Books that celebrate diversity for 3rd graders
How Tia Lola Came to Stay (The Tia Lola series)
by: Julia Alvarez
The hook: Miguel’s parents just got divorced. He and his younger sister move with their mother from New York to Vermont. When Miguel’s colorful, irrepressible Tia Lola arrives from the Dominican Republic to help, Miguel is embarrassed by how she stands out. But her loving manner, her magical way with people, and her cooking change his mind. This warm, funny story about bridging cultures and the importance of family is the first in a series of three books.
Perfect for: Kids who’ve been embarrassed by their family.
If Kids Ran the World
by: Leo and Diane Dillon - (The Blue Sky Press, 2014) 32 pages.
If kids ran the world from this magical tree house, the world would be a kinder, better place. Why? The award-winning authors show children from different parts of the world coming together to tackle — and handily solve — problems like hunger, stress, and world peace.
Perfect for: Little ones who want to make the world a better place.
Find If Kids Ran the World at your local library.
Mama Panya’s Pancakes: A Village Tale from Kenya
by: Mary Chamberlin and Rich Chamberlin, illustrated by: Mary Chamberlin and Rich Chamberlin - (Barefoot Books, 2005) 40 pages.
Adika loves his mama’s pancakes! On a trip to the market, he gets so excited, that he invites everyone he encounters to a pancake dinner at his house. Mama Panya must figure out how to feed them all. This incredible book — recipient of the Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Gold Award — delights with kid-friendly facts about Kenya, a map, Kiswahili greetings and sayings, and a recipe to make your own pancakes.
Perfect for: Teaching the importance of sharing — even when there isn’t much to spare. Also for kids who like to learn about other cultures.
Find Mama Panya’s Pancakes: A Village Tale from Kenya at your local library.
by: Janell Cannon - (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1993) 46 pages.
The hook: Stellaluna is a baby fruit bat happily flying along with her mother when an owl attacks. The poor little bat is knocked out of her mother’s grasp and lands in a birds’ nest. The mother bird accepts Stellaluna as long as she acts like a bird, not a bat. Soon enough, Stellaluna learns to eat bugs and stop hanging by her feet. When she finally has a chance to show her bird siblings, Pip, Flutter and Flap, what life as a bat is like, they are left all in a muddle: “How can we be so different and feel so much alike?” one asks. Anyone who has ever been in a position where they can’t be who they really are will relate to Stellaluna’s predicament. Cannon’s award-winning illustrations convey the nocturnal world beautifully. Readers will be enchanted by this book with its messages of acceptance, friendship and a mothers’ love.
Want to see the movie? The 2012 animated adaptation fleshes out the picture book with additional characters and songs while staying true to the story.
Perfect for: Kids who like making friends.
Find Stellaluna at your local library.
Too Many Tamales
by: Gary Soto, illustrated by: Ed Martinez - (Putnam, 1993) 32 pages.
It was a snowy Christmas Eve night and Maria was in the kitchen helping her mother make stacks of tamales for Christmas dinner. Relatives are about to arrive and the excitement is high, when Maria makes a mistake that threatens to ruin the party, and maybe even Christmas itself: she’s lost her mother’s wedding ring in the tamales. Maria’s cousins pitch in to help her find the ring. Fortunately, both Christmas Eve and a precious family treasure are rescued in the end.
Perfect for: Kids who like to learn about other cultures.
Find Too Many Tamales at your local library.
My Diary From Here to There/Mi diario de aquí hasta allá
by: Amada Irma Pérez, illustrated by: Maya Christina Gonzalez - (Children’s Book Press, 2002) 32 pages.
Based on the author’s childhood experience, this story describes the journey of a family moving from Mexico to Los Angeles for a better life. The story is written as diary entries in English and Spanish that will resonate with any child who has left people and places behind for an unknown future. “But what if we’re not allowed to speak Spanish? What if I can’t learn English? Will I ever see Michi again?” writes Amada Irma. Her father tries to ease her worries by sharing his own story of moving from Arizona to Mexico as a child. “It was a big change, but we got through it. I know you can, too,” he tells Amada Irma. Her father moves ahead of the family to find a job and get green cards for everyone in the family. When the family is reunited in California and settled in to their new home, Amada Irma realizes that her father was right. “I am stronger than I think – in Mexico, in the States, anywhere.”
