Everyday Diversity for Children: A List of Kids' Books for Preschool Through Primary Grades
What Is Everyday Diversity?
Many teachers, parents, and librarians are looking for children's books which portray racially and ethnically diverse characters.
Many books focus on the aspects of certain cultures: what life is like in Chinatown, or how characters' grandparents participated in civil rights movements.
There is also a growing category of books which show diverse characters in everyday situations of contemporary life. These books show children interacting with clothes, toys, food, relatives, friends, fears, hopes, and all the other things that go along with being a human child. The message is that diverse children are all around us, and they can see themselves mirrored in these books in everyday situations.
Everyday Diversity Books for Preschoolers
This first section covers books that are appropriate for children ages 3-5.
New! Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty
is another in the series of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) books to come from the team of Andrea Beaty and David Roberts, their other titles being, Rosie Revere, Engineer, and Iggy Peck, Architect. Ada Twist, Scientist
This book, which is written in clever rhyme, features an African-American family, including one very curious girl, Ada Twist. Little Ada is almost three when she speaks her first word, and that word is "Why?" She has just climbed to the top of the grandfather clock in her house, and she has all kinds of questions. "Why does it tick and why does it tock? Why don't we call it a granddaughter clock? Why are there pointy things stuck to a rose? Why are there hairs up inside your nose?" I think kids will get a kick out of all of Ada's questions, and teachers everywhere are also hoping that children will learn that asking questions is the very basis of scientific inquiry.
Little Ada soon proceeds to experimenting, sometimes with messy results (broken eggs and colorful bottles of soda erupting), but her family and her teacher both seem to realize messiness is part of the process, after all.
Halfway through the book, Ada comes up with a new quest: to find the source of a "horrible stench" that "whacked her right in the nose" while she was experimenting with other things. Observant children will notice that her brother happens to be walking by in his stocking feet just when she notices the smell.They will no doubt form a hypothesis of their own as to the source of the smell.
Meanwhile, Ada sets up a variety of experiments to test her assortment of hypotheses, but runs into a little parental pushback when she tries to put the cat in the washing machine. She is sent to her "Thinking Chair" while her mother and father calm down a bit. When they come back to Ada, they find the wall full of drawings she has made, still trying to figure out the answer to her question. Her parents sigh and wonder what they'll do with "this curious kid, who wanted to know what the world was about? They smiled and whispered 'We'll figure it out.' And that's what they did--because that's what you do when your kid has a passion and heart that is true."
I love the sense of language in this book and the humorous twists with the rhyme. The illustrations in this book make it look like great fun to be a scientist--or even to be a friend of Ada's.
New! Even Superheroes Have Bad Days
Yay for a superhero books with characters from all kinds of races and genders!
The text reminds me quite a bit of Jane Yolen’s How Do Dinosaurs Say Good Night? It starts by describing the fit that superheroes could have if they’re having a bad day. “When superheroes don’t get their way, when they’re sad/when they’re made, when they have a bad day…/…they could use super-powers to kick, punch, and pound. /They could shriek—they could screech with an ear-piercing sound.” Accompanying pages show our diverse group of superheroes causing all kinds of mayhem.
But then, the text shifts and shows us that superheroes find better ways to express their emotions. “But upset superheroes have all sorts of choices…/Instead of destruction and loud, livid voices/they burn angry steam off with speed-of-light hiking/or super-Xtreme outer space mountain biking.”
At the end, we see them mellowing out with meditation gathering around a campfire. The text lets children know that they the superheroes can show emotion, “It’s okay if they frown./It’s okay if they sigh./It’s even okay if they slump down and cry.” But, after that, they get up and get on with their day.”
What a nice primer on handling emotion that lets children see people like them who are also superheroes.
New! A Squiggly Story by Andrew Larsen
Having taught a fair number of writing classes for children, I recognize a story like this which is meant to get children kick-started on their own writing process.
At the beginning of , a young boy tells us that his older sister loves to read and write. He says "Sometimes I pretend I can write, too." It is clear that he can write some letters, and that he fills in with swirls and squiggles as well. A Squiggly Story
When he sees his sister writing a story, he wishes that he could write one too. "You can," says his sister. "It's easy." And then she dispenses the advice from writing teachers everywhere, "Write what you know."
The way the boy decides to write his story is rather clever. He begins with the letter I, then a small circle and then the letter u. He tells his sister that it represents the two of them playing soccer. She asks some follow up questions, and he decides that they are playing on the beach when a shark comes along. Then, as happens to many beginning writers, he gets stuck, not sure of what he wants to happen next.
He takes his story to school, and the children there give him lots of ideas. That night, he decides to go in a different direction and draws a rocket ship, which he realizes can become the beginning of his next story.
There are a couple of things I really like about this story. One is how well it models the writing process. The other is that these siblings actually get along. The older sisters mentors and encourages her brother; she doesn't correct him or tease him.
The illustrations are colorful, simple and have a cartoon quality to them.
Puddle by Hyewon Yum
Preschool - Grade 1
I like the emphasis on imagination in . At the beginning, a young boy is pouting because he hates rainy days and there is nothing to do. His mother tries to cajole him into drawing to pass the time, but he insists he doesn't want to. Puddle
So, the mother starts on her own. She draws an umbrella, and immediately we see the boy's body language change from pouty to interested. "Can you draw me holding it?" he asks. The mother obliges, and soon the boy is participating, drawing items to add to the scene. The mom draws a boy, and the boy draws a puddle. The drawing comes to life, and and soon the boy in the drawing is splashing around, getting everything wet. The real boy decides that it looks like so much fun that he wants to take a real walk in the rain. Surprise surprise, the real boy likes to splash in puddles as well. Mom and the dog join in for a joyous ending scene.
The illustrations are absolutely charming with spare details that let the plot of the story stand out.
Beautiful by Stacy McAnulty
Preschool - Grade 2
In the opening spread, we see five girls hanging out, draping their arms over a pink fence. They are all dressed up with fancy sunglasses, beads, crowns, fans, star wands, and other trinkets. But on the next page, we see them from behind and realize that these are girls with mud patches on their dresses and swords tucked into their belts. "Beautiful girls..." the text tells us "...have the perfect look."
