Recommend some non-white kids' books
August 7, 2008 5:24 AM   Subscribe

Can you recommend some children's picture books that don't just feature white faces?

I run a kids' bookshop and it's been bugging me that almost none of the picture books we stock feature a non-white child as the main character. I'm trying to remedy that.

I'll probably be getting My Two Grannies, but ideally the storyline wouldn't be particularly about race. I do stock Rastamouse and that's probably closer to what I'm looking for, except it's about a mouse.

The shop's in London, and I try to keep the books skewed more British than American, but if you have a favourite from anywhere in the world, please let me know.

Similarly if you want to recommend a kids' book without pictures that fits the theme, I'd love to know about that too.
posted by featherboa to Writing & Language (39 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
The Snowy Day, or anything by Ezra Jack Keats, would do nicely and are considered classics here in America. Corduroy is about a bear, really, but the girl and her mom in it happen to be not-white.
posted by mikepop at 5:49 AM on August 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

A Chair For My Mother was always one of my favorite ones to show when I taught pre-school.
posted by rmless at 5:49 AM on August 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

Well, these are American, but I loved The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats as a child and it is still in print (in America, anyway). Chris Raschka is an illustrator and author who features non-white faces too.
posted by pointystick at 5:51 AM on August 7, 2008

There really aren't enough books out there that fit the bill, but I can think of two off the bat (neither particularly British, I'm afraid, but not especially American, either):

Not Norman -- about a boy who wants a dog, but gets a goldfish instead

Those Shoes -- about a boy who wants the cool shoes everyone is wearing but can't afford them

Here's an Amazon list that might be helpful, too.
posted by cider at 5:52 AM on August 7, 2008

Kadir Nelson is my favorite African-American childrens book illustrator--most if not all of the books he's illustrated feature nonwhite characters.
posted by box at 5:53 AM on August 7, 2008

Oh, and the Coretta Scott King Award winners might be a good source too. That site also reminded me of books by Leo and Dianne Dillon which are lovely.
posted by pointystick at 5:54 AM on August 7, 2008

I think probably the greatest children's book I've ever seen, that also happens to be centered on a black child's story, is Ellington Was Not a Street. The artwork is absolutely stunning, I wish I could find more images from the book because every page is just breath takingly awesome. I keep buying it for friend's kids, though I do need to get another copy to hold onto for myself.
posted by The Straightener at 5:56 AM on August 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

Tar Beach (warning: pretty American)

A Chair for My Mother was one of my favorites as a kid--great ilustrations.
posted by phoenixy at 6:00 AM on August 7, 2008

pointystick's comment reminded me of The Hello, Goodbye Window, a new-ish book by Norton Juster, illustrated by Chris Raschka.
posted by mikepop at 6:04 AM on August 7, 2008

Denise Lewis Patrick has written a number of books featuring black characters; we found her when we checked out Ma Dear's Old Green House from the library for our daughter.
posted by TedW at 6:22 AM on August 7, 2008

My roommate just discovered the adorable book, Ish.
posted by phunniemee at 6:24 AM on August 7, 2008

Gyo Fujikawa was known for drawing children of many races who all played together. Jenny Learns a Lesson is my favorite, but I think that one is out of print.
posted by chickaboo at 6:26 AM on August 7, 2008

Why Do Mosquitoes Buzz in People's Ears?
It's "A West African Tale," but the author is American.
posted by Airhen at 6:45 AM on August 7, 2008

I also recommend Ezra Jack Keats. Whistle for Willie was my favorite growing up, with The Snowy Day, a close second.
posted by horsemuth at 6:50 AM on August 7, 2008

Corduroy, but only the first one. The rest are treacle.
posted by unixrat at 6:52 AM on August 7, 2008

There Were No Mirrors in my Nana's House is extraordinary, and I think fairly universal.
posted by headspace at 6:56 AM on August 7, 2008

The Stories Julian Tells and the subsequent titles in the series are great for kids that are a little bit older.
posted by inconsequentialist at 7:07 AM on August 7, 2008

Anything by Roger Hargreaves or Richard Scarry
posted by pieoverdone at 7:14 AM on August 7, 2008

Please not Richard Scarry, unless you like racist stereotypes like Brownie, the taxi driver. Fie on you, Postman Pig and His Busy Neighbours.
posted by crazycanuck at 7:24 AM on August 7, 2008

I see Airhen already noted this earlier, but: Verna Aardema (amazon).

Collected and 'retold' a number of stories from non-Western cultures. I remember enjoying many of them as a child. She is American, but the stories are pretty respectfully and tastefully redone. I recall at least one of them (probably Mosquitoes Buzz...) was featured on Reading Rainbow, so it's in classics territory.

Trivia/Disclosure: one of the books is dedicated to my sister, as she was a (great?)-aunt.
posted by fishfucker at 7:39 AM on August 7, 2008

My daughter's favorites:

One Grain of Rice
Nightingale (Stephen Mitchell's version--absolutely stunning pictures)
Amazing Grace It's part of a series that features Grace.
You're a Bear

They're not about race, per se. These are just what popped into my head from having read them about a zillion times. :) I'm sure there are more I'm not remembering, so if you want more options, let me know and I can look at my daughter's bookshelf when I get home. Also, if you haven't looked at Center for Children's Books webpage yet, they're a great resource.

