I always had a hard time finding early reader chapter books for my kids. I wanted something that wasn’t too hard, but also wasn’t too easy, but it also had to be engaging enough to hold their attention. On top of that, I was concerned with diversity. I wanted my boys to read books that represented all kinds of kids, with both male and female protagonists. Did books like this even exist?
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The answer is: YES! There are some fantastic early chapter books out there that have a diverse cast of characters, interesting stories, and fun illustrations. These books feature both girls and boys solving mysteries, competing in sports, and making new friends. If you’re looking for diverse early chapter books, here are 21 books and series that our family loved.
Zooey and Sassafras Series by Asia Citro — Zooey and her cat Sassafras have an amazing ability: they can help magical animals in their backyard barn. In the first book of the series, Zooey must help a sick dragon who comes to her to figure out what’s wrong. I love this series because it features a strong and smart young girl who uses science to solve problems. They’re a great combination of reading and STEM!
Alvin Ho Series by Lenore Look — Second-grader Alvin is afraid of everything! In the first book of this series, Alvin is terrified of school. He’s so scared that he doesn’t speak while he’s there, even though at home he’s outgoing and loud. Can Alvin overcome his fears and engage with his classmates? Kids who struggle with anxiety will find much to relate to in Alvin. Fans of Alvin may also enjoy Lenore Look’s Ruby Lu series.
Jasmine Toguchi Series by Debbi Michiko Florence — Jasmine Toguchi is a spunky eight-year-old who loves flamingoes. In the first book of the series, Jasmine is excited to celebrate the new year, but upset that her sister Sophie gets to help make the mochi, while Jasmine is forced to hang out with her younger cousins. Jasmine hatches a plan to involve herself in the celebration in a special way that no girl has tried before! Read a full review here.
Julian’s World Series by Ann Cameron — Julian has a big imagination, and he tells the most amazing stories. However, those stories can sometimes lead to crazy situations. In the first book of this series, Julian’s story-telling gets him and his brother Huey into a sticky situation. Later books in the series feature Huey and also Julian’s neighbor, Gloria.
Dyamonde Daniel Series by Nikki Grimes — Dymonde Daniel has “wild-crazy” hair and an outgoing personality. In the first book of this series, Dymonde is trying to figure out the new boy in her class. He’s quiet and grumpy, and Dymonde thinks he’s kind of rude. But when she digs deeper, she finds the opportunity to be a friend to someone who needs one.
Indian Shoes by Cynthia Leitich Smith — This collection of stories captures the relationship between a young boy and his grandfather. Ray Halfmoon goes to live with his Grampa Halfmoon in Chicago after his parents are killed in a tornado. Ray seems to find his way into crazy situations, but his Grampa is always there to help him out. The two share a special bond, and Ray gets to learn more about his family and his heritage through his Grampa’s stories.
Juana and Lucas by Juana Medina — Juana is a young girl living in Bogotá, Colombia. She’s frustrated because she has to learn English in school; she’d much rather be playing with her dog Lucas or drawing pictures. However, when Juana learns her family is traveling to an amazing theme park in the United States, Juana starts to think that learning English might not be so bad. There are lots of Spanish phrases sprinkled through this book, and my boys loved showing off their newfound knowledge after reading it.
Ellray Jakes Series by Sally Warner — EllRay Jakes is a boy who is just trying to make it through elementary school. It’s not as easy as it sounds! In the first book of this series, EllRay’s parents tell him if he can stay out of trouble for one week, they will take him to Disneyland. However, EllRay is trying to navigate a tough situation with a bully at school. Will EllRay be able to keep up his end of the deal?
Izzy Bar, Running Star by Claudia Mills — Izzy Bar loves sports, and more than anything she loves to run. However, it seems that her father is never at her sporting events, but he always makes time for her half-brother’s games. Izzy acts like it doesn’t bother her, but inside she hopes her dad will turn up to watch her at her class field day. This book is a sweet tale about navigating a blended family and sharing how you feel with the people you love.
