Multicultural Children’s Literature

This page provides an overview of how to evaluate and use literature in your classrooms, along with some examples of books, and links to other bibliographies and curriculum guides. This list is not an exhaustive bibliography of multicultural children’s literature, but is designed to provide a starting place and overview.

 

When looking for multicultural children’s literature for your classroom, keep the following guidelines in mind:

1. Don’t limit yourself to the age or grade level assigned to the book.

Because children’s ability to understand messages and themes change as they mature, there are some great books that teach about diversity that could be used on one level in an elementary class and on another level in a high school class/university class.

2. Don’t limit using books to Language Arts or English class.

Using books in other subjects is a great way to incorporate different perspectives, create debate, and infuse diversity into the curriculum on a whole. Some of the books in the list below are appropriate for different subjects.

3. Be aware of various identities within a culture.

The Anglo-Saxon culture has a lot of variety, why wouldn’t others? For example, when selecting Indigenous literature, seek out books that depict characters from a well-defined specific Nation — as opposed to generic ‘Natives’. We caution that there are several popular books that do not demonstrate understanding of specific differences. For example, in Annie and the Old One by Miska Miles — which is a story of a little girl dealing with the death of her grandmother — descriptions and illustrations are totally incorrect for the Navajo culture. And no one in any Aboriginal culture would call his or her grandmother “old one.” If you are unsure how to evaluate a book focusing on an Indigenous culture, consult our list of resources to teach about Indigenous cultures and histories. [link to appropriate section of resources]

4. Avoid books that perpetuate stereotypes.

In particular, be cautious of books that suffer from what Joseph Bruchac refers to as “The Dances with Wolves Syndrome” — books in which all Aboriginal people are noble and all white people are bad. Any children’s book that builds up one culture at the expense of another ultimately keeps racial tension alive.

5. Choose books written by a member of that culture.

Although there are some exceptions, try to choose books that are written by a member of the topic’s culture or has lived within this culture a long time. Cultural experiences are diverse and unique. For example, the Black experiences of the Canadian Maritimes do not mirror the experiences of immigrant Blacks nor do inner-city situations parallel rural settings. Make sure your classroom library reflects this diversity.

6. You don’t have to reject books with offensive expressions, negative attitudes, or stereotypes.

These can actually be learning experiences but the teachers have to be well PREPARED. Without a lot of preparation, stereotypes can grow rather than be challenged.

7. Choose stories that are well written.

Seek out good literature with a strong plot and believable character development. The story should be worth revisiting again and again.

8. Make sure the illustrations and text do not leave the students with stereotypes.

For example, many folktales portray Jews living in small European villages before World War II. Although many did live in rural areas, many others lived in large cities such as Odessa, Warsaw, and Berlin. Kids shouldn’t come away from a book with a quaint notion of any group.

9. Avoid books that infer that there was a single cause for or a simple answer to the Holocaust,

or that stereotype events or characters, whether Jewish or German. They should address issues of human rights and oppression in a way that shows that people living under brutal conditions often did so with dignity.

10. Don’t shy away from books that have difficult topics.

such as racism or traumatic events. Literature is a great way to explore these topics.

11. Avoid the false connection between immigration and multiculturalism.

Although immigrants arrive everyday, many cultures, such as the Afro-Canadians, East Indians and Asian are also multi-generational members of Canadian society.

12. Incorporate books that depict white-skinned immigrants,

such as Eastern European.

A Checklist for Good Multicultural Literature:

Not all literature treats multiculturalism accurately or sensitively. It is important to evaluate each source you use in the classroom to determine if the book’s portrayal of cultures is authentic and non-stereotyping. Several organizations provide excellent guidelines for assessing children’s literature for issues of racism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination. Some of the best that we’ve found are:

 

10 Quick Ways to Analyze Children’s Books For Racism and Sexism
(Children and Libraries en Espanol)
http://www.chil-es.org/10ways.pdf

 

Guide for Selecting Anti-Bias Children’s Books
(Teaching for Change Books)
http://www.tfcbooks.org/guide-anti-bias-childrens-books

