This list of chapter books about diverse families focuses on strong, loving families. First, part of my role as a parent is to help my kids become compassionate individuals, and one way to do that is by teaching them about diverse families and cultures. We've read picture books about diverse families, and now we are adding in some chapter books.
The #weneeddiversebooks movement is putting the pressure on publishing houses to put out more books with diverse characters, but there are a lot of books already on the shelves that families can check out. I've gathered a selection of books that I feel are successful in portraying multicultural families in a positive light, where the family bond is strong! The common thread, however, is that they are all uplifting reads. And don't we all need an uplifting read? (Note: covers and titles are affiliate links.)
The Watsons Go to Birmingham--1963. Well-behaved 9 year old Kenny and his not-so-well behaved 13 year old brother, Byron, navigate family (the “Weird Watsons” as Kenny refers to them) and school life in Michigan until their parents decide that Byron needs to spend the summer with Grandma down in Alabama. Together they set off on a road trip. Shortly after arriving in Birmingham that community is devastated by the infamous church bombing. If you are avoiding this book because you worry about your kids being distressed over the heinousness of that historical event I would urge you to reconsider. Curtis handles the theme of racial tension so well (and it’s not the main focus of the book, family life is the main theme), that I have no reservations recommending this book for kids ages 8 and up. This is the third time I have included this book on a list, which means you must put it in your to-read stack!
Savvy is about the magical Beaumont family. Mibs is about to turn thirteen, the age when each child finds out what his or her magic, or "savvy", will be. Her brothers can control natural elements, her mother can do everything perfectly and Mibs is anxious to find out what her special quality is. Right before her 13th birthday party, her father has an accident and Mibs is convinced that her power will heal him. She runs away with her siblings and friends to try and reach him. I simply loved this book and it would be a great choice for kids who like Harry Potter.
Wonder. By now you must have heard of this book about an 11 year old boy with severe facial deformities who enters school for the first time. August is nervous about starting a school and making friends but he has the incredible support of his parents and his sister, although her feelings are not glossed over, either. August's captivating journey, which is both funny and moving, is actually the journey of his entire family, and this is a wonderful book to teach tolerance and compassion. I also recommend it as a read aloud.
The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher made me laugh out loud. I read the book myself and read aloud some of the most humorous passages to my kids while they were busy on the floor with their Pokemon (sigh). A family of 2 dads and 4 adopted sons (all together they span several ethnicities and religions) lead a rather disordered and hilarious lifestyle. The boys all have different personalities, which could lend themselves to stereotypes, but thankfully do not. After finishing this book I wanted to move right in to the Fletcher household, if only to try out their DIY hockey rink. (You'll have to read it to find out.)
My Basmati Bat Mitzvah. Tara is getting ready for her Bat Mitzvah, but she is conflicted about her cultural identity and her faith. Her Indian mother converted to Judiasm before Tara was born so Tara knows that "technically" she is Jewish, even though a girl at school tries to make her think otherwise. Tara is navigating middle school waters for the first time, re-evaluating her relationship with her best friends and having in-depth conversations with the Rabbi about God. Even though Tara experiences the typical early teen angst in her relationship with her parents, it is clear that they are a supportive unit and her extended family, also living in NYC, are an integral part of their family life. This is a terrific read, especially for kids who come from similarly complex backgrounds, but also to teach kids about the diverse experiences of multicultural families.
All-of-a-Kind Family is a classic series about a Jewish family with five girls growing up on the Lower East Side of New York City in the early 20th century. This book is on every "must read books" list you can imagine and the old-school adventures of the family are heart-warming and entertaining. Not to be missed by any child.
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon. If you are a regular reader of my book lists (hurrah!!) you know by know how much I adore this book. So, how can I pass up another opportunity to encourage you to read it if you haven't already done so? Minli's family lives in poverty and the girl's love for her parents is so strong she sets out on a seemingly impossible journey to change their fortune. When her mother and father realize she has left they are worried and set out after her. Lin's tale alternates between Minli's quest to find the Old Man of the Moon with traditional Chinese tales told by her father. A truly magical read.
Bobby the Brave (Sometimes) is a great series for early chapter book readers. Bobby Ellis-Chan's dad is a retired football player turned stay-at-home dad. Bobby worries his father doesn't appreciate his non-athleticism but his through father's unwavering support for his other interests (even making him a costume for the school play) he learns that his family supports his interests no matter what they are. I really appreciate having books in which dads do not fit the stereotypical role model. I know there is a lot of talk about girls not having to conform to gender stereotypes and as the mom of 2 boys I feel more attention should be paid to reducing the pressure on boys to fill certain roles, too. Also on my list of multicultural early chapter books.
How Tía Lola Came to (Visit) Stay demonstrates that it is possible for divorced families to be happy and loving, too. 10 year old Miguel, his sister Juanita and his mom have just moved from NYC to Vermont. His aunt Lola comes to visit from the Dominican Republic. Tía Lola's dynamic and outgoing personality helps Miguel navigate his feelings about the divorce, his new status as the only Latino in his school class as well as adding humor, joy and adventure to his daily life. This is a series, so be sure to read the further adventures.
Surviving the Applewhites. Jake has gotten kicked out of his last school and now has come to live with the eccentric, artistic, homeschooling Applewhite family. The father has taken on directing a local production of “The Sound of Music” and no one is more surprised than Jake when he finds he loves performing. I loved the quirky characters and the boundless energy of this book. When the family has to pull together to get the show up after they are blackballed by a local stage mom, the results are hilariously successful. I really enjoy how the story reinforces the necessity of cooperation when putting on a play. I also recommend this as a terrific read aloud.
The Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond. Violet's father was killed in a car crash before she was born and she sometimes feels like an outsider with her blond-haired mom and sister, despite their close, loving relationship. Violet decides she wants to meet her African-American grandmother, a well-known artist. She goes for a visit to Los Angeles to stay with her "new" relative and meets cousins and aunts who thoroughly welcome her into the family.
Out of My Mind. Full disclosure: I cried a few buckets of tears while reading this book. That said, I read it from a mother’s point of view and I believe a child’s point of view will be totally different. In fact, it is a very positive book. Melody is an 11 year old with cerebral palsey. She has never spoken and can perform almost no physical movement. The school and doctors claim she is also mentally disabled but her mother insists Melody is intelligent. Her mother is right. Melody has a photographic memory and is smarter than any of the other kids. Melody narrates her story, sharing her frustrations and triumphs, and when she gets a communication device and others can finally appreciate her for who she is, not for who she is not. This is another book I read straight through. I think it would be a great read aloud with your older kids, but have tissues ready, because even if your child is focused on Melody’s experiences, you will be bawling.
Amina's Voice by Hena Khan. A thoughtful story about a Pakistani-American middle schooler Amina, who must balance the love of her cultural identity with her anxieties about fitting in with her peers. An attack on the local mosque puts the community on edge and Amina, her family and friends struggle with their feelings. No matter what their cultural or religious identity, all readers will relate to Amina's coming of age story.
Contemporary diverse middle grade realism (ages 8 and up)
Multicultural early chapter books (ages 5-10)