You know how important it is to read diverse books to your children and students. You know that picture books with a diversity of characters and settings enhance the reading experience by reflecting back the world and increasing our understanding ourselves and others. And now you want to find diverse books for 2nd and 3rd grade, i.e. your 7-9 year olds!
But you are not sure where to look to find these books. After all there is no “diversity section” in the library and you don’t want just the odd book here and there. You’ve come to the right place.
Hoping to solve your dilemma, I’ve gathered 30 multicultural and diverse picture books for 2nd and 3rd graders. You will find a selection of children’s books featuring people of color, books set in a variety of countries, and I even included at least one folk tale for each week.
I organized this list of diverse books for 2nd and 3rd grade so it can easily be utilized by both parents and teachers. The books are divided into 6 weeks of 5 books each. Parents can read straight through the list for 30 days (mix it up at your leisure) or teachers can read the picture books for read aloud time week by week. It is my hope that each book selection is not only entertaining, funny or moving (or both) but will give children and their grown-ups lots to talk about. (Note: book covers and titles are affiliate links.)
Be sure to peruse the companion lists:
Rainbow Weaver by Linda Elovitz Marshall. Ixchel’s mother is a weaver and Ixchel really wants to learn how to weave on the traditional looms and sell her wares to earn money for school. But there isn’t enough thread for Ixchel to practice, and her mother is always too busy. But when Ixchel notices the plastic bags in the environment, Ixchel comes up with her own idea! A bilingual book.
Rama and the Demon King by Jessica Souhami. In this folkale from India, the good prince, Rama, is hated by his stepmother, who convinces her husband to send him away for 14 years. Rama’s brother and wife love him and leave with him. Ravana, the 10 headed king of the demons, steals away his wife but goodness and wisdom eventually win over. The pacing of the text is really well done and the story is captivating. The cut-paper collages remind me of shadow puppet theater
Angel in Bejing by Belle Yang. A stray cat attaches itself to a girl who rides her bicycle around Beijing. The two travel around the city seeing the sights. When the cat goes missing, the girl finds her with a new friend. I love the message of kindness that is wrapped up in the ending of this story.
My Three Best Friends and Me Zulay by Cari Best. I love it when a book is well-written, entertaining and teaches my son something new. Fortunately, this book about a blind girl, Zulay, is anything but didactic. Zulay enjoys going to school with her diverse group of friends, but what she doesn’t like are her special lessons to learn how to use her cane. When news of field day arrives, the possibility of participating in a race is just the motivation Zulay needs.
The Big Red Lollipop by Rukhsana Khan. Rubina’s sisterly love is tested when her mother insists she take her little sister, Sana, to a birthday party. It’s stretched even farther when Sana eats her lollipop! Argh! Every kid can relate to that! The picture of sibling rivalry is handled deftly by author Rukhsana Kahn and the story also touches a bit on cultural differences
Every Month Is a New Year: Celebrations Around the World by Marilyn Singer. This is a great book of poetry which introduces kids (and grown-ups!) to new year holidays around the world. Most western children know about January 1, the Lunar New Year and Rosh Hashanah, but there are 9 more new year traditions for the rest of the months!
King for a Day by Rukhsana Khan. Malik is looking forward to flying his kite during the festival of spring. From his wheelchair on a rooftop, he flies it vigorously, battling the neighborhood bully. After the celebration, his compassion spurs him to help a girl with a kite escape from the same bully.
Drawn Together by Minh Lê. This is an absolutely gorgeous book with a lovely intergenerational message. A boy and his grandfather are visiting each other, but they have trouble communicating as there is a language barrier. The key, however, is art. By drawing together, they learn to understand each other.
Crown: Ode to the Fresh Cut by Derrick Barnes. I absolutely love this book and its energetic illustrations. A strong, rhythmic text describes a boy going into the barbershop and the experience of getting a new, fresh haircut and all the excitement that surrounds the possibilities of what a new haircut might bring–like a look from a girl, or acing an exam. Fun and fresh.
