The Most Diverse Books for Kids
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Teaching children about diversity is important at all ages, and it should start as young as possible. Part of the way young children begin to develop a sense of identity and self-esteem is by noticing traits and characteristics about themselves and others. For example, a three-year-old might notice that they have dark skin and dark hair while their best friend has blond hair and pale skin. Unfortunately, parents and educators struggle at times to find the best way to discuss diversity appropriately. It feels uncomfortable to many adults to point out and discuss differences. However, the more we embrace our differences and put them out in the open, the more normal it is to see people of all shapes, colors, sizes, and genders. We don’t need to be frightened of topics concerning ethnicity, religion, race, culture, gender, etc. instead;, we need to embrace them.
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I spent years teaching preschool and Pre-K, and my classroom bookshelf was always full of diverse children’s books. Children love to listen to adults read aloud and learn new stories. By reading diverse books, I also opened myself up to learning new things and discovered many beautiful books and stories, factual and fictional, that I could pass on to others.
Reading is one of the truest and oldest ways to learn and pass on knowledge, not to mention the fantastic benefits it has for young people today who are surrounded by digital devices and screens. So if you are looking for some books to celebrate diversity with the young readers in your life, we have compiled a list of our top picks of diverse books!
Our Top Picks
- Best True Story: Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music by Margarita Engle
- Best Book for Toddlers: We’re Different, We’re The Same, and We’re All Wonderful by Bobbi Kates
- Best Rhyming Book: Fiona Flamingo by Rachel Urrutia Chu
- Best Book on Inclusion: All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold
- Best Book By a Celebrity Author: Just Ask!: Be Different, Be Brave, Be You by Sonia Sotomayor
- Best Book About Self Empowerment: I Am Enough by Grace Byers
- Best Book on Muslim Culture for Young Children: Mommy’s Khimar by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow
- Best Book on LGBTQ and Gender Issues: Julián Is A Mermaid by Jessica Love
- Best Book on Cultural Differences: Same, Same But Different by Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw
- Best Book for Girl Power: Little Dreamers: Visionary Women Around the World by Vashti Harrison
- Best Book About Difference Families: Families, Families, Families! By Suzanne Lang
- Best Book for Boys: A Boy Like You by Frank Murphy
- Best Books for Teens and Tweens: We Are Not From Here by Jenny Torres Sanchez
- Best New School Book for Older Kids: New Kid by Jerry Craft
Recommended age: 4-7
As a music lover, I fell in love with this book the first time I read the story. This heartwarming book tells the true story of a little girl named Millo Castro Zaldarriaga, a Chinese-African-Cuban girl who went against tradition and became a female drummer in Cuba at a time when only boys and men were allowed to play drums. Even more inspiring is the all-girl band she eventually formed with her sisters! Not only is this story beautifully told, but the illustrations by Rafael Lopez are dreamy and romantic.
"Engle's poetic narrative combined with Lopez's warmly ethereal folk-art illustrations to evoke a nighttime tropical dreamscape." —New York Times Book Review
Recommended age: 3-7
This delightful picture book was a staple in my classroom as the loveable Sesame Street characters appealed to children of all backgrounds. Using everybody’s favorite Muppets, the book discusses how we all come in different shapes, colors, and sizes but share many unifying features and qualities.
This book is ranked #5 on Amazon’s list of Children’s Prejudice & Racism Books
Here is what one reviewer had to say: “We are an interracial family and always on the hunt for diverse toys and books. This has been my son's favorite book for more than a month. He loves to point at the faces/skin/eyes/emotions that look like him, like mommy, like daddy, etc. The pages are filled with great diverse images.”
Recommended age: 1-9
I stumbled upon this wonderful story by accident, and it quickly became one of my seven-year-old son’s favorite books. Fiona, the main character, is a flamingo who just can’t seem to get her feathers to turn the right shade of pink like expected. Instead, as she experiences a variety of emotions and experiences, her feathers change color. At the end, she realizes that not all flamingos have to be pink. It is a beautiful story about self-acceptance and realizing it is essential just to be who you are. Not only does this book touch on diversity and acceptance, but it also helps children process big emotions.
