I have to applaud Rick Riordan for consciously creating casts of characters of color starting with his Percy Jackson series, particularly his Heroes of Olympus and Kane Chronicle series. Does it make a difference to see yourself in a book? I think so. Does a multi-ethnic cast of characters help a series go supernova? It can’t hurt to cast a wide net and make everyone feel like they belong.
But what about the reader — like my son — who has read every word that Rick Riordan has written and is waiting impatiently for his newest book? I am searching for more books like his. My son has read some of these and granted his approval; others are on his summer reading list.
How about you? What do Action Adventure Fantasy chapter books with diversity and inclusive characters you recommend? Thanks for your suggestions! My son will definitely check them out!
10. The Zodiac: Convergence series by Stan Lee
This has been our biggest hit so far. I read it myself and thought it was a page-turner but wondered if my son would get through it. Boy was I wrong. He could not stop reading this book, and I found him reading on the soccer field sidelines (a first!) and it even got his off screens. He’d beg at night to read just a few more minutes.
Why? True, the cast is multi-ethnic with a large Asian American contingent but I think it’s the plot that combines The Chinese Zodiac with superhero powers that can be transferred via super high technology to anyone. Stan Lee, of Marvel Comic fame, is the genius behind this series that has abundant comic book full-page illustrations in this action-adventure chapter book that appears to be a series.
My son’s twin friends read this over Spring Break and were desperate to discuss the book upon completion. That’s music to both me and their moms. They also raced through it and are eagerly waiting for the next installment. [chapter book, ages 9 and up]
9. The Pharoah’s Secret by Marissa Moss
Hatshepsut was the fifth pharaoh of the Eighteenth dynasty of Egypt. Hatshepsut came to the throne of Egypt in 1478 BC. Officially, she ruled jointly with Thutmose III who had ascended to the throne as a child one year earlier.
This is a sure-fire hit for any kid who likes Percy Jackson but finds the vast array of new Ancient Egyptian gods in the Kane Chronicles to be a tad overwhelming. Marissa Moss tells a similar story of siblings who are from a special lineage that find themselves drawn into an ancient conflict requiring them to complete a task. While the fate of the world does not depend on it, this chapter book still makes for an exciting read and brings the story of the female Pharoah, Hatshepsut to life. I found some Hatshepsut and Thutmose III artifacts at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and I’ll be posting on that soon! [chapter book, ages 8 and up]
8. Zoe and Zak and The Ghost Leopard series by Lars Guignard
Zoe and Zak are not of color but I chose this series because it’s set in India and brings the Hindu gods to life. Lars Guignard went to boarding school in India and I find his descriptions of modern-day India both urban and rural to sparkle with detail. Superpowers are involved for Zoe and Zac and the fate of the world rests in their hands. This is a close facsimile to Riordan’s books though I haven’t successfully gotten my son to try it (yet). I think it’s a great series that he will love. [chapter book, ages 8 and up]
7. The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatley Snyder
This Newbery honor book from 1967 has a mixed-race cast of characters that go to school and play together in their neighborhood. A few of the kids make up a game around Ancient Egyptian mythology and culture and recruit more to join them in their imaginary game. At the same time, danger lurks in their own neighborhood. The two worlds collide as the mystery unfolds of who really is the killer. [chapter book, ages 10 and up]
6. The Kane Chronicles series by Rick Riordan
It’s not often that the protagonists of a blockbuster series are of mixed race and that’s not the point of this riveting action-adventure that toggles back and forth between modern times and Ancient Egypt. Siblings Carter and Sadie find that they have unbeknownst to them superpowers that link them to powerful ancient Egyptian gods … and they will need these powers to save the world from chaos. [chapter book, ages 8 and up]
5. Noah Zarc Mammoth Trouble series by D. Robert Pease
Think the Biblical Noah’s arc in a gentle dystopian future world with the earth’s animals in a giant spaceship arc two by two with the dream of repopulation on earth. Noah just so happens to be in a wheelchair which doesn’t really affect him or his ability to save the world but makes for an inclusive action-adventure. [chapter book, ages 9 and up]
4. Moonshadow series by Simon Higgins
My son loves all things ninja so this series drew him in including the shirukan throwing star on the cover! Set in Japan during the time of the Shogun rule, Moonshadow is an orphan adopted into the Grey Light Order, a secret ninja group loyal to the Shogun. He must stop a hungry Daimyo (warlord) from developing a powerful new weapon from the west that would threaten the fragile peace finally established in Japan. [chapter book, ages 8 and up]
3. The Olympians by George O’Connor
