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Children’s Books About Race, Diversity and Activism

Many parents are looking for ways to (re)commit to teaching their young children about the importance and value of diversity, and acknowledge the reality of – and problems with – long-term discrimination. One way to start: read books — children’s books that feature and celebrate diversity and difference.

Books are a window into the world for all of us, and kids are no exception — they convey messages about the way things work, the way people are, the way we live.

According to social scientists, stories that celebrate diversity — that depict people of every color, that portray different ethnicities and cultures, that feature families of all shapes and sizes — can be a springboard for change in your home and an effective way to initiate conversations about race (and the adversity minorities face) for children of all ages, even the very young. 

“All kids benefit from being exposed to diverse books, because they reflect the world and people of the world, teach respect for all cultural groups, serve as a window and a mirror and as an example of how to interact in the world, show that despite differences, all people share common feelings and aspirations, can create a wider curiosity for the world, prepare children for the real world, and they enrich educational experiences.”

~We Need Diverse Books Campaign

Thankfully, numerous media outlets, pre-K and elementary teachers, children’s librarians, and parents themselves have shared some of their favorite racially- and culturally-diverse book picks. We’ve put together some of their shared recommendations.

Children’s books obviously cannot solve our nation’s problems — not by a longshot — but reading them and talking about them together with your children is a start.   

Board Books for Babies

Dream Big Little One, Vashti Harrison 

Dream Big, Little One is the board book adaptation of a book called Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History. These books tell the true stories of 18 black women who stood up for what was right and accomplished extraordinary things.” ~Woman’s Day 

Mommy, Mama, and Me, Lesléa Newman, illus. Carol Thompson

“Rhythmic text and illustrations with universal appeal show a toddler spending the day with its mommies. From hide-and-seek to dress-up, then bath time and a kiss goodnight, there’s no limit to what a loving family can do together.” [See also this book’s counterpart, Daddy, Papa, and Me.]

A is for Activist, Innosanto Nagara 

“Innosanto Nagara’s ABC board book infuses the alphabet with pictures and rhyming stories about fighting for social justice, environmental justice, civil rights, LGBTQ rights, and what it means to be an ally.” ~New York Magazine 

Woke Baby, Mahogany L. Browne, illus. Theodore Taylor III 

“This board book for babies and toddlers is a hopeful, lyrical tale that offers inspiration on how your baby can grow up to change the world.” ~Woman’s Day 

Once Upon a World Collection, Chloe Perkins (various illustrators)

Once Upon a World offers a brand-new way to look at classic fairy tales. By placing beloved fairy tale characters in different cultures, and using illustrators who identify with those cultural backgrounds, this board book series offers a fresh spin on the time-honored tales that all readers know and love.”

Love Makes a Family, Sophie Beer

“This fun, inclusive board book celebrates the one thing that makes every family a family . . . and that’s LOVE.”

Antiracist Baby, Ibram X. Kendi, illus. Ashley Lukashevsky

“From the author of the National Book Award-winning Stamped from the Beginning comes this illustrated introduction to nine principals of anti-racism for children, including opening your eyes to all colors, celebrating differences and shouting about policies, not people.” ~Today.com 

It’s not a children’s book, but you may also be interested in taking a look at Kendi’s 2022 release, How to Raise an Antiracist. [See also: our favorite parenting books that address race, diversity, and gender.]

Counting on Community, Innosanto Nagara 

“In this powerful concept book follow-up to A Is for Activist, Nagara tackles counting. Typical urban neighborhood pastimes are depicted with verve and vibrant colors, including working in community gardens and drawing with sidewalk chalk. Young readers will have fun trying to locate an ever-present duck on each spread. Racial and ethnic diversity is celebrated on every page, and the lyrical text will inspire budding and longtime activists alike.” ~School Library Journal

No! My First Book of Protest, Julie Merberg, illus. Molly Egan

No! My First Book of Protest makes for a wonderful primer for teaching kids about social action, showcasing some of the most famous and impactful protest movements in history… One of the most engaging elements of the book is the repeated refrain of ‘No!’ throughout the text. I’ve yet to meet a toddler (including my own, who loved the book) who didn’t enjoy screaming ‘No!’ whenever possible, and it is welcome and encouraged throughout…” ~Michael Taylor, Smells Like Infinite Sadness

Picture Books for Toddlers, Preschoolers and Kindergarteners 

Mae Among the Stars, Roda Ahmed, illus. Stasia Burrington

Inspired by the story of Mae Jemison, the first African American woman in space, this book is “a love letter to Jemison… The emphasis on Jemison’s lifelong passion for space science will inspire readers to have confidence in the trajectory of their own interests.” ~School Library Journal

We’re Different, We’re the Same, Bobbi Kates, illus. Joe Mathieu

“Elmo and his Sesame Street friends help teach toddlers and the adults in their lives that everyone is the same on the inside, and it’s our differences that make this wonderful world, which is home to us all, an interesting—and special—place. This enduring, colorful, and charmingly illustrated book offers an easy, enjoyable way to learn about differences—and what truly matters.”

