My friend Dr. Steve Silvestro is an awesome person AND a great pediatrician. In anticipation of an upcoming podcast about speaking with kids about diversity, he asked me to compose a list of diverse books for every age. I’m pretty proud of it.
Check it out and let me know if there’s anything you’d add!
Babies & Toddlers**
The Family Book by Todd Parr
Really anything by Todd Parr is wonderful for little ones. With bright, colorful illustrations and simple words, Parr offers young readers a great introduction to diversity using both animals and people.
One Family by George Shannon; illustrated by Blanca Gomez
This book represents families of all shapes, ages, sizes, races and genders.
Everywhere Babies by Susan Meyers
Rhyming book showing what babies do and how they’re cared for by all sorts of different families.
Ten Little Babies by Gyo Fujikawa
Rhyming board book that counts up and down from ten with a diverse group of babies.
Baby Parade & Baby Party by Rebecca O’Connell; illustrated by Susie Poole
Books celebrating diversity and family with bright illustrations and simple themes.
Leo Loves Baby Time by Anna McQuinn; illustrated by Ruth Hearson
Leo attends baby time with friends of all colors. My favorite part is how his sock falls off little by little as the story goes on. It always gave me a chuckle when mine was as little as Leo!
Say Hello! by Rachel Isadora
Carmelita and her mother, along with their dog Manny, take a walk to visit Abuela Rosa. Along the way they greet neighborhood friends from all nations with a hello.
** Don’t be afraid to read the longer picture books listed below to babies & toddlers!
Preschoolers & Young Elementary Students (ages 5-8)
The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson
Clover doesn’t understand why her mama won’t let her play with Anna on the other side of the fence. The two girls sneak around the rules by sitting right on top of the fence.
Last Stop on Market Street by Matt De La Pena; pictures by Christian Robinson
This Caldecott Honor Book and Newbery Award winner combines beautiful paint and collage illustrations with a moving story about C. J. and his nana taking a long bus ride to volunteer at a soup kitchen, their Sunday tradition. Along the way C. J. learns to look for the beauty in everything. A great story to highlight volunteerism as well as diversity!
Freedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life by Ashley Bryan
When the master of a plantation dies, the mistress advertises their slaves, along with household items such as furniture and farm equipment, as being up for sale. Gaining inspiration from original slave auction paperwork as well as plantation estate documentation, Bryan writes a fictional account of the eleven slaves listed. This book humanizes each person telling stories of their past, their current families and loves, and what they dream of for the future.
This Day in June by Gayle Pitman; illustrated by Kristyna Litten
Whimsical depiction of an annual pride parade. A great introduction for the acceptance and understanding of the LGBTQ+ community.
Thunder Boy Jr. by Sherman Alexie; illustrated by Yuyi Morales
Thunder Boy Jr. (yes, that’s his real name) hates his name! Thunder Boy has lots of suggestions for new names but will he be allowed to pick a new one?
I Am Jazz by Jessica Hershel and Jazz Jennings; illustrated by Shelagh McNicholas
The story of a transgender child based on the real-life experiences of Jazz Jennings. A sensitive subject told with great respect for little ones.
The Colors of Us by Karen Katz
Anything by Karen Katz is wonderful. This book celebrates kids of all colors by using familiar foods to compare skin color: coffee, honey, cinnamon, coconut, etc. All are celebrated, all are beautiful.
I Have a Dream by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.; paintings by Kadir Nelson
Breathtaking illustrations only enhance the beauty and importance of Dr. King’s words. A great introduction to the Civil Rights Movement for a younger crowd.
The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi
Unhei moves to the United State from Korea but the kids in her new class have a hard time pronouncing her name so Unhei decides to pick a new one.
Separate is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation by Duncan Tonatiuh
Seven years before Brown v. Board of Education, Sylvia’s family fought for her and her brothers’ right to attend the school in their community, not the “Mexican” school.
The Sandwich Swap by Queen Rania Al Abdullah with Kelly DiPucchio; illustrated by Tricia Tusa
Lily and Salma are best friends. Lily thinks Salma’s hummus pita sandwich looks gross. Salma thinks Lily’s peanut butter and jelly sandwich looks gross. And then they trade. Wonderful story about not making snap judgements about anything.
The Junkyard Wonders by Patricia Polacco
True story of author Patricia Polacco’s time in a “junkyard” classroom of special students. An incredible teacher and inspiring classmates will move readers to rethink their definition of genius.
The Story of Ruby Bridges by Robert Coles; illustrated by George Ford
Ruby Bridges is the first black child allowed to attend William Frantz Elementary School. This book details her daily struggle walking through an angry mob simply to attend school and the positive attitude she kept in the face of such adversity and hatred.
Older Elementary Students (ages 9-11)
One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia
Delphine always takes care of her two younger sisters Vonetta and Fern. In the summer of 1968, the girls are shipped off to Oakland, California to visit the mother who abandoned them seven years ago. Their mother shows little interest in taking care of the girls and sends them to a summer camp sponsored by the revolutionary group, The Black Panthers. There the girls get a radical new education.