Turn the page, and we are told "Beautiful girls move gracefully." A little series of vignettes shows girls involved in soccer, softball, football, and wheelchair basketball. All through the book, the pronouncements continue while the illustrations provide and different spin than the reader would expect. "Beautiful girls know all about makeup," we are told. And sure enough, the girls do have lots of makeup: pirate makeup. They've drawn on mustaches and beard stubble and are having a swashbuckling time from their cardboard boxes decorated to look like ships.
I can't say enough about the illustrations for this book. They are big enough to share with a crowd, something I particularly like since I present so many story times for children. They are chock full of energy as the girls perform science experiments, play in the pond or mug in front of the fun house mirror. And, they are a diverse, exuberant group comprised of girls from many different backgrounds and of different ability levels.
Rain by Linda Ashman
Preschool - Grade 2
This book is special to me because I know the author. She used to live close by and would come to do a writing workshop with my elementary writer's group. Lately, she seems to have specialized in stories that are wordless, or have very few words. Rain! has just a few words, but they count for quite a bit.
As the story opens, we see two people looking out their apartment windows and reacting differently to the rain. One is an old man who is frowning; the other is a young boy who is throwing up his hands in glee. On the next page we see the man grumpily putting on his rain gear while the boy is putting on an adorable green frog rain suit. Each of them continues in like manner, the man growing more grumpy and the boy having more fun.
They bump into each other in a bake shop, where the man frowns at the boy for accidentally jostling him. But, when the old fellow forgets his hat, the boy takes it back to him. Thankfully, the old man can't stay grumpy, and he ends up playfully trading hats with the boy. It's a sweet tale, and the charming cut paper illustrations complement the whole theme.
What I Like About Me!
Preschool - Grade 1
has long been one of my favorites to read at story times for kids, and it's been well-received by children and grown-ups alike. It's short (always a plus when you are reading books aloud), and it has bright, bold illustrations which are easy for the audience to see. What I Like About Me!
In upbeat rhyming verse, the children in this book point out the diverse characteristics they like about themselves. On the first spread, we see three children: a boy and two girls. The boy says, "I like my spiky hair. It's great. When the wind blows, it still stands up straight." The curly-haired girl says that when "skies are misty," her hair "gets nice and twisty." This is an interactive "touch-and-feel" type of book, and each of these characters has filaments of "hair" that readers can feel.
On other pages, different children talk about having freckles, glasses, braces, different foods for lunch, and different shoe sizes. The movable parts include lift the flap and tabs that the reader can pull. The children in my audience like it when I pull the tabs to make one boy's eyebrows tilt up and another's ears wiggle. The last page includes a reflective surface and asks "What is it you like best about YOU?" At this point, I usually take the book around the group and let each child look into this mirror of sorts.
This book has so many of the features of a good read-aloud: short text, fun illustrations, and an affirming message.
Can One Balloon Make an Elephant Fly?
Preschool - Grade 2
This book serves as a gentle reminder for adults to put down their phones and other electronic gadgets and participate in the learning of their little ones. I don't exactly call people out when I read this to a group, but the parents who've been looking at their phones often put them down when I ask the children why the mom in the story seems so attached to her phone.
Even before we get to the title page, we are treated to a series of scenes showing a diverse group of people watching the animals at the zoo—except for one mom who is on her phone while her child holds a bunch of balloons and looks at the elephant. “Mom?” he asks, as we turn to the title page,“can one balloon make an elephant fly?” Without looking up from her phone, mom answers, “No.” But the child persists. How about two balloons, or three? “Evan, please,” says the mom, a bit annoyed at being interrupted, until she looks up and sees how sad it makes her son that she’s not paying attention. She sees the little toy elephant he has and says, “One balloon is definitely enough to make an elephant fly.”
The next illustration is a full-page beaming little boy, happy to be able to interact with his mother. They walk around to see the different displays and attach a balloon to each little animal figurine. (The boy also slips a balloon to each of the animals they see.) At the end, they release the balloons, and the figurines fly away, presumably to have adventures of their own.
It’s a sweet story about a mother and son, though the environmentalist in me has a little hesitation about balloons as a potential hazard for wildlife. I think I’d talk about that a little with the children after reading the book.
Maybe Something Beautiful: How Art Transformed a Neighborhood
Preschool - Grade 2
The book is based on the true story of artists Rafael and Candice Lopez. They brought the local art community together in East Village near downtown San Diego to imbue the area with colorful art. A little girl named Mira lives in the “heart of a gray city” and loves to “doodle, draw, color, and paint.” She makes art and hands it out to people in the neighborhood as well as taping some of it to the drab walls of her surroundings. “Her city was less gray,” the book tells us, “—but not much.”
Then one day, she meets a man with a “pocket full of paintbrushes." She watches him splash bright colors on the sky and finds out that he’s an artist, a muralist. “I’m an artist, too,” she tells him. He hands her a brush and says, “Then come on!” She joins him in painting a mural, and soon the whole neighborhood is joining in painting the walls, utility boxes, benches, and even decorating the sidewalks with poetry. I especially like showing the children the pictures in the back of the book: real-life photos of children who helped to create the art.
Lola at the Library
What could be closer to a librarian's heart than this charming story of a young girl who loves all things about going to the library to pick out books?
I love reading to children because we can talk about how our library has lots of similarities to Lola's library, and also quite a few differences. All the hands in the room go up when I say, "Look, Lola has a backpack just for her books. Do you have a pack or bag that you use?" Children love it when they can tell you about their everyday lives . Lola at the Library
In the book, we follow Lola on typical trip to the library where she packs her backpack with books, uses her library card to check them out, attends story time, and ends the day when her mommy reads her a story.
Check for all the Lola books, as well as companion books about her brother, Leo.
Lola Reads to Leo
Charming little Lola is back in . This time she is learning how to be a big sister. I love how reading is woven all through this book. At first, Lola’s mother reads her a story about a girl and her new baby brother.Then, after Lola's own baby brother comes along, she gives him a soft book for his crib, tells him stories when he cries, and reads to him in the bath, among other things. At night the whole family ends up with a story book. The illustrations are sweet and enchanting, as always. Lola Reads to Leo
After reading this book, I often point out to the parents that we have lots of book at the library that can prepare their child for the birth of a sibling. It's a common type of book that people are looking for, and I appreciate the way McQuinn has her characters involved with books and the library.