We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga, Traci Sorell, illus. Frane Lessac

“The word otsaliheliga (oh-jah-LEE-hay-lee-gah) is used by members of the Cherokee Nation to express gratitude. This is an amazing story that describes a journey through the seasons with a modern-day Cherokee family. Readers learn about Cherokee culture, celebrations, and language. Cherokee history and traditions are also seamlessly woven into the story in a very kid-friendly way. I love that this is an #OwnVoices picture book that helps expose children to Native American perspectives and culture. The back matter includes pronunciations for Cherokee words, a glossary, a Cherokee syllabary, and a personal author’s note.” ~Brightly

The Colors of Us, Karen Katz

“This vibrant, thoughtful book from Katz (Over the Moon, 1997) continues her tribute to her adopted daughter, Lena, born in Guatemala… Bold illustrations celebrate diversity with a child’s open-hearted sensibility and a mother’s love.” ~Kirkus Reviews

Planting Stories, Anika Aldamuy Denise, illustrator. Paolo Escobar

“Denise and Escobar pay tribute to the legacy of librarian Pura Belpré in this vibrant picture-book biography… Planting Stories is a glossy immigration tale of dreams coming true, and the lyrical language lends itself to being read aloud.” ~ALA Booklist

Sulwe, Lupita Nyong’o, illus. Vashti Harrison 

“Sulwe has darker skin than anyone she knows — her family, her classmates. She longs to be ‘bright,’ but one life-changing journey into the night sky proves how beautiful she is in her own skin.” ~Time Out

Dreamers, Yuyi Morales

“Many books about immigration describe the process of making new friends and fitting in; this one describes what it’s like to become a creative being in two languages, and to learn to love in both. ‘We are two languages./ We are lucha./ We are resilience./ We are hope.'” ~Publishers Weekly

The Day You Begin, Jacqueline Woodson, illus. Rafael López 

“National Book Award winner Jacqueline Woodson and two-time Pura Belpré Illustrator Award winner Rafael López bring this inspiring story to life about finding the courage to connect. It’s about how sometimes you can feel like an outsider, but sharing our stories can bring us together.” ~PBS

Two Homes, Claire Masurel, illus. Kady MacDonald Denton

“Parents looking for a book about separation or divorce will find few offerings as positive, matter-of-fact, or child-centered as this one. . . . Simple, yet profoundly satisfying.” ~Booklist

Let’s Talk About Race, Julius Lester, illus. Karen Barbour

“The perfect conversation starter for any discussion about race, this lively picture book celebrates what makes us different yet all the same.” ~Motherly 

Stella Brings the Family, Miriam B. Schiffer, illus. Holly Clifton-Brown

Stella Brings the Family is the kind of book any teacher or parent will want to have by their side when talking about diverse families, love, and acceptance with children.” ~Stacey Shubitz, literacy consultant and blogger at Two Writing Teachers

Hair Love, Matthew A. Cherry, illus. Vashti Harrison

“Written by a former N.F.L. wide receiver and now an Oscar-winning short film, Hair Love tells the story of a black father learning to do his daughter’s hair for the first time and the special bond they share.” ~NYTimes

Last Stop on Market Street, Matt de la Peña, illus. Christian Robinson

“The urban setting is truly reflective, showing people with different skin colors, body types, abilities, ages, and classes in a natural and authentic manner…” ~School Library Journal 

Let the Children March, Monica Clark-Robinson, illus. Frank Morrison

“There are a handful of books written about the thousands of African American children that protested (and got assaulted…and arrested) in 1963 inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. This one is our favorite.” ~Pregnant Chicken 

I Am Enough, Grace Byers, illus. Keturah A. Bobo

Empire‘s Grace Byers teamed up with artist Keturah A. Bobo to create a lyrical ode for young girls — including those who are biracial like she is — about how to love who they are and respect others. This book for children is about knowing that they have a purpose in life and believing that they’re more than enough. These positive affirmations will carry your little one through life with confidence.” ~SheKnows

Happy in Our Skin, Fran Manushkin, illus. Lauren Tobia

“As these babies grow, their amazing skin does too, enjoying hugs and tickles, protecting them inside and out, and making them special, whether they’re cocoa brown or cinnamon or peaches and cream. A breezy and irresistible picture of the human family, and how wonderful it is to be just who you are.” ~recommended by pre-K teacher Brittany Smith, @wanderingbritt

Many thanks to all the individuals and outlets who are sharing their favorites with all of us — we’d love to hear yours as well in the comments section below.

More children’s books celebrating difference and diversity:

Alma and How She Got Her Name, Juana Martinez-Neal

One Family, George Shannon, illus. Blanca Gomez

My Two Border Towns, David Bowles, illus. Erika Meza

Eyes that Speak to the Stars, Joanna Ho, illus. Dung Ho

*There are also numerous repositories that keep up-to-date lists of new publications in this area — we suggest checking The Conscious Kid for even more picks.


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