A recent, much-discussed UK study revealed that only 1% of children’s books have Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (or BAME) main characters. After the study came out, a number of children’s librarians asked for suggestions. This is an excellent list: 21 British Children’s Authors of Colour You Should Know.
For World Kid Lit Month (#WorldKidLit), we focus our list on heroes-of-colour from around the world, with an emphasis on works in translation.
In alphabetical order by character; most suggestions come from M. Lynx Qualey’s three children. Please add your own in the comments!
Amari: Orïsha (imaginary, West Africa inspired)
(Princess) Amari of Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi. The imaginary land of Orïsha is inspired, in part, by Yoruba culture. The central hero of the book is Zélie Adebola, but the charming, fearful, and ultimately triumphant Amari — the only living daughter of King Saran — shows the most growth and change in the book, and it’s she who holds the characters together.
Doria: France (from Morocco)
Doria of Kiffe Kiffe Tomorrow, by Faiza Guene, translated by Sarah Adams (published as Just Like Tomorrow in the UK). Originally from Morocco, the sharp-tongued, sarcastic dreamer Doria lives with her illiterate mother in a poor neighborhood in France.
Isa/Jose is the protagonist of The Bamboo Stalk, by Saud Alsanoussi, translated by Jonathan Wright. This book won the International Prize for Arabic Fiction as a book for adults, but its straightforward style and young hero — caught between cultures, religions, and trying to find a way forward — will appeal as much, if not more, to teen readers.
Juan: Mexico (and Uncle Tito’s library)
Juan of The Wild Book by Juan Villoro, translated from Spanish by Lawrence Schimel. In a world where the books change based on who’s reading it, and the library is alive, Juan is a vulnerable, curious, and charming main character. All the Lynx children recommend this book.
Leila: Germany (from Syria)
Leila of Apple Cake and Baklava by
Liur of The Ventriloquist’s Daughter by Man-Chiu Lin, translated by Helen Wang. Liur — fiercely protective of those she loves — leads us through struggles with what is real and what is fantasy, as well as sibling rivalry, gender roles, and more. (You can read teen-and-teacher reviews of the book online.) The eldest Lynx child particularly recommends this book.
Samuel of The Head of the Saint, by Socorro Acioli, translated by Daniel Hahn. Samuel — an orphan who lives in the head of a statue — is our guide to this unexpected and magical world, where he can, for better and worse, hear what’s going on in the minds of others.
Qamr of Wondrous Journeys in Amazing Lands by Sonia Nimr. This book has been translated by still has no publisher, but the brilliant, sympathetic, peripatetic Qamr is a Palestinian girl who — like Ibn Battuta — travels the world. (Unlike Ibn Battuta, she’s a girl who dresses as a boy and joins up with pirates, is shipwrecked, thinks she has leprosy, and more…)
Yuri of The Secret of the Blue Glass by Tomiko Inui, translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori. Who but Yuri could save the Little People: Fern and Balbo, Robin and Iris? You can read the first chapter at The Guardian.