Publishers Commit to Diverse Kid Lit

Even as teachers and librarians face continued attempts to restrict the circulation of books normalizing diversity, publishers are dedicated to putting more of them than ever before on school and library shelves.


Even as teachers and librarians face continued attempts to restrict the circulation of books normalizing diversity, publishers are dedicated to putting more of them than ever before on school and library shelves. The Cooperative Children’s Book Center, a study and research library for Wisconsin school and public librarians, reports that 46 percent of the 3,451 books it received in 2022 had significant BIPOC content. And 40 percent of the books had at least one BIPOC creator, compared with fewer than 25 percent in 2018.

“Diversity has been a blind spot in publishing for many years,” says Karen Watson, publisher, fiction, at Tyndale House Publishers. “The reality is that publishing is a business that is relationship based, and it’s very siloed. It wasn’t intentional, but we hadn’t pursued relationships in the way that we should have with a broader range of writers. So now we’re looking for authors who bring new voices to the table.”

Annick Press has taken acquisition of new voices to the next level through mentorship. “Creator care is a big focus of our editorial work that we feel goes hand in hand with working with folks of all different backgrounds, especially those who might not have had access to different parts of the publishing industry before or who may have experienced marginalization,” says Editor Claire Caldwell.

In recent years, Lerner Publishing Group has demonstrated its commitment to diversity by developing its Diverse Books Catalog. Easily browsable through its landing page, the catalog sorts its titles into 11 categories—Social Justice, Race and Ethnicity, #OwnVoices, Immigration and Refugees, LGBTQIA+, Mental Health and Neurodiversity, Physical Disability and Illness, Social Class, Celebrating Differences, Feminism, and #MeToo.

These thoughtful, intentional steps taken by publishers have laid the groundwork for a slew of exciting new books featuring voices as diverse as their young readers.

Interlink Publishing Group

Massachusetts-based Interlink Publishing Group was founded in 1987. “Our mission is to try and bring culture from all around the world to the U.S. in all different formats and mediums, children’s books being one of those,” says Managing Director Harrison Williams. “We're striving to try and break down the barriers between cultures and to provide a platform to those who don’t normally get a very large opportunity to share their voices.”

Folktales for a Better World: Stories of Peace and Kindness by Elizabeth Laird, illustrated by Mehrdokht Amini, February 2023, ISBN 9781623717971, for ages 5 to 8, is a collection of folktales from seven countries that have suffered ongoing wars and conflicts—Ethiopia, Sudan, Palestine, Yemen, Afghanistan, Syria, and China. “The book is basically a modern-day retelling of the most culturally relevant folktales that define these people and their core values—kindness, community, forgiveness—that have endured, despite the horrendous things that have happened in their homelands,” says Williams.

In Interlink’s new picture book for ages 3 to 8, Kantiga Finds the Perfect Name by Mabel Mnensa, illustrated by Chantelle Thorne and Burgen Thorne, July 2023, ISBN 9781623717438, Kantiga is having a hard time at school because of her name. But when she tells her grandmother she wants to change it, she hears the story about how her great-grandmother in Malawi used to walk miles for water every day carrying a pot called Kantiga. The pot had a crack and watered all the crops and flowers along her route as she walked home. Once Kantiga learns her name’s origin story, she loves it.

We Are Palestinian: A Celebration of Culture and Tradition by Reem Kassis, illustrated by Noha Eilouti, September 2023, ISBN 9781623717254, is an in-depth exploration of Palestinian culture for ages 9 and up, including everything from Palestinian ancient soap-making technique to Palestinian poets, to their food like hummus and falafel, to the importance of Islam in their culture. “It is very thorough throughout the whole thing,” Williams says. “It is like an encyclopedia, but very digestible for kids, not overly heavy.”

