Young Adult Novels with Protagonists of Color

Young adult novels are written for teens ages 13-19, although many adults (myself included) enjoy them just as much. Here you will find a collection of Young Adult novels in which the main characters are people of color. Books marked with an * are #ownvoices novels, meaning that the author comes from the same community as the protagonist.

African American

  • The Friends by Rosa Guy*
  • The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation by M.T. Anderson
  • When I Was the Greatest by Jason Reynolds*
  • All-American Boys by Jason Reynolds* and Brenden Kiely
  • Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds*
  • Solo* by Kwame Alexander


  • All the Broken Pieces by Ann E. Burg (Vietnamese-American)
  • The Epic Crush of Genie Lo* by F.C. Yee


  • Gabi: A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero*
  • Shadowshaper and Shadowhouse* Falls by Daniel José Older
  • Wild Beauty* by Anna-Marie McLemore

Native American

  • Killer of Enemies by Joseph Bruchac* (Apache)


  • A Thousand Nights  and Spindle  by E.K. Johnston (dark-skinned fantasy)


  • Saints and Misfits by S.K. Ali*



Introducing Art Unbound

I can’t believe it has been over a year since I posted anything! And of course, in that time I have embarked on a new creative project. Called Art Unbound By Celeste, it currently lives on Etsy, although I am exploring other options as well. “Unbound” has two meanings: 1) at the moment I am incorporating bits of old books into all of my art pieces and 2) I am unbound by conventions and limitations that that encourage me to pick a medium or style and therefore what I am doing right now and what I am doing in a year might be totally different. And that is ok.

I am really proud of this collage portrait I made of my daughter:Ronia 4

I started with a wood base, used acrylic medium to transfer a photograph of her, and then used a wood burner to form the rays of the sun. I painted the sun with gold acrylic paint. The blue areas are made from a hodge podge of cuttings from an old copy of What to Expect When You’re Expecting, and I filled in the sun rays with pieces from a sari my Bangladeshi host family gave me for Eid in 2004. I finished the piece with accents of gold mica.

You can see the process here:

This piece I will be keeping for myself, but I hope to create more pieces like it to sell soon! If you are interested in following my art shenanigans, you can follow me on facebook.

Do you think people would be interested in custom portraits? I would ask them to email me one or more photos, plus some information about the subject’s personality. I would send them a design sketch with the caveat that one of my favorite things about making art is its tendency to evolve in the process of creation. If you had infinite wealth, would you buy such a portrait of your loved one?

None of the Above: A review

None of the AboveNone of the Above by I.W. Gregorio

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This groundbreaking novel depicts Kristin Lattimer’s struggle to accept herself after realizing that she is intersex. I had difficulty getting into the book at first because of the extremely privileged lives the protagonists have (homecoming dresses that cost hundreds of dollars, separate limos for each couple, rings from boyfriends with actual gemstones in them, the fact that each of these high school students owns their own car and none of them have jobs). However, once the story picked up, I mostly enjoyed it. The reason I didn’t give the book more stars is because the story is (view spoiler)

Also, the reason that she has apparently never had a gynecological appointment even though she is 18 and has never menstruated is that her mother died of cervical cancer when she was a little girl. I guess only living with a man meant that no one noticed or cared about her lack of menses and accepted her explanation that as a dedicated track athlete she just didn’t get her period. If her mother had died of breast cancer or in a car accident or whatever that might have made sense. But the main reason you go for gynecological appointments is to screen for cervical cancer. The idea that her father would get a buddy of his to proscribe her birth control without a proper exam in this context is not believable (hide spoiler)]

View all my reviews

Bedtime Storytime Round 2

When I got to work this Tuesday, I realized that I forgot to bring my pajamas and  fuzzy bumblebee slippers to work. Only in the world of youth services would this be a job crisis! Fortunately, I was able to run out to Marshall’s on my dinner break and get some PJ’s and sparkly blue slippers for this week’s Bedtime Storytime. It just wouldn’t be the same if I didn’t dress the part!

We started as always with our hello song and introductions. This week I had seven children and four grown-ups participating. The kids were probably in the 3-6 age range.

Goodnight Train

After introductions, I read The Goodnight Train by June Sobel and illustrated by Laura Huliska-Beith. The children did not get as into it as I had expected. In retrospect, I think the whimsical illustrations in this book make it better for a one-on-one reading than a group reading. The pictures are my favorite part, and we were not able to give them the attention they deserve during story time.

We followed this with “5 in the Bed.” See my previous Bedtime Storytime post for the lyircs and the link to a video with the tune.