Here’s what one reviewer had to say: “I read this book — looking for how it would affect my 4-year-old grandson's understanding of feelings and prejudices. As a preschool teacher, I am very picky. This book wonderfully captured emotions and differences on each page—a perfect book for parent and child conversations. A great segway into the issues of today's world.”
Recommended age: 4-8
This delightful and sweet story takes place in a school where all children are welcome regardless of race, religion, gender, or ability. On one page, you see a group of children sitting together. There are African American, Muslim, and Caucasian boys and girls. On the colorful ABC carpet also sits a visually impaired child, a little girl in a wheelchair, and several other children of various skin and hair tones listening to their teacher read a book.
“Celebrate a school community as a great common ground where families of all kinds connect and share in their children’s educational journey…. the book’s refrain of “All are welcome here” feels both deeply reassuring and almost radical in our polarized time.” —Publishers Weekly.
Recommended age: 4-8
Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor has proved herself a Jill of All Trades with this wonderful story that encourages children to embrace their differences and discuss them with friends. Children are naturally curious, particularly when they encounter someone who appears different from them. One of the best ways to help children understand and navigate differences in this world is by teaching them how to talk about those differences. This award-winning book helps children understand it is ok to ask questions when they meet someone different as long as it is in a kind and respectful manner.
"Addressing topics too often ignored, this picture book presents information in a direct and wonderfully child-friendly way." —Booklist, *STARRED REVIEW*
Recommended age: 4-8
I Am Enough is one of my favorite pieces of children’s literature and was a staple on my classroom bookshelf when I taught. It is a beautiful, lyrical story that teaches young girls they are enough by empowering them to believe in themselves and their natural abilities. I Am Enough is a New York Times bestseller and echoes the famous Michelle Obama quote, “Am I good enough? Yes, I am!”
"An ode to self-confidence and kindness from actor and activist Grace Byers, this picture book depicts girls of diverse body shapes and skin tones." — Publishers Weekly
Recommended age: 4-8
Mommy’s Khimar is an excellent book to help young children explore Muslim culture. The beautiful and colorful illustrations by Ebony Glenn reflect positive images and detail the delight the little girl has playing dress-up with her mother’s hijabs and khimars.
Here’s what one reviewer had to say: “This book is so sweet! As a convert mommy of little girls, I just love the fact that the grandma isn’t Muslim. This helps me teach my girls that we are a blended family. I also like the way the little girl is imaginative with her mommy’s hijabs. It’s a cute book I highly recommend!”
Recommended age: 4-8
Julián Is A Mermaid tells the story of a young boy entranced by three beautiful, mermaid-esque women he encounters on the train while on a subway trip with his Abuela. Julián embraces the magic he felt and creates his own unique mermaid costume using items around the home. It is a story of imagination and acceptance written in English but sprinkled with Spanish words. With the help of beautiful illustrations, it is a story that embraces gender non-conformity and teaches love for all.
Here’s what one reviewer had to say: “I love this book. I only wish it had been available years ago when my son was in full dress-up as Elsa mode. There is so much emphasis on hyper femininity with isles of pink and masculinity it is so nice to see a realistic depiction of people. Boys can and do like beautiful things. I definitely recommend this book- most especially to families with children who don't fit a rigid gender expectation. As an artist myself, I just love the illustrations. They are beautiful.”
Recommended age: 4-7
This award-winning book highlights how two young boys living on opposite sides of the world actually have quite a bit in common. Through their letters, an American and Indian boy share all the details of their lives. They discover that while some things in their worlds look, sound, smell, and taste different, much about their lives are the same!
“There is considerable usage potential here, from art projects to classroom community projects to diversity awareness projects…there's also plenty of pleasure to be found just in sharing the thoughtful story and perusing the artwork.” ―BCCB
Recommended ages: 8-12
Vashti Harrison has written a series of historical books to empower children of all races and genders, including Little Leaders: Black Women in History, Little Legends: Exceptional Black Men in History, and Leaders and Dreamers: Bold and Visionary Women Around the World. We love Visionary Women Around the World because it includes Asian, African, American, European women, and more, ensuring every little girl feels represented.
