Diversity can mean a lot of things. Often, people jump to the conclusion that it means racial diversity, which it can absolutely, but for my purpose, diversity means any group outside the dominant group portrayed in our case books. These diverse books include Dads, and Papas, Daddies, and Pops that are people of color, part of the LGBTQ community, in interracial marriages, divorced, or are living in lower socioeconomic classes. My goal with these book lists is to be both mirrors and windows for the children we are reading these books to. All children should see themselves and their fathers in books, as well as have their experience widened and mind opened up to lives and experiences unlike their own.
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Thunder Boy Jr. by Sherman Alexie is a stunning book about identity, independence, and the bond between a father and son. The book will delight your children and you. As the son in the book searches for his own name instead of simply being the little version of his dad, different elements of their Native American culture are woven into the story. A must read!
Night Worker by Kate Banks is all about a little boy and his dad who works construction at night and the night they spend together at the work site. Children who love construction vehicles will be drawn to this book and to all the big machinery Papa gets to work around. Alex and his Papa have a beautiful bond, and this is a great book for any child who longs to be with their dad a little more.
Dad and Pop: An Ode to Fathers and Stepfathers by Kelly Bennett is a simple but powerful book about a little girl with two dads. One is her biological father and the other is her stepfather. She compares and contrasts them, but in the end, the fact remains they both love her. This book doesn’t go into custody agreements, how old the little girl was when she met her now-stepfather, or why her parents divorced because that’s not what this book is about. This book is about bonds between a child and the men who love her. If your child isn’t familiar with families that include step-parents, this is a good book to explain them.
Looking for Sleepy by Maribeth Boelts is a perfect bedtime book. I think it’s brilliant. The book is about a little bear and his papa (never a mention of another mom or dad) getting ready for bed. They go through their bedtime routine, starting by looking for sleepy, hiding under toys, in the bath, in his PJs, in the bedtime stories, etc… I love the dad in this book. I love how he’s patient and kind, and the illustration on the page where they are reading in bed and his toddler’s hand is awkwardly on his head cracks me up. My favorite part though is that when the toddler asks Papa to stay a little longer while he falls asleep, Papa does. I enjoy books that are reassuring and provide a sense of security for young children at bedtime, and this does that with ease. Awesome book!
Fly Away Home by Eve Bunting is a moving story about homelessness and love between a father and son. They live in an airport (Yes, before the new security measures put in place in the US, post 9/11) but still live in fear of being discovered and kicked out. The feeling that this book evokes in readers is the sense of desperation and anxiety that the father and son feel. They are safe at the airport and do not want to be caught and end up on the streets. There are multiple teachable moments in this book and I would suggest that this is not a preschool book at all. Save it for middle elementary age kids who can get into great discussions about how different people can and can’t trust security guards, about why people become homeless, and how the young boy feels like he is trapped but also scared of being thrown out of the airport.
Everywhere Babies by Susan Meyers and Marla Frazee. This book celebrates all sorts of babies and all the every day things babies do. My daughter points out all the babies on each page as I read the rhyming text. So maybe you are thinking “What’s so great about babies and text that rhymes”? The answer is nothing. That’s not what makes this book so awesome. I love this book because of its diversity, inclusion, and acceptance of all babies and families. The illustrations are full of depictions of all sorts of families showering their smallest, most precious member with love.
What I adore about the diversity of the illustrations is that readers are left to put whatever assumption we wish on the families in the book. What I assumed were two mommies, my husband thought was a husband and wife. I thought a lady was a grandma, and my son said it was just an older mom. This is why I love this book; my daughter doesn’t see why this message is outstanding. What she does see is all sorts of happy babies in all sorts of families being the norm. And this is the world we want her to know
Daddy and I… by Eloise Greenfield is a great little board book about the everyday things that a toddler son may help his dad with. From painting to shopping to stopping for some hugs, this book is great for toddlers to see all the things that make up being a dad and caring for your family. It also has a great lesson about children pitching in to help keep a family going too.
Peek: A Thai Hide and Seek by Minfong Ho is a sweet book about a father and daughter playing an epic game of hide and seek in the jungle, and the animals play along too. This book captures the playful relationship so many dads have with their little ones. I know it reminds me of my daughter and her dad’s special bond.
My Father’s Shop by Satomi Ichikawa is a funny story about Mustafa, who is supposed to be learning new languages with his father so he can learn how to sell rugs to tourists at his father’s shop in Morroco. Only Mustafa is off on his own adventure. Wearing an old rug with a hole in it, he goes through the market and attracts the attention of a rooster and a whole gaggle of tourists. In the end, Mustafa learns some new words but not the ones his dad was planning on teaching him. This is a funny book your kids will love.
Leon and Bob by Simon James is a book about friendship, not about dads, but in it, the little boy Leon mentioned that his dad is away in the Army. That is something many kids can relate to, and many others should learn about to offer empathy. The story is sweet, as Leon creates an imaginary friend Bob to play with but one day he goes away. Luckily a real friend name Bob steps into his place.
