Children’s literature has come a long way, and there are countless incredible books out there featuring prominent characters of all colors, shapes, abilities, and genders. Unfortunately diverse books specifically for outdoor kids are still hard to find, though we are hoping through awareness that will change.
Exposure through words and images to different races, cultures, and abilities is a great way to create space for conversations with our kids. It helps us engage with their questions and learn together with them how to increase our understanding and acceptance of differences.
Chelsea is an all-around rad adventure mama with a heart for diversity and representation in the outdoors, and she shared so much profound wisdom with our community. One of her passions is seeing kids of all shapes, sizes, and colors represented in children’s literature.
Here are a few of Chelsea’s (and our) favorite children’s books featuring diverse authors and characters.
Again, note the list focused on diverse outdoor-themed picture books sadly isn’t long so we included many (many) others that can help fill that space until more books come along.
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Diverse Books for Outdoor Kids
Outdoor-Themed Picture Books
Inspired by her own adventures with her young daughter, these three books introduce kids to interracial friendships, Leave No Trace principles, and overcoming fears in the outdoors.
A Different Pond by Bao Phi
This beautifully illustrated book tells the story of a Vietnamese refugee family and the bond established between father and son as they go on an urban fishing outing together.
The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats
A simple, classic story of a young boy trying to capture and preserve the magic of the first snowfall.
The Not-So Great Outdoors by Madeline Kloepper
A reluctant camper, hesitant to leave behind the familiarity of city life, discovers that there is fun, wonder, and beauty to be found in nature.
Hiking Day by Anne Rockwell
Perfect for introducing littles to the idea of hiking – this book walks through a young girl’s first hike with her family and all she learns and encounters along the way.
The Hike by Alison Farrell
Filled with detailed illustrations, nature facts, and observations from the sketchbook of a budding naturalist, this book follows the journey of 3 girls and their dog as they explore the trails in their own backyard.
Ben’s Adventures: Day at the Beach by Elizabeth Gerlach
Ben is a young boy in a wheelchair, and this book explores all that he can do, see, and enjoy at the beach with his family.
General Diverse Picture Books
Don’t Touch My Hair by Sharee Miller
A sweet (and sassy!) empowering story about a girl who is learning to draw personal boundaries surrounding others touching her hair.
I Am Enough by Grace Byers
Lovely, poetic encouragement for kiddos to embrace who they are and extend that same kindness to others.
Feel Confident! by Cheri Meiners
A strong message of empowerment encouraging to speak up, respect themselves and others, and try new things.
Happy Right Now by Julie Berry
Teaches kids basic emotional intelligence skills in a fun, clever, practical way.
Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story by Kevin Noble Maillard
A beautiful, vibrant picture of a Native American family and how this particular traditional food bonds them together.
Bowwow Powwow by Brenda Child
An imaginative tale that brings to life a young girl’s vivid dreams inspired by her experience at a Powwow with her uncle.
The Many Colors of Harpreet Singh by Supriya Kelkar
A young Sikh boy explores his emotions surrounding a cross-country move, using his patka (traditional Sikh turban) to help express how he feels.
The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander
Poetic, powerful, provocative celebration of black life in America – from the unspeakable trauma of slavery to the unparalleled artistic genius that emerged in its wake and still thrives today.
The Boy Who Grew a Forest: The True Story of Jadav Payeng by Sophia Gholz
Based on the inspiring true story of a young boy in India who began planting trees to combat erosion and deforestation on his island home.
Tokyo Digs a Garden by Jon-Erik Lappano
Whimsically blending environmentalism and imagination, a story of magical seeds that transform Tokyo’s home city back to its natural, undeveloped state.
Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña
Follow CJ and his grandma on their bus ride across town, as CJ wonders about different people and circumstances they encounter and learns from his grandma’s wise words.
The Barefoot Book of Children by Tessa Strickland & Kate Depalma
A celebration of kids around the world and the importance of considering our own place.
Parker Looks Up: An Extraordinary Moment by Parker Curry
Exploring the profound impact it has on a young black girl’s sense of hope and possibility when she sees a portrait of Michelle Obama on display at a museum.
