Everyday Diversity Books for Babies and Toddlers: a List of Titles for the Youngest Children
What Is Everyday Diversity?
If you are looking for books which show diverse characters interacting with everyday situations of contemporary life, this is the place for you. While many books focus on specific aspects of certain cultures, this article contains books which feature diverse children in everyday setttings. The children in the books on the following list are dealing with food, toys, clothes, friends, relatives, fears, hopes, and all the other things that are involved with being a human child. The message is that diverse children all around us can see themselves mirrored in books with everyday situations.
If you would like more information about Everyday Diversity books, you can scroll to the very bottom of this article for a more thorough explanation.
If you would like a list of books for children who are a little older, look for my article, Everyday Diversity Books for Preschoolers and Primary Grades.
Global Baby Bedtimes
When my daughter was a toddler, she loved to see pictures of babies. Every day we pulled out the J C Penney’s catalog and I would turn to the dog-eared pictures that featured babies modeling different articles of clothing. She would have loved a book like which features such large, clear, colorful photos of the faces of sleeping babies around the world. They are accompanied by simple text “Babies everywhere/go to sleep/in a cradle or on the floor…” Each page also indicates which country the baby is in. This book is part of a “Global Baby” series featuring babies around the world. Global Baby Bedtimes
I love to read at the story time program I present for toddlers at the library. It serves as a great model for how parents can talk to their children. Additionally, it's a high interest book for the little ones because they can all relate to the process of getting dressed. Red Socks
A mom brings in the laundry and helps her baby get dressed—a blue shirt with a goldfish, yellow and white striped pants, and of course, a pair of red socks. The interaction between the child and the mother demonstrates to parents how they can talk to young children by naming things and by asking questions about everyday objects. The bright illustrations are tender and charming. Each of the pictures includes scenes that children and their grown-ups can talk about, including the antics of a puppy who appears on every page.
A Fish to Feed
Here is another charming book from the team of Ellen Mayer and Ying-Hwa Hu that I like to read to families at toddler story time to give the parents ideas on how to interact and talk with their children.
At the beginning of , a father tells his child “Let’s go to the store to buy a fish…Let’s walk and talk.” When the child spots a fish (on backpacks or toys or clothing) and points it out to the dad, the father says something like “Yes, I see the fish on the T-shirt, too. That’s a fish to wear, not a fish to swim in our bowl.” A Fish to Feed
He regularly affirms the child, comments on what the child has seen, and then talks about the kind of fish they are looking for. There is a reason that the dad repeats and expands on things. At the beginning of the book, young children’s language expert Dr. Betty Bardige explains that the more an adult talks with young children, the faster their language grows. This book is meant to model the way adults can talk with their young charges, expanding their short responses into full sentences, and asking questions about what toddlers see.
This is a sturdy board book with bright, charming pictures, and little peepholes through which you can see the fish.
Leo Can Swim
After I first read I realized there would be quite a bit of demand for it at the library because it's one of those books that help explain things to very young children. So many people take their toddlers to swim classes, and it's easy to see how such a little one could be overwhelmed or even frightened by unfamiliar surroundings. Leo Can Swim
This book shows children what they can expect with a new experience like going to swimming class. We see Leo in the bath, cuddling with his father for a story, changing into his swim diaper and splashing and kicking with the other children. It’s a sweet tale which would serve to get a toddler ready for what to expect at his/her first swim class as well as a story of father/son bonding.
This book is one of many that McQuinn has written about Leo and his big sister, Lola, children who participate in a variety of everyday toddler and preschooler activities such as reading stories and going to the library. Hearson’s illustrations are colorful, charming, and sweet.
Leo Loves Baby Time
Little Leo is back again in , and he is having adventures for a typical toddler Wednesday. I love reading this book when I do toddler story time at the library because it touches on so many of the things we actually do at story time. Leo Loves Baby Time
At the beginning of the book, Leo eats breakfast, puts on his jacket, and rides in the stroller to Baby Time, which looks like a program at a local rec center or library. Other moms and dads have brought their toddlers, and the group sings, plays peekaboo with scarves, does some fingerplays and action rhymes, and lastly cuddles up with a book.
