The Gift of Reading Through Diversity: Inclusive Book List

Dec 16, 2022

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The Gift of Reading Through Diversity: Inclusive Book List

By Kellie Thompson, Manager of Emerging School Support


Picking books with purpose

As you add to your personal library collections, this curated list of books for early learners, adolescents, and the young at heart all center around cultural responsiveness and inclusivity. They appeal to diverse interests, backgrounds, and experiences, and it is through that diversity that we find connectedness through the individuals, characters, and their stories. It is important not only to see yourself and your experiences, but to learn from others and this list of books helps with all of the above.  

Books make the best gifts

 The science of reading supports that the more our students are reading, it has a positive impact on their academic success and overall development.  In an article by Scholastic, they share the following findings: 

  • The American Academy of Pediatricians (AAP) recommends that pediatricians encourage parents to read aloud daily, beginning as early as six months of age (2014). Dr. Pamela High, lead author of the APP policy, explains the aim: “… those 15-20 minutes spent reading with a child can be the best part of the day. It’s a joyful way to build child-parent relationships and set a child on the pathway to developing early literacy skills.” 
  • Children who read day in and day out – and are immersed in rich talk about books and the various activities in which they are engaged – thrive (AAP, 2014; Cunningham, 2013; Needlman, 2006; 2014; Bernstein, 2010; Senechal & LeFevere,, 2002).

Did you know?

  • 6 additional minutes of reading per day can significantly improve childrens’ reading performance.
  • Children who read at least 20 minutes a day are exposed to almost 2 million words per year. 

Each book connects to a cultural identifier and contains the book’s Lexile level. Book suggestions are provided but feel free to read the book first to determine if the book is a good fit for your child/loved one and/or students.  Happy holidays and happy reading! 

Holiday Book List Ideas

Early Childhood and Elementary

Say Hello by Rachel Isadora (Lexile Level – AD470L) – Caldecott Honor winning author 

Carmelita loves to greet everyone in her colorful neighborhood. There are people from so many different cultures! They all like to say hello too, so now Carmelita can say hello in Spanish, English, French, Japanese, and many other languages. And her dog, Manny? Well, he seems to understand everyone, and gives a happy “Woof!” wherever he goes.

Connection: This book touches on the richness of both the diversity of language and the authentic, unique elements of our neighborhoods that children encounter that also shape their experiences. 


The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi (Lexile Level – 590L) – Amazon’s Teacher’s Pick 

Being the new kid in school is hard enough, but what happens when nobody can pronounce your name? Having just moved from Korea, Unhei is anxious about fitting in. So instead of introducing herself on the first day of school, she decides to choose an American name from a glass jar. But while Unhei thinks of being a Suzy, Laura, or Amanda, nothing feels right. With the help of a new friend, Unhei will learn that the best name is her own. 

Connection: Identity and our names.  Kendrick Lamar says, “If I’m gonna tell a real story, I’m gonna start with my name.”  Our names have stories, meaning and are a part of who we are and who we identity.  This story walks us through that journey of a young girl embracing that connection.  


Change Sings by Amanda Gorman (Lexile Level – AD470L

In this stirring, much-anticipated picture book by presidential inaugural poet and activist Amanda Gorman, anything is possible when our voices join together. As a young girl leads a cast of characters on a musical journey, they learn that they have the power to make changes—big or small—in the world, in their communities, and in most importantly, in themselves. 

Connection: Empowerment.  Our voices are vital and powerful.  This story illustrates how anyone can be an agent of change by using their voice to uplift and unite.  

Finding My Dance by Ria Thundercloud (Lexile Level – AD910L) 

At four years old, Ria Thundercloud was brought into the powwow circle, ready to dance in the special jingle dress her mother made for her. As she grew up, she danced with her brothers all over Indian country. Then Ria learned more styles–tap, jazz, ballet–but still loved the expressiveness of Indigenous dance. And despite feeling different as one of the only Native American kids in her school, she always knew she could turn to dance to cheer herself up.    

Follow along as Ria shares her dance journey–from dreaming of her future to performing as a professional–accompanied by striking illustrations that depict it while bringing her graceful movements to life.

Connection: Cultural pride/heritage and acceptance.  In this story the character embraces the individuality that she brings to her new environment and finds ways to embrace difference and connect through a love of dance.


Mommy’s Khimar by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow (Lexile Level – AD560L) Best Book of 2018 by NPR

A young girl plays dress up with her mother’s headscarves, feeling her mother’s love with every one she tries on. Charming and vibrant  illustrations showcase the beauty of the diverse and welcoming community in this portrait of a young Muslim American girl’s life.

Connection: Cultural Diversity expressed through religious tradition and clothing. This book is a great book for mothers and daughters and to add to a classroom library to help students build context and for student inclusion. 

Middle School

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevado (Lexile Level – 800)

Xiomara Batista feels unheard and unable to hide in her Harlem neighborhood. Ever since her body grew into curves, she has learned to let her fists and her fierceness do the talking.

But Xiomara has plenty she wants to say, and she pours all her frustration and passion onto the pages of a leather notebook, reciting the words to herself like prayers—especially after she catches feelings for a boy in her bio class named Aman, who her family can never know about.

