Everything about our world screams diversity. Our classrooms are no exception. Not one of your students is exactly the same, nor do they have the same exact experiences as each other. It is our responsibility as educators to help dismantle biases and foster a safe environment for ALL students to feel welcome and valued. What better way to begin that journey than through literature?
Rudy Sims Bishop says something SUPER powerful about the connection between books and the experience you get when reading them.
“Books are sometimes windows, offering views of worlds that may be real or imagined, familiar or strange. These windows are also sliding glass doors, and readers have only to walk through in imagination to become part of whatever world has been created or recreated by the author. When lighting conditions are just right, however, a window can also be a mirror. Literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection we can see our own lives and experiences as part of a larger human experience. Reading, then, becomes a means of self-affirmation, and readers often seek their mirrors in books.”
Reading meaningful stories where students can see themselves and their experiences is crucial for them to feel seen, understood, and accepted. It helps those from differing perspectives to challenge their thinking and build empathy. Stories open up opportunities for students to connect and see how others manage and work through tough issues. When you’ve heard plenty of stories, told from various backgrounds, it helps while building morals and values. Kids dress up and dream who they want to be. So show them the world and ALL the beautiful people in it. We can do that through literature.
Be The Change
Stories have a HUGE power, but the potential really comes from when students see the characters as representations of themselves. The truth of the matter is that representation in our classrooms is lacking and it’s impacting our students, ESPECIALLY our children of color. We educators have the power to change it and we owe it to our students to do so. The first step in using our power can be as simple as sprucing up your classroom library, incorporating cultured decor on your walls, or talking to your administration about hiring a diverse staff. Let me tell you just WHY this is so important.
Johns Hopkins University did a study on the likelihood of college enrollment for black students and what they found shows just how much representation matters in the classroom. This study reported that “Black students are 13 percent more likely to enter college if they had at least one black teacher by the third grade. The likelihood of college enrollment more than doubles to 32 percent for black students with at least two black teachers in elementary school, according to the study.”
Why did that number double? It was because those children SAW those teachers everyday and started imagining options they never thought of for their own future. They began to think “If those teachers went to college and became a teacher, I can do that too”. If students are constantly learning about amazing engineers, inventors, or activists that have made major contributions in our world, AND they look like them, they can see that accomplishing anything is possible.
If our staff isn’t diverse, our spaces also aren’t diverse, but the students in our classrooms are- we have a big problem. Our environment shapes a lot of who we are and it can either have a positive or negative effect on the expectations we later hold for ourselves and others around us. We should do our part to make sure the classroom environment we set up showcases people from ALL backgrounds as strong, loving, creative and connected human beings.
Spruce up your library with diverse books. Start a collection of books that are written by diverse authors. Read aloud stories with characters that are of all colors, abilities, and genders. Take note of the cultures represented in front of you and make it a point to get books that reflect THEM. If you can’t afford to buy all the diverse books your heart desires, utilize your libraries. Creating a cultured collection of books takes time but you have to start somewhere.
The book list I can’t wait to share with you consists of books that can also be found online as read alouds on YouTube. Even if your district does not approve YouTube, you can still save the video to your Google Drive and upload it to the online learning platform you use with your students. These books are just the TIP of the iceberg of all the amazing diverse stories out there, but it’s a great start!
So without further ado, let’s check out some AMAZING diverse reads!
1. The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi
Being the new kid in school is hard enough, but what happens when nobody can pronounce your name? Having just moved from Korea, Unhei is anxious about fitting in. So instead of introducing herself on the first day of school, she decides to choose an American name from a glass jar. But while Unhei thinks of being a Suzy, Laura, or Amanda, nothing feels right. With the help of a new friend, Unhei will learn that the best name is her own.
