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Written by Flannery Fitch   

Children’s literature has often been a safe place for those of diverse backgrounds. Not only are there children’s books dealing with issues such as race, gender, sexuality, and background, there are books full of diversity that are not about diversity. In these books, diversity is simply a given, and while individual backgrounds may form the characters, their differences are not the plot of the story. Books like these celebrate the kaleidoscope of people that make up our country by not making it a big deal.

 

Corduroy

by Don Freeman

When I was little, I loved this book simply because it was a story about a stuffed bear going on adventures and finding his forever home. It’s cute and charming and fun. As an adult, I developed a whole new level of adoration for this book because the little girl who buys Corduroy is black. Having a little black girl as the main human character and having it not be the point of the story is really neat, especially considering that Corduroy was written in 1968.

 

The Grand Canyon

by Jason Chin

This is the most beautifully illustrated book about the Grand Canyon I’ve ever seen. Jason Chin, author/illustrator of Redwoods and Island, has worked his magic here, leading you on a guided tour of the natural majesty of the Grand Canyon through the eyes of a young hiker. Cutouts, sidebars, and one gorgeous pullout make this a visual feast as Chin follows the young girl and her father on their exploration. Like in Corduroy, it doesn’t matter that the characters aren’t white, it matters that they’re hiking!

 

Anywhere Farm

by Phyllis Root

If you want to grow your own food, you don’t have to have a farm or a big backyard to have an edible garden—you can bring the farm to your home! In this charming picture book, kids of all kinds set up gardens of all kinds in their city, proving that a city can be home to a farm—you just have to think outside the planter box! Sometimes it just takes one person to plant the seeds, and a community will grow just like the garden. If this idea sounds great but you have a child too old for picture books, see the next title on the list.

 

Seedfolks

by Paul Fleischman

An empty lot is turned into a flourishing community garden after a young Vietnamese girl plants a few tiny lima beans and her secret plants are discovered by a nosy neighbor. As the garden grows, the neighborhood grows with it—changing from a loose group of apartment buildings next to each other into a community of people working together to create something better. The diversity of the people is important because it creates a garden of difference, but the center of this story is the garden, and the power that one patch of land—or one little girl—has to change an entire community. Plus, local author Fleischman did the research for this much beloved staff favorite at the Santa Cruz Homeless Garden Project!

 

The Egypt Game

By Zilpha Keatley Snyder

When Melanie meets April, she assumes they have nothing in common. But both girls find a shared interest in ancient Egypt, and the next thing they know they’re playing Egypt in the empty lot behind the local junk shop. Soon they’re joined by more friends—and find themselves embroiled in all manner of trouble! This diverse group of kids don’t care that they’re diverse, they’ve got bigger worries. A fun mystery with historical elements, this is a great middle grade read.

 

The Raven Boys Quartet

by Maggie Stiefvater

This quartet may not scream diversity at you when you read it—the main characters are all white. However, this series has two aspects that I find to be inclusive: One is that one of the characters is gay, but his sexuality isn’t the defining aspect of his personality, it simply is. (There are far more magical things going on in his head than what gender he prefers.) Secondly, this series deals with inequality of income level among friends. Anyone who has been friends with someone from a vastly different income level knows that the disparity can be stressful on a friendship. I loved the way Stiefvater made this part of the story and part of the struggle for the teens, because she doesn’t make one income level the bad guy and allows the issue to be as complex as it really is. Stiefvater’s treatment of these issues, as well as her sensitivity to issues around mental illness, makes The Raven Boys Quartet diverse and inclusive in ways that have nothing to do with skin color. 

Flannery Fitch is a bookseller at Bookshop Santa Cruz. Her life has been about books since before she could read.

 
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