In honor of March being National Reading Month, I’ve got a special blog post about books! I’ve been wanting to do a blog post on books with diverse characters to read to your kids for a while now. Because one, I love reading. Two, I love the idea of getting your kids started early with reading. And three, it’s important to teach our children from an early age how to be accepting of others who look different from them. Reading books with diverse characters is a great place to start these conversations. I stumbled upon Jana’s Instagram account Reading With Koa one day and was immediately drawn into the books she was posting about. I loved that she was reading a lot of books with diverse characters to her kiddo. From her posts I also learned that she was having important conversations with Koa about diversity, equity, and inclusion.
I wanted to learn more about her journey. We met up over Zoom to chat. She shared with me why reading books with diverse characters was important to her. I got really excited during our conversation to ask her to write a guest blog for me and was so thankful she agreed to do so!
Jana Corbett is a German American psychologist living in Portland with her son, Koa. Her post for us includes book lists with diverse characters for you to read to your little ones. You should definitely follow along with her over on Instagram to see what she and Koa are reading each day. There is much inspiration to be found on her account!
I had the great pleasure of photographing Jana & Koa on a lovely afternoon reading some of their favorite books with diverse characters at Powell Butte nature park. I loved listening to Koa reading the books on his own to his Mom. Photographing motherhood is one of my favorite things and I relished in the opportunity photographing this bond through the power of reading. Check out the photos at the bottom of this post!
Written by Jana Corbett:
I have always loved books. As a child I devoured them. Every birthday, and every gift-giving holiday, I asked for books. Books were, and still are, my happy place. So it was pretty clear to me that books would play an important role in how I parent my child. I have read books to Koa every day since he was born. And at five years old, Koa reads middle grade books independently.
Then, in the aftermath of the George Floyd and Breonna Taylor killings, and more people’s commitment to be(come) antiracist, a friend of mine posted a challenge on social media. The task was to count the amount of books you own in each of the following categories: white main characters, Black-, Indigenous or other persons of color main characters, and animal characters. So I counted the books in our library and was quickly surprised and appalled to find that the majority of our books featured either white or animal characters.
Being a first generation immigrant and the parent of a mixed race, half- German, half Paiute, child, I had believed our collection of books to be quite diverse with a focus on indigenous voices in our books. But I was wrong, so I started doing research on the diversity gap in books, racism in children’s books and how to use books to promote and teach antiracism, and quickly found a diverse book reading challenge. In completing the challenge, I started finding more and more books I loved and found myself wanting to share my thoughts on them with everyone I know. That’s how I decided to start my Instagram.
There is a whole community, called #bookstagram comprised of people that are passionate about books. So what do I think I add to this community?
My goal is to post about one book a day and I am hoping to utilize as many library books as I can. Reading needs to be accessible to everyone! And books are expensive! And if I can help just a few people diversify their reading lists and expose more kids to BIPOC characters, not just in the context of history, but also in the context of fun adventures and joy, I see my goal as achieved.
It was really difficult to pick just ten for each age group, but here they are:
My top 10 board books for 0-5 year olds:
1. Mama, Do You Love Me? (Barbara M. Joosse, Illustrated by Barbara Lavallee)
A timeless story of a child testing the limits of their independence and a parent reassuring their child that parental love is unconditional and everlasting. This is the book I am most likely to gift a new parent at a baby shower.
2. Antiracist Baby (Ibram X. Kendi, Illustrated by Ashley Lukashevsky)
Available as a board book or picture book. In nine steps, readers will learn how to raise antiracist children and will learn something for themselves in the process. This is a must have for any caregiver or teacher.
3. Sharing Our World. Animals Of The Native Northwest Coast.
Various artists share their culture and art on the special relationship with the natural world, published by Nativenorthwest.com We live in the PNW, so this is a book that feels a bit like home for us.
4. En las Piernas de Mamá (Ann Herbert Scott, Illustrated by Glo Coalson)
A beautiful bilingual book about a mother’s love and the notion that there’s always room on mother’s lap. My number one book to gift children who become big siblings.