2. Your Name is A Song by Jamiyah’s Thompkins-Bigelow
Frustrated by a day full of teachers and classmates mispronouncing her beautiful name, a little girl tells her mother she never wants to come back to school. In response, the girl’s mother teaches her about the musicality of African, Asian, Black-American, Latinx, and Middle Eastern names on their lyrical walk home through the city. Empowered by this newfound understanding, the young girl is ready to return the next day to share her knowledge with her class. Your Name is a Song is a celebration to remind all of us about the beauty, history, and magic behind names.
3. Skin Like Mine by LaTashia M. Perry
This is a fun, easy-to- read book that helps children love the skin they’re in. An entertaining yet creative way to address and celebrate diversity among young children. Guaranteed to make you smile and maybe get a bit hungry.
4. Just Ask by Sonia Sotomayer
Feeling different, especially as a kid, can be tough. But in the same way that different types of plants and flowers make a garden more beautiful and enjoyable, different types of people make our world more vibrant and wonderful. When we come across someone who is different from us but we’re not sure why, all we have to do is Just Ask.
5. I Promise by Lebron James
I Promise is a lively and inspiring picture book that reminds us that tomorrow’s success starts with the promises we make to ourselves and our community today.Featuring James’s upbeat, rhyming text and vibrant illustrations perfectly crafted for a diverse audience, this book has the power to inspire all children and families to be their best.
6. Jabari Tries by Gaia Cornwall
Jabari is making a flying machine in his backyard! “It’ll be easy. I don’t need any help,” he declares. But it doesn’t work! Jabari is frustrated. Good thing Dad is there for a pep talk and his little sister, Nika, is there to assist, fairy wings and all. With the endearing father-child dynamic and engaging mixed-media illustrations, Gaia Cornwall’s tale shows that through perseverance and flexibility, an inventive thought can become a brilliant reality.
7. Emmanuel’s Dream by Laurie Ann Thompson
Born in Ghana, West Africa, with one deformed leg, he was dismissed by most people—but not by his mother, who taught him to reach for his dreams. As a boy, Emmanuel hopped to school more than two miles each way, learned to play soccer, left home at age thirteen to provide for his family, and, eventually, became a cyclist. He rode an astonishing four hundred miles across Ghana in 2001, spreading his powerful message: disability is not inability.
8. I Believe I Can by Grace Byers
This book celebrates every child’s limitless potential. I Believe I Can is an affirmation for boys and girls of every background to love and believe in themselves.
9. I Am Enough by Grace Byers
This gorgeous, lyrical ode to loving who you are, respecting others, and being kind to one another. We are all here for a purpose. We are more than enough. We just need to believe it.
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10. Under my Hijab by Hena Khan
As a young girl observes six very different women in her life who each wear the hijab in a unique way, she also dreams of the rich possibilities of her own future, and how she will express her own personality through her hijab. Under My Hijab honors the diverse lives of contemporary Muslim women and girls, their love for each other, and their pride in their culture and faith.
11. Where Are You From by Yamile Sayed Méndez
With themes of self-acceptance, identity, and home, this powerful, lyrical picture book will resonate with readers young and old, from all backgrounds and of all colors—especially anyone who ever felt that they don’t belong.
12. I Like Myself by Karen Beaumont
High on energy and imagination, this ode to self-esteem encourages kids to appreciate everything about themselves—inside and out. Messy hair? Beaver breath? So what! Here’s a little girl who knows what really matters.
13. Eyes That Kiss in the Corners by Joanna Ho
A young Asian girl notices that her eyes look different from her peers’. They have big, round eyes and long lashes. She realizes that her eyes are like her mother’s, her grandmother’s, and her little sister’s. They have eyes that kiss in the corners and glow like warm tea, crinkle into crescent moons, and are filled with stories of the past and hope for the future. Drawing from the strength of these powerful women in her life, she recognizes her own beauty and discovers a path to self-love and empowerment. This powerful, poetic picture book will resonate with readers of all ages.
14. The Magical Yet by Angela DiTerlizzi
The Magical Yet is the perfect tool for parents and educators to turn a negative into a positive when helping children cope with the inevitable difficult learning moments we all face. Whether a child or an adult, this encouraging and uplifting book reminds us that we all have things we haven’t learned…yet!
