25 Wonderful Children's Books That Celebrate Diversity
February 21, 2021
Teaching kids to appreciate and celebrate diversity is a top priority in today’s global landscape—but how do you impart valuable lessons in an age-appropriate way? Books, of course! They’re a fun way to introduce little ones to important concepts early on and a great conversation-starter for parents as you talk to your kids about difference, privilege, respect, empathy and inclusivity. And there are boatloads of beautiful children’s books about diversity to choose from.
Whether you’re looking for stories with characters your child can easily relate to or ones that encourage your kids to empathize with those who are different, we’ve put together a list of some of the top children’s books that feature characters of all different ethnicities, races, religions and gender identities.
The Colors of Us
One of the best children’s books about diversity, The Colors of Us is about a little girl named Lena who wants to paint a self-portrait using brown paint for her skin. When Lena and her mom take a walk through their neighborhood, she notices that there are many different shades of brown skin, and she begins to see her familiar world in a new way. The author wrote the book for her daughter, Lena, who she and her husband adopted from Guatemala.
For ages: 4 to 8
Buy it: The Colors of Us by Karen Katz, $8, Amazon.com
The Skin You Live In
Another great pick for children’s books about race is The Skin You Live In, written specifically for little kids. A rhyming book that celebrates all different skin colors—from “butterscotch gold” to “cookie dough rolled”—it makes a point to reinforce the message that the person within is what matters, not how someone looks on the outside. An ideal read-aloud book, the illustrations are brightly colored and absolutely charming and will keep your little reader engaged ‘til the end.
For ages: 4 to 6
Buy it: The Skin You Live In by Michael Tyler, $16, Amazon.com
It’s Okay to Be Different
If you’re searching for children’s books about diversity for toddlers, this is a must-have. Author Todd Parr always fills his books with whimsical characters, and It’s Okay to Be Different is no exception. Featuring lots of characters with different traits, including braces, glasses, funny noses and wheelchairs, this book celebrates the things that make everyone unique. Kids will get a kick out of the bright colors and silly illustrations while simultaneously learning to celebrate themselves for who they are.
For ages: 3 to 6
Buy it: It’s Okay to Be Different by Todd Parr, $9, Amazon.com
Mommy, Mama, and Me; Daddy, Papa, and Me
“Traditional” families feature heavily in children’s literature, but if you’re looking for the best children’s books with same-sex parents, Mommy, Mama, and Me and Daddy, Papa, and Me are two classic board books featuring two moms and two dads. They have charming illustrations, gentle rhymes and a simple plot that shows a day in the life of a child with same-sex parents. A positive look at LGBTQ families, these are great books for kids with two moms or two dads, as well as for kids who could benefit from seeing a different kind of family structure.
Pink Is for Boys
Walk into a children’s clothing section of any large retailer, and you’ll notice how gendered the boys and girls departments can be, despite the fact that lots of boys love pink and many girls love trucks and tools. Pink Is for Boys is a beautiful picture book that empowers kids to express themselves in every color. It includes characters of different races, genders and abilities and helps kids learn about all the incredible colors that fill their world.
For ages: 4 to 7
Buy it: Pink Is for Boys by Robb Pearlman, $15, Amazon.com
Julián is a Mermaid
Julián is a Mermaid is another excellent children’s book about gender identity. The illustrations really set this book apart, and the story about Julián, a little boy who loves mermaids, focuses on self-expression and acceptance.
For ages: 4 to 8
Buy it: Julián is a Mermaid by Jessica Love, $10, Amazon.com
Families, Families, Families
Families, Families, Families is one of the best children’s books about diversity for preschoolers. A charming rhyming book that shows many different combinations of families, the book depicts silly animals in framed pictures of “families.” A celebration of family, no matter what form it takes, Families, Families, Families mentions adoption, step-siblings, kids being raised by grandparents and animals of all shapes, sizes and colors. The overarching theme—that if you love one another, you’re family—will resonate with kids and adults alike.
