A mouse? A cat? But what if his creations come to life?… What Should I Make? is a playful story about a child’s imagination and the satisfaction that comes from cooking with his mother.”


Aside from supporting books with characters of color, it is also important to support authors and illustrators of color who are telling a wide variety of stories. In addition, remember to support equitable publishers! An example is Lee & Low Books, the largest multicultural children’s book publisher in the US. They are a minority-owned, independent, generational publishing company that seeks to publish contemporary diverse stories for all children. Many of the books in this article were published by Lee & Low Books and are featured on their website, along with stacks of other wonderful engaging books.

Diversity in picture books are important, because these books not only introduce children to different topics and lives that they might not be familiar with, but they can also reflect experiences that kids from marginalized backgrounds may not see in many places. It is important to teach kids that the world is big and beautiful, in different ways. It is not that we are all the same, but rather that we may have differences and those differences must be respected! These books offer more than just representation; they are imbued with lessons that marginalized kids are forced to learn before kids who may come from backgrounds with more access and privilege. Lessons about this diverse world are necessary for all children to learn, especially if we want to help create a more empathetic, compassionate, and caring generation and future.

Spun

Spun J is a fourth year at UCLA in the Gender Studies program and one of three work studies at UCLA Extension’s Writers’ Program. They enjoy engaging with art, being in the sun, and making broth.

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