Books that celebrate diversity for 5th and 6th graders
Brown Girl Dreaming
by: Jacqueline Woodson - (Nancy Paulsen Books, 2014) 352 pages.
Jacqueline Woodson tells the story of her life, family, and first attempts at writing for younger audiences in this memoir in verse. She provides a rich historical perspective of what it was like growing up in Columbus, Ohio during the civil rights era as she sat at the back of the bus, learned about the death of Martin Luther King Jr., and watched the Black Panthers on TV. In other, more personal poems, Woodson recounts her struggles learning to read and eventually, wanting to write. This may look like a book of poetry, but once your child ventures into the first pages, the story will carry her along.
Perfect for: Aspiring writers who also love a historical memoir.
Find Brown Girl Dreaming at your local library.
by: Pam Muñoz Ryan - (Scholastic, 2016) 262 pages.
Esperanza is the privileged daughter of a wealthy landowner in Mexico. She has beautiful dresses and servants to take care of her. But after her father’s sudden death, she and her mother have to immigrate to the U.S. They end up as migrant farm laborers in California during the Great Depression. This historical novel tells the story of Esperanza’s struggles to adjust to her new life as her mother falls ill and the workers in the labor camp strike for better working conditions.
Perfect for: Kids interested in social justice.
Find Esperanza Rising at your local library.
P.S. Be Eleven
by: Rita Williams-Garcia - (HarperCollins Publishers, 2013) 304 pages.
Delphine and her sisters are back in this sequel to One Crazy Summer. After self-discovery and empowerment gained during their summer in Oakland, the girls return home to Brooklyn. But now, they must readjust to the changes at home. Pa has a new girlfriend, Uncle Darnell returns from Vietnam, and Delphine is about to start sixth grade. Amidst all the changes, Delphine continues to keep in touch with her mother, Cecile. In her letters, Cecile advises Delphine to be 11 while she can.
Perfect for: Readers who want more Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern!
Find P.S. Be Eleven at your local library.
by: Kwame Alexander - (HMH Books for Young Readers, 2014) 240 pages.
Twins Josh and Jordan Bell are 12-year-old basketball stars. Josh, a.k.a. Filthy McNasty, executes way more than a slammerific shot. He’s creative, narrating his story using verse-style poetry that never skips a beat. When Jordan gets a girlfriend, Josh feels abandoned. With the brothers’ close relationship threatened by tension, Josh uses rhymes to share his take on sports, school, race, and, most importantly, a loving family.
Perfect for: Sports fanatics who can appreciate storytelling through poetry.
Find The Crossover at your local library.
Baseball in April and Other Stories
by: Gary Soto - (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1990) 111 pages.
Alfonso is a seventh grader who wishes his teeth were straighter, his hair were cooler, and his abs were more muscular. His parents are preoccupied with earning a living and his older brother, Ernie, has girl troubles. Alfonso meets a girl with ponytails and invites her for a bike ride, but then his bike chain breaks. Will Ernie lend Alfonso his bike? The eleven short stories in this book explore family bonds, falling in love, fears, and insecurities — themes common to all kids as they grow up. They feature Mexican-American families and are full of colorful details from the author’s own experiences growing up in California’s Central Valley.
Perfect for: Tweens navigating life with friends, siblings, and crushes.
Find Baseball in April and Other Stories at your local library.
Walk Two Moons
by: Susan Creech - (HarperTrophy, 1995) 288 pages.
In this Newbery-Medal-winning story from 1995, a young girl traveling with her grandparents entertains them by weaving tales about her imaginary friend. At the same time, she must confront her feelings about her estranged mother. Find Walk Two Moons at your local library.
Number the Stars
by: Lois Lowry - (Houghton Mifflin Co., 1989) 137 pages.
A brave Danish girl helps smuggle her Jewish friends to safety. Lowry’s sense of timing and choice of details put readers in the middle of the story. A riveting read, but your kids may have questions afterward.
Perfect for: Kids who like historical fiction.
Find Number the Stars at your local library.
Africa Is My Home
by: Monica Edinger, illustrated by: Robert Byrd - (Candlewick, 2013) 64 pages.