The four children in the picture book A Child Like You by Na’ima B. Robert, illustrated by Nadine Kaadan, October 2023, ISBN 9781623717230, have big concerns. They want to talk about pollution, climate change, representation, and forced migration, but they feel unheard until they discover the stories of real-life activists Greta Thunberg, Yusra Mardini, Marley Dias, and Iqbal Masih. Learning the stories of these young changemakers emboldens the children to act. “It's basically about how these children have made such a profound change to the way we see the world and how the world interacts,” Williams says.

A picture book from Turkey, The Ferris Wheel by Tülin Kozikoğlu, illustrated by Hüseyin Sönmezay, December 2023, ISBN 9781623717216, for ages 4 to 7, is about forced migration and displaced people. On both pages of each spread, the book tells the same story about two families in very different scenarios—one is safe and secure at home, and one is in danger of displacement. Eventually the two families end up on the same Ferris wheel. “The Ferris wheel is representative that at any given moment, we could switch places and be the people that need support and need a new home,” Williams says.

Apples & Honey Press

An imprint of the century-old New Jersey-based Behrman House Publishers, Apples & Honey was launched in 2015 as a platform for children’s books in Behrman’s Jewish educational niche. The imprint now publishes 20 to 25 titles a year. “We’re trying to show all kinds of life and learning through a Jewish cultural lens,” says Chief Marketing Officer Vicki Weber.

A boy and his mom have moved to an apartment in a new city in The Moving Box Sukkah by Leah Rachel Berkowitz, illustrated by Sharon Vargo, August 2023, ISBN 9781681156279, a picture book for ages 5 to 7. The boy is homesick: he can’t find his special blanket and he’s worrying about how they’ll celebrate Sukkot without a backyard for their sukkah, the hut ancient Israelites used during pilgrimages. “His mom gives these very calm, sensitive, and even humorous responses to his distress that also help illuminate details about celebrating the holiday of Sukkot,” Weber says.

Big Bad Wolf’s Yom Kippur by David Sherrin, illustrated by Martin Morón, August 2023, ISBN 9781681156064, is a fairy-tale mash-up for ages 6 to 8. The Big Bad Wolf has been invited to synagogue services and decides to go, thinking all the people there will be a tasty buffet. When the rabbi talks about the leaves changing and how we all have the capacity for change, the Wolf wonders if it’s true. “It’s about Yom Kippur, and there aren’t very many books that explain Yom Kippur in a kid-friendly way,” Weber says. “But it’s really about kindness and community and friendship.”

A retelling of the creation story from Eve’s perspective, Eve and Adam and Their Very First Day by Leslie Kimmelman, illustrated by Irina Avgustinovich, October 2023, ISBN 9781681156255, is a picture book for ages 4 to 7. This story explores what it might have been like for two people to experience the world for the first time, from animals to rain to the setting sun and shining stars. “It’s really about the emotional impact of new experiences and the importance of curiosity and faith,” Weber says.

In Miryam’s Dance by Kerry Olitzky and Rachel Spilker, illustrated by John Baptist Tumuhaise, October 2023, ISBN 9781681156088, a picture book for ages 5 to 8, a young Jewish girl in Uganda is trying to help her family get ready for Shabbat but keeps getting distracted by a dance troupe visiting her village. “It’s underscoring that there are Jews all around the world, and they have practices that are both universal within Judaism and also special to their locale and community,” Weber says. Backmatter includes a glossary of relevant Ugandan terms and a Jewish Ugandan plantain recipe.

A 48-page illustrated chapter book for ages 6 to 9, The Inside Name by Randi Sonenshine, illustrated by Gina Capaldi, October 2023, ISBN 9781681156194, centers on a Sephardic Jewish family in Portugal in the 1500s. Filipe and his family are conversos—Jews forced to convert to Christianity under the Inquisition but still practicing Judaism behind closed doors. Even Filipe’s real name is a secret, because it’s too dangerous for the boy to be called by his Hebrew name outside the house. “What’s it like to have to hide your identity? This is another piece of Jewish experience, and it’s told in a beautiful way, very age appropriate,” Weber explains.

