Picture books have the power to teach lessons and change one's perspective in gentle, but engaging, ways. Books that celebrate the diversity of children depict children from different cultures and backgrounds in familiar, universal situations, such as dealing with pets, family members or strong emotions. These stories help children understand themselves, their families, their culture and their world.
The Snowy Day
"The Snowy Day," by Ezra Jack Keats won a Caldecott Medal in 1963 for its bright collage and stamped artwork. It has remained a classic, though, because it depicts a universal theme -- a young child's delight in the first snow. Ezra Jack Keats grew up in the Jewish quarter of Brooklyn, New York, and most of his books reflect a diverse, urban theme. "The Snowy Day" introduces the reader to Peter, an African-American child living in New York. Later books, including "Whistle for Willie" and "Pet Show" also feature this winning character.
Eve Bunting immigrated from Ireland to the United States in 1958. Shortly thereafter, she began writing children's fiction after taking a college creative writing class. Her books are beloved for their gentle depictions of family relationships and feelings. "Going Home" is a poignant story about a Mexican family that comes to the United States as farm laborers. In their hearts, though, Mexico will always be their home.
If you like "Going Home" by Eve Bunting, you'll also enjoy "Flower Garden," by the same author. In this beautifully illustrated tale, Bunting describes an African-American father and daughter's experience of planning a birthday surprise for the mother.
Too Many Tamales
"Too Many Tamales," by Gary Soto, depicts the annual holiday tradition of tamale making for one Mexican-American family. But disaster strikes when the mother's ring is lost in the tamale dough. There's only one way to find the ring -- start eating tamales! Children from all cultural backgrounds will relate to this warm, humorous tale of extended family dynamics.
Harriet, You'll Drive Me Wild
The Australian writer, Mem Fox, knows kids like few other writers. Her warm, imaginative books consistently celebrate childhood and diversity. Meet Harriet and her mother in the wildly silly story, "Harriet, You'll Drive Me Wild." Harriet spends the morning making messes. She dribbles paint on the carpet, spills cereal on the floor and shreds her feather pillow all over her bedroom. Her exceptionally patient mother finally loses her temper and yells -- a lot. Don't worry, the story ends with a hug, a kiss and some giggles. Kids and parents of all backgrounds will relate to this universal tale of family relationships and struggling with difficult emotions.
A Chair for My Mother
"A Chair for My Mother," by Vera Williams, tells the story of a family made up of a child, her mother and her grandmother. After a fire burns their apartment to ashes, the family dreams of saving money to buy a new, comfy chair. Mom is a waitress so money is tight, but the family eventually saves enough money. The hunt is on, then, to find the perfect chair.
Young children love "Abiyoyo," the slightly scary story of a boy, his father and a giant. Set in an African village, the boy and his father are ostracized because the father plays magic tricks and the boy plays his ukelele too loudly. The duo become heroes when they use magic and music to save the town from a terrible giant. This book offers a look into African culture, while teaching the valuable lesson that everyone can make a contribution.
"Global Babies," by the Global Baby Fund, is perfect for babies and toddlers. This non-fiction book is filled with photos and depictions of babies from all over the world. The text is simple and brief, but the photos are engaging and vivid and highlight a range of different cultures.
It's Okay to Be Different
"It's Okay to Be Different," by Todd Parr features his characteristic bright, child-like artwork and whimsical point of view. The book covers sensitive topics, such as adoption, freckles and disabilities, as well as nonsensical themes, such as "It's okay to eat macaroni and cheese in the bathtub."
Don't Call Me Special
"Don't Call Me Special," by Pat Thomas, discusses physical disabilities in a casual, no-nonsense way that even young children can understand and relate to as they learn how to approach people who may be different from them.