Do Not Bring Your Dragon to the Library
Preschool - Grade 1
Before I read the book at story time, I pull out a dragon puppet and ask them if it's a good idea to let dragons come into the library. They are usually split 50/50. Some think the idea is cool, and others foresee problems. We talk a little about what kinds of problems a dragon could cause in a library, and I tell them to listen to the story and see if some of the things they've talked about are mentioned. Do Not Bring Your Dragon to the Library
I love this book because it is so whimsical, and the illustrations do a great job of getting across the emotions of the dragon and of everyone around her. A librarian explains to a young boy the reasons why it is not a good idea to bring your dragon to the library. Among them: the dragon will take up at least ten spaces at story time, she’ll knock over the book stacks, and (of course) she will set the books on fire. All of these mishaps are illustrated in bright, bold pictures that make this book ideal for sharing with groups, as well as one-on-one.
When the boy begs for the dragon to visit with him, the librarian agrees that the dragon “should not miss the library treasures,” and that the boy can check some books “for her reading pleasure.” (The text is written in the form of rhyming couplets.)
This is a lovely, lively, and fun book.
Ming Goes to School
Preschool - Grade 1
On the beginning page, we see Ming holding hands with her father as she walks into the school (which looks like either a preschool or a kindergarten class). The watercolor illustrations show her doing everyday school things along with a diverse group of classmates: waving goodbye to her father, showing her bear at show-and-tell, making sand castles, gluing and glittering, and finally getting up the courage to climb up to the top of the slide.
The text is simple and poetic—as well as being super short for little attention spans. I love the light, wistful illustrations. It’s a lovely, peaceful book with an empowering message.
This poetic book has long been one of my favorites because it emphasizes imagination and creativity. In , a preschool class is lined up to follow the teacher when the girl at the end of the line discovers a length of red string. As she waves it in the air, she imagines it to be several things: “the dance of a scaly dragon” or “the path of a circus acrobat” among others. She calls to her class and shows them all the shapes she has learned to make. Illustrator Pierr Morgan’s watercolors interpret the text with a Chinese flair, but the idea for making shapes with a piece of string is so universal that it will speak to all kinds of kids. The Squiggle
When I use this book for story time, I give each child a length of red yarn to create the shapes and patterns in the story. It's a great way to encourage movement and imagination. Another thing I like about this activity is that it brings children and caregivers together, with the grown-ups helping their little ones to form some of the shapes and do the actions.
Love Is by Diane Adams
In the story, a girl finds a solitary duckling in a cityscape that looks quite a bit like the area near Central Park in Manhattan. Adams tells the story in rhyme: "Love is holding something fragile/tiny wings and downy head./Love is noisy midnight feedings/shoe box right beside the bed."
We can't help but sympathize with the girl lying wide-eyed while the duckling quacks loudly in the wee hours of the morning. As any parent knows, the job never eds. The girls feeds the duck, chases it at bath time, cleans up after its messes, and sometimes gets to settle down in front of the TV with a package of sunflower seeds.
Over time, she sees that her little duckling is growing up. She helps it to fly and encourages it to take off with other ducklings. But of course, once her duck is gone, she misses it quite a bit. "Love is missing, reminiscing/wishing things could stay the same" the text tells us as we see the girl drawing pictures of her duck and sadly sitting on the couch with the sunflower seeds.
The book ends on a decidedly cheerier note when the duck comes back to visit in a year--with ducklings of her own.
The illustrations are expressive and have an old-fashioned charm that is sweet, but not saccharine. Claire Keane is the illustrator, and on a hunch, I looked her up on the internet. As I suspected, she is the granddaughter of Bil Keane who created the "Family Circus" cartoon strip. She has studied art in Paris and has worked as visual development artist for several Disney films.
This is a lovely book, and I hope we will see more from this team.
Preschool - Grade 3
In the story, a young girl and her father buy flowers, a planting box, and soil at a grocery store. Then they take them on the bus until they reach their apartment, a 3rd-floor walk-up in the city. There they assemble a window box and plant the flowers inside. When they get out a cake and start to light the candles, we learn that it is a birthday surprise for the mom, who is just now walking in the door. The last picture shows the family admiring the flower box at sunset, after they’ve eaten most of the cake.
There is so much to like about this book. It introduces suburban and rural children to some aspects of life in the city like taking the bus and living in an apartment. It names the different flowers in the boxes and accurately illustrates them, introducing the children to some new vocabulary. The illustrations are luminous. Children love to spot the family's cat in several scenes. I encourage the children figure out the surprise of the story and predict what will happen when the mother comes in the room, and I take every opportunity I can to share this lovely book with groups of children.
Sunday Shopping describes an inventive game that a girl plays with her grandmother: every Sunday they gather ads from the Sunday paper and a purse full of monopoly money, and then they go “shopping.”
They peruse the advertisements for things they would like to buy, cut them out, and pay for the items using their money. Grandma decides to get a big ham to cook and the girl chooses a room full of fine furniture.
Later on, the girl picks out a jewelry box that will house her treasured necklace. It turns out the girl’s mother is in the army, and on the day she left, she gave the girl a heart locket. At the end, the girl cuts out a bouquet of flowers and places them on the nightstand near a picture of her mother for her grandmother to find the next morning.
Besides being a story about coping with absence, this story shows an intergenerational interaction that we always want to see with our families. The grandmother has found a way to engage her granddaughter in lots of meaningful conversations, helped her develop her math skills, and you could also argue that she is teaching her a bit about what things cost and money management. What a wonderful concept for a book!
I can see a follow up activity that involves giving children a set of ads and encouraging them to do their own Sunday Shopping.
Rosa's Very Big Job
Young children often bask in the accomplishment of being a good helper, but sometimes they don't know how to go about helping the grown-ups in their lives. In Rosa's Very Big Job, tlittle Rosa decides that she and her grandfather can help by putting away the laundry.
When I read this book, I knew that children would love the dynamic between the girl and her grandfather. He complains that it's hard to carry everything, to keep it folded, and to keep jackets from sliding off their hangers. Rosa is always ready with advice for her grandfather, and together they get all the laundry done.
