Teaching our children to be the type of people that notice the lone child sitting on the bench with no one else to play with is no easy task. Some children will naturally be aware of the child who is not included in the group; many will be so wrapped up in their play they won’t notice. While awareness like that takes time to develop in all children, what we can help with is working on teaching our children about how being excluded and being included feels like. We must teach children how to include others and why inclusion is important not just from a systemic view but from a 5-year-old view. It feels good to be part of the group. I feel confident and ready to learn and play when I am part of the group. It makes me feel safe when I am part of the group. I don’t need to put anyone down when I am part of the group. One tool that can help parents and teachers in this task to teach children how to include others are books that spark discussion, characters that your child can relate to, and stories about being different, being yourself, and inclusion. Here are some of my favorite books that teach children how to include others.
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Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty, is a wonderful tale of a little girl who is a born scientist. Ada is curious and a little chaotic too! She asks questions and seeks answers and can’t stop even when she is sent to the thinking chair. I love that Ada is spirited and determined and as annoyed as her parents are with some of her behavior they ultimately accept and love her and her super curious mind. Accepting others for who they are and being an includer starts with parents and teacher role modeling this if we can’t accept our children or students for who they are how can we expect them to do the same? This book shows what wonderful things can happen when parents are accepting of an exceptional ( though not perfect) child.
The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi is such a lovely book. The main character is Unhei a little girl who has just immigrated from Korea. She is trying to decide on an easy to pronounce American name, and her new class helps by offering up suggestions and places them in a name jar. As she gets used to her new surroundings and develops friendships, she realizes she doesn’t need an American name after all. I loved this book because there are so many great lessons about being yourself, about being supportive of friends and about being brave in new situations.
Lily The Unicorn by Dallas Clayton is more than just a book about Lily the unicorn who is 100% herself; it is about her acceptance of Roger the penguin who is nothing like her and her desire for the two of them to be friends. Sometimes marching to the beat of your drummer means being kind when others are not, and I think that this book teaches that part of friendship is accepting your friend for who they are, especially if they are nothing like you. The illustrations are fun, colorful and fill many of the pages making this an engaging book for all levels.
The Story Of Ruby Bridges: Special Anniversary Edition
Robert Coles is a book all children need to read. Ruby Bridges may not have had a choice about her place in history, but she bore the burden with incredible bravery all at the age of six. This book does a wonderful job at telling the story of how Ruby Bridges was the first African-American child to enroll in a previously all-white elementary school. The hatred and threats she dealt with and the grace in which she did, grace none of those hateful people deserved. Of all the biographies about the civil rights movement, this is my favorite because children can relate to Ruby, they can relate to walking into school, and to the feelings of anxiety, it’s easier to put themselves in her shoes than those of leaders and adult activist. This is a great book to introduce children to this part of American history, but it is also a great book to talk about exclusion, to talk about adults excluding children and how wrong it is. There are a lot of doors that have been opened since Ruby walked through those doors but there are also a lot of people who have fought and are still fighting it to close them back up. When you read this book talking about injustice and exclusion as something only in our past is unjust, you must also talk about the relevance today.
A Peacock Among Pigeons by Tyler Curry is a humorous and touching look about standing out from the crowd when you aren’t necessarily trying to. Peter, the peacock, tries to blend in with the pigeons but he can’t no matter how hard he tries. The story is about how after he had left the pigeons he met colorful birds that accepted him and themselves for the ways they were unique and from that Peter started to love himself. This lesson isn’t just an important one for kids who will stand out no matter who they are but for the ones who fit in easily and need to know how those peacocks feel.
Pink Tiara Cookies For Three by Maria Dismondy is a story I think most of us can relate to. It’s about two best friends whose friendship is challenged when another little girl is welcomed by one friend and not by the other. I know as a young girl I dealt with this, and it was heartbreaking. Now as a mom I watch my son and his two closest friends deal with this often. The author does a beautiful job at recognizing the feelings of rejection, loneliness, and anger that children feel when this happens. The little girls in the story are probably a little more capable of expressing themselves than preschool-aged children, but that makes this book even more important. I used this book with both my children often when friendship struggles popped up, not only when they were left out, but when I had a hunch they were the ones doing the leaving out. Oh and please don’t think it’s a girly book, it’s not, my son loved it. His exact words were “This would be really good for teachers to read to classes.” I agree.
Spaghetti in A Hot Dog Bun: Having the Courage to Be Who You Are by Maria Dismondy is about bullying, but it’s also about doing the right thing and not losing yourself especially when it is hard. This story about a little girl made who is teased mercilessly by a classmate and how she deals with it. What we liked so much was that the bully was really mean and the bullying seemed to come from nowhere. I think that is so important because when you are getting bullied, it’s hard to make sense of it, and often there is no clear reason for being a target. The dialog that this opened for us was so enlightening, and this book offers parents and teachers many chances to talk about the complex issues of bullying. The thing about this book is that it is not even so much about bullying but about not losing confidence in yourself and who you are in the face of a bully. Lucy struggles with being teased, but ultimately she helps her bully when he needs it even though he does not deserve her help. She does the right thing and gains confidence in herself in the process.
