EmbraceRace

Books that inspire resilience in kids of color

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We asked the folks at Lee and Low Books, the largest multicultural children's book publisher in the U.S., to recommend books that are great read-aloud stories AND tools for helping raise kids who are brave, thoughtful and informed about race. In other words, kids who embrace race! In response, Lee and Low's Literary Specialist,  Katie Potter, created four lists of fantastic stories for kids, one for each of the four, broad goals for the work of the EmbraceRace community. Here are those lists (thanks, Katie!):

  1. Books that inspire resilience in kids of color (find below)
  2. Books that encourage kids of all colors to be inclusive and empathetic 
  3. Books that support kids to think critically about racial inequity
  4. Books that animate kids (and their adults!) to be racial justice advocates for all kids

Books that inspire resilience in kids of color

The books on this list demonstrate kids of color persevering in a variety of settings and overcoming obstacles through a myriad of scenarios: whether it’s the first day of school, standing up to a bully or for yourself, dealing with death, defending a person in need, or celebrating identity. Print out this list or purchase the list from Lee & Low Books here

​Ana María Reyes Does Not Live in a Castle

Written by Hilda Eunice Burgos

Grades 4-8

Her last name may mean "kings," but Ana María Reyes REALLY does not live in a castle. Rather, she's stuck in a tiny apartment with two parents (way too loveydovey), three sisters (way too dramatic), everyone's friends (way too often), and a piano (which she never gets to practice). And when her parents announce a new baby is coming, that means they'll have even less time for Ana María.

Then she hears about the Eleanor School, New York City's best private academy. If Ana María can win a scholarship, she'll be able to get out of her Washington Heights neighborhood school and achieve the education she's longed for. To stand out, she'll need to nail her piano piece at the upcoming city showcase, which means she has to practice through her sisters' hijinks, the neighbors' visits, a family trip to the Dominican Republic . . . right up until the baby's birth! But some new friends and honest conversations help her figure out what truly matters, and know that she can succeed no matter what.

Ana María Reyes may not be royal, but she's certain to come out on top.

​​Black All Around

written by Patrica Hubbell, illustrated by Don Tate

Grades PreK–2

Look high,
look low,
look everywhere . . .
The wonderful color black is there!

Join a young girl as she discovers all the wonderful things around her that are black.

The letters that live
on each page of a book.
The hole in the ground
that's a little mole's nook.
The gleaming paint on a limousine.
The braided hair of a stately queen.

The fun and excitement never stop in this joyous and playful book. So what are you waiting for? Come celebrate Black All Around!

Bird

written by Zetta Elliott, illustrated by Shadra Strickland

Grades 3–8

Young Mekhai, better known as Bird, loves to draw. With drawings, he can erase the things that don’t turn out right. In real life, problems aren’t so easily fixed.

As Bird struggles to understand the death of his beloved grandfather and his older brother’s drug addiction, he escapes into his art. Drawing is an outlet for Bird’s emotions and imagination, and provides a path to making sense of his world. In time, with the help of his grandfather’s friend, Bird finds his own special somethin’ and wings to fly.

Told with spare grace, Bird is a touching look at a young boy coping with real-life troubles. Readers will be heartened by Bird’s quiet resilience, and moved by the healing power of putting pencil to paper.

​Calling the Water Drum

written by LaTisha Redding, illustrated by Aaron Boyd

Grades PreK–2

Henri and his parents leave their homeland, Haiti, after they receive an invitation from an uncle to come to New York City. Only able to afford a small, rickety boat, the family sets out in the middle of the night in search of a better life. Out at sea, Henri dreams of what life will be like “across the great waters.”

Then the small boat overturns, and Henri is placed on top of the boat as his parents drift further out at sea. Overcome with grief, Henri retreats into himself and is no longer able to speak once he reaches land. Encouraged by his uncle and neighbor, Henri takes a bucket and plays on it like a drum. The drumming becomes a link to his past and a conduit for his emotions. Slowly, through his drumming and the kindness of his uncle and friend, Henri learns to navigate this new and foreign world without his parents.

Calling the Water Drum is a tender and beautiful tribute to the resiliency of children and the human spirit.

​Featherless/Desplumado

written by Juan Herrera, illustrated by Ernesto Cuevas

Grades PreK–4

Kids race across the grass,

swooping like kites over an emerald sea.

No one notices

how fast I can spin my wheels.

Will I ever catch up?

Will they ever see me?

