Book lists: Multicultural SF/F for MG and YA

ETA: If you’re just googling into this list now, please see my booklists over on Pinterest, which I keep much more up-to-date than this page from several years ago. I break them down by age group and genre. I also publish diverse science fiction and fantasy for young readers at Tu Books now. See the sidebar or the Tu Books page for more information.

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Over at Color Online, they do a meme challenge every week “designed to encourage readers to broaden their reading habits.” This week (well, actually, it was last week; I’ve been working on this list for a few days in spare moments), they’re challenging people to discuss science fiction and fantasy where people of color are the leads.

This is something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately, as we’ve already discussed, but let’s talk about books I’ve already read in which the main character (not a supporting character) is a person of color. Obviously, a lot of the manga I’ve been reading lately features people of color — at least, the ones set in Japan can reasonably be assumed to be people of color. (There’s an ongoing discussion among people who know more about manga than I do that addresses this, because many people unfamiliar with manga assume that the characters are white because of the range of hair colors and because eye shape isn’t characterized with the fold that is so common to Asian people, but from what I understand, it’s just an artistic choice, not a statement on the race of the characters. It certainly makes it easier to distinguish different characters when you’ve got a range of hair colors, especially in black-and-white manga. But that’s not what this post is really about.)

So what science fiction and fantasy — specifically, for young readers — have you read lately that feature a main character of color? Here’s my list (note that even though this is a “multicultural” list, I’m deliberately leaving out fantasy inspired by Celtic culture unless it features a character of color, because such fantasy is usually the most predominant in the market. I love it, but it’s not what this list is for):

SFF books for young readers that feature multicultural characters that I’ve read

  • Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, 2009, by Grace Lin. I’m still working on reading this fairy-tale retelling-like tale, but so far it’s beautiful.
  • Wildwood Dancing, 2007, by Juliet Marillier. This one’s a little bit of a stretch, but it is set in Romania, which is a culture we don’t see too often in non-vampire stories.
  • Book of a Thousand Days, 2008, by Shannon Hale. Mongolia-inspired. Lovely, lovely fairy tale retelling. My favorite of Shannon’s books (and that’s saying something, because she writes some good books!).
  • The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm, 1994, by Nancy Farmer. Set in Zimbabwe in the year 2194.
  • The House of the Scorpion, 2002, by Nancy Farmer. Set in the zone between the U.S. and Mexico, main character is Latino.
  • Flora Segunda, 2007, by Isabeau S. Wilce, and its sequel Flora’s Dare. Set in a fantasy world inspired by a fun mix of medieval, fashion-forward, and Spanish-inspired cultures (Spain-Spanish, given how the language is used, I’m thinking, but I could be wrong).
  • Little Sister,1996, by Kara Dalkey, and a sequel for which I’ve forgotten the name. Japanese folklore. This is actually one of the first multicultural fantasies I discovered way back in college, and I loved it so much, but at the time couldn’t find many more books like it.
  • Magic or Madness, 2005, and its sequels by Justine Larbalestier. Reason Cansino, the main character, is an Australian of mixed race.
  • A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Leguin. This one has had a lot of misunderstanding over the years due to publishers in the 60s and 70s putting a white Ged on the cover, when in fact Ged and many of the other characters are dark-skinned.
  • Eternal, 2009, by Cynthia Leitich Smith. Miranda is Chinese-American.
  • Tantalize, 2007, by Cynthia Leitich Smith. Main character Quincie is English-Italian-Texan, and non-POV character (but featured in a graphic novel sequel) Kieren is Mexican-American. (This one’s kind of a stretch, because Quincie isn’t technically a person of color–unless that Texan part is Latino?)

ETA: How could I forget Lawrence Yep? I have one of his books, but I’m not sure where it is. The ones I’ve read of his feature Asian characters in Asian settings (Chinese? I can’t remember off the top of my head). His books are great reads.

