The Best Children’s Picture Books About Diversity


While children’s publishing is largely made up of white individuals (60% in 2022), there has been a growing movement on social media and among children’s literature experts to increase the number of children’s books about diversity published every year. This means 2 things:

  1. Publishing books about diverse children
  2. Publishing children’s books by diverse authors

Fortunately, the numbers have been improving! Even in the past 5 years, there has been an increase in the number of books written by Black authors and authors of color.

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Children’s Books About Diversity

This is a very small collection of some of Dr. Rebekah Fitzsimmon’s (a children’s literature scholar) favorite diverse children’s books. This list is in no way exhaustive, but we hope it will get you inspired! 

Picture Books For Children

While many of these picture books are for younger children, don’t be fooled! Several are appropriate for late elementary through middle schoolers.

A Different Pond by Bao Phi and Thi Bui

Book Details

  • 2018 Caldecott Honor Book
  • 32 pages
  • 4-8 years

A Different Pond is an unforgettable story about a simple event – a long-ago fishing trip. Graphic novelist Thi Bui and acclaimed poet Bao Phi deliver a powerful, honest glimpse into a relationship between father and son – and between cultures, old and new. As a young boy, Bao and his father awoke early, hours before his father’s long workday began, to fish on the shores of a small pond in Minneapolis. Unlike many other anglers, Bao and his father fished for food, not recreation. A successful catch meant a fed family. Between hope-filled casts, Bao’s father told him about a different pond in their homeland of Vietnam.

Alma and How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal

Book Details

  • 2019 Caldecott Honor Book
  • 32 pages
  • 3-9 years

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.

Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut by Derrick Barnes

Book Details

  • Newbery Honor Book
  • Caldecott Honor Book
  • Coretta Scott King Honor Book (author and illustrator)
  • Ezra Jack Keats New Writer / Illustrator awards
  • 32 pages
  • Ages 3-8

This beautiful book takes the opportunity to build up black and brown boys everywhere. It says, “You’re a star. A brilliant, blazing star… They’re going to have to wear shades when they look up to catch your shine.”

Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut focuses on the humanity, the raw, smart, perceptive, assured humanity of black boys and how they see themselves when they highly approve of their reflection in the mirror. Deep down inside, they wish that everyone could see what they see: a real life, breathing, compassionate, thoughtful, brilliant, limitless soul that matters — that desperately matters.

This photo appeared in a Tweet from Erin Wasko with the following caption: “This student was SO excited to find a book starring him on the cover! Having books that reflect students matter! PS the pose was his idea!”

Days with Dad by Nari Hong

Book Details

  • 40 pages
  • 4-8 years

Based on experiences from author Nari Hong’s own childhood, Days With Dad is a heartwarming story of love and appreciation between a young girl and her dad, who uses a wheelchair. Narrated by the daughter, the story follows an ongoing conversation between the two about the father’s regret over what he is unable to do with his daughter because of his reliance on a wheelchair. But his daughter makes it clear that there’s nothing to feel badly about. Whether they’re sitting on the beach building a sandcastle or drinking hot cocoa and watching the rain, what she loves are the things they can do together.

Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns: A Muslim Book of Colors by Hena Khan

With breathtaking illustrations and informative text, Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns magnificently captures the world of Islam, celebrating its beauty and traditions for even the youngest readers. Sure to inspire questions and observations about world religions and cultures, this entrancing volume is equally at home in the classroom as it is being read to a child on a parent’s lap.

Haiti my Country by Haitian schoolchildren, illustrated by Roge

Book Details

  • New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Book Award
  • Collection of poetry
  • 32 pages
  • 9-14 years

For several months, Quebec illustrator Rogé prepared a series of portraits of Haitian children. Students of Camp Perrin wrote the accompanying poems, which create, with flowing consistency, Haiti, my country.

These teenaged poets use the Haitian landscape as their easel. The nature that envelops them is quite clearly their main subject.

While misery often storms through Haiti in the form of earthquakes, cyclones, or floods, these young men and women see their surrounding nature as assurance for a joyful, confident future.

First published in French in 2010 as Haiti mon pays. It won several awards and nominations.

How Many Donkeys? An Arabic Counting Tale by Margaret Read MacDonald and Hatia Jameel Taibah

Book Details

  • 32 pages
  • Ages 3-8

Jouha is loading his donkeys with dates to sell at the market. How many donkeys are there? His son helps him count ten, but once the journey starts, things change. First there are ten donkeys, then there are nine! When Jouha stops to count again, the lost donkey is back. What’s going on? Silly Jouha doesn’t get it, but by the end of the story, wise readers will be counting correctly-and in Arabic!

