Want to add a little diversity to your kiddos picture book collection? Check out this list of books that are fun, simple stories perfect for your kids that just happen to include racially and culturally diverse characters. Books provide a great window into worlds other than our own, and ensuring our kids see lots of different types of people through their picture books is a great way to begin to expose them to the rich variety of life in our world.
Although it’s a bit of a cliche, books are such a wonderful way to expose our minds and hearts to perspectives different from our own. Books give us windows into worlds we don’t see or experience. I’ve been on the hunt for great picture books with engaging stories about everyday life that just happen to include racially and culturally diverse characters. Can we talk about how hard these are to find??!
If you’re not white, you definitely already know this. If you are white, check your kids’ bookshelves. Unless you’re making a concerted effort to include a multitude of skin colors, your kids are probably only seeing white people and animals in their storybooks. While there’s still a shortage of diverse books (and especially books by diverse authors) on the market, the collection is growing which is good news. Just because there are more books, however, hasn’t necessarily made my search for such books easy.
Many books, diverse or not, are just plain bad or boring. Another subset of “good” books, particularly newer ones, have incredible illustrations and beautiful stories, but unfortunately, they’re a little too deep or abstract for my boys to be the only books we read. I absolutely love these books, but they’re lost on my young boys.
Yet another genre of culturally-diverse picture books address issues like racism and prejudice head-on. I appreciate these stories and we incorporate them into our reading, but my boys are still pretty young so they lose interest if I read too many of these types of books.
All this is to say that I’ve been searching high and low for a good mix of books that incorporate cultural diversity and also have a really great, engaging yet simple everyday story at their core.
I’ve been working on this book list for over a year. I’ve checked out more books from the library than I can even count in the hope of finding some really awesome options. So many were great for various reasons but didn’t meet all of my criteria to make this list. I’m not a book expert or a child development expert, and certainly different families might find that different stories resonate with their kids. These are books, however, that were big hits in our house. They are “parent approved” and “kid approved” on the short list of books we really love.
I will try to add to this list over time as we find more great books. If you have suggestions that should be on the list, leave a note in the comments. We are ALWAYS on the hunt for awesome books that open and expand the minds and hearts of our kids.
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20+ Culturally-Diverse Picture Books with Great Everyday Stories for Kids
Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña
This classic story and winner of numerous awards is told by a young boy who leaves church with his grandmother every Sunday and gets on the bus. While his friends get in cars or walk home with their family, he wonders why he has to be different. Through various riders on the bus, his grandmother shows him how wonderful the bus is and how lucky he is to meet so many unique and diverse people from the town. Sometimes, it’s not so bad to be different.
Long Shot: Never Too Small to Dream Big by Chris Paul
My boys love this story and ask for it regularly. The author, an NBA player, shares his story of overcoming adversity and beating the odds, because he wasn’t tall enough, to become an NBA basketball player. Although he wasn’t as tall as other players, he practiced relentlessly and persevered with the encouragement of his family. It’s a fun story with vibrant illustrations that reminds kids that just about anything is possible with diligence and hard work.
All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold
This cute story highlights the first day of school for young students of varies ethnicities, abilities, and appearances. It’s written in more of a poem format than a story and has many great illustrations to reiterate to readers that we are all welcome together and that diversity is our strength. My favorite page reads “We’re part of a community. Our strength is our diversity. A shelter from adversity. All are welcome here.” It’s a quick read and one that the littles are sure to enjoy.
Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall
Alma And How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal
As the title implies, the story follows a little girl through discussions with her family about how she got her very long name. Each part of her name is connected to different members of her family and offers a fun way to look at the meaning behind each of our names.
Ada Twist Scientist by Andrea Beaty
A little girl has voracious curiosity. Afraid it’s going to cause her to get hurt, her parents try to quell her curiosity. In the end, they realize that allowing her to follow her curiosity and explore is best.
The Boy Who Became a King by Mike Curato
This biographical story shares facets of LeBron James’ childhood including his struggle with poverty and homelessness as well as his dislike for school. With help from his coach and a mom dedicated to his well-being and success, James persevered to become the world-famous athlete and philanthropist he is today.
The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats
It’s so well-known, I almost didn’t include it. But maybe you’ve forgotten about it? I certainly did until we stumbled on it at the library a few months back. My boys love this book. It’s so simple, which I think is one reason why I might have considered passing over it. But I think it’s actually the simplicity that makes it so perfect. It’s a fun, classic story whose protagonist is not white.
Whistle for Willie by Ezra Jack Keats
Another from Keats, this lovely little story is about a boy who wants to learn how to whistle to his dog. The boy meanders through a very ordinary day doing all sorts of things that most little kids are doing every day.
Maybe Something Beautiful by F. Isabel Campoy
Based on a true story, this book explores how one little girl explored how art and color could revitalize her neighborhood. She meets an artist who helps her and others bring more colorful murals and works of art to the walls, utility boxes, and benches of her neighborhood. It’s a great story about the power of art and the influence one little girl can have.
A Different Pond by Bao Phi
A young boy recounts the stories he shared with his father as they fished early in the morning to catch food for their family. His parents were immigrants from Vietnam, and the story touches on some of the difficult situations his parents dealt with as immigrants to the United States. Without being a sad story, it offers references to poverty and prejudice felt as an immigrant in a foreign country. I appreciate books that provide for opportunities to discuss difficult realities with our children in a language they can understand and believe it’s helpful to lightly introduce our children to different experiences, particularly when they won’t experience them themselves.
