Looking for kids of color in the middle grade sci fi/fantasy books of 2012

For a number of reasons, I want there to be lots of sci fi/fantasy books for middle grade kids (ages 9-12) that star kids who aren't white, and I want these kids to be shown on the book covers.   I do not think I will at any point in the near future be thinking that there are enough of these books.

Here are 2012's middle grade sci fi/fantasy books published in the US starring kids of color (and please please please let me know of any I missed!).   Do not worry if you are pressed for time.  It is not a long list; it consistes of 13 traditionally published, and 4 small press/ independently published, books.

First up are the books where the kids are shown on the covers.  I am being very generous with my definition of "shown."  In many, the ethnicity of the non-white characters is obscured or outright occluded.  Then come the books where the text or interior illustrations are descriptive, including one where you have to read the book before it in the series to know that the kids have an indigenous Brazilian mother.  The title links go to my reviews if applicable, or to some other informative page if I haven't reviewed the book.

I've also included the breakdown by publisher at the end.

The Cover Books:

The Book of Wonders, Jasmine Richards   (The girl on the right is from a fantasy Persian Gulf-esqe area, ala Shaherezade.  You can tell by her clothes.)  HarperCollins.

Bridge of Time, by Lewis Buzbee  (Jean, on the right, is from a Chinese-American family, something important to the plot.  The back of her head looks plausibly Chinese American.  So does the back of the boy's head.  He isn't.)  Macmillan.

Claws, by Mike and Rachel Grinti (the hardcover shows the cat, but the cover shown is the paperack sold through Scholastic school book fairs, which shows the Vietnamese American heroine front and center). Chicken House/Scholastic.

The Diary of B. B. Bright, Possible Princess, by Alice Randall and Caroline Randall Williams (Speaks for itself.  A beautiful girl shown with no obfuscation). Turner.

Geeks, Girls, and Secret Identities, by Mike Jung (that kid in the middle there, on top of the title--that's Vincent Wu, the hero, small but with all his face showing! The two white kids are sidekicks.  The awesome girl isn't shown.) Scholastic.

Dragon of Seas, by Pierdomenico Baccalario (four main characters, one of whom is Chinese.  I don't think the cover makes his ethnicity obvious, but neither does it make it dis-obvious, and the dragon is awful cool and multicultural looking)  Random House.

The River of No Return, by J & P Voelkel (I do not think that anyone could guess that Lola, the one on the left with the ponytail, is Mayan). Egmont.

  Look Ahead, Look Back (2012)  by Annette Laing  (One of the dark shapes is an African American boy).  Confusion Press.

The Savage Fortress, by Sarwat Chadda.  (The brother and sister shown on the cover are Anglo Indians.  Less clear is the fact that the dinosaur is actually an Indian demon).  Scholastic.

 Shade and Sorceress, by Catherine Egan (as Sherry pointed out in her comment, the heroine as shown on the cover looks to be of African descent.  I must go back to this one and look more closely to see how she is described!) Coteau Books.

Ship of Souls, Zetta Elliott  (I think it's reasonably clear that this kid's hands aren't white, but it felt like a stretch to call this a book showing a kid of color.  Are hands enough????). Amazon Encore.

The Stones of Ravenglass, by Jenny Nimmo (a very rare thing in mg sff--the hero is African.  Nothing about the way he's shown contradicts this (he has both hand and hair of non-whiteness)...but it would be very possible not to register it either). Scholastic.

The Serpent's Shadow  by Rick Riordan.  (The silhouettes siblings are half black, half white). Hyperion.

Starry River of the Sky, by Grace Lin (I don't think I need to say anything about this one--Chinese boy clearly shown as Chinese boy).  Little, Brown.

The Interior Description Books:

Above World, by Jenn Reese (It had been a long time since I'd read this one, and I was glad to be reminded by the author that "Aluna, the main character of two PoV characters, has dark skin. Dash, another of the main characters, is also not white.") Candlewick.
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Flies Again, by Frank Cotrell Boyce (The illustrations clearly show that one parent is dark-skinned, and one parent is light-skinned.  Thank you, all involved). Candlewick.

The Drowned Vault: Ashtown Burials #2, N. D. Wilson  (You would not know from either the cover, or from the text, that the mother of the two main characters in this book is an indigenous Brazilian, so that by extension that they, with their dark hair and skin, aren't purely European.   You would know this from page 234 of book 1, which I quote in my review of it).  Random House.

