Looking for children’s books that tell a non-standard narrative
July 27, 2015 1:23 PM   Subscribe

I’m ordering 300ish books for a children’s library. After reading this thread asking for books featuring feminist-anti-racist-queer-ally characters I realised that our collection is full of books focusing on straight, white (usually male) youth in nuclear families and it’s seriously lacking. Can you folks recommend any books to help me improve our collection?

I’ve already taken note of the great suggestions in that thread. I’d like to open up the question a little more. We mostly serve kids from 2 to 15 years old so I’m looking for picture books/kidlit and YA literature.

Here are some books I’d like to add to our collection – books with:

- LGBT (or QUILTBAG) youth as main characters, LGBT (or QUILTBAG) family members and/or parents
- Youth of colour
- Interracial couples, interracial parents
- Divorced/separated parents, blended families, adopted youth
- Characters/Parents that don’t “fit” gender stereotypes (eg. Fathers doing emotional labour)
- Youth with mental illness, family members/friends with mental illness
- Characters facing emotional/sexual/physical abuse, domestic abuse in the family
- Youth with physical disabilities, family members/friends with physical disabilities
- Aboriginal youth (preferably of Canada), residential schools
- Homelessness, poverty
- Significant events in history presented in child-accessible format

- Anything else I’m missing…

Ideally there would be a healthy mix of books that
1) are ALL ABOUT issue (ie. “Heather Has Two Mommies”)
2) just happen to have images/characters to do with issue that are secondary to story

Also, it would be optimal if the author had “skin in the issue.” We weeded way too many books about racism and Aboriginal youth that were written by middle-aged white people that seemed to lack a little sensitivity on the issue.

Can you folks help me make a super list of books?

Thank you in advance!:D
posted by anonymous to Education (30 answers total) 49 users marked this as a favorite
Last Stop on Market Street is a great picture book about a black boy and his grandma riding the bus together and all the people and things they see. It touches on class issues (why do we ride the bus when they ride in a car?) And the author and illustrator are both POC.
posted by hydropsyche at 1:34 PM on July 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

Any book at all by Jacqueline Woodson. She's written everything from picture books to YA. I'd list individual titles, but you could start anywhere in her catalog; they all fit, and they're all excellent. She's managed to tick almost every box on your list (except Aboriginal youth).
posted by thetortoise at 1:34 PM on July 27, 2015 [2 favorites]

We Need Diverse Books has a bunch of links on where to find diverse books, and their summer reading series has given me several ideas for books to look for.
posted by mogget at 1:40 PM on July 27, 2015 [2 favorites]

Blue Willow. Protagonist is white but has no permanent home, is poor, and has a Mexican-American best friend. (This may need to be read to make sure the relationship stands up. I haven't read the book since I was a kid. I know it was a bfd at the time but the book was written in 1940 and the Mexican best friend who was so progressive then might not read so well in 2015.)
posted by phunniemee at 1:42 PM on July 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

Also, a couple more of my favorite YA titles:

Half a World Away by Cynthia Kadohata - amazing novel about a boy struggling with behavioral and attachment issues after international adoption (POC author)

Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork - Latino author and main character, about an autistic teen boy dealing with ethical dilemmas and work, heartfelt and thoughtful
posted by thetortoise at 1:48 PM on July 27, 2015

Leon's Story is a true account of growing up poor and black in the era of segregation. I knew Leon; he was a custodian at my high school, and he was a good man.
posted by Faint of Butt at 1:55 PM on July 27, 2015

Check out Canadian publisher Groundwood Books: "...we are particularly committed to publishing books for and about children whose experiences of the world are under-represented elsewhere."
posted by the_blizz at 2:08 PM on July 27, 2015

The Grumpy Morning is a pre-school book about animals waking up on a farm. The farmer is a woman and (apparenlty) runs the farm by herself. My son has asked me to read it to him for approximately one million days in a row.