Then, Rosa shifts into imagination mode, and the two of them climb into the laundry basket for adventures, pretending they are in a boat at sea. They brave big waves and catch an "enormous fish" (actually a sock) at Rosa's urging. When mama comes home, she is surprised to find the laundry finished. Rosa fills her in on all their adventures.
I like to point out to parents that the end note talks about how the story can increase a child's vocabulary. Mayer has given grandpa some pretty big words to use -- difficult, enormous, exhausted,, etc. and a child can learn them in context in a story like this.
Preschool - Grade 1
This is definitely a book that you can read when you are trying to get your kid to sleep. Twenty yawns are placed throughout the book, most of them towards the ends when presumably your little one’s eyes will be getting heavy. This book made me feel sleepy when I was previewing it in the middle of the day.
I was especially interested in this book because the parents are portrayed as an interracial couple, something you still don't see very much in the illustrations of children's books.
In the story, Lucy and her parents spend a fun day at the beach digging sand castles, flying kites, and rolling on the dunes. They make an early bedtime of it, but Lucy awakens and decides she needs her bear, Molasses, to comfort her. When she gets downstairs, she decides she needs to take all her stuffed animals with her and settles down among them. She yawns quite often in the process. Castillo’s illustrations are gentle and have a vintage feel to them.
Max Speed by Stephen Shaskan
If you have a kid who likes vehicles, volcanoes, or sharks, this short little story could be a good fit. It reminds me a little of the "good news/bad news" books for kids. In those, you'd have some bad news (hero had to jump out of a flying plane), then some good news (he landed on a haystack), then some bad news again (there was a pitchfork in the haystack.)
When the story begins, a young boy has just finished cleaning his room and is ready for some adventure. Sharp-eyed kids will see that his adventure includes all of the toys neatly stored on his shelves. He zooms off in a red car, and soon enough encounters a river of hot lava. Not to worry, though, because he has a jet pack to shoot him over that peril, but when said pack goes kaput, he fortunately has a parachute to save him. Things continue in like fashion with a shark, until Max is able to get away and faces one final test: a combination lock to get him home. Spoiler alert, the combination is H-O-M-E, and he arrives at home to see his mom dressed for adventure and ready to go.
This book is fun to read aloud because it encourages making lots of sounds. The bright and lively illustrations make it good for sharing with a group.
Never Ask a Dinosaur to Dinner
Kindergarten - Grade 3
I’ve heard publishers say they don’t want authors to submit picture books texts that rhyme, and yet so many of the books that come out are written in rhyme. I think that rhyme is very technically difficult to do and new authors often come up with unnatural, forced rhyme. But in , Edwards managed to be both natural and extremely clever with the turns of phrase he uses in this book. I have a great time reading this one to kids. Never Ask a Dinosaur to Dinner
The premise is to give all kinds of practical advice about the consequences of having large (and usually) dangerous animals join you in your evening routine. Thus, “Never ask a dinosaur to dinner…don’t share your toothbrush with a shark…etc.” One of my favorite suggestions is “…don’t let a barn owl in your bed. Because the first thing that you’ll learn’ll/Be a barn owl is nocturnal/She will hunt for mice and hoot all night/And leave your bed a dreadful sight!” There is quite a bit to learn about animal habits and vocabulary, all wrapped up in a humorous package that is a delight to read aloud. Parker-Rees’s big and exuberant illustrations complete the whole feel of the story wonderfully.
The Fintastic Fishsitter by Mo O'Hara
I really like this entry into the "Big Fat Zombie Goldfish Adventure" series because it shows a girl who is strong, assured, and knows what she is doing.
The story starts with a boy named Tom who introduces us to his best friend, Pradeep, who lives next door. They have asked Pradeep's little sister Sami to look after their zombie goldfish. They warn her that there is also a vampire kitten in the house, and she has to keep the kitten away from the goldfish.
The text never breaks tone, even though it's dealing with two outrageous pets. I had to smile when I read the directions the two boys left for Sami, including "Zombie goldfish only eat green food" (moldy Brussels sprouts being a prime example) and "Watch out for Frankie's eyes - he can hypnotize you."
Sami takes her fish-sitting responsibilities seriously and starts drawing up a "Fishy Protection Zone with booby traps." But, the kitten is super sneaky and a master of disguise and she sneaks in to attack the fish. Sami uses her "best cross mom voice" to get the kitten to put down the fish, but the vampire kitty turns on the charm and convinces Sami to let them play together.
It turns out they are incapable of being nice to each other, so Sami--like so many frustrated parents--decides she's in charge and makes them play HER game which involves frilly outfits and a baby buggy. The unhappy pets are quiet when the boys return, earning her extra scoops of ice cream.
The colorful illustrations have a bit of a CGI look and complement the story nicely.
Preschool – Grade 2
When I first took a look at How To, I was charmed by the wistful drawings Morstad uses to illustrate her unconventional "How To" book. As I read it, I learned that it's not really a book of directions at all, but rather an exercise in imagination and interpreting things from a different perspective.
On the first page we see the phrase "how to go fast," along with a diverse group of children who are riding piggyback, running with fairy wings, riding a scooter, or walking on stilts as they cross the page. In a series of 2-page spreads, we see other how-to's illustrated. "How to see the wind": the children are flying kites. "How to make new friends": a child is drawing stick figures on the blacktop with chalk. "How to wash your socks": a group of children is playing in a (clean) puddle with their socks on.
It's a short, quiet book, and very artistic. I don't know if it was the effect the artist was going for, but the children remind me a little bit of winsome French mimes. They have delicate features and small smiles as they go about their activities.
Mary Had a Little Glam
I had to smile when I read this book because the main character is a lot like my daughter. She loved the sparkle and the nail polish and the fancy accessories, but she didn't let all the fanciness get in her way when it was time for recess. Anyone who's seen a kid drag her feather boa along in the dust when it was time to play outside knows what I'm talking about.
In Mary Had a Little Glam, Mary is a fashion-forward elementary-schooler who accessorizes with all sorts of glitz and glam (including an adorable little lamb purse) and heads off to school. When she meets the other children in her class (cleverly dressed as an assortment of nursery rhyme characters), she offers them a little more pizzazz in the form of hats, trim, beads, feather boas, and all manner of fanciness.
However, when it’s time to go out to the playground, she and the other kids realize that they are “dressed all wrong for this” and toss the glam aside to go on the swings, hula hoop, play in mud puddles, and all the other delights a playground has to offer. The illustrations are big, colorful, and joyous.
