It’s crucial to provide your students with books that explore a diverse breadth of identities and experience for two reasons, both of which tie into equity and access. First, it makes sure every student in your classroom feels that they have a voice and belong. And second, it encourages your students to read about and empathize with people who have different lives than their own.
These 15 children’s books explore diverse themes including culture and heritage, LGBTQ identity, disability, and mental health. We’ve separated each section by age to make sure you can find the perfect books for your school or classroom library.
5 Diverse Picture Books for Your Classroom Library
1. Drawn Together by Minh Lê, illustrated by Dan Santat
This wordless picture book tells the story of how a boy and his grandfather connect through art. Although they don’t speak the same language, their love of superheroes and stories brings them together. Through this tale, the book shares a heartwarming message: like art, love can transcend the things that keep us apart.
2. Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story by Kevin Noble Maillard
What does fry bread mean to Native American homes? Fry bread is food, time, nation, history, and so much more. This book in verse follows a family as they make a meal that brings them together—along with a recipe in the back for sharing.
3. Hosea Plays On by Kathleen M. Blasi
Hosea Taylor was a real-life musician who played his saxophone every day to earn money in his city. But his music was more than just his living: it made people happy and brought some extra vibrance to their life. This picture book shows just why Hosea’s music was so special and how music can bring communities together.
4. Plenty of Hugs by Fran Manushkin, illustrated by Kate Alizadeh
This picture book follows a toddler and his two mothers as they spend a day together. Together, they have a lovely day as they go on a bike ride, see the animals at the zoo, and enjoy a bedtime story—with plenty of hugs to go around.
5. Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall
Jabari is an excellent swimmer, but the diving board at his local pool terrifies him. All of the other kids jump off with ease, but he can’t make himself do it. But with a little motivation from his dad, Jabari finds the courage to do the seemingly impossible.
5 Diverse Books for Middle Grade Students
6. I Can Make This Promise by Christine Day
When Edie’s mother was a baby, she was adopted by a white couple. And although Edie knows she is Native American, she has never had a chance to explore her cultural identity. But when she uncovers a box of photographs with a woman who bears a striking resemblance to her, she embarks on a journey to uncover who this woman is and how she connects to Edie’s heritage.
7. Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed
After accidentally insulting her village’s ruling family, twelve-year-old Amal is forced into servitude at their estate. Although she is terrified, she summons all of her courage for her own and her family’s sake. But when she realizes the ruling family’s cruelty could be overcome in numbers, she bands together with the other servants to fight for their freedom.
8. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor
Cassie and her family live in rural Mississippi, where having your own home and land means everything. But Cassie soon discovers that because she is Black, she is not treated equally by others in her school and community. This novel explores the horrors of racism and hate crimes from the perspective of Cassie as she comes of age in the South.
9. 1001 Cranes by Naomi Hirahara
Angela Kato wants anything but to spend the summer with her grandparents in Los Angeles. When she arrives, her family has her work in their flower shop folding cranes for customer displays. And although she does the work begrudgingly at first, spending time in the flower shop and with her extended family helps her cope with the devastation she left behind at home.
10. Hurricane Season by Nicole Melleby
Fig’s dad is a talented piano player, but his bipolar disorder makes it difficult to function at times. Because of this, Fig lives in a constant fear that she will be taken away from him. But as her family’s privacy starts to falter and she must rely on her neighbors for help, she discovers that family is more than just your parents and siblings—it’s who you choose to love and care for, too.
5 Diverse YA Books Perfect for School Use
11. Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok
After immigrating to the United States, Kimberly Chang works in a sweatshop to make ends meet. Between this and the challenges of learning a new language, she feels so alienated from her high school peers. As she grows closer to her classmates and other workers, she must learn to straddle the divides between the different worlds and cultures she inhabits.
12. When I Was the Greatest by Jason Reynolds
Ali’s life revolves around school, boxing, and trying to stay out of trouble. But his best friend Noodles seems to have a knack for getting into dangerous situations. When Noodles and his brother find themselves entangled in an unforgiving circumstance, Ali does everything he can to get them out of it.
13. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
After his brother went to prison, Aristotle felt lost in overwhelming anger and grief. But then he meets Dante, a boy who talks with him about things most people are uncomfortable saying. Through their close bond, they learn how to survive in a world that can feel so hateful sometimes.
14. Monsoon Summer by Mitali Perkins
At first, Jasmine is resentful of her mother for making her volunteer at the Indian orphanage that raised her. But when she meets Damita, a girl her age who cooks for the orphanage, she realizes that making a difference matters more than sticking to what is comfortable.
15. Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork
Marcelo was born with autism, a condition that for him comes with both joys and challenges. Over the summer, he works at his father’s law firm and meets Jasmine—a girl his age who becomes a close friend. When they uncover a striking photo, they unravel a mystery that brings a silenced injustice to light.