Growing up, I was an avid reader. I loved book series because you got to see your favorite characters grow. Today, when I’m observing the books students choose to read and what they check out from their school libraries, I’m struck by a major difference in some of their popular fiction versus what I grew up reading.
Saturday, June 11, 2011
Diverse Book Series for Young Readers
When I was growing up, it was quite a task to find a book series featuring a female protagonist who was not white. Ramona Quimby, Nancy Drew, the Sweet Valley Twins, 95% of the Babysitter’s Club, etc. were all white. They are wonderful books and children from any race can read and enjoy stories about these characters, but I wondered what young black, Hispanic, Asian, and other races lost when they got few chances to read books about characters that look like them. If any race can read and love Ramona, shouldn’t they all be given the chance to read and relate to a black character, or an Asian one? Why don’t publishers make more of these books? Though we are aware of the reasons why it’s important for students to read books like this, there is still a paucity of books available that spotlight racially diverse characters.
Nevertheless, there are now a lot more options for young readers. I love seeing girls with their noses in books, and I was struck when I saw girls of all races reading two series starring diverse female protagonists: Katie Woo and Dyamonde Daniel.
Katie Woo is an award-winning series for young readers. Katie’s series contains short sentences and nice illustrations for students just beginning chapter books. Her covers are as vivid and inviting as her stories! Katie is in first grade and she’s had to deal with the loss of a beloved pet, a bully and lying. I love that likeable series features an Asian protagonist, though it is sadly one of the few I’ve ever seen that does so.
Then, there’s the Dyamonde Daniel series by acclaimed writer Nikki Grimes. The Dyamonde Daniel series has also won awards, and it stars a young, black protagonist who deals with everything from bullies to homelessness. (Here is a discussion guide for the series.) Dyamonde’s readers will be more advanced than Katie’s, but both offer positive stories about strong female characters. Though their races are different, they share many similarities with the memorable female characters from other popular series, like Junie B. Jones and Judy Moody.
These books were not on the shelves when I was growing up, and I would have been hard-pressed to find anything like them. It’s nice to know that today’s young readers can grow up with a chance to meet, love and relate to protagonists of all different races.
Here are a few other series that may interest those of you who want to expose your students to diverse female characters:
American Girl books have encouraged diversity for many years. Addy, Josefina, Kaya, and Rebecca Rubin are all characters who have engaging stories and an important place in American history. American Girl was ahead of the curve with their stories. When I was young, they were among the few available who dedicated entire series to girls of various cultures and races. I will always recommend American Girl books.
The Sugar Plum Ballerinas series is Whoopi Goldberg's contribution to diverse literature. I'll let Whoopi explain the books herself:
Ruby and the Booker Boys is a series by Derrick Barnes.
I wish this list could be longer, but I’m honestly having trouble adding to this list. There are a few other series about black girls, but I am completely stumped when it comes to series about Latinas and Asians. Not to mention Middle Eastern, Pacific Islanders, etc. Besides American Girl books, I’m not entirely sure they’ve been published. If they have, they probably aren’t popular. This is honestly one area where comics, graphic novels, and manga exceed books.
Keep in mind, I’m not referring to stand-alone stories, which are truly becoming abundantly diverse. I’m talking specifically about book series in the same vein as Junie B. Jones or Ramona Quimby. Characters who stick around for more than just one book. A few of these types are available for older kids, but what about young readers?