At his new school or on the soccer field, all everyone wants to know is why Tomasito is in a wheelchair. His Papi gives Tomasisto a new pet to make him smile, but this bird is a little bit different from the rest. Before long, this boy-bird team discovers that there's more than one way to fly-on or off the soccer field-and that those cheers Tomasito hears from the sidelines just might be for him. Goooooooooooal!

Award-winning children's book author and poet Juan Felipe Herrera scores yet again with this sparkling story of self-empowerment and friendship. The brilliant acrylic paintings by Ernesto Cuevas, Jr., soar off the page with joy.

​King for a Day

written by Rukhsana Khan, illustrated by Christiane Kromer

Grades PreK–4

Basant is here, with feasts and parties to celebrate the arrival of spring. But what Malik is looking forward to most is doing battle from his rooftop with Falcon, the special kite he has built for speed. Today is Malik’s chance to be the best kite fighter, the king of Basant.

In two fierce battles, Malik takes down the kites flown by the bully next door. Then Malik moves on, guiding Falcon into leaps, swirls, and dives, slashing strings and plucking kites from the sky. By the end of the day, Malik has a big pile of captured kites. He is the king! But then the bully reappears, trying to take a kite from a girl in the alley below. With a sudden act of kingly generosity, Malik finds the perfect way to help the girl.

This lively, contemporary story introduces readers to a centuries-old festival and the traditional sport of kite fighting, and to a spirited, determined young boy who masters the sport while finding his own way to face and overcome life’s challenges.

​Moony Luna/Luna Lunita Lunera

written by Jorge Argueta, illustrated by Elizabeth Gómez

Grades PreK–2

No, no, I don't want to go to school!

Five-year-old Luna isn't sure she wants to go school. For all she knows, there might be monsters there. But when her loving parents assure her that she'll have a wonderful time playing and learning, she agrees to give school a try. An understanding teacher and a group of friendly kids make Luna very, very glad she made the right decision. But what about the monsters?

Américas Award winner Jorge Argueta has crafted a loving bilingual tale which all young school-goers will recognize as their own. Artist Elizabeth Gómez‘s luminous, humorous illustrations of Luna and her friends will keep little ones fascinated for a long time to come.

​My Very Own Room/Mi propio cuartito

written by Amada Irma Pérez, illustrated by Maya Christina Gonzalez

Grades PreK–3

Five little brothers, two parents, and a house full of visiting relatives make a young Mexican American girl feel crowded. She loves her family, but how can she get a little space of her own? This delightful memoir of a California childhood, by Amada Irma Pérez, sparkles with exuberance and wit.

Renowned painter Maya Christina Gonzalez brings the captivating scenes to life with bold colors and whimsical details. My Very Own Room gently teaches a valuable lesson about the strength of family and the importance of dreams.

Rainbow Weaver/Tejedora del arcoiris

written by Linda Elovitz Marshall, illustrated by Elisa Chavarri

Grades PreK–3

Ixchel wants to follow in the long tradition of weaving on backstrap looms, just as her mother, grandmother, and most Mayan women have done for more than two thousand years. But Ixchel’s mother is too busy preparing her weavings for the market. If the weavings sell at a good price, they will have money to pay for Ixchel’s school and books. And besides, there is not enough extra thread for Ixchel to practice with.

Disappointed, Ixchel first tries weaving with blades of grass, and then with bits of wool, but no one would want to buy the results. As she walks around her village, Ixchel finds it littered with colorful plastic bags. There is nowhere to put all the bags, so they just keep accumulating.

Suddenly, Ixchel has an idea! She collects and washes the plastic bags. Then she cuts each bag into thin strips. Sitting at her loom, Ixchel weaves the plastic strips into a colorful fabric that looks like a beautiful rainbow—just like the weavings of Mayan women before her.

​Tan to Tamarind

written by Malathi Iyengar, illustrated by Jamel Akib

Grades PreK–8

When you look in the mirror, what do you see? Tan, sienna, topaz, or tamarind? Poet Malathi Michelle Iyengar sees a whole spectrum of beautiful shades of brown. Swirls of henna decorate ocher hands and feet at an Indian wedding. Cinnamon lips smile over a cup of café con leche. And maple leaves drift like stars onto upturned russet faces in fall.

This warm and inviting poetry collection helps young readers discover that no matter what your skin tone, every shade is beautiful. Jamel Akib's pastel illustrations bring the richness of brown to vivid, varied life.

Katie Potter

Katie Potter is the Literary Specialist at Lee & Low Books, the largest multicultural children's book publisher in the U.S.
Katie Potter
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