05/27/2014 04:44 pm ET Updated Jul 23, 2014

Help Your Kids Find Books With Diverse Characters

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By Regan McMahon, Common Sense Media Book Editor

There's been a lot of talk lately about the lack of diversity in books for kids and teens. Newbery Award-winning children's author Walter Dean Myers caused quite a stir with his recent New York Times essay "Where Are the People of Color in Children's Books?"

The numbers don't lie (one study found that in a study of 3,200 of the 5,000 children's books published in 2013, just 93 were about Black people). But as a children's book critic, I'm definitely seeing a trend in authors featuring diverse casts in the novels that come across my desk.​ What these books of all genres have in common is telling stories with diverse characters where race isn't the central issue in the storyline. Instead, the issues are solving mysteries, defeating bad guys, coping with loss, following your destiny and more. And readers see reflected a multicultural world where it's normal for young people of different cultures and national heritage to work together to get the job done. ​​

Here are just five examples: 

1. Randi Rhodes Ninja Detective: The Case of the Time-Capsule Bandit (age 8+)
In this mystery series for tweens by Oscar-winning actress Octavia Spencer, strong female main character Randi is white, her amateur detective friends are a hearing-impaired Latino boy and an African-American boy and her nanny is Chinese-American. 

2. Spirit Animals (age 8+)
In this multi-platform fantasy series written by various authors, including Brandon Mull and Maggie Stiefvater, the four main characters are Black, Asian, white and a street urchin of unspecified race.

3. Heroes of Olympus (age 10+)
Rick Riordan's fantasy adventure series -- a Percy Jackson series spin-off -- features a Chinese-Canadian character, an African-American girl from New Orleans and a Mexican-American boy. (And Riordan's Kane Chronicles books center on siblings with a Black father and white mother.)

4. Counting by 7s (age 10+)
In Holly Goldberg Sloan's stunning coming-of-age novel, the 12-year-old protagonist is a self-described "person of color" who cobbles together a family with a Mexican taxi driver, a white school counselor, two Vietnamese-American teens and their Vietnamese mom.

5. Dust Girl (age 12+)
This trilogy has a strong female main character who's half-human and half-fairy, and her human side is half-white and half-African-American. An intricate blend of fantasy and historical fiction, it mixes in Celtic, African-American and Native American folklore and musical traditions. 

We know how challenging it can be for parents of children of color to find books in which characters of their ethnicity are represented -- and not limited to tired stereotypes or only relegated to minor characters. And we know how beneficial it can be for kids of all backgrounds to understand the motivations, points of view and cultural and historical issues of people unlike themselves through stories. 

To find more of these kinds of books, check out this Books with Characters of Color list. It includes more than 80 books of all genres for early readers through teens in high school. And don't miss Common Sense Media's new research report about Children, Teens, and Reading. Discover the startling statistics -- and what you can do to get your kids back into books.

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