Diversity in Your Collection: Recommended Titles

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In today’s age of social media and instantaneous communication, the world seems smaller than ever before. With so many people across so many diverse countries, cultures, and backgrounds in contact with one another—and often part of our school communities—it is important to acknowledge and promote a global perspective among young learners. This is particularly relevant for libraries, where diverse characters and stories can offer readers windows into the lives of characters very different from themselves. Below is a list of titles recommended by SLC reviewers that focus on characters from various backgrounds and walks of life, all experiencing problems, joys, fantasies, and ordeals that readers from anywhere in the world can recognize and relate to.

Subscribers can always find reviews of other great titles like this at reVIEWS+

Save Me a Seat
Author: Sarah Weeks & Gita Varadarajan
Price: $16.99
Publisher: Scholastic, Inc.
Grade Level (as recommended by Reviewer/SLC): Grades 4-8

When his family moves to the United States from India, fifth grader Ravi Suryanarayanan struggles to fit in at his new school. Ravi is used to being a superstar student, but he quickly learns that his American classmates think his accent, clothes, and lunches are unusual and not impressive, even giving him horrible nicknames like “curry head.” Little does Ravi know that his classmates also group him with Joe Sylvester, a struggling student who is bullied and feels like an outsider because of his family’s financial problems. When Ravi and Joe are sent to the same Special Education teacher’s classroom, an unlikely friendship slowly takes off and is solidified as they find a common enemy in Dillon Samreen. The reader sees Ravi and Joe’s unique perspectives through alternating chapters and even finds a glossary for each character in the back of the book. This heartfelt novel would be a great addition to any library collection, especially one seeking more diverse books.

Reviewer: Tracy Scaglione, Library Media Specialist, Dorsett Shoals Elementary, Douglasville, Georgia
Rating: Highly Recommended

The Head of the Saint
Author: Socorro Acioli
Price: $16.99
Publisher: Delacorte Press (Random House)
Grade Level (as recommended by Reviewer/SLC): Grade 6 & Up

Samuel, a boy of 14 who lives in rural Brazil, carries out his mother’s last wishes by journeying to sleepy Candeia to meet his grandmother and light a candle at the foot of Saint Anthony. Rejected by his grandmother, Samuel finds refuge in the large, hollow head of Saint Anthony that rests on the ground. He soon hears voices of women that come to pray to Saint Anthony for a miracle. Samuel also hears haunting songs that reverberate in the saint’s head twice a day. In an effort to expel the women so he can discover the source of the singing, Samuel tries to grant the prayers of the women. His plan backfires as the wishes are successful, bringing in many more people. Candeia becomes a hotbed of pilgrims and the locals try to profit from the sudden influx. Quirky characters, funny occurrences, forgotten family secrets, and poignant memories make this story appealing to all. This book is a standout in diverse young adult literature.

Reviewer: Lisa Castellano, Library Media Specialist, Larkspur Middle School, Virginia Beach, Virginia
Rating: Highly Recommended

Ghosts
Author: Raina Telgemeier
Price: $24.99
Publisher: Graphix (Scholastic, Inc.)
Grade Level (as recommended by Reviewer/SLC): Grades 3-8

Cat and her family are moving to the gloomy Northern California coastal town of Bahia de la Luna. Cat’s sister Maya has cystic fibrosis and the climate change will help her condition. Cat and Maya are polar opposites—Cat worries, frets, and cautiously approaches daily life, while Maya throws caution to the wind and lives life out loud. Cat and Maya soon meet Carlos, who tells them about the beliefs of the town’s citizens and about the spirits inhabiting the close knit community. Maya is thrilled about the thought of interacting with ghosts while Cat doubts their very existence and fears the possibility. It doesn’t take long for the girls to interact with the local ghosts, which leads to Maya being hospitalized and Cat feeling guilty. The sisters try to understand the realities of life and death, the possibility of afterlife, and the true meaning of sisterhood. Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) proves to be a pivotal point in the story as Cat soon appreciates her family’s heritage, the spirits that walk alongside her, and her true love for her sister. Wonderfully told, colorfully illustrated, and important on many levels, this story deals with diversity, illness, life, and death, and so much more. This is a must-have for upper elementary and middle school graphic novel collections.

Reviewer: Nick Petrosino, District Library Coordinator, Ravenna (Ohio) School District
Rating: Highly Recommended

The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary
Author: Laura Shovan
Price: $15.99
Publisher: Wendy Lamb Books (Random House)
Grade Level (as recommended by Reviewer/SLC): Grades 3-6

Emerson Elementary School will be closed at the end of the school year, the students in the last fifth grade class will be dispersed to other schools, and the building will be razed to make room for a store. The reactions, interactions, personalities, and believable young voices of these 18 diverse fifth graders capture this year in verse through a variety of poetic forms. Their personal stories range across wide cultural, socioeconomic, and emotional territory, reminding the reader that every student has a story beyond the classroom. Although the teacher’s voice is only heard reflected in her students’ writing, she also is a character in the drama. Combined with the appended prompts and suggestions, this book could inspire close reading and a watershed of writing. “A closer look at the poems” includes poetic forms with descriptions, writing suggestions, and writing prompts. Glossary.

Reviewer: Elizabeth Dejean, Teacher Librarian, P.S. 360, Bronx, New York
Rating: Highly Recommended

See No Color
Author: Shannon Gibney
Price: $18.99
Publisher: Carolrhoda Books (Lerner Publishing Group)
Grade Level (as recommended by Reviewer/SLC): Grades 6-12

Growing up as an adopted “mixed” girl in a white family presents some very unique challenges, as 16-year-old Alex Kirtridge can attest to. For the first time in her life, a black boy likes her. But Alex doesn’t feel black, knows little about black culture and dialect, and worries about being too different to fit in. As Alex begins to question her identity, her race, and her past, she must make some tough decisions about her future and who she wants to be. Readers will appreciate Alex’s inner struggles, her reluctance to be honest with herself, and her very real problems with her family. Gibney gives Alex an honest, heartfelt, and poignant voice in this coming-of-age novel. Any young person who feels different, especially those that are dealing with mixed race issues and adoption, will relate. This book would make a great addition to a library collection, promoting diverse, multicultural literature.

Reviewer: Sabrina Flegal, Library Media Specialist, Corporate Landing Middle School, Virginia Beach, Virginia
Rating: Recommended

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2 thoughts on “Diversity in Your Collection: Recommended Titles”

  1. Hi School Library Connection,

    Shannon’s book is terrific! Definitely recommended by people who read critically.

    Telgemeier’s book, on the other hand, has several problems of misrepresentation and bias. She’s popular, and most people would defend what she’s done in this book, but the children in the demographics who are most hurt by the misrepresentations… they count, too.

    https://americanindiansinchildrensliterature.blogspot.com/2016/09/not-recommended-ghosts-by-raina.html

    1. Thank you for pointing us to your review, Debbie. We appreciate the crucial perspective added here, and encourage our readers to read it!

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