Also, The Way I Feel is a good book about teaching kids how to recognize their emotions.
posted by blue_beetle at 2:23 PM on July 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

Starleigh Grass (from the Tsilhqot'in Nation) has done a lot of curriculum development and advocacy around Aboriginal issues in British Columbia's education system. Her blog has a great book list divided into elementary, middle school, and secondary school levels.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 2:24 PM on July 27, 2015 [2 favorites]

The Animal Family by Randal Jarrell is, a gorgeous book about a woodsman and a mermaid and their family. The message is that Love is what makes a family a family. It doesn't matter what anyone looks like or where they came from. Gorgeous writing that is never preachy. Illustrations by Maurice Sendak. I highly recommend it!
posted by WalkerWestridge at 2:31 PM on July 27, 2015 [5 favorites]

Smokey Night by Eve Bunting is about a boy being evacuated during riots in LA.

Let's Get a Pup! Said Kate by Bob Graham has two gender non-conform-y parents

Marisol McDonald Doesn't Match is a really cute story about a biracial girl

Books my foster kids have found resonated with them:

A Terrible Thing Happened
Brown Like Me
Not in Room 204
posted by Saminal at 2:35 PM on July 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

Todd Parr's The Family Book and Backwards Day by S. Bear Bergman.
posted by Cuke at 2:39 PM on July 27, 2015 [3 favorites]

Look for books by Babette Cole, they tell stories from a different perspective. Examples: Prince Cinders, Mommy Laid an Egg, Tarzanna and so on.
posted by dragonbaby07 at 2:47 PM on July 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

10 000 Dresses by Marcus Ewert. A picture book about a transgender girl that isn't understood by her family.

I Am Jazz, a picture book based on the true story of Jazz Jennings, a transgender girl.

Dangerously Ever After and Paper Bag Princess, two books about Princesses who break the Princess mold and defy gender stereotypes.

Uncle Bobby's Wedding, a picture book with animal characters, LGTB theme but the focus is on the relationship between the niece and uncle.

The Sky is Falling by Kit Pearson. A chapter book for older children/younger YA that tells the story of two children who come to Canada as part of the War Guests program- shows a type of homelessness as well as part of Canada's histry.
posted by Lay Off The Books at 3:06 PM on July 27, 2015 [2 favorites]

Just to add a note to The Animal Family, which was a book I slept with under my pillow as a child because it was so beautiful and necessary to me at that point - the adoptive note in it, I was happy to find as an adult introducing it to my children who were adopted as older kids, was that a family can be a found/second family, but the truth of where you come from still remains and is loved and remembered too. It's not a "gotcha day" type adoption book.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 5:34 PM on July 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

Apologies if this is too self-linky, but earlier this year we compiled an anthology of science fiction stories for middle grade readers with a focus on diversity and representation. 2015 Young Explorer's Adventure Guide. Response from parents was positive enough we're in the midst of doing it again for next year. If it looks like what you're looking for, we do have sponsored copies for libraries, just let me know.
posted by korej at 5:35 PM on July 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

From the thread you linked to, I want to enthusiastically second The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which is based closely on the author's experiences growing up Spokane and going to a white high school. The book has characters dealing with domestic violence, alcoholism, and the death of immediate family members. Alexie writes very honestly about what it's really like to grow up poor, which I found refreshing.

As I child I loved Vera B. Williams' books, especially Cherries and Cherry Pits (all African American characters except for one white lady), and A Chair For My Mother (main character is a Latina child in a single-parent family).

Although it centers on a white boy, Dear Mr. Henshaw by Beverly Cleary presents a very accurate take on how families change when parents divorce and one of them slowly goes AWOL.
posted by Pearl928 at 6:18 PM on July 27, 2015 [2 favorites]

Oh, one more! I'm not sure if you want nonfiction as well, but I just read How to Talk to an Autistic Kid (written by an autistic kid) and it is fantastic. It's a short illustrated book, appropriate for all ages. I'd love to see it in every children's library.
posted by thetortoise at 6:35 PM on July 27, 2015

My friend works for a company that manages a book description database for librarians, and she herself was a children's librarian until recently. Here's what she said (when I asked):
Sure, if this person has access to NoveList, they can find lots of kids' books with diverse characters on the ALL KINDS OF LIVES lists for kids and teens. Just look on the left hand side under Recommended Reads.

Lee & Low is also a great kids' publisher with a concentration on diversity.
posted by amtho at 6:45 PM on July 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

This sounds like a job for Flamingo Rampant! "Feminist, racially-diverse, LGBTQ-positive books for all children and families." I backed one of the Kickstarters, and am now the proud owner of a lovely story about a young redheaded boy with two fathers - one with his same fiery locks, and one who is Black.

