Words cannot even begin to describe this last year. 2020 has been wrought with so much pain. My own family has dealt with job loss, health crises, COVID, racism, and anxiety. And the saddest part is I know our journey this year is not uncommon. 2020 has not been a great year for our world. And, there have also been some beautiful moments. My family has also seen joy, laughter, health, closeness, and resilience. Thankfully, that is also a common story. 

The year of 2020 has also brought a plethora of new diverse books. I get so excited thinking about how more and more of the publishing world’s gates are being opened to authors of color that want to share our experiences. In 2020, we have seen more books representing the everyday experiences of communities of color, exploring our cultures, and providing conversations about systematic and interpersonal racism. 

Therefore, to celebrate this brilliance that came out of 2020, Colorful Pages is publishing our first-ever Annual Diverse Book List. In this 2020 Diverse Book List, we list some of the top books that we have seen and/or reviewed that have been published this year. It was so hard not to spend hours on this list to include every single book we have loved or seen this year. However, I was able to list 30 books: 10 Picture Books, 11 Early Chapter Books & Middle Grade Books, and 9 Young Adult Books. Check out our 2020 Diverse Book List to see what diverse books you’ve read this year and what books need to be added to your TBR list!

Picture Books

When We Are Kind / Nihá’ádaahwiinít’íigo, written by Monique Gray Smith and illustrated by Nicole Neidhardt

The Spectrum for Multicultural Lit.: Between Representation & Exploration

Age Range: 5-8 years old

When We Are Kind is a short picture book that is centered around kindness. In the beginning, each page details an act of kindness people do. The last section is all about how we feel when someone is kind to us. The book ends by stating, “When we are kind, we remember we are all related”. I love the focus on collectivism in this line and throughout the whole book!

When We Are Kind is written by Monique Gray Smith, a Native American author of Cree, Lakota, and Scottish descent, and illustrated by Nicole Neidhardt, a Native American illustrator of Diné (Navajo) and European descent. 

You Matter, by Christian Robinson

The Spectrum for Multicultural Lit.: Mostly Representation

Age Range: 4-8 years old

Christian Robinson is a beautiful illustrator of several beloved books. And, this year he released a book that he wrote and illustrated. You Matter is a picture book that explores the world. Its message is about how everyone matters and everyone is connected. 

I Promise, by LeBron James

The Spectrum for Multicultural Lit.: Representation

Age Range: 4-8 years old

This motivating picture book shares different promises that we all should have to strive for greatness. LeBron James wrote this book that is inspired by his foundation’s I Promise Foundation. It would be perfect as a graduation gift or a back-to-school book!

Amy Wu and the Patchwork Dragon, by Kat Zhang

The Spectrum for Multicultural Lit.: Exploration

Age Range: 4-8 years old

I fell in love with Amy in Amy Wu and the Perfect Bao and now she’s back! In this picture book, Amy’s class is asked to make dragons during craft time. However, when Amy draws a long, wingless dragon, her friends question if that is even a real dragon. Drawing dragons just like her friends does not feel right to Amy though. So, Amy goes home and her grandmother tries to help her find some inspiration to make her dragon. 

All Because You Matter, by Tami Charles

The Spectrum for Multicultural Lit.: Conversation

Age Range: 4-8 years old

All Because You Matter is a comforting and empowering love letter to our black and brown kiddos. The author, Tami Charles, assures the readers that they will always matter. It reminds readers that they matter despite the racism and prejudice they encounter because they are born from legends and are strong. It was such a timely book for 2020 – we needed this book; our communities really needed this book. 

I Believe I Can, by Grace Byers

The Spectrum for Multicultural Lit.: Mostly Representation

Age Range: 4-8 years old

Grace Byers wrote two books this year. In this picture book, Grace writes affirmations for kiddos to love and believe in themselves. It is a great book for social emotional learning, especially around building our children’s self-esteem, confidence, and perseverance. 