Papa, Do You Love Me? by Barbara M. Joosse is a lovely look at a young boy trying to test his father’s unconditional love for him. The son throws scenario after scenario at his father and his father calmly replies to each one. There are a lot of books with this same premise, but this one stands out. It’s set in Africa, and the father and son are Maasai. This element offers rich teaching opportunities, as well as an opportunity for readers to connect with a culture separate from their own.
Lola Loves Stories by Anna McQuinn is one of my daughter’s absolute favorite books ever. She named her first baby doll after the title character, that is how much she loves her. In this book, Lola goes to the library with her dad and all week long, reads and acts out the stories she found on Saturday. I love that the author has Lola going with her dad alone. So often in books, you don’t see this, it’s either Mom alone or the whole family. I also love how books are portrayed as a launch pad for pretend play.
Molly and Her Dad by Jan Ormerod was a great find. Molly doesn’t see her dad often because he lives a plane ride away and when he comes to take care of her, things aren’t perfect at first. There are so many little things about this book I like. I like that there are details like baby photos of Molly and both her parents together. I like that Molly tells her dad how he is doing things wrong and doesn’t warm up to him immediately and I like how he doesn’t get mad. I think this is a pretty realistic portrayal of children’s emotions when spending time with a parent they don’t often see but still have a great relationship with.
A Tale of Two Daddies by Vanita Oelschlager is a book about a little girl with two daddies. She is playing with a friend who is asking her how it works to have two daddies. He asks her the type of questions any young child might, and she answers them as they play together. I like this book, and it’s companion A Tale of two mommies, because it addresses the sorts of questions young kids have about same-sex families and most of all, it explains how similar all families are no matter who is a part of it. I love that the illustrations are done from the perspective of the young children, only showing the adults from about knee level and down. Cute, bright book and my daughter loves it.
And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson is a much-debated book. It’s the true story of two male penguins in Central Park Zoo who didn’t have any interest in the girl penguins but definitely liked each other. When the zoo keepers noticed that they were in every way a matched pair, they also noticed that they prepared for a baby, just like the other penguins. Time after time, they were sad until they were given an egg to care for. Just like all families, love and care is what matters when creating a family and baby Tango and his two daddies have thrived. My son loved this book and asked me to please see the penguins when I was in NYC. I didn’t have time to, but I wish I had. Their story simplifies a very debated topic, and I think it’s a great book not only to explain how all families are different but also how love and care are the things that make a family, even for penguins.
Stella Brings The Family by Miriam B. Schiffer is a really sweet book that my daughter immediately wanted to read again, once we were done. In the book, we meet Stella who has two dads and no mom to bring to the Mother’s Day party at her school. She frets about it and then decides to bring all the people who fill that role in her life. What I love about this book is that it doesn’t ignore that there are always bumps along the way for families that don’t fit the rigid norms that we so often uphold. This book does a great job at talking about it, recognizing Stella’s feelings and finding a solution.
Papi’s Gift by Karen Stanton is about a little girl who is sad that her Papi will not be able to come home to Mexico for her birthday. He has been forced from their home country by a drought and is a migrant worker in the United States, earning money to send back home. This book not only opens up the discussion about parents being away for the good of the whole family but also about migrant workers and why many flee their home country.
Home At Last by Vera B. Williams and Chris Raschka is a story about a little boy Lester, who after being in foster care, is adopted by two dads. He knows he should be happy with all these wonderful new things, but at night he is still scared. This is a great look at what anxiety looks like and how loving parents respond. Eventually, the dog becomes his security buddy, and he can sleep at night and fully enjoy his new life and new family.
Visiting Day by Jacquline Woodson is all about a little girl and her grandmother getting ready and going to prison to see dad. There are millions of children in this country with incarcerated parents, and as someone who has taught children with incarcerated parents, this book is a must, not just for them but classmates and other kids too. Understanding that a person who has made bad choices can still be a loving parent is an important lesson to learn.
A Father Like That by Charlotte Zolotow touched my heart. I have always been lucky to have a dad who was involved and present in my life, but this book is the opposite. A little boy is telling his mom about what he wants in a dad because he doesn’t have one. The book covers so many things dads do or don’t do, and while the dream dad isn’t perfect, he is fair, loving and kind. I was tearing up as the book neared the end because I was wondering how the mom who was hearing all of this was going to react. Throughout the list of things the dad would do, there were things for his mom too, mostly her being able to take a break and rest. Which made me feel sad that a little boy would have to worry about his mom, but I am sure that is all too common. The end pushed me over the edge, and my son who was drifting off to sleep while I was reading, popped up and wiped my tears which made me cry harder because he was taking care of me. It ends with his mama saying that even though he may never have a father like that, that one day, he can be a father like that. Great book for all families.
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