The project is the brainchild of S. Bear Bergman and his husband J. Wallace. Here's one of the original Flamingo Rampant books that Bear wrote, The Adventures of Tulip, Birthday Wish Fairy, on Amazon. Here's the top review:

"I want to read this book to children. I want to read it to adults. I want to read it to everyone who has ever felt a little different or out of place. I want to read it out loud, once I can get through it without weeping, to roomfuls of people who need to hear a tale of compassion and empathy, a message about treating others with respect and kindness, or just a beautiful story."
posted by Devika at 7:09 PM on July 27, 2015 [2 favorites]

Cythia Voigt's Tillerman Cycle. This YA series ticks many of your boxes:
Family member with mental illness
Youth of colour (one major character, shows up later in the series)
Separated parents
Domestic abuse
Significant events in history presented in child-accessible format (Vietnam war, integration)
Character with learning disability (you don't mention this, but I assume this is desirable based on the other stuff you list).

But, more importantly, it's really, really well written and engaging. The characters are so well drawn.

Between Shades of Gray is a YA novel about the deportations of Lithuanians to Siberia under Stalin. For a significant event in history. It's very well written. Nothing to do with the, um, other Shades of Gray book.
posted by Cinnamon Bear at 7:59 PM on July 27, 2015 [2 favorites]

If you are looking for a children's nonfiction book about the Holocaust, I would recommend Hana's Suitcase. It's a true story told through two different (but eventually converging) narratives: the first, contemporary account is about a group of Japanese schoolchildren who work with a a youth museum director to track down the owner of an artifact from their Holocaust memorial display: a suitcase from Auschwitz with a young girl's name painted on it. The second account, interwoven with the first, begins in the 1930s in Czechoslovakia and tells the story of the suitcase's owner, Hana Brady. It's very well written, totally age-appropriate (Gr. 4-7), and an excellent classroom resource.

There is also a documentary film available: Inside Hana's Suitcase.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 8:30 PM on July 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

For younger readers (toddlers and preschoolers), you absolutely must stock books by Todd Parr. All his books are about people and families that aren't always the norm, but done in a way that is non-threatening and non-preachy. ToddlerZooropa particularly loves The Family Book, It's Ok to be Different, and The Peace Book. Nearly every trip to the library includes us checking out at least one of his books.
posted by zooropa at 8:50 PM on July 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art has annual "best" lists that often feature non-standard narratives, and they cover picture books, children's books, and YA. I'll also add a semi-random shout-out for Nnedi Okorafor's Akata Witch, a middle-grade/YA fantasy novel that I happened to enjoy.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 8:55 PM on July 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

If you haven't looked at resources from the Cooperative Children's Book Center (CCBC), that's a good place to start. The We Need Diverse Books lists are great, and the CCBC can supplement/complement as well. In addition to the "multicultural literature" list, there are a lot of more general resources, including CCBC Choices, that may require a little combing through but could be of assistance.
posted by St. Hubbins at 9:26 AM on July 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

I loved The Snowy Day when I was a kid.
posted by capricorn at 11:23 AM on July 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

Seconding Flamingo Rampant. They're exactly what you're looking for.
posted by southern_sky at 2:46 PM on July 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

Recommended resource: Best Books (covering American Indians and First Nations) compiled by Debbie Reese at American Indians in Children's Literature.
posted by mixedmetaphors at 9:08 AM on July 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

I thought Zero Fade was completely fantastic. My mom added it to her K-8 library right before she retired.
posted by TheCoug at 9:38 AM on July 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

What Makes A Baby is aimed at young kids. It's Canadian, explicitly includes all sorts of families (dis/abilities, infertility, queer, surrogacy, adoption, many races), and it doesn't describe sex. It is bright and colourful and full of joy.

Also recommended is the Readers Guide for parents at the book's website. Cory is also working on two sequels about puberty and sex for adolescents and teens.

For YA, I would check out Mariko and Jillian Tamaki's graphic novels.
posted by heatherann at 10:47 AM on July 31, 2015 [1 favorite]

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