fb-pixel Skip to main content
Now Read This

Books about diversity for children and teens

Educators and others who work with young folks offer recommendations for summer reading.

Five Flavors of Dumb

by Antony John

Kathryn Rierson

Girl Scouts of Eastern Massachusetts, waterfront director, Camp Runels

Being deaf could feel very isolating while growing up. It was hard to make friends because I was so obviously different — born with one ear, wore a hearing aid, sat in front of the classroom, and used a sign language interpreter.

In school I was very much like Piper, the protagonist of “Five Flavors of Dumb.” I tried not to draw attention to myself. In this story, Piper, a deaf high schooler, finds herself in the spotlight when challenged to find a paying gig for the hottest band in school. The task is complicated both by her lack of confidence and of hearing.


But Piper helps the five diverse band members bring their own flavor to the group, and along the way, she realizes the importance of being herself. My parents were the ones who helped me learn this lesson — like the band members in this book, my uniqueness made me interesting.

For ages 12-18

Yang the Youngest and His Terrible Ear

by Lensey Namioka

Pong Louie

Adult education coordinator, Chinese Progressive Association

As a former ESL teacher in the Boston public schools, I taught many books to my students, including this one. It tells the story of Ying Tao Yang, whose family immigrated to the United States. We learn about the problems Ying Tao had adjusting to life here. We see the contrast between Chinese and American cultures and how one of his siblings helped and supported him. The story highlights different areas of conflict and change that new immigrants face. When my students discussed it in class, it helped them to understand they weren’t the only ones who had to deal with such problems. The book also strengthened my desire to write about the Asian-American experience — it highlights the need for more stories about diversity.


For ages 8 and up

I Am the World

by Charles R. Smith Jr.

Clarrissa Cropper

Co-owner, Frugal Bookstore, Roxbury

I ordered this book because I felt it would be a great addition to the books about diversity that we already have on our shelves. When I opened it for the first time, I was delighted to see how it celebrates our cultural differences with poetry and photographs that reflect the many faces of children from around the world. Each page highlights our uniqueness with simple and thought-provoking lines like, “I am the thread in Kente cloth” and “I am the blood of emperors.”

Although we look different, we are all human beings, so it’s necessary to respect each other and learn to get along. Every child and adult should have a copy of this book to share with the people in their lives.

For ages 4-8


by Marjane Satrapi

Marjan Kamali

Author of “Together Tea”

When I was a teenager in New York City, most of the books I read had heroines with names like “Jane” or “Nancy.” Back then, it was hard to imagine a best-selling book that depicted the childhood years I had known in postrevolutionary, war-torn Iran — and with a heroine that shared my Persian name!

In this autobiographical graphic novel, simple black and white comic strips depict a girl’s childhood during the 1979 Iranian revolution and the following years of war with Iraq. It’s an intimate, moving, and often humorous look at a girl dealing with the ups and downs of adolescence and the political and religious changes in Iran. All of us can identify with universal insecurities and ambitions while learning about a very different setting and time.


For ages 12 and up

Ron’s Big Mission

by Rose Blue and Corinne J. Naden

Theresa Lynn

Executive director, ReadBoston

Creating a city of proficient readers is our goal at ReadBoston. Children need access to a diverse selection of high quality books that will expand both their vocabulary and their imagination. Picture books are especially powerful, as they engage both adult and child in a conversation as the artwork also tells the story.

This book is about a boy who isn’t allowed the privilege of a library card because he’s black and growing up in a segregated state. The illustrations let the reader know just how the characters feel, including the librarian and the kindly white woman who offers to check books out for him using her card. Ron, who grows up to be Ron McNair, scientist and astronaut, eventually gets his card through peaceful resistance.

For ages 5-8

Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass

by Meg Medina

Angela Veizaga

Youth services librarian, East Boston Branch, Boston Public Library

I was born in Bolivia and came to the United States when I was 8. While growing up, I lived in a predominately white neighborhood and rarely interacted with Latino classmates. I was bookish and had fears of not fitting in Latino culture; I thought I wouldn’t be seen as Latina enough, and that in Caucasian culture I was not white enough.


In this book, Piddy is a smart, light-skinned Latina who doesn’t speak with an accent, which means she’s not Latina enough. Piddy’s differences make her a target for bullying by a classmate. I wish there had been a book like this when I was struggling with my identity. All of us need to know we’re not alone in that effort.

For ages 14 and up

Malcolm Little

by Ilyasah Shabazz

L’Merchie Frazier

Director of education and interpretation, Museum of African American History

This beautifully illustrated book begins, “Malcolm X was one of the most influential men in American History, but before he was Malcolm X, he was Malcolm Little.”

When we think of great Americans like Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., or Malcolm X, the last thing that comes to mind is their experience as children.

Author Ilyasah Shabazz pays tribute to her grandparents and her father through this lyrical story that traces the roots of Malcolm’s parents from the West Indies to his early years in Nebraska. Earl and Louise Little’s life lessons about discipline, fortitude, and self-determination inspired their son to embrace self-love, honesty, integrity, perseverance, and the brotherhood of equality.

Reviews have been edited and condensed.