15. The World Needs More Purple People by Kristen Bell
Looking to reach beyond the political divide of red and blue, Kristen Bell and Benjamin Hart have created a hilarious and joyous read-aloud that offers a wonderful message about embracing the things that bring us together as humans. This book will inspire a whole generation to paint the world purple!
16. Be Kind by Pat Zietlow Miller
When Tanisha spills grape juice all over her new dress, her classmate wants to make her feel better, wondering: What does it mean to be kind? From asking the new girl to play to standing up for someone being bullied, this moving story explores what kindness is, and how any act, big or small, can make a difference―or at least help a friend. Be Kind is an unforgettable story about how two simple words can change the world.
17. Those Shoes by Maribeth Boelts
All Jeremy wants is a pair of those shoes, the ones everyone at school seems to be wearing. Though Jeremy’s grandma says they don’t have room for “want,” just “need,” when his old shoes fall apart at school, he is more determined than ever to have those shoes, even a thrift-shop pair that are much too small. But sore feet aren’t much fun, and Jeremy soon sees that the things he has — warm boots, a loving grandma, and the chance to help a friend — are worth more than the things he wants.
18. Be You by Peter A. Reynolds
Discover a joyful reminder of the ways that every child is unique and special. Here, Reynolds reminds readers to “be your own work of art.” To be patient, persistent, and true. Because there is one, and only one, YOU.
19. The Sandwich Swap by Queen Raina of Jordan Al Abdullah
The smallest things can pull us apart-until we learn that friendship is far more powerful than difference. In a glorious three-page gatefold at the end of the book, Salma, Lily, and all their classmates come together in the true spirit of tolerance and acceptance.
20. Say Something by Peter A. Reynolds
The world needs your voice. If you have a brilliant idea… say something! If you see an injustice… say something! This empowering picture book explores the many ways that a single voice can make a difference. Each of us, each and every day, have the chance to say something: with our actions, our words, and our voices. Perfect for kid activists everywhere, this timely story reminds readers of the undeniable importance and power of their voice. There are so many ways to tell the world who you are… what you are thinking… and what you believe. And how you’ll make it better.
21. The Empty Pot by Demi
The Empty Pot is Demi’s beloved picture book about an honest schoolboy. A long time ago in China there was a boy named Ping who loved flowers. Anything he planted burst into bloom. The Emperor loved flowers too. When it was time to choose an heir, he gave a flower seed to each child in the kingdom. “Whoever can show me their best in a year’s time,” he proclaimed, “shall succeed me to the throne!” Ping plants his seed and tends it every day. But month after month passes, and nothing grows. When spring comes, Ping must go to the Emperor with nothing but an empty pot. This text shows how Ping’s embarrassing failure is turned triumphant in this satisfying tale of honesty rewarded.
22. Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty
Ada Twist’s head is full of questions. She has always been endlessly curious. Even when her fact-finding missions and elaborate scientific experiments don’t go as planned, Ada learns the value of thinking her way through problems and continuing to stay curious.
23. My Very Favorite Book in the Whole Wide World by Malcolm Mitchell
Meet Henley, an all-around good kid, who hates to read. When he’s supposed to be reading, he would rather do anything else. But one day, he gets the scariest homework assignment in the world: find your favorite book to share with the class tomorrow. What’s a kid to do? How can Henley find a story that speaks to everything inside of him? This is a hilarious and empowering picture book for readers of all abilities, imparting the important message that every story has the potential to become a favorite.
24. Ways to Welcome by Linda Ashman
When everyone knows they’re welcome, the world is a better place―and you might just make a new friend. This sweet, timeless picture book about small acts of kindness in a big world is one that kids and parents are sure to reach for again and again.
