Young Readers’ Book Series with Diverse Characters

One of our resolutions for 2020 is to explore more great literature (for ourselves and our children) that features characters of color, diverse socioeconomic and geographic situations, and even books that weren’t primarily written in English.

I’m making sure my own TBR pile is stocked with diverse authors and books in translation (I finished 2019 with Jacqueline Woodson’s Red at the Bone and started this year off with Mira Jacob’s Good Talk, a graphic novel about her life, which was outstanding).

When it comes to kids, they pretty naturally seek out diverse literature which is so awesome. They’re very curious about characters that don’t look just like them and places they’ve never been to. It’s just a matter of us not stifling their curiosity about the world.

Here are a few of our recent favorites featuring non-white or non-American heroes and heroines.

Zapato Power, series by Jacqueline Jules

One of my boys’ (5yo and 7yo) favorite series they picked up at the library recently. Freddie Ramos is Latino and just an all-around great kid (which makes him a superhero in my eyes!). He lives with his mom because his dad was a soldier who was killed in action. I love how the author treats this difficult theme so well, and I love how she paints real-life, everyday issues that Freddie and his mom face (like how his mom is busy working during the week so they often have microwave frozen meals…very relatable.)



Anna Hibiscus
, series by Atinuke

This is such a sweet series about a young girl growing up in Africa. I love the descriptions of the places in the stories as well as the descriptions of Anna’s extended family and her relationship with them. The author has another series (listed below) that we haven’t checked out yet, but it looks wonderful, too.


Yasmin, series by Saadia Faruqi

We recently binged on these from the public library, and finished the whole series. They’re great simple read alouds for the 3-4yo group and first books for those just starting to read. I love the characters, the simple but meaningful story lines, and I really love that there is a glossary of Urdu words with each book that gives definitions for terms like hijab, kameez, salaam, and more. There are also facts about Pakistan and an activity at the end of each book.


Now here are some that are on our family’s TBR list!

Ruby and the Booker Boys, series by Derrick Barnes

Make Way for Dyamonde Daniel, series by Nikki Grimes

Ling and Ting, series by Grace Lin

The No.1 Car Spotter, series by Atinuke

The Precious Ramotswe Mysteries, by Alexander McCall Smith

Rickshaw Girl, by Mitali Perkins (not a series, but looks great)

I’m still looking for more series or readers with Native American themes and characters, as well as more series featuring characters from Europe, Russia, Australia and the Middle East. I know they’re out there!

 

**These links are Amazon affiliate links. You can also purchase from your local independent bookstore 🙌🏻 or mine which is Parnassus Books.

Milton? For Five Year-olds?

I didn’t even like Milton as a 35 year-old. I’m still not sure I like Milton. But recently, in our curriculum from A Gentle Feast (which is wonderful, by the way) we have been given some Milton poems to read aloud together. “At a Solemn Music” was one of the first ones, and it was one I had never read before.

I did my homework like a good teacher and “pre-read” this poem the night before, and I have to be honest, I was like, “What? No way.” I didn’t think there was any chance my five and seven year-old would get anything out of this one. I wasn’t even sure that I would.

But then came school time, and I was out of other ideas, so I went for it with the poem. Trust the poetry, I thought. I gave them some bells to ring every time they heard a word that made them think of music (If nothing else, this will keep them from being bored to tears while I read this.)

Surprisingly, my five year-old and seven year old boys listened through the whole way, ringing their bells with great gusto. Ok, I thought, well that’s easy enough…pretty much every other word is about music.

But then, just for the heck of it, I asked them what they got from the poem (not expecting much more than how fun it was go get to ring bells in the house), and my seven year-old said, “Well, when sin entered the world, the beautiful music stopped because people were separated from God.”

Ok. School dismissed 🎤

Trust the poetry.

{{P.S. here are some of my favorite children’s poetry anthologies}}

 

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Enchanting Egypt

I never get tired of ancient Egypt. I don’t think I got enough of it as a kid, so getting to go back there with my children is so much fun.

In the various curricula we use for school, there are lots of good resources on Egypt, but I wanted to share a few extras which have really added to our fun with this subject.

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Here are some we thoroughly enjoyed…for your travels through Ancient Egypt:

(Pictures are affiliate links. You can also purchase through your local bookstore or at Parnassus Books)

Hieroglyphics, by Joyce Milton

This is not only a great little book about Egyptian life, but it also comes with a hieroglyphics stencil. My kids really really loved writing messages for each other in this beautiful form of writing.


Egyptian Diary: The Journal of Nakht, by Richard Platt

A great ‘living book’ about Ancient Egypt in which the author follows an aspiring scribe on his adventures. It really brings to life the time period with colorful characters. Platt also has another book like this that’s wonderful, for the Roman period, called Roman Diary: The Journal of Iliona of Mytilini.


