10 Culturally Responsive Books To Kick Start Your Class Library

Are You Ready to Kick Start Your Culturally Responsive Class Library?

As you probably know, being a culturally responsive educator is very important to me.  I love getting to know my students and their families on a deeper level and being able to relate to them in a way that allows me to have deeper connections with them.  I also want them to understand me and to feel wanted, valued, intelligent, worthy of all beautiful things in life, and like they are a part of me and our classroom.  When I reflect on it, I think that being culturally responsive is very natural and innate for me.  It’s something that I just do and have always done.  Now, I guess, there is a name that I can attach to it.  Being culturally responsive.  Building relationships.  Teaching my students to love and value themselves.  It is essential.  It is an honor as a Teacher.


If you are just beginning your journey of being intentional and reflective within yourself so that you may be more culturally responsive with your students and their families, books are always a wonderful place to begin.  You can teach so many invaluable lessons from the perspective of children’s literature.  It is not only what you read, but how you read it.  The intention and delivery of a great story can move mountains in your classroom.  Your tone of voice and facial expressions.  Are you being sincere?  Sarcastic?  Serious? Sensitive?  Thoughtful?  Dramatic?  Do you believe in what you are sharing?  We know that our students can read us…. well, like a book!  They know when we are being all-of-the-above, even when we think that we are not showing it.

So, grab one of these great books!  Set your mind on the purpose to be culturally responsive with your students all day, every day!  Be ready to change lives and promote self-acceptance, self-awareness, self-confidence, and self-esteem!

Side Note:
Remember:  Just because a book features diverse characters doesn’t automatically make it culturally responsive.  I found this really beautiful book called Cora Cooks Pancit.  Cora is from the Philippines and wants to be allowed to cook like the older children.  The books is happy, vibrant, and about family.  However, this line appears in the book, “She scrunched up her pug nose and began to think.”.  I actually had to stop and re-read that sentence.  Pugs are dogs!  Pugs are dogs that have wide, flat noses and faces!  Pugs are not necessarily the most attractive dog breed!  Book ruined.  How do you think a Filipino student would feel about themself once we read that line aloud??  Pre-read the books that you want to share with your class.  This is so important.

I can share a quick personal account of why this is so important.  Actually, this situation is why I try to always remember to pre-read the books that I share.  Around 9 years ago, I was teaching a Kdg class.  The book, Love You Forever, was either hot off the presses or just gaining traction.  You know where I am headed with this right?  If you have read this book before, I can hear you shouting, “RIGHT!”  Needless to say, I began reading, became extremely choked up, and gently told the students that we would have to stop reading here for the day.  LOL  Don’t do this!  Ha ha

Here is the list of 10 books that you can use right now to be more culturally responsive.  You can click on the titles to add these books to your collection.  In no particular order and without further ado…

Book # 1

Blackout by John Rocco

  Blackout by John Rocco diversity-multiculturalism-bi-racial-culturally-responsive-teaching

This is a book that I just discovered and loved.  It’s about a family that discovers that disconnecting (from all things electronic) is a great way to connect.  The book features an African American mother with a Caucasian father.  Discover how I used this book with my students here.

Book # 2

Beautiful by Stacy MacAnulty


This book is phenomenal!  I have been so inspired by this very short, sweet, and captivating story. Wanna talk about going against the grain of gender stereotypes of girls and women?  This book definitely does that.  Ah-mazing sentiment and super-fantastic illustrations by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff! Here is the blog post that I dedicated to this phenomenal book.

Book # 3

Just the Two of Us by Will Smith

 Just the Two of Us-African-American-families-dads-sons-culturally-responsive

Will Smith’s heart-felt book about his love for his newborn son has become a classic.  It is a lovely story that shows African American fathers in a gentle, sensitive, and humble way that most any parent can relate to.  Kadir Nelson’s illustrations will, even more deeply, pull on your heart strings. The illustrations depict African American features, skin tones and hair textures in a diverse and culturally reflective manner.  Beautiful!

Sidebar:  If you are not familiar with the Author, Illustrator, Author-Illustrator, and Artist, Kadir Nelson, you can read about how much I L-O-V-E his work here.

