Diversity Picture Books for 5th Grade

Diversity Picture Books for 5th Grade

I spent more time in my kids’ 5th grade classroom because I was the parent coordinator for our PTO Creative Arts and Sciences. I know that there are always shifts in curriculum due to Common Core but leeway, as well, for teachers to cover what they typically have done in the past. My kids studied these topics in 5th grade:

  • Native American (we brought in Native American Art program that compared the turtle creation myth using artwork from Native American tribes across the U.S.A.)
  • Colonial America (we brought in a program where a husband and wife role played colonists in the 1800s with a table of antiques from that period)
  • American Revolution (we took a field trip to The Freedom Trail that included a reenactment of the Boston Tea Party; we live near Boston)
  • Pre-Civil War/Slavery (I noticed the slavery unit included a book display of picture books on slavery and my kids talked about Henry’s Freedom Box at home)
  • World War II/Holocaust (Our 5th grade teachers touched on the Holocaust without getting two graphic. My daughter read Number the Stars and the classroom read aloud was The Yellow Star: The Legend of King Christian X of Denmark and The Cats in Krasinski Square)

I’d love to get your suggestions for books that support 5th Grade Common Core. Thanks for sharing!

p.s. Here are all the books in this series:


Diversity Picture Books for 5th Grade

Native American Picture Books for 5th Grade

Thirteen Moons on Turtle’s Back by Joseph Bruchac and Jonathan London, illustrated by Thomas Locker

In many Native American cultures, there a legend of how the world was created on the back of a giant sea turtle. Joseph Bruchac’s picture book goes further and describes how each of the thirteen moons of the year hold a story, reflected in the scales of the shell of a turtle. He tells these stories, reflecting different Native American tribes and the rhythms of nature, in lyrical free verse poetry. [poetry picture book, ages 6 and up]

Encounter by Jane Yolen, illustrated by David Shannon

This is the perspective from a young Taino boy on San Salvador when Christopher Columbus comes to the New World. Columbus carried away ten young Taino men and women back to Spain as slaves and their island was later colonized by the Spanish, changing their culture forever. [picture book, ages 6 and up]

Jingle Dance Dress

What I’m wearing: “Regalia” which is a French word for “suit of honor.” It is not a costume, and it is not an outfit. It was handmade by a renowned artist and elder in my tribe and given to my mother, who gave it to me.
Meaning: this particular regalia is called a jingle dress. This dress has a story and it originates from the Ojibwa tribe. The story says that the dress was made so that the chief’s granddaughter would be healed from a sickness, so it is a healing dress. The sound it makes is meant to bring healing. The silver jingles on my dress make a ton of noise which sound like rain on a tin roof.

The feather fan that I am holding is a prayer fan and it is raised high throughout the dance in order to praise the Creator.

Everything that I have on has a meaning from the dress itself down to the adornments in my hair.

From Mimisane Instagram

Jingle Dancer by Cynthia Leitich Smith, illustrated by Ying-Hwa Hu and Cornelius Van Wright

Jenna’s jingle dress needs four rows of jingles to sing but her Grandma Wolfe doesn’t have time to mail-order tins for rolling jingles to complete her dress in time for the pow wow. Not everyone can attend the pow wow which inspires Jenna to come up with an ingenious solution. [picture book, ages 4 and up]

The Unbreakable Code by Sara Hoagland Hunter, illustrated by Julia Miner

I used The Unbreakable Code for a Book Club for Boys which made for a fun scavenger hunt solving clues in code. It’s the true story of the Navajo code talkers who are credited with turning the tide for the United States during WWII. The original code they used as well as Navajo words are in the back pages as well. [picture book, ages 6 and up]

Colonial America Picture Book for 5th Grade

Independent Dames: What You Never Knew About the Women and Girls of the American Revolution by Laurie Halse Anderson, illustrated by Matt Faulkner

It’s true that George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Paul Revere, John Adams and the other men get all the press but did you know that Sybil Ludington was just 16 years old when she rode 40 miles to spread the news of the British attack? That’s 24 miles more than Paul Revere!! Women and girls did espionage work too. Deborah Champion smuggled money and messages to George Washington. The boycott against British tea and fabric was effective and the result of American women who stopped buying these products.

There were others too! Elizabeth Burgin helped two hundren American prisoners of war escape from a prison ship. Countless others nursed soldiers, and made sure the troops had food and other supplies. There were even women who disguised themselves as men so they could join the battlefront.