Tales of Ancient Egypt,  by Roger Lancelyn Green

My kids are really interested in Greek mythology, but I was kind of wondering if it was too much to introduce them to a whole other civilization’s mythology at such young ages. They LOVED it. And, the differences and similarities in the Egyptian stories compared to ancient Greece was really interesting for me. I had never delved so far into Egyptian mythology as I have with my young kids. What a joy to discover this interesting world with them!


Bill and Pete Go Down the Nile, by Tomie dePaola

A super fun one that we read long before our studies on ancient Egypt. And who doesn’t absolutely love anything Tomie dePaola has done!? This one will make you smile, and there are some great Egyptian words in here, even for the smallest learners.


Cleopatra, by Diane Stanley

 

One of my favorite books I’ve read about Cleopatra…ok, maybe the only book I’ve read about her. She and Cesar and Antony were always a little confusing to me…like, how did that all happen, again? It was nice to have a beautifully illustrated simple account of the whole drama. And, not too much for my five and seven year old. They followed right along (you may want to edit a little on the fly, depending on what your kids are comfortable with). A great end for your Egyptian studies since Cleopatra was, basically, the end of the empire.
Oh there are so many more. Can’t wait to explore some new books on Egypt when we get around to this subject the next time!

The Four Seasons

Let’s talk about Vivaldi! He’s a new found love for me, all brought about by one children’s book.

Ever since I read I, Vivaldi, by Janice Shefelman, I think about the close-call/alternate universe in which Vivaldi died at birth and we never got to hear his music.

There was an earthquake in Venice on the day he was born and it’s also thought he was gravely ill at the start of life. Either way, he was baptized immediately after birth (not usually done) and his mother dedicated him to the priesthood if he survived.

Lucky for us, he survived and he wasn’t that into being a priest. He found a way to compose the amazing music that played continuously in his head — his first orchestra was a group of orphaned girls whom he taught to play his magnificent work.

Anyway, when I read this children’s book (which I just randomly picked up at the library for my kids) it changed my life. I had never known much about Vivaldi, and now I was curious and I started listening to The Four Seasons all the way through and crying.

All of a sudden I recognized “Winter” as the opening theme music for Chef’s Table. I realized I’d heard “Spring,” “Autumn,” and “Summer” as well, from movies or from life. But I had never known before that they were connected to the same person, much less the same piece of work.

Maybe this is something that other people learned at some point, but for me, it was a breakthrough, brought about by a children’s book that gave me one of the greatest musical gifts of my adult life.

I’m a “Summer” person. Which are you?

Speaking of people who have heavenly music playing in their heads! Another artist from the past that I’ve been introduced to since homeschooling (thanks to curriculum ideas from A Gentle Feast) is Hildegard von Bingen. This is a woman from the Middle Ages (1098-1179!! to be precise) who was a nun, writer, artist, activist, musician, and more.

Here’s the children’s book that gave us more insight into her incredible story/life. I highly recommend listening to a bit of Hilde, as we call her now ☺️ and just letting it sink in that  her music is still as timeless and transcendent as it was 800+ years ago.



Listen here: Luka Sulic’s
The Four Seasons on Spotify. He’s the best I’ve found doing The Four Seasons. Turn it up very loud or have it on softly in the background while you read by the fire. 🔥

Listen here: Hildegard von Bingen (various artists) on Spotify. Turn this on shuffle when you want to relax and get a little bit of heaven, too.

Book links are affiliate links.

Longer Read Alouds for Littles

I was making a list of suggestions for easy, engaging chapter books for our teachers at preschool to read aloud to friends ages 4-5, so I included it here for everyone. Good bedtime or dinnertime reading!

I’d love to hear from you in the comments what you would add to the list. Were any of these favorites as a child? Or as an adult?

** Links are affiliate links. To buy local (🙌🏼) you can purchase from Parnassus Books or your nearest bookstore. Thanks!**


Uncle Wiggily’s Story Book, Howard R. Garis

My kids have loved reading these for bedtime stories. They never let me stop at just one, though, so be warned. Uncle Wiggily tales date back to 1910, so occasionally you’ll encounter some outdated language or social constructs (for example, Wiggily’s muskrat lady housekeeper does a lot for him that he should probably figure out for himself 🙄), but these stories are a true joy.


Mercy Watson Series, Kate DiCamillo

How can anyone not love a book with the subtitle, Adventures of a Porcine Wonder? That’s all I have to say about this one.

When it comes to Kate DiCamillo, so many of her others are wonderful read aloud too, especially The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane and The Tale of Despereaux.