With Mami’s determination to force her daughter to obey the laws of the church, Xiomara understands that her thoughts are best kept to herself. So when she is invited to join her school’s slam poetry club, she doesn’t know how she could ever attend without her mami finding out. But she still can’t stop thinking about performing her poems. Because in the face of a world that may not want to hear her, Xiomara refuses to be silent.

ConnectionThis story explores the intersectionality of ethnicity, religion, gender and age. This is a story that a lot of us can see ourselves in and it’s written in verse.  If you know a young reader who either loves or fears poetry – this novel will get them hooked. 


The Crossover Series by Kwame Alexander (Lexile Level – 750) – Amazon Teacher’s Pick

Fun Fact: Disney + has ordered this series and the executive producer will be LeBron James!  Link to Variety article about this collaboration HERE

Follow Chuck Bell during a pivotal childhood summer when he discovers basketball and learns about his family’s past; fly down the court with twins Josh and Jordan Bell as they discover the crossovers between basketball, love, and life; race across the field with Nick Hall as he learns the power of words, wrestles with problems at home, and navigates coming-of-age with all the action and emotion of a World Cup.

ConnectionAs an English teacher, these books were always checked out in my classroom library for all of my basketball loving students.  I also had tons of success with series for reluctant readers to get them hooked in and engaged. 


Ink Knows No Borders – edited by Patrice Vecchione and Alyssa Raymond (Lexile Level – various but appropriate for middle and high school)

This collection of sixty-four poems by poets who come from all over the world shares the experience of first- and second-generation young adult immigrants and refugees. Whether it’s cultural and language differences, homesickness, social exclusion, racism, stereotyping, or questions of identity, the Dreamers, immigrants, and refugee poets included here encourage readers to honor their roots as well as explore new paths, offering empathy and hope. Many of the struggles described are faced by young people everywhere: isolation, self-doubt, confusion, and emotional dislocation. But also joy, discovery, safety, and family. This is a hopeful, beautiful, and meaningful book for any reader.

Connection: This collection of poems covers practically all cultural identifiers and themes. These are great to pair as supplemental readings with anchor text, as well as student examples for project-based learning poetry assignments for teachers and for those who love to express themselves through the art of poetry.

High School

Dear Martin by Nic Stone (Lexile Level – HL720L)

Justyce McAllister is a good kid, an honor student, and always there to help a friend—but none of that matters to the police officer who just put him in handcuffs. Despite leaving his rough neighborhood behind, he can’t escape the scorn of his former peers or the ridicule of his new classmates.  Justyce looks to the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for answers. But do they hold up anymore? He starts a journal to Dr. King to find out.

Then comes the day Justyce goes driving with his best friend, Manny, windows rolled down, music turned up—way up, sparking the fury of a white off-duty cop beside them. Words fly. Shots are fired. Justyce and Manny are caught in the crosshairs. In the media fallout, it’s Justyce who is under attack.

Connection: Race and Gender. This book is timely and a great title to open up dialogue about the impact of racial discrimination and profiling of black male teens.  Several of my book groups loved this book and Nic Stone recently released the sequel, Dear Justyce. 


The 57 Bus (Lexile Level – 930) – New York Times Bestseller (Nonfiction) 

If it weren’t for the 57 bus, Sasha and Richard never would have met. Both were high school students from Oakland, California, one of the most diverse cities in the country, but they inhabited different worlds. Sasha, a white teen, lived in the middle-class foothills and attended a small private school. Richard, a black teen, lived in the crime-plagued flatlands and attended a large public one.

Each day, their paths overlapped for a mere eight minutes. But one afternoon on the bus ride home from school, a single reckless act left Sasha severely burned, and Richard charged with two hate crimes and facing life imprisonment. The case garnered international attention, thrusting both teenagers into the spotlight.

Connection: Gender, Sexuality and Justice. This true story teachers us so much through the lenses of the impact of our choices and embracing differences.  This book provides definitions and explanations that help the reader address resistance to reductive binaries.


Color Me In by Natasha Diaz (Lexile Level – 950L)

Growing up in an affluent suburb of New York City, sixteen-year-old Nevaeh Levitz never thought much about her biracial roots. When her Black mom and Jewish dad split up, she relocates to her mom’s family home in Harlem and is forced to confront her identity for the first time.

Nevaeh wants to get to know her extended family, but because she inadvertently passes as white, her cousin thinks she’s too privileged, pampered, and selfish to relate to the injustices African Americans face on a daily basis. In the meantime, Nevaeh’s dad decides that she should have a belated bat mitzvah instead of a sweet sixteen, which guarantees social humiliation at her posh private school. But rather than take a stand, Nevaeh does what she’s always done when life gets complicated: she stays silent.

Only when Nevaeh stumbles upon a secret from her mom’s past, finds herself falling in love, and sees firsthand the prejudice her family faces does she begin to realize she has her own voice. And choices. Will she continue to let circumstances dictate her path? Or will she decide once for all who and where she is meant to be?

Connection: Race and Identity. This story captures the complexities that biracial individuals face, especially in their teenage and formative years. Embracing who we are and our roots is a journey of its own and through the main character we can learn various lessons about the value of self and connection on your own terms.