From The Guide: Cultural Diversity in Middle-Grade Fiction

agosin_i lived on butterfly hillChildren’s books that acknowledge, respect, and celebrate young people from a wide variety of racial, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds are still too few and far between. These Horn Book Guiderecommended novels from 2013 and 2014 are fine examples of books that do. And for a full day of thoughtful, in-depth discussion about diversity of all kinds in books for youth, please join us on October 11, 2014, for the Horn Book at Simmons colloquium “Mind the Gaps,” at which we’ll explore the topic with authors, publishers, and others in the children’s book community. Registration is now open at

—Katrina Hedeen
Assistant Editor, The Horn Book Guide

Agosín, Marjorie  I Lived on Butterfly Hill
455 pp.     Atheneum     2014     ISBN 978-1-4169-5344-9
ebook ISBN 978-1-4424-9476-3

Gr. 4–6  Translated by E. M. O’Connor. Illustrated by Lee White. Eleven-year-old Chilean girl Celeste faces upheaval when a brutal dictator rises to power, her parents go into hiding, and she is shipped off to Maine. Threads of mysticism lend an intriguing element, but the book is best when rooted in reality, transporting readers with sensory-steeped settings and Celeste’s vividly evoked feelings of alienation. Black-and-white illustrations depict the turmoil but with a soft touch.

Cervantes, Angela  Gaby, Lost and Found
220 pp.     Scholastic     2013     ISBN 978-0-545-48945-4

Gr. 4–6  When her mom is deported to Honduras, Gaby must learn to adjust to life with her estranged father while also enduring the taunting of school bullies. However, she finds solace in her work with the local animal shelter, where she writes advertisement profiles of the abandoned pets. This bighearted book tackles the controversial topic of illegal immigration in a thoughtful and personalized way.

Farrar, Josh  A Song for Bijou
296 pp.     Walker     2013     ISBN 978-0-8027-3394-8

Gr. 4–6  “It is as if we live in two different countries: not America and Haiti, but white Flatbush and black Flatbush. They are just as different, and just as far apart,” Bijou says of Alex, a fellow Episcopalian school student in Brooklyn. Despite some uneven pacing, Farrar sensitively depicts two mature seventh graders’ sweet relationship and their struggles with race- and culture-based bullying.

Freedman, Paula J.  My Basmati Bat Mitzvah
250 pp.     Abrams/Amulet     2013    ISBN 978-1-4197-0806-0

Gr. 4–6  How could Tara let know-it-all Sheila Rosenberg get away with saying, “You’re not even Jewish,” when Tara’s Indian-born mother converted “way before I was even born”? With her bat mitzvah on the horizon, Tara secretly wonders: “Was I about to become more Jewish, or less Indian?” A warm, humorous story about cultural identity, inner harmony, and ordinary middle-school trials and tribulations.

La Valley, Josanne  The Vine Basket
252 pp.     Clarion     2013     ISBN 978-0-547-84801-3

Gr. 4–6  Mehrigul is left with heavy responsibilities on the farm after her brother flees to avoid persecution by the Chinese government; without school, Mehrigul is terrified that she’ll be forced into factory work. Then a glimpse of hope: an American woman offers to buy her baskets. Rich descriptions of Uyghur tribal life are woven into a narrative as unique as Mehrigul’s baskets.

Senzai, N. H.  Saving Kabul Corner
277 pp.     Simon     2014    ISBN 978-1-4424-8494-8
ebook ISBN 978-1-4424-8496-2

Gr. 4–6  Afghan American Ariana, her recent-refugee cousin Laila, and her best friend Mariam (from Shooting Kabul) investigate acts of sabotage and vandalism on both Ariana’s family’s grocery store and on a new competing store opened by a rival family. The characters’ deep love for their culture, described in rich, respectful detail by Senzai, is a distinguishing feature of the well-paced California-set mystery.

Woods, Brenda  The Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond
225 pp.     Penguin/Paulsen     2014     ISBN 978-0-399-25714-8

Gr. 4–6  Eleven-year-old Violet, whose African American father died before she was born, has always felt different from her white mom and half-sister. Then Violet meets her paternal grandmother, and the two quickly form a strong bond that fills a void in each of their lives. Woods carefully fuses an affirmation of familial love’s healing properties to a gentle exploration of cultural and racial identity.

From the July/August 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine. These reviews are from The Horn Book Guide and The Horn Book Guide Online. For information about subscribing to the Guide and the Guide Online, please click here.

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