Interracial Family Themes
in Picture Books

ALLISON by Allen Say (Houghton Mifflin, 1997). When she tries on her kimono, Allison realizes that she looks more like Mei Mei, the doll she's always had, than she does either of her parents. She breaks some of her parents’ things, and she says she doesn't belong to them. But by befriending a stray cat, Allison subtly comes to find there are many ways to create a family. A story linked to international adoption. Ages 4-up.

THE AUNT IN OUR HOUSE by Angela Johnson with pictures by David Soman (Orchard, 1996). I wonder what it is that makes the apparently white aunt so thoughtful as she joins the household of her brother, his African-American wife, and their children. Something in the art and text suggests that this is something of a refuge for her, or perhaps I'm reading it wrong. But it's clear that "our house" is not the problem. The aunt loves the children and their parents and, of course, the safe house. One of those rare books that shows a family that just happens to be bi-racial rather than having that theme central to the story (there is a need for both, but this type is less common). Ages 4-up.

Black Is Brown Is TanBLACK IS BROWN IS TAN by Arnold Adoff with pictures by Emily McCully (HarperCollins, 1973). A slice of life illustrated poem that will especially appeal to very young children, featuring a family of two children with a white father and African American mother. The tone is joyful, loving, a celebration of hue and family. A good introductory book to mixed-race family themes. Ages 3-up. A new edition of this title is available from Harper with "updated" (more contemporary) illustrations.

BON ODORI DANCER by Karen Kawaamoto McCoy and Carolina Yao (Polychrome, 1998). Keiko wants to perform traditional Japanese dances at the Obon festival, but she's just not naturally graceful. A friendship story with stylized art, notably including both black and brown haired Japanese American children. As an interracial family, we salute the illustrator's inclusiveness! Ages 4-up.

BONJOUR, LONNIE by Faith Ringgold (Hyperion, 1996). In this time travel story, Love Bird takes Lonnie back in time to Paris to meet his black grandfather and white grandmother, who are then met by Lonnie’s parents. His father was killed in World War II, and his Jewish mom sent him away for safekeeping while she was taken by the Nazis. Love Bird then returns Lonnie to his new home. This is a sophisticated picture book that touches on a variety of important moments and trends in history. Though themes of connection and reunion will be understood by young readers, it is perhaps best appreciated by older ones. Excellent introduction to the Harlem Renaissance and the migration of African-Americans to Paris. Ages 5-up, but also 7-up.

Bringing Asha Home bookcoverBRINGING ASHA HOME by Uma Krishnaswami, illustrated by Jamel Akib (Lee & Low, 2006). How Arun aches for the arrival of his adopted baby sister, Asha, expected any day from India. How long it takes! Will Rakhi Day, the Hindu holiday of brothers and sisters, somehow still connect these long-distance siblings? Ages 4-up.

BROWN LIKE ME by Noelle Lamperti (New Victoria Publishers, 1999). A simple, charming text, illustrated in photographs guides young readers through this concept book reflecting an African-American child adopted by a white family. Child's point of view with forward by Dr. Jacqueline Wallen, Associate Professor, Department of Family Studies, University of Maryland, College Park, whose own children are brown and adopted. Ages 2-up.

THE COLORS OF US by Karen Katz (Holt, 1999). Lena, who is the color of cinnamon, is ready to start painting. When her artist mom starts asking Lena about the colors of brown, Lena says, "But Mom, brown is brown." A walk with her French-toast color mom shows Lena all the beautiful colors of her family, friends, and community. This isn't explicitly an interracial book, but clearly the celebrated diversity of coloring in the characters suggests mixed ancestries and advocates both pride and tolerance in relationship to difference. Sweet, cute, joyful. Author-illustrator Katz is the adoptive mother of the real Lena, who came into her family from Guatemala. Ages 4-up.

DUMPLING SOUP by Jama Kim Rattigan, illustrated by Lillian Hsu-Flanders (Little Brown, 1992). Marisa enjoys preparing dumplings with her Chinese, Japanese, Korean, haole (white) family in celebration of the New Year. This charming picturebook is rare in that it's set in Hawaii and features a multiracial family. Ages 4-up.

GRANDFATHER COUNTS by Andrea Cheng and illustrated by Ange Zhang (Lee & Low, 2000). When Gong Gong (grandfather) first comes to live with Helen, she feels distanced by his inability to speak English and her inability to speak Chinese. Then, watching a train together, they begin to teach each other how to count the cars, Helen in English and Gong Gong in Chinese. In time, the two begin to bond as grandparent to child. A realistic, warm book that is not overly sentimental. Helen's family is Asian and European-American, but no issue is made of this. Ages 4-up.

HOPE by Isabell Monk, illustrated by Janice Lee Porter (Lerner, 1998). When Miss Violet asks (in *that* way) Aunt Poogee whether Hope is mixed, Hope can't get it out of her mind. Thankfully Aunt Poogee knows just what to do. She tells Hope the story of her father's immigrant family whose descendants taught others that people should be free and of her mother's once enslaved ancestors whose descendants fight the battle for civil rights. The highlight is the family wedding, a joyful depiction of both celebrating sides. And now, Hope. This reassuring book provides an platform for talking to interracial children about their heritage as well as the battles it took to provide a more open world for them. Ages 5-up.

HOW MY PARENTS LEARNED TO EAT by Ina R. Friedman and illustrated by Allen Say (Houghton Miffln, 1984). A tale of a young man from American and a young lady from Japan who appreciate and learn each other's customs as a show of love and respect, told as a flashback from the point of view of the girl who is their daughter. Charming and romantic in an age-appropriate way. My only caution is to emphasize to children that the story is historic, not contemporary. Ages 4-up.