25. The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson
There will be times when you walk into a room
and no one there is quite like you. There are many reasons to feel different. Maybe it’s how you look or talk, or where you’re from; maybe it’s what you eat, or something just as random. It’s not easy to take those first steps into a place where nobody really knows you yet, but somehow you do it. This book reminds us that we all feel like outsiders sometimes-and how brave it is that we go forth anyway. And that sometimes, when we reach out and begin to share our stories, others will be happy to meet us halfway.
26. Say Something by Peggy Moss
The girl in this story sees it happening, but she would never do these mean things herself. Then one day something happens that shows her that being a silent bystander isn’t enough. Will she take some steps on her own to help another kid? Could it be as simple as sitting on the bus with the girl no one has befriended (and discovering that she has a great sense of humor)? This book inspires how one child at a time can help change a school.
27. I Am Human by Susan Verde
Being human means we are full of possibility. We learn, we dream, we wonder at the world around us. But we also make mistakes and can feel fearful or sad. This book is a hopeful celebration of the human family. I Am Human affirms that we can make good choices by acting with compassion and having empathy for others and ourselves. When we find common ground, we can feel connected to the great world around us and mindfully strive to be our best selves.
28. The King of Kindergarten by Derrick Barnes
Starting kindergarten is a big milestone–and the hero of this story is ready to make his mark! He’s dressed himself, eaten a pile of pancakes, and can’t wait to be part of a whole new kingdom of kids. The day will be jam-packed, but he’s up to the challenge, taking new experiences in stride with his infectious enthusiasm! And afterward, he can’t wait to tell his proud parents all about his achievements–and then wake up to start another day.
29. All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold
Discover a school where all young children have a place, have a space, and are loved and appreciated. Readers will follow a group of children through a day in their school, where everyone is welcomed with open arms. A school where students from all backgrounds learn from and celebrate each other’s traditions. A school that shows the world as we will make it to be.
30. Heart and Soul by Kadir Nelson
Heart and Soul is about the men, women, and children who toiled in the hot sun picking cotton; it’s about the America ripped in two by Jim Crow laws; it’s about the brothers and sisters of all colors who rallied against those who would dare bar a child from an education. It’s a story of discrimination and broken promises, determination, and triumphs. This inspiring book demonstrates that in striving for freedom and equal rights, African Americans help our country on the journey toward its promise of liberty and justice—the true heart and soul of our nation.
31. The Story of Ruby Bridges by Robert Coles
The year is 1960, and six-year-old Ruby Bridges and her family have recently moved from Mississippi to New Orleans in search of a better life. When a judge orders Ruby to attend first grade at William Frantz Elementary, an all-white school, Ruby must face angry mobs of parents who refuse to send their children to school with her. Ruby’s story of courage, faith, and hope continues to resonate still today.
32. Shaking Things Up by Susan Hood
This book introduces fourteen revolutionary young women—each paired with a noteworthy female artist—to the next generation of activists, trailblazers, and rabble-rousers. It is a poetic and visual celebration of persistent women throughout history.
33. I Am One by Susan Verde
One seed to start a garden, one note to start a melody, one brick to start breaking down walls: Every movement and moment of change starts with purpose, with intention, with one. With me. With you.
This is a powerful call to action, encouraging each reader to raise their voice, extend a hand, and take that one first step to start something beautiful and move toward a better world.
34. The Abc’s of Black History by Rio Cortez
Letter by letter, The ABCs of Black History celebrates a story that spans continents and centuries, triumph and heartbreak, creativity and joy. It’s a story of big ideas, significant moments and iconic figures. It’s an ABC book like no other, and a story of hope and love.
In addition to rhyming text, the book includes back matter with information on the events, places, and people mentioned in the poem, from Mae Jemison to W. E. B. Du Bois, Fannie Lou Hamer to Sam Cooke, and the Little Rock Nine to DJ Kool Herc.
35. Let’s Talk About Race by Julius Lester
Julius Lester shares his own story as he explores what makes each of us special. He says “I write because our lives are stories. If enough of these stories are told, then perhaps we will begin to see that our lives are the same story. The differences are merely in the details. I am a story. So are you. So is everyone.”