The Lizard and the Sun by Alma Flor Alda. Ever wonder why lizards like to laze about in the sun? You will learn why in this traditional folktale. It all started when the sun disappeared and the lizard went in search of it. With a little help from an Aztec emperor, a woodpecker and a great feast, he is able to bring the sun back from its slumber. With lots of detail, the illustrations really bring to life the Aztec culture. Bilingual.
Sonia Sotomayor: A Judge Grows in the Bronx / La juez que crecio en el Bronx by Jonah Winter. This is a wonderful book if you are looking for a picture book biography about a contemporary Hispanic-American figure (or any inspiring public figure). Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s story will inspire everyone. The book follows Sonia as she grows up in poverty in the Bronx and gets an education. The book has a great, positive message and emphasizes how important it is to be surrounded by supportive friends and family.
Lon Po Po: A Red-Riding Hood Story from China by Ed Young. A mother leaves her three children at home when she goes to visit their grandmother. As soon as she leaves the wolf arrives, claiming to be the grandmother. The oldest child sees through the deception and with her siblings climb into the gingko tree where they trick the wolf into being captured. Although this is a story of danger with a rather menacing wolf, the children are clearly the empowered characters here.
The Girl Who Thought in Pictures: The Story of Dr. Temple Grandin by Julia Finley Mosca. A lovely book written in rhyme about how Grandin’s differences are actually her strengths. When traditional education cannot adapt to Grandin, she finds her place on a farm where her inventions help build better farms and improve the lives of animals.
In Our Mothers’ House by Patricia Polacco. A young black girl narrates her happy familial existence. She has two moms and a multicultural, adopted family. They have loving traditions and a warm, affectionate home life. Unfortunately a neighbor directly confronts the family to tell them she doesn’t approve of their family! Use this book to talk to your kids about others are afraid of what they do not understand (a wise lesson that one of the mothers in the book teaches her child) and challenge your kids to think about how we can overcome prejudice and open people’s hearts.
A Boy and His Jaguar by Alan Rabinowitz. Author Rabinowitz, whom Time magazine called “the Indiana Jones of wildlife conservation,” struggled as a boy with a speech impediment. He wanted desperately to overcome his stutter and speak like everyone else so he makes a promise to a jaguar at the zoo. In college he learns how to control his stutter but it isn’t until he finds a way to help the jaguars and other wildlife that he feels whole.
The William Hoy Story: How a Deaf Baseball Player Changed the Game by Nancy Churnin. Share with your 2nd and 3rd graders the amazing story of how William Hoy refused to let his deafness stand in the way of playing professional baseball.
A Story, a Story.by Gail E. Haley. Beautiful, vibrant woodcut illustrations accompany the legend of how Ananse, or the Spider-Man, is determined to get stories from the Sky-God. The Sky-God sends Ananse off on several quests, never believing that a weak and old man will fulfill the tasks. Only, he realizes too late that Ananse is rather clever.
How I Learned Geography by Uri Shulevitz. This award winning book is based on Shulevitz’s own experience as a refugee from Warsaw. In the story, a family escapes war, fleeing to Turkestan where they live in “houses made of clay, straw and camel dung…” One day father brings home a map instead of food for his hungry family. At first the young boy resents the map, but the father helps his son use the map to travel around the world in his imagination. Shulevitz gives more information about his personal experiences as a refugee in an endnote.
The World is Not a Rectangle: A Portrait of Architect Zaha Hadid by Jeanette Winter. Born in Iraq, and educated in London, Hadid designed fascinating buildings around the world. But as a Muslim woman, the road was not easy and she had to overcome the hurdle of prejudice. This biography is written simply, making it a great choice for the early elementary set. Make sure to look at photographs of Hadid’s beautiful buildings, too.
Jingle Dancer by Cynthia Leitich Smith. Jenna loves to practice her dance steps as she watches videos of her grandmother dancing and listens to the clinking sound of the jingles. She looks forward to finally being able to join in the jingle dance at the powwow but worries that she won’t have just the right number of jingles for her skirt. This is a heartwarming story that celebrates family and tradition.