Perfect for: Helping children realize that while change is scary, it can build character.
Find My Diary From Here to There/Mi diario de aquí hasta allá at your local library.
by: Jerdine Nolen, illustrated by: A.G. Ford - (Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books, 2014) 32 pages.
Be careful what you wish for! Irene wishes her busy father would spend more time with the family. When her dad accidentally swallows a watermelon seed, Irene’s father slowly turns into a tree. Despite the fact that the tree is always in the backyard, Irene and her family long for Papa to return to his former self — even if he is often away.
Perfect for: Fairy tale fans.
Find Irene’s Wish at your local library.
Brendan Buckley’s Universe and Everything in It
by: Sundee T. Frazier - (Delacorte Press, 2007) 208 pages.
Grandma Gladys calls 10-year-old Brendan her “milk chocolate.” Brendan explains, “Dad’s the chocolate. Mom’s the milk.” Being mixed race is just part of who he is. Mostly, Brendan sees himself as a scientist. He has a lot of questions, which he writes down in his “Book of Big Questions About Life, the Universe and Everything in It.” In this beginning chapter book, the big question on Brendan’s mind is one he’s not supposed to ask: Who is Grandpa DeBose, and why doesn’t his mother ever mention him or see him? By chance, Brendan meets his grandfather at a rock and mineral exhibit and begins seeing him in secret. Brendan learns that Grandpa DeBose believes that “families should look alike,” so Brendan considers the statement scientifically. “What scientific proof could be given to show that black people and white people shouldn’t get married or have kids? The evidence actually proved the opposite. Me. I was the evidence.” Grandpa DeBose finally agrees and asks to be part of the family’s life.
Perfect for: Reading aloud to discuss how the characters relate to one another.
Find Brendan Buckley’s Universe and Everything in It at your local library.
Little Melba and Her Big Trombone
by: Katheryn Russell-Brown, illustrated by: Frank Morrison - (Lee & Low Books, 2014) 40 pages.
Melba Liston, commonly referred to as the unsung hero of jazz, first picked up the trombone when she was seven. The next year, she played a solo on the radio. Despite her talent, little Melba had to overcome racial and gender bias in an era dominated by white men. This age-appropriate biography tells the story of Melba’s hard work and talent in a way that children can relate to — and inspires little ones as they see Melba earning her place among jazz giants, playing with the likes of Dizzy Gillespie and Billie Holiday. As an added bonus, there’s a detailed afterward with more biographical facts for children who want to know more about Melba’s trials and triumphs.
Perfect for: History buffs and music aficionados.
Find Little Melba and Her Big Trombone at your local library.
by: Jane Yolen, illustrated by: Katie May Green - (Philomel Books, 2015) 40 pages.
When the Nazis capture Paris during World War II, a young Jewish girl, her little brother, and their parents flee to survive. Her father, an astronomer, leads them into the forest to hide, and other Jews soon join them. The children “learned to be quiet, to become shadows, how to turn invisible, sleeping all day long, waking only at night.” When even the forest isn’t safe, the family braves a dangerous trek to Spain, then a boat ride to England to live with a cousin. The little girl never loses hope, believing that the stone angels carved into the buildings on their street in Paris were watching over them like guardian angels. When the family returns to France, there’s a stone angel carved into the outside of their new apartment. “The one who had kept us safe in the forest,” thinks the girl. Stone Angel covers a difficult subject without scary details. With soft illustrations, this is a story of overcoming the worst adversity with dignity and the support of family and strangers.
Perfect for: Introducing a dark period in world history to young children.
Find Stone Angel at your local library.
by: Faith Ringgold - (Crown Publishers, 1991) 32 pages.
Tar Beach blends folk-art, autobiography, and historical fiction in a story about learning to overcome the indignity of discrimination and slavery. Eight-year-old Cassie Louise Lightfoot narrates this story, which is loosely based on author and artist Faith Ringgold’s childhood in Harlem. Tar beach is the rooftop of their apartment building where Cassie, her parents, her brother, Be Be, and their neighbors spend hot summer evenings. From this vantage point, Cassie can see the new union building that her dad’s working on, even though he’s not allowed to join the union because he’s Native American. This book is a work of art, with each page bordered by a photo from one of Ringgold’s “Woman on the Bridge” series of quilts on exhibit at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City.
