This review is SO FAR OVERDUE! I was prompted to look for it again as 2019 comes towards a close and I began to think about doing a recap of the representation of people of color across the books that I read THIS year. That being said, I want to get this information out to those seeking it. All the lists like this one that I have done can be found here. There are lists that include novels too.
Looking at 2018’s numbers, 28% percent of the books that I read included a person of color in any capacity—which is 1% more than 2017’s numbers. However, only 12 books that I read in 2018 included a person of color as the protagonist, a dismal 7% of my total books read, less than half as many as in 2017. That’s terrible. That’s on me. I did not this year seek out as many picture books to read independently as I have done in other years. Only 1 of the 12 books with a person of color as the protagonist was a book mandated for story time. I was not this year running independent, reader’s choice story times.
Picture and Board Books (Ages 0-8)
I did not complete every month’s picture book review in 2018, and now it seems too late, so this is the first time some of these stories are mentioned on this blog. Where possible, I have included links to my full reviews.
Books with a POC as a protagonist
Mae Among the Stars by Roda Ahmed and illustrated by Stasia Burrington. 2018. This is a biography of Mae Jemison, the first black woman to travel in space. Mae is told by her white teacher seek a more practical career than astronaut, but her parents tell her it’s possible, and she succeeds.
The Case for Loving: The Fight for Interracial Marriage by Selina Alko and illustrated by Selina Alko and Sean Qualls. 2015. This is an introduction to the story of Richard and Mildred Loving, a Virginian couple whose court case legalized interracial marriage in the USA.
Two Problems for Sophia by Jim Averbeck and illustrated by Yasmeen Ismail. 2018. Sophia’s giraffe is causing a lot of trouble for her family. Every character’s skin is a different shade, from Grand-mama’s darker skin to Sophia’s father’s light. I’d guess that Sophia herself is biracial.
Feminist Baby Finds Her Voice! by Loryn Brantz. 2018. I thought that the primary character of Feminist Baby was white but looking online I realize that her family is interracial. One of the babies with whom she “stand up tall” is darker skinned than she is.
Goodnight Football by Michael Dahl and illustrated by Christina E. Forshay. 2014. There are many crowd scenes that allow Dahl to show off the hues of humanity. An African American family is featured.
Mama’s Nightingale: A Story of Immigration and Separation by Edwidge Danticat and illustrated by Leslie Staub. 2015. Saya’s mother immigrated to America from Haiti without papers and is taken to an immigration detention center and separated from her family. Saya’s family are all darker skinned. The judge is a dark skinned woman too.
Cece Loves Science by Kimberly Derting and Shelli R. Johannes and illustrated by Vashti Harrison. 2018. The protagonist, Cece, is I think biracial and darker skinned, her mother darker skinned and her father light skinned with dark hair. Isaac, her best friend, is light skinned with black hair, possibly Asian.
Santa’s Husband by Daniel Kibblesmith and illustrated by A. P. Quach. 2017. Santa is a black man, living with his white husband, who helps him around the house and with his business. This book is shelved in the adult humor section at Barnes & Noble, but it is a picture book, and I think could be read and enjoyed by children.
Drawn Together by Minh Lê and illustrated by Dan Santat. 2018. A boy struggles to connect with his grandfather who only speaks Thai. The two end up communicating by drawing together.
Word Collector by Peter H. Reynolds. 2018. The protagonist Jerome has darker skin and pink hair. The background characters are of varying hues. One girl, whom he thanks, wears a hijab.
A diverse cast with no protagonist
I Am Enough by Grace Byers and illustrated by Keturah A. Bobo. 2018. The girls represented in this story are mostly dark skinned. A few look like they could be of Asian descent. A few are lighter skinned. One wears a hijab.
Love by Matt de la Peña and illustrated by Loren Long. 2018. Latinx and African American and Asian America and white and biracial families are all represented. One girl wears a hijab and a long dress while relaxing in the grass.
First Explorers, Book 5: Astronauts by Christiane Engel. 2017. Some of the astronauts in this little, lift the flap board book about the profession are darker skinned.
Salam Alaikum: A Message of Peace by Harris J and illustrated by Ward Jenkins. 2017. A diverse cast illustrates this picture book version of Muslim, British singer Harris J’s song of the same title, the chorus of which is Arabic for “peace be upon you.”
The Peace Book by Todd Parr. 2017. Todd Parr often illustrates his humans with no likeness to the colors of human skin: green and blue for example. There is a snake charmer in a turban and a woman in what I think is meant to be a niqab. The story, about sharing and caring for the Earth, implies that more than one group of people are meant to be represented.
The Forever Tree by Tereasa Surratt and Donna Lucas. 2018. The grandfather who first finds the tree for humanity is lighter skinned. But among the first families to discover the tree are people with darker skin and black hair. Among those who save the tree are people of darker and lighter skin too.
Animal or nonhuman protagonist with a secondary character who is a POC with a speaking role
Merry Christmas, Little Elliot by Mike Curato. 2018. Elliot and Mouse search across New York City for the spirit of Christmas but are unsuccessful. They find a letter to Santa that has gone astray and travel to the suburbs to answer it, meeting a new friend, Noelle, who is darker skinned. The New Yorkers in the group scenes have different skin tones.
