Yellow highlighter circling the words Adolescence is a time when many young people explore multiple aspects of their identity. Many start to view race and ethnicity through a deeper, more critical lens. Many also start to develop their political identity, cultivating a set of values and beliefs that will drive their perceptions of everything from their career to their place in the community.

Whether or not your child identifies as Black, Indigenous, or a Person of Color (BIPOC), reading about a diverse array of experiences will only make them more empathetic, and better able to thrive in an increasingly diverse world. The following list of books are a great way to help expose young people to multiple racial identities – and to get them to think critically about their own.

Samira Surfs, by Rukhsanna Guidroz. Samira and her family are Rohingya. They are forced to flee their native home in Burma, where they are persecuted, to resettle in a refugee camp in Bangladesh. Although she is homesick, Samira quickly finds a group of girls who become her friends – and who teach her how to do the forbidden: learn to surf. This novel in poetry is a heartfelt portrait of the experience of being a refugee.

Running, by Natalia Sylvester. Mari and her Cuban American family are used to campaigning: her father has run for office multiple times. In the past, Mari has been an obedient daughter, posing for all the right pictures and saying all the right things. During this election, though, 15-year-old Mari starts to develop her own political beliefs – and not all of them align with her father’s. A humorous and fast paced book about standing up for what you believe in.

Habibi, by Naomi Shihab Nye. What feels like moments after she finally has her first kiss, Liyana finds out her family is moving to Palestine, her father’s homeland, for the year. When she arrives, she is incredibly homesick, until she meets a boy named Omer. The only problem is, Omer is Jewish and Liyana is Muslim. Can their friendship survive the struggle between their people? A lyrical and optimistic view of Palestine through the eyes of a young girl.

Pet, by Akwaeke Emezi. (CN: sexual assault.) In a utopian future shaped by the imagined victories of the Black Lives Matter movement, a black trans girl named Jam is curious about monsters. She’s told that in Lucille, where she lives, all the monsters have been vanquished – alongside mass incarceration, police brutality, and structural racism. But can a society ever really be perfect? Stay tuned also for Bitter, the prequel to Pet, available in February 2022.

Rain is Not My Indian Name, by Cynthia Leitich Smith. When Rain’s best friend Galen dies, she shuts herself away from the world – that is, until she hears about the controversy surrounding her Aunt’s Indian camp in their mostly white community. A budding photographer, Rain uses her camera to tell the truth – and to confront her grief.

Stand Up, Yumi Chung!, by Jessica Yim. Korean American Yumi Chung is supposed to spend the summer in test-prep. Her parents’ restaurant is faltering, and unless Yumi passes her private school’s scholarship exam, she won’t have enough money to keep attending. Yumi doesn’t want to let her parents down, but she also doesn’t want to go to the test prep classes – especially because, right next door to her test prep classroom, Yumi discovers a summer camp for aspiring standup comedians. Yumi has always wanted to perform standup. But can she follow her dreams while also supporting her loving family?


Mathangi Subramanian, Ed.D., believes stories have the power to change the world. Her middle grades book, Dear Mrs. Naidu, won the South Asia Book Award, and her picture book A Butterfly Smile was inducted into the Nobel Museum by Laureate Dr. Esther Duflo. Her novel A People’s History of Heaven was longlisted for the PEN/Faulkner award, a finalist for the LAMBDA literary award, and named a Skipping Stones Honors Book. A former public school teacher, senior policy analyst at the New York City Council, and Fulbright Scholar, she currently consults for Sesame Workshop. She holds a doctorate in education from Columbia Teachers College.