Culturally diverse books in the Premiers' Reading Challenge

​Reading diverse books is important because it allows us to understand and experience different cultures and beliefs, says Dandenong High School Grade 9 students Laura and Vimasha.

Dandenong High School have a proudly culturally diverse student population, and over 1,000 of them participated in the Premiers'​ Reading Challenge last year.

For this year's Cultural Diversity Week, we asked Dandenong High School's Teen Library Advisory group why it's important to read diverse books.

'I believe that people who read diverse books help the world to understand and be more optimistic towards everyone, no matter their difference,' says Ryani in Grade 8.

'It's really fun and awesome to read books about people from other countries,' Grade 9 student Jessie says.

Grade 9 student Joshua says, 'why not?'

Bringing the Premiers' Reading Challenge into Cultural Diversity Week

There are​ more than 9,000 books on the Challenge reading list, including many by culturally diverse authors, or featuring Australia's diversity as a core theme.

See: What's on the booklists?

Here are some titles to get young readers started on their reading journey.

 

Early Years

The Patchwork Bike by Maxine Baneeba Clarke

In a desert village with "mud-for-walls" homes, children and their families use their imaginations to build a bike. The Patchwork Bike explores the universal joys of childhood fun with a unique home and culture as the backdrop.

Author Maxine Beneba Clarke says diverse books are important for children who rarely see people like themselves represented on the page.

'For young readers, books are often their other worlds,' Maxine says. 'Diversity of story fosters diversity of experience, and diversity of empathy.'

'When all of the characters a child reads about are very similar, we are inadvertently saying: "These are the kinds of people stories get written about. These are the kinds of stories that matter."'

'When children feel as if they t​oo are worthy of being written and read about, they start to believe that reading and writing can also be for them, and by them.'
'Diverse reading means the journey is for everyone.'

Maxine is the author of critically acclaimed memoir The Hate Race about growing up as an African woman in Australia, and Foreign Soil, a collection of short stories about marginalised people and now a VCE English book.

I Love Me by Sally Morgan and Ambelin Kwaymullina

I Love Me celebrates all the things that make us different, from curly hair to the shape of your nose. Palyku author Sally Morgan of the award winning My Place series wrote this book with her daughter Ambelin Kwaymullina, who provided the illustrations.

The Colour of Home by Mary Hoffman

At his school in England, little Hassan draws a picture of his home back in Somalia. He tells his teacher about his family's journey from Mogadishu to Mombasa, a refugee camp, and finally coming to England. England is very different to Somalia, but with his mum and dad and sister together, Hassan has a new home.

I'm Australian Too by Mem Fox

I'm Australian Too celebrates all kinds of Australians – Aboriginal Australians, Australians in the city, Australians in the country, Australians with parents from other countries, refugees who would like to be Australian. Beloved children's author Mem Fox has written a rhyming book for parents and children to enjoy together, asking "how about you?" – encouraging readers to think about their roots and celebrate Australia's diversity.

Primary School

'It's good to read about the different types of cultures, but also sharing the same love towards each other.' - Junior, Grade 10

Anna Hibiscus series by Atinuke

Fun-loving Anna Hibiscus takes readers on adventures in her village in western Africa. She tells us about her big and loving family and balancing cultural traditions with the 21st century.

Author Atinuke grew up in Nigeria and the UK. Atinuke realised that children in the UK didn't know much about Africa, so she wrote the Anna Hibiscus series to introduce children to her homeland.

The Little Refugee by Anh Do

Like 80,000 of Australians, comedian and TV personality Anh Do came to Australia with his family as a Vietnamese refugee. Anh tells his story with a sparkling sense of humour and boundless positivity, even when he describes an encounter with pirates and the challenges of settling into new life in Australia.

This is a picture book adaptation of Anh Do's memoir The Happiest Refugee, which is suitable for older readers.

A Ghost in my Suitcase Series by Gabrielle Wang

A Ghost in my Suitcase tells the story of Chinese-Australian Celeste visiting her grandmother in Shanghai, only to discover some amazing things about her family. A Ghost in my Suitcase combines culture, family and tales of the supernatural from both Australia and China, told from the perspective of an adolescent girl between two cultures.

