Children’s books that celebrate diversity
Differences really matter to children. Young children have to make sense of the world in a very short space of time. To do that, they use a lot of categorical thinking in which they allocate people or things into groups. This has huge advantages in terms of being able to organise information efficiently in their brains but it can throw up some very direct questions (“What’s wrong with that boy’s hand?“) and some incorrect assumptions (“Amrita’s skin is brown because her mummy stayed out in the sun too long.“) while they try to work through it all.
Children’s books that celebrate diversity in an active and warm way are hugely helpful for talking to children about diversity issues and for promoting an inclusive mindset. Not only can these messages help children value the people around them, they also send a strong signal about their own personal value as uniquely different individuals, helping to build self-esteem and confidence as well as friendship and emotional skills.
Here are my personal favourite children’s books that celebrate diversity. (If I have left your favourite off the list, please do comment below and share it with us all!).
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This is a lovely board book celebrating diversity for babies and toddlers. The text and illustrations are very warm and it has a simple, warm message celebrating what unites people despite differences. Whoever You Are is by Mem Fox.
All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold is a book that all teachers should read with their class in the first few years’ of school. But it’s a great one for a home library too. Its central message is that diversity, in all its guises, is a strength for every community. The wording feels welcoming and the sweet illustrations show children in a diverse array shapes, sizes, colours, abilities and costumes. Truly heart-warming.
This is such a positive book and deserves a place on every bookshelf. It is a visual treat with an upbeat message about joy and friendship across cultural differences, while also subtly exploring what it means to be beautiful as a girl. Sunflower Sisters is by Monika Singh Gangotra.
There is so much I like about Different is Awesome by Ryan Haack. The illustrations are modern and unfussy, there is a central message that all children need to hear (that being uniquely them is awesome), and it’s a rare story that features a character with a very noticeable physical disability. The whole attitude of the book is so positive. A great book for sparking conversations about how being different is a good thing and how there is always more than one way to do things.
Lovely by Jess Hong is a truly… well, lovely. It’s hard to put into words why it works so well. The text is extremely simple but it is the combination of text and pictures that gently challenges our idea of what is “lovely” and the impact of labels. It doesn’t just celebrate diversity, it shows difference as beautiful and that’s very powerful. It’s a thought-provoking book that is more about the conversations you have around the edges rather than telling a story.
Benny likes trains and cupcakes without sprinkles, but he doesn’t like to be hugged. Benny Doesn’t Like to Be Hugged is a gentle story which encourages children to appreciate and accept differences, even when these might see odd to us. Benny Doesn’t Like to Be Hugged is by Zetta Elliott.
I’m not sure this book has quite the emotional content of some of the other children’s books that celebrate diversity on this list but it has an inclusive core message, positive illustrations and it definitely feels celebratory. And it covers a really broad understanding of ways in which people can be different. The Same But Different (by Molly Potter) is a book that encourages children to explore their own identities, and likes and dislikes, at the same time as understanding others.
Maddi’s Fridge by Lois Brandt is a diversity book with a difference. It’s about poverty. The central story includes two friends who enjoy the same things but one of them has a fridge full of lovely things to eat and the other’s fridge is empty. The wider moral is about how we can’t always see difference, it may be hidden. And how it’s easy to assume that someone who is similar to you on the surface is the same as you in other respects. These are big issues that will spark interesting conversations with children about values and behaviour and how we can make a difference to our society. Not so much a celebration of diversity as an exploration of it. (See Children’s books about financial hardship for more choices)
This one is for slightly older children (10yrs+ if they are reading it themselves, or younger if you read it together). I like this book because Ellie is simply a fantastic character. She refuses to be pitied or pigeon-holed and spirit really shines through. Yet the book doesn’t underplay the challenges of being a wheelchair dependent tween. Roll with It is by Jamie Sumner.
It’s Okay to Be Different by Todd Parr is the absolute classic for younger children so I couldn’t leave it off any list of children’s books that celebrate diversity. It can be hard to find it in bookshops these days but do look for it in your local library. The bright illustrations appeal to toddlers and are a great way to get them thinking about differences between people – whether that’s just a simple difference between straight and curly hair or a more traditional diversity issue like race or disability. The tone is warm-spirited and reassuring, a perfect cuddle-up book.
This is my selection of children’s books that celebrate diversity. If you have a favourite book that I’ve left out, please do comment below. Why not also take a look at these Gender Inclusive Books for Tweens and Teens and these Children’s Books About Multiculturalism in Britain.
*This is not a sponsored post – these are all books that I personally recommend! It does however contain affiliate links, which means that if you click through from this post to Amazon and purchase, I will receive a small fee. See Disclosure Notice for more info.