The 3 R’s of Diversifying Your Classroom Booklist


The 3 R’s of Diversifying Your Classroom Booklist

Five years ago, I was assigned to teach Grade 12 English for the first time in years. Eager to prepare, I visited our school book room, but came away feeling uninspired by the options: 1984, Animal Farm, Fifth Business, and lots of Shakespeare. 

Having just taught Ontario’s Grade 11 Gender Studies course, which had opened my mind to intersectional ways of thinking, I couldn’t help but notice that the writers populating the shelves presented a very narrow demographic: they were mostly Western, white, male, and long dead. 

Thoughts rattled around in my brain. What messages was I sending to students with my book choices? Whose voices were missing? What if I changed everything and sought out texts that better represented my students and community? 

That year I made a bold choice to ditch the Bard and privilege the voices of women and contemporary writers of colour. I designed an independent study focusing on under-represented voices in literature, film, and art. These decisions not only opened the door to a new literary world, but delighted my students and re-energized my teaching.

No matter what age range you teach, you too can diversify your teaching library. Wondering why you should, and where to begin? Start with the 3 ‘R’s.


Representation matters. Our curricula and book choices should reflect our students’ diverse identities and experiences. 

The Canadian literary scene has recently exploded with LGBTQ+ authors, Indigenous artists, and diverse writers making waves. Think of Vivek Shraya’s beautifully inclusive picture book The Boy and the Bindi or Cherie Dimaline’s dystopian tale The Marrow Thieves. These stories may not yet be part of the traditional canon, but they offer unique and compelling tales worth sharing with young people.

Understand that the book choices we make send implicit messages to students. When we present a narrow selection of artists, we make value judgements about those whose works are ‘important’ and worthy of study, and those whose aren’t.

I often ask my students about the books they’ve studied in school. What were the backgrounds of the writers? How long ago were the books written? Have they encountered protagonists who reflected their own identities? The responses are telling. Young women are often asked to place themselves in the position of male protagonists, but young men rarely get asked to see the world from a female point of view.

This invisibility is a common experience for many, including Indigenous peoples, Québécois, LGBTQ+ folks, and differently-abled people, all of whom are rarely represented in school literature. It is as if we are saying that their experiences are not considered ‘universal’ enough to understand, and that perception needs to change. 

By choosing books that reflect a multitude of identities, teachers can affirm the backgrounds of students and open up their worldview. We can help them to see themselves and their own stories as important and worthy of attention. 


Another reason to diversify our booklists? There are so many fantastic books out there waiting to be discovered! Look for works of literature that are relevant because they speak to the world we live in today, or illuminate areas of life to which we may not have access.  

My students loved Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, which tells the tale of a young black girl who comes of age in an abusive home during the Nigerian war. Though Kambili’s experiences were far from our own in downtown Toronto, the book opened up rich discussions about parent-child relationships and the enduring impact of colonization in Africa.

For those of us who teach in less diverse communities, it is even more important to expose students to multiple points of view. It helps to engender empathy and understanding and combat harmful stereotypes. Reading diverse works can create opportunities for critical literacy, as we deconstruct power and privilege and engage in courageous conversations about racism, sexism, classism, ableism, homophobia, and transphobia.  


To find diverse writers for my classroom, I made a pledge to research and read books by female writers, LGBTQ+ artists, Indigenous writers, and authors of colour. In my search I have discovered many contemporary masterpieces, and I haven’t looked back since. 

Here’s how you can get started on your own reading journey.

Award Winners

Check out award winner lists, especially those that recognize artists from under-represented groups, such as the Lambda Literary Awards for LGBTQ+ writers or the Caldecott Medal, which awards a wide range of children’s literature.

Book Stores

Find forward-thinking bookstores that celebrate diversity, such as Good Minds, which stocks over 3,000 titles of Indigenous works from Preschool to Adult. Other fantastic stores include Another Story Bookshop and A Different Booklist in Toronto. You can find a children’s bookstore near you using the online database from the Canadian Children’s Book Centre.