Book # 4

Malala Yousafzai: Warrior with Words

Malala Yousafzai: Warrior with Words by [Abouraya, Karen Leggett]-culturally-responsive-multiculturalism-diversity
This book has a sweet, honesty about it.  Malala’s story is shared in an honest, yet, child-friendly way. The artwork is beautifully crafted and supports the beauty of Malala’s story.  The story speaks of family, standing up for what you believe in, and impresses the value of education.  I also love that it teaches that you are never too young to make a difference!

Book # 5

Brave Stacy MacAnulty- culturally-responsive-children's-literature-Read-Alouds

This book is fantastic for showing children how they can be brave under any circumstance, and for showing African American boys in a manner that they are not often shown in.  Just look at the cover illustration.  I love that he is shown wearing glasses with a head full of curly hair.  Go to the last page of the book and you will see another very lovely way that he is portrayed.  These two particular illustrations really go against the grain and reject ethnic stereotypes of our male, African-American students.  I became a little teary-eyed (actually, on pretty much every page) on that last page.

Book # 6

The Matchbox Diary by Paul Fleischman

The Matchbox Diary-culturally-responsive-diversity-immigration-emigration

This book is the perfect place to begin if you are trying to expose students to the fact that everyone originally came to the United States from another country-Everyone.  It is beautifully written, shares the bond that family can have, and has wonderful illustrations.  This book is a diamond in the rough!

Book # 7

She Loved Baseball:  The Effa Manley Story by Audrey Vernick

The Effa Manley Story-culturally-responsive-gender-roles-women-girls

First off, the illustrations had me at hello!  I love this fact because students that are not able to read words well independently, can still “read the story” visually.  I am not familiar with the illustrator, but am now really excited to learn more about him.

Now, the story… I am thrilled to have discovered this book!  It tells the OTHER side of the side and shares the aftermath of the cultural integration of African Americans into the Major Leagues.  What do you think began to happen to the Negro Leagues once integration took place?  Honestly, I never even reflected upon that.  This book shares the struggle through the eyes of Ms. Effa Manley.  **There is actually so much more to this story about this dynamic woman, but I don’t want to share anything that will give it away!  This is a must read!!

Book # 8

The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi

The Name Jar-China-student-names-culture-culturally-responsive-America

Unhei is a little girl that has come to America from and struggles with the way that other students, her new peers and classmates, respond when she tries to share her name with them.  The colors are as delicate as Unhei and I love the diverse characters that have been included.  This book would be great to share with your students/children at the beginning of the school year (or during a time when a new student might join your class) when you begin to “All About Me” activities and introductions.

My name is Sangoel by Karen Lynn William

My Name is Sangoel-African-names-diversity-cultural-responsiveness-culture-heritage

In the story, Sangoel is upset that the other students cannot say his name correctly.  Sangoel’s mother suggests that they create an American name for him to make things easier.  However, Sangoel remembers the wise words that were shared with him before he left his home country, and does not want to change his name.
Note:  I didn’t include this story in my official list because I have not personally read it yet. {I did just order it, though!}  I discovered it on Amazon and it grabbed my attention right away.  Vibrant water colors help to tell this story.  The pages that I was able to view spoke of the challenges of many African students that come to the U.S.  Often, there are many letters and vowels in these students’ names.  It can be a challenge for those whom are trying to pronounce them by “American spelling patterns”.  In the story, Sangoel is upset that the other students cannot say his name correctly.  Sangoel’s mother suggests that they create an American name for him to make things easier.  However, Sangoel remembers the wise words that were shared with him before he left his home country, and does not want to change his name.
Many times we butcher names that are unfamiliar to us.  Or, worse, make ill comments about them. The most hurtful reaction is to give the student a nickname or change their name. We cannot do this to our children.  They are all our children.  Learn the correct pronunciation of each student’s name. Your name is your identity and your legacy.  Show students how much you see them and value them. Learn how to read, pronounce, and spell their names correctly.  Be the amazing culturally responsive educator that I know that you can be!
I experienced this with a student that was not in my class, but was the younger sister of a student that I had taught.  I, too, was trying to pronounce her name based on the way that it was spelled.  I would try to sound out the vowels the way that they were arranged.  I could NEVER pronounce this sweet little girl’s name correctly.  I would ask her to teach me, apologize for being inept at saying it correctly, hug her and tell her that her name was beautiful, AND I promised to learn how to say it correctly.  It, literally, took me all year to learn it, but I did.  What did I do?  I chunked her name (mentally) and tried to teach myself a way to pronounce it.  In essence (I cannot recall how to spell it), her name was “chin-eye-aye”.  I put movement to the pronunciation (solely for myself and not in a way that she would see me do).  I would touch my chin, touch my eye, and then raise a hand in celebration for the “aye”.  Do whatever it takes.  Learn each student’s name correctly!  I’m sending you all virtual hugs here.  We can do this.  We must do this!