Preschool - Grade 3
I have loved the “Human of New York” project which is a collection of photographs of New Yorkers, accompanied by excerpts from interviews with the subjects.
In this book, Stanton focuses on children going about their days, and I was glad to see him continue the excellent photography he uses in his adult series. We see bike riders, hockey players, bundled-up toddlers, sledders, bass players, and all kinds of adorable and poignant pictures of children drawn from the wide variety of cultures who live together in New York City. I paged through the photos several times. It's really interesting how much you can learn about children just by looking at a photo of them doing something they love.
Stanton pairs the photography with a short prose poem that makes this book wonderful for sharing one-on-one or with a group.
Preschool - Kindergarten
It seems you can't get too many books about sharing, and I was happy when I came across this one that shows a diverse group of kids dealing with such a common struggle.
A girl has red blocks, and a boy has blue blocks which they use to build respective towers. But after a while, they start to fight over one of the blocks, and in the process, they knock both of their buildings down. They end up learning to cooperate and make a building with both red and blue blocks.
It looks like they've managed to solve their problem just fine, until a new guy with green blocks shows up. The book has an open-ended finish, providing an opportunity to talk with children about what the three characters should do.
I love the big, expressive illustrations that have a bit of an old-fashioned feel.
Tap Tap Boom Boom
Preschool - Grade 3
I've always liked illustrator Brian Karas' work, and I was happy when I saw this book come into the library.
As its title suggests, this is a book that uses onomatopoeia to evoke the sound and feeling of a thunderstorm in the city. Once the rain, lightning and thunder start, a diverse group of people head to the subway station for shelter: boy scouts, construction workers, basketball players, dog walkers, kids and grownups. There, they share umbrellas and pizza and listen to music. In the words of the book, “The storm above makes friends of strangers.” It’s a fun story all in all, and Karas’ artwork fits it perfectly.
I'm going to share with you a little movement and imagination activity I do with a group of kids after reading a book about rainstorms. First, you tell the children "We're going to make a rainstorm." Then, you have the children rub their hands together and listen to the quiet sound they make. It sounds like just a few light raindrops falling on the sidewalk. Then, ask them to clap slowly (or snap, if they're older). That is the sound of a few big raindrops falling on the sidewalk. Then, you have them pat their thighs slowly at first, then faster and faster. The raindrops are coming faster and faster. As they are making the raindrop sound, I have them blow like the wind, make lightning sounds (Ksh! Ksh!) and thunder (Boom! Boom!) It's a wild thunderstorm! Then, you can have the kids start to quiet it down--less wind, fewer raindrops. Finally, you're back to the shhh sound of hands rubbing together. Then, at the end, I tell them that the clouds part, the sun comes out, and I have them all make put their hands above their heads to make an arch. It's a rainbow!
This activity works especially well for this book because the text includes so much onomatopoeia, which the activity reinforces.
Little Bitty Friends
Preschool - Grade 1
I like to read this book to story time groups once the weather starts to get warm in the spring. Children are amazingly observant, and they are curious about all the little creatures they see stirring on the ground.
This book is a celebration of nature that children can come across in their own back yards. The illustrations are just precious and show a diverse group of children encountering ants, caterpillars, buttercups, snails, and all manner of things in the outdoors. The rhyming text is short, a good match for little ones’ attention spans.
Everyday Diversity Books for Children in Early Elementary Grades
This second section includes titles that have a story that is a little more in depth and are appropriate for children ages 6-8.
In Plain Sight
Kindergarten - Grade 3
is a good book to read with a small group, and would be an especially good read-aloud one on one. Each item that the grandfather mentions in the book is cleverly hidden "in plain sight." I spent about half an hour with this book when I first read it, trying to figure out where all the items were, and I'm thinking that kids would get a kick out of searching to find the items before turning the page. In Plain Sight
The story, illustrated by the renowned Jerry Pinkney, is a tender and playful rendition of a special game between a young girl and her grandfather. At the beginning, we read “Sophie lives with Mama and Daddy and Grandpa, who lives by the window.” From the illustration, we see that Grandpa is wheelchair-bound and that he likes to sit by the window, read the newspaper, and wave to the children as they get off the school bus. Every day, Sophie comes to visit him, and every day he tells her he has “lost” a variety of everyday items like a paper clip or a rubber band. And every day, Sophie helps to find the item hidden somewhere in plain sight. The paper clip might be clipped to a hat, or the rubber band might be stretched around a football. Pinkney’s illustrations invite the reader to play along and find the item before Sophie does.
At the end of the book, Sophie turns the tables on her grandfather and hides behind the curtain so that he can find her when he wakes up from his nap. It’s a touching, simple story, and Pinkney’s illustrations portray such detail and depth of feeling that children can look at them for quite a while, learning more about Grandpa and his life in the process.
I Got the Rhythm
A girl walking down the street starts to feel the rhythm in her head “think think,” sees it with her eyes “blink blink,” feels it with her hands “clap clap,” and so on. The text is short, and you can encourage the children to join in doing the same moves the girl does. The illustrations are bright and joyful.
I pair this book with the song “Doctor Knickerbocker” for group presentations, since the song follows a similar format.
After my family visited New York City last summer, I was pleased to find a book like which reflects an urban child's landscape while reinforcing the idea of finding shapes in our surroundings. City Shapes
The mixed-media collages that make up this book show a variety of city scenes: the rectangles in city buildings, the triangular flags at the outdoor market, the circular drums in a drum circle. The young girl who uses her spy glass and serves as tour guide is based on artist Bryan Collier’s 4-year-old daughter. The author moved to New York City from the Ukraine at the age of two and often took “hikes” around the city, going from Midtown down to Chinatown and back. The book contains a nice variety of textures and a diverse group of people for the main character to meet as she explores the city.
Oh my goodness, but this would be a great way to start a writing and/or pen pal unit!
Dear Dragon pulls children in with some sly humor. A boy’s teacher tells the class that they will be combining their poetry and pen pal units and write letters in rhyme to another class. A dragon teacher is shown telling his little class of dragons the same thing.
And that is how “Blaise Dragomir” and “George Slair” (get the puns?) become pen pals.
