13 Best Children's Books About Inclusion, Diversity, and Kindness to Include in Your Library
One of many challenges for teachers is to come prepared to the classroom ready to celebrate the differences and diverse backgrounds of all their precious students. And, the same holds true at home. As we build our libraries, as parents we should be intentional about including different races and cultural backgrounds than our own.
Teaching our children more about the world what the world might look like through the eyes of other people who look and live differently than they do is a gift that excellent teachers and parents can provide. One of the very best ways we can do this is to read books that teach all about different cultures and walks of life, thereby exposing our kids to appreciate the wonder of the unique and diverse life all around us!
Of course there are so many different types of cultures/ families/ lifestyles that they could not all be included in the list below. You might consider your own classroom or home as you make your book choices, to help celebrate the diversity your children already see all around them, and to help educate them to not be afraid of or look down on others because of differences, but instead to appreciate beautiful differences.
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Although the sky is the limit when it comes to culturally diverse books or books that teach that we are different in general (a good thing!), here are 13 books that are a good start for any teacher’s classroom library:
Abuela, by Arthur Dorros
With bright and beautiful illustrations, Abuela is an excellent choice for young readers. Sprinkled with Spanish phrases throughout, a young girl and her abuela go on adventures through the city. Rich with family and relationship between a girl and grandmother, this book is a sweet look into an hispanic culture and an adventure to boot. Abuela, the winner of several prestigious awards, would be a great addition to your classroom library to begin an exposure to Latin culture.
The Family Under the Bridge, by Natalie Savage Carlson
My family read The Family Under the Bridge during our Christmas holiday this year. We found it to be a heart-warming story that can open a child’s eyes to see those who are homeless or poor to be just like we are: possible friends and family. One of the main characters, Armand, is a Parisian who is delightful and brings a French flair to the story. Take out your globe or atlas and show your students where Paris is in relation to where you live!
The Name Jar, by Yangsook Choi
Unhei is a new student at school from Korea, and she wants to change her name to be something more similar to her new friends. But as the story progresses, the children learn what her real name is and as they learn to pronounce it correctly, Unhei begins to see the beauty in her own name and take pride in who she is. A sweet book with a bit of learning about Korea, and a great way to introduce children to different-sounding words and names than they may be used to.
Firebird, by Misty Copeland
Stunning and inspiring, this book is about an overcoming African-American ballerina who struggles with self-doubt and must deal with subtle or covert discrimination and does so with optimism and meets with success. Firebird is the winner of several awards, including the the 2015 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award. A wonderful way to awaken children to how they treat others, particularly with people of color, and how to deal with covert discrimination in their own lives.
Just Because, by Rebecca Elliot
An introduction to those with disabilities, as described through the relationship between a young boy and his older sister. As the story progresses through the narration of the boy he describes his love for her and all her amazing qualities. Parents of special needs children abound with 5 star reviews for this book. What a great way to teach to all kinds of differences between people with all kinds of abilities.
I’m Not Just a Scribble, by Diane Alber
No matter the child, most kids worry about their own differences. It’s in a child’s nature, and perhaps especially so for a student surrounded by peers, to want to “fit in” and be just like the rest in the class. They don’t want to highlight the things about themselves that are different than everyone else. This book is a great way to encourage a child to be proud of their own strengths (even when unusual), and stand tall in the crowd.
Hidden Figures, by Margot Lee Shetterly and Laura Freeman
This wonderful (true) story is about four amazing black women who helped NASA launch men into space. Because of their incredible aptitude for math, they were able to provide calculations that would aid in the launch. Overcoming racial and gender discriminatory obstacles, they pushed through to make their place in a STEM career.
Gershon’s Monster, by Eric A. Kimmel and John J. Muth
A story for the Jewish New Year, Gershon’s Monster is a retelling of a Jewish fable. Gershon, a Jewish baker, is the main character exemplifying a story of atonement during the time of Rosh Hashana. A lovely way to introduce some of the facets of Jewish lifestyle and tradition in the form of a well-illustrated book.
Strictly No Elephants, by Lisa Mantchev
A story of inclusiveness and acceptance. Banned from an existing pet club because elephants are not allowed, a boy decides to start his own club when he meets boys and girls — just like himself — who have unusual pets too. This gentle and endearing story is a great way to teach children to reach out and include others of every shape and size.
Last Stop On Market Street, by Matt de la Pena and Christian Robinson
This one is a New York Times Bestseller, and winner of many awards. A great way to encourage compassion for others in your readers, the story gives a glimpse into a multicultural city scene of a bus ride toward a soup kitchen, written with a person of color as protagonist. I loved this book for my family because of the colorful and beautiful illustrations. I also love reading a story in the vernacular. Another great choice read!
Nabeel’s New Pants: An Eid Tale, by Fawzia Gilani-Williams
A charming tale set after the time of Ramadan and in preparation for Eid, this enjoyable story is a wonderful glimpse into a family’s life with Muslim traditions and with exposure to Arabic phrases throughout. Nabeel the shoemaker goes out to buy gifts for his family and pants for himself. Students will see what life is like before Eid, with traditional food, clothing, and cultural preparations the evening before celebrations begin.
I Lived On Butterfly Hill, by Marjorie Agosin and Lee White
Celeste, an 11 year-old girl from the (then) politically tumultuous Chile, is sent into exile to the state of Maine in the U.S. Her telling will transport your students into a magical remembrance of her experiences in Valparaiso, Chile and of her experiences in Maine as she adjusts to a new life. Several different cultural and ethnic characters are introduced to weave a tale of hope amidst political turmoil and displacement.
Night Sky Dragons, by Elspeth Graham
A boy who wishes to gain the approval of his stern father, Yazul uses his kite-making skills with his grandfather to save his people in a tight predicament. This book has beautiful illustrations, and richly describes the relationships of a boy in his Chinese culture.
I hope you have the opportunity to pick up one or two (or all!) of these books to read to your students or your children at home. You’ll need to look over them individually to recognize what age group would be appropriate for each.
Always be sure to preview books before you read them to your class or home to make sure they are a good fit. I also like to go straight to the lowest ratings on Amazon when I buy a book to see if there are any good or valid reasons why I should not introduce a book to my kids. We want them to only be exposed to the best!
And good luck on your reading travels as you explore the world from the point of view of other cultures or someone else’s experience of life in the beautiful format of a good book!
Table of Contents
- Abuela, by Arthur Dorros
- The Family Under the Bridge, by Natalie Savage Carlson
- The Name Jar, by Yangsook Choi
- Firebird, by Misty Copeland
- Just Because, by Rebecca Elliot
- I’m Not Just a Scribble, by Diane Alber
- Hidden Figures, by Margot Lee Shetterly and Laura Freeman
- Gershon’s Monster, by Eric A. Kimmel and John J. Muth
- Strictly No Elephants, by Lisa Mantchev
- Last Stop On Market Street, by Matt de la Pena and Christian Robinson
- Nabeel’s New Pants: An Eid Tale, by Fawzia Gilani-Williams
- I Lived On Butterfly Hill, by Marjorie Agosin and Lee White
- Night Sky Dragons, by Elspeth Graham