SFF books written by authors of color (where I’ve been able to identify them) in which characters may be of ambiguous ethnicity, or ethnicity simply not mentioned

Sucks to Be Me

    , 2008, by Kimberly Pauley

Multicultural science fiction and fantasy on my TBR pile

  • Silver Phoenix, 2009, by Cindy Pon. Set in ancient China.
  • Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit, 2008, by Nahoko Uehashi, and its sequel, Moribito II. Written by a Japanese author (originally published in Japan and translated to English) and set in a culture inspired by medieval Japan.
  • The Shadow Speaker, 2007, by Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu. Set in Niger, 2070. I’ve had the ARC of this since 2007, and have been wanting to read it for forever, and keep misplacing it when I actually think of it! It’s an oversight I need to correct.
  • Zahrah the Windseeker, Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu.
  • Extras, 2007, by Scott Westerfeld. Main character, Aya, is Japanese, I believe. I LOVED the first three in the series (and somehow have misplaced my signed copies of the first two books 🙁 ) but haven’t had a chance to catch up with this one.
  • How to Ditch Your Fairy, 2008, Justine Larbalestier
  • Tantalize: Kieren’s Story, by Cynthia Leitich Smith–the above-mentioned sequel to her Tantalize.
  • The Animorphs series
  • Chronus Chronicles by Anne Ursu
  • Doret says that she’s been told the Pendragon series apparently has a black girl protagonist, despite the white boy on the cover? I’ll have to investigate that–perhaps it’s alternating viewpoints, or perhaps she’s introduced at a later point in the series? I know there is a follow-up series once the main boy protag grows up, so perhaps she’s in that?
  • Devil’s Kiss, by Sarwat Chadda
  • Libyrinth, by Pearl North
  • The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex
  • Sword and Wandering Warrior by Da Chen

Multicultural fantasy that never came to be, and I lament it

Books 7 and 8 of the Hallowmere series by Tiffany Trent, which was canceled at book 6. I was so looking forward to editing Mara’s story (former slave, probably the most interesting of the Hallowmere girls because of her backstory) in book 7 and Chumana’s story (Hopi girl who Mara was going to meet in her travels through the raths) in book 8.

And books to add to my TBR pile thanks to shweta-narayan

  • Across the Nightingale Floor and its sequels, by Lian Hearn. Japanese historical fantasy. I had a copy of this in Seattle, and I’m not sure where I put it. I think I must have lost it in the move to Utah.
  • Annals of the Western Shore series by Ursula K. LeGuin. I remember the controversy over this cover, too–originally when Gifts came out, they’d put a white kid on the cover, too, and given LeGuin’s long history of having the cover of Earthsea whitewashed, that was a pretty big fight, and the final book ended up with I believe an Indian or Pakistani boy on the cover instead.
  • Un Lun Dun by China Mieville. I keep forgetting to read this one, though people keep recommending it to me. I even have a free copy from ALA a few years back.
  • The Two Pearls of Wisdom (or Dragoneye Reborn as it’s known in the US) by Alison Goodman. I’ve been meaning to pick this one up. The whole mythology is inspired by Asian culture (Japanese? I can’t remember which one).
  • Lavender-Green Magic, by Andre Norton.
  • A Posse of Princesses by Sherwood Smith. (Is this YA?)
  • Stormwitch, by Susan Vaught
  • The Dragon Keeper, by Carole Wilkinson
  • A Girl Named Disaster, by Nancy Farmer
  • The Wizard series by Diane Duane
  • The Green Boy, by Susan Cooper
  • Jin Shei trilogy by Alma Alexander
  • The Magical Adventures of Pretty Pearl, by Virginia Hamilton
  • Willie Bea and the Time the Martians Landed, by Virginia Hamilton
  • 47, by Walter Mosley
  • Pemba’s Song, by Marilyn Nelson and Tonya C. Hegamin
  • The Icarus Girl, by Helen Oyeyemi
  • Haroun and the Sea of Stories, by Salman Rushdie
  • The Night Wanderer, by Drew Hayden Taylor

There are also books in which the ethnicity of the character is neutral/unclaimed, as in The Hunger Games, in which most of those who work in the Seam are dark-skinned, but of an unspecified ethnic origin (Mitali Perkins discussed this on her blog a while back), so I’m not counting it on this list but it’s still a great book.