Islandborn by Junot Diaz
Through the eyes of a young girl living in a community of people from other places, the story explores the importance of understanding where we each come from. While we don’t all know from our own experience, we can be proud of our heritage and learn all about it from our family and neighbors who are from the same place. The story celebrates the color, joy, and camaraderie of people in a community with a shared background, especially when it’s different from those around them. Then, the little girl has the opportunity to share her background with those of her class at school, and they can all appreciate the wonderful differences each brings to benefit the class as a whole.
Carmela Full of Wishes by Matt de la Pena
A young girl loves making wishes on dandelions that she finds in the cracks between the concrete in her neighborhood. One day, she falls off her bike and the dandelion in her hand breaks all over the ground. She is very sad because she feels she has lost a wish. Her older brother takes her to a garden full of dandelions and she realizes that her wishes are endless.
All The Way To Havana by Margarita Engle
A little Cuban boy shares a story about how much he enjoys working on the old family car with his Dad. They don’t have much money, and they have a very old car, but the book is a celebration of the ingenuity and perseverance Cuban families have without many financial resources. Although the topic is a bit deep, the story is written in a light enough way that it’s engaging for little ones even if they may not directly catch the underlying message of the book.
Monster Trouble! by Lane Frederickson
No bedtime monsters are going to cost the little girl in this story a bad night’s sleep. She tries all sorts of tricks to get the monsters to leave her alone but nothing works. She finally figures out that monsters don’t like kisses, so you can guess how she gets them to scram. This is such a cute and quick story, with no outright mention or discussion related to race, to which every child can relate and just happens to have a black child as the main character.
My Pet Wants a Pet by Elise Broach
A little boy in a mixed race family finally convinces his mom to get a dog. Over time, the dog wants a pet for himself, and this continues with each new pet. In the end, they realize that everyone just wants someone else to love.
Those Shoes by Maribeth Boelts
My boys ask me to read this book to them all the time! The story intertwines one boy’s desire to have the new “cool shoes” with the importance of giving, even when you don’t have much to give. Without being overt at all, the story includes characters of various ethnic backgrounds and socioeconomic levels and touches on the power of generosity with respect to building relationships. This is such a good book all around and definitely one of our favorites. The boys liked it so much I bought it (something I don’t often do because we typically rely just on library books).
ColorFull by Dorena Williamson
We spend so much time teaching young children about colors of the world, and it’s often one of the first things they learn. Yet many of us shy away from teaching young children about the colors of the people of the world. By not acknowledging these differences, we are doing a disservice to kids. This book includes a fun story as well as provides a framework for conversations parents can have with their children about celebrating the different colors of skin that we all have.
A Chair for My Mother by Vera B. Williams
The little girl in the stories loves her mom and sometimes helps her mom at work, earning a bit of money from the restaurant owner. After a fire burned down their house a year ago, they had no real furniture in which to relax. She sets out to save her money, coin by coin, to save up and help her mother pay for a big comfy chair in which she can sit and relax every day when she gets home from school.
Tia Isa Wants a Car by Meg Medina
Despite her family’s best efforts to dissuade her, Tia Isa wants to buy a car. Isa’s niece, the main character, finds out how much Tia Isa wants to buy a car and, together, they decide to make it happen. Tia Isa saves her money every day. Unbeknownst to Tia Isa, her niece is working little jobs here and there to help her aunt save for the car. Eventually, she presents her aunt with the money she has saved and they have enough to buy the car. It’s fun, light, and an easy read for children.
Juan Bobo Goes To Work by Marisa Montes
Such a silly book, Juan Bobo is a little boy who always tries to do the right things but keeps making mistakes. He reminds me a bit of Amelia Bedelia with respect to the type of funny and quirky things he does throughout this day. It’s a fun and colorful read that also incorporates a few Spanish words (though nothing to prevent a reader from understanding the story).
Lottie Paris and the Best Place by Angela Johnson
Two young kids, each entirely engrossed in their own very different interests, find common ground when they meet at the library and realize how much they both love it.
The Bus For Us by Suzanne Bloom
This very simple book takes a group of kids through the day waiting for their bus. It’s easy and rhymes, and is great for younger children. The cast of characters has an array of skin colors in a story about something very “every day” for most children.
Miguel and the Grand Harmony by Matt de la Pena
This is a lovely book, written more in prose than in the form a story and with colorful illustrations, about how music lives in all of us and everywhere. The story is narrated by the voice of music, and it’s a great way to share the power of music in our relationships.
Juna’s Jar by Jane Bahk
Juna and her friend Hector spend many days at the park filling her kimchi jar with fun things like grasshoppers and butterflies. One day, Hector moves away and Juna is very sad. She tries to fill her jar with things to keep her occupied, but quickly everything in the jar outgrows the space and she has to let it go. The jar is a symbol of Juna’s happiness and her struggle to be happy with her best friend gone. One day, a new neighbor finds Juna in the park and the two become friends, leaving Juna with a jar that is always full of something special.
Green Pants by Kenneth Kraegel
The little boy only wears green pants and finds so much confidence and comfort in his green pants. When he is asked to wear a black tuxedo in his cousins’ wedding, he finds himself struggling to make the tough decision about whether or not to be in the wedding if he can’t wear his green pants. No surprise, he finds a perfectly suitable solution that is cute, fun, and a great message for kids.
Drum Dream Girl by Margarita Engle
A little girl dreams of playing the drums and loves all sorts of music, but her father tells her that only boys play the drums. She continues to play drums alone and pursue her dream until she finally convinces her father that she should play. The book is written in a very poetic way with gorgeous illustrations. Definitely a great book and one that adds a unique element of prose and color to any collection of children’s picture books.