Book # 9

I’m a Pretty Little Black Girl

 I'm a Pretty Little Black Girl-girls-African-American-girls-self-esteem-culturally-responsive-read-alouds

African-American-girls-beauty-self-esteem-self-worth-pride     Take a little peek inside!

My self-esteem went through the roof when I encountered this book in Target this summer.  That title!  How amazing is that!  What a wonderful way for African Americans girls to have their beauty acknowledged in such a profound way.  Too often African Americans girls are left to judge, compare, and evaluate their beauty based upon Eurocentric beauty standards.  This holds true for the majority of African American girls; particularly for girls with deeper melanin.  I’m one of those deeper-melanined girls.  I love that this story speaks of friendship, going to school, and shows all of the glorious shades of brown hues that cultivate African Americans.  You can see my Instagram post on this book here.

Book # 10

Abuela by Arthur Dorros


I love that this story is cross-generational.  It shares the relationship of a granddaughter with her adventurous Abuela, grandmother.  The book is primarily written in English, but wonderfully has Spanish phrases seamlessly weaved throughout.  The illustrations are lovely and they depict a variety of ethnicities.  This is another classic, and for good reason!

Here is a bonus selection of books and a great tip for you!

You can begin with classic stories like fairy tales.  Take the story of Cinderella.  Find as many different cultural representations of the story.  Read each of them to your students.  What do they take notice of?  As a class, you can compare and contrast the stories.  Which is each student’s favorite? Why?  Make it even more cross-curricular by tossing in math!  Graph each student’s preference and then analyze the results.  My students love when I read the different variations.  I mean love them!  I think that your students will, too.  Here is a sample of books that you can choose from.

The title of the book that is out of view is Yeh-Shen:  A Cinderella Story from China

You can view what I shared on my Instagram feed.
A post shared by Tania (@teach_me_t) on

Here is another great example!

Little Red and the Very Hungry Lion by Alex T. Smith

A sweet and sassy spin on Little Red Riding Hood where Little Red outsmarts the lion.  Honestly, the story is great up until the end.  I’m not sure…. I felt like the story just-ended.  Maybe ended too soon?  Not soon enough?  It was still a great story and is definitely worth reading.

Little Red Riding Hood:  Retold and Illustrated by Fred Crump, Jr.


This is a “traditional retelling of this Classic.  The Woodcutter is included in this retelling. I love the illustrations!  My students have always loved them, too.  These are the books that my kids will ask me where they are if they can’t find them.  You can probably tell that I am a huge art fan, and beautiful and vibrant illustrations get me every time.  Mr. Crump has many retellings of classic Fairy Tales with the most fabulous titles like Afrotina and the Three Bears. Brilliant!!  Be sure to check them all out!  

This is a list of just a few of my favorites.  Believe me, I love so many books that it took me quite a while to decide which ones to share with you.  I hope that you will come to enjoy these books just as deeply as my students and I do.  Let me know how much your students enjoy these stories!  All of the books that I have included have links within their title that you can click if you would like to purchase them for your classroom or home.  They are Amazon Affiliate links.

Enjoy these amazing stories with your students!


3 Responses

  1. Hello,I am an author with a new book I thought you might would like to look at. It is centered around the theme of self esteem.

    www,adventuresofkimberlite.comCharmane Echols, Author

  2. Hello, Ms. Echols,

    Thank you for reading my blog post, and for reaching out to me. I would love to read your book! I will leave you my email address via your website.

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A Black female standing in front of three black boxes that are stacked on top of each other. I am wearing a blue, denim dress that is tied at the waist. My hair is in long braids.

Hi, I'm Tania!

I help creative and time-conscious teachers plan student-centered lessons that interest and motivate student learning so that lesson planning takes less time and is actually enjoyable! 

Learn more about me and how I can help you here.

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