As you can see, there are some really great books out there already, but the list is still pretty short. Can you guys help me add to it? Especially the TBR pile, though I know I’m also forgetting books that I’ve read that I just don’t have copies of. What am I missing?

41 thoughts on “Book lists: Multicultural SF/F for MG and YA

  1. K.A. Applegate has written two series that I *think* are YA – might be MG – with rotating PoV characters, all given equal importance. The sci-fi series Animorphs had two PoC leads – Marco, Latino, and Cassie, black. Everworld (fantasy) had a black character Jamal. I think they’re out of print, but these series were pretty popular back in the ’90s.

    Since you mentioned manga, do Western comic books count? Just about every teenaged superhero group out there has a couple of PoC, and superheroes do usually fall into the SF/F category.

  2. I didn’t mention manga in this post. If you’re talking about Moribito, that’s a novel. Quite a few animes that have mangas associated with them originated as what are called “light novels” in Japan (just means a short novel, might be for younger readers or older readers–the Japanese don’t seem to break books down by age group the way we do).

  3. …And I just realized that I did mention manga, but not in the booklists. Sorry! It was an example of a great place to read find characters of color, yes, but the main point of the post was about novels. Whoops! Sorry to not be clear.

  4. I loved The Eye, the Ear, and the Arm when I was a kid. My copy is trashed.

    Sazed from Mistborn (books two and three)? Nor Crystal Tears was good in its portrayal of a very different mindset/culture, but doesn’t likely qualify. 😛

  5. Thanks, Titus, but I’m not talking about supporting characters, I’m talking about main characters. Is Vin a character of color? Actually, we don’t know–she does have dark hair (and Brandon’s often said that he believes that he should populate his books with many dark-haired main characters because there are more dark-haired people in the world) but I don’t know that it qualifies it as multicultural.

    Also, please note that I’m specifically talking about books published for young adults and children, not adults. While many adult books have appeal to younger readers, that’s not the focus of this list.

  6. I foucsed on MG/YA for this roll call as well. Its nice to see that we only had 3 books overlap. As I was leaving work yesterday, a co-worker who had just started the Pendradon series told me there was a Black female protagonist. We didn’t get a chance to talk more about the character. I plan on adding a few of your books to my roll call. The longer the better

    Here’s my Roll Call,

  7. Please add my Y/A fantasy novel, “Travels to Fahdamin-Ra” to your list. The main characters, Celestine and Joel are people of color, and they travel to Africanesque Fahdmamin-Ra. The three tribes that they meet all have different physical characteristics, customs, and lifestyles. I wrote it for my kids when we had trouble finding Y/A books featuring non-white kids.

    It is a positive book, and the kids come from a close-knit, intact family. I was tired reading where poc have negative, crapppy lives and the reader feels sorry for them. The kids are average here, but when they travel to the world of Fahdamin-Ra, they discover their supernatural powers and use them – though sometimes with disasterous results!

    Once I got my book published, I set aside 10% of the cover price and I donate it to Wroking Villages, International. Right now, they are helping people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Go to and check out their website!

  8. I was just reading the last book in Anne Ursu’s middle grade Cronus Chronicles, and realized that it would fit, too.

  9. Doret–I have the first three books of the Pendragon series, but I’ve never read it. I’ll have to look into that.

    Chaz, thanks, I’ll have to check it out.

    Janni, I’ve never heard of those. Thanks for the recommendation!

  10. Thanks for your thoughtful comment on my post. I do think it’s hard to find multicultural fantasy and SF, but I don’t think it’s because black teens aren’t interested in it. I’m interested in it. Thanks for putting together a list! It’s great.


  11. I would also recommend A wish After Midnight by Zetta Elliott and the Black Canary by Jane Louise Curry (I think that’s the author).
    This is a good list and there are some titles I will be adding to my tbr pile!

  12. Hi Stacey,

    Sorry it took me so long to get here. Great post.

    Thank so much for taking time to doing this. Will be adding you to our blogroll. We need to know where to for these genres and I like what you are doing here.

