7 Children's Books About Diversity That Dismantle Bias
The world is a very diverse place. From our neighborhoods to our kids' classrooms, it often feels like our lives fit the entire world within them. But, while we may be used to that, children aren't.
So, it's our job to prepare them for the differences they'll see outside their immediate family circle. One way to do that is through books!
Children's books about diversity offer a rainbow of role models that teach children to accept and appreciate differences. So, if you want to raise a kid with a greater sense of the world around her, these 24 children's books on diversity are a great place to start.
1. "Maddi's Fridge" by Lois Brandt
The Plot: follows the story of Sofia and Maddi, two BFFs who play at the park. Having worked up an appetite, Sofia runs to Maddi's house and opens the fridge door open. But, all she sees is a carton of milk. Ashamed, Maddi begs Sofia not to tell anyone. But, the girl is determined to help. She sneaks a bunch of eggs and fish into her backpack, and when things don't go as planned, she tells her mom who swoops in with a bag of groceries. Maddi's Fridge
Why It's Worth It: At its core, the book focuses on pressing issues like poverty, child hunger, and compassion. But, the author does an excellent job coating them with humor and a heart-warming friendship story, allowing parents to talk about them without sounding preachy. The eye-catching illustrations also keep readers engaged and convey the girls' heavy emotions without bringing your kiddo down. There's also a call-to-action note at the end with tips on how to help in a similar situation.
2. "All the Way to the Top" by Annette Bay Pimentel
The Plot: tells the real-life story of Jennifer Keelan—Chaffin, a girl who was born with cerebral palsy. Jennifer was eager to do all the things her peers did (like take herself to school). But, she couldn't because the world around her wasn't built for her wheelchair. With the help of her family, she teamed up with other disabled people and together they proposed an Act to make things accessible for them. To make sure it passed, the 8-year-old crawled her way up the Capitol's stairs and made her voice heard! All the Way to the Top: How One Girl's Fight for Americans with Disabilities Changed Everything
Why It's Worth It: Between the striking illustrations and inspiring story, this book helps educate children on the day-to-day struggles of a kid in a wheelchair. The character's desire to enjoy life like everyone else also blurs the disability barrier and teaches kids that disabled people are just “friends waiting to happen.” Her perseverance also proves that you are never too young to make a change.
When I read this book to my students, though, is give them some backstory on the disability rights movement as a whole. You see, the road to this accomplishment wasn't paved by one sole crusader. Many passionate individuals have fought for the cause over the years and thousands still advocate for change. You could refer to the backmatter of the book for some inspo or visit this website.
3. "Lailah's Lunchbox: A Ramadan Story" by Reem Faruqi
The Plot: follows Lailah, a 10-year-old Muslim girl from Abu Dhabi who recently moved to America. For years, Lailah wanted to participate in Ramadan. But, her mother insisted she was “too small.” Now that she's old enough, she can finally participate in the religious practice. But, her excitement soon turns into worry when she thinks that her classmates won't understand her. So, she hides in the library during lunchtime. With a little encouragement from the librarian and her teacher, she explains Ramadan to her fellow students and realizes that she can make friends who respect her beliefs. Lailah's Lunchbox: A Ramadan Story
Why It's Worth It: As an educator, I realize that talking about religion with kids can be a daunting task. But, not addressing it is even worse as we risk perpetuating stereotypes based on misinformation, prejudice, and fear. This book is a great chance to explain to kids that there are multiple religious practices out there and we should respect them all, regardless of our own beliefs. The first-person narrative also makes the story relatable and the arabesque watercolor illustrations add an enchanting vibe to the mix.
4. "Stricly No Elephants" by Lisa Mantchev
The Plot: narrates the story of a little boy and his tiny pet elephant. On Pet Club Day, the two head to door #17. But, a girl refuses to let them in and points to the “Strictly No Elephants” sign on the door. Heartbroken, the boy and the elephant leave. On their way home, they meet a girl with a pet skunk who was also rejected by the club. The kids decide to start their own club, where everyone is welcome. Soon after, kids with unusual pets (such as giraffes and porcupines) join them in this inclusive club, and together they play happily. Strictly No Elephants
Why It's Worth It: This upbeat story is literally an ode to inclusion. The main character teaches young readers that pets (just like friends) come in all shapes and sizes, and we should accept them as is. The story also makes a case for helping our friends whenever they need it because “that's what friends do.” Kids will also take delight in the book's illustrations, which demonstrate the characters' emotions vividly.
5. "Fish in a Tree" by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
The Plot: paints the portrayal of Ally Nickerson, a spirited sixth-grader who doesn't like school. The reason? While she's great at math and arts, she can't read. The letters keep jumping around and give her a headache. To hide her problem and avoid further embarrassment, Ally acts out and becomes a first-class “troublemaker.” She even crosses swords with the so-called “mean girls.” But, everything changes when a new teacher steps in. Mr. Daniels realizes that Ally has dyslexia and helps her with reading. He also encourages her to value her talents and restores her fragile confidence bit by bit. Fish in a Tree
Why It's Worth It: The author uses many brilliant examples to describe dyslexia, helping readers understand what's really going on in a dyslexic kid's mind. This could be eye-opening for children who haven't dealt with such issues, cultivating their tolerance towards kids with learning difficulties. The story's ending also shows that there's no one way to be smart and hard work always pays off. IMO, this is one of the best children's books about diversity as it touches on several important issues (dyslexia, bullying, perseverance) in a way that kids can understand.
6. "Heather Has Two Mommies" by Leslea Newman
The Plot: tells the story of Heather, a little girl who lives happily with her two moms, Mama Jane and Mama Kate. On the first day of school, a boy asks Heather about her daddy. But, she doesn't have one. For a split second, she asks herself if she's the only one without. But, Ms. Molly, the teacher, tells kids to draw pictures of their families. Each drawing is different and includes everything from siblings to grandparents to stepdads. Then, she takes the opportunity to explain to kids that all families are different, and what really matters is that “the people in it love each other.” Heather Has Two Mummies
Why It's Worth It: Originally published in 1989, this children's book about diversity is one for the ages. Through its simple and sweet narrative, it broadens kids' definition of “family” without the usual awkwardness that pertains to such discussion. The positive message at the end also makes readers realize that all families should be treated with respect, no matter their structure. Children who grow up in same-sex partner households may also resonate with Heather, which could increase their sense of self.
7. "The Boy at the Back of the Class" by Onjali Q. Rauf
The Plot: tells the story of Ahmet, a refugee boy from Syria who recently joined a new school in London. Ahmet is different from the other kids as he never talks, smiles, or looks at anyone. But, with the help of an assistant teacher, he becomes friends with four of his classmates. Then, Ahmet shares his life story with them, including how he lost his sister and how he was separated from his parents. The kids also find out that the borders will soon close, and his parents may not be allowed to enter the country. To reunite Ahmet with his family, the kids reach out to the Prime Minister and the High Court of Justice. They even make a plea to the Queen! The Boy at the Back of the Class
Why It's Worth It: The book focuses on one of the most urgent humanitarian issues at the moment, the refugee crisis. Told from a child's point of view, the author makes the problem accessible to young readers without downsizing its traumatic side. The divergent views expressed throughout the story also compel kids to ask all the right questions and perhaps form an opinion of their own. It also urges them to tackle prejudice and push for fairness through kindness and empathy.
Which are your go-to children's books about diversity? Share your top picks in the comments down below!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Questions & Answers
© 2020 Kyriaki Chatzi