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Early Multicultural Children's Books: Resources in Special Collections: Home


If you do a Google search for "multicultural children's books" in 2020, thankfully you'll get results like "50 Multicultural Books Every Child Should Know" and "50 Best Multicultural Picture Books for 2019."

Although today's publishing industry still has work to do, this is an improvement. Sixty or seventy years ago, books depicting children of color in positive ways were incredibly scarce. Children of color, especially Black children, were either non-existent, described in condescending terms, or made objects of ridicule, in nearly all mainstream children's books.

In Special Collections we're fortunate to have examples of some of the earliest books to treat children of color with dignity and respect. Our earliest book for Black children dates back to 1893. Our earliest book for Native children date is from 1939. Our earliest books for Latinx children are from 1970.

Contemporary Multicultural Children's Books

This research guide is focused on early examples of multicultural children's literature held in Special Collections.

For help finding current multicultural books for children, see the research guide to Multicultural and Diverse Children's Literature by education librarian Elizabeth Webster.

Research Guide Editor

Ruth Ann Jones

Instruction/Outreach Librarian

Stephen O. Murray and Keelung Hong Special Collections

Michigan State University Libraries



For African American children


A School History of the Negro Race in America from 1619 to 1890: With a Short Introduction as to the Origin of the Race, Also a Short Sketch of Liberia, revised edition, by Edward A. Johnson. (Chicago: W.B. Conkey, 1893

  • This secondary textbook was first published in 1891; MSU's copy is the 1893 edition. In 1917, author Edward A. Johnson was the first African American elected to the New York state legislature.

Negro Art, Music, and Rhyme for Young Folks, by Helen Adele Whiting, with illustrations by Lois Mailou Jones. Washington DC: Associated Publishers, 1938

Negro Folk Tales for Pupils in the Primary Grades, by Helen Adele Whiting, with illustrations by Lois Mailou Jones. Washington DC: Associated Publishers, 1938.

Child's Story of the Negro, by Jane Dabney Shackelford; illustrated by Lois Mailou Jones. (Washington DC: Associated Publishers, 1938)

The Negro American Series, by Emma E. Akin. (Oklahoma City: Harlow, 1938)

  1. Negro Boys and Girls
  2. Gifts [photocopy]
  3. A Booker T. Washington School [photocopy]
  4. deals and Adventures [photocopy]

Tobe, by Stella Gentry Sharpe; photographs by Charles Farrell. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1939)

My Happy Days, by Jane Dabney Shackelford; photographs by Cecil Vinson. (Washington DC: Associated Publishers, 1944)

  • Like its predecessor Tobe, My Happy Days explores Black family life and the daily experiences of a young Black boy. Rex lives with his parents and little sister Mary in a city where his father works as a police officer.



Search by subject heading, with results limited to Special Collections:

For Native American children


I Am a Pueblo Indian Girl, by E-Yeh-Shure' (Blue Corn) with an introduction by Oliver La Farge. (New York: W. Morrow, 1939)

  • The poetry and prose of a 13-year-old girl, Louise Abeita, also known as E-Yeh-Shure'. Her father commissioned artists from several Native communities to illustrate I Am a Pueblo Indian Girl.

Indian Life Readers. The U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs (later the Office of Indian Affairs) coordinated a project to create bilingual readers for Native American children. Native artists illustrated each book.



Search by subject heading, with results limited to Special Collections:

For Chicanx/Latinx children


Small Hands, Big Hands: Seven Profiles of Chicano Migrant Workers and Their Families. Sandra Weiner. (New York: Pantheon Books, 1970)

Raza de Aztlan: A Historical Outlook of Chicano Culture from Precolumbian to the Present. Written by Francyn Molina; illustrated by Carlos Falcón (Berkeley: Babel Productions, 1970)

I Will Catch the Sun. Written and illustrated by NephtalÍ de León (Lubbock, TX: Trucha Publications, 1973)

La Aventura de Yolanda = Yolanda's Hike. Written by Tomás Rodríguez Gaspar; drawings by Sue Brown. Stanford: New Seed Press, 1974.

Migratory History of La Raza: Coloring Book: History and Drawings. By David Torrez. (Lansing: El Renacimiento/Renaissance Publications, 1974)

Games, Games, Games = Juegos, Juegos, Juegos: Chicano Children at Play: Games and Rhymes. Written by Ruben Sandoval; photos by David Strick. (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1977)

Juanito, written by Esther Bonillo Read; illustrated by Mary De La Garza Kreitzinger. (Corpus Christi, TX: Cerca Del Mar Publishing House, 1980)



Early multicultural chldren's books

The cover of Tobe, a 1939 photograph book about a six-year-old Black boy and his family, has a photo of Tobe.Detail from the cover of I Am a Pueblo Indian Girl, showing a Pueblo style clay pot along with the title and author's name.The cover of Small Hands, Big Hands: Seven Profiles of Chicano Migrant Workers and Their Families, includes a photo of a young boy.The cover of "Negro Boys and Girls" has an illustration of children playing in a school yard.The cover of My Happy Days includes a black & white photo of a young boy fishing in a creek.The cover of Little Man's Family features a line drawing of a Navajo family admiring a baby sleeping on a cradleboard.The cover of the book Juanito has a line drawing of a Chicano boy about 8 years old.