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  • Writer's pictureMegan Humburg

20 Books to Celebrate DIVERSITY in Your Classroom

Diversity can mean so many things: students can have different skin colors, ethnicities, religions, family compositions, physical abilities, mental abilities, communication styles, and so much more. The best approaches to honoring diversity in your classroom are those that help students feel seen for who they are while also making them feel welcome and loved in their school community. Adding books that recognize, honor, and celebrate diversity can help all students feel that their identities are beloved and that their differences are a source of beauty and strength.

 

Picture Books for Young Readers

#1. Families, Families, Families!

By Suzanne Lang

This book celebrates different family compositions by showing cute cartoon animals in their family portraits – a pair of grandparent walruses raising their pup, two rooster dads, an octopus single mom, and many more. The book covers a variety of different types of family dynamics, with the overarching message that what makes a family is the love you have for each other.


#2. Beautifully Me

By Nabela Noor

A gorgeous book that explores the struggle that young kids have with loving their bodies when the culture around them is so often obsessed with dieting and body shaming. The story follows Zubi, a Bangladeshi girl who is excited for her first day at school, until she begins to hear everyone around her critiquing their bodies, and she starts to worry that something is wrong with her body, too. This story can help start conversations with students about talking kindly about themselves and others and loving their bodies, no matter what shape or size.


#3. Benji, the Bad Day, and Me

By Sally J. Pla

This book explores the relationship between two brothers, one of whom (Benji) is on the autism spectrum. The story is told from the perspective of Sammy, who is having a bad day and is resentful of how much attention his brother Benji gets. Benji has his own special place to hang out at home when he is too overwhelmed or had a bad day, and Sammy is wishing that he had support for his bad day, too. The story does a lovely job highlighting the bond between the two brothers as Benji notices his brother’s sadness and


#4. The Proudest Blue

By Ibtihaj Muhammad

A lovely and gorgeously drawn book about two sisters, one of whom is wearing a hijab to school for the first time. The story tackles themes of bullying and shows the power of feeling proud of who you are, told through the eyes of the younger sister as she admires the beauty and strength of her older sister as she ignores the hurtful words of peers who don’t understand. The book now has a sequel, The Kindest Red, that is similarly beautiful and heartwarming.


#5. A Plan for Pops

By Heather Smith

This story explores the difficulties that families can experience when adjusting to a change in their aging loved one’s abilities. After Pops has a bad fall and becomes withdrawn, his grandchild Lou works hard with Grandad to come up with a plan to remind Pops that he is loved and to help him adjust to his new life in a wheelchair. Two of the main characters (Pops and Grandad) are an interracial LGBTQ+ couple, which adds some lovely representation for students as well.

 

Chapter Books for Elementary Kids


#1. The Magnificent Makers

By Theanne Griffith

This is a lovely series of chapter books featuring a diverse cast of characters, and each book introduces readers to exciting science facts hand in hand with engaging stories about exploration and friendship. From the publisher: “Violet and Pablo are best friends who love science! So when they discover a riddle that opens a magic portal in the Science Space at school, they can't wait to check it out! Along with their new classmate, Deepak, the friends discover a magical makerspace called the Maker Maze. It's a laboratory full of robots, 3D printers, an anti gravity chamber, and more.”


#2. Make Way for Dyamonde Daniel

By Nikki Grimes

This is the first in a four book series about a spunky third grader named Dyamonde Daniel, who has just moved to a new school and is eager to make new friends. The series tackles topics that are relevant for many students' lives, like adjusting to life after your parents’ divorce and the stress of unemployment. Reviewers love that this first book focuses on Dyamonde’s empathy for a struggling classmate in her quest to make new friends.


#3. Jasmine Toguchi, Mochi Queen

By Debbi Michiko Florence

This beautifully illustrated series is written by a Japanese-American author and features Jasmine Toguchi, a strong-willed young girl who is determined to find a place for her skills to fit in her family’s traditional mochi-making process to celebrate the new year. The book explores Jasmine’s family dynamics with warmth and humor, and Jasmine’s struggle to prove that she is old enough and strong enough to participate in her family’s traditions is a familiar story that young students can definitely relate to.


#4. Jo Jo Makoons: The Used-to-Be Best Friend

By Dawn Quigley

This is the first installment in a sweet and funny series that follows a young Ojibwe girl named Jo Jo who lives on a reservation with her mother and grandmother. Recommended by AICL for its lovely representation of Native peoples, this series is written and illustrated by Native creators, and it will entertain and delight young readers with Jo Jo’s antics while introducing them to some Ojibwe words and cultural traditions along the way.


#5. Book Uncle and Me

By Uma Krishnaswami

This book follows the journey of Yasmin, a young girl in India who loves to read and loves to get books from Book Uncle – a retired teacher who runs a free lending library on the street corner. When the city tries to shut Book Uncle down, Yasmin wants to find some way to help her community, even though she’s just a kid. This book is a great introduction to grassroots community activism for young kids, and it also gives students who don’t live in India a lovely look at another culture, with themes of kindness and friendship woven throughout.