Jazz by Walter Dean Myers

Sale Jazz

Book Details

  • Authored and illustrated by a father/son team
  • One of TIME’s 100 Best Children’s Book of all Time
  • Coretta Scott King Honor Book
  • 48 pages
  • 8-13 years

Fifteen poems, infused with the rhythm and wordplay of jazz music, are paired with bold, stylized illustrations of performers and dancers to convey the history and breadth of this unique musical style. From bebop to New Orleans, from ragtime to boogie, and every style in between, Jazz takes readers on a musical journey from jazz’s beginnings to the present day.

Created by a celebrated father-son team, Jazz is a Coretta Scott King Honor Book and a Kirkus Best Children’s Books Editor’s Choice.

Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña

Book Details

  • Winner of the Newbery Medal
  • A Caldecott Honor Book
  • A Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Book

This award-winning modern classic—a must-have for every child’s home library—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.

Zak’s Safari: A Story about Donor-Conceived Kids of Two-Mom Families by Christy Tyner

Zak’s Safari is a book about donor-conceived kids of two-mom families.When the rain spoils Zak’s plan for a safari adventure, he invites the reader on a very special tour of his family instead. Zak shows us how his parents met, fell in love, and wanted more than anything to have a baby—so they decided to make one. In the first half of the book, Zak teaches us about his biological origins. Using simple but accurate language, we learn about sperm and egg cells, known-donors, donors from sperm banks, and instructions called genes that make up who we are. Zak’s enthusiasm, combined with his scientific curiosity and gratitude for his inherited “awesome genes” make him the perfect tour guide for this contemporary conception story.

The second half of the book celebrates family. Gorgeous illustrations depict Zak and his two moms living the adventure of everyday life: eating meals together, playing at the beach, going for nature hikes and hanging out with friends and family. Zak’s Safari aims to provide a starting place for many future conversations with your kids about their conception story and donor. Zak’s Safari is written in a style that is genuine, informative, casual, and easy to understand.

Migrant by José Manual Mateo

Book Details

  • 22 pages
  • Accordion style pages meant to be read vertically
  • 8-13 years

A Mexican boy tells of his journey to the U.S. with his family. They must face many dangers to cross the border, only to experience the uncertainty felt by all illegal immigrants. The narrative is accompanied by one long, beautifully vivid illustration reminis­cent of pre-Hispanic codices, packaged as an accordion-style foldout frieze.

My Story, My Dance: Robert Battle’s Journey to Alvin Alley by Lesa Cline Ransome

Book Details

  • Contains a forward from Robert Battle himself
  • 48 pages
  • 4-11 years

A boy discovers his passion for dance and becomes a modern hero in this inspiring picture book biography of Robert Battle, artistic director of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.

When Robert Battle was a boy wearing leg braces, he never dreamed he’d study at Juilliard. Though most dancers begin training at an early age, it wasn’t until Robert was a teenager that his appreciation for movement—first from martial arts, then for ballet—became his passion. But support from his family and teachers paired with his desire and determination made it possible for Robert to excel. After years of hard work, the young man who was so inspired by a performance of Alvin Ailey’s Revelations became the artistic director of the very company that motivated him. Today, under Robert’s leadership, Alvin Ailey continues to represent the African American spirit through dance.

Salam Alaikum: A Message of Peace by Harris J

Book Details

  • Uses lyrics of an international YouTube hit of the same name
  • 40 pages
  • 3-8 years

Salam Alaikum means “Peace be upon you.” It is the greeting that Muslims around the world use to say “hello” and “good-bye.” International music sensation Harris J has taken that greeting and created a call to action.

Spread peace on the earth…
Treasure the love, let it surround us
Always be kind, always remind one another
Peace on the earth every day

Soñadores (Dreamers) by Yuyi Morales

Book Details

  • 40 pages
  • 3-9 years
  • Winner of the Pura Belpré Illustrator Award
  • Available in English by the name Dreamers

Yuyi Morales brought her hopes, her passion, her strength, and her stories with her, when she came to the United States in 1994 with her infant son. She left behind nearly everything she owned, but she didn’t come empty-handed.

Dreamers is a celebration of making your home with the things you always carry: your resilience, your dreams, your hopes and history. It’s the story of finding your way in a new place, of navigating an unfamiliar world and finding the best parts of it. In dark times, it’s a promise that you can make better tomorrows.  

