12 Books for Young Readers That Center Mixed-Race Protagonists 

Self-identifying mixed-race people make up the largest demographic among Americans under 18. These picture books and middle grade novels feature multiracial kids as heroes of their own stories.

Self-identifying mixed-race people make up the largest demographic among Americans under 18. These picture books and middle grade novels feature multiracial kids as heroes of their own stories.

Picture Books

The Case for Loving: The Fight for Interracial Marriage by Selina Alko. illus. by Selina Alko & Sean Qualls. Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine. ISBN 9780545478533. 
Gr 1–5–This debut picture book by husband-and-wife team Alko and Qualls gives the story of Mildred and Richard Loving its due. The couple first met and fell in love in Jim Crow Cedar Point, VA, in 1958, but because Richard was white and Mildred was African American and Cherokee, they were not permitted to marry under Virginia law. In legal proceedings that led to a Supreme Court case, their union was finally upheld as constitutional. The charming and cheerful mixed media illustrations are done in gouache and acrylic paint with collage and colored pencil, a perfect marriage of Alko and Qualls's art styles. A much-needed work on a historical court case that made the ultimate difference on mixed race families that will resonate with contemporary civil rights battles. 

Marisol McDonald and the Monster/Marisol McDonald y el monstruo by Monica Brown. illus. by Sara Palacios. Lee & Low. ISBN 9780892393268. 
PreS-Gr 2–In Marisol McDonald’s third outing, she is as magical, mismatched, and marvelous as ever. Marisol loves Monday mornings, her favorite maestra, milk, mangoes, and lots of other things that begin with the letter m. According to her brother, Marisol is too old to be afraid of monsters, but that doesn't stop her from imagining the spookiest monster she can dream up. In an effort to take control of her anxiety, the ever-creative Marisol decides to make her own friendly, one-of-a-kind sock puppet monster, Melody, so that the idea of a monster doesn't seem as scary. But when she begins hearing loud bumps in the night, she convinces herself that her worst fear is becoming a reality. With the help of her bicultural, loving, and supportive family, Marisol faces her fears and finally solves the mystery. Whimsical and thoughtful mixed-media illustrations lend themselves to the relatable nature of the story. 

RedReviewStar Mixed Me! by Taye Diggs. illus. by Shane W. Evans. Feiwel & Friends. ISBN 9781250047199. 
Gr 2–5–A little boy with curly hair and brown skin navigates the social terrain of being a biracial child. Diggs's short, choppy, rhyming verses convey the busyness of a kid who likes "to go FAST!" All through his day he encounters people staring and asking questions. "See, my dad's a deep brown and my mom's rich cream and honey. Then people see me, and they look at us funny." Diggs very adeptly conveys the feelings a mixed child experiences and brings a message of acceptance without being didactic. Evans's mixed-media watercolor and pencil illustrations are the perfect accompaniment to this well-written, fun story of acceptance, friendship, and love. The text, colors, and design make this a good choice for read-alouds, but there are many details in the artwork (usually containing the word mixed or a synonym thereof) that make it good for one-on-one sharing.

Marvelous Maravilloso: Me and My Beautiful Family by Carrie Lara. illus. by Christine Battuz. Magination. ISBN 9781433828560.
PreS-Gr 1–A young girl explores the colors all around her. She admires the hues of the flowers, the sea, the trees surrounding her grandmother's house, and the colors of the city where her abuela lives. She admires the difference in the people around her, her mother, who is white like crema, and her father, who has brown skin like smooth leather. She thinks about her own color, which is like café con leche, and is a mezcla—a mix—of her mother and father. She shares with readers that all the different colors of the people of the world are part of diversity—diversidad—and that they all have beautiful families.

The Favorite Daughter by Allen Say. Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine. ISBN 9780545176620.
K-Gr 2—Readers follow the flaxen-haired child through homework assignments that involve bringing a baby picture to school. A photograph of Yuriko clad in a red, flowered kimono becomes a source of confusion for her classmates, who associate Japanese appearance with dark hair. When the art teacher mispronounces her name, and the students follow suit, her day goes from bad to worse; miserable, she seeks a new identity upon arriving home. Father and daughter visit a familiar sushi restaurant, Golden Gate Park, and the bridge (shrouded in fog), all of which help the troubled girl process her feelings and inspire a unique response to the art project. The concluding photograph of Yuriko as a young woman in Japan (also wearing a kimono) conveys an acceptance and pride regarding her heritage and adds impact to the message. 

What Are You? by Christian Trimmer. illus. by Mike Curato. Roaring Brook. ISBN 9781250786029.
PreS-Gr 2–Two poodles question another dog’s breed, which is puggle: half pug, half beagle. Once the breed is identified, the poodles make broad stereotypes about the pup. For instance, all pugs are good at hula-hooping, and all beagles are good at pogo sticks. The puggle explains that what the puggle likes and does is based on individual preference, not a “breed.” In essence, this story boils down complicated stereotypes about race, culture, and gender into a simple allegory for young readers. Curato brings mastery to the discussion, with expressive and colorful artwork that elevates the discussion and lifts the allegory further. 

redstar When the Cousins Came by Katie Yamasaki. illus. by Katie Yamasaki. Holiday House. ISBN 9780823434572.
K-Gr 2–Lila eagerly anticipates the arrival of her two cousins who are visiting from the city. She is excited to have children her own age to play with, but when Rosie and Takeo arrive things don't go exactly as Lila imagines. "Everything the cousins did was a little bit special," observes Lila after they show her how they make huge graffiti-inspired chalk-art outside. At dinner they ask for chopsticks, which Lila has never used and didn't even know her family owned. The cousins are never unkind—they style Lila's hair, take turns with the bike and skateboards, and give Lila tips on using chopsticks—but Lila still feels a bit inferior. The gentle plot captures the nuance of childhood friendships and growing up as part of a multiethnic family.  


