20 Audiobooks Featuring Multiracial Characters for Elementary, Middle Grade, and YA Listeners

Multiracial Americans are the fastest-growing demographic in the United States, and publishing is thankfully reflecting more multiracial representation: here are 20 audiobooks, all published in 2022, culled from a list more than double the size. Listen in.

The numbers don’t lie: according to the 2020 Census, more than 33 million ­Americans—that’s about 1 in 10!—identified as being of two or more races. Multiracial Americans are also the fastest-growing demographic in the United States. Publishing is thankfully reflecting more multiracial representation: here are 20 titles, all published in 2022, culled from a list more than double the size. Listen in.

Early Elementary

Gauld, Tom. The Little Wooden Robot and the Log Princess. 11 min. Recorded Bks. Jun. 2022. $7.99. ISBN 9781705070277.
PreS-Gr 4–Without the printed book in hand, the multiracial aspect of Gauld’s delightful kiddie debut isn’t clear in the audio alone. Enabling simultaneous reading with both eyes—Eisner Award–winning Gauld’s artistry is wonderfully inviting throughout—and ears makes for an ideal pairing. The tale opens with a portrait of a Black queen and a white king “who happily ruled a pleasant land, but they had no children.” With the help of the royal inventor and a clever witch, the king and queen become devoted parents to a robot prince and a log princess. Unintentional circumstances send the children on ­faraway adventures, but their eventual safe reunion ensures the familial happily ever after. London-based actor Jessica Hayles—herself multiracial—is a gently welcoming narrator, deftly ciphering appropriate voices from the kind witch to the ­exasperated maid, the lucky goblin to the helpful barge captain. VERDICT Clever enchantment awaits.

Reagan, Jean. How to Welcome a New Baby. 7 min. (How to...). Listening Library. Feb. 2022. $22. ISBN 9780593509791.
PreS-Gr 4–Reagan and illustrator Lee Wildish’s third installment of their bestselling, delightful “How to...” series, which highlights multigenerational relationships, features a family readying home and hearts for its newest member. The print version is necessary to realize the father and the grandma present as white, the mother and the grandpa as Black; the multiracial older child is depicted without an obviously assigned gender. Almarie Guerra’s engaging energy is immediate as she opens with the child’s “Dear Mom and Dad” letters about the impending addition. What follows is a primer on all things baby, from the older sibling’s obviously experienced point of view: getting ready (a name, car seat), expecting “a little topsy-turvy” (extra hugs for pets, avoiding poopy diapers), helping (washing teeny-tiny toes, whisper-singing lullabies), and teaching (how to high-five, picnicking). VERDICT Guerra is an ideal guide to welcoming baby—and siblings and extended families, too—in another delectable ­read-and­-listen experience.

Tomlinson, Rachel. A Blue Kind of Day. 9 min. Listening Library. Apr. 2022. $22. ISBN 9780593508954.
K-Gr 4–Psychologist/author Tomlinson introduces a child navigating his “blue” mood in a thoughtful, all-Australian collaboration. Indigenous Australian Tori-Jay Mordey illustrated the book, her art inspired by her own multiracial background. Australian Aboriginal actor/narrator Shari Sebbens, too, shares the characters’ heritage: to savor Sebbens’s resonating performance with an open book reveals Coen’s father presenting as white, and his mother drawn with brown skin. Sebbens is an empathic cipher as Coen faces “a deep, murky kind of blue that made [him] feel trapped.” Sebbens infuses his mother’s “It can’t be that bad” with anxious worry, his father’s “Let’s go outside” with concerned cheer, his sister’s “You don’t look sick!” with energetic doubt. Coen can’t “find the words to describe why everything felt so wrong,” but his family’s quiet support helps him out of his “blanket cocoon.” VERDICT Every library could benefit from stocking multiple formats of this gentle guide to tough emotions.


Middle Grade

Cisneros, Ernesto. Falling Short. 5:11 hrs. HarperAudio. Mar. 2022. $21.99. ISBN 9780063219885.
Gr 4-7–Best friends Isaac Castillo and Marco Honeyman have been bouncing back and forth between each other’s houses for years. Isaac is Latinx, a basketball star who struggles in the classroom, whose parents’ ongoing divorce is exacerbated by his father’s alcoholism. Marco, described as “half-Jewish, half-Mexican,” is an academic standout, although “even the short kids tower over [him]”; he longs for a closer relationship with his absent dad. Middle school, of course, will be a game changer for them all. With Spanish spoken throughout, the narrative’s fluency is enhanced by the fact that Timothy Andrés Pabon as Isaac and Gary Tiedemann as Marco are bilingual. Pabon’s voice is a bit more controlled, as if trying to keep Isaac’s struggles and hopes from bursting; Tiedemann reads with his signature slight lilt, appropriately imbuing Marco with more open emotions. VERDICT Pura Belpré Award–winning Cisneros’s sophomore effort gets undoubtedly boosted from this dynamic veteran narrator duo.