  13. Hi Susan, and welcome! No problem on the misspelling–I figure people had to have spelled it right at least once to get here, right? 🙂

  14. You may want to add Sword and Wandering Warrior, both by Da Chen, to your TBR pile. They are “fantasy”–in that they are written in the wuxia tradition. I reviewed Sword for SLJ, so you can get my opinion on it there. 🙂 I know we also discussed Devil’s Kiss via e-mail, which features a main character whose mother was Muslim and father is Christian (but sort of weirdly secular), and that cultural balance comes into play during the novel.

  15. Hi Stacey,
    I wanted to add Da Chen to the list. He has a wonderful series called Forbidden Tales: Sword and Wandering Warrior. They are YA/MG. I have been able to hear him speak at events and have these novels autographed by him.

  16. I have a MG adventure/fantasy that, when the setting shifts to the primary setting, involves humans who have evolved over time to adapt to their immediate surroundings. It’s post apocalyptic and the different adaptations within the human race bring about various stereotypes and prejudices. Not a didactic novel by any means, but involves a multicultural slant by way of the setting. Is this something your press is interested in, by chance?

  17. [Author waving from the sidelines]

    Just in case you tried looking for a “jin-shei triilogy” and failed to find it… you’ve conflated two things here. One of them is a stand-alone novel called “The Secrets of Jin Shei” which I suppose CAN be read by precocious teens but I would probably suggest fifteen and up; the other is the the YA Worldweavers trilogy (“Gift of the Unmage”, “Spellspam”, “Cybermage”) which – I think – still do qualify under your “multicultural” banner.

    Just thought I’d clarify – and thanks for including me!

    1. Oh, thanks, Alma! I’ve got an ARC of one of the Worldweavers trilogy and have been meaning to read it. I can’t remember which one, but it’s probably the first one. You know how it is–so many books to read! But it’s on the list. And now I’ll fix the list to reflect the actual books.

  18. Chitra B. Divakaruni has written a fantasy trilogy set in India. The language is poetic and the characters compelling and a little flawed as we all are. One of my favorite series.

  19. The True Meaning of Smekday, Adam Rex–the main character is an African-American girl. Great character, too.

    Thank you for mentioning Cronus Chronicles.

  20. Hmm He’s a secondary character, but Kartik in the Gemma Doyle trilogy by Libba Bray is Indian (Asian, not American) and the main character, Gemma, while being English, is raised in India and the books start out there and it’s discussed throughout the trilogy.

    Also, there’s a great book called Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech and I believe the main character Salamanca (Sal) is American Indian. It’s been a while since I read it so I could be wrong, but I remember her as having very long dark hair and the title refers to walking in someone else’s moccasins.

  21. Thanks, MaryBeth. The Gemma Doyle trilogy would not be on this list because we’re looking for main (point of view) characters, but it is one to keep in mind as a related book.

    Walk Two Moons, however, is realistic fiction, and this list is dedicated to science fiction and fantasy. It’s a great book, though!

  22. Hi Stacy,

    I am an author of dark fiction. I am also a black woman so my protags tend to reflect what I know…Shades leads Lyric Freeman, a black nurse, down the road of her own slave history and Dead Batteries features a young hispanic woman trying to survive a clinical research trial gone wrong…I have recently joined forces with an agent and hope to bring some good fiction to the fantasy/sci-fi/horror realm that very naturally features women of color.

    While my work is not YA (and would not be appropriate for children), there are some voices trying to be heard that incorporate colors other than white…a lovely color but not the only one! Really great post. Thanks for that.


  23. Hi i am a HUGE fan of the Hallowmere series. Is it impossible to find a new publisher for the series? It rocks and I love it. Mirrorstone are IDIOTS for letting it go!!

    1. I know, it’s sad that it was canceled. Wizards still holds the copyright, so for now, yes, it’s impossible for it to find a new publisher. You’ll have to convince Wizards (not Mirrorstone per se–we wanted to keep it going; it was a corporate decision that we had no say in) that there is enough demand to bring it back. That means huge numbers. Sorry–it sucks to have it end that way, I know.

  24. You might also consider adding Tamora Pierce’s Circle of Magic series. Of the four main characters, two are people of color (Daja and Briar), and some of the books are from their perspectives.

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