This would be a great book for parents to read to toddlers before the first day they take their little one to a library story time or similar group situation. The families have many heritages, and the illustrations are joyful and bright.
The Babies and Doggies Book
When my sister was little, she loved to pick out doggies every time she saw them. Whenever she spotted them crossing the road, catching a Frisbee, or in the pages of a book, she’d exclaim “doggie!” In , adorable pictures of doggies are paired with adorable pictures of babies to make a can’t miss book for the younger set. The text starts, “Lots of things babies do, doggies do too.” Then we’re off to each two-page spread which shows both groups playing hide and seek, eating, running on the beach, playing ball, and all sorts of everyday things. The photos show a diversity of children as well as dogs, and they are clear, colorful, and charming. The Babies and Doggies Book
Baby Touch Your Nose
is a nice book to share with a baby on your lap. The book has a simple concept: a little game in which the babies pat their heads, clap their hands, and bend their legs. It's a game caregivers and babies have been playing for centuries. But besides enjoyment, it's the babies' first experience with being able to name things as well as hearing directions and following them. Baby Touch Your Nose
Of course, we adults will first model the behaviors, but as we read this book again and again, the baby starts to catch on, follow the directions, and soon will be able to anticipate which action is coming next. That's a delightful thing to see, and probably why we love to play with babies so much.
The text encourages babies to pat their head, clap their hands, wiggle their toes, touch their noses, stretch their arms, and crawl on their “chubby legs” to chase a ball. Each action is illustrated with a color photograph of a different child, showing a diversity of ages and heritages. Each page also has a little bit of sparkle that is eye-catching and also provides a variety of texture. It’s a board book format which encourages babies to turn the pages themselves.
My Heart Fills with Happiness
This short book reads like a poem and has wonderful illustrations. A young girl tells us what kinds of things fill her heart with happiness: “…the face of someone I love…bannock baking in the oven…the sun dancing on my cheeks…” all images that bring up different sensory experiences. We see the girl being cuddled by her mother, dancing with a colorful shawl, and listening to stories told by a grandmother. The illustrations are simple and bright, and evoke the joys and closeness of the indigenous community. (The book is dedicated to “the former Indian Residential School students and their families.) As far as I can tell, this title is only available as a board book. I would love to see it with bigger pictures that could be shared more easily with a group.
is another board book that features the native peoples of Canada. It’s a tender poem to a toddler that shows everyday things like cuddling on a blanket with parents, floating in a boat with dad, and watching the fish in the water. Little You
One of my favorite couplets in the poem shows the child first watching butterflies around a flower and then dancing along with mom and the dog. The accompanying text reads “Little star with little wings/ Let’s all dance let’s all sing.” The illustrations feature a subtle palette that looks like cut paper and the pictures are charming without being cutesy. The author dedicates the book to Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam among other, and says “Mahsi cho!’ which means “Thank you!” in the Gwich'in Dene language.
I Am Bigger Than...
I am always on the lookout for books that help toddlers with concepts, and this one fits the bill nicely.
is a very short board book that shows the concept "bigger than" with color photos of different everyday objects that toddlers may see in their homes. On the first spread, you have adorable pictures of a hamster and a puppy with the text, "My puppy is bigger than my hamster." Throughout the book, the word bigger is always rendered in a different color. On the next page, we see a photo of the puppy again, and also a photo of a school backpack, and the text "My backpack is bigger than my puppy." The book continues the same pattern with a bicycle (with training wheels), the boy himself, and then his mother. At the end, there is a note to the reader suggesting how to carry on this sort of comparison wherever the caregiver and the toddler happen to be going. I Am Bigger Than...