Culley, Betty. The Natural Genius of Ants. 5:08 hrs. Listening Library. May 2022. $45. ISBN 9780593584309.
Gr 3-7–Harvard and Roger’s father sat in their city apartment for five months after “the mistake”—which caused the death of an infant in his care. Dad’s now decided to take the boys to his hometown of Kettle Hole, ME, where he’s just “the Corson boy there, not Dr. Corson.” Mom can’t leave her research, but she needs Dad to “use this summer to figure out a way to forgive [him]self.” They’re renting Dad’s childhood friend Vern’s house—without internet or TV—but Vern’s daughter Nevaeh (“heaven spelled backwards”) turns out to be a wonderfully welcoming friend. Alejandro Ruiz deftly distinguishes the sizable cast: he’s especially empathic to clever, funny, kind Harvard, and just as affecting as adorable Roger, wise-beyond-her-years Nevaeh, slowly improving Dad, and Dominican American Mom. VERDICT With notable versatility, Ruiz magnifies the gentle goodness of Culley’s affecting story, enabling younger readers to face d­ifficult issues.

Glaser, Karina Yan. A Duet for Home. 6:19 hrs. HarperAudio. Apr. 2022. $21.99. ISBN 9780358716785.
Gr 3-7–According to young Maybelle, June is “the best eleven-year-old viola player in the world.” But instruments are forbidden at Huey House, a homeless shelter where the sisters and their mother have landed after the sudden loss of their father resulted in eviction from their Chinatown apartment. Practice June must, which means she’s going to have to trust longtime resident Tyrell to show her a safe place to play. Like June, Tyrell is fatherless—­although his Chinese father isn’t dead, he’s in ­prison. Music—and a longing to belong—will ensure their friendship. Sura Siu ­gently ciphers June’s chapters, moving from bewildered to empowered; June’s mother’s Cantonese dialogue benefits from Siu’s multilingualism. Preston ­Butler III, a self-described “multihyphenate ­artist,” voices Tyrell’s energetic chapters, particularly effective in capturing exploits with his best friend (and coconspirator) Jeremiah. VERDICT Siu and Butler ­nimbly transform Glaser’s alternating chapters into harmonious counterpoint.

Johnson, Anna Rose. The Star That Always Stays. 8:12 hrs. Dreamscape Audio. Aug. 2022. $17.99. ISBN 9781666617610.
Gr 3-7–Debut novelist Johnson reveals in her ending author’s note (not included in the audiobook) that her story here is inspired by her ancestors: Norvia was her great-grandmother. Indigenous voice actor Elise Randall Modica enhances the authenticity as Johnson’s sensitive aural surrogate. The fictional Norvia is also 14 in 1914, the daughter of an Ojibwe/French mother and Swedish father. After her parents’ divorce, her mother insists on hiding their Indigenous background when she remarries. Norvia is initially unsure of stepfather “Uncle Virgil,” but his support of her education, their shared love of books, and his active kindness for all the children earn her trust and love. Modica is mostly an easy, even narrator, but she displays her charm when assuming precocious eight-year-old Dicta’s pronouncements and wannabe suitor Aylmer’s courtly speeches. VERDICT Johnson’s historical fiction warms hearts—and ears.

Kelly, Erin Entrada. Surely Surely Marisol Rainey. 1:02 hrs. (Maybe Marisol: Bk. 2). HarperAudio. Aug. 2022. $14.99. ISBN 9780063248908.
Gr 2-5–Amielynn Abellera, who shares Kelly’s Filipina American heritage, returns for her fourth Kelly collaboration, this time the sophomore title of the “Maybe Marisol” series. Returning listeners will be relieved that Abellera’s anxiety-heightening performance, which marred Maybe Maybe Marisol Rainey, is considerably­improved here. Marisol—whose mother is Filipina, her “Dadhead” white—and best friend Jada continue to be list-making experts: for now, their “number-one Least-Favorite Thing to Do” is “GYM CLASS.” But two weeks of kickball loom, and Marisol and Jada must learn to play. Marisol has no choice but to ask her “generally gross and annoying” but athletically gifted brother Oz for help. And the game is on! Fellow Filipina American writer Mia P. Manansala gets a shoutout: mystery-novel addict Mrs. Rainey reads Arsenic and Adobo. VERDICT Gentle ­lessons in controlling the “Brain Train”—Marisol’s many ­worrying thoughts—gets an empowering ­audio boost.

