Does Your Bookshelf Look Like the Rest of the World?

Blog and Book List By: Once Upon a Farm Brand Ambassador, Shakira Patterson. Follow her on Instagram at @occasions.byshakira

Books were the very first thing I purchased when I found out I was pregnant with my oldest daughter, Raegan. It was so important to me that we read to her, and that we were intentional about the books we chose to introduce her to. 

What do I mean by intentional? Growing up, I didn’t see little girls whose faces mirrored mine in many of the books we read. Black children only make up about 10% of children’s book characters, while white children are represented in 50% of characters, and animals 27% (1) The truth is, black children rarely see their own faces reflected in the most common nursery rhymes and popular movies–especially not as a main character or protagonist. That needs to change, and it starts with all of us.

As the expectant mama, of a black child, it was so important to us that we fill our child’s little library with characters that looked like her, black leaders, and stories where her own features were depicted as heroines, princesses, scientists, and role models. I keep the same intentionality when it comes to my children’s toys and the television shows they watch. I am a huge proponent of making inclusiveness their normal—for my children to step into the world one day, and not see diversity as something foreign. I want them to be used to champion every hue of human.

A few years back, I read a quote that still sticks with me to this day: “We need diverse representation not only so that every kid can see themselves as the hero of the story, but so that every kid can understand that *other* kinds of kids are *also* the heroes of the story.”

We have to be intentional in our pursuit of inclusivity. Black and brown protagonists may not be at the front of the bookstore, or library shelf, but we have to make it our job to give our children ample opportunity to root for people who do and don’t look like them.

As small children, babies even, we get our first look at the world through books. Typically, before our very first play date, television episode, or day of school, we are snuggled up with our parents taking in all of the wonders of those first cherished characters.

When mothers ask me how they can start at home, especially when their children don’t have many black schoolmates or neighbors, I tell them to start with their bookshelves. Does your bookshelf reflect the diversity of the world, or does it only look like you? You’d be surprised by how much you can teach your children about diversity, by simply choosing a more inclusive bedtime story. 

I am so excited to be sharing some of five of our family favorites with you. These books include black history gems, as well as some adorable stories that feature black and brown protagonists, with fantastic messages. I hope you enjoy them as much as my family has. 


Top 5 Favorite Books

Juneteenth for Mazie by Floyd Cooper is a look back at the heritage of Black Americans, and why we celebrate Juneteenth, or the day that enslaved Black people were freed, June 19, 1865.

Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History by Vashti Harrison tells the tale of 40 trailblazing Black female leaders who have changed the world–many of whom are still alive today.

The illustrations in You Matter by Christian Robinson are completely out of this world. So many different kinds of people are depicted in these pages, I especially love the Black female astronaut. It tells the story of how we are all connected to one another on this planet, and how we ALL matter.

Please, Puppy, Please, by Spike Lee and Tonya Lee

Not Quite Snow White, by Ashley Franklin

For my complete Amazon book list, check them out here.


  1. “Publishing Statistics on Children’s/YA Books about People of Color and First/Native Nations and by People of Color and First/Native Nations Authors and Illustrators” By Kathleen T. Horning, November 21, 2019, Cooperative Children’s Book Center of Education, University of Wisconsin-Madison,