Here is what one reviewer had to say: “A book for a lifetime. So many women in the book whom I had no idea existed. Wonderful heroes for your children to dress up for World Book Day.”
Recommended age: 3-7
This is another one of my favorite books that sat on my classroom bookshelf. It is an age-appropriate way to help young children learn that families come in all shapes and sizes. It covers everything from the traditional mom, dad and kid family-style to same-sex parenting, single parenting, and mixed families. This is an excellent choice for teachers to read on or near the first day of school as children get to know one another and discuss their families.
Here is what one reviewer had to say: “What a great way to make what could be a slightly tougher conversation for some folks fun and relatable! I love that they highlight the full spectrum of kinds of families and reassure kids that there is no wrong way to build a family if it is constructed on the foundation of love—a great way to safely open up dialogue on different kinds of family dynamics and inclusivity.”
Recommended age: 4-7
A Boy Like You is a beautiful book to help boys of all kinds embrace and be proud of who they are. It delves into masculinity and what society expects of our boys and teaches boys there are several different ways to “be a man,” and it’s not just being tough and not crying. It encourages boys to ask questions and lets them know it’s ok to be scared and ask for help sometimes.
Here is what one reviewer had to say: “My 3-year-old son proclaims, “the world needs a boy like me.” And it does. I love how this book says, “one day you’ll be a man, and men cry too.” It points out the relationship between fear and bravery that it’s okay if they don’t feel brave. They can ask for help. That demonstrates how smart they are. It tells the importance of listening to others. Of strength. Of kindness. Manners. It talks about how hard work gets us what we wish for. This is the perfect book for little men. It can be given as a gift to any of them (and for ANY age) thanks to the diversity of its illustrations and the inspirational message.”
This new young adult novel won numerous awards in 2020, including a Pura Belpré 2021 Young Adult Author Honor Book! A BookPage Best Book of 2020! And, a New York Public Library 2020 Top 10 Best Book for Teens!
It tells the story of three teenagers on their dangerous journey to escape life-threatening events in Mexico and cross the American border to a new and safer life.
"With poignant, exhausting lyricism and heart-wrenching poetic prose, Jenny Torres Sanchez digs deep and shows us the throbbing, aching corazón--the hopeful, unbreakable spirit of the embattled immigrant. A book for the starving, lost soul." —Guadalupe García McCall, Pura Belpré Award-winning author of Under the Mesquite.
Recommended age: 8-12
New Kid is an excellent graphic novel for children in the middle grades, especially if they attend a new school or have a new classmate. This award-winning book tells the story of Jordan, whose artistic talent earns him a spot at an all-white school in another part of the city. New Kid is the winner of the Newbery Medal, Coretta Scott King Author Award, and Kirkus Prize for Young Readers’ Literature!
“This is more than a story about being the new kid—it’s a complex examination of the micro-and macro-aggressions that Jordan endures from classmates and teachers. Highly recommended for all middle-grade shelves.” —School Library Journal
- The Proudest Blue: A Story of Hijab and Family by Ibtihaj Muhammad
- Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story by Kevin Noble Maillard
- Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls: 100 Real-Life Tales of Black Girl Magic by Lilly Workneh
- The Girl Who Shared Kindness by Taylor Koelbl
- Love and Monsters in Sofia’s Life by Belinda Hernández Arriaga
- Who Was Martin Luther King Jr.? by Bonnie Bader
- Ellie the Elephant Makes New Friends at School by Agnes Green
- Special Olympics: Global Citizens Sports by Adam Hellebuyck
- Black Leaders in the Civil Rights Movement: A Black History Book for Kids by Glenda Armand
- A Library for Juana by Pat Mora
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About L. Elizabeth Forry
L. Elizabeth Forry is an Early Childhood Educator with 15 years of classroom experience.