The Snowman Shuffle
It's rare to find a winter/holiday book with diverse characters, so I pounced on this book right away when I saw it.
is a great little board book with cheery pictures and a rhyme which encourages participation by toddlers and preschoolers. The bright and adorable illustrations show a boy and snowman doing different actions. "Shuffle like a snowman/Shuffle side to side/Shuffle forward, shuffle backward/ in a graceful slide," the text begins. As the rhyme progresses, the snowman and child rub their hands together to keep them warm, spin like a snowflake, swoosh like the wind, sway like a tree branch, hop all around, stop and be still, tip their hats, and take a bow. The Snowman Shuffle
This is a fun book to share one on one, but I think that teachers and librarians are going to be especially fond of this book for the fun action rhyme they can do with their groups.
Bye-Bye Binky: Big Kid Power
One of the most-requested kinds of books in my library is the transition book, by which I mean those books that help children move from one stage of life to another. For toddlers, that means using the potty, moving to a big kid bed, and of course, giving up the binky.
It's a hard transition for kids, and aims to tell a story that makes it a little bit easier. We are introduced to a “big kid,” a girl who tells us she used to need a binky for comfort when she was a baby, but now she doesn’t need one. She then tells us a few of the ways she copes when she needs comforting: hugs from her grownups, snuggles with pets and stuffed animals, a snack for when she’s hungry. What to do with her old binky? She gives it to a little baby when he cries. In the afterword, van Lieshout shares how she was inspired by other parents who learned to make some sort of ritual signaling that their child was now a BIG Kid and didn’t need the little kid stuff any more. Bye-Bye Binky
The Babies on the Bus
An oh-so-cute version of “The Wheels on the Bus” featuring a multicultural cast of babies.
I've always liked Katz' simple and bright illustrations. She has done quite a bit with multiculturalism in her books for the youngest children. I'm familiar with My First Chinese New Year, which is a standard for introducing the little ones to customs of China. I also like her book Can You Say Peace? which takes us around the world and includes the words for peace in several different languages.
More Everyday Diversity Books for Babies and Toddlers
Here are some more books which are appropriate for the youngest children. Some of them are a little older, and may be out of print, but I've had good luck getting copies in good condition from used book websites.
Everywhere Babies by Susan Meyers. Multicultural illustrations of things babies do.
Ten Tiny Toes by Todd Tarpley. Charming rhymes about babies’ toes, multicultural pictures.
I Am Who I Am by Bruno Hachler. Board book about different types of kids.
Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes by Mem Fox. Nice rhyme about babies born in different places.
Ten Tiny Babies by Karen Katz. Simple fingerplay with Katz's signature illustrations.
Busy Fingers by C. W. Bowie. Talks about lots of things toddlers can do with their fingers.
Busy Toes by C. W. Bowie. Talks about lots of things toddlers can do with their toes.
Tummy Girl by Roseanne Thong. Lovely, sweet rhyme for babies.
Baby! Talk! by Penny Gentieu. This book encourages caregivers to communicate with baby using familiar phrases.
You and Me, Baby by Lynn Reiser. Short, rhyming text, with multicultural photos. Helps with interacting—waving and smiling.
What Is Everyday Diversity?
If you would like to know more about the concept of Everyday Diversity, and why it is important for our children, read on.
A Change of Perspective on Children’s Books
There’s nothing like bringing a new child into your family to change your perspective on things.
In the summer of 1999 I brought my daughter home from China. With one trip around the world, we became a multi-racial family. When I picked books to read to our new daughter, I read all my old favorites (being a children’s librarian, I knew lots and lots of books), and I also searched for books that showed Asian characters in the illustrations.
I appreciated the books I found that would serve to introduce her to her heritage, the ones that recounted Chinese folk tales or described the preparations for Chinese New Year.
Diverse Characters in Everyday Situations
But I soon found that I wanted more everyday books that show children of different races, colors, and abilities. I began to notice that if the book was about making friends, or moving to a big girl bed, or dealing with a new sibling in the house, the characters in the story were invariably illustrated as Caucasians, or as cute little animals. Going with animals instead of people is a “casting decision” that essentially exempts the illustrator from having to choose any race or ethnicity.