Max Loves Muñecas! by Zetta Elliot — More than anything, Max wants to explore Señor Pepe’s doll shop, and examine the craftsmanship that has gone into each of the dolls and their beautiful clothes. However, Max is worried he will be teased by other kids, because boys aren’t supposed to like things like dolls and sewing. When Max finally summons the courage to go in, Señor Pepe shares with him his own story, and how no one should ever ashamed of creating something beautiful.
Princess Pink and the Land of Fake-Believe Series by Noah Z. Jones — First name: Princess. Last name: Pink. Princess Pink doesn’t like pink or princesses, but she does like mud puddles, bugs, and monster trucks. Kids will love her crazy adventures in the Land of Fake-Believe!
Book Uncle and Me by Uma Krishnaswami — Yasmin is a nine-year-old girl living in India. Every day, she stops to borrow a book from Book Uncle and his free lending library he’s set up next to her apartment building. But one day, Book Uncle has to pack up the library. The mayor says Book Uncle must have a permit to run his library, and Book Uncle cannot afford it. Yasmin teams up with people in her community to help save Book Uncle’s Lending Library, and she learns what it means to be an activist, and how regular people can change a community for good. This is one of my favorite early chapter books!
Lola Levine Series by Monica Brown — Lola Levine is a fierce and fun girl from a bicultural family — her mother is Peruvian and her father is Jewish. The first book in the series introduces us to Lola and her passions. Lola loves soccer, is fiercely competitive and she plays hard. In one game, she plays so hard she accidentally injures her classmate, Juan. Now everyone at school is calling her Mean Lola Levine! How can she show everyone that she really isn’t as mean as they say?
Zapato Power Series by Jacqueline Jules — This series follows Freddy Ramos, a regular boy with some powerful shoes! In the first book of this series, Freddy comes home to find a strange package on his doorstep. What’s inside? Magical shoes that give him super speed! The shoes allow Freddy to do heroic things and help others in his community.
Meet Yasmin! Series by Saadia Faruqi — This fun series follows the adventures of Yasmin, a second-grade girl from a multi-generational Pakistani-American family. Yasmin loves exploring her creative side, through fashion, art, building, and exploring. She uses her imagination to find creative solutions to the challenges she faces.
Clubhouse Mysteries Series by Sharon Draper — Ziggy, Rashawn, Rico, and Jerome love playing in their clubhouse and solving mysteries. The four boys call themselves the Black Dinosaurs. In the first book of this series, the boys investigate a box of bones they find buried behind their clubhouse. Who buried the bones, and why?
Jada Jones Series by Kelly Starling Lyons — Jada Jones is a smart and fun girl who loves learning about science. In the first book of the series, Jada is excited when her teacher announces they will be doing a project about rocks and minerals. Finding cool rocks is one of Jada’s favorite things to do! But one of the girl’s in Jada’s group shoots down all of Jada’s ideas. In fact, she doesn’t seem to like Jada much at all. Can Jada ace the project and make a new friend in the process?
Jaden Touissant Series by Marti Dumas — Jaden Touissant is a super smart boy who is pretty sure he knows just about everything. However, the adults in his life don’t seem to agree. In the first book of this series, Jaden sets out to convince his parents that he needs more screen time. He knows that if he makes a great argument, the grown-ups will have to agree with him…right?
The Critter Club Series by Callie Barkley — In the Critter Club series, a diverse group of girlfriends work together to care for the animals in their community. In the first book of this series, Amy is sad because her friends are all going away for Spring Break, while she’s stuck at home. She decides to help out at her mom veterinary clinic, and she ends up in the middle of a dog-related mystery!
Sofia Martinez Series by Jacqueline Jules — Sofia Martinez is a seven-year-old girl who loves her family and having fun! She’s always getting into crazy adventures, but her life is never boring. The first book in the series follows Sofia as she navigates school picture day, making a piñata for her Abuela’s birthday, and locating a lost school pet.
Nikki and Deja Series by Karen Freeman — Nikki and Deja are two best friends who live next door to each other and do everything together. In the first book of this series, a new girl comes to their class, and Nikki and Deja decide they don’t like her. They end up forming a club to exclude her, because they think she seems snobby and arrogant. However, they learn that they might have been wrong about their new classmate.
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