I think it’s time that the unsung heros of the American Revolution get their due, don’t you? [picture book, ages 8 and up]

Slavery Picture Books for 5th Grade

Henry’s Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad by Ellen Levine, illustrated by Kadir Nelson

My kids’ teachers use this book in 5th grade for the unit on slavery and the underground railroad. Our town, Newton, MA, was an active part of the underground railroad. The Newton Historical Museum was an actual stop and if you go into the basement, you can see a kind of shallow dry well which was used as a hiding place.

Henry’s story of freedom made newspaper headlines in America and Europe when he mailed himself in a box from Richmond, Virginia to Philadelphia via train and steamboat. On March 30, 1849, Henry Brown becomes a freeman. The reader never learns about what happens to his wife and kids who were sold by their master though. [picture book, ages 6 and up]

The Escape of Oney Judge: Martha Washington’s Slave Finds Freedom by Emily Arnold McCully

Did you know that George Washington owned slaves? Oney Judge was responsible for starching and pleating Martha Washington’s fancy caps as First Lady. The nation’s capital then was in Philadelphia where the law mandated that adult slaves who lived there for six months must be freed. The Washingtons were careful to send their slaves back to Mt. Vernon periodically for visits. When Oney learned that she would be given to Martha’s granddaughter upon her death, she planned her escape, ending up in New Hampshire. Still, she wasn’t entirely safe there. The Washingtons wanted her back and it wasn’t until President Washington died that Oney felt free. [picture book, ages 6 and up]

Notables Who Lived During The Civil War

The Little Plant Doctor: A Story About George Washington Carver by Jean Marzollo, illustrated by Ken Wilson-Max

George Washington Carver grew up in 1870s, adopted by a white couple during a time when there were no schools for black children. When he was 12, he was finally able to attend school, eventually going to college where he was first black student. He became a well known scientist, finding new uses for peanuts and sweet potatoes, among other discoveries. Martin Luther King, Jr. was 14 years old when George Washington Carver died.

With Books and Bricks: How Booker T. Washington Built a School by Suzanne Slade, illustrated by Nicole Tadgell

Booker T. Washington was born a slave, and freed when he turned 9 after the Civil War. He wanted to go to school but all the schools were for whites only. He managed to teach himself to read with an old Webster’s spelling book. At 16, he learned about a school for blacks in Virginia 500 miles away. He graduated three  years later, and returned home to teach at a school for black students. There was no building but Booker found an empty shed which was soon filled to capacity with kids eager to learn.

Booker decided his students needed a real building. He borrowed money to buy a deserted farm, cleared the land, and made his own bricks. He and his students made twenty-five thousand bricks which, unfortunately, blew up in the kiln. It took three kilns before he was able to fire the bricks. Booker T. Washington’s school is now Tuskegee Institute with one hundred buildings and fifteen hundred students. [picture book, ages 6 and up]

Holocaust Picture Books for 5th Grade

The Yellow Star: The Legend of King Christian X of Denmark by Carmen Agra Deedy, illustrated by Henri Sorensen

If you want to learn more about the Danish king who saved his people from the death camps, this picture book is the perfect (gentle) place to start. [picture book, ages 6 and up]

The Cats in Krasinski Square by Karen Hesse, illustrated by Wendy Watson

Jars of Hope is also about what life was like in the Warsaw Ghetto and it would pair nicely with The Cats in Krasinski Square. This picture book is a meticulously researched fictional account of a Jewish girl’s involvement in the Resistance. Her strategy to smuggle desperately needed food inside the Warsaw Ghetto through the cracks in the walls in Krasinski Square relies on an ingenious strategy of recruiting cats to help. [picture book, ages 6 and up]

Jars of Hope: How One Woman Helped Save 2,500 Children During the Holocaust by Jennifer Roy, illustrated by Meg Owenson

Whoever saves a single life, saves an entire universe.