Corduroy Takes a Bow by Viola Davis based on characters by Don Freeman. 2018. The family from Corduroy visit a children’s theater production. Corduroy is the protagonist, but Lisa and her family are dark skinned, usually interpreted as African American. It looks as though the actress playing Mother Goose might have a darker skin tone than the other actors on stage too.
Neck & Neck by Elise Parsley. 2018. The zoo patrons have different skin tones. The boy who holds the giraffe balloon has darker skin and dark hair. The protagonist is definitely Leopold the giraffe.
A white protagonist with a secondary character who is POC with a speaking role
Fancy Nancy: Oodles of Kittens by Jane O’Connor and illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser. 2018. Nancy and her best friend Bree each bond with a kitten. Bree is more of a secondary than a background character in this picture book.
Interstellar Cinderella by Deborah Underwood and illustrated by Meg Hunt. 2015. The prince in this Cinderella retelling is darker skinned.
Animal or nonhuman protagonist with diverse background characters
The Big Umbrella by Amy June Bates. 2018. The umbrella really is the protagonist. Characters of different skin tones are all represented. A woman wears a hijab. This is a story about acceptance and sharing space, sharing kindness.
We Don’t Eat Our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins. 2018. Penelope Rex, a T-Rex, is the protagonist but her delicious classmates are a diverse bunch, including a hijabi and a yarmulke-wearing Jewish boy.
How to Catch a Snowman by Adam Wallace and Andy Elkerton. 2018. One of the three children trying to catch this snowman is African American. I would say though that the snowman, who appears to also be the narrator of the story, is the protagonist.
White protagonists with a person of color as a background character
Juno Valentine and the Magical Shoes by Eva Chen and illustrated by Derek Desierto. 2018. Juno herself may be white, though I am not entirely certain, but some of the women throughout history whom she becomes are not, included are Egyptian Cleopatra, Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama, and African Americans Serena Williams and Misty Copeland. Unfortunately because Juno becomes these women by stepping into their shoes, none of them are depicted as themselves. The ballerinas on the page around Juno as Misty have a variety of skin tones, and Egyptian are depicted serving Juno as Cleopatra.
Princesses Save the World by Savannah Guthrie and Allison Oppenheim and illustrated by Eva Byrne. 2018. The two princesses whose kingdoms are in peril are both dark skinned. The princesses who convene at the Pineapple Kingdom’s palace to devise a solution to their problems seem to be from all over the world.
Prince & Knight by Daniel Haack and illustrated by Stevie Lewis. 2018. The prince on his search for a bride—a partner—visits other kingdoms; the royal families of some are darker skinned. His knight appears also to have a darker complexion than does the prince, though whether that is his less-pampered life of knight errantry or genetic I am not certain.
I Am Neil Armstrong by Brad Meltzer and illustrated by Chris Eliopoulos. 2018. Neil Armstrong is of course himself white, but he meets with Katherine Johnson in the books, who is African American, and in the museum there is an African American boy.
The Magician’s Hat by Malcolm Mitchell and illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff. 2018. The magician is white but the library audience is diverse.
Fancy Nancy by Jane O’Connor and illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser. 2005. At the restaurant there is an African American family.
Fancy Nancy and the Posh Puppy by Jane O’Connor and illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser. 2007. In this, Nancy plays with other children and their dogs. One of those girls is Bree, who is African American, but in this Bree is not yet named, though her dog is. To be fair, neither of Nancy’s friends are named.
Fancy Nancy and the Wedding of the Century by Jane O’Connor and illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser. 2014. Nancy has never been to a wedding, but Bree has, and it is from Bree’s questions and experiences that Nancy imagines the wedding before arriving at the cabin. But Bree is only in two pages of this book.
How to Scare a Ghost by Jean Reagan and illustrated by Lee Wildish. 2018. The main kids portrayed are white but at least one of the trick-or-treaters and one of the families offering candy Halloween night are African American.
Are You Scared, Darth Vader? by Adam Rex. 2018. In the Star Wars films, Darth Vader is portrayed as white, though in this picture book, he is completely masked and cloaked in black. The kids sent by the narrator to ask him questions and climb all about him are a diverse bunch.
Builder Brothers: Big Plans by Drew Scott and Jonathan Scott and illustrated by Kim Smith. 2018. Not all of the adults at the Scott family’s outdoor barbeque are white. The woman in the hardware store is African American.
A First Introduction to Audrey Hepburn by Maria Isabel Sánchez Vegara and illustrated by Amaia Arrazola. 2018. This biography of Audrey Hepburn includes her in her later life traveling the world to visit and help more impoverished countries in Africa and India. The book portrays her enjoying her time with the children in these countries, playing soccer with the kids in Africa and sitting quietly beside a pond with kids in India.
I have one more book to note: Moon by Alison Oliver (2018). I want to be the first to admit that I may have this one totally wrong. The girl, Moon, is purple. She has classmates who are darker skinned than herself. I want to include this on the list of books that include a person of color but I don’t know where to put it.
Do you think or know that I misrepresented or misinterpreted any of these? Please comment below. Let me know.