While meandering through the Birmingham farmers market several weeks ago, my oldest and I stumbled upon a stall with a local author and illustrator. She had created a children’s book about Birmingham and I was immediately drawn to it’s vibrantly painted pictures. I decided to pick up a copy and ended up reading it for the first time with my sons before naptime. As we were reading, I realized that the book did not shy away from Birmingham’s packed racial history. I knew most of this was over my 3 year old’s head, but I saw a few flickers of understanding and processing in my 5 year old. After we finished, my 5 year old asked to if he could look through the book on his own.
“Why are some of these pictures so dark?” He asked me without lifting his eyes from the book.
“Well, they’re talking about a dark part of our city’s history,” I replied.
“Was it about skin?” He asked. We had briefly discussed this before so he had a bit of background on the subject.
“Yes,” I stated in a matter-of-fact tone. “It was about people being treated unfairly because of the color of their skin.”
This conversation launched us into a discussion on what color skin we have, if it is the same or different compared to other people we know and how ridiculous it is to treat someone different because of how they look.
I strongly believe in talking to kids about differences very early on. Young children can seem oblivious to differences, but they will naturally start to recognize differences as they grow and I believe in normalizing differences as soon as possible. Everyone is different, in many ways and on many levels. Differences are natural and necessary for our world to grow and thrive. The sooner children can see and understand that, the better.
Figuring out how to initiate conversations about differences among young children can feel a bit intimidating. You might worry your child is too young for these types of conversations. Or you might be concerned that you don’t have the right words to guide these types of discussions.
Fortunately, there are children’s books to help you in this area. Children’s books can meet kids at their level and expose them to differences in an organic and relatable way. They also provide thoughtful language around differences and diversity, which can help you facilitate these types of discussions.
Children’s Books About Or Containing Diversity
There are many great children’s books that either talk about diversity or contain diversity. It’s important to keep in mind that diverse books don’t always have to be about diversity. Children should not just be exposed to diversity in the context of diversity issues themselves. I always aim to collect a mix of books that directly address diversity and those that have many diverse characters, locations, experiences, settings and stories. I want my children to not just think about diversity but experience lives, moments and places that are different from us.
Below are a few great books in this area.
*Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, which means I make a small commission (aka coffee money) if you purchase a product I recommend. As always, I find what I love first and affiliate later. You can read my full disclosure statement here :)*
One of my favorite books on skin color is The Color of Us. It uses wonderfully rich and positive words to describe all sorts of skin tones. It could lead to a fun discussion about what words you would use to describe your skin tone.
‘”Sonia is a light brown color,” Mom says.
“Just like creamy peanut butter,” I say. “My favorite.”‘ The Color of Us
by Karen Katz
Books By Ezra Jack Keats
Books by Ezra Jack Keats are great at exploring childhood through diverse characters in urban settings. I love his writing style. He zooms in on the everyday moments of childhood in a way that fully captivates his young readers.
Whistle for Willie is one of my favorite Ezra Jack Keats books. This story about a young boy learning to whistle is so simple yet complicated, and accurately captures so many elements of childhood.
“Peter tried and tried to whistle, but he couldn’t. So instead he began to turn himself around –
around and around he twirled…
faster and faster…” Whistle for Willie
by Ezra Jack Keats
Another classic Ezra Jack Keats book is The Snowy Day. The story explores the mesmerizing magic of a snowfall through the eyes of a child.
“Crunch, crunch, crunch, his feet sank into the snow.
He walked with his toes pointed out, like this…
He walked with his toes pointed in, like that…” The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats
Kitchen Dance is beautiful story that is both lively and soothing. Two children sneak downstairs after bedtime and get swept up into their parents kitchen clean-up tango. The children eventually grow tired and the books slows down to a calming lullaby.
“A bump of her soft hips, and cabinet doors shut-bang!” Kitchen Dance by
The tale of how Ki-Pat saved the Plains by bringing the rain. The book contains a wonderful rhyming style and refrain that builds upon itself and entices young readers.
“This is the cloud, all heavy with rain,
that shadowed the ground on Kapiti Plain” Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain by Verna Aardema
A delicious collection of poems that explore the everyday written form the perspective of a young child. I love how this book exposes children to different types of poetry as well.
“Honey, let me tell you that I LOVE my mama’s arm
I love to kiss my mama’s arm
it’s not so late at night but still I’m lying in my bed…” Honey, I love by Eloise Greenfield
A book about breaking down walls of greed and the beauty of sharing. A classic that is a great addition to any child’s library.
“The villagers worked hard, but only for themselves…” Stone Soup by Jon J Muth
The story of a girl and her mom’s plight to rebuild after their home is destroyed by a fire. In particular, they work to save every spare penny to buy a comfortable chair for the hard working mother.
“Sometimes my mama is laughing when she comes home from work. Sometimes she’s so tired she falls asleep while I count the money out into piles. Some days she has lots of tips. Some days she has only a little.” A Chair For My Mother by Vera B. Williams
This is a great book for the youngest of readers. A simple but meaningful story of two little boys becoming friends.
Who?” Yo! Yes? by Chris Raschka
This is by no means a comprehensive list of books in the area of diversity; these are just a few books that are permanent residents in our main book basket. They are special to my family and we enjoy them often.
There are many other wonderful books that explore these topics. If you are looking for places to find quality children’s literature, you can check out my other post on where to look for children’s books.
What other books do you recommend that enable children to walk in someone else’s shoes?