Saturday by Oge Mora
Heartfelt story of a mother and daughter’s special day together – plan after plan goes wrong, but they are reminded that being together is the most important thing of all.
Between Us and Abuela: A Family Story from the Border by Mitali Perkins
Maria and Juan travel to the California/Mexico border to deliver Christmas gifts to their grandmother through the fence.
Bee-Bim Bop! by Linda Sue Park
A hungry child helps her grandmother make this traditional Korean dish of rice, meat, and vegetables.
Mixed Me! by Taye Diggs
Charming story about a day in the life of a mixed-race child, including all of his unique questions and joys.
Middle Grade Books
Crossing the Wire by Will Hobbs
A teenage boy makes the dangerous journey across the border from Mexico into the United States.
12-year-old twins Josh & Jordan come to grips with the harsh realities of life both on and off the basketball court.
A motherless boy on the run in search of his father (Bud, Not Buddy – set in the 1930s) and a family’s trip to visit their grandmother that takes a dark turn (The Watsons Go to Birmingham – set in the 1960s).
One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia
Three sisters travel to Oakland, California in 1968 to meet the mother who abandoned them.
A vivid collection of poems reflecting on growing up as an African-American in the 1960s and 1970s (Brown Girl Dreaming) and a young boy navigating the loss of his family and his experience in the foster care system (Locomotion).
You Bring the Distant Near by Mitali Perkins
The immigrant story of an Indian-American family told across three generations.
Piecing Me Together by Renée Watson
A young girl wrestles with wanting to break out of her poor neighborhood, but resisting the idea that she needs to be helped, fixed, or seen as the object of charity in order to do so.
The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street by Karina Yan Glaser
A large, biracial family fights to stay in their beloved brownstone when their landlord decides not to renew their lease.
New Kid by Jerry Craft
Jordan’s parents send him to private school for seventh grade, where he is one of the only students of color and struggles with finding his place.
The People Could Fly by Virginia Hamilton
Stunning collection of 24 black American folktales.
The Science of Breakable Things by Tae Keller
A young girl’s quest to inspire her mother through her battle with depression.
Marcus Vega Doesn’t Speak Spanish by Pablo Cartaya
After being sent to Puerto Rico to reconnect with relatives, young Marcus goes on a quest to locate his long-lost father who he knows is somewhere on the island.
The House that Lou Built by Mae Repecio
Lou takes on a summer project of building herself a tiny house so she can have a place to get a break from her large, extended Filipino family.
Young Adult Books
The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
A series of vignettes about a young Latina girl growing up in Chicago.
Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed
A Pakistani girl’s dreams of an education dissolve when she is forced into indentured servitude.
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
After witnessing the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend by a police officer, 16-year-old Starr wrestles with her role in uncovering the truth of what happened as her community is torn apart by protests.
The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon
As her family sits on the brink of deportation to Jamaica, Natasha finds herself falling in love with a boy in spite of her best efforts not to.
American Street by Ibi Zoboi
A young Haitian immigrant seeks to establish her footing in a strange new American world.
Dear Martin by Nic Stone
Justyce starts writing a journal to Dr. Martin Luther King as a way of reckoning with his own encounters with social injustice.
Are your kids voracious readers? Finished these lists and need more material? TMM Team Member Jackie has some wonderful book recommendations for outdoor lovers of all ages.
Diverse Books for Grown-Ups
The concept of diversifying your bookshelf isn’t just for kids! Here are some great places to start if you’re looking to educate yourself on issues of race and justice or simply hear stories told from different cultural perspectives than the mainstream.
Adult Fiction Books
The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Incredibly rich, complicated, and imaginative story of a man who is the son of both slave and master and his journey to freedom and participation on the Underground Railroad.
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
The story of a young black girl who prays for her eyes to be blue so that she can attain what the society around her has told her is the standard of beauty.
Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
An intimate portrait of three generations of a mixed-race family in the deep south and their mysterious interactions with figures from the past who haunt them as they try to make sense of their present.
There There by Tommy Orange
The weaving together of twelve separate characters, all from Native American communities, all traveling to the Oakland Powwow and connected in ways they may not yet realize.
Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo
A Nigerian couple that struggles with infertility, wrestling with all of the cultural and familial expectations and heartaches that come with such a struggle.
