2016 Picture Books with Diverse Characters

The lack of ethnic diversity in children’s literature is an issue that has gained increased attention in recent years. In just three years the number of diverse characters in children’s books has doubled, moving from a paltry 7% in 2012 to over 14% in 2015. But with people of color representing roughly 37% of the U.S. population, there are still many children across America who aren’t seeing themselves represented in the books they read.

In 2016, the publishing world continued to make strides to narrow this gap. Here are ten of my favorite 2016 picture books featuring diverse characters. Have you read any of the books on this list? Let me know in the comments!

Thunder Boy Jr. by Sherman Alexie and Yuyi Morales

Thunder Boy Jr. hates his name. He was named after his father, but he doesn’t want to be exactly like him. He wants a name that celebrates something cool he’s done, like Touch the Clouds or Gravity’s Best Friend. This entertaining story about a kid trying to make a name for himself in the world is also a tender portrait of the bond between a father and son.

No More Beige Food by Leanne Shirtliffe and Tina Kugler

Fed up with the bland, beige food at their dinner table, two children set out to learn how to cook some new and exciting dishes. They visit their neighbors one by one, learning how to make Lebanese kibbe, pad Thai, quesadillas, and chocolate mousse. This book is an extraordinary multi-cultural experience that will have kids clamoring to cook – and eat – new flavors.

A Morning with Grandpa by Sylvia Liu and Christina Forshay

When Mei Mei sees her grandfather practicing tai chi in the garden, she is eager to join in. Grandpa teaches Mei Mei the slow movements of tai chi, and she adds a bit of her own energetic flair along the way. When they are finished, Mei Mei teaches her grandpa some of the yoga poses that she learned in school. The endnotes include a section explaining a bit of the history of tai chi and yoga as well as instructions on how to perform the tai chi forms and yoga postures mentioned in the story.

The Golden Girls of Rio by Nikkolas Smith

This biographical picture books tells the stories of some of the amazing young female athletes who dominated the 2016 summer Olympic Games, including decorated gymnast Simone Biles; record-breaking swimmer Katie Ledecky; Simone Manuel, the first African-American woman to win an individual gold medal in swimming; and Michelle Carter, the first American woman to win gold in shot put. As a huge fan of the summer Olympics, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on this book. While the text is a bit disjointed, the energetic illustrations and inspiring message make this book worth checking out.

Maybe Something Beautiful by F. Isabel Campoy and Theresa Howell, art by Rafael Lopez

Mira is an artist. Little by little, she uses her colorful paintings to make her dreary concrete city a little less gray. When a muralist comes to town, he helps Mira and her neighbors fill their city with beautiful color. This empowering story is perfectly complimented by the exquisite artwork. Readers might just find themselves moved to pick up a paintbrush!

Emma and Julia Love Ballet by Barbara McClintock

Julia is a professional ballerina. Emma is still learning. This charming picture book mirrors a day in the life of both Emma and Julia, focusing on the many similarities in their daily routines. The story culminates with a big ballet performance at a theater. Emma is watching in the audience, and Julia is dancing on stage! The illustrations are beautiful and wonderfully detailed. This book is a must-own for any aspiring ballerina!

Malaika’s Costume by Nadia L. Holm and Irene Luxbacher

Carnival is approaching, and for Malaika it is her first Carnival since her mother moved to Canada to find work. When the money that her mother promises to send does not arrive, Malaika is left without a costume to wear for the Carnival parade. Undeterred, Malaika decides to make her own costume (with a little help from her grandmother) using fabric scraps given to her by a local seamstress. This is a heartwarming and inspiring story that gives readers a fun glimpse at Caribbean culture.

Kenya’s Art by Linda Trice and Hazel Mitchell

Spring break is almost over, and Kenya hasn’t done anything exciting to tell her classmates about when she returns to school. When she and her father take a last-minute visit a local museum, they are inspired by an exhibit showcasing art made from trash and found objects. Just like Kenya and her family, readers will be inspired to recycle, reuse, and make art!

The Quickest Kid in Clarksville by Pat Zietlow Miller

Even wearing her old, worn out sneakers, Alta is the quickest kid is Clarksville. She can’t wait to see her idol, Olympic medalist Wilma Rudolph, riding in a big parade through town. But when a new girl with shiny new shoes challenges Alta to a race, she worries that she isn’t the fastest kid after all. An author’s note gives historical context to the story by detailing many of Wilma Rudolph’s athletic achievements, as well as her role in integrating the city of Clarksville, Tennessee.

Looking for Bongo by Eric Velasquez

A young Afro-Latino boy searches frantically for his missing stuffed dog, Bongo. As he searches, he asks his whole family – mom, dad, abuela, even the dog and cat– for help. The vibrant oil paintings will engage readers of all ages, and the multiracial, multigenerational family in the story is based on the author’s own family.

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