8 Diverse Books that will Positively Stretch your Students | Mentoring in the Middle

8 Diverse Books that will Positively Stretch your Students

Tip:  Our students need to see themselves and their classmates in books.  The ones below are excellent for stretching us all to be more inclusive.

I watched our country become justifiably enraged over the death of yet another African-American man and the flippant, entitled response of a white woman to a black man. At the same time as people were being awful here on Earth, we sent two astronauts up to the International Space Station.  How magical! 

I'm still so unsettled by the death of George Floyd and I want to have conversations with my students.  A third of my class are students of color.  As white teachers, we are in a position to recognize and talk about our privilege; we need to talk with our students about racism and see if together we can find a better way.

One small thing I have been doing is buying more diverse books for my classroom.  I want my students to read about people who look like them and their classmates.

Here are some recommendations, based on books that have been well-read by my students in 6th grade, in no particular order.  (

I am an Amazon affiliate.  If you buy one of these books, they pay me a few pennies, which are not part of your cost.  No hard feelings if you don't buy or if you purchase them elsewhere!
Jordan is a 7th-grader who loves to draw.  He wants to go to art school but his parents decide to send him to a prestigious private school where he'll have more opportunities than they did.  He's middle class and a person of color, and so he stands out on both counts at school.  This graphic novel explores microaggressions, the tiny things kids do to other kids to keep them down, and Jordan tires of having to keep his cool when he doesn't always want to.

In some ways, his challenges remind me of Starr's in The Hate You Give (which I highly recommend, but for older students) as she navigates her neighborhood and the primarily white school she attends.
Edie knows that her mother is Native American.  She also knows that her mother was adopted by a white couple.  But she can't get any answers from her mom about her birth family, because her mom says she doesn't know.  And then one day, Edie finds a box up in the attic filled with letters.  And pictures.  The letters are signed by "Edith" and the pictures look just like her, down to the gap between her two front teeth.  Who is this woman?  

What she uncovers is horrible.  But it connects her to her family in ways beyond what she ever expected.  Christine Day has written a compelling story about this twelve-year-old and her friends, whose characters seem very real.  She touches briefly (and gently, for anxious kids) on the travesty that was inflicted on native and black people even into the mid-20th century.  
Genesis keeps a list of all the things that are wrong with her, and the list is long.  Her family gets put out of their house, her father drinks and gambles away their money.  She gets called "darkie," "eggplant," and "charcoal," even by her own family.

Genesis knows that her dark skin is the root cause of all these problems.  When she and her mom have to move in with her grandma because there's nowhere else to go, a music teacher at her new school thinks she has a promising voice and lends her Etta James and Billie Holliday albums.  Can Genesis find her voice?

This book won the Newbery Honor, the Coretta Scott King Award for new talent, and several awards for best middle-grade novels of 2019.
 Based on author Mariama Lockinton's own experience as a transracial adoptee, this is Makeda's story, as she struggles to figure out who she is.  Especially after her family moves from Maryland where her best friend, Lena - also African American and adopted into a white family lives - to New Mexico where her father has taken a position as a cellist with the New Mexico Symphony.  

Coming into her new school in the middle of the year,
"Ugh, why do you talk so white?"
"This is just how I talk..." 
"So you're like Obama? An Oreo?"
 "Kinda. Wait.  What's an Oreo?"
"You know.  When you're all black on the outside but really white on the inside."
Mariama Lockington wrote this book because she couldn't find any stories like hers in books when she was trying to figure out who she was.
Historical fiction and written from a white girl's point of view.  I used this book as a read-aloud a year ago to introduce my students to history many 11- and 12-year olds don't know existed.

Alice Ann moves with her family from Chicago to Jackson, Mississippi in 1964 because her father is an FBI agent investigating the deaths of three Freedom Fighters, college students who helped African-Americans register to vote, who were murdered.

Alice Ann wants to be liked by the girls she calls the Cheerleaders.  But when Valerie Taylor is the first African-American to start at her school, Alice Ann faces a difficult decision.  Ally herself with Valerie against the popular girls or join with them to let Valerie know she's not wanted there?  Mary Ann Rodman gets at the heart and soul of girls trying to fit in!
In a death eerily similar to that of Tamir Rice's in Cleveland,  Jerome is a 12-year old boy playing with a toy gun when he's killed by a white police officer.  Jerome becomes a ghost, unable to be seen by anyone except other ghosts.  He watches with sadness, the devastation and anger his death has unleashed on his family and his community.  

Two other characters play important roles: Sarah, the police officer's daughter, his age and alive, grappling with what her father did, and the only person who can talk with Jerome.  The other is Emmett Till, a ghost who helps Jerome process his uncalled-for death, just as he had to process his own more than 60 years earlier.  Navigating the world of ghosts, many killed by racism, Jerome comes to recognize that he can't do anything; it's the people who are still living who can make the world a better place.
This book was written 20 years ago!   

I found it hard to put down.  Maleeka is a dark-skinned, smart, poor girl.  She wears clothes her mom makes (poorly) for her.  When her best friend lends her clothes to wear, she's thrilled.  Until Char asks her to give them back.  In front of a group of kids.  

Into that mix walks a new teacher, Miss Saunders, a well-traveled, intelligent teacher with a big blotch of white on her face.  But she's comfortable in the skin she's in.  And slowly, she teaches her students to accept who they are, too.  Enough so that Maleeka finally decides to be who she is and confront the bullies in her life.
It's hard to put any book by Jason Reynolds down because the words just draw you in.  And this one is no different.  Reynolds takes Ibram Kendi's Stamped From the Beginning and explains the truths and lies that brown-skinned people live with.  He does it in a straight-forward manner and doesn't pull any punches.  Which makes it that much more important to read.

I hope you can add some of these books to your shelves or talk about them with your students.  Maybe we can use books to help us make the world a better place!

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