For those who like their mythology by way of a graphic novel, this series is a wonderful in-depth introduction to Greek mythology with a modicum of words. O’Connor wraps multiple Greek mythology stories around a single god per book, many stories and details were new to my son and I (and we read a lot of Greek mythology books!). The books have darkness to both the imagery and stories that make this a nice slant for Percy Jackson fans. [graphic novel series, ages 9 and up]
2. Amulet graphic novel series by Kazu Kibuishi
My husband is equally riveted with this series as my son and I bought the most recent installation at his request. The series is a little creepy for me but that doesn’t seem to bother the men of my family at all. The stories revolve around a sinister creature in Emily and Navin’s new house. They discover an underground world inhabited by monsters, robots, demons, and talking animals. This is perfect for kids who liked The Hobbit movies! [graphic novel, ages 8 and up]
1. The Book That Proves Time Travel Happens by Henry Clark
Our latest find is this humorous chapter book with a diverse cast of characters that includes Shofranka (Frankie) a girl of Romani origins, an Asian American boy (Tom Xiu) with a Tiger Mom, and a mixed-race African American boy (Ambrose). You add in a trombone that allows those who hear it to time travel, Morse Code, slavery, the Shang dynasty, and the I Ching and you get an action-adventure that somehow ties up beautifully into a satisfying action-adventure read. What is also really great is the reader can’t help but noodle on time travel as a physics concept. Is it possible? How does it work? The Grandfather Paradox … let the questions begin. This would also make a great book club selection for that reason! [chapter book, ages 9 and up]
Mythology Action Adventure Honorable Mentions
Shinji Takahashi and the Mark of the Coatl by Julie Kagawa
Review by Ms. Yingling Reads:
“This was a strong middle grade entry from YA author Kagawa, whose Iron Fey (2010) series is one my students have recommended to me over the years. Shinji is a bit reluctant at first but jumps right into the adventure. Lucy is enigmatic at first, but he somehow trusts her because she seems to know more than he does, even if the reasons for this scare him once he figures them out. ” [middle grade, ages 8 and up]
The epic crush of Genie Lo by F.C. Yee
I suspect the timing was off for the Rick Riordan Presents, but this series hits all the high points of a Rick Riordan book: humor, Chinese mythology, epic battles where the fate of the world hangs in the balance, the protagonist discovers her mysterious bloodline and latent superpowers. Also, like a Riordan book, while the readership is categorized as young adult, it also appeals to a much younger audience.
In this book, Genie Lo is the only child of divorced, low-income Chinese parents who live in the Bay area. Right from the start, Yee explores a demographic not really seen in KidLit. Genie is focused on academic achievement to go to an Ivy League college, but she is sidetracked when a mysterious transfer student joins her school. He turns out to be the Monkey King, and he needs her help to rid the town of monsters out of Chinese folklore who threaten to destroy her hometown. She must harness the powers within her to fight this battle both on earth and in other dimensions. In the meantime, she also has to maintain her grades and not freak out her best friend. But her new latent powers do explain her unusual height and her volleyball skills also come in handy for crushing the unworldly monsters.[young adult, ages 12 and up]
Paola Santiago and the River of Tears by Tehlor Kay Mejia
Review by Ms. Yingling Reads:
“Paola lives with her mother in an apartment complex not far from the Gila river. The two struggle economically, with her waitress mother earning a little extra cash doing healings for neighbors. Paola chafes at her mother’s superstitions, especially the one about La Llorona that keeps her away from the river. Paola has a scientific bent, and would love to research more about her environment. Her friends Dante and Emma humor her; they would rather eat candy and have fun. When Emma does not meet Dante and Paola at the river one evening, they are concerned. Emma’s parents are also worried, and instruct the tweens to head to the police department to meet them. Unfortunately, the policeman they meet is very prejudiced against Latinx people, and doesn’t take their concerns seriously. Since another girl, Marisa, disappeared a year previously at the river, the community worries. Paola has had some odd things happen to her, and when she and Dante decide to go looking for their friend, Dante’s grandmother does something odd– she gives them a tote bag, an old flashlight of Paola’s, and her bedroom slipper to take with them, warning them to be careful. Out near the river in a field of cactus, odd things happen, and the two meet Ondina, as well as Los Niños deLuz. Ondina seems determined to hurt Paola, and the group of children say that they are banded together to defeat an evil force that is taking children. Marisa is there, as is a neighbor of Paola’s, Sal, whose family was taken from the building. Paola at first thinks that La Llorona is the driving force behind the chupacabras, ahogados, and other supernatural creatures who are attacking because the cycle of the moon has opened a portal. Mortals will be in danger if the children cannot control the breaches. Paola doesn’t have a lot of powers, but she knows that if the rift in the worlds feeds on the power of children, it must be fixed! With the help of the children, Marisa, and Dante, will she be able to find her friend Emma and close the breach?” [middle grade, ages 8 and up]