Middle Grade

RedReviewStar Blended by Sharon M. Draper. S. & S. ISBN 9781442495005. 
Gr 4–7–Eleven-year-old Isabella is biracial; her mother is white, and her father is Black. Other people sometimes describe her as "exotic," but she doesn't think of herself that way. Isabella is also from a blended family. Her parents share custody and each Sunday they meet at the mall and do "the exchange." Shifting between two sets of parents, no matter how much she cares about them and how different their lifestyles are, is hard. As new tensions begin to rise, Isabella works to find her place in the world. A dangerous, racially biased event near the end of the novel offers a deeper exploration of the unique struggles faced by young people of color. While the event is disturbing, Draper writes with grace, compassion, and respect for the intelligence and emotional lives of young readers. This is Draper at her best, penning a current and ultimately uplifting story.

Lupe Wong Won’t Dance by Donna Barba Higuera. Levine Querido. ISBN 9781646140039. 
Gr 3-7–Readers will be immediately drawn into the zippy first-person voice of Lupe Wong, future first female pitcher in Major League Baseball and defender of social justice. Young people will identify with the torture that is the middle school square-dancing unit. Lupe is determined to fight for the right to not participate. To earn the privilege of meeting her favorite baseball player she must get straight A’s, and that includes square dancing. Her grandfather’s wisdom influences her to choose to “overcome instead of fighting.”  Readers will enjoy the time spent with Lupe. She must also learn to navigate the rough waters of friendship in seventh grade when everything gets complicated. Lupe manages to make the square-dancing unit work, all while fixing some age-old traditions that are no longer culturally relevant. A humorous, fresh title sure to appeal to social justice advocates and reluctant square dancers everywhere.

Step Up to the Plate, Maria Singh by Uma Krishnaswami. Lee & Low/Tu Bks. ISBN 9781600602610.
Gr 3–5–All fifth grader Maria Singh can think about is playing baseball. She confronts many challenges in pursuit of this dream, from convincing her father to let her wear shorts to getting the city council to approve a baseball field for her neighborhood. Maria is part of a community of families in World War II–era California. Many of the fathers in this community emigrated from India and married Mexican American women. Maria begins to see how much the institutionalized racism and individual prejudice they face weigh on her parents. Krishnaswami skillfully handles issues of racism and sexism in a realistic and age-relevant way. Maria's realistic challenges and passion to play ball will keep young readers engaged. This historical sports story provides a rich basis for a discussion of prejudice and the importance of standing up for one's beliefs.

[Read: 8 Books About Multiethnic Experiences]

Cilla Lee-Jenkins: Future Author Extraordinaire by Susan Tan. illus. by Dana Wulfekotte. Roaring Brook. ISBN 9781626725515.
Gr 3–5–Eight-and-a-half-year-old Priscilla Lee-Jenkins (aka Cilla) has big plans. She knows that her destiny is to be a world-famous author when she grows up and is practicing by sharing her life story (so far) with readers. Tan writes in a fun and spunky voice that recalls favorite characters, such as Junie B. Jones, Ramona Quimby, and Fancy Nancy, but is still all her own. Cilla is biracial, Asian and white, and has a lot of feelings about where she fits into her family. She sometimes worries about being "too Chinese" for her white grandparents and "too white" for her Chinese grandparents. She also experiences microaggressions from some adults who ask her questions like, "Where are you from?" and "What are you?," particularly while she is with the white side of her family. No one in Cilla's family really understands what it is like to be her. Readers will identify with Cilla and wish they were friends with her in real life.

 New from Here by Kelly Yang. S. & S. ISBN 9781534488304.
Gr 4-7–Biracial (Asian and white) fifth grader Knox Wei-Evans’s world is turned upside down when his parents decide that Mom will take Knox, older brother Bowen, and younger sister Lea from their home in Hong Kong to the United States to get away from the novel coronavirus that just shut down the city of Wuhan. The kids must pack quickly and leave their dog and their dad—Knox’s best friend—behind. In Northern California, they quarantine for 14 days and attempt online school before starting public school, where, for the first time ever, Knox has a teacher who understands and encourages him, and he has a friend. Christopher is also Asian American and has ADHD. But the virus “knows no borders” and soon arrives in the States, triggering a wave of fear and anti-Asian racism. Knox’s mom says that love is the only vaccine for hate, and Knox stands up to racist classmates. The Wei-Evans family faces the pandemic, racism, and worries about jobs, income, and healthcare with consistent courage. A pandemic book that is also a story of the importance of family, friendship, and standing up for what is right.

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