36. What If by Samantha Berger
This girl is determined to express herself! If she can’t draw her dreams, she’ll sculpt or build, carve or collage. If she can’t do that, she’ll turn her world into a canvas. And if everything around her is taken away, she’ll sing, dance, and dream. Stunning mixed media illustrations, lyrical text, and a breathtaking gatefold conjure powerful magic in this heartfelt affirmation of art, imagination, and the resilience of the human spirit.
37. Ravi’s Roar by Tom Percival
When little Ravi gets so mad that he can’t control his temper anymore . . . he turns into a ferocious, roaring TIGER! Tigers can do anything they want! But who wants to play with a growling, wild tiger who won’t share or behave? Ravi is about to discover something very important about voicing his feelings. While we all get angry sometimes, Ravi’s Roar shows some good ways to channel those emotions to avoid hurting family and friends.
38. Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña
This book is an inclusive ode to kindness, empathy, gratitude, and finding joy in unexpected places, and celebrates the special bond between a curious young boy and his loving grandmother. Every Sunday after church, CJ and his grandma ride the bus across town. But today, CJ wonders why they don’t own a car like his friend Colby. Why doesn’t he have an iPod like the boys on the bus? How come they always have to get off in the dirty part of town? Each question is met with an encouraging answer from grandma, who helps him see the beauty—and fun—in their routine and the world around them.
39. I Can Do Hard Things by Gabi Garcia
What kids tell themselves matters! It becomes their inner voice. It can help them connect with their power within. Mindful affirmations can help children tune out the streams of messages they get about how they should be in the world so they can listen to their own inner voice. Children can learn to tap into their inner strength and find the encouragement they need.
40. Alma and How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal
If you ask her, Alma Sofia Esperanza José Pura Candela has way too many names: six! How did such a small person wind up with such a large name? Alma turns to Daddy for an answer and learns of Sofia, the grandmother who loved books and flowers; Esperanza, the great-grandmother who longed to travel; José, the grandfather who was an artist; and other namesakes, too. As she hears the story of her name, Alma starts to think it might be a perfect fit after all — and realizes that she will one day have her own story to tell.
41. Carter Reads the Newspaper by Deborah Hopkinson
“Carter G. Woodson didn’t just read history. He changed it.” As the father of Black History Month, he spent his life introducing others to the history of his people. His journey would take him many more years, traveling around the world and transforming the way people thought about history. This biography of Carter G. Woodson emphasizes the importance of pursuing curiosity and encouraging a hunger for knowledge of stories and histories that have not been told.
42. Something Happened in Our Town by Marianna Celano
Something Happened in Our Town follows two families — one White, one Black — as they discuss a police shooting of a Black man in their community. The story aims to answer children’s questions about such traumatic events, and to help children identify and counter racial injustice in their own lives. It also includes an extensive Note to Parents and Caregivers with guidelines for discussing race and racism with children, child-friendly definitions, and sample dialogues.
43. Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall
Jabari is definitely ready to jump off the diving board. He’s finished his swimming lessons and passed his swim test, and he’s a great jumper, so he’s not scared at all. In a sweetly appealing tale of overcoming your fears, Gaia Cornwall captures a moment between a patient and encouraging father and a determined little boy you can’t help but root for.
44. And So Much More by Jessica Collaco
From the moment our kids arrive, they hear how cute they are….because they are. But what if they also learned from an early age that they are strong, kind, grateful and creative? And So Much More gives kids powerful words to say about themselves like “My arms give loving hugs”, My mind grows wiser”, “I am grateful for who I am and all who love me”.
45. 28 Days by Charles R. Smith
Each day features a different influential figure in African-American history, from Crispus Attucks, the first man shot in the Boston Massacre, sparking the Revolutionary War, to Madame C. J. Walker, who after years of adversity became the wealthiest black woman in the country, as well as one of the wealthiest black Americans, to Barack Obama, the country’s first African-American president. This is a completely unique look at the importance and influence of African Americans on the history of this country.