Children will love being in on the joke when the dragon tells the boy that his favorite sport is skydiving and that his father won a local fire-breathing contest. Each two-page spread shows how the pen pal is imagining something, and how it really happened. While the boy is imagining his pen pal as a boy who is diving with a parachute, we see the dragon soaring from the top of a rock cliff.
When the pen pals meet at a picnic, they at first seem taken aback, but then do a high five and decide it’s the coolest thing ever.
It’s a fun story, and the illustrations portray the humor and action nicely.
The Summer Nick Taught His Cats to Read
Any one of us who has lived with cats can't help but chuckle a little over the personalities of the two cats in this wry little picture book.
When Nick decides to share his love of reading with his cats Verne and Stevenson, they are unimpressed, as cats will be. Then, one day Verne the cat discovers there are books about fish, and he becomes very interested in them. It’s charming to see Nick and Verne do many of the shared activities that we want our students in classes to do: talk about the books they like, check out books from the library, and act out favorite scenes in stories they read together. The only thing that blunts their happiness is that the other cat, Stevenson, refuses to join in. But then one day Nick and Verne discover Stevenson’s drawings of pirates and write a story to go along with them. Stevenson likes the story and begins to see the value of books, though he can still be a grump sometimes.
This is a wonderful book to share with children just starting to read. I think it would also be a great introduction to reading and writing activities in a classroom, since Nick and Verne find so many follow up activities to the stories they read. The watercolor illustrations add a light and whimsical touch.
By Day, By Night
I love to read books that introduce children to people all around the world, and this book provides the perfect short introduction.
This book emphasizes the commonalities of people around the world as they go through a regular day. “By day we waken to the sun,” the text begins, “We yawn and stretch, as one by one… We wash. We brush. We dress. We eat. We greet each other when we meet."
I’ve long been a fan of Meilo So, and her charming watercolors provide just the right images, whether we are looking at a woman doing a traditional craft in Africa, boys playing soccer in Latin America, or children ice skating in New York. The illustrations are big and bright enough to make this a good book to share with a group, and the text is written in short, lyrical rhyme.
Thunder Boy Jr.
I had heard that Sherman Alexie had written a picture book with a Native American main character, and I hoped it would be a good read-aloud to share with a group. When I was finally able to get my hands on , I was pleased to find that he had told a story with his trademark humor and heart. Thunder Boy Jr.
The book centers on a universal dilemma: a boy who doesn’t like his name. He is called Thunder Boy Jr., named after his father who is Thunder Boy Sr. They call the dad “Big Thunder,” but Thunder Boy ends up being called “Little Thunder,” which sounds to him “like a burp or a fart.” He says, “Don’t get me wrong. My dad is awesome.” But the boy wants his own name, something that relates to him. He goes through a few options. Once, he tells us, he touched a wild orca on the nose, so maybe he should be called “Not Afraid of Ten Thousand Teeth.” Or, since he loves powwow dancing, maybe his name should be “Drum, Drums, and More Drums.”
He struggles to figure out how to tell his dad what he wants until one day his dad tells him it’s time he had a new name. The boy is overjoyed that his father seemed to read his mind and his heart. Then dad unveils his new name—Lightning! The boy seems to like his new name, saying, “Together, my dad and I will become amazing weather.”
The illustrations are exuberant and colorful with just the right touch of cultural detail, like the story itself. Alexie is a well-regarded author who has won awards for both his adult and teen books. It is nice to see him in the picture book arena, and I hope we will see more from him.
Last Stop on Market Street
Besides being a book that shows readers a diverse neighborhood ,this is a good book to help children learn about thankfulness and seeing the positive side of life.
was the surprise winner of the Newbery in 2016, an award that is usually given to longer children’s books. Matt De La Pena is the first Hispanic author to receive the prestigious award. The boy at the center of the book, CJ, and his Nana happen to be African-American, but De La Pena says it’s not about race, but about seeing the beauty in a life that some would consider disadvantaged. He says that one of the most important things that happened to him in his childhood was “growing up without money.” Last Stop on Market Street
At the beginning of the book, CJ and his Nana are waiting for the bus in the rain, and CJ is not happy. He asks, “How come we gotta wait for the bus in all this wet?” Nana gently reminds him that the trees need a drink, just as she points out that they are lucky to have a bus driver who does magic tricks. On the bus, they talk with a blind musician, and at the end of their trip, readers find out that the pair are on their way to help out at a soup kitchen. Robinson’s illustrations complement the text wonderfully, showing the beauty inherent in the bustling neighborhood.
If I Had a Raptor
I like to read to the kids when our story time theme is "Dinosaurs." There are lots of fun books about bringing dinosaurs home as pet, and I was happy to see one with an African-American girl as the main character. If I Had a Raptor
In the story, a young girl sees a box that says “free raptors” and brings one home as a pet. The girl has a great time with her raptor when it is little, but when it gets older and bigger, she puts a bell on its collar, presumably so the she can tell when it’s about to pounce on her. I suspect that what this book really wants to do is sneak in a few raptor facts: its hunting instincts, its night vision, etc. The cartoon illustrations are charming and fun.
Almost every kid has a childhood friend move away, and I was happy to see that we had a book in the library that shows a Korean-American girl dealing with this kind of universal experience.
When Juna’s family is done eating a large jar of kimchi, she is allowed to keep the jar. She and her best friend, Hector, have fun collecting things and putting them in the jar.
But one day, Hector leaves their town to go live far away with his parents. Juna is bereft. She continues to collect things in her jar and at night, she has dreams in which she meets Hector. Each day she decides that the living things she has collected need more space. She sets them free and collects something else. Finally, she meets another friend who also likes to collect things. This is a book about seeing the world and also about dealing with the transitions in life. It has very sweet, soft watercolor illustrations.
School's First Day of School
I love the switched perspective and the humor in this book.
Elementary school kids all know how they feel about school, but how does the school building itself feel? This book is sure to evoke some giggles of recognition when children learn that School feels anxious about all the children who are going to come. As the year starts, School is pleased to learn some new things and not so pleased when someone squirts milk out of his nose after hearing a joke. “Now I’m covered with nose milk,” School thinks, though he does admit the joke was pretty funny. The children are a diverse bunch, with different heritages and abilities, and Robinson’s illustrations do a nice job of capturing the mix of kids in the school.
