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Families want more diversity in children’s books; here are 7 titles that deliver

The demand for more diverse books is on the rise, according to a survey by Scholastic. | Getty Images

Scholastic’s just-released Kids & Family Reading report found that nearly half of kids ages 9 to 17 (45 percent) and parents of kids 6 to 17 (52 percent) want more books with diversity.

Eleven percent of of children’s books published in the United States in 2018 featured Africans or African-Americans, 7 percent featured Hispanics, and 8 percent featured Asian characters, according to the Cooperative Children’s Book Center.

Andrea Davis Pinkney, Scholastic’s executive editor and author of “A Poem for Peter,” said in the report that a lack of diversity fails to expand a child’s love of reading or sense of self.

Black and Hispanic families had even stronger views on wanting more diverse stories. Seventy-five percent of black parents, 64 percent of Hispanic parents and 55 percent of Asian/multiple and other races with kids 9 to 17 years old want books they can read to their children or that their kids can choose themselves with diverse storylines, characters or settings.

The survey found that parents and 12- to 17-year-olds alike were more likely to want more diverse book characters in 2018 than in 2016.

Here are seven great books you can read to your child, read together or recommend your child read.

“Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut”

Author Derrick Barnes, illustrated by Gordon C. James

Recommended ages: 3-8

This Newberry honor book shows how a dab of shaving cream and a princely robe draped around the shoulders transforms black boys into royalty at the barbershop. They leave believing they look good and that good things are coming their way.

“Mary Wears What She Wants”

Author and illustrator Keith Negley

Recommended ages: 4-8

Long before there was much awareness of gender stereotypes, Dr. Mary Edwards Walker decided she would wear whatever she wanted — and she wanted to wear pants. She lived in the 19th century, when that just wasn’t done. This story challenges young readers to think for themselves.

“The Day You Begin”

Author Jacqueline Woodson, illustrator Rafael López

Recommended ages: 5-8

Everyone feels different sometimes because of the way they look or talk or where they’re from. Jacqueline Woodson pairs her lyrical prose with Rafael López’s dreamy swirls of jeweled illustrations to let young children know that by sharing their stories they can learn that no one is quite like them — but maybe in some small way just a little like them.

“The First Rule of Punk”

Author Celia C. Pérez

Recommended ages: 9-12

Malú’s punk rock look does not go over well on the first day of school, especially with her college-professor mother. But the 12-year-old sticks with the first rule of punk rock: Be yourself. She soon finds her group of friends, forms a band and edits a magazine.

“Refugee”

Author Alan Gratz

Recommended ages: 9-12

This New York Times bestseller tells the story of a Jewish boy living in 1930s Nazi Germany, a Cuban girl in 1994, and a Syrian boy in 2015. All are forced to leave their homes and endure unimaginable hardships as they seek refuge until their stories tie together in the end.

“Blended”

Author Sharon M. Draper

Recommended ages: 8-12

Izzy struggles to adjust between the two homes of her father, who is black, and her mother, who is white. Pulled between two worlds, this middle-schooler doesn’t just feel divided, she feels ripped apart as people wonder about her “exotic” appearance. Then, the worst thing ever happens: A cell phone is mistaken for a gun.

“Merci Suarez Changes Gears”

Author Meg Medina

Recommended ages: 9-12

Merci is a scholarship student at a private Florida school, and things are already tough and strange for this 12-year-old. Her beloved grandpa, Lolo, is usually her refuge. But he’s acting weird, too — forgetting things and acting angry. And the family is telling her nothing. This author of this 2019 Newberry winner looks at a family struggling with Alzheimer’s through the heroine’s eyes not with a happy ending but with strength and hope.

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