Good Books For Opening Young Minds

Dec 21, 2017

I often talk about how books are windows and mirrors. They show readers things they’ve never seen before, as well as reflections of themselves.

There's a big push for diversity in children's books right now, which means books with characters of all different races, all different cultures. I find this a little odd, because this big trend is my life. It's my identity. I'm Asian-American and a minority, and it's interesting for me to hear my identity as a trend. 

And actually, it's not really a trend -- it's the way it's always been. 

We've always had a world of different cultures. We've always had a world of different people, different races. It's only a trend now because modern media is finally taking notice of it. 

And that is to everyone's benefit, especially our kids', who are growing up in a multicultural and global society.

Consider giving the books listed below to young people in your life. They’re good at letting readers experience the world through someone else's eyes. 

For The Very Young

Little Feminist Board Book Set,” by by Emily Kleinman, illustrated by Lydia Ortiz. Bright, colorful portraits of real women heroines are featured in four mini board books. It's the perfect gift for any baby.

Around the World in a Bathtub: Bathing All Over the Globe,” by Wade Bradford, illustrated by Micha Archer. A fun look at all the bathing customs of the world, and how kids everywhere try to avoid it. Perfect for preschoolers, this is a picture book for all ages, usually to be read aloud by an adult.

Why Am I Me?” by Paige Britt, illustrated by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko. Almost like poem, two characters consider the same question and find common humanity amongst their differences. Simple, elegant and thoughtful, this is a picture book for all ages.

Malala’s Magic Pencil,” by Malala Yousafzai and Kerascoët. Malala’s inspiring story told for the younger readers -- accessible, non-patronizing and profoundly hopeful. This is a picture book for all ages.

Her Right Foot,” by Dave Eggers, illustrated by Shawn Harris. An unusual and entertaining way to learn about the Statue of Liberty, and a powerful message of what the statue symbolizes. This is a picture book for all ages.

The Youngest Marcher,” by Cynthia Levinson, illustrated by Vaness Brantley-Newton. In 1963, the City of Birmingham, Alabama, jailed hundreds of kids for joining the Children's March. Among them was 7-year-old Audrey Faye Hendricks, and this is her remarkable story of courage. This is a picture book for all ages.

All the Way to Havana,” by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Mike Curato. In Cuba, a boy and his family drive to Havana, Cuba in their old car. A delightful slice of life of country many have not experienced. This is a picture book for all ages.

Credit Melanie / flickr.com/photos/holtsman / Creative Commons

For Independent Readers

Jasmine Toguchi, Mochi Queen,” by Debbi Michiko Florence. Spunky, Japanese-American Jasmine wants to do something before her big sister Sophie for once. So Jasmine hatches a plan to pound mochi for the New Year, a job traditionally reserved for boys. A warm family story perfect for early independent readers. This is a chapter book, for roughly first through third grade reading level.

Amina’s Voice,” by Hena Khan. Pakistan-American Amina struggles when her best friend seems to be changing and Amina wonders if she, herself, should change too. And when her mosque is vandalized, the answers to those questions get even harder. A heartwarming and universal story of acceptance. This is a middle grades novel, for roughly third to fifth grade reading level.

Rise of the Jumbies,” by Tracey Baptiste. Inspired by Caribbean and West African mythology and fairy tales, the reader is introduced to jumbies -- evil fairy creatures that come from the dark woods to prey on people. Corinne LaMer, the main character, is half jumbie, and when children begin to go missing in her island, she must go to the depths of the ocean to clear her name. This is a middle grades novel, for roughly third to fifth grade reading level.

Cilla-Lee Jenkins, Future Author Extraordinaire,” by Susan Tan. The memoir of a precocious eight-and-a-half year old and how she navigates being half-Asian and almost a big sister. Sweet and funny.

Spirit Hunters,” by Ellen Oh. A fast-paced mystery about a seventh grader who not only has to deal with being new in town, but also has to face some pretty creepy ghosts haunted her younger brother. A blending of Korean and American traditions that will keep your heart pounding!

Stef Soto, Taco Queen,” by Jennifer Torres. Seventh-grader Stef is embarrassed by Tia Perla, her family’s taco truck, and wishes they could get rid of it. But when new food truck regulations threaten to shut down her family’s business, Stef begins to realize she doesn’t want her wish to come true. Heartwarming, plus lots of food truck scenes!

The Way to Bea,” by Kat Yeh. Bea starts seventh grade feeling alone and friendless, finding solace in secretly writing poems and tucking them into a wall. One day, to her great surprise, someone begins to write back -- and that connection starts Bea on a journey to herself.

Credit Palmasco / flickr.com/photos/palmasco / Creative Commons

For Young Adults

You Bring the Distant Near,” by Mitali Perkins. Following three generations of women, readers get a sweeping and intricately layered story of an Indian-American family as it adjusts to life in America. Powerful and full of wit and wisdom.

Want,” by Cindy Pon. A sci-fi, futuristic story taking place in Taiwan. Pollution and industry are choking the environment all over the world, turning the blue skies to brown and leaving disease in its wake. While the poor are made to suffer in the polluted atmosphere, the rich wear special suits that regulate their airflow and protect them from the environment. Jason, one of the poor, is on a mission to fight the system -- but will his feelings for Daiyu, the daughter of the owner of corporation he is trying to take down, get in the way? As one reader put it, “A riot of sensations.”

Piecing Me Together,” by Renee Watson. Jade wants out of her poor neighborhood -- she believes that’s the only way she’s ever going to succeed. Even though she feels like an outsider, she goes to a private school. But at that private school, she’s always singled out as the girl who needs to be mentored, as someone who needs to be helped. Can Jade show everyone she has something to give, too? If you loved “The Hate U Give,” don’t miss this one.

Grace Lin has written and illustrated more than a dozen children’s books, including the National Book Award finalist, "When the Sea Turned to Silver." She was also the TEDx speaker of "The Windows and Mirrors of Your Child's Bookshelf." Grace lives in Florence, Massachusetts.