An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
Newlyweds whose relationship is put to the test when one of them is arrested and sent to prison for a crime his wife knows that he didn’t commit.
The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom
A dark secret threatens to expose the best and worst in everyone tied to the estate at a thriving plantation in Virginia in the decades before the Civil War.
Adult Non-Fiction Books
So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
Guides readers of all races through subjects ranging from intersectionality and affirmative action to “model minorities” in an attempt to make the seemingly impossible possible: honest conversations about race and racism, and how they infect almost every aspect of American life.
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
A black father’s letter to his adolescent son, sharing the story of his awakening to the truth about his place in the world and his reckoning with both history and present reality.
The Color of Life: A Journey Toward Love and Racial Justice by Cara Meredith
As a white woman married to the son of a civil rights icon and raising mixed-race children, Cara’s memoir details her journey out of so-called colorblindness and onto a beautiful path from white privilege toward racial healing.
White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo
Referring to the defensive moves that white people make when challenged racially, white fragility is characterized by emotions such as anger, fear, and guilt, and by behaviors including argumentation and silence. In this in-depth exploration, DiAngelo examines how white fragility develops, how it protects racial inequality, and what we can do to engage more constructively.
Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
The story of the young lawyer who founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending those most desperate and in need: the poor, the wrongly condemned, and women and children trapped in the farthest reaches of our criminal justice system.
I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown
From a powerful new voice on racial justice, an eye-opening account of what it means to grow up Black, Christian, and female in middle-class white America.
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
This in-depth book shows that, by targeting black men and decimating communities of color, the U.S. criminal justice system functions as a contemporary system of racial control, even as it formally adheres to the principle of color blindness.
Rethinking Incarceration: Advocating for Justice That Restores by Dominique DuBois Gilliard
Written from a Christian perspective, this book explores the history and foundation of mass incarceration, examining Christianity’s role in its evolution and expansion. He then shows how Christians can pursue justice that restores and reconciles, offering creative solutions and highlighting innovative interventions.
Me and White Supremacy by Layla F Saad
Based on the viral Instagram challenge that captivated participants worldwide, this book takes readers on a 28-day journey of how to dismantle the privilege within themselves so that they can stop (often unconsciously) inflicting damage on people of color, and in turn, help other white people do better, too.
More Caught Than Taught
As we all know, you can tell your kids what you value until you’re blue in the face. But if you’re not modeling it for them it’s much less likely to stick!
We’re all real moms here. We’re all going to do this imperfectly. But as our founder Amelia reminds us in her post “I’m a Real Mom Too”, doing it messily is so much better than not doing it all.
This applies to so many areas of motherhood, am I right?!? From getting our kids out the front door to getting them to open up about racial bias, we have to get comfortable with having our hands dirty and our palms a little bit sweaty.
Taking in viewpoints different than our own, having uncomfortable conversations with our kids, and speaking up when we see injustice are all great ways to instill lasting values of respect, equality, and kindness in our kiddos.
And remember that kids are naturally open and curious. Teaching them to engage with difference begins with creating space for simply noticing the world and people around them.
TMM Team Member Valerie wrote a beautiful piece on The Study of Nature, and her principles of asking questions, observing, and learning to love are incredibly relevant to this conversation as well.
From Ideas to Action – Next Steps
Wondering what to do with what you read? Let your bookshelf be just the beginning of the journey! If you don’t find these titles at your local library or your child’s school, advocate for that to change.
Get creative about finding opportunities for your kids to experience other cultures. Do you live near a Native American community? Do they put on a powwow or cultural celebration that is open to the public?
Regardless of where you call home, the land itself has a complex history that you can acknowledge and explore with your kids. The Native Land map (also available as an app) is a great place to start in developing a habit of researching the history of the land where you live, play, and explore.
Could you start a book club with folks in your community and tackle some of these tough subjects together? There is so much learning (and un-learning!) for us to do when it comes to racial justice, and all of our kids will benefit immensely when we put in this hard work while they’re young.
What else? Any other books that have helped open up or shift your perspective on race? How are you opening up these tough conversations with your littles? We would love to hear from you!
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