Perfect for: Helping kids understand the lasting impact of slavery and discrimination.
Find Tar Beach at your local library.
Aunt Harriet’s Underground Railroad in the Sky
by: Faith Ringgold - (Crown Publishers, 1992) 32 pages.
In this absorbing follow up to Tar Beach, Cassie Louise Lightfoot’s imagination soars to the skies, where she and her brother, Be Be, spot “an old ramshackled train in the sky.” The conductor is Harriet Tubman, the former slave who led hundreds of other slaves to freedom through the Underground Railroad. She beckons Cassie and Be Be to come aboard. Be Be jumps onto the train, which vanishes as it moves north toward free states and Canada. Cassie is distraught that she lost her brother until Aunt Harriet appears and tells Cassie about life as a slave and shows her the real Underground Railroad. She explains that it wasn’t an actual train, but could be a farmer’s wagon or hearse covered with flowers with a slave hiding in the coffin. More often than not, slaves walked at night, following the North Star and looking for signs directing them to safe houses. These were often symbols sewn into quilts, which are a main focus of author and artist Faith Ringgold’s work. Ringgold’s vivid, richly colored illustrations are integral to the story.
Perfect for: A gentle yet deep look at the lengths slaves went to for freedom.
Find Aunt Harriet’s Underground Railroad in the Sky at your local library.
Through My Eyes
by: Ruby Bridges and Margo Lundell - (Scholastic Press, 1999) 63 pages.
Imagine being 6 years old, starting a new school, and having to be escorted by armed U.S. Marshals through an angry mob just to get to your classroom. That’s the true story of what happened to Ruby Bridges, the first black child to integrate William Frantz Public School in New Orleans, Louisiana, on November 14, 1960. It was four years after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education that separate but equal schooling was unconstitutional, but New Orleans schools remained segregated by race. Ruby’s story is told through her memories of that year, through the recollections of her mother; her teacher, Mrs. Henry; and friends; and through writings, newspaper articles, and dramatic photographs.
Perfect for: Helping children learn the value of equality, fairness, and learning.
Find Through My Eyes at your local library.
by: Allen Say - (HMH Books for Young Readers, 2008) 32 pages.
In this poignant memoir, Allen Say tells of his grandfather’s love of both Japan and the U.S. and his inability to choose between the two countries. As a young man, his grandfather took a steamship to the U.S. and explored the country. He fell in love with California. He moved to San Francisco with his wife, and there, Allen’s mother was born. When his daughter was nearly grown, Allen’s grandfather took the family to his homeland to live and see, “the mountains and rivers of his childhood.” His daughter got married in Japan and Allen was born there. Growing up, Allen’s grandfather told many stories about California. As an adult, Allen followed in his grandfather’s footsteps to California. “I came to love the land my grandfather had loved, and I stayed on and on until I had a daughter of my own.” Watching his own daughter grow up, he understood his grandfather’s unresolved yearning for Japan. “The moment I am in one country, I am homesick for the other.”
Perfect for: A blend of the excitement of discovery and longing for where we’ve been.
Find Grandfather’s Journey at your local library.
The Story of Kwanzaa
by: Donna L. Washington, illustrated by: Stephen Taylor - (HarperTrophy, 1997) 40 pages.
Learn about the origins of Kwanzaa. The seven principles or beliefs of the holiday are explained in detail and accompanied by lovely illustrations. Recipes and crafts ideas are also included.
Perfect for: Kids who like holidays.
Find The Story of Kwanzaa at your local library.
by: Cece Bell - (Harry N. Abrams, 2014) 248 pages.
Cece Bell lost her hearing at age 4. Now, she wears a hearing aid. The device is big and awkward and it makes fitting in at school difficult. But once she discovers that it lets her hear things others can’t, such as the teacher talking in the next room, she finds a way to fit in with her classmates: by becoming El Deafo, a Listener for All! This sweet and funny memoir, drawn comic-book style and based on the author’s life, is a story about being different and about turning challenges into superpowers.
Perfect for: Helping kids see the silver lining.
Find El Deafo at your local library.