Gabrielle Wang is a Chinese-Australian author, and draws upon her cultural heritage and experiences in her books.

'Stories have been the means whereby a people define themselves: Who are we? Where did we come from? Why are we now as we are?' Gabrielle says.

'Novels can act as a bridge to a world where we can look back at ourselves through new eyes, perhaps even eyes of a different shape and colour.'

Younger readers may also enjoy Gabrielle's book The Garden of Empress Cassia, a story about a little Chinese-Australian girl who discovers a new world with a set of magic pastels.

Older readers may enjoy Little Paradise, a novel about a Chinese woman in Melbourne pursuing her true love in Shanghai.

Thai-Riffic series by Oliver Phommavanh

Adolescence can be an awkward time, especially when you have a "weird" name and embarrassing Thai parents who own a restaurant named "Thai-Riffic". Lengy is starting high school and just wants to fit in and eat pizza. But his parents' Thai food is a hit at his high school. And when his cool Indian Australian best friend Rajiv decides to be Thai for a day for a school project, Lengy learns that maybe being Thai isn't so embarrassing after all.

Drawing inspiration from his own childhood, primary school teacher and comedian Oliver Phommavanh says his book is for any young person trying to make sense of their family, identity and culture.

Our Australian Girl series

The Our Australian Girl series tells adventures of brave, diverse girls with Australian history as the backdrop: the colonisation of Australia, European migration, the Stolen Generation and war.

Gabrielle Wang's "Pearlie" series is a spy adventure featuring a mixed-race Asian girl and her Japanese friend in Darwin during WWII. Her "Poppy" series centres around an Indigenous-Chinese girl living on an Aboriginal mission. Sally Rippin's "Lina" series follows the story of a young Italian migrant girl trying to make her place in the world during the Melbourne 1956 Olympics. Grace from London is one of the many people from the UK transported to Australia as a convict, Letty migrates from England, and Nellie has left Ireland for Adelaide in search of a better life.

High School

'We should read diverse books for a variety of reasons; while it also helps us expand our horizons, it also allows us to understand others – their culture, beliefs and their thoughts. 
'It also allows us to expand our interests and could open up doors for everyone's futures.' - Leah, Grade 9

Does my Head look Big in This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah

16-year-old Palestinian-Australian Amal has decided to wear a hijab, and everybody around her – her family, friends, schoolmates and random people on the street – have something to say about it.

Randa Abdel-Fattah wrote the first draft of this book when she was 18. It won the Australian Book Industry Award and Australian Book of The Year Award for older children.

The First Third by Will Kostakis

17-year-old Billy Tsiolkas's traditional Greek Yiayia has a dying wish – for him to fix up his dysfunctional family. We follow the tragic, but funny journey of Billy to connect with his strange brothers, get a date for his single mother, while eating plenty of delicious Greek food on the way.

Greek-Australian author Will Kostakis wrote The First Third after visiting a primary school and sharing stories with students about their yiayias and nonnas.

Looking for Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta

Looking for Alibrandi has proved to be a timeless Australian classic in high schools over the last few decades. A young Italian-Australian girl confronts with cultural identity, racism, family and interracial relationships as she forms a relationship with her estranged father - and tries to avoid the Nonna spy network.

Fans of the book may be interested in the highly-acclaimed 2000 film adaption.

Living on Hope Street by Demet Divaroren

In an ordinary street in suburban Australia, kind Turkish neighbour Mrs Aslan takes in brothers Kane and Sam as they escape family violence with their mum. Her estranged granddaughter Ada comes searching for family. African refugee Gugulethu moves in after escaping violence from her homeland. And Vietnam vet Mr Bailey shows his disdain for the increasingly diverse neighbourhood.

Turkish-Australian author Demet Divaroren won this year's Premier Literary Award for Young Adult Writing for Living on Hope Street. It was born from Demet's own experiences living with her grandmother in Turkey next to a family.

Get your kids and school involved with the Premiers' Reading Challenge.