Multicultural Literature Recommendations:
When I started teaching ESL last year, I began a hunt for books that featured main characters who resembled my students. I also looked for books that told stories that my students may have been familiar with from their home countries. Both of these kinds of books were difficult to come by, but below I’ve included a few of my favorites. I hope you'll find something valuable to share with an important kid in your life!
Big Red Lollipop, by Rukhsana Khan
Big Red Lollipop features a Middle Eastern family with a daughter named Rubina, who has just been invited to her first birthday party. Rubina’s mother insists that Rubina take her sister along to the party. This book explores family dynamics and the true meaning of sisterhood. My students absolutely adored this book! I highly recommend it as a read aloud, or even as a book for guided reading groups.
Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns: A Muslim Book of Colors, by Hena Khan
This is an absolutely beautiful children’s book with a simple rhyming scheme. The vivid colors paint a beautiful picture of the Muslim faith, pointing out some important elements of the Muslim faith. My students really enjoy looking at this book, especially because the text is simple and relatable. It also has a nice glossary of unfamiliar terms mentioned throughout the book.
The Golden Sandal: A Middle Eastern Cinderella Story, by Rebecca Hickox
The Golden Sandal is the Iraqi version of the classic Cinderella story. Since so many cultures have their own variation of Cinderella, I had a good time sharing this version and other versions with my students. We compared and contrasted different Cinderella stories, and the students had fun discussing the stories and versions their parents had shared with them.
Messages From Maryam, by Lauren Pichon
I would be remiss if I posted a blog about multicultural literature and did not promote my own book! When I started my search for children’s books with characters who either looked like my students, or had had similar experiences, I had a hard time finding appropriate resources. I feel blessed to have been able to write a book featuring characters that look like my students.
My Name is Yoon, by Helen Recorvits
My Name is Yoon tells the story of a small Korean girl named Yoon who has just moved to the United States. At first, Yoon is very resistant to learning English and she is self-conscious about her Korean name. She tries out various English words as a new name, even trying out “Cupcake” as a name! Eventually, Yoon becomes comfortable in her own skin, humanizing her teacher and the other students, and owning her identity as a Korean-American. My Newcomer students were all smiles when they heard this story for the first time!
Pretty Salma: A Little Red Riding Hood Story from Africa, by Niki Daly
What a fun story! My students were laughing out loud as I read this book. Pretty Salma is a west African variation of Little Red Riding Hood with some interesting twists and turns.
Sam and the Lucky Money, by Karen Chinn
I initially bought this book because the cover reminded me of one of my good friends, Sam, who also happens to be Chinese! Sam and the Lucky Money tells the story of a little boy during Chinese New Year who is disappointed by the fact that the money his grandparents gave him is not enough to get exactly what he wants. In the end, he decides to use the money to help someone in need. This is a sweet story with a great moral. It would tie in well with a unit about China, or it could be used to facilitate a dialogue about Chinese New Year.
Middle School/Young Adult Books:
Colibri, by Ann Cameron
I first read Colibri while I was in Costa Rica, and I got so sucked in that I finished it in just a couple of days! The book tells the story of a little girl who was kidnapped from Guatemala City, Guatemala by a man pretending to be her uncle. The man changes her name to Rosa, and Rosa grows up experiencing a series of unfortunate mishaps, all the while dreaming of her loving parents, whom she has little memory of. As Rosa struggles to find her identity, she makes her own way in the world, grows into herself and becomes who she was always meant to be. I was very engrossed in this novel. With its strong heroine and beautiful imagery, I would recommend it to any child or adult looking for an engrossing story set in Central America.
Inside Out and Back Again, by Thanhha Lai
Inside Out and Back Again tells the story of Ha, a young girl who immigrates to the United States during the Vietnam War. The book is written entirely in free verse, and it details the family’s immigration experience and Ha’s experience in school upon arrival to Alabama. This book would be a great read for older children, or as a read aloud for younger students.
La Linea, by Ann Jaramillo
This book offers an honest look into what it would be like to be a child trying to get into America to reunite with parents. The book is emotionally charged and poignant, offering a play by play of Miguel and his friend, Elena’s, journey across la linea, the border.