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.

International Picture Books

Continuing my series of book lists to help parents find multicultural children’s books, the following is a list of picture books set outside the United States, Canada, or the United Kingdom.  All of these books have human protagonists; while animal stories from around the world can be interesting, they do not address the fundamental problem of the lack of diversity in children’s publishing.

Picture books range widely from stories you can read to your baby to long tales for early elementary students. I have broken the list down by age group.

Continue reading

Series Review: Anna Hibiscus

Anna Hibiscus is a young girl, approximately five years old (she has her first day of school in one of the books), who is a lot like the little kids I know: she likes to climb trees, play with her cousins, listen to her grandparents tell stories, swim at the beach, and sing (although audiences make her nervous).  Unlike most kids I know, Anna Hibiscus also lives in Africa (Amazing Africa!) in a compound with her parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and her twin brothers Double and Trouble. The books are real page turners–we find out that Anna dreams of seeing snow in the first book, and by the time she goes to visit her Granny Canada in the fourth book I was just as excited about snowmen and sledding as Anna (and I grew up in Ohio!)

Written by Atinuke, a Nigerian-born storyteller currently living with her family in Wales, the Anna Hibiscus books paint a picture of Africa rarely seen in Children’s Literature: an Africa that is urban, with happy, comfortable people, living out their lives much like people do in the rest of the world. While most of the children’s books set in African countries that I have seen focus on either the triumph of the human spirit in times of catastrophe, like A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park or Brothers in Hope by Mary Williams (both about the Lost Boys of Sudan) or retell folk tales like The Tortoise’s Gift: A Tale from Zambia retold by Lari Don. Of course, there is nothing wrong with either of these types of children’s books per se, but as a whole children are left with a picture of Africa where either everyone is suffering the ravages of starvation or living in a timeless village setting that places Africa outside the flow of history. The Anna Hibisicus books are a welcome change. On her website, Atinuke says that she wrote Anna Hibiscus to because of the ignorance most children in the UK had about Africa. I am willing to guess that children in the United States know as little or less than the children in the United Kingdom, so I am grateful to Atinuke for writing these books.

Anna HibiscusAtinuke does not paper over the real struggles African countries, like other places across the world, have with poverty. In Anna Hibiscus, Anna becomes bored one day and decides to join the “gate girls” in selling oranges along the street outside her family’s compound. She enjoys the hustle of it and is proud of the money she has earned until her uncles come home and wonder why the gate girls haven’t been able to sell any fruit. When Anna confesses to what she has done, her family chastises her for turning the work that those children, many of whom are orphans, do into a game and thereby depriving them of their livelihood. The next day Anna spends all day walking back and forth to the fruit market to get more fruit for the gate girls so that they can make up the money lost the previous day. Thus the poverty some people in African cities face is acknowledged without judgement and without poverty becoming the defining characteristic of African life.  Similarly in Hooray for Anna Hibiscus, Anna wants to see the other side of the city across the lagoon, and when finally allowed to ride the ferry, chooses to wear her best clothes. But when she gets there she learns that the other side of the city is very impoverished and she ends up giving all of the clothes she is wearing to children foraging for food in a trash heap.

But lest you think that the Anna Hibiscus series is too weighty for young readers, Anna also plays flash-light hide and seek with her cousins during a power cut (Hooray for Anna Hibiscus), gets blamed for the antics of her twin brothers (Good Luck Anna Hibiscus!), makes new friends (Have fun Anna Hibiscus!), and finds herself acting mama to a baby chick welcome home anna hibiscus(Welcome Home Anna Hibiscus!).

What makes the Anna Hibiscus stories so wonderful is the way that Atinuke weaves the familiar and the unfamiliar so that children reading the books in the UK or US can see the ways that their lives might seem strange to other people–keeping dogs in the house, sleeping alone in a room–while normalizing things that are different from most Western children’s experiences.  Deep questions of modernity and tradition, poverty and privilege, racism and acceptance, weave seamlessly into stories of visiting relatives, playing children, and making friends.

My only complaint is that Atinuke is not more specific in naming the setting of these books. We are told only that Anna lives in Africa (Amazing Africa!), and while the descriptive details of the story indicate a West African setting–a city with roads and lagoons, Harmattan winds–no explicit country is named. By not naming the setting, Atinuke unwittingly contributes to misconceptions that Africa is one homogenous place, or even a single country.

That one flaw aside, I highly recommend the Anna Hibiscus books to  young readers and anyone interested in seeking out more diverse Children’s Literature.

Queer Picture Books

Families come in many forms and our children deserve books that reflect that. The following is a list of queer picture books, by which I mean books that feature gay and lesbian parents, gender non-conforming and trans* children, or other GLBTQ characters. These books are important, not only for children in the queer community, but also for children who are raised in more hetero-normative families. This list focuses on story books that feature queer characters.

