Are Multi-Cultural Books Dead? Maybe . . . maybe not.

Wonderful author and writing teacher, Uma Krishnaswami (of many terrific Middle-Grade novels and picture books), is in the camp that believes the term “multicultural” is dead – to which I agree. “Multicultural” books seemed to take a nose dive between 2002-2005, but that doesn’t mean wonderful and marvelous books are not being published. They are, and often to great acclaim and winning big literature awards – see below for some of the titles!

Uma blogs on this subject frequently as well as teaching at the Vermont College of Fine Arts in their MFA program for children’s literature. She calls them *Books With Cultural Contexts* – I like that! Books With Cultural Contexts describes books about other cultures and people around the world much better. (Click here to read Uma’s intriguing bio).

UmaKrishnaswami-225x295More from Uma: “I have given up using the term “multicultural.” I think its overuse has reduced it to a cliché. Also, in my opinion, it’s imprecise. You can describe a collection of books as “multicultural” if it contains titles from many cultures but how on earth can the term describe a single book grounded in a single culture, or even a book with elements of cultural fusion or blending?

Here are several books with specific cultural contexts—they are only a small selection of the many, many fine books out there.”

(This is a list that Uma graciously put together for us, books from the last several years). LOOK at how many great titles there!!! How many have you read? (And scroll down for the giveaway of Uma’s new MG books!)

Picture Books
Jingle Dancer by Cynthia Leitich Smith, illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying Hwa-Hu
The Kamishibai Man by Allen Say
From the Bellybutton of the Moon by Francisco Alarcon illustrated by Maya Cristina Gonzales
The Princess of Borscht by Leda Schubert, illustrated by Bonnie Christensen
Tiger on a Tree by Anushka Ravishankar, illustrated by Pulak Biswas


Chapter Books
Anna Hibiscus (and sequels) by Atinuke
The Year of the Dog (and sequels) by Grace Lin
The No-Dogs-Allowed Rule by Kashmira Sheth
Indian Shoes by Cynthia Leitich Smith

Middle Grade
A Suitcase of Seaweed and Other Poems by Janet Wong
Chronal Engine by Greg Leitich Smith chronal engine
A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park
Looking for Bapu by Anjali Banerjee
Moccasin Thunder: American Indian Stories for Today edited by Lori Marie Carlson
Bamboo People by Mitali Perkins
The Wild Book by Margarita Engle0-545-26125-2
The Grand Plan to Fix Everything by Uma Krishnaswami
The Problem with Being Slightly Heroic by Uma Krishnaswami
Words in the Dust by Trent Reedy
Ghetto Cowboy by G. Neri
The Great Wall of Lucy Wu by Wendy Shang
The Unforgotten Coat
by Frank Cottrell Boyce
Breakaway, Enchanted Runner, and The Last Snake Runner by Kimberley Griffiths Little (soon to be re-released in print and Kindle/Nook versions in a week or two so keep an eye out!)

the last snake runner

Young Adult
Shadow Spinner by Susan Fletcher Shadow spinner
Habibi by Naomi Shihab Nye
A Step From Heaven by An Na
Code Talker by Joseph Bruchac
Cynthia Leitich Smith’s Tantalize series
American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
No Crystal Stair: A Documentary Novel of the Life and Work of Lewis Michaux, Harlem Bookseller by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson
Ask Me No Questions by Marina Budhos
Tyrell (and sequels) by Coe Booth
A Girl Called Problem by Katie Quirk
Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Adichie
Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie

And now for your chance to win both of Uma’s new MG novels – set in India about Bollywood! Funny and poignant family stories about friendship and magic and dreams and movie stars! Just leave a comment to win BOTH. Our random generator (or a hat!) will pick the winner this Sunday afternoon – after I get back from YALL Fest in Charleston, SC. 🙂

Problem with being slightly heroic Gran Plan


Kimberley Griffiths Little is the author of three magical realism novels with Scholastic, THE HEALING SPELL, CIRCLE OF SECRETS, and WHEN THE BUTTERFLIES CAME (2013). Forthcoming: THE TIME OF THE FIREFLIES (Scholastic, 2014) and her Young Adult debut, FORBIDDEN with Harpercollins (Fall 2014). When she’s not writing you can find her reading/daydreaming in her Victorian cottage and eating chocolate chip cookies with a hit of Dr. Pepper.

Kimberley Little
  1. Thank you Uma for this great concept of unique books. Since a lot of the same things happen to most of the people in different cultures, I try to write in a generic way so that the reader can put his/her own perception in the story – without “labeling” the character or events. Stealing, homework problems, first loves…all happen in every part of our world…sometimes the results are different…but they all happen. I love the fact that there needs a special place for these books … until labels can be erased. Thank you for books that help us remember this.

  2. And thank you, everyone, for the kind comments about my books!

  3. Good questions, Sherry. The thing is, until the diversity gap disappears, we do need some descriptor for books with minority characters and contexts. It’s easy to say we ought to evaluate them as books like any other, but will taking away the label, or the dedicated awards, or the focused shelving, cause these terrific books to disappear? Until we have a critical mass of these titles, and until they really do get evaluated on par with others, we can’t afford to pull all the labels off.

  4. Yes multicultural is an overused and imprecise term. Why can’t we just talk about specific books without using a catch all term?

  5. I love your chapter books Uma!

  6. Multicultural really doesn’t make a lot of sense. I like the term ‘books with cultural context.’ I have both of Uma’s books on my to-be-bought list. I’d love to win them!

  7. Just to say–I love Uma’s own books!

  8. “diverse” is a sticky term for me as well as “multicultural,” but I keep using both because of not having anything other than “non-white protagonists” to use, which I like even less!

    Thanks for the give away.

  9. Uma,
    Thanks for the great list and your reflections on the term “multicultural.” How terrific of you to offer two of your MG novels in a giveaway. Please include my name in the drawing. Thanks.