Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Various Racial Identities

When I was in middle school, I could pick up books with girls just like myself in them all the time. 

It's harder today, and in order to get students books they want to read, conversation is always involved. I don't assume that my Somali, Hispanic, or African American students only want to read about their culture any more than I assume that the football players only want to read about football. So we start with three questions. Happy or sad? Modern or historical? Fantasy or reality? For all of my students, I like to offer a selection of choices, and it's good to have a variety of faces on the cover. 

Some of my students are VERY interested in their ethnic heritage, and sometimes it's uncomfortable to have that first conversation. I'm as white, European-American as they come (and really, we shouldn't be using "American" to identify people from the US, because it can also describe people in South America and in Canada). Is it rude to ask a student what their ethnic heritage is? I have a lot of students who are biracial or multiracial, and some of them do really want to read about people who are dealing with the different experiences that having that kind of heritage can involve. 

One of my library helpers is not only biracial, but his father is Bahamian, so we had lots of conversations about what it means to be black but not African American. One 6th grader whose first language is Spanish wants to read any book with a Latino character-- but her family is from the Dominican Republic, and there are very few books about students from there. Another one of my helpers is very interested in the Civil Rights movement, so she loves historical fiction, but a lot of my readers want modern realistic fiction about African American students in the suburban US.

This is a very long-winded way to say that once we HAVE diverse books, we're still going to have to get them to students. As long as librarians and students are able to have respectful conversations about race and racial identity and diverse characters in books, we'll be able to fulfill our mission of getting the right book to the right student at the right time. 

In most of these books, the racial diversity if black and white; if it is other than that, I tried to note it.

*Curry, Jane Louise. The Black Canary (2005)
Frazier, Sundee. Brendan Buckley’s Universe and Everything in It. (2007)
Frazier, Sundee. The Other Half of My Heart (2010)
Freedman, Paula J. My Basmati Bat Mitzvah (2014) Indian and Jewish
Hale, Bruce. Playing with Fire (2013)
Hannigan, Kate. Cupcake Cousins (2014)
Hiranandani, Veera. The Whole Story of Half a Girl (2013) Indian American
*Hughes, Dean. Missing in Action (2010) American Indian; Japanese Americans
McMullan. Margaret. Cashay (2009)
Magoon, Kekla. Camo Girl (2011)
Maldonado, Tony. Secret Saturdays (2010)
*Marsden, Carolyn. Take Me With You (2010) Italian and African American
McDonald, Janet. Off Color (2007)
Namioka, Lensey. Half and Half (2003) Chinese and Scottish
*Peck, Richard. The River Between Us (2003)
Philbrick, Rodman.  Zane and the Hurricane (2014)
Rushby, Allison. Shooting Stars (2012)
Schrefer, Eliot. Endangered (2012) Racially mixed character, set in Congo
Smith, Sherry. Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet (African American and Chinese)
Woods, Brenda. The Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond (2014)
Woodson, Jacqueline. Miracle’s Boys (2000)
*Zettel, Sarah. The Golden Girl (2013) YA

*Historical Fiction


  1. I'd like to see more books where the characters are of different ethnicities and that ethnicity is not important to the story. I.e. two kid detectives solving crimes and one happens to be black and the other white. The mystery would be the important thing. I hope we are moving to a place where skin color is no more important than shirt color.

  2. It would be hard to get the right book into the right hands of a child. Maybe a display in the library with faces on the cover they can relate to will help them just pick up the book without having to have to go up to the librarian and saying "I would like to read a book with such and such type of ethnicity".