Fearless Trailblazers: 11 Latinos Who Made US History, by Naibe Reynoso

The Spectrum of Multicultural Lit.: Dependent on the Person Covered

Age Range: 5-8 years old

Naibe Reynoso also wrote this picture book about 11 Latinos who made US History. Each person has two pages dedicated to their biography: one page in Spanish and one page in English. Reynoso writes engaging rhymes about each of these heroes and I love the cute illustrations by Jone Leal that compliment the words well. 

Anti-Racist Baby, by Ibram X. Kendi

The Spectrum of Multicultural Lit.: Conversation

Age Range: 2+ years old

Another book I WISH I had growing up (or at the very least in my early years teaching ethnic studies)! Ibram X. Kendi (the author of How to Be an Anti-Racist and Stamped From the Beginning) reimagined his previous books geared towards older crowds about anti-racism in this new book, Anti-Racist Baby. His board book talks about anti-racism and gives nine easy steps for children to take to be anti-racist. 

We Are Water Protectors, by Carole Lindstrom and illustrated by Michaela Goade

The Spectrum for Multicultural Lit.: Conversation

Age Range: 3-6 years old

This beautiful picture book is about the Indigenous-led movement to protect the Earth and water. It follows a young Indigenous girl that talks about the “black snake”, which is a metaphor for the oil pipelines that her people and her are advocating against. Carole Lindstrom is Anishinabe/Metis and is a proud member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwe Indians. At the end of the book, there is a Water Protectors Pledge that has a beautiful poem where students can sign their name at the end. 

Your Name is a Song, by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow

The Spectrum for Multicultural Lit.: Conversation

Age Range: 5-10 years old

Your Name is a Song brings up an unfortunately common story. A young girl is frustrated and disheartened because no one was able to say her name at school. Her mama shows her the beauty in names and ties it back to the noises and joy all around them. Together, they disprove all the prejudice, racism, and hurt the young girl encountered at school. And together, they uncover the song and warmth to every name.  

Early Chapter Books & Middle Grade Books

Mindy Kim and the Yummy Seaweed Business, by Lyla Lee

The Spectrum for Multicultural Lit.: Exploration & Representation

Age Range: 6-9 years

Mindy Kim and the Yummy Seaweed Business is the first book in the Mindy Kim series! It is an early chapter book about Mindy transitioning to a new school and starting a business with her friends where they sell seaweed snacks. Diverse early chapter books are always really hard to find, so I was very appreciative of Mindy Kim!

Planet Omar: Accidental Trouble Magnet, by Zanib Mian

The Spectrum for Multicultural Lit.: Mostly Conversation

Age Range: 8-12 years

When Omar and his family move, he is not excited at all to start a new school. He is worried about what it will be like. As Omar makes a new friend, he experiences bullying when a peer tells him that all Muslims are going to be kicked out of the country! This middle grade book is so engaging with illustrations and labels along with chapter book text.

Farah Rocks Fifth Grade, by Susan Muaddi Darraj

The Spectrum for Multicultural Lit.: Mostly Representation with some Exploration

Age Range: 8-12 years

Susan Muaddi Darraj writes about Farrah and her best friend, Allie Liu, who are applying for the Magnet Academy. The Magnet Academy is their dream school with its focus on science and math! But, Farrah starts to second-guess her excitement for The Magnet Academy when her little brother starts to get bullied at their current school. 

Santiago’s Road Home, by Alexandra Diaz

The Spectrum of Multicultural Lit.: Conversation

Age Range: 8-13 years old

Santiago’s Road Home is a middle grade chapter book that is raw and immersive. It details the experience of Santiago, a 12-year-old who is trying to cross the border from Mexico into the United States because of his abusive family. He joins a young mother and her daughter in their journey. However, they are on the brink of death from dehydration and exhaustion when ICE agents find, separate, and detain them. 