Magoon, Kekla. Chester Keene Cracks the Code. 6:38 hrs. Listening Library. Jul. 2022. $50. ISBN 9780593587461.
Gr 3-7Luke Cage actor Elijah Boothe makes his audiobook debut as biracial 11-year-old Chester Keene, a ­spy-in-training readying himself to someday assist his secret agent father, whom he’s never met. Despite Dad’s absence, Chester still gets occasional emails, packages, and clues. The latest missive—certainly Dad-initiated—sends Chester on a complicated scavenger hunt, but this time, he’s inexplicably paired with his classmate Skye (who is also biracial—white and Japanese American). As different as the two are, their work together gets results, although the answers may not be what Chester predicted—or wanted. Boothe’s range is impressively dynamic, easily distinguishing the two sleuths, Chester’s worried mom, Skye’s easygoing dad, the gruff mall security guard, and would-be thieves. VERDICT Magoon’s broad topics—bullying, friendship, absent parents, blended families—should encourage wide audiences; ­libraries might provide audio for their most reluctant readers.

Ogle, Rex. The Supernatural Society. 5:16 hrs. (Supernatural Society: Bk. 1). Harlequin Audio. Feb. 2022. $21.99. ISBN 9781488212949.
Gr 4-6–The first of Ogle’s new trilogy introduces three unlikely heroes-in-the-making tasked with saving their town of East Emerson, MA, from destruction. Versatile Timothy Andrés Pabon distinctly animates the print into aural mirth. Pabon is earnest as Will, who’s been uprooted from Brooklyn by his Latinx mother after his white father left. Pabon turns feisty as Korean American athlete Ivy, the older of two transracial adoptee siblings across the street. He becomes deadpan formal as Ivy’s younger genius brother, Linus, who is Black. Only Will and Ivy can see the monsters—­werewolves and wraiths, sure, but also wekufes, a wanyd and Abenaki Wa-won-dee-a-megw; “man of science” Linus doesn’t yet believe. Pabon’s also memorable as MIT PhD-ed witch Oracle Jones, but his ovation-deserving performance belongs to snarky storyteller Adam Monster, whose definition of melancholy induces Pabon to weep hysterical tears. VERDICT Pabon exuberantly transforms this not-quite-frightfest into a fabulous funshow.

Yang, Kelly. New from Here. 8:03 hrs. S. & S. Audio. Mar. 2022. $19.99. ISBN 9781797136608.
Gr 4-7–Narrator Justin Chien elevates Yang’s latest, expertly distinguishing every member of the biracial Wei-Evans family. In J­anuary 2020, the United States is Covid-free, so ­Chinese American Mom and white American Dad reluctantly split the family, with Mom and three kids returning to their Oakland home while Dad and pup remain in Hong Kong for work. Middle child Knox narrates, revealing his growing anxiety about their overwhelmed parents, repeated bullying, oppressive racism, his new (Chinese American) best friend. Chien endows distinct personalities on rambunctiously earnest Knox, controlling older brother Bowen, adorably wise Lea. He’s impressively empathic as best friend Christopher trying to save his family’s Chinese restaurant. Even the ‘bad guys’ avoid becoming caricatures, from the racist dog owner to the opportunistic sanitizer-hoarding scammers. VERDICT Listen while you can: a new Netflix series just grabbed Chien as Michelle Yeoh’s costar, surely curtailing Chien’s short-but-impressive audiobook career.



Young Adult

Alsaid, Adi. Before Takeoff. 9:03 hrs. Listening Library. Jun. 2022. $63. ISBN 9780593416723.
Gr 7 Up–An omniscient “we”—seemingly representing Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport—narrates here, cleverly allowing readers plenty of deliciously privileged information. James and Michelle are about to meet-cute in Terminal B to co-consider “a blinking green light that will soon cause all hell to break loose.” Latinx James’s family is going home to Chicago after visiting relatives in Tampa. Michelle’s trajectory is less direct: the Swiss-born French Thai teen—raised in Jakarta and Buenos Aires and now living in Canada—left France and is en route to Quebec via Toronto. Michelle’s peripatetic background has left her with “this accent that morphs”—­providing Jade Wheeler an ideal opportunity to practice her impressive versatility. As that predicted “all hell” blankets ATL, the pair will share reality-defying adventures while Wheeler gives listeners a showcase of cranky shop staff, anxious travelers, racist ­strangers, wannabe rebels, and more. VERDICT Wheeler beguilingly ensures Alsaid’s sci-fi/thriller/romance takes off.