Irena Sendler, a Polish social worker, is among the quietly heroic that not many of us knew about. She is an inspiration that a single, seemingly ordinary person, can stand up to the horrors of the Nazi’s regime. She and others worked on a different kind of underground “railroad” rescuing Jewish children at the risk of their own lives. Her jars of hope allowed the children she rescued to be reunited with loved ones who survived WWII. [picture book, ages 9 and up]

Diversity Picture Books to Inspire Kids

The Empty Pot by Demi

This gorgeously illustrated picture book tells the story of Ping who is given a seed along with all the other kids in the kingdom. Whoever grows the most beautiful flower will succeed the Emperor. Ping is a talented gardener but he can’t get his seed to grow. Can he face the Emperor with his empty pot? I love how this book teaches kids about believing in themselves and the value of honesty. [picture book, ages 4 and up]

Shining Star: The Anna May Wong Story by Paula Yoo, illustrated by Lin Wang

Anna May Wong was the first Chinese American movie star, and the first Asian American actress to gain international recognition. Despite facing racism in 1920’s Hollywood, her career  was long and varied and included silent and sound film, television, stage and radio.

As a pioneer in Hollywood paving the wave for future generations of Asian Americans in Hollywood, Anna May Wong is a role model to celebrate for Women’s History Month! [picture book, ages 6 and up]

Little Melba and Her Big Trombone by Katheryn Russell-Brown, illustrated by Frank Morrison

Born in 1926, Little Melba Doretta Liston was a trailblazing musician and an unsung hero of jazz. As a little girl, she was drawn to the trombone and by age eight, was invited to perform a solo at the local radio station. Despite her prodigious talent, Melba faced racism and sexism but prevailed as the first woman, of any race, to become a world-class trombone player, composer and arranger. [picture book, ages 6 and up]

Twenty-Two Cents: Muhammad Yunus and the Village Bank by Paul Yoo, illustrated by Jamel Akib

Can 22 cents change a life? Muhammad Yunus learned that a micro-loan as small as a quarter could pull women from a cycle of poverty, allowing them to feed their children. All his life, he worked on behalf of the poor but it wasn’t until he became a university professor in Bangladesh that he figured out a way to help “banking untouchables.” Muhammad received the Nobel Peace Prize for his work. Pair this biography with One Hen.

One Hen – How One Small Loan Made a Big Difference (CitizenKid) by Katie Smith Milway

Inspired by true events, One Hen tells the story of Kojo, a boy from Ghana who turns a small loan into a thriving farm and a livelihood for many. After his father died, Kojo had to quit school to help his mother collect firewood to sell at the market. When his mother receives a loan from some village families, she gives a little money to her son. With this tiny loan, Kojo buys a hen. A year later, Kojo has built up a flock of 25 hens. With his earnings Kojo is able to return to school. Soon Kojo’s farm grows to become the largest in the region. Kojo’s story is inspired by the life of Kwabena Darko, who as a boy started a tiny poultry farm just like Kojo’s, which later grew to be the largest in Ghana, and one of the largest in west Africa. Kwabena also started a trust that gives out small loans to people who cannot get a loan from a bank.

One Hen shows what happens when a little help makes a big difference. This help comes in the form of a micro-loan, a lending system for people in developing countries who have no collateral and no access to conventional banking. Micro-loans have begun to receive more media attention in recent years.

Ira’s Shakespeare Dream by Glenda Armand, illustrated by Floyd Cooper

In the early 1800’s in New York City, options for black actors are extremely limited. Slavery still existed in the United States, and Ira Frederick Aldridge, though a free man, saw first hand how some men viewed him as property to buy. While working as a cabin boy on a ship that sailed to Charleston, South Carolina, a man offered to buy him from the ship’s captain.

To pursue his acting dream, Ira moved to London where he found success but he never forgot his near miss of being sold into slavery. Even though he remained in England, he never forgot the horrors of slavery and preached to his audience after his shows to raise money help abolitionists. This is the true story of Ira Frederick Aldridge, considered one of the greatest Shakespearean actors of his time. [picture book, ages 8 and up]


p.s. More diversity picture book lists:

10 Amazing Multicultural Picture Books About Helping Others

23 Great Picture Books for 5th Grade

18 Wonderful Picture Books About the Arab World

Advanced Picture Books that Teach Compassion

To examine any book more closely at Amazon, please click on image of book.

Diversity Picture Books for 5th Grade

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By Mia Wenjen, PragmaticMom


  1. Another great list. I have some favorites you listed. Have written a review on Irena’s Jar, which I just love.
    Patricia Tilton recently posted…The Reindeer WishMy Profile

  2. A truly wonderful list Mia, thanks so much for linking it in to the Kid Lit Blog Hop

  3. Looks like a good collection of books. Thanks for sharing Miss Mia :0)
    Aileen Stewart recently posted…Christmas Goings OnMy Profile

  4. Another great list, Mia. Shared.

  5. This is fantastic!!!! Thank you again for a wonderful book list.

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