Here’s a Penny, Carolyn Haywood

This one was a really fun surprise for me in our Kindergarten homeschool year. I learned about it from Sonlight’s book list. It has a really sweet treatment of a subject that is near and dear to our family’s heart (I won’t give anything away).


Capyboppy, Bill Peet

Here’s another one I learned about through Sonlight and we really enjoyed. I admit I didn’t know what a capybara was before I read this book.


Anna Hibiscus (series), Atinuke

This series is wonderful, and especially so because it takes place in Africa. They are short books and there are lots of them! We picked them up at our local library.


Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Roald Dahl

I’ve been a fan of Roald Dahl’s writing since I was about seven, and I even wrote him a gushing letter telling him so (I never heard back, sadly). One of my greatest reading joys in life has been re-reading these as an adult with my kids. We just finished The BFG as a family (at dinnertime!) and Mark and I really enjoyed all of the humor I’m sure I missed as a child. Worth reading and re-reading ALL of his books, even if it’s just for you! We have this collection and are slowly making our way through them.


Where the Mountain Meets the Moon (trilogy), Grace Lin

Grace Lin is one of our favorite Chinese authors. We love everything she does. Her picture books for younger ones are wonderful (like Dim Sum for Everyone and Bringing in the New Year ), and this fantasy trilogy is great for all ages.


Milly Molly Mandy, Joyce Lankester Brisley

Another very oldie but goodie. Sweet stories for bedtime or anytime.


James Herriott’s Treasury for Children

This one is really more like a picture book of stories, but I cannot leave it out. We absolutely LOVED reading this at bedtime. Lovely tales from Herriot’s own experiences as a vet in England, beautiful illustrations.

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The Complete Brambly Hedge, Jill Barklem

This one has wonderful illustrations and makes for sweet reading, particularly with the younger crowd (4 and under) who enjoyed Peter Rabbit.


The Trumpet of the Swan, E.B. White

This is what we’re reading now. Even though I’ve read Charlotte’s Web a bunch of times   (as a kid and with my kids), I never read this one until just now. It’s wonderful. A little much for my 3 year old but 5 and 7 are really enjoying it read aloud at dinnertime or before bed.

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There are so many more! I left out some of the classics like Winnie the Pooh, Mr Popper’s Penguins, and Homer Price (and everything by Robert McCloskey), and many more.

What are your favorite longer books for the 4-5 age group?

Native American Reads

This is an area of children’s literature that’s very near and dear to my ❤️. I love encountering great books on Native American history and culture.

Here are some we’ve been enjoying recently:

For the youngest crowd:

Ten Little Rabbits, by Virginia Grossman. A sweet and simple board book that I love. Beautiful illustrations.

Thanks to the Animals, by Allen Sockabasin. Award-winning book by a Passamaquoddy author.

Cradle Me, by Debby Slier. I bought this as a gift for my youngest child, but everyone in our house loves this book. How could you not??

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More for Ages 5-8

The Very First Americans, by Cara Ashrose. Simple overview of various groups of indigenous peoples in North America.

I am Sacagawea, by Brad Meltzer. Maybe one of my favorite people to read about ever 🙂 I am a huge Sacagawea fan. There are probably even better books by #ownvoices authors, but I haven’t found yet (for this age group). Let me know!!

Fry Bread, by Kevin Noble Maillard. This one just came out this year. It has a simple but very powerful message. May lead to some conversations…and to baking fry bread.

Thirteen Moons on Turtle’s Back, by Joseph Bruchac. As the author notes in the afterward, the Potawatomi people alone had three different names/stories just for the February moon! This book is a collection of different moon stories from various Native American peoples.

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For the older crowd:

Native American History for Kids, by Karen Bush Gibson an An Indigenous People’s History of the United States, by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz. These are both packed with historical information and insight, with maps and illustrations. Again, there are probably  lots of historical overviews for this age group, and I’m still looking.

The Birchbark House, Louise Erdrich. Quite possibly my favorite book (for adults or children) that I have read all year. We always hear that books help us (and our kids) develop empathy, and this book is the perfect example of that. This story of the Ojibwa tribe encountering white people for the first time has changed forever the way I see and feel Native American history. There is a whole series that follows which we’ll dive into soon. It has replaced my Little House on the Prairie series at our house. We hadn’t started reading those with our kids yet, and now we choose to do Erdrich’s series.



I hope you’ll enjoy some of these, and that they’ll lead to wonderful conversations, nature walks, lots of animal watching, but most of all an even deeper appreciation of Native American history and culture. If you’re aware of more resources for young ones, please let me know!

Check out more video resources and teacher content for Native American Heritage Month here.