I have always had a great time reading one of Bill Thomson's other books, Chalk to a class of kindergarteners, and I'm looking forward to showing them this one as well. I find that they get really involved in wordless books, eager to tell me the story they see playing out on the pages.
In this nearly wordless book, a threesome of children find an old-fashioned typewriter and discover that whenever they type a word, the thing that they have typed suddenly appears before them. At first, they create a beach and a bucket of ice cream taller than they are. But when the girl conjures up a giant crab, it’s up to her to figure out how to solve the mayhem that results.
The realistic illustrations help bring the story to life.
I'm thinking that this is a book I might need to read twice to a group because it will take listeners a couple of run-throughs to figure out the twist in the story.
At the start of the book, a young boy calls out “LION!” and a lion appears from behind a building. Rather than running away, the boy engages in a conversation with the lion who, it turns out, is looking for lunch. The boy suggests some grass, and the lion says that it is “too snappy.” This answer doesn’t make a whole lot of sense until you look carefully at the pictures and realize that there are turtles in the grass. In fact, when we turn the page, we see that one of them has grabbed hold of the lion’s tail. Mushrooms are “too prickly” (hedgehogs are hanging out there), and the berries are “too stinky” (yes, there are skunks picking the berries.)
When the lion says that feathers make him sneeze, the boys gets the idea to go inside the lion’s stomach to find his lost cat (the ‘Lion” he was calling at the beginning of the book). When the boy gets a bird to tickle the actual lion, the boy and his cat escape in the ensuing sneeze. It’s creative, and a different kind of plot than children are used to seeing.
Emma and Julia Love Ballet
When I read this book, I immediately thought of Misty Copeland who recently became the first African-American woman to be named principal dancer at the American Ballet Theater. This is a timely book that shows the grown-up dancer, Julia, and the aspiring girl, Emma. They both follow similar practice routines, and at the end, Emma gets to go to one of Julia’s performances and meet her after the show. It’s a sweet story that little ballet aficionados will be drawn to.
One Word from Sophia
This book is a great teaching tool for vocabulary.
Sophia wants a giraffe for her birthday, but she knows she has four relatives who will say that a giraffe is not a good idea. She first presents her case to her mother, not the easiest thing to do since her mother is actually a judge in her work life. Sophia argues that giraffes meet federal regulations because they “burn less gasoline” and they “are not shown to be the cause of any major diseases.” Her mother rules against the idea because she “failed to cite any laws about minors driving quadrupeds.” Also, it seems that Sophia’s argument was “too verbose.”
She then tries with her dad, the businessman, arguing that she could sell the manure, but dad thinks the business plan doesn’t take costs into account. And, she’s too effusive. She doesn’t fare well with other members of the family until she boils her request down to one word, “please.” When they finally grant her wish, she finds a two-word phrase helpful: “Thank you.”
Under the whimsical story there are lessons about how to tailor your presentations to different audiences, the importance of genuineness, and of course—vocabulary. This is one of the few picture books with a glossary at the back.
Lottie Paris Lives Here
This book is fun to read out loud because the language has such individuality and character.
We are introduced to Lottie Paris, a girl with lots of style who plays in the park, dresses up, and likes to eat her cookie more that she likes to eat her vegetables. Sometimes she has to sit in the “quiet chair,” when she has become a little too exuberant.
I like the bright, festive illustrations and the voice of the narrator. At one point, she shows us Lottie’s hat, all decorated with flowers, feathers, beads, and a frog. “Do you like Lottie’s hat?” she asks. “Uh-huh, me too,” she says.
All of this serves to pull the reader into the world and outlook of Lottie Paris.
I Had a Favorite Dress
I've always loved telling the story "Joseph Had a Little Overcoat," about the Jewish tailor who takes a worn out coat and makes a vest out of it. When the vest is worn out, he makes a hat, and then a tie, and so on, recycling the fabric into smaller and smaller things, until all he has left is the story of what happened to his coat.
This book is a creative take on that idea, this time using a girl as the main character. A girl has a favorite dress that she wears every Tuesday, but it eventually wears out in places. Her mother alters it for her and it becomes a shirt which she wears every Wednesday. As time goes on, the shirt transforms into a tank top, a skirt, a scarf, socks, and a bow which the girl wears on successive days of the week.
It's a nice way to introduce days of the week, articles of clothing, and a diverse character all in one.
Lovely, sweet illustrations.
I've incorporated origami into my craft units for quite a few years now, and I was happy to find this new title which incorporates origami into a diverse neighborhood whose heritages include Japanese, Latino, and African roots.
Joey observes how to fold origami from the mother of his classmate, Sarah Takimoto. He is astonished when she makes a crane. He asks her to teach him how to do origami. “I can show you the folds,” she says, “but if you want to be an origami master, you’ll need practice and patience.” Joey proceeds to practice, practice, practice, until his mother--who discovers 38 folded dollar bills in her purse--says, “This folding has to stop.”
Joey is at loose ends until Mr. Lopez allows him to practice folding the napkins in his restaurant. Finally, Joey is able to fold a paper crane from a napkin (an impressive feat) and he shares his skills with a red-haired girl who comes in to the restaurant.
In the end papers, children can find instructions for making a relatively easy origami ladybug.
Additional Everyday Diversity Books
I have been keeping a list of books which show diverse characters for about 15 years. Here, you will find the rest of the books that I've examined over that time along with a short description of each. At press time, many of these books were still in print. For those that aren't, I've had good luck going through used book sites to get copies that are in good shape.
- We Came to America by Faith Ringgold. Short, simple book about different groups who came to America and the things they contributed.
- I’m Like You, You’re Like Me by Cindy Gainer. Cute pictures, talks about how we look different but are all alike.
- My Colors, My World by Maya Christina Gonzalez. Girl talks about the colors she sees in the desert. Spanish and English.
- Maria Had a Little Llama by Angela Dominguez. Spanish and English takeoff of the rhyme "Mary Had a Little Lamb” but with a llama. Setting is Peru.
- Families by Shelley Rotner. Colorful photos and short text about all sorts of families.
- Happy in Our Skin by Fran Manushkin. Talks about skin, the colors, how it heals, dimples, freckles. Rhyming. Cute.
- The World in a Second by Isabel Minhos Martins. Big illustrations show what could be happening around the world in one second. For older kids.
