20 Children's Books From Around The World To Read For Multicultural Children's Book Day
This Friday, January 27, marks the fourth annual Multicultural Children’s Book Day, a day-long celebration of reading diversely that focuses exclusively on global and multicultural children’s books. First celebrated in 2014, MCBD is the brain child of reading advocates Valarie Budayr, from Jump Into a Book, and Mia Wenjen, from Pragmatic Mom, who created the day of celebration in order to bring together authors, publishers, parents and other caregivers, teachers, bloggers and reviewers, librarians — and, of course, young readers — in a shared mission of reading more diverse books and adding multicultural reads to children’s bookshelves, both at home and in school.
But while reading is the BEST way to participate in MCBD (in my opinion) there are tons of other ways to get involved too. Head over to the Multicultural Children’s Book Day website, where you can offer to be a book reviewer, get a free book for your classroom, or donate and help the folks at MCBD get diverse books into the hands of under-served kids.
Interested in joining in on some of the festivities yourself (or, you know, alongside the children’s book readers in your life?) Start by picking up a book! Here are 20 children's books from around the world to read for Multicultural Children's Book Day.
1‘Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl's Courage Changed Music’ by Margarita Engle and Rafael López
Inspired by the true experiences of Chinese-African-Cuban drummer Millo Castro Zaldarriaga, Drum Dream Girl tells the story of a young island girl who dreams of playing the congas and bongós, but who is told by everyone around her that girls can’t be drummers. By practicing in secret and waiting for the right time to debut her talents to the island community, the Drum Dream Girl changed music, paving the way for female drummers like herself.
2‘Thunder Boy Jr.’ by Sherman Alexie and Yuyi Morales
Written by National Book Award-winner Sherman Alexie and illustrated by Caldecott Honor-winner Yuyi Morales, Thunder Boy Jr. tells the story of a young boy who is named after his dad, but who is desperate for a name — and an identity — that is uniquely his. With the help of his father, he searches for a name that will fit him perfectly, as well as demonstrate respect for his own family bonds; and when a lightning storm strikes, the formerly-named Thunder Boy Jr. finds just the right one.
3‘Tenzin's Deer’ by Barbara Soros
Celebrating the ancient wisdom and traditions of Tibet, Barbara Soros’s book Tenzin’s Deer tells the story a young boy named Tenzin who stumbles across a wounded deer in the woods one day. Paying attention to the needs of the animal, Tenzin is able to use his skills to cure the deer, falling in love with the animal along the way. But saving the wounded animal isn’t the most difficult thing Tenzin will have to do, because once his deer is healed Tenzin must learn a hard lesson about letting go of the things you love.
4‘Nothando's Journey’ by Jill Manly
Written by yoga instructor and educator Jill Manly, Nothando's Journey introduces young readers to the practices of yoga and self-discovery through examples of yogic movements found in the animal kingdom. It also offers a great message about learning to trust ourselves and live confidently, as demonstrated by little Nothando and her brother, who are traveling to Swaziland’s important Reed Festival, where Nothando, one of the performers, will demonstrate some of the new skills she learned on her journey there.
5‘Flutter and Hum: Animal Poems / Aleteo y Zumbido: Poemas’ de Animales by Julie Paschkis
You will love this bilingual collection of children’s poems, written by Julie Paschkis. Flutter and Hum: Animal Poems, (or Aleteo y Zumbido: Poemas’ de Animales) offers young readers a collection of side-by-side English and Spanish poetry that celebrates the beauty, joy, and playfulness of the animal kingdom.
6‘The Best Beekeeper of Lalibela: A Tale from Africa’ by Cristina Kessler and Leonard Jenkins
This children’s book, The Best Beekeeper of Lalibela, takes readers into the mountains of Ethiopia, where a young girl named Almaz is determined to make the best honey of all the beekeepers in her community — something a woman has never done before. Laughed at by the men around her, Almaz knows she must prove them all wrong; and by using her wits and intelligence she shows everyone that girls can do anything.
7‘This Day in June’ by Gayle E. Pitman and Kristyna Litten
Written by Gayle E. Pitman and illustrated by Kristyna Litten, This Day in June invites young readers and their caregivers into an age-appropriate and compassionate conversation about sexual orientation, and LGBTQ rights and history (because#LoveWins.) The story takes place during a Pride celebration, demonstrating that the annual day is one when people can come together over their unique, beautiful identities.
8‘My Father's Shop’ by Satomi Ichikawa
In the heart of their Moroccan city, Mustafa’s father owns a rug shop, and there is one rug in particular that is Mustafa’s favorite — the one with the large hole that Mustafa can stick his head through. But before Mustafa’s father agrees to let him have the rug for himself, Mustafa must learn some words in other languages, in order to speak to the foreign tourists his father serves. But his father’s teaching is boring Mustafa, and he flees the shop in order to discover his own creative method of learning other languages.
9‘Cry, Heart, But Never Break’ by Glenn Ringtved and Charlotte Pardi
Translated from the original Dutch, Glenn Ringtved and Charlotte Pardi’s Cry, Heart, But Never Break introduces young readers to four siblings who are visiting their sick grandmother. Determined to keep the character of Death away from her, the siblings devise a plan. But in warm, age-appropriate description, their grandmother passes away anyway, and the children must learn to both mourn their grandmother’s loss while remembering to value her life.