Next I read–or rather sang–Jazz Baby by Lisa Wheeler and illustrated by R. Gregory Christie.  This is one of my all time favorite picture books, and even though there is no music included I think it just begs to be sung. The kids were tapping and swaying along with the beat, so I think they agreed. One of the participants chose to check this one out at the end of storytime.

We followed this book with a finger play that I learned from day care teachers I used to work with:

This is the baby, ready for nap (hold up index finger)
Lay her in her mother’s lap (put finger in palm)
Wrap her up so she won’t peep (wrap fingers around index finger)
And rock that baby to sleep, sleep, sleep (rock hands back and forth)

After going through it once, I pause for a moment then have the baby wake up crying. I asked the children what they thought the baby needed. One child said “milk” so I pretended to feed a bottle to my finger and then we did the finger play again. We went through it several times until all the children who wanted to participate had the opportunity to do so. The baby got a pacifier, took a bath, and brushed her teeth before finally agreeing to go to sleep.

While we were on the topic of napping, I read I Will Take a Nap! by Mo Willems. Elephant and Piggie are always a hit, and the children started squealing with delight as soon as I held the book up. Even though they are technically easy readers, I think the Elephant and Piggie books are great fun to read aloud. The characters are so expressive! Needless to say, this book went home with a child at the end of the session.

To get some wiggles we did Teddy Bear Teddy Bear Turn Around (see previous Bedtime Storytime post for the words to this rhyme if you don’t know them).

Our last book of the evening was Sleepyheads by Sandra J. Howett and illustrated by Joyce Wan. The animals in the book are pictured, but never named, so that children had fun calling out the animal names. The only one that gave them some trouble was the otter–the kids thought it was a cat.

We ended with Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star and our Goodbye Song. After storytime ended, I could hear children walking around singing “We wave goodbye like this” which is always rewarding!

The Waltham Public Library will have Bedtime Storytime again on November 17th at 7:00PM.

Bedtime Storytime for Families

I had my first storytime at the Waltham Public Library on Tuesday evening. It was the first in a series of bedtime storytimes that my co-worker and I will be doing throughout October and November. We advertised with flyers and told the kids they were welcome to come in their PJ’s and bring a teddy bear. I was so excited! I wore my flannel PJ’s with owls on them and fuzzy slippers shaped like bumblebees. A total of six children from toddlers to kindergarteners joined in the fun.

First I read No Sleep for the Sheep, written by Karen Beaumont and illustrated by Jackie Urbanovic. This book tells the story of a very tired, frazzled sheep. Every time he falls asleep, something wakes him up! The children had fun joining in with the animal sounds.

Then we sang the long version of “10 in the Bed” that I learned as a kid watching Sharon, Lois, & Bram’s Elephant Show. We started with five, because I thought doing all ten would be too long:

Five in the Bed:

There were five in the bed and the little one said
“Roll over, roll over.”
So they all rolled over and one fell out
and he gave a little scream, and he gave a little shout.

Please remember to tie a knot in your pajamas!
Single beds were only made for 1, 2, 3, 4

There were four in the bed and the little one said…

(repeat until you get to one)

There was one in the bed and the little one said

“I’ve got the whole bed to myself!
I’ve got the whole bed to myself!
I’ve got the whole bed to myself!
I’ve got the whole bed to myself!”

For the whole tune, go here.

For our second book, we read Sleep Like a Tiger by Mary Logue and illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski. I pointed out the Caldecott Honor medal on the front cover and asked the children to pay special attention to the art work in the book to see if they thought it was special enough to win an award.

After one of the kids mentioned that they didn’t like bedtime, I decided to read Bedtime is Canceled by Cece Meng and illustrated by Aurélie Neyret. When Maggie and her brother write a note that says “Bedtime is canceled,” they have no idea that it will end up on the desk of a newspaper reporter. Soon the whole town knows there will be no bedtime. Hilarity ensues as the grown-ups become too exhausted to function. Several of the children were laughing out loud for this one, particularly the older ones.

To stretch out and get some wiggles out, we did the Teddy Bear Rhyme:

Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear, turn around.
Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear, touch the ground.
Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear, reach up high.
Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear, touch the sky.
Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear, turn out the light.
Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear, say goodnight.

We finished our books out with Il Sung Na’s Book of Sleep. The kids contributed by naming the different animals on the different spreads. In retrospect, I should not have paired this book with Sleep Like a Tiger in that they are pretty similar: different animals sleeping and gorgeous, unusual art.

Of course it wouldn’t be bedtime storytime without a lullaby. So we ended with “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.”

Overall, the children seemed to enjoy themselves. No Sleep for the Sheep and Sleep Like a Tiger were both checked out by children who attended the program.

