Picture Books Featuring Cross-Racial Friendships

Back in May, an article, ‘How Cross-Racial Scenes in Picture Books Build Acceptance‘ by Krista Maywalt Aronson and Anne Sibley O’Brien was published on the School Library Journal site. It highlights an important area of children’s publishing that is definitely under-represented. Krista and Anne have been putting together a bibliography of picture books that depict ‘a positive personal *relationship* between two or more individual children of different races and the activities and experiences they share’. The article highlights the results of research in which children heard stories about children of different racial groups playing together, compared with stories depicting children sharing the same ethnic background.

I’m coming to this discussion very late but I have been really struck by what they have found, and looking through my own picture books there are, in fact, very few that represent individual friendships across cultures. Here are a few suggestions to add to their list; and if you have any, please do leave a comment on the original article and/or Anne’s blog (and here too!).


Dear Baobab by Cheryl Foggo and Qin LengDear Baobab by Cheryl Foggo, illustrated by Qin Leng (Second Story Press, 2011) is another immigrant story.  You can read my full review here.  While the friendship between the main character Maiko and his classmate Li is not the main focus of the story, it is integral to it, and there are a couple of great illustrations depicting them playing together.

God's Dream, by Desmond Tutu and Douglas Carlton Abrams, illustrated by LeUyen PhamGod’s Dream by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Douglas Carlton Abrams, illustrated by LeUyen Pham (Walker Books, 2008) shows the same children interacting throughout the book – so although the text is generic, and indeed refers to stretching hands of friendship across boundaries, the cross-racial friendship depicted is individualised, as though LeUyen Pham has focused on a multi-cultural school class.  I’m including it here, though it might be rejected for the bibliography…

I Am René, The Boy/ Soy René, El Nino, by René Colato Laínez, illustrated by Fabiola Graullera Ramírez I Am René, The Boy/ Soy René, El Nino by René Colato Laínez, illustrated by Fabiola Graullera Ramírez (Piñata Books, 2005) is a great story, based on author René’s own experience as an immigrant in the US from El Salvador – you can read my review here.  René’s confidence at school is shaken when a new girl arrives, also called Renee. Once the horror of his name being usurped by a girl is resolved (the spelling is different), the two become friends – and meanwhile, the main body of the story focuses on René’s entry in the school essay competition, in which he is inspired to write about his name…

Ryan and Jimmy: And the Well in Africa That Brought Them Together, by Herb Shoveller Ryan and Jimmy: And the Well in Africa That Brought Them Together by Herb Shoveller (Kids Can Press 2006) is perhaps the strongest suggestion for this bibliography.  It’s the amazing true story of what happened when six-year-old Canadian Ryan decided to raise money to build a well in Africa.  You can read my review here.  Friendship between Ryan and pen-pal Jimmy in Uganda is sealed when Ryan and his family visit Jimmy’s village. Two years later, Jimmy escapes to Canada as a refugee, and becomes a member of Ryan’s family.  And Ryan’s Well Foundation has gone on to work on hundreds of safe water and sanitation projects in different parts of Africa (and Haiti).


  1. Pingback:Review: Lenny Goes to Nursery School and Where’s Lenny? by Ken Wilson-Max –

  2. Hi, Marjorie,
    So glad to find your comment on the SLJ article post – and even more to find this wonderful blog. Based on your reviews, it seems to me that the best fits are I AM RENE, THE BOY (I’m assuming the girl, Renee, is of a different race than Rene), and LENNY GOES TO NURSERY SCHOOL. RYAN & JIMMY looks like a great story of a significant cross-racial relationship, but depending on how it is presented in the book, it might be that the boys are not equal enough in status; I’ll have to check that with Krista.

    • Hi Annie, I’ll be very interested to hear what you decide once you’ve seen the books. It’s a really great list you are putting together and you and Krista have highlighted a very important facet of diversity in children’s books. I’m glad you’ve found MWD and thank you for your kind words.

  3. Pingback:Review: Dear Baobab by Cheryl Foggo and Qin Leng –

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *