8 Diverse Books for Upper Elementary Students

There are so many great books for upper elementary students, but many teachers are purposefully searching for books featuring multicultural and diverse characters. There are many wonderful books for grades 3, 4, and 5, but many of these diverse stories take place in historical settings. Recently, there have been a lot of stories published with characters in more modern situations. It is important for classroom libraries to include some of these stories, so all students can picture themselves in the books they read.

8 Diverse Books for Upper Elementary Students

Keep reading to learn about eight books featuring diverse characters in modern settings.

Finding Mighty by Sheela Chari

Myla is an Indian-American girl who feels like no one notices her. She buys an Om necklace, hoping it will help her stand out. Peter, a mixed race son of a single mother, wants to find his older brother Randall. It turns out that Myla's necklace is an important clue to finding Peter's brother. Peter and Myla eventually team up to solve the mystery and end up tangling with diamond smugglers.

Set in New York City, this urban mystery alternates points of view, which helps the reader to understand the characters in more depth. Although the characters are 12 years old, the book is not violent and appropriate for high fourth and fifth grades.

Mango Delight by Fracaswell Hyman

Mango Delight Fuller lives in Brooklyn and loves Beyonce and running. However, seventh grade becomes much harder when she beats her best friend, Brooklyn, on the track. Brooklyn decides to get a cell phone and hang out with cooler kids. Mango accidentally breaks the new phone, causing a chain reaction of events - including her dad losing his job.

As revenge, Brooklyn signs up Mango to audition for the school musical. The plan backfires when Mango wins the lead role - and becomes a Youtube star! Suddenly Mango has new "friends" - and has to decide what kind of friends she wants to have as well as what kind of friend she wants to be.

The Hero Two Doors Down by Sharon Robinson

I have talked about this book before, and it is worth a mention on this list. Set in 1948, this book is actually based on a true story. This story is about a young Jewish boy, Stephen, who befriends baseball great Jackie Robinson. Stephen wants to be good, but he always seems to end up in trouble. His dream is to attend the Brooklyn Dodgers' Opening Day - but he knows it won't happen until he gets his act together. When rumors spread that Jackie Robinson is moving into his all-Jewish neighborhood, Stephen is thrilled - even if some of his neighbors aren't.

After Jackie and his family move in down the street, Stephen becomes a frequent visitor in the Robinson household. Stephen grows up and changes as Jackie becomes his friend and mentor to him.
The story deftly weaves in facts about the discrimination and prejudice Robinson faced while playing ball. In addition, cultural misunderstanding happen between Stephen's Jewish family and the Robinsons, but are resolved in an understanding and caring way.

Ghost by Jason Reynolds

Ghost, the first book in Reynolds' Track series, has been on many book lists, and deservedly so. Castle Crenshaw, who has called himself Ghost since he was little, is a runner. He has always been a runner, but never for a track team. One day, he takes a disliking to an elite sprinter on the team and challenges him. When Ghost wins, the Olympic medalist track coach begs and gets him to join the team.

This book subtly addresses many issues that students face, including class conflicts, anger, and race issues. However, Reynolds skillfully weaves in humor, making the book and its characters accessible to readers.

Clayton Byrd Goes Underground by Rita Williams-Garcia

Although this book has received mixed reviews, it is an excellent book to add to your classroom library, especially if you have students dealing with grief.

Clayton idolizes his grandpa and wants to join his blues group, The Bluesmen, as soon as he can. When his grandpa suddenly passes away, Clayton struggles with his grief, getting in trouble at school and butting heads with his mother when she forbids him to play the blues. He runs away in search of The Bluesmen, hoping to join them. As he makes his journey, he learns some surprising things about himself.

Save Me A Seat by Sarah Weeks and Gita Varadarajan

The book is one of my recent favorites. Ravi recently moved from India to New Jersey with his parents and grandparents. A star student back home, he can't wait to start fifth grade in his new school. However, when he meets his teachers, he is disappointed to find that she not only cannot say his name correctly, but she can't understand him either! To add insult to injury, she suggests that he goes with the special teacher for help.

Joe has an auditory processing problem, and although he is a big kid, he is frequently bullied b the other students. He thinks Ravi seems nice, but gives up hope on being friends when Ravi insults him when they both go to Mrs. Frost's room. Ravi slowly realizes that some things about himself and learns that things aren't always what they seem.

The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher by Dana Alison Levy

This book is about a non-traditional family, the Fletchers, which includes two dads and their four adopted sons. The boys have very different personalities, and comes from a different cultural background. Twelve year old Sam struggles with wanting to be in the school play when he is a popular jock. Ten year old Jax deals with changing friendship and a Vietnam project that forces him to deal with the unfriendly Vet next door. Eli, also ten, is struggling to adjust to his new academically oriented school. Finally, the family is convinced six year old Frog has an imaginary friend.

The Fletcher family is a normal, stable family with its share of ups and downs. The story focuses on the boys and their trials of childhood, and students will relate easily to the boys and their sibling bickering. 

Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett

Although this is a mystery and not a recent book, I wanted to include it because it showcases diverse characters becoming and getting along - without their diversity being the focal point of the story.

Petra Andalee comes from a large family, and sometimes just wishes for some peace and quiet. Her family had relatives in North Africa, Europe, and the Middle East, and they really didn't consider themselves to be from any one culture. Calder Pillay also came from a multicultural family, Indian-Canadian transplanted to Canada. Calder has a well-loved set of pentominoes that he uses to help him think. Calder's best friend recently moved away, and he has been a bit lonely. On the surface, Petra and Calder seem like unlikely friends, but they slowly realize they have a lot in common. When they hear a Vermeer painting has been stolen, they work together to solve the mystery.

8 Diverse Books for Upper Elementary Students

I hope you found a few new books! Oddly enough, I found it easier to find a wide variety of elementary books with African American students, but did not have much luck with characters from other cultures. (I found the opposite issue in middle school books.)  If you know of great stories for upper elementary students that feature characters with Asian, Latino, or Arabic backgrounds, please leave me a comment so I can add them to this list.

What are your favorite books with diverse characters for upper elementary students?

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