Representation Matters: Our Favorite Diverse Picture Books

We love the town where we live. It has great schools. We can walk to the beach, the coffee shop, the library, the grocery store. We’ve made good friends here. We’re 20 minutes from Cleveland but have a population of only 15,000 people. BUT… and it’s a big but… 97% of our town is White. And that drives me nuts.

One small way that we have introduced diversity to our kids is with books. I know this is in no way enough, and we have A LOT more hard work to do to teach them about race, racism, resistance, and becoming anti-racists, but books are a good place to start and representation matters. Just seeing black and brown faces, different cultures, and different points of views in books is good for them. I wanted to share some of the books that we personally own and that our kids love, in case you’re looking for inspiration for your own collection. Keep in mind our kids are 4 and 2.5, so these are books appropriate for toddlers and preschoolers.

The Day You Begin, written by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by Rafael Lopez — This is a beautiful story about feeling different, finding your voice, and celebrating what makes us different AND the same. It features characters who are Black, Latino and Asian, and it’s a story I could happily read every night. (I can’t say that about some books!)

This Jazz Man, written by Karen Ehrhardt, illustrated by R. G. Roth — This is one of our absolute favorite books. Written to the tune of “This Old Man,” it features nine well-known Black jazz musicians with really fun illustrations that the kids love (look for the hidden mouse on each page!). There is also more details about each musician at the end of the book. You can’t possibly read this without singing along and tapping your foot. Our kids usually get up and dance!

The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses, written and illustrated by Paul Goble — I grew up reading this stunning Caldecott-award-winning book about a Plains Indian girl who loves horses. While the author himself is actually British-American, he approaches the traditional story with respect, and his illustrations reflect the traditional art of the people with whom he spent most of his adult life.

Sofia Valdez, Future Prez, written by Andrea Beatty, illustrated by David Roberts — we love all of Andrea Beatty’s books, including this newest character, Sofia Valdez, a young “Dreamer,” who sets out to change things in her town, all by herself, after her Abuelo is injured. This is a powerful story of how one person can make a difference, even a scared second grader, and I love the premise that a Latina could grow up to be President of the United States.

Dim Sum for Everyone, written and illustrated by Grace Lin — A simple story that follows a little girl as she joins her family at a dim sum restaurant. This book has introduced our kids to some new and different foods and taught them about a new cultural custom. They love looking at all the small plates and deciding which they want to eat.

Baby Loves Gravity and Baby Loves Aerospace Engineering, written by Irene Chan, illustrated by Ruth Spiro — this collection of board books features STEM subjects in very basic language for small children. One of the books is about coding! I also love that some of the books feature Black and Brown babies.

I Just Want to Say Good Night, written and illustrated by Rachel Isadora — we recently received this book as part of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, which is an awesome program that mails books to children from birth to age 5 in participating communities around the world. Our county recently became part of the program and we receive a new book in the mail every month, totally free. This is a very sweet story about a girl who isn’t quite ready to go to sleep until she has said goodnight to everything. Set in the African plains, the illustrations are colorful and bright and little Lala is adorable — and kids can relate to not wanting to go to bed, no matter where they are!

Mama Do You Love Me, written by Barbara M. Joose, illustrated by Barbara Lavallee — You can’t be Alaskan and not recognize the iconic art of Barbara Lavallee. She literally illustrated my Alaskan birth certificate and I grew up surrounded by her work. This is a universal story of testing independence and learning about love, told from the perspective of an Inuit/Eskimo mother and child.

Get a Hit, Mo!; Pass the Ball, Mo!; Kick It, Mo!; Don’t Throw It to Mo!, written by David A. Adler, illustrated by Sam Ricks — These are early readers, but they are our 2 year-old’s favorite books. Each book follows the exploits of a young Black boy named Mo as he learns to play various sports, with a lot of mistakes along the way. They’re funny, cute and relatable.

She Persisted: 13 American Women Who Changed the World, written by Chelsea Clinton, illustrated by Alexandra Boiger — This book features some famous American women from a wide variety of backgrounds and historical time periods who all refused to take no for an answer, and encourages young girls (and boys) to stand up for what’s right. This is one of the few books we have that directly addresses race and the history of racial discrimination in our country, so it allows us to open up some good discussions with the kids.

Ada Twist, Scientist, written by Andrea Beatty, illustrated by David Roberts — “ADA MARIE! ADA MARIE!” She’s a second grader with the heart of a scientist, and she happens to be Black, with some fabulously fashionable Black parents who help her along the way. This book is all about following your passion, asking questions, making mistakes, and trying again.

Frida Kahlo and Her Anamalitos, written by Monica Brown, illustrated by John Parra — An introduction to the life and art of Frida Kahlo and her many animal friends, including monkeys, dogs and even a turkey. The illustrations are bright and colorful and introduce youngsters to a brief life story of a fascinating woman and amazing artist.

Not pictured: Andy reminded me that we should also mention Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls by Francesca Cavallo and Elena Favilli. Not only does the book cover a wide variety of cultures, races, nationalities, and historical time periods, but our kids’ absolute favorite story, which they ask us to read first every single time to the point that the book literally falls open to the page, is the story of Coy Mathis, a transgender elementary school student. I know this isn’t race-related, but I loooove that our kids are so interested in Coy’s story, so we can talk to them about the LGBTQ community who also faces discrimination and needs our support, as well as teaching them that the old-fashioned boy/girl “rules” just shouldn’t matter anymore.

I want to make sure we add more books to our collection that directly address race and racism, to push us to have more in-depth discussions about it. I’ve been making lists of books I want to buy. There are tons of very good resources to check out with book suggestions that tackle these difficult subjects. I encourage you to do your own research, find what works for you and your family, but here are a few sites I’ve personally found extremely helpful:

Another thing I want to point out: all the book links in this post are affiliate links to Bookshop.org, an online bookstore with the mission to financially support local, independent bookstores. If you purchase any book through the links in this blog post or through Burritos and Bubbly’s very own “storefront,” bookshop.org/shop/burritosbubbly, we will receive a 10% commission and Bookshop.org will provide a matching 10% to independent bookstores. I want you to know I’m not trying to make money off this post, by any means. No matter where you buy the books, or get them from the library, or borrow them from a friend, we just what to encourage you to include non-White narratives and have discussions with your kids about race in America. We have to start to change as a society and while this is a tiny step in the right direction, it’s a step we can take right now.

I’d love to hear if you have any suggestions for other books or links to suggest. Please let us know in the comments!

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