Black Brother, Black Brother, by Jewell Parker Rhodes

The Spectrum of Multicultural Lit.: Conversation

Age Range: 8-13 years old

In Black Brother, Black Brother, Jewell Parker Rhodes writes about two brothers, one who presents as White and one who presents as Black. The novel mostly follows 12-year-old Donte, who faces a lot of racism and prejudice and is dubbed the “Black Brother”. He is constantly being told that he should be more like his light-skinned brother, Trey. Donte is suspended from school and arrested because of another student and takes up fencing at a local youth center in order to process through the injustices he is facing. The book does delve into racism and colorism in an engaging and age-appropriate way. 

Hide and Seeker, by Daka Hermon

The Spectrum for Multicultural Lit.: Mostly Representation

Age Range: 8-12 years old

Daka Hermon puts a spooky twist on a classic (and my favorite) childhood game! In Hide and Seeker, Justin’s best friend, Zee, comes back after being missing for a year. However, Justin just feels like something is wrong, especially because nobody knows what happened to him. Then, at Zee’s Welcome Home Party, a game of hide and seek goes absolutely wrong. Soon, everybody is thrown into a world of horror. 

Becoming Muhammad Ali, by James Patterson & Kwame Alexander

The Spectrum of Multicultural Lit.: Conversation

Age Range: 8-12 years old

This novel is a great middle grade biography about Muhammad Ali’s childhood. It details his beginnings as Cassius Clay up until the age of seventeen. James Patterson and Kwame Alexander partner to alternate between prose and verse to create this novel. 

Efrén Divided, by Ernesto Cisneros

The Spectrum of Multicultural Lit.: Conversation 

Age Range: 8-13 years old

In Efrén Divided, Efrén, a young boy, loves his family. His Amá and Apá work so hard to create a loving household for Efrén and his two younger siblings. However, one day, Amá, who is undocumented, does not return from work because she is deported to Tijuana, México. Efrén steps up to help take care of his younger siblings and aid his family in finding a way to get Amá back. This middle grade novel is a must-read that acts as an intense mirror or window for students. It gives insight to deportation, immigration, and ICE from the perspective of a child that students can relate to. 

A Thousand Questions, by Saadia Faruqi

The Spectrum of Multicultural Lit.: Exploration 

Age Range: 8-12 years old

In this middle grade novel, Saadia Faruqi writes about two friends coming to understand each other. Mimi and her mother go to Karachi, Pakistan to visit her grandparents. However, she desperately wants to find her absent father. While there, Mimi befriends their cook’s daughter, Sakina. Sakina was accepted to school only if she can improve her English test score. The books alternates between Mimi and Sakina as narrators while fully immersing readers in Pakinstani cultures and socioeconomic classes. 

Stamped: Racism, Anti-Racism, and You, by Jason Reynolds & Ibram X. Kendi

The Spectrum of Multicultural Lit.: Conversation

Age Range: 12+ years old

Jason Reynolds, another brilliant author, teamed up with Kendi in order to write this version of Stamped geared towards younger students. It shares the history of racism within our nation and shines a light on how racism is still very real today. 

This Book is Anti-Racist, by Tiffany Jewell

The Spectrum of Multicultural Lit.: Conversation

Age Range: 11-15 years old

This is an engaging book that helps readers go through 20 lessons around identity, prejudice, racism, and activism. Each chapter acts almost as a lesson inside an anti-racist classroom. There is a section of knowledge to read and then several activities to do to reflect and really apply the learning to your own life. 

Young Adult Books

The Voting Booth, by Brandy Colbert

The Spectrum of Multicultural Lit.: Conversation

Age Range: 11-15 years old

The Voting Booth is a great fiction young adult novel about voting and romance! It follows Marva Sheridan, a teen who has a passion for voting and voting rights, and Duke Crenshaw. When Marva sees Duke turned away from a polling place, Marva and Duke travel all around to make sure his vote is counted. 

