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Teaching Kids about Diversity through Children’s Books

teaching kids diversity

The AAP recommends that parents read books to their kids from BIRTH through **at least** Kindergarten. Evidence has shown, time and again, that children who are read to, especially at that young age, experience stronger parent-child relationships AND learn valuable language and reading skills. Win-win.

As a white parent, it has always been easy to find books that my children relate to. Did you know that 92% of children's books feature a white main character? Only 3% feature a main character who is African American, 2% Asian and Pacific Americans, 2% Latinos, and less than 1% Native Americans. This is a stunning misrepresentation of what our country actually looks like.

Living in Memphis, where Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed for his beliefs that everyone is created equal, I was appalled to learn this. With this knowledge, I set out to purposefully change what books I was reading to my children. Memphis is not 92% white. Not even close. I want the books my children read to reflect the world around them. I want them to read a funny book about a daughter arguing about why she should share the big bed with her mommy, instead of her daddy. And I want the family to be black instead of white. I want to read them a book about a child playing in the snow. And I want the child to be black instead of white.

We also read kid-friendly biographies of African Americans (the "I Am" series has several good ones). I think it's important to talk to kids about civil rights, discrimination, racism, and how all of that is still happening now. Books are the perfect jumping off point to talk about hard topics. I try not to shy away from these conversations either. We read books featuring African Americans AND we talk about why we are reading books featuring African Americans. We talk about how not everyone has the same opportunities. We talk about poverty. We talk about how sometimes things you have no control over (where you're born, what you look like, etc.) affect your whole life. And how often that isn't fair or right.

This is the 50th anniversary of the Martin Luther King, Jr. assassination. There are billboards all over town advertising the march happening later today. And while my 5-year-old does not fully grasp the implications and nuances of everything that happened 50 years ago, he does know that Dr. King was killed for speaking out for what he believed in, and he knows that it was wrong.

Books I Recommend:

Picture Books (birth-age 5):

  • The Snowy Day by Ezra Keats
  • The Big Bed by Bunmi Laditan
  • Howdy! by LaVada Weir
  • Roar! by Tammi Sauer
  • He's Got the Whole World in His Hands by Nadir Nelson
  • What's the Difference? Being Different is Amazing by Doyin Richards
  • Jazzy Miz Mozetta by Brenda C. Roberts
  • Whose Toes are Those? by Jabari Asim
  • Whose Knees are These by
  • The Moon Ring by Randy DuBurke
  • Excellent Ed by Stacy McAnulty
  • Harriet Gets Carried Away by Jessie Sima
  • God's Dream by Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Biographical Books (elementary school):

  • The Story of Ruby Bridges by Robert Coles
  • Little Ladies: Bold Women in Black History by Vashti Harrison
  • Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to my Daughters by Barack Obama
  • Henry's Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad by Ellen Levine
  • I Am Jackie Robinson by Brad Meltzer
  • I Am Martin Luther King, Jr. by  Brad Meltzer
  • I Am Rosa Parks by  Brad Meltzer
  • New Shoes by Susan Lynn Meyer
  • Hidden Figures Young Readers Edition by Margot Lee Sheerly

Middle School/High School:

  • Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate
  • Betty Before X by Ilyasah Shabazz
  • Planet Middle School by Nikki Grimes
  • President of the Whole Sixth Grade by Sherri Winston
  • As Brave As You by Jason Reynolds
  • Playground by 50 Cent

Bonus: Books on Being Different and a few books featuring other minorities:

  • It's Okay to be Different by Todd Parr
  • The Peace Book by Todd Parr
  • People Aren't Socks by Liza Dora
  • Abuela by Arthur Dorros
  • Oh No, Gotta Go by Susan Middleton Elya
  • Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena
  • The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
  • Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
  • Does My Head Look Big in This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah
  • Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan

These are just a tiny fraction of the books out there. What are your favorites? I'm always on the hunt for more!


*This article was originally published by Crady in March, 2020* 

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