For ages: 3 to 7
Buy it: Families, Families, Families by Suzanne Lang, $12, Amazon.com
Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match/Marisol McDonald No Combina
At the top of the list of children’s books for biracial kids is Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match/Marisol McDonald No Combina. Titular character Marisol McDonald is a Peruvian-Scottish-American with red hair and brown skin who prefers mismatched outfits and peanut butter and jelly burritos. Everyone around Marisol wants her to “match,” but she’s perfectly happy being just who she is. This bilingual book (in English and Spanish) features a wonderful selection of illustrations that perfectly capture the beauty of Marisol’s mismatches.
For ages: 4 to 8
Buy it: Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match/Marisol McDonald No Combina by Monica Brown, $16, Amazon.com
This is How We Do It: One Day in the Lives of Seven Kids from Around the World
Fascinating for both kids and adults alike, this story is our top pick among children’s books about culture. Follow a day in the life of seven kids from around the world and from very different cultures: Italy, Japan, Iran, India, Peru, Uganda and Russia. The characters in the gorgeously illustrated book are based on real kids from each of the countries, and the story follows them throughout their days from morning until bedtime. Kids will be fascinated to see how their contemporaries in other countries play, eat and spend time with families and will gain a new appreciation for different cultures around the world.
For ages: 4 to 6
Buy it: This is How We Do It: One Day in the Lives of Seven Kids from around the World by Matt Lamothe, $13, Amazon.com
We’re Different, We’re the Same
When Elmo’s involved, preschoolers have a tendency to perk up and pay attention. Perhaps that’s why Sesame Street’s We’re Different, We’re the Same story is one of the most beloved children’s books about diversity. Featuring the classic Sesame Street cast, this book drives home the message that while we all look different, we have plenty in common—and that at the end of the day, it’s our differences that make this world a special place.
For ages: 3 to 7
Buy it: We’re Different, We’re the Same by Bobbi Kates, $10, Amazon.com
Over the Hills and Far Away: A Treasury of Nursery Rhymes
If you’re looking for a more diverse selection of nursery rhymes, pick up a copy of Over the Hills and Far Away: A Treasury of Nursery Rhymes. It’s a spectacular book that includes 150 nursery rhymes from 23 countries, accompanied by beautiful illustrations created by 76 different artists. Featuring rhymes from countries as different as Jamaica and China, Over the Hills and Far Away is a unique look at the similarities and differences in folk songs, stories and rhymes across the globe.
For ages: 3 to 7
Buy it: Over the Hills and Far Away: A Treasury of Nursery Rhymes, edited by Elizabeth Hammill, $25, Amazon.com
Encourage little kids to celebrate diversity with Say Hello! Protagonist Carmelita enjoys greeting everyone in her neighborhood while walking her dog, Manny. On her walks she sees neighbors of varying races and cultures and learns how to say hello in many different languages. Illustrated with colorful collages, the book captures the vibrance of Carmelita’s neighborhood and the people she greets along the way. Say Hello! Is a must-have addition to any preschooler’s bookshelf.
For ages: 3 to 5
Buy it: Say Hello! by Rachel Isadora, $8, Amazon.com
Everybody Cooks Rice
Everybody Cooks Rice, another one of the best multicultural children’s books around, celebrates food and the role it plays in different cultures. A little girl named Carrie canvases her San Francisco neighborhood in search of her little brother, who’s late for dinner. Every house she visits contains families with different ethnic heritages, including a Puerto Rican grandmother, a neighbor from Haiti and emigrés from China. Everywhere she goes, the family is eating (or preparing) rice for their dinner, showing that no matter how different we may seem, there are plenty of similarities too. The illustrations are simple and colorful and the book even includes recipes for the rice dishes.
For ages: 5 to 9 (but skews younger)
Buy it: Everybody Cooks Rice by Norah Dooley, $7, Amazon.com
Thunder Boy Jr.
Another children’s book about respect, Thunder Boy Jr. tells the story of a little boy who doesn’t want to be named after his dad. One of the few children’s books that features modern Native American characters, Thunder Boy Jr. is a sweet and funny tale that explores identity, culture and the relationship between a boy and his dad.
For ages: 5 to 6
Buy it: Thunder Boy Jr. by Sherman Alexie, $14, Amazon.com
A Mother for Choco
A Mother for Choco has a sweet plot that explains adoption in an age-appropriate way for preschoolers. Protagonist Choco wishes he had a mother of his own, so he sets out to find one. He eventually meets Mrs. Bear, who takes him home to join her brood of other animals, none of whom look anything alike, but who form a loving family nonetheless.
