We all know how important books are to developing language, curiosity, empathy and imagination. Books transport us to new places and help us understand what a different life path might feel like. Like many of you, I grew up loving books, but I didn’t see myself in one until I was in college. It’s life-changing, when a book finally says, “Anything is possible,” and the message is directed straight at you.

When I had kids, diverse children’s books filled with characters of Asian and Latinx backgrounds like them did not seem to exist. I followed the advice of one of my favorite writers, Toni Morrison, to write the book I wished to see in the world. Readers of multiple backgrounds have told me they see themselves in the pages of “One Hundred Percent Me”. This has been the best feedback, because when we see ourselves in books, we understand our stories matter and our voices can touch lives and make a difference. 

Fortunately, books have changed a lot since I, and even my kids, were little, and it’s easier now to find stories that reflect a wide spectrum of experiences and backgrounds. The following #OwnVoices recommendations are a small part of a much longer list of favorites, new and old, that we encourage you to check out!

Here are six children’s books I recommend that showcase a wide variety of experiences and backgrounds.

blackbird fly book

Blackbird Fly by Erin Entrada Kelly

Though Erin Entrada Kelly has written several books, including the Newberry award winner “Hello, Universe”, her debut book, “Blackbird Fly, earns a special place on my list. I read “Blackbird Fly for the first time with my older daughter when she was around the same age as Apple, the book’s protagonist. Neither my daughter nor I had ever seen the words “ay naku” in a book before. In addition to the Filipino expression for “oh my gosh,” “Blackbird Fly includes elements of growing up in a Filipino household, from Santo Nino décor and pancit for dinner to weekend phone calls with relatives in the Philippines. The coming-of-age story is for every twelve-year-old like Apple who wants to make friends and fit in, but her background as an immigrant helps more kids see their families in books. In middle school, I binged on the likes of the Sweet Valley High series, starring two blond twins, because books like “Blackbird Fly simply weren’t available. I’m so glad kids today can experience books that feel closer to home.

angel's kite book

Angel’s Kite: La Estrella de Angel by Alberto Blanco

With Spanish-speaking skills that are less than bueno, I’m grateful for bilingual books like “Angel’s Kitethat help me share stories in both English and Spanish. This one has been on my family’s bookshelf for decades. Written by Mexican poet Alberto Blanco, “Angel’s Kite is a sweet book with a glimmer of mysticism and a lesson about not letting important traditions fall by the wayside. Armed with the inclination to remember, a young boy can make a kite that helps restore an important part of his small pueblo’s history. 

jukebox book

Jukebox by Nidhi Chanani

Nidhi Chanani made an author appearance at my younger daughter’s school, and she could not stop talking about it afterward. My daughter was most impressed with Chanani’s writing tips and drawing demo, and she just had to get a copy of “Jukebox. This graphic novel did not disappoint, with gorgeous illustrations of an Indian-American family in the Bay Area. The book’s themes of music, time travel and adventures to save a loved one inspired my daughter to express herself and her interests through art, just as Chanani does.

sandangaw book

Sandangaw by Voltaire Q. Oyzon

If you know of my novel “The Hour of Daydreams,” you know I love a good folktale. Poet Voltaire Q. Oyzon’s “Sandangaw retells a story he first heard from his grandmother, one that was originally passed down in the Waray language of the Philippines. Another bilingual treasure, this book portrays how adventure, bravery, and wit help a village boy outsmart fairies and impress a magical eagle, all while learning that you don’t have to be big to be mighty.

on the trampoline book

On the Trapline by David Robertson

Cree author David Robertson reflects on family lines and intergenerational connection through the symbolism and significance of a trapline. We added this new acquisition to our home library after catching Robertson at the Bay Area Book Festival, where he spoke about writing children’s books to heal and to accurately portray Indigenous people, language, and culture in a way that the comic books of his generation did not. 

this is the rope book

This Is the Rope by Jacqueline Wilson

Similar to the image of the trapline, the symbol of a rope permeates the pages of this beautiful Jacqueline Wilson book illustrated by James Ransome. It is about the heirlooms, even one as simple as a rope, that hold families together from generation to generation as they adapt to movement and change, here from South Carolina to New York City.

This story is a part of The Motherly Collective contributor network where we showcase the stories, experiences and advice from brands, writers and experts who want to share their perspective with our community. We believe that there is no single story of motherhood, and that every mother’s journey is unique. By amplifying each mother’s experience and offering expert-driven content, we can support, inform and inspire each other on this incredible journey. If you’re interested in contributing to The Motherly Collective please email [email protected]