 The Mark of Athena (Heroes of Olympus, Book 3), Rick Riordan (a smorgasbord of non-white characters.  I'm a bit doubtful about including this, as the mainest of the main characters are white.   And, unrelatedly, why are they all American?). Hyperion.

So.  There you are.   If you want to give a kid a just-published fantasy or sci fi book, whose hero or heroine isn't white, you can chose from 13 books from big publishers, 4 from independent/self-published.  If you want the cover to clearly and unequivocally show that kid with no silhouetting or other ambiguity, you can pick from maybe 6, depending on how you call it.   If you want one that clearly shows a Hispanic boy or girl, or an Asian girl, you are out of luck.

And of course, if you want choice (!), if you want to browse a selection of fantasy books to give a black girl, say, that all star brave and beautiful girls like herself, so that you can find one that you really love and which is just right for her, you are out of luck.  I am glad my local Barnes and Nobel sells Diary of B.B. Bright, but it wasn't the book I wanted to buy for my own niece.

The number of multicultural sci fi/fantasy books for kids is increasing, but not, you know, enough so as to be a dramatic sea change.  By way of comparison, in 2011 I reviewed 13 mg sff books starring kids of color.  And in looking through the 2010 Cybils nominees, I was able to find 8.

Breakdown by publisher:  

Scholastic:  4 (you'll have to trust me on Claws until I get hold of a picture)
Hyperion: 2
Random House: 2
Candlewick: 2
Egmont: 1
Little Brown: 1
HarperCollins: 1
AmazonEncore: 1
Confusion Press: 1
 Coteau Books: 1

And do please let me know if I missed any books!!!!  I want to have missed lots of books!

ps There was only one book that I remember in all 151 mg sff Cybils books that featured non-white supporting characters-- 13 Hangmen, byArt Corriveau.  Surly there must be more?)

pps  The game version of Infinity Ring: Mutiny in Time, by James Dashner (Scholastic) shows images of the characters--Dak as white, Sera as Asian (she's describe in the book as having long dark hair, but that's it), and Rak, a supporting character, as clearly black (he is described in the book as dark of hair and skin.  I am about to read the second book in the series, and will pay close attention to descriptions!


  1. In Infinity Ring: Mutiny in TIme, one of the three main characters is black, no? No picture, though.

    The girl on the front of Shade and Sorceress looks African, but I didn't finish the book and don't remember how she was described.

    That's about it, I think.

    1. I'm not sure about Mutiny in Time book wise--the game version certainly shows Sera, the main girl character, as Asian, and Rak, the main supporting boy character, as black, but this isn't clear in the book. So I don't know if I should count it or not...I'll put in a note.

      Shade and Sorceress I read as an ebook, so the cover didn't register, and though I did read it, I don't remember how she's described. But yes, she does look like she's of African descent. I should add her!

  2. There's no picture on the cover of Above World, but Aluna, the main character of two PoV characters, has dark skin. Dash, another of the main characters, is also not white. (The series is set in the far future, so no current-day races are mentioned.)

    You mention a lot of books I haven't read yet -- thank you for compiling this list! I'll keep looking for more books to add.

  3. Charlotte, thanks for this list. I haven't read any of these so I'm going to be looking for them.

  4. Great list, Charlotte! (Though I agree, unfortunately too short, which is something that needs to change.)

    Here's the Scholastic book fair edition cover for Claws -- I really need to get our website updated this month, totally forgot it wasn't on our site yet. http://onlinebookfairs.scholastic.com/images/338171.jpg

    I can't think offhand of books you might have missed, but I'm heading out the door so I'll have to stop back when I have more time.

    -Rachel Grinti

    1. Hi Rachel--thanks for the link; though that picture was too small, it did lead me to another one!

    2. But if you do upload a picture of the cover to your own site, let me know and I'll use that one instead....

  5. I followed a thread from twitter here, and there's my book! Thank you for including it on your list! So that you don't have to hunt around for the brief description of Eliza from "Shade & Sorceress," here it is (with a wee bit of cutting): "She was much darker than the island children ... with a pointed chin and a sharp little beak of a nose, big black eyes and heavy eyebrows. She was small for her age, all sharp elbows and knees, with hair that would neither lie down flat nor curl nicely, but whose disorderly tendrils sprouted from her head in total defiance of both fashion and gravity."


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