 

How to Tell the Difference: A Guide for Evaluating Children’s Books for Anti-Indian Bias
(Oyate)
http://oyate.org/index.php/resources/41-resources/how-to-tell-the-difference

 

Aboriginal Content Validation Form
(Education, Government of Manitoba)
http://www.edu.gov.mb.ca/k12/learnres/aboriginal/ab_con_val_form.pdf

Examples of books that respect the above-noted guidelines

Adler, David A. (1997). Lou Gehrig: The luckiest man

This book chronicles the life of Lou Gehrig and his accomplishments on the New York Yankees team. Lou Gehrig played 2,130 consecutive games until he called himself out of the game; after a visit to the Mayo Clinic he discovered he was dying because of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. Throughout his battle with the disease Lou continued to be a part of the team and encouraged Yankees fans. He worked for the City of New York before he died in June 1939.

Alexie, S (2007). The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

The story of Junior, a budding cartoonist growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Determined to take his future into his own hands, Junior leaves his troubled school on the rez to attend an all-white farm town high school where the only other Indian is the school mascot.

Altman, Linda Jacobs (1993). Amelia’s road

Amelia’s family moves around to follow the harvest for jobs. They are migrant workers and Amelia hopes to one day never have to move around again. In one town however, she finds a way to leave her mark. Linda Jacobs Altman identifies with children of migrant families because as a child she too had to move around a lot.

Altman, Linda Jacobs (2002). Singing with Momma Lou

Tamika Louella Jordan was named after her grandmother, Momma Lou, but every Sunday she has to remind Momma Lou that she’s her granddaughter. Momma Lou has Alzheimer’s disease and lives in a nursing home that Tamika and her parents visit each week. Tamika helps Momma Lou recall memories of her and her family by showing her photographs and newspaper clippings like the time when Momma Lou was arrested during the Civil Rights Movement.

Baylis-White, Mary (1991). Sheltering Rebecca

In this Holocaust story, a girl is sent away from Germany by her family and must deal with the absence of her parents, as well as her Jewish identity.

Bannatyne-Cugnet, J. (2000). From Far and Wide: A Citizenship Scrapbook

This story is about a little girl’s memories of becoming a Canadian citizen. In her scrapbook, Xiao Ling captures moments of becoming a citizen of Canada. From the recitation of the Oath of Canadian Citizenship to the singing of the national anthem and the welcoming party afterward with all of its tantalizing treats, the day is filled with memories for the new Canadians. This story is a useful resource about the process of becoming a Canadian citizen. 

Campbell, N. (2005). Shi-shi-etko

A moving story about a young girl who prepares to leave for a residential school. The family comes together to provide her with ways to keep her culture and her memories in her heart.

Campbell, N. (2008). Shin-Chi's Canoe

A moving sequel to Shi-shi-etko that tells the story of two children’s experience at residential school. The BC Federation of Teachers has produced a curriculum guide for this book.

Cheng, A. (2000). Grandfather Counts

Helen’s grandfather from China arrives in Canada to live with his family. Although the two are initially shy of each other, they eventually bond over the experience of teaching each other to count in their first languages. The story illustrates the challenge of keeping family bonds despite language and cultural differences.

Choi, Y (2009). The Name Jar

A story about Unhei, who has just moved from Korea to America and wants a new American name. The BC Federation of Teachers published a short curriculum guide for The Name Jar.

Czech, Jan M. (2002). The Coffee Can Kid

Annie likes to hear her dad tell the story of the coffee can kid. It is a story about a little girl whose mom could not take care of her, so she came to America and was adopted by a loving family. Inside the coffee can is a picture of the baby. The baby is Annie and she loves to hear the story of how she came to her parents as often as she can. Topics addressed in this story are adoption, Korean culture, and different types of families.

Hamanaka, S. (1990). The Journey: Japanese Americans, Racism, and Renewal

In this deeply personal book, Hamanaka shares a mural she painted depicting the racism her relatives and other Japanese-Americans endured while imprisoned in U. S. concentration camps during World War II.

