Diversity & Kids - How diverse are our children's bookshelves?

Our planet is colorful and diverse. This diversity is a beautiful enrichment for each and everyone of us, but unfortunately, discrimination and hate are still an aspect of everyday life. This is why many parents want to educate their kids about racism and diversity at an early age. 

In this blog post, we talk about how kids think and feel about diversity. We question our role model function as parents and shine a light on racism in children's books. We want to share 10 wonderful books about diversity with you. This may hopefully start open conversations with our kids, answer their questions, and foster acceptance in our little ones. 

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What is our role when it comes to diversity?

For me, as a white author, it is challenging to write about racism and diversity. It's possible that I subconsciously perpetuate racist patterns that I have not previously reflected on and seen for what they are. But I still feel that it is important to speak about personal shortcomings and work on them instead of not questioning anything. Dealing with (our own) prejudices is an ongoing process that we all have to undertake for ourselves. 

Those prejudices are nothing more than pigeonhole thinking. And we all have our pigeonholes to help us try to make sense of this complex world. First, we must recognize and admit that we have these pigeonholes, this narrow way of seeing the world. Only then can we critically examine our beliefs and leave them behind. 

Prejudices don't just shape how we view the world, but also how we view ourselves. If we challenge our prejudices, we also challenge ourselves. It can be painful to admit that our thinking has led to discrimination and unacceptance. Many of us were not educated about diversity as kids. This is something that we have to catch up with now. 

The most important thing is to continuously communicate with others, especially those that are part of a minority group. We can choose to have a discussion with a single parent friend or ask a friend who is black about their experiences with discrimination. We will never be able to know how those things feel exactly. However, we can list, try to understand other people better, and offer support. 

How do our kids experience diversity?

Our little ones notice external differences at an early age, but they don't make any judgements about them. Judging differences is something they only pick up later by learning from their environment. In this lies a big opportunity: we can use our role model function to set positive standards and examples. No child is born a racist and will not become one with the right education. 

We can't isolate our children. They watch the people closest to them and take everything in. That's why what we do (and what we don't do) has such a strong effect. 

children-books-about-diversity-orbasics Photo by cottonbro @ Pexels

We can't ignore Discrimination, otherwise, the kids that are being excluded and discriminated against will continue to be left out. It is important for our children to recognize that they can hurt others with what they say and do. With the help of gripping stories in children's books, we can teach them our values and raise their consciousness when it comes to diversity. 

One of the best opportunities to talk to kids about diversity is to take a closer look at our surroundings together with them. When we notice the amazing amount of diversity around us, we realize that this diversity is perfectly normal and beautiful. This is true when it comes to family models, bodies, external looks, where someone is from, or who they love. Children's books on the subject of diversity start precisely there. They show that there is a great diversity when it comes to what is “normal”.  

Racism in children's books?!

Unfortunately, we can't take children's books for granted. There are several classic kids books that contain discriminating ideas. For example, in the Pippi Longstocking books, where her father is the "Negro King" and puts the whites above the blacks. But you can also find racist passages in Jim Knopf, Tintin, Struppi, Struwwelpeter, or The Little Ghost.

We have a lot of personal nostalgia when it comes to these books, but they have been hurting minorities for decades. They come from a time when people lived openly. We should critically ask ourselves if we should not take out of our bookshelves altogether. 

But there is a more subtle form of racism: the lack of diversity when it comes to children's books. Our kids learn so much about their environment, other people, and relationships from books. What does it imply when people of color only appear in books in an exotic supporting role. If at all. What do our kids take away when all superheroes have a white skin color. How does a child with non-white skin color feel when books lack identification figures? 

To keep it short: Diversity is clearly underrepresented in most children's books. Time to change it together! 

children-books-about-diversity-orbasicsSource SLJ (School Library Journal)

10 kids books about diversity

We're super excited to show you our favorite picks for children's books about diversity. It wasn't easy to limit ourselves to 10 books. Here we go!

