Jesus knew the power of stories. He used parables to teach his followers, and over 2000 years later, we go back to those same parables and find wisdom in them. A good story captures our imagination and transports us. We can imagine ourselves in the shoes of another and what their life is like.
A few years ago, I started noticing the hashtag #WeNeedDiverseBooks on Twitter. Statistics about publishing in the US were shared, and it turns out that many of spend our lives surrounded only by the stories of certain people. The stories of white people dominate publishing. You can read more and see a helpful graphic of how this looks in children’s literature here: https://www.slj.com/?detailStory=an-updated-look-at-diversity-in-childrens-books
I have worked to diversify my reading and especially to incorporate #OwnVoices works into my library. #OwnVoices is a movement that began in children’s literature and has expanded to all literature. These books are written about diverse characters by authors who share those identities.
I know that many people are currently reading non-fiction about racism in America. I am as well, but I always come back to fiction to get a fuller picture of the lived experiences of people. Here are some #OwnVoices books that I have read and suggest. If you have any other suggestions, please share them!
Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky
by Kwame Mbalia
Tristan Strong is a seventh grader who is spending the summer with his grandparents after the death of his best friend. Tristan is pulled into a world of magic and filled with African American folk heroes and West African gods. There is some history mixed in with the fantasy. I was immediately attached to Tristan and his companions and am looking forward to the second book in the series.
Aru Shah and the End of Time
by Roshani Chokshi
Aru Shah is a twelve-year-old who lives with her mother, the curator of Museum of Ancient Indian Art and Culture. Aru has always been in touch with her heritage, but her life takes a turn when she learns that what she thought were myths are actually true. Aru is thrust into an adventure with her new Pandava sisters and their godly companion. This is the first in a series. I have read all three that have been published and have enjoyed the stories as well as learning about Hindu mythology.
On the Come Up
by Angie Thomas
Two years ago, I made a summer reading list and recommended The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. This is her second novel, and it is another compelling read. Bri is a teen who has been labeled by society and school. She dreams of being a rapper and pours her emotions into her lyrics. Bri finds herself pulled into the spotlight, and she has to deal with the consequences—positive and negative.
With the Fire on High
by Elizabeth Acevedo
Emoni Santiago is a teen mother who lives with her abuela (grandmother). She feels most at home in the kitchen but isn’t sure if cooking is a solid future for her and her daughter. Emoni’s father is a community organizer who has moved back to Puerto Rico. Emoni struggles with the demands placed on her from all sides and tries to hold on to her dreams as she navigates high school.
There There: A Novel
by Tommy Orange
There There tells the story of twelve “Urban Indians” in Oakland, California. They have varied experiences and relationships to their Native heritage. I suggest this one even though it was very difficult for me to read. It was disturbing and upsetting for me to read, but I have carried the stories with me, which I think is the point. (Unlike the others above, this is not a novel written for children or teens.)