Looking for awesome books to share with kids? Great! I’ve got some some great books for you!
These aren’t just books my kids and I adore (although they definitely meet that criteria). They also feature diversity of race, gender, the differently abled, and sexuality. Let’s pause for a second and consider why that’s important.
Children’s books overwhelmingly represent white male characters. Even books where the protagonist is an animal or anthropomorphic character, they’re almost always male.
It’s something that’s so common you don’t even notice it. So here’s an experiment, look at the books you’re currently reading with your children: what % feature girls or more diverse characters? (Come back and share what you find in the comments!) My boys are older but all the books they’re reading (Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Lucky Luke, Captain Underpants, Harry Potter, etc.) feature young white boys. We’re raising our children in a world filled with diversity but the books they’re reading rarely reflect that.
So I went through our all time favorites and picked out those that featured characters that are diverse but are also simply tremendous books.
Books With Diversity for Babies and Toddlers
Not Quite Narwhal. Kelp has always been a little bit different. What could be seen as a simple story of “not being different” this goes the extra step to show the all encompassing love of family. And it’s cute as all get out.
Whose Knees are These? Cute little board book with rhymes like “knees like these don’t grow on trees.” Perfect little book for naming body parts. Everywhere Babies. With gorgeous illustrations by the illustrator of the also fantastic Caldecott Honor book All the World, this is a great simple board book that will appeal to older babies and toddlers. Both of these books feature people of all ages and colors, and deserve a spot in your library. We’re All Wonders. Wonder is a beautiful and heartbreaking chapter book about Auggie and his dog. Auggie doesn’t look like everybody else and after years of homeschooling, finds the social dynamics of public school a challenge. We’re All Wonders brings Auggie’s story to the younger set.
Books With Diversity for Preschoolers
The Story of Ferdinand. Bulls are supposed to run and fight and butt heads. But Ferdinand isn’t interested in those things. What’s a bull who doesn’t want to act like a bull to do? There is a reason this book is a classic. Lyrical and lovely.
Last Stop on Market Street. When my boys got this for free at a books swap I didn’t get the appeal of a book about a Grandma and her Grandchild taking a bus ride. Now I do. This is a beautiful book about community, diversity, and is full of great messages without feeling preachy. Also the pictures are great.
Little Red and the Very Hungry Lion. Little Red Riding Hood with a jungle theme featuring awesome illustrations and nobody dies (Grandma doesn’t get eaten and the lion doesn’t get his head chopped off). It’s funny and colorful, a personal favorite!
Another Caldecott Honor book, Blackout is a comic book with gorgeous illustrations and few words that even pre-readers can enjoy independently. A hot summer night where the whole family is too busy and distracted to engage with their youngest child, until the power goes out and everything changes. And Tango Makes Three. If you think it’s easy to find stories where the parents are same-sex couples you would be wrong. I found only one (if you have more recommendations please share in the comments!). It’s a charming true story about two male penguins at the Central Park Zoo who get a chance to have a baby penguin of their very own.
The Name Jar Being the new kid is hard enough, and Unhei, having just moved from Korea, is worried none of her new classmates will be able to pronounce her name. So she keeps it a secret. Her new classmates make a name jar, filling it with potential names for her to choose from. But on the day she is supposed to pick her new American name, the jar has gone missing. There are so many great things happening in this gentle but delightful book. The Snowy DayThere is a reason why this book won the Caldecott gold medal, has been a bestseller for decades, and is beloved by all. We love this book.
Little Robot This wordless book features a little robot and who is befriended by a curious and loyal little girl. It is a delight and beautifully illustrated and written by Ben Hatke (everything he creates is spectacular including….)
Books With Diversity for Bigger Kids
Zita the Spacegirl Also by Ben Hatke, all three Zita books have been treasured in our house for years. Zita a feisty and loyal Earth girl who is accidentally sucked into the far reaches of space where she gets embroiled in intrigue on an alien planet, befriends a giant sentient mouse, and saves the world. Zita books are fun to read aloud, accessible to early readers, and feature flawed but lovable characters. Hatke is on my auto-buy list.
Mighty Jack OK I will stop fangirling but I had to include Mighty Jack which is a creative retelling of Jack and the Beanstalk. Jack’s sister Maddy has autism and is nonverbal. She’s a major character, their relationship is central to the plot. This story also touches on themes of divorced households, mother-son relationships, and may be a little intense for younger readers. It’s also a rip roaring comic book full of adventure, swordplay, and dragons (did I mention dragons?). El Deafo A Newbury honor book about a bunny who looses her hearing at a young age and struggles with being different but also has a rich fantasy life where she is the superhero “El Deafo.” This is a really funny book that also touches on some honest themes of pain, being different, and finding acceptance. Sisters All of Raina Telgemeier’s books are great but this is a great jumping off point for a quirky tale of sisters, sibling rivalry, and a cross country trip to Colorado. My 8 year old loves it. Some of her other books get into crushes and early love which my younger boys didn’t love quite as much (because eeewww crushes) but I love them and thus my children are wrong. Ghost features a protagonist with cystic fibrosis and Drama includes an unrequited crush on a middle school boy who is questioning his sexuality. Great stories, humor, and artwork, highly recommended.
This list is far from comprehensive so if you’ve got beloved kid’s books that highlight diversity I’m all ears, share in the comments below!