This lovingly-illustrated picture book memoir looks at the myriad gifts migrantes bring with them when they leave their homes. It’s a story about family. And it’s a story to remind us that we are all dreamers, bringing our own strengths wherever we roam. Beautiful and powerful at any time but given particular urgency as the status of our own Dreamers becomes uncertain, this is a story that is both topical and timeless.

Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library by Carole Boston Weatherford

Book Details

  • 48 pages
  • 9-13 years

In luminous paintings and arresting poems, two of children’s literature’s top African-American scholars track Arturo Schomburg’s quest to correct history.

Where is our historian to give us our side? Arturo asked.

Amid the scholars, poets, authors, and artists of the Harlem Renaissance stood an Afro–Puerto Rican named Arturo Schomburg. This law clerk’s life’s passion was to collect books, letters, music, and art from Africa and the African diaspora and bring to light the achievements of people of African descent through the ages. When Schomburg’s collection became so big it began to overflow his house (and his wife threatened to mutiny), he turned to the New York Public Library, where he created and curated a collection that was the cornerstone of a new Negro Division. A century later, his groundbreaking collection, known as the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, has become a beacon to scholars all over the world.

Thank You, Omu! by Oge Mora

Book Details

  • 40 pages
  • 3-7 years

Everyone in the neighborhood dreams of a taste of Omu’s delicious stew! One by one, they follow their noses toward the scrumptious scent. And one by one, Omu offers a portion of her meal. Soon the pot is empty. Has she been so generous that she has nothing left for herself?

Debut author-illustrator Oge Mora brings to life a heartwarming story of sharing and community in colorful cut-paper designs as luscious as Omu’s stew, with an extra serving of love. An author’s note explains that “Omu” (pronounced AH-moo) means “queen” in the Igbo language of her parents, but growing up, she used it to mean “Grandma.” This book was inspired by the strong female role models in Oge Mora’s life.

The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson

Book Details

  • #1 New York Times Bestseller
  • Featured in an episode of the original Netflix show Bookmarks: Celebrating Black Voices
  • 32 pages
  • 4-9 years

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.

Jacqueline Woodson’s lyrical text and Rafael López’s dazzling art 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.

When We Were Alone by David A Robertson

Book Details

  • Winner of the 2017 Governor General’s Literary Award
  • 32 pages
  • 5-9 years

A young girl notices things about her grandmother that make her curious. Why does her grandmother have long, braided hair and beautifully coloured clothing? Why does she speak Cree and spend so much time with her family? As the girl asks questions, her grandmother shares her experiences in a residential school, when all of these things were taken away.

The Stuff of Stars by Marion Dane Bauer

Book Details

  • 2019 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award Winner
  • 40 pages
  • 3-8 years

Before the universe was formed, before time and space existed, there was . . . nothing. But then . . . BANG! Stars caught fire and burned so long that they exploded, flinging stardust everywhere. And the ash of those stars turned into planets. Into our Earth. And into us. In a poetic text, Marion Dane Bauer takes readers from the trillionth of a second when our universe was born to the singularities that became each one of us, while vivid illustrations by Ekua Holmes capture the void before the Big Bang and the ensuing life that burst across galaxies. A seamless blend of science and art, this picture book reveals the composition of our world and beyond — and how we are all the stuff of stars.

What Are Diverse Books?

First, let’s talk about what diverse children’s books are and why they are so important. 

We Need Diverse Books, a grassroots non-profit dedicated to promoting diversity in children’s literature,  explains that diversity is being inclusive of “all diverse experiences, including (but not limited to) LGBTQIA, Native, people of color, gender diversity, people with disabilities, and ethnic, cultural, and religious minorities.” 

In other words, diverse books are either by authors or about characters that reflect any of these diverse experiences. 

Evaluating Diversity in Children’s Books

When you evaluate children’s books, it often helps to think about other kinds of representation you want to consider when evaluating books.

For example, think about how the children’s books you and your child have read recently represent families.

  • How many stories feature families with same-sex parents?
  • Single parents?
  • Absent parents (due to incarceration, military service, immigration status or chronic illness)?
  • Adopted parents?
  • Step-parents? 

How many books feature families from different socio-economic backgrounds than your family? 

Has your child read stories about children experiencing homelessness or severe financial hardship?  

It’s important to determine what types of diversity you want to represent to your children, and at what age they’re ready to understand it. A 2-year-old may not be prepared for a book about homeless children, while it might be an essential subject for your middle schooler. 

But as popular books and TV shows like Daniel Tiger demonstrate, your 2-year-old can absolutely see representations of single-parent households and kids who live with people other than their parents.

Why Is Diversity in Books Important? 