The list is divided by age group, and where I felt more explanation is necessary I have included a brief summary in parentheses.  This list is work in progress and will grow as I continue to find and read more queer picture books. Please leave your suggestions in the comments!

Ages 1-3

  • Mommy, Mama, and Me by Lesléa Newman, illustrated by Carol Thompson
  • Daddy, Papa, and Me by Lesléa Newman, illustrated by Carol Thompson
  • This Day in June by Gayle E. Pitman, illustrated by Kristyna Litten
  • They He She Me: Free to Be by Maya Gonzalez and Matthew SG (Shows a diverse group of people for each pronoun, including ze and tree. The end has a guide for parents on using gender inclusive pronouns)

Ages 4-6

  • Uncle Bobby’s Wedding by Sarah S. Brennan (Chloe is sad when Uncle Bobby is getting married, but comes to love her new Uncle Jaime)
  • And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, illustrated by Henry Cole (the true story of two male penguins and their egg)
  • King and King by Linda Haan, illustrated by Stern Nijland (The Prince rejects all the princesses in favor of another prince)
  • Jacob’s New Dress by Sarah and Ian Hoffman, illustrated by Chris Case (Jacob’s mom helps him make a dress)
  • Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress by Christine Baldacchino, illustrated by Isabelle Malenfant (Morris likes his tangerine dress because it swishes and is a great color; faces teasing at school)
  • Sparkle Boy by Lesléa Newman. Illustrated by Maria Mola (Casey loves all things sparkly; the older boys tease him but his big sister defends him)
  • Introducing Teddy: A Gentle Story about Gender and Friendship by Jess Walton. Illustrated by Dougal MacPherson (Errol’s teddy bear is sad until she confides that she is actually a girl teddy, not a boy teddy and changes her name to Tilly)
  • My Princess Boy by Cheryl Kilodavis. Illusrtated by Suzanne DeSimone (A story of unconditional love a mother has for her gender nonconforming son)
  • Prince & Knight by Daniel Haack (A prince and a male knight find true love together)
  • A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo by Jill Twiss (The Pence family’s bunny finds his true love with another boy bunny. Proceeds from the book benefit the AIDS action network)
  • A Peacock Among Pigeons by Tyler Curry. Illustrated by Clarione Gutierrez
  • From the Stars in the Sky to the Fish in the Sea by  Kai Cheng Thom. Illustrated by wai-yant li and kai yun ching (Miu Lan is neither a girl or a boy. They are happy and loved, but have some difficulty when they start school)
  • Worm Loves Worm by J.J.  Austrian. Illustrated by Mike Curato (When Worm and Worm get married who will be the groom and who will be the bride?)
  • A Tale of Two Dadies by Vanita Oelschlager. Illusratated by Kristin Blackwood
  • A Tale of Two Mommies by Vanita Oelschlager. Illustrated by Kristin Blackwood
  • Home at Last by Vera Williams. Illustrated by Chris Raschka. (Lester finds a forever home with Daddy Rich and Daddy Albert)

Ages 7-9

  •  In Our Mothers’ House by Patricia Polacco (Life with Marmee and Meema as told by the oldest of three adopted children)
  • 10,000 Dresses by Marcus Ewert, illustrated by Rex Rey (Bailey dreams of dresses but her family insists that she’s a boy)
  • Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag by Rob Sanders


This post is part of my Diversity in Children’s Literature list series.

Dad reads

After some research and web chatter focused on how dads are less involved in encouraging their kids to read –  and reading with their kids -the Good Men Project has started a social media campaign called Dads Read to encourage fathers to read to their children (and celebrate the dads that already do). The website doesn’t cite any of this research or web chatter, but that’s ok. First of all, nationally speaking, fathers spend about half as much time as moms on childcare related work in families with two working parents. This is according to a Pew study done in 2013 that seems to assume all two parent families have one  mother and one father. I am not sure what the statistics look like in queer families. SDT-2013-03-Modern-Parenthood-04So it makes sense that fathers are probably also spending less time reading to their kids than moms are. I also don’t really care that the Good Man Project doesn’t have any citations because I think that encouraging parents of both genders to read to their children (and celebrating book culture in families) is a good idea regardless of the numbers on the ground

Without further ado, my contribution to #DadsRead:

On Beyond Zebra

Floob is for Floob-Boober-Bab-Boober-Bubs

I generally consider myself a mother, rather than a father, so to celebrate Father’s Day here is a lovely picture of my husband reading On Beyond Zebra by Dr. Seuss to our two-year-old son.