Sam and the Lucky Money by Karen Chinn. Sam is excited to be able to spend his lucky New Year money. He has four dollars and his mom has told him he can buy anything he wants. On their trip through the neighborhood Sam notices a homeless man with bare feet. As he contemplates how to spend his money he gets frustrated that the four dollars is never enough to buy what he wants. His mother reminds him to appreciate what he has. During a second encounter with the homeless man, Sam understands how he can best spend his money.
The Rooster Prince of Breslov by Ann Redisch Stampler. In this Jewish folk tale, a young prince gets everything he wants without having to work for it. One day he mysteriously sheds his clothes and starts acting like a rooster. Doctors are called in but no one can find the cure. However, an old man claims he can get the “prince ready to rule the land.” Over the next few days, the old man lives with the boy, coming down to his level, relating to him in such a way as to expose the boy’s compassionate side, nurturing in him a desire to perform mitzvoth. I loved this story because the lesson of learning self-worth by practicing compassion and learning the value of good deeds over material wealth is framed in an accessible story (a rooster boy does elicit a few laughs) for kids.
Four Feet, Two Sandals by Karen Lynn Williams. Two girls in a Pakistan refugee camp each find one shoe. Lina and Feroza meet and decide to share the sandals. A friendship develops and they share details about why they have come to the camp. The text contains descriptions about life in the camp, such as waiting in long lines for water, washing clothes in the river and waiting at home while boys go to school. This is an important book that humanizes the experiences of children in refugee camps.
Julián Is a Mermaid by Jessica Love. After seeing some fancily dressed women on the subway, Julián wants to dress up. At home he turns his abuela’s fern into a fancy hat, and her curtains into a mermaid’s tail. But instead of getting upset at Julián, his abuela takes him to a celebration where everyone is as fantastically dressed as he is. A lovely and warm story about acceptance and expressing yourself.
The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson. A fence, both metaphorical and physical, defines the boundary between Annie’s white family and Clover’s African-American one. Clover’s mom has told her not to cross the fence because it is unsafe. Instead, Clover sits on the fence, watching the other girl play. Annie eventually approaches Clover and the two sides begin talking, a friendship is formed and the fence, finally crossed. The final image of a line of girls sitting on the fence points to the possibilities of the future.
The Quickest Kid in Clarksville by Pat Zietlow Miller. A girl is inspired by Wilma Rudolph’s Olympic success to become “the quickest kid.” When a new girl shows up with snazzy shoes, Alta reminds herself of all Wilma had to overcome and is inspired not to give up.
The Crane Girl by Curtis Manley. A day after Yasuhiro helps an injured crane, a girl, Hiroko, appears at his doorstep seeking shelter. Hiroko offers to help the impoverished family by weaving them cloth to sell. But she insists that no one watch her. After the fabric fetches a high price, the father grows greedy, insisting on more. I love the haiku that tell the thoughts of the characters.
Chicken in the Kitchen by Nnedi Okorafor. This rollicking story takes place in Nigeria. On the night before the New Yam festival, Anyaugo follows a chicken into her kitchen, because she is worried the chicken will eat the food prepared for the festival. Anyaugo asks the nature spirit known as the Wood Wit for advice, but it turns out the giant chicken is actually a spirit in disguise! Great fun.
Mango, Abuela and Me by Meg Medina. I love picture books with intergenerational stories. Mia’s Spanish-speaking abuela has come to live with the family. Mia and her grandmother now share a room, but they don’t know how to communicate. Abuela can’t read Mia’s English books and Mia doesn’t have enough Spanish words to share her experiences. One day Mia brings home a parrot which reminds Mia of her grandmother’s previous home and eventually, through practice, the family learns how to communicate fluently with each other. Also available in Spanish.
A Bike Like Sergio’s by Maribeth Boelts Ruben desperately wants a bike just like all his friends but his family doesn’t have a lot of money. One day he finds what he thinks is a dollar bill. It turns out to be a hundred dollar bill. Ruben faces a dilemma about honesty but in the end he realizes he must do the right thing.
More diverse picture books 2nd and 3rd graders will enjoy: