We asked children's media experts to recommend their favorite new books, TV shows and video games with characters and storylines representing the diversity of the U.S.



An overwhelming number of characters in children's media have historically tended to be white. But the U.S. population has changed. Nearly half of people under the age of 18 are people of color. Yet studies show that the characters in children's books and television do not reflect that change at all. We reported on those studies, and today we bring you recommendations. NPR's Elizabeth Blair asked children's media experts to tell us about recent kids entertainment that gets high marks for both storytelling and inclusion.

ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: Princess Daazhraii Johnson is a member of the Neets'aii Gwich'in Indigenous peoples in Alaska. She's also a writer and producer on the PBS show "Molly From Denali." One of her recommendations is the new Netflix series "City Of Ghosts."

PRINCESS DAAZHRAII JOHNSON: I just love how it relates so deeply to place.

BLAIR: A group of kids in Los Angeles learns about the city's history by talking to the ghosts of people who lived in different neighborhoods.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) It was a few weeks ago. I was playing by the trees, and I heard a voice. I looked around, but there was nobody there.

BLAIR: In one episode, a member of the Ghost Club hears a voice whenever he visits a park near the river. For research, the kids talk to members of the Indigenous Tongva. One of them translates what the voice is saying.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character, singing in Tongva).

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As character) Every pebble, a planet.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character, singing in Tongva).

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As character) Every stone, a grave.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character, singing in Tongva).

JOHNSON: It's so amazing to see this sort of, like, depth and connection to place that really honors the First Peoples of that place.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As characters, singing in Tongva).

BLAIR: Sometimes a story is a window, and sometimes it's a mirror, says Mariana Diaz-Wionczek, a diversity, equity and inclusion consultant for children's media.

MARIANA DIAZ-WIONCZEK: The shows that are - and characters that resonate the most are actually both. You see yourself reflected in them, but you also get to learn about other things.

BLAIR: Diaz-Wionczek spent several years as head of education and research for "Dora The Explorer." Today she is a consultant on the new show "Alma's Way."


FLACO NAVAJA: (Singing) Here she comes, beaming with pride and something to say. Hear those drums playing Alma's way.

BLAIR: Created by Sonia Manzano of "Sesame Street" fame, Alma is a Puerto Rican girl from the Bronx. Her friends are of different races, ethnicities and abilities. But they also face kid-sized challenges you might find anywhere.


NAYSA NISHASH SHOKEEN: (As Rafia) I hate to say it, but our clubhouse is kind of plain.

NIASON DACOSTA: (As Andre) Yeah, too cardboard-y (ph).

SUMMER ROSE CASTILLO: (As Alma) Totally. The first mission of the Cardboard Club should be to decorate our clubhouse.

BLAIR: "Alma's Way" was recommended by Rutgers professor Amy Jordan, who co-edits the Journal of Children and Media.

AMY JORDAN: The colors pop. The characters are vivid. It's just a really well-done program. It's taking on what are often very common childhood issues about how to be a good friend or if you want to be good at something, you need to practice that something.

BLAIR: Alma also makes it cool to be inclusive.


JACOB CRESPO: (As Eddie) Can I come in?

CASTILLO: (As Alma) Yeah. Everyone can play with us.

BLAIR: Diaz-Wionczek says Alma's open and welcoming attitude was intentional.

DIAZ-WIONCZEK: It matters more how we represent a community that supports all people than how we represent each individual - so to have the responsibility as a producer to create a world that serves everyone.

BLAIR: But stories about individuals, even ones who don't look like you, can also help kids feel less alone. Take the picture book "Nana Akua Goes To School" by Tricia Elam Walker, winner of this year's Ezra Jack Keats Writers Award. Zura is a little girl who wants to bring her West African grandmother to school for Grandparents' Day, but she's afraid the traditional tribal markings on her face will frighten her classmates. It happened once before.


UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #1: (Reading) On their way home, a little boy pointed at Nana. And Zura heard him say to his mother, that lady looks scary.

DEBORAH POPE: I think all kids will resonate with Zura's fears - fears of being different.

BLAIR: Deborah Pope is the executive director of the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation. In the story, Nana Akua does go to Zura's school for Grandparents' Day.


UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #1: (Reading) And I brought some special makeup so that each of you can have beautiful African symbols on your face, too.

POPE: Her grandmother just aces the situation by showing how she can make differences familiar and, therefore, bridge the cultural gap.

BLAIR: Embracing your culture, your personality and your dreams is at the heart of our next recommendation for diverse children's media - the picture book "The Me I Choose To Be" written by Natasha Tarpley.


UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #2: (Reading) Some may think they know who I am. But here's what you must understand. My creativity and curiosity flow without end. And if I meet an obstacle, I just begin again.

BLAIR: Each page of this book is a wildly imaginative photograph of a different child of color. A majestic girl in a silver dress looks to the sky, holding a fiery planet in her hand. A ballerina dances across a luminous violet night sky.

KEVIN CLARK: The images are just amazing.

BLAIR: "The Me I Choose To Be" is recommended by Kevin Clark, a former professor at George Mason University's College of Education and Human Development. He says the photography by Regis and Kahran Bethencourt will inspire kids.

CLARK: They're uplifting. They're bright. They're vibrant. They're unlike anything I've ever seen in a children's picture book.

BLAIR: Kevin Clark has been working in the children's media space for more than 20 years. He's watched the evolution of efforts to make kids content more diverse, and he's seen some strides. But he says there needs to be more people of color at every level of the process, from creation to finance and marketing.

CLARK: People are having to justify or to present books in a way that - so that other people can understand it and be connected to it, and then they'll free up the resources to be able to get it out to a wider audience. So I think having more people in these rooms and in positions of power to make these decisions can also be helpful.

BLAIR: With nearly half of all people under 18 people of color, content creators might want to see diversity as more than an afterthought. For more recommendations of diverse children's media, check out the NPR website at npr.org.

Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF DORENA'S "HER COMFORTING TOUCH") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.