Jordan-Fenton, Christy and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton (2010). Fatty Legs

A first-person account of Margaret and her experiences in a residential school in Northern Canada that not only describes the experience of residential schools but tells a story of triumph.

Kusugak, Michael Arvaarluk (1998). Arctic Stories

Tales based on the author’s own childhood experiences, the book is set in the 1950s,  telling many Arctic tales, focusing on 10-year-old Agatha, an Inuit girl and reluctant heroine.

Lanton, Sandy (1991). Daddy’s Chair

A Jewish boy sits shiva for his father, and defends his father’s chair from all encroachments.

Polacco, P. (1992). Mrs. Katz and Tush

This heart-warming story chronicles the friendship between a lonely Jewish widow and a young African-American boy.

Robertson, David Alexander (2012). 7 Generations: A Plains Cree Saga

An epic 4-part graphic novel that follows one Aboriginal family over three centuries and seven generations that focuses on Edwin, who learns about his family’s past as warriors, survivors of a smallpox epidemic, and casualties of residential school. Portage and Main Press has created a comprehensive curriculum guide for the series available for download free of charge.

Say, Allen (1997). Allison

Allison, adopted from Asia, becomes upset and angry when she realizes that she doesn’t look like her white adoptive parents. Taking care of a stray cat helps her to understand the idea of adoption.

Say, Allen (1999). Tea With Milk

The author tells the story of his mother’s journey from America to Japan around the 1950s. May is a teenager when her family moves back to Japan. She has to attend high school over again in Japan and has a difficult time making friends. She leaves her family’s village to move to the city where she gets a job and meets a man who was educated in an English school. This book tells the story of immigration, but with a twist in that May is born American, and does not feel she belongs in her parent’s country. The other kids in school call her a “foreigner,” and Japanese traditions such as matchmaking are unfamiliar.

Spalding, Andrea (2006) Secret of the Dance

A story set on Canada’s west coast in 1935 about a family holding a forbidden Potlatch in Kingcome Inlet and a nine-year-old boy, Watl’kina who witnesses it. The BC Federation of Teachers published a short curriculum guide for the story.

Wild, M. (1991). A Time for Toys

A child, who remembers life at home before life in a concentration camp, makes toys with the women to give to the other children at a very special party. The illustrations in this book are haunting and add a layer of depth that makes this book worthy of discussion in kindergarten to high school to university.

Woodson, Jacqueline (2012). Each Kindness

When Ms. Albert teaches a lesson on kindness, Chloe realizes that she and her friends have been wrong in making fun of a new student’s clothes and refusing to play with her.

Yolen, J. (1988). The Devil’s Arithmetic

In this compelling novel, a young girl is mystically transported from present-day New York to Poland during World War II, where she goes into a gas chamber to save the life of another.

Yee, P. (1996). Ghost Train

Left behind in China by her father, who has gone to North America to find work, Choon-yi has made her living by selling her paintings in the market. When her father writes one day and asks her to join him, she joyously sets off, only to discover that he has been killed. Choon-yi sees the giant train engines that her father died for, and she tries to paint them. But it takes a trip on a train and mysterious encounters in the middle of the night to make her art come alive.

Yep, L. (1995). Hiroshima

The author expresses the tragedy of Hiroshima through the story of two sisters, only one of whom survives. Yep’s understated tone makes this novella gripping.

Other Resources for Finding and Using Multicultural Children’s Literature

 

Searching for Multicultural Library Materials for Students

 

Curriculum Laboratory, University of Lethbridge

Provides a list of bibliographies and trustworthy sources on multicultural literature related to curriculum and assessment. Also provides helpful hints for searching for materials.

 

K-12 Multicultural, Anti-Racist Annotated Bibliography

 

BC Federation of Teachers

Created by the Multicultural Anti-Racist Book-Loving Educators (MARBLES), this document provides a list of literature by grades, with notes for each publication, all focusing on multiculturalism and/or anti-racism.

 

Antiracism Annotated Bibliography

 

BC Federation of Teachers

A list of books with descriptions for grades 5-12 that help to teach antiracism.