And, good Native reads booklists can be found here:

First Nations Book Lists

ALA’s Inclusive Book Lists

** Dec 2019 Post Update: We just finished a study of the Iroquois and I really liked these two books as well:

If You Lived With the Iroquois, Levine

Hiawatha and the Peacemaker, Robertson (also, did not know that Robbie Robertson of the Band and author of this book is Cayuga and Mohawk)

** Links are affiliate links. To buy local (🙌🏼) you can purchase from Parnassus Books or Birchbark Books (an incredible bookstore with an emphasis on Native reads owned by Louise Erdrich). Thanks!**

Quoth the Raven

[Kids Sometimes Like It When You Read Stuff That’s Not Kid Stuff]

This sounds like a terrible psychological experiment or some form of torture, but I recently read Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven” aloud to my 7, 5 and 3 year-old on a dark night in the middle of a thunderstorm, and they got a huge kick out of it.

I didn’t mean for this to happen, at all, but here is how it happened:

We were finishing up dinner on our screened porch when a huge summer storm took us by surprise. The wind blew in and the thunder crashed right over our heads. It was magical and terrifying, but the kids seemed to be okay because we were there, enjoying the heck out of it with them. It felt like Halloween feels when you’re young – it freaks you out, but you’re still not going to miss it for the world.

The power went off and we lit candles on the long wooden farm table where we were eating. When I went to the mantle to get the matches, I noticed (eerily) my copy of Poe’s greatest works sitting there. I had just bought this book because of another book that suggested his short story, “The Purloined Letter” was a metaphor for love (questionable), so I was curious to read that story. We had also just taken a family trip where we had seen a house that was dedicated to Poe’s life and writing, so he seemed to keep coming up. The book contains a collection of Poe’s poems as well, among which is “The Raven.”  I thought, if any poem needs to be read in a slightly scary voice in a pretty frightening thunderstorm to some small children it would be this one.

You should have seen my kids faces. They had no idea what the poem was about, but Poe’s language (and my enthusiasm for it), and maybe just their pure fear, kept them rapt. And even though it was a fun experience for me to share it, I didn’t think anyone would remember it – maybe the storm and our exciting family time on the porch – but not the obscure poem.

A few days ago, my five year-old came rushing into the kitchen from the yard, and asked me breathlessly, “Mama, what was it that that bird kept saying over and over again?”

It took a minute for me to register what he was talking about, but then I remembered Poe.

“Nevermore?” I said.

“Yes, that’s it!” he said, and he flew back outside.

Then I heard him shouting, “Nevermore! Nevermore!” as he ran into the woods, half-clad, chasing his brother with a homemade spear.

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If you haven’t read or don’t remember “The Raven,” here it is for your next stormy night.

And if you’re wanting to dive more deeply into some Poe, here you go.

** Links are affiliate links. To buy local (🙌🏼) you can purchase from Parnassus Books or your nearest bookstore. Thanks!**

Francophiles

Our family loves France. Mark and I have visited many times, lots of different areas. We finally took some of the kids there this summer. The littlest ones stayed at home with their grandmothers (and had a blast!) while we went on an adventure with the oldest two.

We were in Paris for a few days and then drove down to the Dordogne Valley, one of our favorite regions. For the last week, we drove to the Pyrenees and stayed in a tiny farm village before crossing the mountains to fly out of Barcelona.

Here are the boys watching sheep at night in the Pyrenees:

Our ride on Le Petit Train d’Artouste:

And just a few of the books we enjoyed on our trip:

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Pack them all up and take them with you or read them at home for a little French getaway…

Katie and the Impressionists

And for all the Katie books (so wonderful!):

Paris Up, Up and Away

Joan of Arc

Anatole

The Grand Mosque of Paris: A Story of How Muslims Rescued Jews During the Holocaust

Charlotte in Paris

A Giraffe Goes to Paris

Gustave Eiffel’s Spectacular Idea: The Eiffel Tower (The Story Behind the Name)

Oh, and there are SO many more we didn’t take on our trip (because we’ve read them 100 times already). Here are just a few:

** Links are affiliate links. To buy local (🙌🏼) you can purchase from Parnassus Books or your nearest bookstore. Thanks!**

Seeing Stars 🌟

Two great ones about women stars of astronomy.

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And we really enjoyed Moonshot, by Brian Floca as we celebrated the moon landing 50th anniversary this past weekend.

To the MOON!!

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Updated!! Adding one to the mix. Just got it, and it looks SO wonderful…I mean, look at that gorgeous iridescent cover…and greasy fingerprints all over it!

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Support your local bookstore when you can! If you can’t, here are links for getting these:

** I participate in the Amazon Affiliate Program. When you purchase through any affiliate links, I receive a small commission. Thank you for your support! **