10 Ordinary Moments In Diverse Picture Books by Amanda Bower
A pattern that disturbs me in picture books that illustrate diversity is that most books I come across that are by diverse authors or that have diverse characters deal with oppression and racism as the main theme of the story. Civil rights, and the ways those have been violated, are essential stories, and many beautiful picture books tell those stories. We need picture books that tell the story of people who experienced oppression, how they overcame it, and how they changed history. We can’t change history, nor the intense racism and discrimination so ever present in modern society. We can only think critically, express our concerns, and learn from our mistakes.
Most of us aren’t going to change history. If we want to give picture book readers a window into the life of children who do not look like them, as asserted by Professor Rudine Sims Bishop at Ohio State University, they need an equally important window. A window that shows diverse characters doing things we all do at young ages: conquering our fears to dive into a swimming pool, making delicious food, taking a walk on a snowy day. Things that show the beauty, exploration, and innocence of childhood. These are some of my favorite picture books that illustrate those ordinary moments with diverse characters of all backgrounds.
The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats
Noted on many lists of “top 100 picture books,” this book was the first picture book that featured a child character of color. No mention is made in the text of his race at all, only in the illustrations, as he discovers the wonder of a walk by himself out in the snow. Though I don’t live in a place where it snows often, every first winter snow is still like the first snow you’ve ever seen. Magical.
Saturday by Oge Mora
Ava and her mother had plans for fun together on the only day of the week her mother had off work. Off they go, excited for their day, when they discover they aren’t able to do anything they planned. This is a wonderful story in so many ways, including something we all experience and is a heightened emotion for a young child: disappointment. The sentences are simple and repetitive making it easy and accessible for a beginning reader while adding a rhythm to the story.
Too Many Tamales by Gary Soto
One of my mentor teachers during my student teaching year introduced me to this book and said she read it every Christmas with her first graders. I read it to the class while doing a “think aloud” on how to make an inference and the students understood it right away. Maria’s family is hosting a dinner party on Christmas Eve and she’s excited to help her mom make tamales for dinner. If only she could find that diamond ring her mother let her try on!
Jabari Tries by Gaia Cornwall
The first book in this series, Jabari Jumps, is what inspired my thoughts about ordinary moments and how we need more of them in children’s literature. In this sequel, Jabari builds a flying machine to fly in his backyard. Just as with so many things in life, it doesn’t work the first time. This is a book that shows children the “growth” mindset and the old adage we all face: fall seven times, get up eight.
Tight Times by Barbara Shook Hazen
Told from a boy’s point of view, this story is about what every child wants at some time: a pet! He starts out grieving over how his family can’t afford a dog, but doesn’t understand they were really telling him they couldn’t afford a pet. He befriends a stray cat and his parents are so touched they let him keep it! The story is an illustration of the subtle changes families in poverty have to make and how a young character makes sense of it.
My Papi has a Motorcycle by Isabel Quintero
A touching story of how Daisy bonds with her dad by riding with him on the back of his motorcycle after he works hard during the day, as well as different places in their Hispanic community and a few Spanish words as a bonus!
My Very Own Room by Amada Irma Perez
Perez based this story on her own childhood and tells it in her point of view. She’s in a crowded bedroom with five little brothers. Together, she and her mother design her own room now that she’s older. In bilingual format, this book pairs with an audio for students learning English or Spanish.
In Our Mothers’ House by Patricia Pollacco
Pollacco based this story on her daughter and her lesbian partner and its about the adopted children, of 3 different nationalities, of a lesbian couple. The narrator is the African American daughter who says that most of their experiences are just like any other family, even though they aren’t traditional. Something I wasn’t expecting in this kind of story: it takes place over an entire lifetime.
Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story by Kevin Noble Maillard
This book contains poetic descriptions of a classic Native American dish from a number of tribes. Each page is a metaphor comparing fry bread to different things that unite us as humans: time, food, art, history. The last few pages of the book contain a recipe for making fry bread and a summary of its cultural significance.
The Boy Who Loved Math: The Improbable Life of Paul Erdos by Deborah Heiligman
I loved the descriptions of how Hungarian mathematician Paul Erdos was in his boyhood. He hated rules and refused to conform to other people’s expectations! So, he created his own job as an adult and traveled all over the world to share his talent for math.
Amanda Bower went to school to be an elementary teacher and worked in schools for two years before life took her in many other directions. Currently, she is an online teacher with Varsity Tutors for children of all ages, as well as an aspiring children’s writer. She loves reading picture books and has used them to teach every subject.