Magulu, a 9-year-old from the Mende region in Sierra Leone captured by slave traders and taken to Cuba, offers the focal point for this little-known chapter in the history of slavery. Upon being sold in Cuba, she ends up on the Amistad, a 19th century Spanish slave ship. There, the Mende captives revolt against their captors, free themselves, and demand to be taken back to Sierra Leone. This book recounts the abduction, mutiny, and legal trials that ensue — all from young Magulu’s point of view.
Perfect for: Teaching kids about the abolition movement.
Find Africa Is My Home at your local library.
Before We Were Free
by: Julia Alvarez - (Laurel Leaf, 2004) 192 pages.
Twelve-year-old Anita de la Torre has normal adolescent worries about school and friends, crushes, and sibling rivalry. But some worries she erases from her diary, lest she implicate her family in a dangerous coup against the Dominican Republic’s dictator. When the resistance’s assassination attempt fails, Anita’s father and uncle are arrested and she and her mother must flee the secret police and go into hiding, eventually immigrating to the United States. Set in the Dominican Republic in the 1960’s during Trujillo’s regime, this historical novel is about family, perseverance, and the human spirit.
Perfect for: Kids who like historical fiction.
Find Before We Were Free at your local library.
The Thing About Luck
by: Cynthia Kadohata, illustrated by: Julia Kuo - (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2014) 304 pages.
Summer’s family is plagued with bad luck. When a family emergency sends her parents to Japan, Summer and her little brother, Jaz, are left with their grandparents, who come out of retirement to harvest wheat and help pay the bills. As her family’s luck goes from bad to worse, Summer must figure out how to make it better. Like Kadohata’s Kira-Kira, this story explores the inner lives of tweens in a stark and sometimes heartbreakingly real world; but this story’s slow pace requires a patient appreciation for her nuanced characters and evocative settings.
Perfect for: Patient readers who enjoy reading lyrical, character-driven stories.
Find The Thing About Luck at your local library.
by: Alma Flor Ada and Gabriel M. Zubizarreta - (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2011) 176 pages.
Ten-year-old Margarita calls herself Margie at school. Her parents were born in Mexico, but Margie is proud to be American and wants the other kids in her class to think of her as just like them. When her cousin Lupe comes from Mexico to live with them in California and goes to school with Margie, it threatens the identity Margie has created for herself. This story alternates between the viewpoints of Margie and Lupe as they become as close as sisters and learn what it means to live in two cultures.
Find Dancing Home at your local library.
The Great Greene Heist
by: Varian Johnson - (Arthur A. Levine Books, 2014) 240 pages.
Jackson Greene assembles a crack team to ensure the school bully, Keith Sinclair, doesn’t win the election for student council president. Jack and his team, consisting of a reporter, science goddess, and tech genius, work to pull off the school’s greatest con — all to ensure their friend Gaby has a fair shot at winning the election. A cast of multicultural characters propels this fast-paced plot with plenty of twists and turns.
Perfect for: Young political junkies who appreciate a clever page-turner.
Find The Great Greene Heist at your local library.
I Lived on Butterfly Hill
by: Marjorie Agosín, illustrated by: Lee White - (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2015) 464 pages.
Celeste lives in Valparaíso, Chile with her inspiring multigenerational family on Butterfly Hill. Things take a turn when a ruthless dictator overthrows the Chilean president, and Celeste’s friends and classmates begin to mysteriously disappear. Her parents, who are doctors, must go into hiding because they are considered subversives for helping the poor. Sent to live with her aunt in the U.S., Celeste struggles to adjust to a new life in exile as her country descends into turmoil. Based on the author’s experience growing up in Chile around the time of the Augusto Pinochet coup, the story offers a very personal entrée into a devastating chapter in Chile’s history.
Perfect for: Serious readers who enjoy a gripping story with weighty themes.
Find I Lived on Butterfly Hill at your local library.
The House on Mango Street
by: Sandra Cisneros - (Vintage, 1991) 110 pages.
A series of short, poetic vignettes offer glimpses into the life of 12-year-old Esperanza Cordero, a Latina girl growing up in a poor neighborhood in Chicago. The author, who has helped a generation of Latina poets and writers find their voices, draws on her own experience to describe Esperanza’s search for her identity as a strong woman.
Perfect for: Budding poets and songwriters.
Find The House on Mango Street at your local library.