Studies suggest that reading literature can help us to be more empathetic and kinder to our fellow human beings. 

Reading books that reflect experiences outside of our own offers us opportunities to try on the proverbial shoes of others and walk the world in a different way. This is true of both realistic and fantasy worlds. 

For children, reading books about diverse children and families can help them understand so many hard concepts, such as:

  • Their place in the world
  • How they can relate to people who are different from them
  • How to find their place in the beautiful tapestry of humanity

I know I learn and grow so much by reading books that feature characters with different experiences from me!

The Problems with Representation of Minority Groups in Children’s Books

For those parents raising children who fall outside of that majority category in any way, finding a book that mirrors your child or represents them can be much harder. This is why Danielle talks about ensuring her children see other brown families in their books. Those books simply aren’t as readily available in the U.S. as they are for white children.  

Danielle’s sons reading one of our favorite diverse books for babies and young toddlers, Baby’s First Words. Find more diverse board books on Mamademics.

There may be only one or two books in an age group that feature a protagonist who looks like your child. 

What is more, some of those books may feature what Dr. Debbie Reese has termed “fun house mirrors.” This means that books create mirrors that distort or inaccurately represent a culture, ethnic group, religion, or disability. 

These distorted representations often offer more harm than good. This is partly because they rely on harmful stereotypes or promote inaccurate understandings of a minority group. 

But it is also because that text often occupies a spot in a publisher’s “diversity roster,” thereby limiting the publication of other books that might offer a more accurate, nuanced picture of that same group.  

All children deserve the opportunity to see themselves mirrored in the books they read, and to feel that their experiences in the world are a part of the larger human experience.

#RepresentationMatters: The Importance of Books About Diverse Children

For those on Twitter, the hashtag #RepresentationMatters highlights the delight and joy children from minoritized groups can experience in seeing themselves reflected on the front cover of a book for the first time. 

Stories about reluctant readers devouring texts like Ms. Marvel or Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi show that there is a broad audience eager for stories about diverse characters. That’s also why Into the Spiderverse’s nuanced depiction of Miles Morales as a bi-racial teen Spiderman has received overwhelming acclaim. 

Choosing Diverse Books for Your Home Library

If you believe representation matters, it’s important to choose books that reflect diversity for your own children or for the children in your life.

When I was pregnant, I wanted a list for people to use because I knew I was going to encounter family and friends with deep attachments to “classic” books that have hugely problematic depictions of race and gender.  

I also knew that I wanted to ensure that my son, who was born into both white privilege and socio-economic privilege, would have opportunities to read stories about children outside of his own lived experiences. 

I wanted his nursery library to reflect a wide array of diverse characters, both real and pretend, who would teach him to accept those different from him.

I worked to curate a list of picture books that reflected these values (and a list I would return to frequently when recommending books to expecting friends). 

Valuing Children’s Books About Diversity

Despite building this registry of children’s books, I still had well-intentioned family members who gifted us copies of books with values I would rather not share. Books such as The Giving Tree (which celebrates an abusive relationship) or from authors with racist histories (such as Dr. Seuss). 

(Don’t know what we’re talking about with Dr. Seuss? Check out “The Cat Is Out of the Bag” in Research on Diversity in Youth Literature by Katie Ishizuka and Ramón Stephens. For shorter reads, see this article in People Magazine or this one on NPR.)

Children’s literature is filled with these “problematic faves” or classic texts that are passed on because they hold sentimental memories for adults. 

Scholarship from an increasingly diverse field of children’s literature scholars, as well as expert librarians and teachers, has shown that these classics are actively influencing child readers. These books reinforce stereotypes and make children from misrepresented backgrounds feel devalued. 

Despite this research, many adults have difficulty viewing these favorites from their childhood critically. 

For others, it can feel like being told their favorite children’s book, like The Little House series, which features racist depictions of people of color, means they are being attacked for being racist themselves. 

How, then do I, an expert in the field of children’s literature, go about finding and valuing diverse children’s books? And how can I share that knowledge with other parents who also value diversity?

I’m delighted that I’ll be contributing future blog posts to Undefining Motherhood and hope to continue to address how to read diversely across children’s literature. 

However, I am consistently looking to other experts to help me sort through the massive number of books published every month to find the very best. 

If you are interested in learning more about the movement to diversify the children’s literature publishing industry, or just looking to expand the kinds of books you bring into your home, I recommend the following blogs! 

These are my go-to resources when I want to learn more about a particular book or when I’m looking to broaden my own reading horizons!

Interested in other book recommendations from Undefining Motherhood? Check these out!

What are your favorite children’s books about diversity?

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