We Need Diverse Series by Tammy Mulligan and Clare Landrigan
As a child, I read The Secret Garden, Harriet the Spy and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I connected with the characters in these books and when I was sad or lonely, I reread parts of these texts and pretended I was with these characters. They became part of my life.
As educators, Clare and I worry about our students in elementary classes finding books with characters who can become part of their lives. As we look at the books in classroom libraries and school bookrooms, we ask ourselves, “Do we have books with diverse characters that help students understand themselves and others? Are there characters who face problems that our students encounter? Are there characters who face different problems? Are there books with characters who will make students laugh and characters who will keep them company when they are sad or lonely?
Books are not only a source of joy; they are a source of connection. They invite us to appreciate our racial, ethnic, family structure, socioeconomic, and gender identities and appreciate the identities of others. We need books in our classroom libraries, school libraries and bookrooms that will invite all of our students to make connections. Diverse books help readers understand the commonalities we share as well as the differences in our lives. Students need books with diverse characters because books foster connections – with oneself and with one’s community.
Many readers love series. Series books amplify our connections with characters. The characters in series books become part of our lives for many weeks or even months. Readers get to know the characters in series books deeply as they experience many situations and life circumstances together. Here are ten great series that have diverse characters. We hope your readers fall in love with these characters and create meaningful connections.
Ling and Ting, Grace Lin
We love this easy-to-read series by Grace Lin. Each chapter tells a new story about Ling and Ting. Readers can read each story separately or start at the beginning and read all the way through. We love the way Grace Lin describes Ling and Ting as looking the same, but she shows their individuality through the characters’ actions and words.
STAT, Amar’e Stoudemire
STAT, is the main character’s nickname, which stands for – Standing Tall and Talented. With a bit of advice from STAT’s father, STAT and his friends team up to beat the neighborhood bullies in a basketball game. Sports lovers will enjoy this action-packed series, and we love the way Amar’e Stoudemire weaves important messages about school, family, and friends into these texts.
Willimena Rules! Valerie Wilson Wesley
If you have students in grades 2 and 3 who love realistic fiction, you will want to check out this series. Willimena is a kind and generous character whose thoughtfulness gets her into perplexing situations. This is a great series for readers who want to think about character traits and literary themes.
Little Shaq, Shaquille O’Neal
Readers in grades 1-3 who love sports and funny books won’t want to miss the Little Shaq series. This easy-to-read chapter book is great to foster partner and book club conversations about how characters change and the lessons they learn. We love the way these stories bring out both the character’s internal and external journey.
King and Kayla, Dorie Hillestad Butler
Readers who love animals will get a kick out of reading a mystery told from the dog’s point of view. Some books in this series are interactive, and readers get to solve the mystery alongside the characters. If you have readers who enjoy Cynthia Rylant’s, High Rise Mysteries, you will want to check out this new mystery series.
Sofia Martinez, Jacqueline Jules
Students who like stories with strong-willed characters will want to read the Sofia Martinez series. Sofia has creative ideas, and bold opinions and these two qualities bring both joy and mishaps to her life. Jacqueline Jules intersperses Spanish phrases throughout the text. Readers who do not know Spanish can learn to use the Spanish glossary in the back of the text to comprehend the words.
Clubhouse Mysteries, Sharon M. Draper
Sharon Draper’s mystery series is suspenseful, informative, and funny. Readers will laugh at Ziggy’s (main character) quirky personality and creative ideas. We love the way Sharon Draper embeds historical information into the plotlines. Students will want to pay close attention to these references and think about how they add meaning to the text.
The Carver Chronicles, Karen English
Karen English brings each character to life in this realistic fiction series so readers can see their joys, frustrations, insecurities, and passions. The plots are filled with humor as these characters try to resolve their problems. Students who want to read books about sibling rivalry and conflicts between friends will love these books.
Dyamonde Daniel Books, Nikki Grimes
Dyamonde’s parents recently divorced, so Dyamonde now lives in a smaller apartment with her mom. Dyamonde longs for a sibling as she adjusts to life in her new school. Dyamonde’s experiences help her understand the difficulties and joys others face and helps her befriend a new kid in school. This series has important messages about acceptance and persistence.
Keena Ford, Melissa Thomson
Readers who want to meet a character who experiences typical conflicts with friends and wants to think about ways to resolve conflicts with others will want to meet Keena Ford. This series is written as a journal, so readers get a glimpse into Keena’s thoughts and ideas and may even be inspired to keep their own journal and see their lives as a source for story ideas.
As Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop reminds us, “Books are sometimes windows, offering views of worlds that may be real or imagined, familiar or strange. These windows are also sliding glass doors, and readers have only to walk through in imagination to become part of whatever world has been created or recreated by the author. When lighting conditions are just right, however, a window can also be a mirror. Literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection, we can see our own lives and experiences as part of a larger human experience. Reading, then, becomes a means of self-affirmation, and readers often seek their mirrors in books.”
Filling our schools with diverse books makes it possible for all students to find books that are windows, mirrors, and sliding glass doors. If you are looking for more diverse books, check out the We Need Diverse Books Website and the Our Story App. These are invaluable resources to help you find texts to help your students form meaningful and long-lasting connections with memorable characters.
Tammy Mulligan and her partner Clare Landrigan have been working in the field of professional development for the past 24 years. They now run a private staff development business, Teachers for Teachers, working with varied school systems to implement best practices in the field of literacy and to engage in institutional change. They are excited to announce the title for their newest book, It’s All About the Books: How to Create Bookrooms and Classroom Libraries to Inspire Readers (Heinemann Publishers, March 2018). You can find them on Twitter as @clareandtammy and online at TeachersforTeachers.net.