Bess Press

Oahu-based Bess Press was founded in 1979 in response to a Hawaii State legislature referendum making Hawaiian studies mandatory in the elementary through high school curricula. Because there were no existing textbooks at the time to meet this need, Bess Press got its start with an ancient Hawaiian history textbook, a history of the Hawaiian Kingdom, and a modern history of Hawaii.

Today, Bess Press publishes about 15–20 new titles each year across its educational catalog for early childhood through grade 12 and its all-ages trade catalog. “We also made the collective decision a couple of years ago to entirely dedicate ourselves to creating multilingual publications for the perpetuation and preservation of Pacific Island languages,” says COO and Director of Publishing David DeLuca.

In Chiburu: Anthology of Hawaiʻi Okinawan Literature, edited by Lee Tanauchi, March 2023, ISBN 9781573066648, more than 30 creatives explore, claim, and advocate for their identity as Okinawans outside of Okinawa—as opposed to Japanese. Once an independent nation, Okinawa lost much of its language, lands, and culture owing to Japanese and American colonialism. Through short stories, essays, poetry, plays, songs, chants, recipes, comic strips, illustrations, and more, this book seeks to recognize the Okinawan American identity and the richness of its culture. Written in English, the book does include the Okinawan language Uchinānchu throughout.

From Bess Press’s back catalogue, Ordinary Ohana by Lee Cataluna, illustrations by Cheyne Gallarde, October 2016, ISBN 9781573065276, is a picture book about diversity in the modern family (ohana in Hawaiian). When Kainoa’s parents separate and both remarry, he ends up with three moms, one dad, and some new siblings. “It's very celebratory of the diversity of what family is in covering the concepts of nontraditional family settings,” DeLuca says.

Another picture book, Honu 5690 by Shaowei Liu, December 2021, ISBN 9781573066549, tells the lovely true story of a green sea turtle (honu in Hawaiian) who becomes a local celebrity when she shows up to nightly hula performances on the beach in Lahaina and lays her eggs on that beach. Because the green sea turtle was endangered at that time (but has been brought back to a thriving capacity), the whole community came out to protect the eggs.

Sequoia Kids Media

Chicago-based children’s book publisher Phoenix International Publications launched Sequoia Kids Media in 2020. A school and library imprint for pre-K to third grade, Sequoia Kids Media now publishes about 100 titles each year. “We do a little bit of everything,” says Senior Marketing Manager Casey Griffin. “We have licensed content, original picture books, graphic novels—and we are moving into chapter books.”

From its beginning, Sequoia Kids Media has been dedicated to elevating diverse voices.It’s Her Story,” a graphic biography series profiling inspirational women in history, exemplifies this commitment. For ages seven to 10, the series explores the lives of courageous women who have changed the world. It’s Her Story: Josephine Baker by Lauren Gamble, illustrated by Markia Jenai, January 2023, ISBN 9798765400272, follows Baker’s remarkable life, as she leaves the segregated U.S. to become the most famous entertainer in Paris in the 1920s. She was also the first Black woman to star in a movie and volunteered as a spy in the French Resistance during World War II.

The ninth title in the series, It’s Her Story: Sacajawea, ISBN 9781503765795, will be published in January 2024. Writer Randy'L He-Dow Teton and illustrator Aly McKnight are both members of the Shoshone Bannock tribes. The story starts with Sacajawea’s sale by the Shoshones to another tribe. There, she met explorers Lewis and Clark, who were looking for a guide to take them to the Pacific Ocean. On their journey, she saved their lives many times, teaching them what to eat, how to set traps, introducing them to medicinal plants, and facilitating their communication with other Indigenous tribes.

