Multi-ethnic Families in Middle Grade Novels

I’m sure you’ve all seen it by now. The terrific video of kids reacting to the recent Cheerios ad featuring a multi-ethnic family.

Despite the racist backlash the commercial (which features a white mother and African American father) initially garnered, what these children so eloquently express is the sheer ordinariness of multi-ethnic families in their world. What I love about this video is the “um, yea, so what?” quality of most of the kids’ reactions. There’s a lot we adults can learn there.

And indeed, that is the strength of stories — be they in the media or in middle grade books — which make race and ethnicity a real factor in characters’ lives but not necessarily a central ‘problem’ to be ‘addressed.’ Such stories represent the real faces of real families, and reflect the beauty of our diverse world. More importantly, they allow all our children to see themselves in the stories around them.

The U.S. is becoming and increasing multicultural place – and multiethnic families are everywhere — from East to West Coast, from Topeka to Tallahassee. It is the reality of my children’s lives and so many other children from families like ours. It’s a joy to find increasing images of multi-ethnic families in the media, and of course increasing numbers of books where having multiple languages, multiple types of food, multiple skin colors, and multiple histories in one family aren’t an anomaly, but a given.

So I thought I would dedicate this post to middle grade stories which celebrate multi-ethnic families. For more great titles check out these posts at Shen’s books Cynthia Leitich Smith’s great blog and this blog by me at Three Sisters Moving Village on multi-ethnic characters in children’s and YA novels.

Geeks, Girls and Secret Identities by Mike Jung: Features a cast of multi-cultural kids including heroine Polly Winnicott-Lee, who is not just multi-ethnic, but a super hero!


Bobby vs. Girls (Accidentally) by Lisa Yee: Whose hero, Robert Carver Ellis-Chan, has a Chinese American mother and white, ex-pro-football player father. Race is an incidental in this fantastic story, hardly a central ‘problem.’


Monsoon Summer by Mitali Perkins: Jasmine (Jazz) Gardner has a white Father and Indian American mother, and reluctantly heads off to India for the summer with her family.


Wonder by RJ Palacio: August Pullman’s mother is Brazilian and father is Jewish of Eastern European descent. Dealing with his facial deformity is far more pressing in the story than his mixed ethnic identity.


The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan: In Riordan’s popular Kane series, Carter and Sadie Kane are the children of an African American archaeologist father and white British mother. While Riordan explicitly discusses how the children (one of whom looks more white, the other more African American) are differentially treated by society, the adventure is the driving force of this story!


The Whole Story of Half A Girl by Veera Hiranandani: Like the author herself, the heroine, Sonia, is Jewish-American and Indian-American, and must negotiate the complexities of a new middle school.


What are some of your favorite stories featuring multi-ethnic families?


7 responses to “Multi-ethnic Families in Middle Grade Novels

  1. I’m a big fan of Sundee Frazier’s Brendan Buckley books.

  2. Rebecca Stead’s, When You Reach Me, didn’t explore multi-racial families, but it did hit you on the side of the head with the racist attitude of some adults and how kids have such a different view.

  3. nice choices. Charis: Journey to Pandora’s Jar by Nicole Walters comes to mind as well. it isn’t central, but rather carries off a normalcy that is a multiracial child.

    ~L (omphaloskepsis)

  4. The Other Half of My Heart by Sundee Tucker Frazier was one I read last summer and thought was terrific. Sisters with mixed race parents come to terms that life will be different for each of them because of their skin colour yet they will remain family.
    Apples with Many Seeds

  5. New book coming soon- Counting by 7s. I loved it.

  6. I so agree that it’s important to spotlight multi-cultural families where it’s just normal. My family is one of those type of families and it bothered me as my daughter grew up that there weren’t many books showing families like ours. Great post.

  7. Two more for your great list– Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Flyes Again, by Frank Cottrell Boyce, in which the multi-ethnic nature of the family is clearly shown in the illustrations, and The Menagerie, by Tui T. Sutherland.

    I keep a running list of all the multicultural sci fi/fantasy I review (97 books so far) if anyone is interested–