As we enter this new decade, I’m on the lookout for the best diverse picture books 2020. Some of these books are ones that were published before 2020, but are books that I just became aware of. Since I’m a bit of an aficionado of culturally diverse picture books, I find that enough reason to include them on this list: to spread awareness and spread the love of books that may have slipped past you. What are the best diverse picture books of 2020? Check out these books!
All of the books below are picture books with a diversity focus and are appropriate for Kindergarten through fifth grade. Some may be appropriate for upper grades depending on what your focus is and what your unit of study is. These diverse picture books can be great springboards into greater discussions about race, language, social justice and culture.
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Check out the best diverse picture books of 2020:
Brick By Brick
Papi is a bricklayer, and he works hard every day to help build the city, brick by brick. His son, Luis, works hard too–in school, book by book. Papi climbs scaffolds, makes mortar, and shovels sand. Luis climbs on the playground and molds clay into tiny bricks to make buildings, just like Papi. Together, they dream big about their future as they work to make those dreams come true. And then one Saturday, Papi surprises Luis with something special he’s built for their family, brick by brick.
I love this book so much, I wrote an entire blog post about it.
The way the author weaves English and Spanish into the text and her collage illustrations is simply superb. I would not be surprised to see a few medals on this book in 2021.
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We Are Water Protectors
This is a lyrical, not quite prose yet not necessarily verse, interpretation of the movements and struggles of Indigenous nations to protect water sources. Written and illustrated by a Native American author and illustrator makes this a truly authentic story. When a black snake threatens to destroy the Earth and poison her people’s water, one young water protector takes a stand to defend Earth’s most sacred resource.
My Name is Bilal
This is one of the culturally diverse books NOT published in 2020 that I just found, and LOVE. This book was published in 2005, and is still important today. It deals with accepting your identity even if you see others in your culture being discriminated against by your peers. This book is also one of my favorite books about names.
When Bilal and his sister Ayesha move with their family, they have to attend a new school. They soon find out that they may be the only Muslim students there. When Bilal sees his sister bullied on their first day, he worries about being teased himself, and thinks it might be best if his classmates didn’t know that he is Muslim. Maybe if he tells kids his name is Bill, rather than Bilal, then they would leave him alone.
Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom
A new wonderful biography of “Moses” or Harriet Tubman by Carole Boston Weatherford and Caldecott Medal winner Kadir Nelson. This takes a look at the deep beliefs that Tubman had especially seeing her connection to God. Older students may also make a connection between her visions of God and a brain injury sustained at the hands of a slavemaster explained in the author’s note. Beautiful illustrations accompanying exquisite text. This also makes it one of my favorite books for Black History Month.
Teach Us Your Name
This is a book that I had never heard of before, and is actually self-published by author Huda Essa. I LOVE THIS STORY! It begins with a page of common names from diverse cultures. What follows is the story of a girl with a rather long name: Kareemalayaseenadeen. It deals with her struggles to accept her name and how she uses her name’s meaning to change her view of her name and all names. The way that the story proposes learning students’s names has completely changed how I learn the names of my students, and it will change yours too!
This book by Minh Le and Dan Santat is another book that will likely be getting a few medals added to it. It tells the story of a girl named Iris who loves pushing the elevator buttons…until her little brother learns to push them also. Pushing the elevator buttons isn’t the only thing her little brother takes from Iris. Needless to say, Iris is none too happy. An elevator repairman removes the button from one of the elevators and Iris takes it. With her imagination, we see how her relationship and understanding of her younger brother changes. This is one of the best diverse picture books 2020.
The Name Jar
I know, I know. This book is so old! How is it on a list of the best diverse picture books of 2020? I’ll admit, I was embarrassed when I saw the publish date of this book and had never seen it: 2003?! Having just moved from Korea, Unhei is anxious that American kids will like her. So instead of introducing herself on the first day of school, she tells the class that she will choose a name by the following week. Her new classmates are fascinated by this no-name girl and decide to help out by filling a glass jar with names for her to pick from.
Thunder Boy Jr.
Thunder Boy Jr. wants a normal name…one that’s all his own. Dad is known as big Thunder, but little thunder doesn’t want to share a name. He wants a name that celebrates something cool he’s done like Touch the Clouds, Not Afraid of Ten Thousand Teeth, or Full of Wonder. But just when Little Thunder thinks all hope is lost, dad picks the best name.
Indigenous Nation children will love this story. NOTE: This story was written by Native American Sherman Alexie, but the book lacks a good author’s note to explain the multitude of First Nations naming rituals. I DO NOT USE and I advise against any activity in which you ask students to “choose your own Native American name.”
Mario and the Hole in the Sky
Mexican American Mario Molina is a modern-day hero who helped solve the ozone crisis of the 1980s. Growing up in Mexico City, Mario was a curious boy who studied hidden worlds through a microscope. As a young man in California, he discovered that CFCs, used in millions of refrigerators and spray cans, were tearing a hole in the earth’s protective ozone layer. Mario knew the world had to be warned–and quickly. Today Mario is a Nobel laureate and a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. His inspiring story gives hope in the fight against global warming. A truly amazing story that would also be great for Hispanic Heritage Month!
Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpré
This book is kind an inception situation: it’s a biography of Pura Belpré and it also was a Pura Belpré Honor book. An inspiring picture book biography of storyteller, puppeteer, and New York City’s first Puerto Rican librarian, who championed bilingual literature: Pura Belpré. When she came to America in 1921, Pura Belpré carried the cuentos folklóricos of her Puerto Rican homeland. Finding a new home at the New York Public Library as a bilingual assistant, she turned her popular retellings into libros and spread story seeds across the land. Today, these seeds have grown into a lush landscape as generations of children and storytellers continue to share her tales and celebrate Pura’s legacy. Another new favorite book for Hispanic Heritage Month!