In addition to being a fun activity, reading books also allows children to dive into new experiences without ever leaving home. Access to diverse books is particularly important to children’s development because they either see themselves reflected in the characters or they get a glimpse into life from a different perspective.
Diverse books are important all year long, but we’d like to highlight a few excellent children’s books to celebrate Black History Month.
Stacey’s Extraordinary Words by Stacy Abrams, Illustrations by Kitt Thomas
Stacey loves words, but when she is chosen to compete in the local spelling bee, worries begin to pop up. What if she messes up in front of everyone? Win or lose, Stacey learns that her words are powerful.
This book, written by voting rights advocate Stacey Abrams based on her own childhood, is a wonderful choice to read aloud with kids. Some words in this book can be tricky for young readers.
I Am Smart, I Am Blessed, I Can Do Anything by Alissa Holder and Zulekha Holder-Young, Illustrations by Nneka Myers
A mother and son start off their day with the affirmations in the title. When young Ayaan wakes up on the wrong side of the bed and nothing seems right, his mom and friends help him keep this positive mantra in his head.
Reading this book allows parents and caregivers to share a great tool with young children that children can use when they need courage and reassurance.
C is for Carnival by Yolanda T. Marshall, Illustrations by Yolanda T. Marshall
An engaging ABC picture book, C is for Carnival celebrates and introduces children to Caribbean culture in Canada. From A to Z, this book focuses on the fun and pageantry of Carnival in poetic form.
The vibrant illustrations and carefully-crafted descriptions make reading this book as fun as it is educational.
Viola Desmond Won’t Be Budged by Jody Nyasha Warner, Illustrations by Richard Rudnicki
In 1946 when Viola Desmond was told that she had to move her seat from the main floor to the balcony because of her race, she refused to move to the upstairs area. The police took her to jail and fined her, but her actions inspired others.
While the public might be more familiar with activists like Rosa Parks, Viola Desmond Won’t Be Budged is the perfect book to introduce kids to Canadian civil rights history.
Becoming Vanessa by Vanessa Brantly-Newton
Before Vanessa’s first day of school, she picks out her fanciest outfit hoping her new classmates will notice her and want to be her friend. The attention makes her way too self-conscious, so the next day she picks out something plain. She even wants a shorter name. But her mother helps her find the confidence to show the real Vanessa to her classmates instead..
Becoming Vanessa is the perfect book to share with kids who are nervous about starting a new school or lacking the confidence to be themselves around others.
Wednesday Wilson Gets Down to Business by Bree Galbraith, Illustrations by Morgan Goble
Wednesday is absolutely certain she’d make a great entrepreneur. With help from her best friend, Charlie, and her little brother, she has some potential business ideas. Before she can take action, things go awry thanks to some mean classmates. To fix the mess, Wednesday and her friends need to come up with a new brilliant idea.
The first title in the Wednesday Wilson early chapter book series, Wednesday Wilson Gets Down to Business is a fun story with a relatable main character and a diverse group of characters that young readers will love.
The Cardboard Kingdom by Chad Sell
A group of kids transforms their ordinary suburban neighbourhood into a cardboard kingdom. In this graphic novel collection of short stories, readers follow the neighbourhood kids as they meet and build friendships based on creativity and imagination.
This book is a fun, positive read for elementary kids that gently introduces them to more serious topics without losing its magical touch.
Dragons in a Bag by Zetta Elliot
Jax thinks that he is going to spend the day with his grandmother, but it turns out the old lady is actually a witch. She needs his help to keep baby dragons safe, but he and his friends run into more trouble than expected.
Elementary-age kids who love fantasy will be entranced by the first book in this delightful series written by Black author Zetta Elliott.
The Magnificent Makers by Theanne Griffith, Illustrated by Reggie Brown
Best friends Violet and Pablo love science, so finding a magical portal in the Science Space at school is bound to lead to adventure. In the magical makerspace, the friends along with their classmate Deepak discover a laboratory that leads to new learning and discovery.
The Magnificent Makers series is basically a modern-day Magic School Bus in chapter book form. Elementary-age kids will devour these fun books and learn about science along the way.
Just Right Jillian by Nicole D. Collier
Jillian is a smart, creative 5th grader, but she doesn’t like to draw attention to herself. She won’t even speak up to give the right answer in class. But when she loses a classroom competition, she’s ready to learn to speak up for herself and show everyone who she is.
Full of loveable characters, Just Right Jillian is the perfect book for elementary and early middle school kids who need a little encouragement to allow their true selves to shine. It’s also a great book for outgoing kids who may not understand why some of their classmates seem so shy.
Maya and the Robot by Eve L. Ewing, Illustrations by Christine Almeda
The idea of starting 5th grade makes Maya nervous because for the first time, she won’t be in the same class as her best friends. As she works to be herself without her best friends, she comes across Ralph the robot, and begins to trust in herself as she uses her knowledge about science and technology to fix Ralph.
This funny, heart-warming book is a great read for elementary and early middle school kids who love science and technology.
The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste
Corinne is certain that she isn’t afraid of anything, including jumbies. Jumbies are just tales parents tell to scare their kids. But, when she ends up in the forbidden forest at night, it’s hard to remain sure that the glowing yellow eyes that follow her are perfectly normal. When a stranger shows up at the market the next day, Corinne and her friends will have to summon all their courage to save their community.
Based on Caribbean folklore, The Jumbies is the first in a series of page-turning fantasy books that will keep readers captivated until the very end.
Kingston and the Magician’s Lost and Found by Trucker Moses and Theo Gangi
Kingston’s father is one of the world’s greatest magicians. When his father vanishes one day, all the magic in Echo City disappears with him. With help from his cousin and his childhood friend, it’s up to Kingston to find his father and restore the city’s magic before Kingston goes missing, too.
Middle-grade readers will love following this relatable narrator on his adventures though an imaginative, magical world.
The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
Josh and his twin brother Jordan are unstoppable on the basketball court. Off the court, Josh has to deal with the difficulties of turning 13 and the strain of growing up. He turns to what he knows best and uses what he’s learned from basketball to tell his story in poetic form.
Middle-school boys, especially those who love sports, will devour this book and proceed to read everything else written by author Kwame Alexander. However, even kids who aren’t into sports will relate to the narrator’s challenges of transitioning from child to teenager.
Reading diverse books is a fun, engaging way to introduce children to perspectives that they may not come across otherwise. Right now, the number of diverse children’s books being published each year is rising, but the change is happening at a very slow pace.
If you’re interested in finding more diverse children’s books, here are a few good sources to explore.
- Social Justice & Diversity Book Bank by The Canadian Children’s Book Centre
- 28 Days Later Initiative by The Brown Bookshelf
- Ainara’s Bookshelf, an Instagram account featuring diverse books run by 12-year-old Ainara with a little help from her dad