1. The Family Book by Todd Parr

Talks about a variety of all kinds of families. Big families, small families, those with one parent, and some with two moms or dads. Some loud and some quiet, but all of them special in their way.

Age level: 3 - 6 years

2. Let It Shine: Stories of Black Women Freedom Fighters by Andrea Davis Pinkney

Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus, sparking a revolution across America. And Harriet Tubman helped over three hundred slaves to escape through an Underground Railroad. This book celebrates the lives of black women who lit the path to freedom for many generations. 

Age level: 6 - 9 years

3. Your Body is Awesome by Sigrun Danielsdottir

The colorful beautiful illustrations in this picture book encourage our kids to love their bodies. They learn about all the amazing things that their bodies can do, that everybody type is unique and normal. With these teachings, this color book promotes an understanding of body diversity in our little ones.

Age level: 4 - 7 years

4. Julián Is a Mermaid by Jessica Love

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Copyright © by Jessica Love

Julian loves mermaids, with their beautiful shine and spectacular dress up. At home, he dresses up as a mermaid himself and his grandmother embrace him. This is a heartwarming book about gender roles, compassion, and individuality.

Age level: 4 - 6 years

5. I Have the Right to Be a Child by Alain Serres

With easy-to-read texts and beautiful illustrations, a young narrator talks about what it means for kids to have their rights. Topics including many human rights like the right for water, housing, and education. A wonderful book that reminds us of how much good we have in our lives.

Age level: 4 - 6 years

6. Here We Are by Oliver Jeffers

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Image source @ Picture Book Builders

The world is beautiful, full of contrasts, and colorful. This book tells children all about the differences, similarities, and needs that we all have. It combines diversity in a unique way with a call to be mindful of our environment.

Age level: 4 - 8 years

7. Little People, Big Dreams: Rosa Parks by Lisbeth Kaiser

This book is part of the book series Little People, BIG DREAMS, which we can really recommend to all parents. This edition revolves around the life of Rosa Parks. The courageous American woman who refused to give up her seat on a bus and became a civil rights activist. 

Age level: 4 - 10 years

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8. Whoever You Are by Mem Fox

Around the world, children laugh and cry, learn and play, eat, and sleep. They may not look exactly the same, and they might not share the same culture. Their lives might in fact be pretty different. But at their heart, they are alike. This is a book that celebrates the sameness in each and everyone of us.

Age level: 4 - 7 years

9. Two Homes by Claire Masurel

The reassuring book talks about what is gained and not what is lost when parents decide to divorce. It talks about the two different houses in all their unique detail and shows how little Alex has a home in both of them. This book will help all children (and also parents) who are going through a divorce and embrace difficult changes. 

Age level: 3 - 7 years

10. People by Peter Spier

A wonderful celebration of all cultures around the world by the amazing Peter Spier. He is one of the most famous kids books illustrators in the last decades. In this book, kids travel around the world and take in all the details that make each country and culture unique.

Age level: 3 - 7 years

We could go on forever. Once you dive into the world of kids books that center around diversity, there are so many gems to discover. We hope to inspire you with our selection to have more conversations with your kid about diversity! 

OK, we need to add a little more! Do you already know about tebalou? It's an online shop that features kids toys and books with a focus on diversity. They have dolls of all looks, coloring pens for all types of skin colors and so many beautiful books with diverse characters. Here you can find books and toys for ALL kids. We'd also love to recommend you the Instagram video by freefamily.rocks, where she speaks in a lot of detail about racism in kids books. 

 

Nathalie

Nathalie is living her dream. With her 5-year-old son, she set out to explore the world as a single mom. She made a brave move and bought a one-way ticket to SouthEast Asia after 10 years in Berlin. True to this burst of courage, she took the step to become a freelancer and is working as a remote freelance writer. Currently out of Thailand.  

 

 

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