DasGupta, Sayantani. Debating Darcy. 8:18 hrs. Scholastic Audio. Jan. 2022. $83.99. ISBN 9781338813746.
Gr 8 Up–Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice gets another 21st-century update, its fancy balls replaced with high school forensics league meets. Bengali American Leela Bose of Longbourne High and biracial Pakistani British Firoze Darcy of Netherfield Academy walk the circuitous enemies-to-lovers line. Fellow Bengali American Jishnu will reverse that path from seeming soulmate to scheming cad. Deepa Samuel energetically assumes the vast cast, endowing Leela with biting wit, Firoze with (occasionally dismissive) maturity, Jishnu with smarmy insincerity. Her considerable talents are even more notable amongst the supporting characters, including the team coaches—yes, excitable Mrs. Bennet; calm Mr. Bennet; composed team captain, Tomi; awkward “brainiac” teammate, Colin; dazzling best friend, Jay; adoring little sister, Gigi. VERDICT Samuel dexterously reflects DasGupta’s spotlight on persistent social ills—bullying, coercion, misogyny, racism, classicism, colorism, homophobia—adding multilayered complexity to an aging pale classic.

Ferguson, Jen. The Summer of Bitter and Sweet. 10:08 hrs. HarperAudio. May 2022. $27.99. ISBN 9780063086197.
Gr 8 Up–In a rare example of serendipitous convergence, debut YA author Ferguson; her protagonist, Lou; and first-time narrator Julie Lumsden are all Canadian Métis. Ferguson begins with an unusual, thoughtful foreword (don’t skip the double afternotes, either!) which reveals potential trauma triggers, allowing readers to skip her novel because “your health, happiness, safety, and well-being matter more than reading this book.” Lumsden immediately adopts that empathic voice throughout in revealing Lou’s final summer at home, scooping ice cream at her family’s “shack.” Her mother’s on the road selling handmade jewelry, leaving Lou in her uncles’ care. Lou’s dumped her pushy boyfriend, but she’s surrounded by friends, including the return of maybe-soulmate King. Looming, however, are the stalking threats from someone she never wants to know—her mother’s newly freed rapist who happens to be her biological father. VERDICT A sharp, eloquent, heartrending accomplishment that demands ­access in all media.

Jackson, Tiffany D. The Weight of Blood. 10:55 hrs. HarperAudio. Sept. 2022. $27.99. ISBN 9780063029170.
Gr 9 Up–An astonishingly affecting cast (albeit uncredited with who-read-whom) magnificently enlivens Jackson’s stupendous homage to her “favorite movie of ALL TIME” (no spoilers). Here’s the basic story: Maddy Washington is raised white by her abusive white father, but she—and the rest of their little town—finds out she’s biracial, Black and white. Popular (white) Wendy feels sorry for all the bullying she’s never stopped and convinces her (Black) boyfriend Kenny to take Maddy to prom; Wendy and Kenny couldn’t go anyway because proms are still segregated in 2014! The book opens with a chilling podcast, “Maddy Did It,” which attempts to piece together what happened that fateful prom night; its enthralling episodes are interwoven throughout the mesmerizing 11 hours. Christopher Salazar is podcast host Michael—earnest, prodding, challenging. Sarah Mollo-Christensen as his series cohost, Tanya, is an ideal sidekick with a Sydney accent, clever timing, and doubtful exasperation; she’s also remarkable as manipulative, spoiled, rich, and racist Jules. Karen Malina White embodies frightened, simmering Maddy, and Kenny’s angry activist sister Kali. JD Jackson is superb as conflicted Kenny. VERDICT Libraries should prepare for an onslaught of requests in every medium for what will surely be one of the most memorable, in-demand titles of the year.

McWilliams, Kelly. Mirror Girls. 7:43 hrs. Hachette Audio. Feb. 2022. $28.50. ISBN 9781549165962.
Gr 8 Up–“For colored girls, there’s no such thing as happily ever after,” the prologue warns as Jeannette Yates—somberly narrated by Robin Eller—sets up the story to come. Jeannette is only 45, but ravaged by Jim Crow, she’s “too tired to be raising a baby again.” Yet her granddaughter Charlie has no parents; they’ve been brutally murdered for loving outside their divided races. Jeannette flees Georgia for the anonymity of Harlem to start again. Seventeen years later, in 1953, Charlie—resolutely voiced by Deanna Anthony—brings Jeannette back home to die. What awaits is unresolved destiny: Charlie is a twin to Miss Magnolia—breathily accented by Carmen Jewel Jones—who’s been raised as the proper white heir to Heathwood Plantation. Twins, separated at almost-birth, must confront ghosts, haunts, curses, evil—never mind the vicious humans—to survive. VERDICT An excellent trio makes readers believe.