Sequoia Kids Media has published four Chinese fairy tales for ages four to eight under its “Cardinal Perfect Picture Books” line in January 2023. Amu and The Snake by Wang Yimei, illustrated by Zhou You, ISBN 9798765400241; The Brave Little Fire Dragon by Bing Bo, illustrated by Wu Bo, ISBN 9798765401408; Millie and the Goat by Wang Yimei, illustrated by Gui Tuzi, ISBN 9798765401385; and The Rain People by Jin Bo, illustrated by Yin Yusun, ISBN 9798765401415, are all written and illustrated by Chinese authors and illustrators. “They're a little bit folklore, a little bit fairy tale, a little bit just cute fantasy picture book story,” Griffin says.

ECW Press

Toronto-based ECW Press got its start in 1974 as a journal of literary criticism and has since transformed into a publisher whose catalogue includes everything from music to science to social science to mystery. “The thing about ECW is that there’s something for everyone,” says Marketing and Communication Manager Caroline Suzuki.

In the YA title The Grimmer by Naben Ruthnum, September 2023, ISBN 9781770417045, 15-year-old Vish returns to his hometown from boarding school, where he was sent while his father was treated for addiction. In addition to being conspicuous as one of the few brown families in town, Vish is aware that everyone seems to know about his father’s addiction, too. The bookstore is Vish’s escape. There, he encounters a specter who plans to release ancient German demons into the town. It’s up to Vish and the weird bookstore owner to stop the specter. “This book deals with really complex issues like race and grief and addiction with nuance, and without ever talking down to a young audience,” Suzuki says.

In the YA fantasy The Stars of Mount Quixx by S.M. Beiko, April 2023, ISBN 9781770416956, sisters Ivory and Constance are sent away for the summer to the creepy, fog-shrouded town of Quixx. When Ivory disappears after a fight with her sister, Constance tracks her to the mountain, where she discovers a diverse monster world. One spiderlike monster named Derek has been caring for Ivory. As nice as these monsters are, they are not valued or appreciated in town. Constance, Ivory, and Derek take it on themselves to change that. “This author makes sure that the diversity in her books is very wide ranging,” Suzuki says. The title features a nonbinary character, a lesbian relationship, prominent trans characters, and anxiety disorders.

Lerner Publishing Group

Minneapolis-based Lerner Publishing Group has been creating children’s and young adult nonfiction and fiction books since 1959. In 2019, Lerner embarked on creating a catalogue of all its diverse titles, separated into 10 subcategories, and collected on one searchable Diverse Books landing page. In just the last year, the publisher has added about 100 titles to the catalogue. Here, the publisher shares three more coming this fall.

Small Shoes, Great Strides by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, illustrated by Alex Bostic, November 2023, ISBN 9781728419237, is a 40-page nonfiction picture book for grades 2–5. In 1960, three first-grade Black girls were integrated into an all-white New Orleans elementary school. The book shows the challenges these girls faced every day—transferring classmates, turned-off drinking fountains, papered-over classroom windows, and indoor recess for their safety. “What I really love about the story is that it's not just about the first day,” says Carol Hinz, associate publisher at Lerner imprints Millbrook Press & Carolrhoda Picture Books. “I think it’s so important for kids to realize that working for change can sometimes be a long process, and even when you achieve a goal, in a lot of cases, the work is just beginning.”

Another true story, Piece by Piece: Ernestine’s Gift for President Roosevelt by Lupe Ruiz-Flores, illustrated by Anna López Real, September 2023, ISBN 9781728460437, is a picture book for grades K-3. During the Depression, a Mexican American teen from San Antonio wants to thank President Roosevelt for the government food aid that’s been sustaining her family. After seeing the pattern for an intricately designed clock case, Ernestine decides to make it. Two years later, piece by piece, the case is finished, and she sends it to the president. Her masterpiece is still on display in the Roosevelt Presidential Library in New York.

