America’s Largest Diverse Book Publisher Shares the Reads You Need

This gift guide with Senior Literacy Manager Katie Potter and journalist Maya Pottiger originally appeared on Word in Black.

Only 31% of picture books have featured Black characters in the last 20 years, but Lee & Low Books has multicultural recommendations for all ages are out there.

When it comes to selecting books for yourself or others, it can be hard to choose—let alone to know where to start, especially if you’re looking for a read with diverse characters and storylines.

It’s true that the number of children’s books by and about Black people has been steadily rising since 2018, according to the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Cooperative Children’s Book Center, jumping from 17% in 2018 to 22% in 2021.

But that isn’t enough. 

There are still huge disparities in representation, especially in children’s books. Since 2002, Diverse Book Finder has been keeping track of picture books featuring people of color, analyzing more than 3,000 in the last 20 years. In the collection, only 31% of books feature Black characters, followed by 25% depicting Brown-skinned or race-unspecified characters.

But don’t worry—these books do exist. That’s why Word In Black spoke with Lee & Low Books, the largest multicultural children’s book publisher in the United States. No matter who you’re shopping for, the New York City-based publisher has recommendations for all age groups and interests. 

Word In Black: Why do books make great gifts?

Lee & Low Books: If you are in a position to give gifts to young people in your life, consider giving books! 

Where you put your money makes a BIG difference—particularly to small businesses. By supporting diverse books, independent publishers (like us at Lee & Low Books!), and local booksellers, your holiday spending has real social impact and ensures a vibrant literary landscape for 2023 and beyond.

We rounded up our favorite books for gifting. A new book provides children with wonderful opportunities to see themselves, learn something new, and connect with the content on a deeper level. We benefit all children by including books and materials featuring a range of BIPOC experiences all year long. With these books, you’re helping to champion equity and inclusion while putting a smile on young readers’ faces! 

What are your favorite books to suggest to families? 

Marvelous Mabel: Figure Skating Superstar
Meet Mabel Fairbanks, the skating superstar who became the first Black athlete inducted into the US Figure Skating Hall of Fame.

Bonnie’s Rocket
As Bonnie’s father works on the Lunar Module for the Apollo 11 mission, Bonnie is building her own model rocket . . . but will it ever fly? Inspired by the experiences of the author’s grandfather, Bonnie’s Rocket celebrates the diverse team that contributed to one of the United States’s greatest achievements.

How We Can Live: Principles of Black Lives Matter
The first children’s book to feature material from the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation, this beautiful picture book will engage hearts and minds as it introduces children to the guiding principles of the Black Lives Matter movement.

All Around Us (also available in Spanish)
This gorgeous picture book—winner of the Pura Belpré Illustrator Honor and American Indian Youth Literature Award Picture Book Honor—celebrates the circles that surround us, in the sky, the earth, our neighborhoods, ourselves . . . if we just dare to look for them.

Copycat: Nature-Inspired Design Around the World
Award-winning author-illustrator Christy Hale brings the fascinating concept of biomimicry to life in a uniquely designed book that shows how nature inspires solutions to real-world problems.

What books are you recommending as gifts for kids (Pre-K -5) this year?

The Perfect Gift (Grades PreK-1)
In this new early chapter book in the popular Confetti Kids series, Mei’s little brother is turning 100 days old and there will be a big party. Mei is determined to find the perfect gift for the special day.

Zombies Don’t Eat Veggies (also available in Spanish) (Grades PreK-3)
In this delightful debut by a talented husband-and-wife team, Mo Romero is a zombie with a deep, dark secret . . .

Under My Hijab (Grades PreK-3)
This lovely book from the author of Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns invites readers to understand and appreciate the hijab and the Muslim women who decide to wear it.

Stacey Abrams: Lift Every Voice (Grades 3-5)
How do we move our country forward? Stacey Abrams has an answer in this bright and stirring biography, perfect for discussions of voting rights and how people working together can make a difference.

Julieta and the Diamond Enigma (Grades 3-5)
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler meets Merci Suarez in this smart young middle-grade mystery about a diamond gone missing from the Louvre and the sweet and spunky girl who cracks the case.

What about pre-teens and teens?

Indian No More
When Regina’s Umpqua tribe is legally terminated and her family must relocate from Oregon to Los Angeles, she goes on a quest to understand her identity as an Indian despite being so far from home.

Strong as Fire, Fierce as Flame
In 1857 India, 13-year-old Meera escapes a life she has no say in–and certain death on her husband’s funeral pyre–only to end up a servant to a British general in the East India Company. When a rebellion against British colonizers spreads, she must choose between relative safety in a British household or standing up for herself and her people.

Fight Back
“Amina’s Voice” meets “A Good Kind of Trouble” in this story about 13-year-old Aaliyah, who feels alone after putting on a hijab for the first time, but finds friends and allies through organizing a protest at her school.

Boys of the Beast
Three cousins. Four days. One car. This smart and fearless road-trip novel is perfect for fans of David Levithan, Benjamin Alire Saenz, or Meg Medina.

The Witch Owl Parliament (Clockwork Curandera Volume #1) (also available in Spanish)
Discover a graphic novel unlike any other — a brilliant steampunk reimagining of Frankenstein set in colonial Mexico.

And what books should we be getting for the adults in our lives? 

¡Ándale, Prieta!
This beautifully open coming-of-age memoir by a Mexican American debut writer doubles as a love letter to the tough grandmother who raised her.

Nobody’s Pilgrims
“No Country for Old Men” meets “Contagion” in this story of three teenagers on the run, carrying a great menace, and chased by a greater evil.

Elegies in Blue
Saenz speaks from inside the skin of himself — Chicano, political being, spiritual seeker, family man, and lover.

The Amado Women
Four women, connected by birth, separated by secrets.

A Song for the River
The mountain he loves goes up in flames. His friend and fellow lookout dies. He falls in love. Wilderness endures.

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