46. We March by Shane W. Evans
On August 28, 1963, a remarkable event took place–more than 250,000 people gathered in our nation’s capital to participate in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The march began at the Washington Monument and ended with a rally at the Lincoln Memorial, where Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his historic “I Have a Dream” speech, advocating racial harmony. The thrill of the day is brought to life for even the youngest reader to experience.
47. Chocolate Me by Taye Diggs
A timely book about how it feels to be teased and taunted, and how each of us is sweet and lovely and delicious on the inside, no matter how we look. The boy is teased for looking different than the other kids. His skin is darker, his hair curlier. He tells his mother he wishes he could be more like everyone else. And she helps him to see how beautiful he really, truly is.
48. Lola Reads to Leo by Anna McQuinn
Join Lola as she learns what it means to be a big sister. Lola gets ready for little Leo’s arrival by reading books about brothers and sisters and picking out the perfect stories that she just knows her little brother will love. When the baby is finally here, Lola takes on the role of big sister—she helps her mommy and daddy around the house and tells Leo stories to cheer him up when he cries. Simple text and bright and charming illustrations celebrate family, reading, and what it means to be a big sister.
49. Drawn Together by Minh Lé
When a young boy visits his grandfather, their lack of a common language leads to confusion, frustration, and silence. But as they sit down to draw together, something magical happens—with a shared love of art and storytelling, the two form a bond that goes beyond words.
50. Henry’s Freedom Box by Ellen Levine
Henry Brown doesn’t know how old he is. Nobody keeps records of slaves’ birthdays. All the time he dreams about freedom, but that dream seems farther away than ever when he is torn from his family and put to work in a warehouse. Henry grows up and marries, but he is again devastated when his family is sold at the slave market. Then one day, as he lifts a crate at the warehouse, he knows exactly what he must do: He will mail himself to the North. After an arduous journey in the crate, Henry finally has a birthday — his first day of freedom.
51. Ruby’s Worry by Tom Percival
Ruby loves being Ruby. Until, one day, she finds a worry. At first it’s not such a big worry, and that’s all right, but then it starts to grow. It gets bigger and bigger every day and it makes Ruby sad. How can Ruby get rid of it and feel like herself again? This is the perfect book for discussing childhood worries and anxieties, no matter how big or small they may be.
52. Hair Love by Matthew A. Cherry
Zuri’s hair has a mind of its own. It kinks, coils, and curls every which way. Zuri knows it’s beautiful. When Daddy steps in to style it for an extra special occasion, he has a lot to learn. But he LOVES his Zuri, and he’ll do anything to make her — and her hair — happy. Tender and empowering, Hair Love is an ode to loving your natural hair — and a celebration of daddies and daughters everywhere.
53. How Many Stars in the Sky by Lenny Hort
Mama’s away one night, and her son can’t sleep. He tries to relax by counting stars, but the more of them he sees, the more determined he is to count every single one. Then the boy finds that Daddy can’t sleep either. Together, the two of them set off on an unforgettable all-night journey of discovery.
54. It’s Ok to be Different by Sharon Purtill
By highlighting the ways kids are different from one another it helps children to accept themselves and others as the beautifully unique individuals that they are. It’s OK to be Different encourages kids to be kind and befriend those who are different from themselves, showing young children that they don’t have to look alike or enjoy doing the same activities to be kind to one another.
55. Juneteenth for Mazie by Floyd Cooper
Mazie is ready to celebrate liberty. She is ready to celebrate freedom. She is ready to celebrate a great day in American history. The day her ancestors were no longer slaves. Mazie remembers the struggles and the triumph, as she gets ready to celebrate Juneteenth.
Reading is one of the most important building blocks of life in my opinion. It opens up doors and possibilities for endless imagination. It challenges us to think and see things from different perspectives. It gives new knowledge and allows us to experience various lives, places, hardships, and lessons- all without leaving our seat. I hope this list inspires you to begin the journey to start creating your very own cultured collection to represent ALL the little humans in your classroom!
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