5. Little You (Richard Van Camp, Illustrated by Julie Flett)
A poetic book for little ones telling them they are loved.
6. And Tango Makes Three (Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, Illustrated by Henry Cole)
A true story about a gay penguin couple adopting a penguin baby. This is such a sweet book illustrating that there are many different ways to love and become a family.
7. Spirit Day (Joy Yang)
An anti-bullying book that I like for its beautiful illustrations of a wide variety of races, abilities, and identities.
8. Say Hello (Rachel Isadora)
This book follows Carmelita and her mother as they walk to their abuelita’s house. On their way they meet many neighbors, all of whom speak a different language. This book is a really sweet introduction to the concept of language and culture.
9. Corduroy (Don Freeman)
A classic book about a bear who lived in a toy department store and the girl who took him home.
10. Kiss Goodnight (Amy Hest, Illustrated by Anita Jeram)
I had to include this book because I have read this book to Koa probably 1000 times. Little Sam has to go to bed, but he keeps waiting. What might he be waiting for? A kiss good night. I just adore this book. So much in fact that I wrote a modified version for Koa with pictures of us that I printed for him.
My top ten Picture books for kids 5 years and up:
1. The Proudest Blue (Ibtihaj Muhammad with S.K.Ali, Illustrated by Hatem Aly)
A story about the first day Hijab and sisterly love.
2. Big Red Lollipop (Rukhsana Khan, Illustrated by Sophie Blackall)
A book about sisters, sharing and being forgiving.
3. Izzy Gizmo (Pip Jones and Sara Ogilvie)
A book about a girl whose inventions are marvelous and often malfunctioning. When Izzy rescues an injured crow, she has to learn to overcome her own frustrations and try again. As a psychologist who talks about the importance of adopting a growth mindset to clients frequently, I adore this book!
4. Jabari Jumps (Gaia Cornwall)
A beautiful story about courage and a father who gently supports without pushing his kid to do something they are not ready to do.
5. The Mess That We Made (Michelle Lord, Illustrated by Julia Blattman)
A new favorite for us. It beautifully shows the pollution of our oceans, talks about the impact of single use plastics and focuses on what we can do to help our environment. Reading this book encouraged us to have clean up days in our neighborhood and to write to our political leaders to pass legislation to ban production of single use plastics.
6. Eyes That Kiss In The Corners (Joanna Ho, Illustrated by Dung Ho)
A celebration of intergenerational family, culture and of course, eyes that kiss in the corner. This book is such a needed addition to any library, but especially that of Asian kids who hardly ever see their appearance celebrated in books.
7. Julian At The Wedding (Jessica Love) (Koa’s Pick)
In this sequel to Julian Is A Mermaid, Julian, a gender fluid child (I deduce) is in the wedding of two gorgeous Black women. I love this book so much. It has hardly any text at all, but the illustrations speak volumes. I adore the strong beautiful and big black grandmothers. As a woman who has struggled to accept my body and to recognize diet culture as racism by another name, I so appreciate seeing these bodies in childrens’ books.
8. Mango, Abuela and Me (Meg Medina, Illustrated by Angela Dominguez)
Tells the story of Mia and her Abuela who comes to live with Mia’s family after her grandfather dies. Abuela doesn’t speak any English and this book shows how they learn about each other and teach each other more than just another language. As an immigrant who grew up speaking German, not English, and having had my dad live with us after my mom died, this book speaks to me and Koa in a special way.
9. Harriet Gets Carried Away (Jessie Sima)
A sweet book about a girl who loves to dress up and who sometimes gets carried away.
10. Jingle Dancer (Cynthia Leitich Smith, Illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu)
A book about a girl who wants to dance at the next Pow Wow. Her journey to find enough jingles has nods to native culture and it’s a sweet introduction to dance regalia and pow wows.
Thank you so much to Jana for compiling these amazing book lists for us! Do you have other books you think should be on our lists to read? Leave a comment below! We’d love to hear from you!