Waltham Public Library will be having Bedtime Storytime on October 27th, November 3rd, and November 17th at 7:00 PM. We’d love to see you there!

We Need Diverse Libraries: Collection Development and the Diverse Books Movement

This spring I had the opportunity to present on how library collection development can support the movement for increasing diversity within children’s literature at the Simmons Graduate Student Symposium. I argue that diverse collections are essential for living up to the American Library Association’s commitment to providing equitable access to information resources. Our patrons of color, our LGBTQ patrons, our patrons with disabilities all deserve access to information and recreational reading that reflects their experiences. In addition, exposure through literature to the a greater diversity of human experiences can help combat the implicit biases that lead to microagressions and more overt forms of prejudice and violence.

You can watch my presentation here:

The power point slides for my presentation can be downloaded from the Simmons Library and Information Science Media Lab here. My presentation is part of a panel. The entire panel includes presentations by Emily Coolidge Toker on “Agency in the Foretold, Agency in Narrative Construction: Naming and Claiming ‘the Anna’ in Jane Yolen’s Sister Light, Sister Dark,” and by Nicole Cunha on “Censorship of Disabled Characters in Fantasy: What That Means For Children’s Literature and Libraries.”

International Middle Grade Fiction

Middle Grade fiction is written for children from 8-12. Confident readers who want to take an armchair tour of the world can curl up with these great books set outside the United States. As with all my book lists, this is a work in progress and I encourage readers to leave suggestions for me in the comments. Books labeled with an * are #ownvoices narratives, meaning that the author is either from the country in which the story is set, or is a first generation citizen of their birth country.

Multiple Countries

  • Refugee by Alan Grantz (tells the interlocking stories of refugees from Nazi Gernmany, Cuba in the 1990s, and today’s war in Syria)


  • One Half from the East* by Nadia Hashimi


  • The Bone Sparrow by Zana Fraillon


  • Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin


  • Younguncle Comes to Town by Vandana Singh, illustrated by Manjunath Kamath


  • The Cat Who Went to Heaven by Elizabeth Coatsworh ( 1931 Newbery Medal)



  • A Long Walk to Water: Based on a True Story by Linda Sue Park
  • The Red Pencil by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Shane Evans



  • The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm by Nancy Farmer (1995 Newbery Honor Book)


Middle Grade Fiction with Protagonists of Color

Middle Grade Fiction is for readers between nine and twelve. The following are middle grade novels I have read that feature protagonists of color. This list is part of my on-going book list project, in response to the Cooperative Book Center’s statistics regarding the lack of diversity in children’s books. Books marked with a * are #ownvoices books, meaning that the author belongs to the same community as the protagonist. I will be adding to this list as I read more books. Please leave suggestions in the comments!


  • One Crazy Summer* by Rita Williams-Garcia (2011 Newbery Honor Book, 2011 Scott O’Dell Award, 2011 Judy Lopez Memorial Award Honor Book)
  • P.S. Be Eleven *by Rita Williams-Garcia (2014 Coretta Scott King Award)
  • After Tupac and D Foster* by Jacqueline Woodson (2009 Newbery Honor Book, 2009 Bank Street College of Education Josette Frank Award )
  • Money Hungry* by Sharon G. Flake (2002 Coretta Scott King Author Honor)
  • Locomotion* by Jacueline Woodson (2004 Coretta Scott King Author Honor)
  • The House of Dies* Drear by Virginia Hamilton
  • Toning the Sweep* by Angela Johnson (1994 Coretta Scott King Award)
  • Crossover* by Kwame Alexander (2015 Newbery Medal, 2015 Coretta Scott King Author honor book)
  • Ninth Ward* by Jewell Parker Rhodes (Coretta Scott King Author Award 2011)
  • As Brave as You* by Jason Reynolds (Schnieder Family Book Award 2017, Coretta Scott King Author Honor 2017)
  • Oddity by Sarah Cannon

Native American

  • The Birchbark House* by Louise Eldrich (2006 American Indian Youth Literature Award for Best Middle School Book)


  • Same Sun Here* by Silas House and Neela Vaswani


  • The Circuit: Stories From the Life of a Migrant Child* by Francisco Jiménez
  • Look Both Ways in the Barrio Blanco by Judith Robbins Rose
  • The First Rule of Punk* by Celia C. Perez

Middle Eastern 

  • Whichwood* by Tahereh Mafi (fantasy story with elements of Middle Eastern culture)


  • Spirit Hunters* by Ellen Oh

You may also be interested in my Picture Books with Protagonists of Color, Picture Books with Racial or Ethnic Diversity, and International Picture Book lists.