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When she first discovered her talent for ballet – at the relatively ancient age of 13 – Misty Copeland was sleeping on the floor of a SoCal motel room with five other siblings. A true phenomenon, she fought through the industry’s long-standing exclusion of Black dancers, as well as a highly publicized emancipation battle, to become the American Ballet Theatre’s first African American principal dancer in its 75-year history. She captures her journey of self-discovery and perseverance in the 2017 memoir Life in Motion, along with her loosely autobiographical children’s book Bunheads.

Devoting her career to kids who’ve traditionally been overlooked and underrepresented in spaces like ballet, it’s no wonder Copeland’s reading list is chock-full of inspiring stories centering diverse voices. Copeland told One Grand Books,

“Each of these books speaks to the spirit of inclusion and the celebration of diversity, told through the lenses of truly dynamic characters and voices. I hope that as you delve into each book’s pages, you’ll come away with a renewed appreciation for the humanity in us all.”

Find Misty Copeland’s recommendations below – and for a deeper look at the language of dance, check out her Masterclass on ballet technique and artistry.


Dreamers by Yuyi Morales
“In 1994, Yuyi Morales travelled to the United states from her native Mexico with her infant son. This is the story she tells in lyrical verse in this brightly illustrated and deeply felt children’s book. More an illustrated memoir than traditional children’s book, it is nonetheless accessible to all ages and inspiring as well.” -MC

Peg + Cat: The Pizza Problem by Jennifer Oxley and Billy Aronson

“The stars of the Emmy Award-winning cartoon Peg and Cat (Peg is a human; Cat is a cat) learn fractions via pizza pie in this fun and engaging way to teach kids math and…a love for pizza.” -MC

The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats

“Keats’ wonderful 1962 story is a true classic I remember from growing up. I was — and continue to be — drawn to both the simplicity of the story (a boy, Peter, takes a walk in the snow) and the, at the time rare, representation of someone whose skin color is like my own. Nearly sixty years after it was first published, I still find the book beautiful.” -MC

Julián Is A Mermaid by Jessica Love

“This colorful story of a boy who wants to dress as a mermaid for Coney Island’s annual Mermaid Parade blew me away. With stunningly vivid artwork, spare text and characters you can’t help but love, the story warms my heart every time I read it. Its message — that those who love you will love you for who you are — can never be heard too often.” -MC

Sulwe by Lupita Nyong’o

“From the opening line, ‘Sulwe was born the color of midnight,’ Nyong’o’s story is a beautiful and encouraging one for young readers who might need an extra assurance that they are perfect just as they are. The narrative tackles colorism in a frank way as the young hero Sulwe struggles with her own skin tone. The message resonates with many children of color but should be read by all.” -MC

The Proudest Blue: A Story of Hijab and Family by Ibtihaj Muhammed Illustrations by Hatem Aly

“What I love about Olympic gold medalist Ibtihaj Muhammad’s debut children’s book is how it deftly shows — not tells — that difference doesn’t have to be scary. The book follows the first day of school for the sisters Fazia and Asiya. It is Asiya’s first day wearing a hijab and she is enormously proud. But, as the girls quickly find, her head covering proves a lighting rod for bigotry. Told with skill and illustrated with a specificity that makes it ring true — i.e. the subtle differences in head covering from Asiya’s hijab to her mother’s abaya — The Proudest Blue shines with pride and strength.” -MC

Hair Love by Matthew A. Cherry Illustrations by Vashti Harrison

“Another powerful story illustrated by Vashti Harrison, the artist behind Sulwe, and Matthew A. Cherry, who also made the film Hair Love on which this book is based, this is an incredibly powerful depiction of the kind of father-daughter relationship that can be so impactful in a young girl’s life. His unconditional love for his daughter supersedes any doubts she may have about him taking on styling her hair.” -MC

Chocolate Me! by Taye Diggs

“Taye Diggs’ story focuses on how a trio of white boys treat their erstwhile friend, whose skin is, as the title suggests, chocolate. Diggs proves himself adept both at crafting a nuanced resonant story about the hurt and pain even seemingly innocent remarks cause as well as demonstrating a mastery of language. The rhymes burst from the pages, as lively as the vibrant playful illustrations.” -MC

All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold Illustrations by Suzanne Kaufman

“Penfold’s story is a somewhat more aspirational version of Muhammed’s The Proudest Blue. In Penfold’s story a diverse set of children move through their day awash in inclusivity and open-mindedness. Brightly illustrated, the story zips along in tight rhyme with the title — all are welcome here — serving as a comforting refrain. For example, ‘Time for lunch—what a spread! / A dozen different kinds of bread. / Pass it around till everyone’s fed. / All are welcome here.'” -MC

Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story by Kevin Noble Maillard

“Kevin Noble Maillard is a Professor of Law at Syracuse University, a member of the Seminole Nation and the author of this heart-warming story that explores Native American foodways. Fry bread, a traditional recipe that is as simple and delicious as it sounds, is made by members of an intergenerational family. What I really love as well is the back matter, which adds additional context to fry bread, not shying away from its complex history, and a recipe that’s easy to follow.” -MC
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