Why, I wondered, couldn’t I find more books in which children of color dealt with the everyday challenges of living in America today? Why couldn’t I find at least a couple of main characters who looked like Asian girls who were dealing with a loose tooth or trying to quiet down for bedtime?
Heritage, and Everyday Life in America
Many of us have a cultural heritage that we honor and celebrate in various ways, but we are also Americans living in the here and now sharing common human experiences like eating meals with family members, going to school and work, and dealing with everyday challenges. Most Chinese-Americans don’t live in Chinatown and eat rice for every meal, just as most German-Americans (that’s my heritage) no longer live in German enclaves and eat sauerkraut every day.
Finding the Terminology for Everyday Diversity
Once I knew what I wanted in books for my daughter, I cast about looking for the words to describe it. How do you say “I want books about a Chinese-American, but not someone who only lives in Chinatown”?
Fortunately, I found just the right phrasing in the Everyday Diversity discussion happening through librarian and teacher blogs. I especially like the explanation given by Ms. Anna, a “library ninja book-slinger” at EverydayDiversity.blogspot.com.
She points out that an Everyday Diversity book features a racially diverse main character in contemporary life. “The subject matter is not about race, religion, history, ‘other cultures,’ or ability.”
We Still Need Books All About Diverse Cultures
Now, this is the point where I want to say that, of course, we do want lots of books about race, other cultures, and ability. Publishers still need to provide books about the civil rights marches, Kwanzaa, Angel Island, Chinese New Year parades, Cesar Chavez, Dia De Los Muertos and all other subjects of cultural heritage and history. What we are saying is that our children need to be able to see themselves in other contexts, too. They need to be pictured in those universal books interacting with food, clothes, toys, relatives, friends, fears, hopes, and all the other things that go along with being a human child.
We Need Diverse Books Campaign
Enter the WeNeedDiverseBooks movement in 2014. Even though 37% of the US population now consists of people of color, a very small fraction are by authors or about characters from those communities. It was a situation lamented in the early 90’s when I attended library school, and it hasn’t improved much in the intervening 20 years.
When Lee & Low (a publisher specializing in diverse books), authors and librarian teamed up in 2014 for the WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign, other publishers started to take notice. I’ve felt that the books geared towards older children, the chapter books and teen books have really come along in their portrayals of diverse characters.
Talking with Publishers about Everyday Diversity
But when it comes to books for younger children, those Everyday Diversity picture books were still lagging. I even got my chance to talk about it at a publisher’s panel at the 2016 Public Library Association convention. I took the microphone and asked about books that portrayed children in everyday situations, and the reps assured me they were going to publish more. I wasn’t convinced and went up to talk to them afterwards. One rep told me that it was a problem to represent a child of color, because then all the other groups are left out. “Who do you pick? If you make it about a Hispanic person, then what about all the African-Americans in a group of students? If it’s about an Asian, what about the Native Americans?”
I remain unconvinced by that type of argument. When you “default to white,” ---a phrase used by one of the attendees at the conference, you are definitely choosing a representative, and you’re choosing a Caucasian child. When you choose to use adorable animals, you are punting. And if you pick a Native American, I can’t see a problem with Caucasian children and children of color reading about that child. The idea is to include people of different races and ethnicities so often, that all children see themselves and other groups represented with frequency.
A Nice Surprise
I have to say, I came back from that presentation thinking that things weren’t going to change very quickly. Publishers are often tied so much to the idea that they know what will sell that they’re reluctant to try other types of books, much like Hollywood seems locked in to making the same type of movie over and over.
But, what do you know? I think that the needle is beginning to move a bit. I try to keep an eye on the new things coming into my library, and I’m seeing more Everyday Diversity books, enough that I can offer up a substantial list of very new titles.