Differences really matter to children. Young children have to make sense of the world in a very short space of time. To do that, they use a lot of categorical thinking in which they allocate people or things into groups. This has huge advantages in terms of being able to organise information efficiently in their brains but it can throw up some very direct questions (“What’s wrong with that boy’s hand?“) and some incorrect assumptions (“Amrita’s skin is brown because her mummy stayed out in the sun too long.“) while they try to work through it all.
Children’s books that celebrate diversity in an active and warm way are hugely helpful for talking to children about diversity issues and for promoting an inclusive mindset. Not only can these messages help children value the people around them, they also send a strong signal about their own personal value as uniquely different individuals, helping to build self-esteem and confidence as well as friendship and emotional skills.
Here are my personal favourite children’s books that celebrate diversity. (If I have left your favourite off the list, please do comment below and share it with us all!).
All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold is a book that all teachers should read with their class in the first few years’ of school. But it’s a great one for a home library too. Its central message is that diversity, in all its guises, is a strength for every community. The wording feels welcoming and the sweet illustrations show children in a diverse array shapes, sizes, colours, abilities and costumes. Truly heart-warming.
There is so much I like about Different is Awesome by Ryan Haack. The illustrations are modern and unfussy, there is a central message that all children need to hear (that being uniquely them is awesome), and it’s a rare story that features a little boy who has a very noticeable physical disability. The whole attitude of the book is so positive. A great book for sparking conversations about how being different is a good thing and how there is always more than one way to do things. 4-7yrs.
Lovely by Jess Hong is a truly… well, lovely. It’s hard to put into words why it works so well. The text is extremely simple but it is the combination of text and pictures that gently challenges our idea of what is “lovely” and the impact of labels. It doesn’t just celebrate diversity, it shows difference as beautiful and that’s very powerful. It’s a thought-provoking book that is more about the conversations you have around the edges rather than telling a story. 4-8yrs.
I’m not sure this book has quite the emotional content of some of the other children’s books that celebrate diversity on this list but it has an inclusive core message, really detailed and interesting illustrations and it definitely feels celebratory. I’m Like You, You’re Like Me: A Book about Understanding and Appreciating Each Other by Cindy Gainer is a book that children really relate to. You could ‘read’ it with a toddler and just look at the pictures or use it as a launchpad for discussing diversity with a 7-year-old.
Maddi’s Fridge by Lois Brandt is a diversity book with a difference. It’s about poverty. The central story includes two friends who enjoy the same things but one of them has a fridge full of lovely things to eat and the other’s fridge is empty. The wider moral is about how we can’t always see difference, it may be hidden. And how it’s easy to assume that someone who is similar to you on the surface is the same as you in other respects. These are big issues that will spark interesting conversations with children about values and behaviour and how we can make a difference to our society. Not so much a celebration of diversity as an exploration of it.
It’s Okay to Be Different by Todd Parr is an absolute classic for younger children. The bright illustrations appeal to toddlers and are a great way to get them thinking about differences between people – whether that’s just a simple difference between straight and curly hair or a more traditional diversity issue like race or disability. Its central theme is acceptance – that differences are OK. The tone is warm-spirited and reassuring, a perfect cuddle-up book.
If you are looking for children’s books that celebrate diversity for slightly older children or for teenagers, check out this list of recommendations from the Southbank Centre. Or, for boys, take a look at these Books for boys who dare to be different and Books for raising empathetic boys.
This is not a sponsored post – these are all books that I personally recommend! It does however contain affiliate links, which means that if you click through from this post to Amazon and purchase, I will receive a small fee. See Disclosure Notice for more info.
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