When we started Dotters Books back in 2017, one of our main goals was that any person could come into the shop and find themselves in a book. That goal extended to our children’s books as we knew how important it was for young readers to literally see themselves in the illustrations on the pages of their favorite stories.
While the publishing industry has been working to amplify the voices of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) writers and their characters, more needs to be done. This also extends to female characters. Peruse your children’s bookshelves and take note of the main characters in their favorite stories. Chances are that many of them feature white boys. With that in mind, I’ve put together a list of some of my favorite books with BIPOC Girl protagonists.
If I could make one more suggestion, take the same inventory with your own books. How many are written by white men? A few years ago, when I resolved to start reading more books by women and BIPOC writers, I was startled by the lack of true diversity on my shelves and I immediately recognized the privilege inherent in that lack of awareness - as well as the systemic racism built into my education in English literature and its focus on dead, white, male authors. Our kids watch us - more than I’d like to admit - and learn from our own habits. If we are intentional about what we’re reading, we’ll also be intentional about what they are reading. They’ll insist on it.
Raising Antiracist kids is activism.
Chirri & Chirra: Under the Sea written and illustrated by Kaya Doi, translated from the Japanese by David Boyd
Chirri & Chirra are my favorite bike-riding duo. Throughout Kaya Doi’s six-book series, Chirri & Chirra are fearless and adventure-seeking, exploring a forest, a prairie, a snowy landscape, an underground tunnel, a nearby town; and in their latest adventure, Under the Sea, the girls spend their day underwater. The girls travel all over on their bikes - first to a sea parlor where they eat delicious treats like sea-spray parfait a la conch. Then they attend a magical musical performance with a family of squid. The bright and beautiful illustrations match the whimsical atmosphere perfectly. These books are an absolutely delightful celebration of imagination - and a wonderful example of the adventures that await when you greet the world with kindness.
Birdsong written and illustrated by Julie Flett
Julie Flett is a Cree-Métis author, illustrator and artist. Her book, Birdsong, tells the story of a year in the life of a girl who has just moved with her mother to a new home. The story is split into seasons, and Katherena is able to find inspiration for her drawing in each of them. She also spends time with her elderly neighbor, Agnes, a pottery artist, who teaches her about the phases of the moon and the plants that can be found around her new home. As winter sets in, Agnes begins to feel sick, and Katherena and her mother take care of her, sending soup and spending time with her. Katherena and Agnes’s relationship is a lovely example of genuine friendship between a young girl and an elderly woman. Flett’s illustrations are unforgettable, and her story is one of quiet respect for Cree culture and the world around us.
Antiracist Baby by Ibram X. Kendi, illustrated by Ashley Lukashevsky
The newest book by Ibram X. Kendi, National Book Award-winning author of Stamped from the Beginning and How To Be An Antiracist, is Antiracist Baby, the absolutely essential board book for every book collection. If you have kids, or you spend time with kids, or you think you might want kids someday, you should buy this book. It gives you the language to talk to kids about racism and antiracism. If, like me, you’ve been struggling to talk with your kids in a way that is clear, concise, and easy to understand, Kendi’s book is a great place to start. The illustrations are fun, engaging, and the definition of diverse. And I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the language helps you, the caregiver, on your personal antiracism journey. I know it has been helping me.
The Old Truck written and illustrated by Jarrett and Jerome Pumphrey
This is the story of a girl and a truck. The protagonist of the story grows up on a farm with her parents, working hard and dreaming big. As the girl grows older, so does the truck. Eventually, the truck falls into disrepair and it is all but abandoned by the girl and her parents. But then, the girl takes over her parents’ farm and revives the truck, teaching her own daughter about the value of hard work and persistence, and the joy that comes from finding a place to call home. The Old Truck is written and illustrated by brothers Jarrett and Jerome Pumphrey, and their connection is palpable on the page. They have written a beautiful and essential story of the importance of dreaming and the freedom that comes from knowing you belong.
My Papi Has a Motorcycle by Isabel Quintero, illustrated by Zeke Pena
Isabel Quintero’s book, My Papi Has a Motorcycle, is a celebration of the special relationship between a girl and her father, and the pride she feels in her neighborhood and her family. Each night, when Daisy’s dad gets home from work, she runs out to join him on a motorcycle ride through her city. They pass their favorite businesses and murals celebrating their history as migrant workers. They outrun barking dogs as Daisy imagines they are caught up in a race around corners and through traffic. Papi rides past Abuelita and Abuelito’s house and shows Daisy the homes that he is working to build. Throughout their journey, words are written in both Spanish and English, giving readers the chance to further connect to Daisy’s culture and heritage. Her neighborhood, and the people in it, hum with life - all against the backdrop of the setting sun.