Sunday, August 30, 2009

Good Question - early readers with children of color

I've been searching for some good books for early readers that have children of color as the main characters. Our wonderful librarian Dawn, at the Claremont Branch of the Berkeley Public Library, helped me find a few. Here are some great suggestions. These are for very early readers. I'll do a post later with books for slightly more advanced readers.
Hamster Chase (Easy-to-Read, Puffin)
by Anastasia Suen
illustrations by Allan Eitzen
NY: Puffin Books, 2001
ages 4 - 7
When Peter takes his class hamster out of the cage, the little guy escapes! Peter and his friends Archie and Annie search the classroom for Mikey the hamster, but every time they get close Mikey escapes. Children love pets and this story will hook them from the beginning. How will they be able to get the hamster back to his cage? The illustrations are full of color, realistic and engaging. They help the children read the text and pull them into the story. Hamster Chase is a Level 2 Puffin reader. Here's the text from the first page:
Peter took the hamster
out of his cage.
"I'm going to miss you
next week, Mikey," he said.
"Why?" asked Archie.
"It will be Amy's turn
to take care of him," said Peter.
My 5 year old daughter loved Hamster Chase - she wanted me to read it to her three times the first night! This is part of a series of early readers called Peter's Neighborhood, based on the beloved characters created by Ezra Jack Keats. Other titles include: The Loose Tooth and The Clubhouse. If you like this, be sure to check out Anastasia Suen's blogs: Picture Book of the Day and 5 Great Books. She's the author of over 100 books for children.
Get The Ball, Slim
a Real Kids Reader, Level 1
by Marcia Leonard
photographs by Dorothy Handelman
CT: The Millbrook Press, 1998.
ages 4 - 7
Get the Ball, Slim is a great book for very beginning readers. Tim and his twin Jim are two real kids who want to play ball with their dog Slim. When they hit their ball too far, Slim has to chase it down and find it. I love the photographs that are in this book - they are vivid, clear, full of emotion and so real.

Part of me asks, what crazy family calls their kids Tim and Jim, and their dog Slim? But this is important for kids who are working on reading certain patterns. The text contains short, easy words - both with phonics patterns and site words. Here's the text from the first 10 pages - it's spread out with lots of pictures, and is easier for new readers to tackle.
I am Tim.
My twin is Jim.
We play ball with our dog Slim.
I get my mitt, the ball and bat. I get the dog....
Jim gets his hat.
This is a great series that shows children of today. I really want to see Best Friends. Here's what School Library Journal says about it: "Best Friends, the most successful title, includes two girls who describe their differences and similarities, concluding with a statement of strong friendship."

A series that I would like to read is the Just For You! series by Scholastic. They are early readers that feature African-American children. Has anyone read these? I'm tracking them down. Here are a few titles: Low-down Bad-day BluesThree's A Crowd

I'd like to finish with a thought. No matter our race or background, we need to share with our children books with all people of all races, ethnicities and backgrounds. Our books at home and in our schools need to reflect all our kids. I loved the way the illustrator Jesse Joshua Watson said it recently, "When someone reads a story with a black character and begins to empathize with them and crawl into their skin and their problems, major construction has been done in the heart of the reader." See his interview on Writers Against Racism.

These books came from my local public library. Find them at your local public library on Worldcat or at Amazon.


  1. Author Patricia McKissack has one called Tippy Lemmey, she also as a early chapter series Miami Makes the Play is one of the books.

    These books are so hard to find. You must link this to Color Me Brown and Diversity Rocks Challenge.

    And thanks for letting me know about Taste of Salt by Temple - checked it out from the library

  2. My boys love Here Comes Tabby Cat by Phyllis Root, Yo Yes! by Chris Raschka, Pup Speaks Up by Anna Jane Hays and Small Wolf by Nathanial Benchley. Those are all very beginning readers.

    When you get to beginning chapter books (about second grade level) we LOVE Ann Cameron's The Stories Julian Tells, The Stories Huey Tells, and Gloria Rising. Cameron is a fabulous writer and the books are wonderful. The characters are mainly African American but race is not part of the plot. They are smart, funny, regular kids in great families having adventures. They work really well as read alouds for kids not reading independently. My boys can't wait till we get to story time to find out what happens next.