Over 100 Diverse Chapter Books that Every Upper Elementary Teacher Needs

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A few days ago, a former student teacher reached out asking for suggestions of third grade chapter books. She is getting her own classroom in the fall and wanted to get a jump start on developing her classroom library. I absolutely LOVE talking about books and was eager to help out. I teach fifth grade, so I did a quick Google search to supplement the books that had instantly popped into my mind to make sure that I was giving her suggestions that were best for her grade level.

“Third grade chapter books” was the first Google search phrase I used. What turned up was a list of chapter books that were indeed suitable choices for third graders, but that completely lacked was any representation of IBPOC (indigenous/Black/person of color) children. It seemed like each article I clicked on was just the same compilation of Beverly Clearly and Roald Dahl books. It wasn’t until I added “diverse” to my search phrase that books with characters who actually look like the children we teach started popping up.

This is wrong. The majority of children taught in America’s public schools are children of color, so why are the books that fill school and classroom libraries so white? When children look at the books in their school, they should see themselves reflected back. They should also see glimpses into how other children live, thereby broadening their worldview and building empathy for others. If you’re not familiar with the phrase “windows, mirrors, and sliding glass doors” coined by  Rudine Sims Bishop, I encourage you to do some research. Start here.

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If you are a teacher, you NEED to have all kinds of children represented in your library. I don’t care what kids you teach–Black, Latinx, White, whatever. White kids need books about Black kids just as much as Black kids need books about Black kids.

The purpose of this blog post is to give all teachers–new and veteran, white and IBPOC, suburban, rural, and urban–a list of titles from that will help make their library as “diverse” as possible. I’m putting “diverse” in quotations because describing books that have characters of color as “diverse” is just another way in which our society centers whiteness and makes white the norm. Instead, I like to think of these books as being representative of our country and of our world. No matter what you call it, the function stays the same. It gives IBPOC students a chance to read about kids who look like them, and it gives all students, regardless of race, a chance to build their empathy and awareness of the world around them. 

A few notes on how to use the books on this list:

  • DO NOT segregate your books. If it’s a chapter book that has a Latinx main character, it should go on the chapter book shelf. Having a bin or shelf of “Hispanic” or “African-American” books is just another way that you are centering whiteness and othering everyone else. In addition, make sure that you are highlighting these books year-round, not just during that race or ethnicity’s heritage month.
  • Make sure a variety of experiences and time periods are represented. Imagine how you would feel if you were a Black student and all of the books in your teacher’s library with Black characters took place during the Civil Rights Movement or slavery. IBPOC kids deserve to read about other IBPOC kids doing the same things they do–going to school, making friends, etc. Of course, adding non-fiction and historical fiction books enhances your library, but make sure that IBPOC characters can be found on all of your shelves and not just in some genres.
  • Evaluate what you’re using for read-alouds. If you use chapter book read alouds, like I do, consider what message you are sending with your book selections. While my read aloud selections this past year represented a wider range of races and genders, that wasn’t always the case. My first year of teaching, I didn’t read a single book that included characters of color, and my school was 99% Latinx or Black. By only reading books that featured white protagonists, I did my students a huge disservice. Don’t make my mistake. Use some of these books as read alouds to show your students that all experiences, not just some, are worth hearing and learning from.

Alright, without further ado, here’s the list. Like I said earlier, I teach fifth grade, but the books on this list could be suitable for third, fourth, or fifth grade classrooms, depending on the child’s individual reading level and his or her maturity. You know your students best and should preview the texts before adding them to your library.

I have broken down the list into different categories to make it easier to navigate and I have also put an asterisk* by the titles I have used as read-alouds in my classroom. Finally, I have limited this list to chapter books, graphic novels, or poetry/short story compilations. I am less of an expert when it comes to picture books, so if you’re hungry for more in that department, head over to this blog post. 

Black/African/African-American Protagonists

Latinx/Hispanic Protagonists

Biracial/Multiracial Protagonists

Asian American/Asian/Middle Eastern/Indian Protagonists

Native American/Indigenous Peoples Protagonists

Stories with Multiple Diverse Protagonists

I hope this lists helps you evaluate your own classroom library and create a reading community that is representative of the world around us. If you have more suggestions for diverse books, please leave them in a comment!


One thought on “Over 100 Diverse Chapter Books that Every Upper Elementary Teacher Needs

  1. As a new teacher, and as someone striving for more representation in the classroom, I am beyond grateful for this!!! Thank you for the list of suggestions – I can’t wait to use em.


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