This is the first book in a three-book series about the Gaither sisters. They’re all fantastic.
The Watsons Go to Birmingham — 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis
The Watsons leave their Flint, Michigan home to visit mom Wilona’s hometown of Birmingham, Alabama in the summer of 1963, one of the most turbulent years in US history. Told through the eyes of 10-year-old Kenneth, the book follows the “Weird Watsons” as they learn that things in the south are very different from Michigan. And then Kenneth’s younger sister is attending Sunday school at the 16th Street Baptist Church when a bomb goes off …
It Ain’t So Awful Falafel by Firoozeh Dumas
Zomorod Yousefzadeh is the new kid in school … again. But this time she’s determined to start fresh with a new name (Cindy). But when relations between Iran and the United States rapidly deteriorate, Cindy finds it hard to build friendship and overcome racial stereotypes. Laugh out loud funny and touching.
El Deafo by Cece Bell
This autobiographical graphic novel is about Cece and her Phonic Ear hearing aid. At her old school everyone was deaf. At her new school, she is different. But Cece’s Phonic Ear has a super power. It’s so powerful she can hear the teachers all over the school! In the lounge, in the hallways, even in the bathroom. Maybe her new superpower will get her the one thing she wants more than anything in the world … a true friend.
Middle School Students
Wonder by R. J. Palacio
If your kids haven’t already been assigned this book for school, make sure they seek it out.
Auggie Pullman is born with a facial deformity. After being home schooled for years, he’s about to start fifth grade and being the new kid isn’t easy. So happy and uplifting it will make you want to hug the world.
George by Alex Gino
When people look at George they see a boy. But that’s not what she sees. When her teacher announces the class play this year will be Charlotte’s Web, George wants to audition for the role of Charlotte but is not allowed because she’s a boy. An important and honest story about a sensitive subject.
Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai
Written in verse, Thanhha Lai describes 10-year-old Há’s journey to America from Vietnam during wartime. A homesick Há struggles with the unfamiliar food, the language, and the kids in her new home but along the way learns the importance of family.
Also by this author: Listen, Slowly about a little girl learning to appreciate her Vietnamese roots is also worth a read.
The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
Another book told in verse, Alexander tells the story of twin brothers Josh and Jordan who dominate the basketball court. There’s themes of friendship, family, courage, sportsmanship, academics, and fairness.
I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai
Freedom of religion and freedom of speech are two rights we take for granted. Not to mention freedom to learn and get an education. This is the story of a young girl who stood up for what she believed in, what was her right. And she was punished. And against unspeakable adversity, she rose.
Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
This is Woodson’s memoir. Another book written in verse, she shares her experiences growing up in the south in the 1960s and 1970s, her growing awareness of the Civil Rights Movement, and her emerging love of writing.
Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan
Esperanza is the daughter of a wealthy landowner in Mexico during The Great Depression. But after her father dies, she and her mother are forced to move to California and work as farmhands. This novel discusses tough topics such as discrimination and race, labor and living conditions, forced deportation, and family and kindness. Keep tissues handy!
High School Students
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Starr Carter is in the passenger seat when her unarmed best friend is killed by a policeman. When Starr is caught up in the media frenzy and sociopolitical implications that follow, she realizes that innocent until proven guilty doesn’t apply to everyone. An important, timely and powerful book that’s a must read for teens.
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
When Arnold Spirit discovers that the all white school outside of his “rez” is far superior, he transfers. Now his friends feel abandoned and he has to navigate a 22-mile commute. However, Arnold is still able to navigate school troubles, poverty, death, and family alcoholism with great humor and cartoon illustrations.
March: Books 1-3 by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin; illustrated by Nate Powell
This graphic novel series is a powerful first-hand view of the Civil Rights Movement (that pulls no punches with language or violence conveyed) written by an American icon and a key figure of the movement.
American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang
Jin Wang is the only Chinese-American kid in his school. By weaving together the different stories of Jin, Danny (whose life is ruined by his stereotypical Asian cousin), and the tale of the Monkey King (an old Chinese fable), this book tackles Asian stereotypes and manages to be both funny and sad.
Ms. Marvel series by G. Willow Wilson; illustrated by Adrian Alphona
Another graphic novel series. Pakistani-American Kamala Khan is an ordinary Jersey girl … until she realizes she can shapeshift. Now she’s caught navigating between her Muslim beliefs with her traditional family and her super powers.
The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth
After her parents die suddenly Cameron is forced to move in with her conservative grandmother and Aunt Ruth. Cameron tries to lay low and fit in but then she meets Coley. When Cameron is reported to a local priest as an instigator of unnatural sexual activity by Coley (the very girl she’d been “unnatural” with) she’s sent to God’s Promise, a conversion therapy treatment center.
The Arrival by Shaun Tan
A wordless graphic novel conveying how an immigrant feels in a new land where they don’t understand the language or the customs. A reminder that we’re all immigrants here.
A personal note from me: READ TO YOUR KIDS! From birth until they won’t let you anymore! Sharing stories, hearing language, and the bonding that occurs when you read to children is so important. Don’t think that just because your newborn baby is a little meatloaf that they’re not listening and learning!