The Internet

Great literature is literally at your fingertips—an internet search can connect you to useful websites, blogs, and booklists. Some of my favourites include A Mighty Girl, ‘the world’s largest collection of books and movies for smart, confident, and courageous girls’; beloved educator Dr. Larry Swartz’s ‘Larry Recommends’ blog; and @loveyolibrary, an Instagram account featuring up-and-coming books for children, curated by Toronto-area teacher Brendon Allen.

Other Useful Links 

Edutopia’s 22 Diverse Book Choices for All Grade Levels

The American Indians in Children’s Literature Blog, which deconstructs and evaluates representations of Indigenous peoples in children’s books

Pinterest’s Diversity in Children’s Books collection

We Need Diverse Books

A Beginning Book List for Educators

Kindergarten-Primary (ages 4-7)

French Toast by Kari-Lynn Winters and François Thisdale

The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi

Under My Hijab by Hena Khan and Aaliya Jaleel

The Can Man by Laura E. Williams and Craig Orback

Not Quite Narwhal by Jessie Sima

The Boy in the Bindi by Vivek Shraya

The Sissy Duckling by Harvey Fierstein

I am Jazz by Jazz Jennings 

Don’t Touch My Hair! by Sharee Miller

Not My Girl by Christy Jordan-Fenton

Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty

I am Josephine by Jan Thornhill and Jacqui Lee

A Family is a Family is a Family by Sara O’Leary and Qin Leng

Junior (8-13)

Sky Sisters by Jan Waboose Bourdeau

Morning on the Lake by Jan Waboose Bourdeau

Big Red Lollipop by Rukhsana Khan and Sophie Blackall

Tar Beach by Faith Ringgold 

Aunt Harriet’s Underground Railroad in the Sky by Faith Ringgold 

Nappy Hair by Caroliva Herron

The Arrival by Shaun Tan

Flight Explorer by Kazu Kibuishi 

A Long Walk to Water: Based on a True Story by Linda Sue Park

The Skin I’m In by Sharon Flake

Riding the Tiger by Eve Bunting and David Frampton 

The Outlaw by Nancy Vo 

I Am Malala and I Am Malala Young Readers Edition by Malala Yousafzai,  Christina Lamb

The Breadwinner by Deborah Ellis 

Refugee by Alan Kratz 

Shannen and the Dream for a School by Janet Wilson

Fatty Legs by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton

Blended by Sharon Draper

Rad American Women by Katie Schatz 

Not My Idea: A Book About Whiteness by Anastasia Higginbotham

Intermediate (12-15)

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson 

Ask Me No Questions by Marina Tamar Budhos

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Monster by Walter Dean Myers 

Moonshot: The Indigenous Comics Collection, edited by Hope Nicholson

Daughter of War by Marsha Skrypuch

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

American Street by Ibi Zoboi

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali by Sabrina Khan

Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan

Better Nate Than Ever by Tim Federle

George by Alex Gino

Ghost by Jason Reynolds

Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed

No Fixed Address by Susin Nielson

Lily and Dunkin by Donna Gephart

Kimchi & Calamari by Rose Kent

Senior (15-17)

I Am an Emotional Creature: the Secret Life of Girls around the World by Eve Ensler 

The Mi’kmaq Anthology, Volume 2: In Celebration of the Life of Rita Joe by Lesley Choyce et al. 

Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah  

Funny Boy by Shyam Selvadurai

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline

Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Brother by David Chariandy

Fun Home by Alison Bechdel

She Walks for Days Inside a Thousand Eyes: A Two-Spirit Journey by Sharron Proulx-Turner

Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros

Beloved by Toni Morrison

Scarborough by Catherine Hernandez

Tomboy Survival Guide by Ivan Coyote

Son of a Trickster by Eden Robinson

That Time I Loved You by Carrianne Leung

Meet the Expert(s)


Kim Snider

Teacher, Rosedale Heights School of the Arts