It is never too early for your children to start learning about race, diversity, and inclusion. With all of the negativity and intolerance we—and likely our children—are seeing in the world, it is more important now than it has ever been to teach our children about race and racism. We encourage you to reference these kids’ books about diversity as a place to start. These stories will transport young readers into other cultures and inspire empathy and understanding.
Kids’ Books About Diversity for Ages 5-8
Part of a series of easy-to-read books by creative authors that all start with “A Kids Book About…,” this one by Jelani Memory, an African American entrepreneur and creative thinker, introduces kids to the concept of racism. Readers will understand what racism is, how it makes people feel when they experience it, and how to spot it when it happens.
Shane Burcaw, who uses a wheelchair due to spinal muscular atrophy, transformed his 2014 memoir into a humorous, photo-illustrated books for kids. He answers questions like: “What’s wrong with you?” and “Why is your head so much bigger than the rest of your body?” and “How do you play with your friends?” The moral: people with disabilities have a lot in common with people who don’t.
Newbery Award winner Katherine Applegate (The One and Only Ivan), writes about an anti-Muslim incident: someone carves “leave” into a tree belonging to a Muslim family. However, the community rejects the bigotry and uses the opportunity to express welcome for the family. The story is perfect for young kids—it’s narrated by a talking tree and features talking animals, short chapters, and sweet illustrations.
The ten eloquent portraits of African American activists who fought for abolition, women’s rights and civil rights, include Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, and Shirley Chisholm as well as such lesser-knowns like Fannie Lou Hamer, an indefatigable campaigner for African-Americans’ right to vote. The book explores their childhoods as well as their accomplishments as adults.
Malcolm X’s daughter, an educator, activist, and motivational speaker, wrote this book about her father’s childhood, although it is mostly the story of Malcolm’s parents, and how they helped shape their son’s character and ideology. The story ends triumphantly in the seventh grade when Malcolm, the only African American at school, is elected class president.
This story follows two families — one white, one black — as they discuss a police shooting of a black man in their community. It aims to answer children’s questions about such traumatic events, and to help children identify and counter racial injustice in their own lives. Also included: a note to parents with guidelines for discussing race and racism with children, child-friendly definitions, and sample dialogues.
This narrative by a native Cherokee simultaneously embraces modernity and a traditional presentation of Cherokee community and way of life. Colorful, folk art-style illustrations show Cherokee people during ceremonies, in family gatherings large and small, and outdoors enjoying each of the four seasons, always expressing gratitude.
Following a light-skinned mother and her three children (who share their father’s brown skin), the author of this picture book creates an expansive, multicultural cast of urbanites enjoying themselves at a park, at the public pool, and at a boisterous block party.
Kids Books About Diversity for Ages 9-12
National Book Award–winning author William Alexander sets this story about immigration in present-day Minneapolis and in outer space. It’s told from the perspective of 11-year-old Gabe, whose Mexican parents and older sister are threatened with deportation. With many laughs along the way, readers learn to see things from others’ viewpoints and the importance of empathy and flexibility in solving problems.
As the only Filipina in her small Louisiana school, Apple gets teased by those who think she’s different. She’s also on a not-so-secret list kept by the boys of the ugliest girls in school. Her feelings will mirror many young readers’ experiences, and she eventually learns to use music to move beyond the experience of feeling like a misfit.
In this poetic memoir, Margarita Engle, the first Latina woman to receive a Newbery Honor, writes of growing up as a child of two cultures during the Cold War. She lives in Los Angeles but longs to be in her homeland of Cuba where everyone looks like her. When the hostility between Cuba and the United States erupts at the Bay of Pigs Invasion, Margarita’s worlds collide in the worst way possible.
This anthology of stories written by children’s authors including Kwame Alexander, Meg Medina and Jacqueline Woodson, features believable tales of kids coping with their differences. For example, a young boy playing basketball gets insulted by street-smart players for being “too Mexican.” His resolve yields multiple life lessons on and off the court.
This award-winning picture-book brings attention to the 1947 California ruling against public-school segregation. The concise, informative text, with occasional and always translated Spanish lines, discusses how being banned from enrolling in an Orange County grade school because of her skin tone and Mexican surname inspired Sylvia Mendez’ family to fight for integrated schools.
Based on a true story, this book recalls the neighbors in a small Danish fishing village who, during the Holocaust, shelter a Jewish family waiting to be ferried to safety in Sweden.
Kids Books About Diversity for Ages 13-18
Nic Stone’s book tells the story of an Ivy League-bound African-American student named Justyce who becomes a victim of racial profiling. He struggles to reconcile the fact that he’s a “good kid” with suddenly being in police handcuffs. In the months that follow, Justyce confronts injustices he experiences at his mostly white prep school and the fallout from his brief detainment.
This award-winning contemporary novel follows a NYC-based Latina teenager named Piddy Sanchez who is bullied because of her race. The bullying eventually leads to physical abuse in this unflinching look at the various ways that cliques and racism operate.
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Told from alternating perspectives, this is a tale of friendship between a second generation Indian-American girl, her grandfather, and her white next-door neighbor. After being a witness to a hate crime, Karina becomes an activist by sharing pictures on social media. She starts tagging her posts with #CountMeIn and learns to use social media to make a positive difference in the world.
Jay is a Filipino-American boy who has one semester of high school left when he finds out his cousin in the Philippines has been killed. He convinces his parents to send him back to his aunt and uncle’s house in the Philippines so he can try to piece together the murder. This emotional rollercoaster not only addresses difference, but also family, faith, friendship, and grief.
Other Resources to Help Talk to Your Kids About Diversity and Race
Another great place to find books about racism is this list of winners from the Coretta Scott King Book Awards. The awards are given out each winter to outstanding African American authors and illustrators whose books demonstrate an appreciation of African American culture. The author or illustrator must live in the United States, and the book must have been published in the preceding year.
Podcasts are another great way to disseminate stories about inclusivity, and can inspire important discussions about race, difference and humanity. Fare of the Free Child features Akilah S. Richards, plus rotating guests, who discuss raising black and brown children in a world that will treat them differently. The weekly podcast addresses how parents can help their children live free of this burden, with Richards emphasizing unschooling and the Self-Directed Education movement.
Television programming can also offer children windows into worlds outside their own. PBS Learning Media has a great lineup of short history lessons featuring former slave and abolitionist Sojourner Truth, scholar Dr. W.E.B. DuBois, and others. PBS also published children’s book author Cheryl Willis Hudson’s noteworthy suggestions to help you connect your kids with Black history.
Finally, follow the Conscious Kid on Instagram for some critical ways to educate your kids about racism—including tips, lists, news and quotes that will provoke discussion and entice you into important conversations about diversity and politics. The educational nonprofit also has a very affordable Patreon Page which allows you to be part of a more intimate community discussion.
Shana Liebman is the features editor of NYMP. She’s a writer and editor who has worked for magazines including New York Magazine, Salon, and Travel & Leisure—and she is the mom of two energetic little boys.