10‘Emmanuel's Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah’ by Laurie Ann Thompson and Sean Qualls
Emmanuel’s Dream is a biography told through pictures, and shares the true story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah, a young boy who is disabled by the loss of one of his legs. Despite this, Emmanuel demonstrates unparalleled strength by bicycling across all 400 miles of Ghana, forever inspiring everyone around him, and changing the way individuals with disabilities were treated in his country.
11‘The Wonderful Fluffy Little Squishy’ by Beatrice Alemagna
This French children’s book introduces beginning readers to five-and-a-half-year-old Eddie, who is afraid she might be the only person in her family who doesn’t have a special talent. So when she hears her little sister say: “birthday—Mommy—fluffy—little—squishy,” Eddie is determined that her talent will be finding this perfect present (the fluffy little squishy) for her sister. Readers accompany Eddie on an exciting adventure around her neighborhood as she seeks out the wonderful gift.
12‘Grandfather Tang's Story’ by Ann Tompert
Inspired by the Chinese form of storytelling using tangrams (seven different shapes cut from a square of paper, used to make different figures in the story itself) Grandfather Tang’s Story follows the adventures of two fox fairies, via stunning pen-and-watercolor illustrations, while also inviting readers to use the tangrams to build a story of their own as well.
13‘The Journey’ by Francesca Sanna
Taking young readers into the current refugee crisis — one affecting families all over the world — Francesca Sanna’s The Journey introduces one young refugee and her family who were forced to flee their home, leaving their belongings and everything they know in order to save their lives. The book is inspired by Sanna’s own experiences meeting and talking to many different refugees from all over the world, and portrays their shared, heartbreaking experiences.
14‘Mango, Abuela, and Me’ by Meg Medina and Angela Dominguez
When Mia’s grandmother comes to visit her family, Mia discovers that her abuela doesn’t speak English. Determined to help her grandmother learn the language so the two can share stories together, Mia begins teaching her grandmother words in English, while learning some Spanish herself along the way. But when language instruction becomes too challenging for Mia, she enlists the help of a parrot named Mango, who brings Mia and her abuela even closer together.
15‘Freedom in Congo Square’ by Carole Boston Weatherford and R. Gregory Christie
Freedom in Congo Square is a historically-accurate picture book that takes readers into the origins of New Orleans jazz culture, and examines the importance of gathering together in community. The book takes readers back to slave-era Louisiana, into a place called Congo Square, where slaves were allowed to gather once a week, sharing stories, making music, and celebrating their African culture freely.
16‘I Am Jazz’ by Jessica Herthel, Jazz Jennings, and Shelagh McNicholas
Children’s book I Am Jazz tells the real-life story of Jazz Jennings, who’s unbelievably inspiring journey has enabled her to become a spokesperson for transgender children everywhere. From the time Jazz was two-years-old she knew she was a girl, and with the help of a supportive doctor and her family, she has been able to live her true identity and stick up for those around her.
17‘The Book Itch: Freedom, Truth, & Harlem's Greatest Bookstore’ by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson and R. Gregory Christie
Telling the true story of the National Memorial African Bookstore and how it became a center for black art and culture in 1960s New York, The Book Itch: Freedom, Truth, & Harlem's Greatest Bookstore introduces young readers to the bookstore from the perspective of the son of the store’s owner, Lewis Michaux. In addition to celebrating art and culture, the bookstore also became home to activists and public figures like Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali — making Lewis, his dad, and their bookstore an important part of history.
18‘What Does It Mean To Be Kind?’ by Rana DiOrio and Stéphane Jorisch
Answering a question that everyone can afford to revisit throughout their lives — and especially now — Rana DiOrio and Stéphane Jorisch’s What Does It Mean To Be Kind? helps young readers understand that every small act of kindness can also be understood as one large act of courage, demonstrating that everyone and everything can benefit from a little kindness: not just friends, family, and members of your community, but also animals, plants, and the environment as well.
19'A Gift from Greensboro' by Quraysh Ali Lansana and Skip Hill
Acclaimed poet Quraysh Ali Lansana and the illustrator Skip Hill team up on this poetic children's book that takes young readers back to the historic lunch counter sit-ins of the Civil Rights Movement and the years after. A Gift from Greensboro tells the story of two young boys — one black and one white — who share a meal together at the Woolworth lunch counter a decade after the protests and sit-ins that led to their freedom to do so. Reminding readers of all ages how important and transformative peaceful protest can be, A Gift from Greensboro is a story of strength, friendship, and the many-layered history of civil rights in the United States.
20'Toby Alone' by Timothée de Fombelle
Translated from the original French, this adorable fantasy introduces young readers to Toby, a one-and-a-half-millimeter tall person who lives in a giant oak tree. When a greedy man begins to take over the tree — destroying it for economic reasons — Toby steps in to save the day. A sweet fantasy that addresses the destruction caused by deforestation, this book is a fun way to remind readers of all ages about the importance of caring for our environment.