Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Everyday Diversity and Beginning Readers

This week's contributor is Gigi Pagliarulo, a librarian for the Denver Public Library. Gigi is especially interested in youth services, early literacy, and issues of diversity and multiculturalism within children's literature and programming, and has served on the steering committee of Colorado Libraries for Early Literacy.

Geisel guessers, it’s time for another foray into the land of diversity in children’s literature. Last year I discussed why we need diverse beginning readers (#WeNeedDiverseBeginningReaders). Although the number of books featuring racially diverse characters was on the rise in 2016, the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, in their yearly analysis of diversity in children’s book publishing, notes that these books still comprise just a small fraction of children’s books published in the United States. As issues of racial and ethnic diversity, representation, and equality continue to shape our social and political landscape, those of us who care about children, their literature, and their reading life believe that there is a strong need for ALL children to see themselves reflected in the pages of the books they read. Rudine Sims Bishop, in her essential, oft-quoted article about books serving for readers as “Mirrors, Windows and Sliding Glass Doors,” warns: “When children cannot find themselves reflected in the books they read, or when the images they see are distorted, negative, or laughable, they learn a powerful lesson about how they are devalued in the society of which they are a part.”

Conversely, research has found that when children see themselves represented in the books they read, they make more connections between the text, themselves, and the world around them, thus leading to more positive associations, motivation to read, and better performance. This seems especially important during that short but crucial time when children are beginning to read and need motivation to persevere through the challenges of the learning process. Beginning readers featuring Everyday Diversity can help fill that gap.

Some diverse books are culturally specific, focusing on a particular culture’s authentic experiences, and some books are culturally neutral, showing people of color as characters without any reference to cultural characteristics or attributes. There is an important need for both types of literature, and a website called the Everyday Diversity Project seeks to highlight those books that portray racially and ethnically diverse characters in everyday, familiar settings and experiences, with the message and goal of all children seeing themselves mirrored in books. Anna Haase Kruger, who founded the site, defines the characteristics of Everyday Diversity books:
  • Predominantly features a racially diverse main character.
  • Primarily shows modern day contemporary life.
  • Subject matter is not about race, religion, history, "other cultures," or ability.

Beginning readers are a great venue for this type of literature, with so many series centered around well-loved characters doing recognizable activities, gently weaving new vocabulary into familiar scenarios to build tender readers’ confidence. Here is a list of beginning reader series featuring Everyday Diversity. Please note, I’ve also included few other subgenres, including biographies, with the belief that it should be an “everyday” experience for kids of all backgrounds to have a variety of reflective beginning reader books to suit their diverse interests.

Modern Life

Andy and Sandy by Tomie de Paola and Jim Lewis

Bradford Street Buddies by Jerdine Nolen and Michelle Henninger

Confetti Kids by Paula Yoo and Shirley Ng-Benitez

Katie Woo by Fran Manushkin and Tammie Lyon

Lana’s World by Erica Silverman and Jess Golden

The Life of Max by Adria F Klein and Mernie Gallagher-Cole

Ling and Ting by Grace Lin

Max and Zoe by Shelley Swanson Sateren and Mary Sullivan

Messy Bessey by Fredrick McKissack and Dana Regan

Mo series by David A. Adler and Sam Ricks

Robin Hill School by Margaret McNamara and Mike Gordon

Sofia Martinez by Jacqueline Jules and Kim Smith

Tony and Lauren Dungy Ready-To-Reads by Tony Dungy and Lauren Dungy

Fantasy and Science Fiction
Buzz Beaker by Cari Meister and Bill McGuire

Robot and Rico by Anastasia Suen and Mike Laughead

Zoey and Sassafrass by Asia Citro and Marion Lindsay

Katie Fry Private Eye by Katherine Cox and Vanessa Brantley Newton

King and Kayla by Dori Hillestad Butler and Nancy Meyers

Graphic Novels
Flop to the Top by Eleanor Davis and Drew Weing

Luke on the Loose by Harry Bliss

You Should Meet series by various authors

National Geographic Readers biographies by various authors


  1. Love this list! Thank you for this post, Gigi.

    1. So glad you found it useful, Alec. It was both a pleasure and an education to put it together!

  2. This is a great list of series! One thing that I feel is sorely lacking in the field of readers is the everyday diversity of disabled characters and representation of LGBTQ+ families. Are than any beginning readers that the great brain can think of that represent these experiences?

    1. Thanks so much, Danielle! After doing a bit of research, I haven't found any beginning readers that feature disabled or GLBTQ+ characters. Talk about a niche that needs filling... Thanks for bringing this issue up!

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Beautifully written piece, clear and succinct - and it translates easily into action.