A nonfiction title for grades 6–12 by Dr. Artika Tyner, a former law professor, civil rights attorney, and passionate educator, Reimagining Police, October 2023, ISBN 9781728449630, looks at the history of law enforcement, criminal justice, and mass incarceration. The book examines the intersection of race and law enforcement, from slave patrols in the South to the war on drugs and mass incarceration, delving into topics like institutional racism and white supremacy. “The goal of the book is, how can we work toward public safety with all of these differing viewpoints that exist, and how can we work together as a community?” says Shaina Olmanson, editorial director for young adult nonfiction.

Tyndale House Publishers

Based in the western Chicago suburbs, Tyndale House is a not-for-profit publisher that donates its proceeds to literacy causes worldwide. Tyndale publishes over 100 titles per year, covering a wide range of contemporary Christian fiction, historical fiction, nonfiction, children’s books, and bibles. “The authors who publish with Tyndale have to understand we are an evangelical Christian house, and they need to be comfortable with being associated and perhaps identifying similarly,” says Karen Watson, publisher of fiction.

That said, Tyndale is also striving to address diversity in its publishing program. “We are so delighted to have these two authors whose books we are discussing on our list.”

Author Patricia Raybon’s acclaimed mystery series about amateur sleuth Annalee Spain is set in 1920s Colorado. In book two, Double the Lies, February 2023, ISBN 9781496458421, Annalee must solve the murder of a handsome young pilot before the clever detective—already a target of the Colorado Klan—is framed for the crime. “We learn so much fascinating information about the power that was wielded by the Ku Klux Klan during the 1920s in Colorado,” Watson says. “Our character is full of spunk, and she's fearlessly pursuing justice in solving these crimes.” Book three is expected in summer 2024.

Author Robin Pearson’s third contemporary Southern family drama for Tyndale, Dysfunction Junction, ISBN 9781496453761, will be published February 2024. It’s a story of three sisters in North Carolina who are wrestling with their mother’s legacy and the memories they’ve tried to bury. “Pearson approached the story by unpacking family events from the point of view of each sister,” Watson says. “You see how each sister saw what happened in the family differently. Everybody takes away their own interpretation of family and family history.”

Annick Press

Toronto-based children’s publisher Annick Press was founded in 1975. Annick publishes fiction and nonfiction for pre-K through young adult readers. “Our publishing program around authors who are underrepresented or marginalized is pretty strong,” says Acquiring Editor Khary Mathurin. “We are encouraging the incubation of newer voices, folks who may or may not have had a chance to really get connected with the publishing industry. We keep an eye out for folks of various backgrounds, various voices, always wanting to bring in more perspectives, especially those of an intersectional kind.”

Young adult nonfiction title Stay Up by Khodi Dill, illustrated by Stylo Starr, September 2023, ISBN 9781773218076, is a mix of memoir, cultural criticism, and anti-oppression theory. “Khodi has experience as an antiracist educator, but also as a writer, a spoken word artist, and a poet,” Mathurin says. “He brings all of those perspectives to bear on his life, taking a look at how racism and various other kinds of oppression have impacted him and using those experiences to unpack some of these pretty complex ideas for a younger audience.”

Dragging Mason County by Curtis Campbell, October 2023, ISBN 9781773218076, is a contemporary YA novel about a gay teenager who just wants to get through high school unnoticed. But he can’t control his reactions when other kids pick on him, and he develops a reputation. To remake his public image, he decides to help his best friend put on a drag show. Tensions with disapproving locals build leading up to the show. “It’s really funny and fast paced,” Mathurin says. “It also touches on a lot of very relevant themes. And I appreciate how it provides a complicated picture of being gay in a small town.”

A picture book for ages 4 to 7, The Words We Share by Jack Wong, September 2023, ISBN 9781773217970, is about a young girl and her father who are new to Canada. Angie helps her dad by translating English to Cantonese for him. She decides to offer others in her community her translation services as well. When things go awry because of a miscommunication, Angie’s dad surprises her by being the one to help her out. “It’s super sweet,” says Editor Claire Caldwell. “Jack wrote this from his own experience and wanted to shine a light on the challenges that children in families that have immigrated often face.”



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