- One Family by George Shannon. Includes multicultural families, charming pictures, everyone doing everyday things.
- Wild About Us! by Karen Beaumont Talks about how different zoo animals look & how we’re glad they aren’t all the same. Great ill by Janet Stevens.
- Call Me Tree by Maya Christina Gonzalez. Simple text about a child who compares himself to a tree. In English and Spanish.
- Lottie Paris and the Best Place by Angela Johnson. Girl and boy meet at the library reading books that they’re interested in
- Home Field Advantage by Justin Tuck. NFL players reminisce about haircuts.
- The Sandwich Swap by Queen Rania. Girls think each other’s sandwiches are gross until they swap.
- My Friend Maya Loves to Dance by Cheryl Willis Hudson. Short descriptive text about African-American girl told by a girl in a wheelchair.
- Susan Laughs by Jeanne Willis. Short text describes familiar activities that Susan does. She also happens to be in a wheelchair.
- Say Hello by Rachel Isadora. Hispanic girl goes around neighborhood meeting people from many cultures, and saying “hello.”
- My Father is Taller Than a Tree by Joseph Bruchac. Sons talking about fathers from all sorts of cultures.
- Big Red Lollipop by Rukhsana Khan. Mother makes girl take little sister to a birthday party. Problems ensue. Nationality not given, but author is from Pakistan.
- Gracias*Thanks by Pat Mora. Simple giving thanks book. In English and Spanish.
- Shades of People by Shelley Rotner. A book describing shades of people’s skin. Mentions that families have different shades and that shade doesn’t determine what a person is like.
- All Kinds of Families by Mary Ann Hoberman. Rhyming text about families.
- Flying! by Kevin Luthardt. African-American boy asks his dad why he can’t fly and they explore ideas together.
- Wish: Wishing Traditions Around the World by Roseanne Thong. A charming book about children’s traditions with wishes around the world. Small images in pictures and small print.
- Best Friend on Wheels by Debra Shirley. Girl talks about what she does with friend in a wheelchair. Told in rhyme.
- Snow by Cynthia Rylant. Short poetic work about snow with different heritages of people portrayed.
- Kitchen Dance by Maurie Manning. Kids find parents dancing while they do the dishes. Family is Hispanic, uses occasional Spanish words.
- Rain Play by Cynthia Cotten. Short rhyming text about rain.
- Princess Grace by Mary Hoffman Nice story about how princesses are more than pretty clothes. Would be good introduction to various ethnic folktales with familiar characters.
- Here Are My Hands by Bill Martin Jr. Nice, short phrases about things children do with different body parts. Features children with many different backgrounds.
- A Little Peace by Barbara Kerley. Short, simple text with pictures from all over the world.
- My Cat Copies Me by Yoon D. Kwon. Simple book about girl and cat doing things together.
- I Can Do It, Too! By Karen Baicker. A girl is gaining confidence as she sees she can do the things that others do, like pouring juice or strumming a guitar.
- You Can Do It Too! by Karen Baicker. A young girl teaches her brother how to do a variety of tasks.
- Dragon Dancing by Carole Lexa Schaefer. A teacher reads the class a book about dragons and then the children craft them with a variety of flourishes. This is a great one to read and then have the children make their own dragons.
- I Am America by Charles Smith. Big, color photos depict a variety of children.
- Bigger Than Daddy by Harriet Ziefert. A boy and his dad do everyday things, and the boy wants to do all kinds of grownup things like pushing the elevator button.
- Full, Full of Love by Trish Cooke. Little Jay Jay helps his grandmother with making a family dinner and finds hugs and kisses wherever he goes.
- Emma and Her Friends: a Book about Colors by Sandra Desmazie. Girl invites children who like different colors over to party. Short. Multicultural illustrations.
- Friends! by Elaine Scott Pictures by Margaret Miller. Large-format photos with questions to help children talk about friendship.
- Sadie Can Count: a Multisensory Book by Ann Cunningham. This books shows things in Sadie’s world and uses raised images to illustrate them. Includes braille letters.
- Boo Hoo Boo-Boo by Marilyn Singer. Diverse kids get bumps and bruises and go to their caregivers for comfort.
- There is a Flower at the Tip of My Nose Smelling Me by Alice Walker. Short, poetic pages about nature and creativity by renowned writer Alice Walker.
- Friends at School by Rochelle Bunnett. Diverse children of different abilities engage in different activities at school.
- Once Around the Sun by Bobbie Katz. Multicultural illustrations and poems for each month of the year.
- I Like Myself by Karen Beaumont. Short verse about the things a girl likes about herself. Bright pictures.
- Max Found Two Sticks by Brian Pinkney. African-American boy beats out rhythm.
- Honey Baby Sugar Child by Alice Faye Duncan. Rhythmic text. African-American mother and child.
- The Colors of Us by Karen Katz. A young elementary girl discovers there are several shades of brown-colored skin.
- Families by Ann Morris. Short text, pictures of families from around the world doing things like weaving, playing the violin, etc.
- Bebe Goes Shopping by Susan Middleton Elya. Rhyme done with quite a few Spanish words. Baby is into everything shopping until mama gives him a box of animal crackers.
- Mama's Day by Linda Ashman. Short verse celebrates bond between mother and child. Mutilcultural.
- MY Nose, Your Nose by Melanie Walsh. Simple pictures comparing physical types and pointing out that the kids have similar likes and dislikes.
- Go, Go, Go! Kids on the Move by Stephen R. Swinburne. Pictures of multicultural kids doing different things.
- ABC Kids by Laura Williams. Great photos of diverse children that show different letters of the alphabet. The children always crack up when we get to the photo that shows children in their Underwear.
- Sometimes I'm Bombaloo by Rachel Vail. A story about how the usual frustrations lead a girl to go “bombaloo,” and want to act out her anger. She uses different strategies for calming herself down.
- Whose Shoe? by Margaret Miller. I love reading this book and having children guess who wears the different kinds of shoes. Types of shoes include clown, ballet, soccer, etc.
- These last 3 books present everyday and Chinese cultural items that illustrate either shapes, colors, or numbers.
- Round is a Mooncake by Roseanne Thong
- Red is a Dragon by Roseanne Thong
- One is a Drummer by Roseanne Thong