Reader Request: Building a Diverse Reading List for Kids

Why that’s a tall order for this Black woman

Hello friends,

When a newsletter subscriber asked me a few weeks ago to put together a list of books for parents wanting to diversify their kids’ bookshelves, I had two thoughts at the same time.

The first was: what a great idea!

The second: Yikes, how the heck will I do that?

You see, I grew up in a time when most of the books I read were by white authors and with white protagonists. That didn’t make them any less good, but it’s not helpful when trying to draw on my own experience to compile a diverse reading list.

I went from Janet and John books to Enid Blyton to Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys books, and loved them all. Later on, I read Mills & Boon (incidentally, I was well into my 30s before I read a romance novel with Black protagonists). Then I abandoned romance and settled into reading my enduring favorites: science fiction, thrillers and mysteries (not the cozy kind).

There was the occasional departure, of course. I remember reading Maya Angelou’s books and poetry fairly early on (And Still I Rise remains one of my favorite poems) and my dad lent me the amazing For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide / When the Rainbow Is Enuf by Ntozake Shange. For the most part, though, my reading formation was whiter than white.

That changed a little when I was at university. My student job was working in the bookshop, where I discovered a wealth of novels and poetry by Caribbean and Black authors. I devoured them all, and still remember enjoying In the Castle of My Skin by George Lamming.

The novelty of these books was that the protagonists were people who looked like me in settings that I knew. I couldn’t always relate to their experiences the same way my older relatives could, but I enjoyed them all the same. I then broadened my reading to include other books by Black authors around the world, from Olaudah Equiano’s memoir to Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man.

In my 30s, I discovered Terry McMillan, author of Waiting to Exhale, and a bunch of other very readable books featuring contemporary women who were more like me. It was refreshing. And since then, I’ve continued to read widely, recently discovering the novels of Dorothy Koomson. (Though I read biographies, essay collections, and more, I LOVE a good novel!)

But none of this helped with the question of a diverse kids’ reading list. There were a couple of books I knew of myself:

  • The First Daughter books by Mitali Perkins - my daughter read and loved these

  • My Fishy Stepmom by Shakirah Bourne - one of the best modern Barbadian authors around

But since that wasn’t a lot to go on, I decided to do some research. Here are some of the book lists I liked (I found many more but these seemed the best ones to me):

I think these give people plenty to start with, but now I want to throw this over to you.

What books do you love to share with your kids to highlight Black excellence and achievements, and which tell good tales?

Which books by BIPOC authors and with BIPOC protagonists keep your bookshelves balanced?

Drop me a comment or email and let’s build our own list together.

Thanks for reading.


© Sharon Hurley Hall, 2021. All Rights Reserved.

Cover photo courtesy of Canva.

I am an anti-racism writer, a professional B2B writer and blogger, and co-host of The Introvert Sisters podcast. If you value my perspective, please consider upgrading to a paid subscription.

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