Also, there are two biographies, Nelson Mandela, and Talkin About Bessie, which we have and read every now and then that she likes okay. I think it would be good for children who like stories about grown-ups. Mine prefers stories about kids, so she doesn't like them as much. She also likes Nappy Hair, but it has lots of U.S. colloquialisms, so I don't know how well that would work.
posted by jujube at 7:48 AM on August 7, 2008

Everyone Poops, it's a classic.
posted by BrnP84 at 7:56 AM on August 7, 2008

Hat Off, Baby!
posted by mds35 at 8:02 AM on August 7, 2008

Just thought of two more.

Girls A to Z. I'm not too crazy about it, but my daughter likes it. It's basically an alphabet book. Different girl for each letter, and the girls
One book that my daughter loves is Nap in a Lap. I didn't think of it at first because the main character isn't obviously not-White, if that makes sense. To me, the main character could be White, or Hispanic, or multiracial. Also check out other books illustrated by Akemi Guitierrez.

Oh, and on preview, yup. Definately Everyone Poops. OH, and remembered one more: Alicia's Happy Day. . This is another one we've read a zillion times that she never tires of.
posted by jujube at 8:15 AM on August 7, 2008

American again, as are most of these, sorry ... I would recommend The Arrival by Shaun Tan (author is Australian), Grandfather's Journey by Allen Say, Dear Juno by Soyung Park, The Story of the Milky Way by Joseph Bruchac and Gayle Ross, Crazy Horse's Vision by Joseph Bruchac and S. D. Nelson, The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich, and, for older readers, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie.
posted by gudrun at 8:17 AM on August 7, 2008

The Day I Swapped my Dad for two goldfish might fit the bill - and its British oriented, not American. Amazing illustration also.
posted by blaneyphoto at 8:17 AM on August 7, 2008

This drives me crazy too. I tend to go for picture books with non-human characters. I recently bought The Snail & the Whale by the Gruffalo team. Obviously the protagonists are not human, but one of the illustrations is of a class of school children and that group is diverse.

(Also, if you stock birthday cards, it'd be great if these are diverse too.)
posted by boudicca at 8:25 AM on August 7, 2008

Canadian children's author Robert Munsch has a number of books featuring aboriginal children and children with various other ethnicities. His books are daffy and fun and kids LOVE them.
posted by Toto_tot at 9:07 AM on August 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

The Paperboy by Dav Pilkey is a Caldecott Honor Book and it's really beautiful.
posted by peep at 9:11 AM on August 7, 2008

Okay, thought of few more to recommend, then I'm leechblocking ask.metafilter for the rest of the day!
But in the meantime, here are three more that my daughter loves: Butterflies for Kiri. Here's the website for the publisher--their list of books is worth checking out.
Also, take a look at All the Colors of the Earth, and The Desert is My Mother. The last one is about U.S. Southwest, so you might not want it for UK, but it's a good book.

Thanks so much for posting this question. I'm getting lots of ideas for books to get for my daughter.
posted by jujube at 9:25 AM on August 7, 2008

There are a lot of Asian-themed books out there; two we have read recently are Ming Lo Moves the Mountain and The Story of Noodles.
posted by TedW at 9:43 AM on August 7, 2008

It's American, but here's another East-Asian themed book: The Ugly Vegetables. Refreshing to see some Chinese characters who aren't drawn as, um, slitty-eyed.
posted by Ms. Informed at 9:57 AM on August 7, 2008

Keiko Narahashi's Two Girls Can is full of different ethnicities.

Caroline Uff's Lulu books are about a mixed-ethnic family.

What's great about these books is that the skin color is just a function of the illustrations, it's not part of the story--so many books about non-white characters are about the non-whiteness of the characters.
posted by padraigin at 10:56 AM on August 7, 2008

Zoe and Her Zebra by Claire Beaton is an alphabet/animal book featuring a multicultural assortment of children. Barefoot puts out a whole series of books by Beaton with really neat illustrations done in felt applique. Some the others may be multiracial as well, though at least two of the ones we have are all animals.
posted by libraryhead at 11:49 AM on August 7, 2008

Robert Munsch's books tend to show multi-cultural families. He has an extensive back catalogue you may want to look at. As they are Canadian they tend to be a bit more British then American books. bell hooks has also written a couple of books I like, especially "Happy to be Nappy". (on preview - toto_tot already said this, forgot to hit post earlier today!)

I may be wrong but I believe A to Zoo does list books according to the race of characters. Regardless, it is an indispensable tool for locating picture books according to a topic or theme.
posted by saucysault at 12:29 PM on August 7, 2008

Via librarian friend (some of this is mentioned in the thread): Nikki Grimes, Cheryl Willis Hudson, Ezra Jack Keats, Patricia McKissack, Julius Lester. Also some actors have some great picture books: Will Smith and Spike Lee. A good guide is the book: A to Zoo: Subject Access to Children's picture books. There is a section: Ethnic groups in the U.S.--African Americans that gives loads of suggestions. I also like a previous text book: Children's Literature, Briefly (Third Edition) There is a subject guide in the back that has African Americans and even Caldecott and Newberry Award winners.
posted by cashman at 1:14 PM on August 8, 2008

The Children's Picture Book Database at Miami University looks helpful. Here's the keyword multiculturalism, which yields a ton of results.
posted by cashman at 9:54 AM on August 9, 2008

Ladybug Magazine is impressively diverse in depicting kids of many colors. They publish 9x/year and have no advertising, and seem more book-like than magazine-like. Not sure if they ship internationally, but this might be useful for US-based parents reading this thread.
posted by judith at 5:11 PM on August 9, 2008

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