17 Illustrated books to educate your kids on cultural diversity

Updated: Oct 7, 2020

How to increase your kids’ awareness about differences today?


Photo: "Quand on était seuls" by David A. Robertson and Julie Flett


When I was young, I loved reading illustrated books, novels and kid’s stories. The issue I had with them was that no character looked like me. I was too young to wonder about the importance of representation, so I just accepted what the stereotypes depicted about my race. When I read about an Asian character in a book, s/he had an accent and was portrayed as exotic. It’s important to question how stereotypes forge kids’ mindsets when they grow up. Moreover, stereotypes and representations play on self-esteem and confidence. Nowadays, we have a larger selection of books that depict minorities.

Let’s celebrate diversity and inclusion with these books today. They will make perfect gifts. They give a place for different and unique characters to have their own stories.

Books for the first day of school

The name jar by Yangsook Choi

Unhei is the new kid at her school. Her unusual name makes her hesitant to introduce herself because no one can pronounce it. She is worried about being liked in school, so she tells her classmates they can write down American names for her to pick from. On the last day, the jar disappears, and she finally learns to accept her real name “Yoon-Hey” and teaches her classmates how to pronounce it. The lessons are to embrace other cultures and celebrate our uniqueness rather than trying to conform.

The Arabic Quilt by Aya Khalil

It’s the first day of school for Kanzi and she’d like to fit in. Her family had just moved from Egypt to the US. Her mother wears a hijab, she had made a kofta sandwich for Kanzi’s lunch and calls her “habibi.” Kanzi gets teased by her schoolmates. At night, she finds comfort in a beautiful Arabic quilt that her grandma made and reads the poem about the quilt. In the end, Kanzi’s teacher finds out about the poem and get the class excited about creating a quilt. This scene is quite common for many kids that come from different cultural background. People get teased and feel uncomfortable. It’s important to overcome accept one’s identity and overcome shame. The nice part of this book is the glossary for Arabic words.

The proudest blue: a story of hijab and family by Ibtihaj Muhammad

It’s the first day of school for two sisters. Faizah is excited to start a new year. Her sister Asiya wear a beautiful blue hijab on her first day. For her, it means being strong and brave to be true to herself. The book emphasizes the rite of passage, the friendship between the two sisters and the respect for the hijab. Self-confidence, mom’s advice and support will help overcome bullying.

The day you begin by Jacqueline Woodson

This book is a New York Times bestseller about a kid’s first day in school. Feeling different and alone is normal. This book is meant to be reassuring and empower the child to feel brave and optimistic.

Understanding indigenous legacy in North America

When we were alone by David A. Robertson and Julie Flett

A young girl goes to school in black and white uniform. She asks her grandmother about her colorful clothes and her braided hair and what her traditions mean. Here, we talk about the experiences of the grandmother in residential schools and how she describes the Cree culture and language.

The sharing circle: stories about first nations culture by Theresa Meuse

This collection of children’s stories about First Nations culture, specifically the Mi’kmaw traditions, teaches kids about traditional beliefs and heritage through sharing games and toys. It’s a great informative book to learn about indigenous culture.

Sometimes I feel like a fox by Danielle Daniel

This book introduces the Anishinaabe culture and explains the role of totem animals. Children sometimes identify with creatures and wear masks to represent their animals. It’s an amazing addition to a diverse library.

Books about immigration

Dreamers/Soñadores by Yuyi Morales

Finding a new home brings new challenges. It also means hoping and dreaming for the best, a new exciting life. This story is the celebration of navigating through a new environment, reaching the American dream and remaining resilient and strong. This book can also be found in Spanish.

Refugees and Migrants by Ceri Roberts

This book is part of a series called “children in our world.” It illustrates the current challenges as seen on the news. It explores themes of wealth and hunger, empathy and compassion. It’s an emotional and sincere look on immigration, yet approachable.

Asian tales and stories

Filipino children’s favorite stories by Liana Romulo

This collection of 13 short stories will be great lessons to teach your kids about family values, loyalty and nature’s way. It also includes the consequences of greed and laziness.

Chinese children’s favorite stories: Fables, myths and fairy tales by Mingmei Yip

This illustrated book includes beautiful pictures and wonderful stories. It’s a perfect gift to introduce kids to another culture.

French and English books about black hair

Comme un million de papillons noirs by Laura Nsafou

This book written in French is perfect for kids. It tells the story of Adé, a dark-skinned little girl with frizzy hair. Unfortunately, she gets bullied by other kids because of her hair and seeks comfort with her family. She will learn life lessons about self-acceptance, growth and honoring diversity. I recommend this to all children and parents. The illustrations and the story are perfect for bed-time stories.

Nos boucles au naturel / Hair love by Matthew A. Cherry

This book exists in both French and English. It is a cute story is about a little girl named Zuri whose hair is very whimsical. Her dad tried to tame her hair for a special occasion but has a lot of learning to do concerning her daughter’s hair.

Emi’s curly, coily, cotton candy hair by Tina Olajide

Emi is a 7-year-old child with a wild imagination and beautiful hair. Although her hair is the main topic of this book, it grows into topics of self-love and affirming your identity. For more information about the intent of the book, check out Tina Olajide’s interview.

Books about cultural inclusion

It’s OK to be different: a children’s picture book about diversity and kindness by Sharon Purtill

This inspiring book highlights the differences between children in a beautiful way. Differences can spring from ethnic background, special needs, size etc. But the main take away is to be kind and respectful to those who are different from you. Because to them, you are different too.

All are welcome by Alexandra Penfold

Inclusion and diversity are important. It’s important to instill a positive message to kids in today’s world. Everyone is welcome in our society and we’re all enough and valid. This book reinforces those concepts with a world where everyone is accepted.

A world of kindness by Ann Featherstone

An amazing fact of this book is that many of the original images were donated by artists. A series of questions will impact children on how they view kindness. With kindness, they have tools to influence the world around them and better their social situations in taking action. This book is perfect for everyone to learn about concrete examples on kindness.

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