I LOVE SATURDAYS Y DOMINGOS by Alma Flor Ada, illustrated by Elivia Savadier (Atheneum, 2002). A colorful, ethusiastic look at a young girl's alternating Saturdays with her Euro-American grandparents and her Mexican-American grandparents (a nod also is given to Native American heritage). Sprinkled with Spanish language, respectful. An excellent book. Ages 4-up. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

JALAPENO BAGELS by Natasha Wing, illustrated by Robert Casilla (Atheneum, 1996). Pablo wants to pick something from his parents' bakery to share with his classmates on International Day. Okay, the title sort of gives the story away, but it's still charming and includes a brief Spanish/Yiddish glossary and recipes! Ages 4-up.

Jingle Dancer by Cynthia Leitich SmithJINGLE DANCER by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Creek), illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu (Morrow, 2000). Jenna, a Muscogee (Creek)-Ojibwe girl, is enthusiastic about wanting to jingle dance at the upcoming powwow. With time running short, she seeks the assistance of women of her contemporary intertribal community in bringing together the remainder of her regalia. A story of reciprocity and respect. Ages 4-up.

JOURNEY HOME by Lawrence McKay, Jr., illustrated by Dom & Keunhee Lee (Lee & Low, 1998). Mai accompanies her mother on a journey from the U.S. to Vietnam to search for her mother's birth family. Their only clue is the kite Mai’s mother has had since she first came to the U.S. and was adopted by a white family. Though it is not the main theme of the book, Mai is also a child of Ango-Vietnamese heritage. This is a gentle, thoughtful story that explores the linking of worlds, loss and rediscovery, as well as the many definitions of family. Ages 5-up.

LESS THAN HALF, MORE THAN WHOLE by Kathleen Lacapa and Michael Lacapa, who also is the illustrator (Northland, 1994). When Will calls Tony "only half, or less than half Indian," Tony tries to figure out what that means. With TaTda’s (Grandfather's) help, Tony realizes that, like the Creator's gift of multicolored corn, he is whole. Ages 5-up.

LILIANA'S GRANDMOTHERS by Leyla Torres (Farrar, 1998). A look at Liliana's loving relationship with her white American grandmother, Mima, who lives in Liliana's home town and her grandmother Mama Gabina, who lives in a Spanish-speaking country. Ages 4-up.

A MAN CALLED RAVEN by Richard Van Camp with pictures by George Littlechild (Children's Book Press, 1997). A mysterious man confronts two Dogrib brothers, Chris and Toby Greyeyes, about their abusing a raven with hockey sticks. A skillful blend of cultural tradition and contemporary backdrop. Like Littlechild’s first picture book, THIS LAND IS MY LAND, here A MAN CALLED RAVEN is proudly rendered, with a mastery of color, of line, and shape. One brother is black haired with brown eyes and tan skin, the other is golden-brown haired with blue eyes and fair skin. An unfortunate flurry of well-publicized mistreatment of animals by children makes the theme of this book especially timely. Ages 5-up.

MOLLY BANNAKY by Alice McGill and illustrated by Chris K. Soentpiet (Houghton Mifflin, 1999). Molly, then 17, was exiled from England to Colonial America on a charge of stealing because she'd spilled cow milk. After working off her sentence as an indentured servant, she became working her own land in Maryland. Needing help, she bought an African slave, Bannaky, who — despite the laws and prejudice of the time — would become her husband and the father of her daughters. Although his eventual death was heartbreaking, Molly took comfort in spending time with her grandson, Benjamin Banneker — who would grow into the famed African American astronomer and mathematician. Ages 5-up.

More More More Said The BabyMORE MORE MORE SAID THE BABY: 3 LOVE STORIES by Vera B. Williams (Greenwillow, 1990). A darling child of African heritage is adored as his white Grandma's "Little Pumpkin." Also features single-race families. Inclusive in tone and content. A Caldecott Honor Book. Ages 2-up.

MUSKRAT WILL BE SWIMMING by Cheryl Savageau, illustrated by Robert Hynes, featuring a traditional story retold by Joseph Bruchac (Northland, 1996). When a young Native girl is called "Lake Rat," she is comforted by Grampa who both reveals how he was once called "Frog" because of his French-Indian heritage. Grampa shows how those intended insults are signs that the bullies don’t appreciate the joy of the frog and wonder of the lake. 1996 Notable Book for Children award from the Smithsonian. Ages 5-up.

OUR BABY FROM CHINA: AN ADOPTION STORY by Nancy D'Antonio (Whitman, 1997). A photoessay of the author and her husband's journey to China to adopt their beautiful daughter, Ariela Xiangwei. Ages 4-up.

OVER THE MOON: AN ADOPTION TALE by Karen Katz (Holt, 1997). A celebration of the good news when a family hears it's time to pick up its newest member, inspired by the author and her husband's trip to Central America to adopt their daughter, Lena. Ages 4-up.

TWO MRS. GIBSONS by Toyomi Igus, pictures by Daryl Wells (Children's Book Press, 1997). Delightful celebration of a child's love for the two Mrs. Gibson’s in her life, her Japanese-American mother and her African American grandmother. Ages 3-up.

We Wanted YouWE WANTED YOU by Liz Rosenberg, illustrated by Peter Catalanotto (Roaring Brook, 2002). The voice of parents tells young Enrique how they looked for a child, waited for him. The poetic prose and simple text are sincere and affecting. A particularly good title for those seeking international adoption themes. Ages 4-up.