Blog by ERICA
April 2018

Sadly, there is not a huge treasure trove of classic children’s books with diverse characters. But fortunately, with the We Need Diverse Books movement, the number of quality chapter books featuring diverse protagonists from all walks of life is increasing.


While there is still much progress to be made, it is becoming easier to find wonderful children’s books featuring people of color and children with diverse abilities.

With this list Erica’s tried to match a contemporary book with a classic book.


If you liked Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret by Judy Blume…

It Ain’t So Awful Falafel by Firoozeh Dumas.

I adored this book, just as I adored Blume’s book in my youth. In 1970s California a young Iranian immigrant figures out how to be American without rejecting her heritage. While this funny and moving novel may not include pleas to God on the part of the protagonist, I knew immediately that fans of Judy Blume will connect to Zomorod Yousefzadeh’s (who now wants to be called “Cindy”) attempts to fit in with her peers.

If you liked Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery…

The Mighty Miss Malone by Christopher Paul Curtis.

The Mighty Miss Malone is the funny and poignant story of Deza Malone and her family as they struggle during the Great Depression. Deza is a likable, smart protagonist who observes the ironies, joys and hardships around her. Her scamp of a brother, Jimmie has a gorgeous singing voice and could become a star if he could just stay out of trouble. Her father survives a boating accident, not fully intact, and when he moves away to find employment the rest of the family must go in search of him. Curtis paints a vivid portrait of the 1930s filled with interesting characters.

If you liked The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis…

Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu 

Breadcrumbs is a beautiful retelling of  “The Snow Queen”. There are a lot of literary references in the book and it is exquisitely written. Hazel and Jack are friends, but one day when Jack gets a piece of glass in his eye he is whisked away by a strange, evil woman to a land of snow. Hazel sets out on a journey to find her friend and return home.

If you liked The Saturdays by Elizabeth Enright…

Skating with the Statue of Liberty if you like
Skating with the Statue of Liberty by Susan Lynn Meyer.

This is the sequel to Black Radishes, in which Gustave and his family leave France after the Nazi invasion, but it reads as a stand-alone novel. Now with his family in New York, Gustave must adjust to American culture. While this book addresses much more serious themes than The Saturdays, such as anti-semitism and racism, I chose it because it is about children experiencing their independence in New York City.

If you liked Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White…

Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer  by Kelly Jones.

Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer is a wonderful contemporary mix of magic and realism. When Sophie Brown’s father loses his job, the family move from Los Angeles to her great-uncle’s farm. This is an epistolary novel; Sophie writes letters to her Abuelita about her new life. While Sophie is adjusting to living on a farm, being one of the only “brown people” in the community and the frugality of her parents, she discovers a few chickens that have unusual characteristics. Her new mission becomes learning how to care and protect her new supernatural flock.

If you liked Mr. Popper’s Penguins

Tua and the Elephantby R. P. Harris.

This book was a much loved read aloud in our home. Tua is a Thai girl who forms a bond with an elephant. When she sees the elephant being mistreated by its owners, she rescues it and takes it home to her aunt’s house. Pursued by the two bumbling mahouts (the term for elephant owners and trainers) Tua and her new charge make their way to an elephant sanctuary where they both find a new life. My sons enjoyed this book and I liked how it gave them a peek into a completely different world.

Note: I often recommend Mr. Popper’s Penguins as a first read aloud chapter book for kids ages 4 and up. If you are looking for a recommendation for a similar age group, I suggest Lulu and the Ducks in the Park.

If you liked Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh…

Murder Is Bad Manners (A Wells & Wong Mystery) by Robin Stevens.

A British import. In a 1930s British boarding school, the extrovert English rose Daisy Wells and the introvert  Hazel Wong, who has recently transferred from Hong Kong, are on the hunt for a mystery to solve. When they come across the body of their science teacher, they are determined to smoke out the murderer. The relationship between the two girl detectives is delightful and real. This book has a classic murder mystery feel to it, with plenty of surprises for both the characters and the reader. Jolly good fun.

If you liked The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum…

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin.

This is possibly my favorite contemporary chapter book ever and I consider it a modern classic. Minli’s family lives in poverty and Minli sets out on a quest to find the Old Man of the Moon and change her family’s destiny. Along the way she is accompanied by the Jade Dragon and her journey is filled with twist and turns of fate. Lin deftly weaves together Minli’s quest, her father’s stories and wonderful illustrations to create a memorable tale. Don’t forget the two companion books, Starry River of the Sky and When the Sea Turns to Silver.

If you liked Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder…

The Birchbark House (series) by Louise Erdrich.

This series about a family in the Ojibwa tribe is a a good choice if, like me, you find the racism in Little House a bit hard to take. This first book takes place on an island in Lake Superior in 1847 where 7-year-old Omakayas, “Little Frog” and her Ojibwa family live.  Little Frog is the sole survivor of a smallpox epidemic and is adopted into a new community. Erdrich describes the daily life and experiences of the Ojibwa as well as the sorrows they endure as a result of the White Man.  Excellent, and a must read for kids.

If you liked Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson…

Heart of a Samurai by Margi Preus.

I started reading this book but it was snatched from my hands by my son who gives it a big thumbs up. It is an adventure story, inspired by historical events. In 1841, 14 year old Manjiro and 3 other men are stranded on an island off Japan during a fishing trip. Eventually they are rescued by an American whaling vessel but instead of returning to Japan, Manjiro travels with the Captain, attends school in America – dealing with the prejudice that comes with being an outsider – and heads to California during the gold rush. At the time, Japan was cut off from the world, and no one was allowed back into the country after leaving, but Manjiro risks his life to return.

See full list of books here


This blog is written by Erica, a Generation X mom who decided her stay at home parenting style wasn’t working. Following her children’s lead, they learned about math and science, about having a passion for games and reading and being silly.

In a bid to help others figure out, “WHAT DO WE DO ALL DAY?”

Erica’s done the leg work for parents to share, so find more than 200 EASY activities that will keep kids learning and playing at home or at school.

Visit the Website: “WHAT DO WE DO ALL DAY?”