Parks, Amy Noelle. Lia and Beckett’s Abracadabra. 8:55 hrs. Blackstone Audio. Jul. 2022. $19.95. ISBN 9798212179614.
Gr 7 Up–Given their families’ contentious history, Lia and Beckett shouldn’t be falling in love. Once upon a time, Lia’s grandmother and Beckett’s grandfather were a married magical couple—literally—working as magician and assistant, until Grandma divorced that philanderer. (No worries, Lia’s grandfather was husband number two!) More recently, Beckett’s cousin Eliot dated (and scammed) Lia’s older sister. Of course, Lia and Beckett must meet-cute, back in Mirror Lake, WI, where magic still happens—not just that lovey-dovey kind, but also the abracadabra variety in which Lia is determined to win the summer contest and definitively prove women belong center stage. Rachel Jacobs delivers a delightful performance subtly upping the girl power, from Lia’s ongoing self-empowerment to smaller yet crucial moments—Beckett’s Indian mother when introduced to Lia insists, “It’s Ms. Awasty, actually. I kept my name.” VERDICT Balancing glee with gravitas, Jacobs ensures Parks ­gratifyingly fair play.

Romero, R.M. The Ghosts of Rose Hill. 4:02 hrs. Listening Library. May 2022. $38. ISBN 9780593558843.
Gr 9 Up–Her father escaped oppressive politics in the former Czechoslovakia. Her maternal ancestors survived Spain’s religious persecution, landed in Cuba, then fled Castro’s communists for Miami Beach. “So the last thing I expected/ was to be exiled/ by my own parents,” 16-year-old Ilana laments when she’s separated from friends, parties, but most importantly, her beloved violin. She’s banished to Prague to stay with artist Aunt Žofie who promises, “Prague is a place/ where a girl your age/ can find herself.” Ignoring the SAT-improving studies demanded by her parents, Ilana finds an abandoned Jewish cemetery, falls in love with a ghost, vanquishes a monster, and sets trapped souls free. Cuban American actor Carla Corvo commands Romero’s lyrical novel-in-verse, becoming that rebellious teen discovering her autonomy, seeking justice where evil lingers. VERDICT Corvo proves herself an effective, complementary enabler of Romero’s empowering coming-of-age tale.

Tian, XiXi. This Place Is Still Beautiful. 10:15 hrs. HarperAudio. Jun. 2022. $27.99. ISBN 9780063086050.
Gr 9 Up–“People label [Annalie] pretty. People label [Margaret] exotic.” And yet the two are both daughters of their Chinese immigrant mother and runaway white father. Annalie is often assumed to be white, Margaret is regularly “mistaken for full-blooded Chinese.” High school senior-to-be Annalie still lives at home; Margaret, two years older, has finally gotten out to NYC. But when hateful graffiti defaces their garage, Annalie calls Margaret back to (again) figure things out. That fateful summer will either break or bind the troubled family. Katharine Chin’s Annalie is airy, uncertain, longing to be liked; Chin stumbles with London visitor Daniel’s unconvincing British English. Deeper-voiced Cindy Kay captures ­Margaret’s projected maturity, with which she emotionally shields herself; Kay also subtly reveals unexpected vulnerable moments with those Margaret (reluctantly) loves most. VERDICT Chin and Kay ensure an auspicious aural debut for debut novelist Tian’s outstanding small-town exposé.

Young, Alora. Walking Gentry Home: A Memoir of My Foremothers in Verse. 2:48 hrs. Books on Tape. Aug. 2022. $28.50. ISBN 9780593559079.
Gr 7 Up–Her ancestry, as it can be traced with names, goes back to Amy Coleman, an enslaved woman who bore her white enslaver’s child. Young appeared seven generations later, her lineage explored in a mesmerizing memoir-in-verse “about girlhood and how the world scoffs at the way Black women come of age...because Black girls begin being called women far before they know what women really are.” Poetry, she insists, is “the only way to tell this story.” Performing her own history, her very life, Young’s impassioned delivery channels centuries of abuse and joy, pain and hope, suffering and forgiveness, and most of all, unconditional, unrelenting love. Young is just 19, a Swarthmore College student, and Youth Poet Laureate of the Southern United States. VERDICT Young’s double debut—as writer and narrator—is an inarguable achievement, her prodigious success a promise of further recognition to come.

Terry Hong was Library Journal’s 2016 ­Reviewer of the Year for Fiction and Audio. Follow her blog, Smithsonian BookDragon, and on Twitter @SIBookDragon.

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