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  • Writer's pictureAlaina

Looking for Diversity in Children's and YA Literature

Bates College recently announced a new tool: a diverse book finder to help parents and educators search for diverse books using helpful search topics like "adoption", "folklore", and "religion". According to Bates College, the mission of this project is to diversify and balance bookshelves everywhere, that all children can find themselves reflected and celebrated in libraries, schools, and homes across the nation.This project was made possible by the efforts of Dr. Krista Aronson, AnneSibley O'Brien, Brenna Callahan, Christina Bell, and Deborah Tomaras.

Check out the diverse book finder HERE.

The diverse book finder is not all inclusive - you will only find listed the diverse book titles that Bates College has available on their own shelves. That means there are countless other titles out there featuring diversity.

Today, young readers, especially teens, are a lot more vocal about their desire for more diverse reads. Publishers are listening and readers are buying - some of the most popular books of 2017 have featured non-white or LGBTQIA characters, or characters with mental illnesses. Right now, The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, about police brutality and the Black Lives Matter movement, has been at the top of the New York Times bestseller list for more than 40 weeks - even adult book clubs are clamoring to read this book.

Are you looking to add more diverse books to your reading list? Here are some of my favorites:

Lucy's Family Tree by Karen Halvorsen Schreck

This picture book is about a young girl, Lucy, who is struggling to create her family tree for a school assignment. Adopted from Mexico by white American parents, Lucy feels that her family is too different to be part of a family tree. Overwhelmed by the assignment and believing she is not "normal" like her classmates, Lucy begs her parents to make an excuse as to why she cannot participate. Instead, they challenge her to find three "normal" families that they know. This book covers a lot of family types and celebrates diversity as Lucy discovers that all families are the same in that they are different. An interesting addition to this book is a section about family trees and the variety of ways they can be presented in order to better encompass all family types; such as a tree featuring "people I love" or "people I care about", which allows for the addition of important people in a child's life who may not be blood related.

Arthur's Perfect Christmas by Marc Brown

This is a phenomenal book to read around the holidays, and it's based on an even better television special that I highly recommend checking out. Arthur's Perfect Christmas includes not only Arthur's celebration of the holiday, but the different celebrations of his friends, as well. Francine introduces us to her family's Hanukkah traditions, Brain's family celebrates Kwanzaa, and Buster's family touches on the topic of divorce. The great thing about this book (and TV special) is that it uses familiar characters to introduce different religious customs and beliefs. Additionally, there's a great lesson learned by Christmas-celebrating Muffy about the importance of Hanukkah to her best friend Francine, who must skip Muffy's holiday party as it conflicts with her family's Hannukah celebration. Read the book and then watch the amazing TV special, which elaborates on the topics touched on in the book.

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

Wonder is the story of 5th grader August Pullman, a young boy born with a facial difference that, until this year, has prevented him from attending school with his peers. August wants to be treated just like everyone else, but, over the course of the book, he helps his classmates learn that it's okay to be different. Wonder is a moving story that inspired the Choose Kind movement, which encourages everyone to spread more kindness around the world. A movie version of Wonder was also recently released in theaters.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

The Hate U Give may be a YA title, but it's a must-read for teens and adults alike. Covering police brutality and the Black Lives Matter movement, The Hate U Give follows 16-year-old Starr Carter who witnesses her unarmed friend being shot by a police officer during a traffic stop. The shooting makes national headlines and Starr must deal with the accusations that her friend was a "thug" or "deserved" what happened to him. Protests break out and violence in Starr's neighborhood escalates. The only person who truly knows what happened the night of the shooting is Starr, but speaking out may cause even more problems than it solves. As someone who has grown up in a safe town and has never once felt like an outsider because of my skin color, The Hate U Give was truly eye opening and mind boggling. The things that Starr deals with on a daily basis - drive-by shootings on her street, altering her personality at school so her all-white classmates don't see her as "ghetto" - are impossible for me to wrap my brain around. This book will make you angry and it will make you think.

The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

This book follows Daniel, a first generation South Korean-American, and Natasha, a Jamaican, over the course of one day in New York City when they meet and fall in love. Natasha's family is about to be deported that night back to Jamaica, and she is desperate to do everything she can to keep them in the country. Daniel, meanwhile, has an interview with Yale that will help decide his future. Told in multiple perspectives, including minor characters that Natasha and Daniel interact with throughout the day, The Sun is Also a Star tackles love, fate, family, and culture.

They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera

They Both Die at the End takes place in an alternate version of today. In this world, death is no longer something that happens unexpectedly. Between midnight and 3am, a company called Death-Cast places phone calls to everyone who will die in the next 24 hours, alerting them to get their affairs in order and live their last day to the fullest. On the day the book takes place, Mateo Torrez and Rufus Emeterio, two teenagers who have never met before, both receive a call alerting them that they will die that day. And so begins a beautiful and heartbreaking story as these two strangers find each other, fall in love, and live their last day to its fullest. Not only are the two main characters not white, neither of them identifies as straight, with Mateo being gay and Rufus being bi-sexual. The great thing about this book, though, is that their race and sexuality are not treated as a "big thing" - it's just a part of who they are, and they are accepted by their friends without question.

This is just a sample of some of my favorites. We are always working to diversify our collection at Berwick Public Library and would love your suggestions. What are some of your favorite diverse children's and YA books?

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