Ikenga by Nnedi Okorafor
Review by Ms. Yingling Reads:
“Nnamdi lives in Kalaria, Nigeria with his mother, and his father, who is the chief of police and very invested in taking down major crime figures in the area. When his father is killed in his office, Nnamdi is devastated. Not only doe he miss his father, but his absence leads to economic difficulties, and his mother must go sell tapioca at the street market. When one of the criminals, Never Die, accosts his mother, Nnamdi is angry but not sure what he can do to help. When the ghost of his father appears to him, he is given an answer; his father gives him an Ikenga, a small statue he may only touch with his right hand. In times of anger or stress, the statue allows him to morph into the giant, dark as night Man, who can take vengeance on the criminals. First, he saves a woman whose car is being stolen by Three Days Journey, and then he beats a thief who preys on people at the market, Bad Market. Both times, he is angry with himself for being so violent, and he vows not to hurt anyone else. He is particularly concerned when he raises his hand in anger to his friend, Chioma. Things are changing at home as well, and his mother starts to date a doctor, Bonny. When the three are out on a trip, they get caught in a traffic jam, and his mother’s purse is stolen by Mama Go-Slow and her gang. The fight against her is particularly difficult since she also has some magical powers, which the other criminals lacked. Nnamdi is again violent and again regrets it. Still, the crime in his area is not going away, and he is worried when his friend Ruff Diamond goes missing. When Bonny’s car is stolen, Chioma and Nnamdi connect the events to Three Days Journey and set out to retrieve the car and their friend. The Man is covered in the newspaper, and while the people are glad that criminals are being thwarted, the new chief of police claims that the Man is a danger to everyone. Eventually, Nnamdi hunts down the Chief of Chiefs, the criminal mastermind he suspects is behind his father’s death. Is this the case, or is all of the criminal activity tied to someone else? In order to deal with his powers, Nnamdi needs many answers.” [middle grade, ages 10 and up]
Charlie Hernández and the League of Shadows by Ryan Calejo
Review from Latinos In KidLit:
“Mythological figures are as real as anything in Charlie Hernández and the League of Shadows. This debut middle grade from Ryan Calejo takes readers both familiar and unfamiliar with Latin American mythology (and everywhere in between) on a crash course of myths from all over the Spanish-speaking world.
One after another, famous mythological figures show up to either help or harm, believing Charlie to be the Morphling, a hero who defeats the world’s most powerful witch. All in all, over twenty mythological figures from all over the Spanish-speaking world make appearances, along with brief explanations, usually from Charlie himself.” [middle grade, ages 10 and up]
The Serpent’s Secret by Sayantani DasGupta
Fans of Percy Jackson will find many similarities in this action-packed contemporary adventure imbued with gods and folktales from West Bengal, India. Twelve-year-old Kiranmala possesses the charisma and humor of Riordan’s characters, as well as secret powers from a bloodline linked to powerful gods. She wakes up on her birthday to find her parents gone and a rakkhosh demon attempting to kill her. A pair of princes on winged horses appear to help find her parents by traveling to another dimension. It will take all her riddle-solving and archery skills to bring them home and save the world, but time is running out! [middle grade, ages 8 and up]
The Fire Thief by Terry Deary
The first book of a trilogy, The Fire Thief introduces Prometheus, the god who brought fire to humans in a humorous way that also utilizes time travel to base the story in 1858. [chapter book, ages 10 and up]
The Akhenaten Adventure (Children of the Lamp series) by P. B. Kerr
Set in Japan during the time of the Shogun rule, Moonshadow is an orphan adopted into the Grey Light Order, a secret ninja group loyal to the Shogun. He must stop a hungry Daimyo (warlord) from developing a powerful new weapon from the west that would threaten the fragile peace finally established in Japan. [chapter book, ages 8 and up]
Muse Squad: The Cassandra Curse by Chantel Acevedo
Review by Ms. Yingling Reads:
“It was great that Callie was just an average kid with an average life, with some common problems, like divorced parents and a friend who was pursuing things she wasn’t herself. The fact that she also had powers and got to travel to London magically… hurrah! Having read too many quest style novels lately, it was refreshing that the mission was to inspire someone who would help humanity. There was just enough mythology in this one to make it interesting but not confusing. The action and adventure were also nicely balanced with the standard middle school culture. The addition of a variety of cultural backgrounds was nice to see as well.”
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BEST #OWNVOICES CHILDREN’S BOOKS: My Favorite Diversity Books for Kids Ages 1-12 is a book that I created to highlight books written by authors who share the same marginalized identity as the characters in their books.