Cemetery Boys, by Aiden Thomas

The Spectrum of Multicultural Lit.: Exploration & Conversation

Age Range: 14+ years old

Aiden Thomas is definitely a young adult author to watch. In a Q&A, the author said, “It was also really important for me to write a book where LGBTQIA, and Latinx kids could see themselves being powerful heroes. Right now, these kids are living in a world where a lot of hate and suffering is zeroed in on them. I wanted them to see themselves being supported and loved for who they are.” Aiden Thomas’s novel, Cemetery Boys, follows Yadriel, a trans teen boy who is on a mission to prove to his traditional Latinx family that he is a real brujo and that they should accept his true gender. However, Yadriel’s ritual goes wrong when he summons the wrong ghost. Now, he’s stuck with Julian Diaz and they team up to find out what happened to both Julian and Miguel, Yadriel’s murdered cousin. 

A Black Women’s History of the United States, by Daina Ramey Berry and Kali Nicole Gross

The Spectrum for Multicultural Lit.: Conversation

Age Range: Young Adult

Take a deep dive into the history of Black Women in our country with this chapter book! Daina Ramey Berry and Kali Nicole Gross are two historians that have compiled the histories of Black Women past and present. 

Smash It!, by Francina Simone

The Spectrum of Multicultural Lit.: Mostly Representation

Age Range: Young Adult +

Smash It is about Olivia “Liv” James who wants to transform herself and get rid of all her insecurities. She decides to try out for the school musical and make new friends. However, while trying to follow her heart, Liv ends up creating a mess in her love life. 

Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From, by Jennifer De Leon

The Spectrum of Multicultural Lit.: Conversation

Age Range: 14+ years old

Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From is a young adult novel that explores identity amidst racism within a school context. Liliana Cruz, the main character who is a first-generation American Latinx teenager, is trying to fit in at her practically all-white school in an upscale neighborhood. However, Liliana is simultaneously uncovering family secrets surrounding undocumentation and the stress her family is under. 

You Should See Me in a Crown, by Leah Johnson

The Spectrum for Multicultural Lit.: Mostly Conversation

Age Range: 12-18 years old

In this young adult novel, Liz Lightly’s ultimate college plan is ruined when she finds out her financial aid falls through. In order to attend the super-elite Pennington College, Liz realizes that her only hope is to win her schools’ prom queen scholarship. While prom queen is the last thing Liz even wanted to think about, she is desperate to achieve her college goal. What complicates her Plan B even more is when she falls for her competition, the new girl named Mack. This is a great #OwnVoices book that provides mirrors and windows for our young adults!

Dear Justyce, by Nic Stone

The Spectrum for Multicultural Lit.: Conversation

Age Range: 14-17 years old

This year, Nic Stone released the sequel to her bestseller, Dear Martin. Vernell LaQuan Banks writes letters to the Dear Martin protagonist, Justyce McAllister. Quan’s letters from and experiences of the Fulton Regional Youth Detention Center gives a real look at the racism and injustice of our broken criminal justice system.  

Parachutes, by Kelly Yang

The Spectrum for Multicultural Lit.: Mostly Conversation with some Exploration

Age Range: 14+ years old

Parachutes details the lives of two teenage girls who end up living together unexpectedly. Claire Wang moves to the US where her parents make her a “parachute”. A “parachute” is a teenager who is dropped off to study and live in a private home in the US while their wealthy parents stay in Asia. Dani De La Cruz is Claire’s host sister and comes from a Filipino single-mother household. Dani works really hard at her academics and in her spot on the debate team. She hopes her hard work pays off and translates into an acceptance to Yale. However, Dani and Claire’s lives begin to unravel and they find that it is easier to navigate it together. This book deals with issues of sexual abuse, racism, and elitism. 

We Are Not from Here, by Jenny Torres Sanchez

The Spectrum for Multicultural Lit.: Conversation

Age Range: 13-17 years old

This young adult novel was a major window for readers who have not experienced immigration! I urge all secondary teachers to consider adding this to their reading list for the year due to the deep changes that it helps produce in people’s empathy. We Are Not from Here follows three teenagers as they cross from Guatemala to Mexico and follow the route of La Bestia into the United States. It details their experiences with danger, trauma, and resilience.  

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