For ages: 2 to 5
Buy it: A Mother for Choco by Keiko Kasza, $8, Amazon.com
Mommy’s Khimar is a beautifully illustrated book about a little Muslim girl who dresses up in her mother’s headscarves. As she drapes herself in all of the many colorful scarves, her imagination takes flight. Young kids will relate to the thrill of dressing up in mommy’s glamorous clothing, and the story of the love between mother and child is universal.
For ages: 4 to 8
Buy it: Mommy’s Khimar by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow, $12, Amazon.com
Written by a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, this children’s book offers a look into modern Native American life, following a year of celebrations and experiences as the Cherokee community expresses gratitude for the blessings and challenges that each season brings. It’s racked up a number of accolades; it was named among the School Library Journal Best Books of 2018 and included in NPR’s Guide to 2018’s Great Reads, to name a couple.
For ages: 3-7
Buy it: We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga by Traci Sorrell, $9, Amazon.com
Queen of the Hanukkah Dosas
As interfaith marriages become more common, so too has the selection of children’s books featuring kids from two-faith families. One of our favorite children’s books about interfaith families is Queen of the Hanukkah Dosas. In this story, the father is Jewish and the mother is Indian, so they celebrate Hanukkah not with the traditional latkes, but rather by frying dosas. When the family gets accidentally locked out of their house, it’s little sister Sadie who saves the day.
For ages: 4 to 7
Buy it: Queen of the Hanukkah Dosas by Pamela Ehrenberg, $15, Amazon.com
Daddy Christmas and Hanukkah Mama
For families that celebrate both Christmas and Hanukkah, a perfect book come December is Daddy Christmas and Hanukkah Mama. Sadie (yes, another one) celebrates both holidays at her house, where they leave gelt under the Christmas tree and sing carols about the Maccabees. It’s silly and sweet and sure to become a favorite in other interfaith homes.
For ages: 5 to 8
Buy it: Daddy Christmas and Hanukkah Mama by Selina Alko, $16, Amazon.com
Everywhere Babies is a fantastic diversity book for toddlers. The rhymes are catchy, but the best thing about this story is that it’s full of babies (and their parents) of all different races and creeds. The underlying theme is that no matter what babies look like, they’re all loved “for being so wonderful just as they are!”
For ages: 2 to 3
Buy it: Everywhere Babies by Susan Meyers, $12, Amazon.com
In this children’s book about finding the courage to be true to yourself, a blue crayon suffers an identity crisis after mistakenly being labeled as red. His teachers and family try to help him be red (let’s draw strawberries!), but no matter how hard he tries, he just can’t be red. It’s not until a friend offers a new perspective that the crayon discovers he’s actually blue. Funny and heartwarming, it’s an engaging read for youngsters but can be read on multiple levels, making it one of the best children’s books about gender identity.
For ages: 4-8
Buy it: Red: a Crayon’s Story by Michael Hall, $13, Amazon.com
Author (and actor) Taye Diggs and illustrator Shane Evans struggled with feeling different and trying to fit in as kids. Now that both are fathers, they combined talents to bring us a picture book that encourages kids to love themselves. This timely book explores how it feels to be teased and how each of us is beautiful, no matter how we look.
For ages: 4-8
Buy it: Chocolate Me! by Taye Diggs, $5, Amazon.com
Another one of our favorite children’s books about diversity is the story of Kelp, who has always been a bit different from the rest of his narwhal family—he’s not as good of a swimmer and his tusk isn’t as long. Then a current sweeps him to the surface of the ocean, where he discovers he’s actually a unicorn! This heartwarming tale is about fitting in, standing out and the love of family.
For ages: 4-8
Buy it: Not Quite Narwhal by Jessie Sima, $16, Amazon.com
Rounding out our list of best children’s books about diversity is The Day You Begin. There are times when we all feel like outsiders. Maybe it’s because of how we look, or where we’re from. It can feel intimidating to join a group of people who are different than us, but this beautiful children’s book about diversity—a #1 New York Times bestseller—reminds kids that when we reach out to others and share our stories, we find connection and friendship.
For ages: 5-8
Buy it: The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson, $14, Amazon.com
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