 

Graphic Novels and Longer Books for Middle Grades


#1. Some Places More Than Others

By Renée Watson

Reviewers absolutely adore the story of Amara, a young Black girl who travels to NYC to meet her father’s extended family as a teenager. The book lovingly explores themes of Black culture, family histories, and forgiving the ones we love for their imperfections. Camryn on Goodreads says, “Renée Watson books literally nourish my soul and I’m so glad they exist for Black kids everywhere to feel that love and strength for our people and culture and our stories.”


#2. Ellen Outside the Lines

By A.J. Sass

This book blends a variety of representation seamlessly in a moving story about Ellen, an autistic teenager who struggles to navigate changing friendships as she and her best friend begin to grow apart. The book touches on Ellen’s Jewish heritage, her exploration and questioning around gender, and her evolving friendships as she takes a trip to Barcelona and meets a great new group of LGTBQ+ friends whose personalities shine as supporting characters. The rich representation of neurodivergence through a lens of kindness and joy is something that has reviewers saying ‘I wish I had this book when I was growing up.’


#3. The Marvellers

By Dhonielle Clayton

Billed as an “intersectionally inclusive, fantastical adventure” (Publisher’s Weekly), this story follows a young Conjuror named Ella who enrolls at a global institute for magic where magicians from all over come to practice their different cultural magics. When students at her new school begin giving her trouble due to their mistrust of Conjuror magic, Ella finds a supportive mentor along with a pair of magical misfits, Brigit and Jason, who have similar trouble finding their place at the institute. This book is a lovely, diverse fantasy adventure with twists and turns and a strong Black girl as a protagonist who readers will love to root for.


#4. The Tea Dragon Festival

By Katie O'Neill

A lovely and sweet graphic novel that follows nonbinary protagonist Rinn as they try to help a dragon who has just woken from a magical sleep. This story is gorgeously intersectional, with a variety of LGBTQ+ representation as well as many characters who are people of color. The story also offers some great representation of a community that has integrated ASL (American Sign Language) into their everyday communication.


#5. Invisible

By Christina Diaz Gonzalez

This graphic novel centers on five Spanish-speaking students from different cultures who are thrown together by school staff in a poorly-thought-out community service project. The students have nothing in common on the surface, but as they spend mornings together in the cafeteria, they notice a family in their community is experiencing homelessness and begin working together to help them. Reviewers call the story a “Latine Breakfast Club'' with intersecting themes of racism, stereotypes, language barriers, and homelessness, presented in a mixture of Spanish and English that may appeal to new ESL readers and bilingual readers alike.

 

Young Adult Books for High School and Beyond


#1. Peta Lyre’s Rating Normal

By Anna Whateley

Peta is a teenager with autism, ADHD, and sensory processing disorder who has spent years in therapy learning to look and act “normal”. However, when she meets new student Sam, Peta begins to struggle with her careful routines and starts to question whether her “normal” act is who she really wants to be. Peta’s journey offers some beautiful and poignant representation for neurodiverse teens who have spent their lives masking in order to feel “normal”, and with a bit of LGBTQ+ romance sprinkled in, it’s a lovely intersectional story.


#2. Ophelia After All

By Racquel Marie

This book is a beautiful queer coming-of-age story following the journey of Ophelia Rojas, a mixed-race Cuban-Irish teenager who struggles with the tension between the version of herself that her friends and family know and a new identity she is just uncovering. Friends know her as boy-crazy, but when Ophelia develops her first obvious girl crush, she is unsure how to merge these two parts of herself. Reviewers adore the lovable cast of LGBTQ+ characters and the blended themes of identity, teenage drama, and friendship.


#3. The Words in My Hands

By Asphyxia

Told in a gorgeous visual diary format that pairs text with drawings and collage, this novel takes place in a not-too-far-away dystopian future plagued by food shortages and political corruption. It follows the journey of Piper, a teenager who has been Deaf since the age of three and is pushed by her mother to adapt and fit into the hearing world around her. However, when Piper connects with other Deaf folks in her community and starts learning Australian Sign Language (Auslan), she begins to rethink her Deafness through a lens of celebration and connection rather than deficit.


#4. Far from the Tree

By Robin Benway

This novel highlights the emotionally complex experiences of young adults who grow up entangled with the adoption and foster care systems, from feelings of resentment and abandonment to the striving for a sense of identity and belonging. The story follows three biological siblings – Grace, Maya, and Joaquin – who were split apart when they were very young and find each other as young adults. Grace and Maya were adopted as babies, while Joaquin grew up in the foster care system. As these siblings get to know each other and each wrestle with their own traumas, the story beautifully explores complex questions about what it means to be a family.


#5. Only This Beautiful Moment

By Abdi Nazemian

This book follows three interwoven storylines spanning generations of a single Iranian family. Readers get to know Moud, his father Saeed, and his grandfather Bobby as each of them navigates their teenage years and complicated family relationships. The book alternates between the three different timelines and the backdrops of both Los Angeles and Tehran, exploring themes of immigration, racism, homophobia, and generational trauma. The author weaves together culture, identity, and queerness into a beautiful and moving story that reviewers highly recommend.


This list is just the beginning – we will continue updating our lists as we find new literary gems!

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