For kids, winter breaks are an opportunity to browse library shelves. But children's books also play a big role shaping the way children see the world beyond their immediate family and community.
Picture books that reflect different experiences can help “affirm students' experiences and identities,” write Sanjuana Rodriguez and Eliza Braden in the Journal of Children's Literature, and they also have the potential to help kids reflect on difficult experiences, such as immigration and xenophobia.
In the Global Nation Exchange, our public forum on Facebook focused on immigration and diversity, we're thinking about what matters when picking out a book for younger readers. Exchange member Sheena Koshy asked:
“What's your go-to book for kids that speak to diversity and acceptance? Is that something you look for when buying books for the children in your life? I am looking for gifts for my niece and it's been eye-opening the kind of inclusive books there are. Here's one I love.”
The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by Rafael López: "There will be times when you walk into a room and no one there is quite like you."
Browse some picks below from our discussion, along with some lessons from each book. Add your suggestions in the Global Nation Exchange.
Luis Marentes: I didn’t necessarily get them books that specifically addressed diversity, but did choose diverse books for them. I tried to get books from different parts of the world and enjoyed fairy tales, fables and stories from different traditions. One book I particularly liked because it showed a wide range of stories was a Nelson Mandela anthology of African folktales.
Nelson Mandela's Favorite African Folktales by Nelson Mandela: “Children hear truly and their eyes are clear.”
Nina Segovia Thurmes: My college friend MariTere Bella is an author and her book is on a website called Read Conmigo, where parents can download free books that promote bilingualism. Her book is called Luisito’s Island and the books are available in both languages.
Luisito's Island/La Isla de Luisito by MariTere Bella: “‘But the best part is the coquí,’ says Luisito. ‘A very teeny tiny frog that sings “coquí, coquí, coquí” all night long. It only lives on the island. If you try to take it outside Puerto Rico, it dies. We are happy it lives there!’”
Allen M. Hopson: Since race and racism are part of the national discussion, I think this book is essential reading for kids to understand larger social problems in an easy-to-read format.
Not My Idea: A Book About Whiteness by Anastasia Higginbotham: "But connecting means opening. And opening sometimes feels ... like breaking."
Indra Ekmanis: Heritage language is a big part of my immigrant community, so I was really excited about this book, where the Latvian word for pencil (zīmulis) is a main character. The book uses words in different languages (Latvian, Swahili, Finish, Esperanto, Inuktitut) throughout the story: Henry P. Baloney is late to szkola, but survives an intergalactic journey — all with the help of his trusty zīmulis.
Baloney (Henry P.) by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith: “'Well I would have been exactly on time,' said Henry. 'But ...'”
Rodriguez and Braden quote From North to South / Del Norte al Sur by René Laínez, illustrated by Joe Cepeda: “I dreamt that Mamá had the right papers and we crossed the border together. Above our house, the sky filled with fireworks and I knew that all the other children would see their parents soon, too. I was ready to eat Mamá's warm tortillas, to listen to her bedtime stories, and to hear her beautiful voice saying every single night, 'Buenas noches, mi José.'”
Sheena Koshy: I ended up getting, among some of the age-appropriate suggestions above, this book. I liked the idea of India as part of the good night series. On the plus side, the book is written and illustrated by people who are either Indian or of Indian origin.
Good Night India by Nitya Khemka, illustrated by Kavita Singh Kale: “Nice to see you, holy Golden Temple. You are a vision, shimmering in the morning sun.”
Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña, pictures by Christian Robinson: "The outside air smelled like freedom, but it also smelled like rain, which freckled CJ's shirt and dripped down his nose."
Dreamers by Yuyi Morales: "And when we made it to the other side, thirsty, in awe, unable to go back, we became immigrants.
Tina's Mouth by Keshni Kashyap, illustrated by Mari Araki: “The question of who I am, the purpose of this diary, is a worthy question. But I don't know if I care that much. The truth is that there's something else on my mind.”
American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang: “So little friend, what do you plan to be when you grow up?”
Share the books you share with children in your life with us. The Global Nation Exchange is a community for you.