Everybody Cooks Rice by Norah Dooley is a fantastic book! The book follows a sister who is looking for her brother in their San Francisco neighborhood. As she goes from door to door each neighbor invites her in to eat some of their suppers. Everybody is having some sort of rice dish even though they are all from different countries. This book shows that with differences often come some similarities if we are willing to look for them and be open to accepting them. This is a great book to talk about the diversity and similarities of different foods students eat during celebrations or just day to day.
Whoever You Are by Mem Fox. Every time I read this I get goosebumps. The book is simple and talks about the differences of little children all over the world, but focuses on what they all have in common. Children of various cultures are shown, smiling, laughing, crying, and the reader can see that even if the clothes or houses or food is different, the insides are the same. I always choke up reading this book because it is so beautiful and a great reminder for all of us that while we so often focus on what we see as different most of what we have is in common. This book is a wonderful foundation for children to learn about the inherent sameness of humans, before being introduced to society’s desire to ignore that.
Corduroy by Don Freeman was a childhood favorite of mine, and it has not lost any of its shine over the years. The story is about a lonely bear at a department store who despite being a little disheveled finds a forever home with a kind little girl who needs him as much as he needs her. There are so many levels to this book, as a child, I remember being awed by the thought of toys coming alive in stores when the doors are locked, and the shoppers leave. As an adult, I see this as a touching story about inclusion, about accepting someone flaws and all.
Red: A Crayon’s Story by Micheal Hall is easily one of my favorite books of all time. It made me cry the first time I read it with my children and every single time since. All crayons come with a label but is that label always, right? Red came from the factory with a red outside. But even when he tried, and trust me he tried, all he could do was color blue. It is not until he is asked by Purple to draw him a blue ocean that he finally finds a place where he belongs. Purple took a risk when they saw that maybe they knew how to include Red and find a way to make them feel good. When I read this to my kids, and I read it with my first and 4th grader, I tell them the message may be about being comfortable in your own skin on the surface but really what we need to focus on is Purple and how just by being able to see that Red really colored blue they turned the whole story around, with acceptance and inclusion.
Brontorina by James Howe is one of my most favorite books about inclusion because it’s in a setting so many readers can relate to. Sure our kids aren’t dinosaurs, but some feel that different from their friends for all sorts of reasons. They stand out and don’t want to, they just want to be a part of the group, or in this case ballet class. The story is about a dinosaur who wants to be a ballerina and while a studio initially allows her to dance it is clear that she is just too big. The story does not end there. With some help from friends who support her dream, they find a way to include everyone.
The Color Of Us by Karen Katz is a book I have often used to discuss color differences in skin tone. I urge teachers and parents to read this book before children start asking about differences, by then children have often created stories and scenarios in their head that may be completely inaccurate. Those stories are the seed of bias and to help avoid planting them we need to be proactive, and this book is one tool for that. Lena travels around her neighborhood and with the help of her mom takes notice of all the different shades of brown of people’s skin. Every color is lovingly named, and the diversity is celebrated. After the walk, Lena goes home to paint portraits of all of these people with all different shades of brown.
Librarian on the Roof! by M.G. King made me cry. The true story is about a librarian who did what she needed to do to raise enough money to make a functional children’s section in the oldest library in Texas. What she did was stay on the roof of that library for a week, and it worked. I loved the message that libraries are vital, that books open doors, and that providing access to information to those who can’t afford to get it on their own is a worthwhile cause. This book made me want to cheer, it had me spouting off lessons left and right to my kids, and it absolutely captivated all three of us. The biggest lesson of all is that inclusion means fair access and sometimes being the person who is going to include others means being the person who is going to stand up or climb on a roof for what is right.
Two Speckled Eggs by Jennier K. Mann is a book all about inclusion in a setting young children understand, the birthday party. Everyone who works with young children can tell you that we hear ” If you don’t do this I won’t invite you to my birthday party!” or some version of that all the time. Young children don’t have a lot of power to throw around, but that is powerful, it is also a sign that it’s time to talk about including others, feelings, and the power of words with your class. One way to do that is with this book. The birthday girl did not want to invite the odd girl to her class, but maybe she isn’t odd, maybe she just doesn’t know her yet. Every home and classroom can benefit from this book because it’s a message the children can instantly relate to and a lesson about how being an includer isn’t just a nice act for someone else, it helps you too!
Strictly No Elephants by Lisa Mantchev deserves a post all of its own; it’s that good and that important. This book is about a little boy and his elephant who are banned from the local pet club because well, elephants are not allowed. No reason is ever given for why elephants are not allowed, just that they aren’t. This lets parents and teacher reiterate the fact that sometimes people are excluded for no reason, it’s not about them, it’s about the people excluding them. In the book, after being banned, they find others who have been made to feel unwelcome, different, and lesser and start their own pet club, one that welcomes everyone and their pets no matter what.
The Girl Who Thought In Pictures; The Story of Temple Grandin by Julia Finley Mosca was sent to me by the publisher and I am so glad I got it in time to include it in this list. As many of you know Temple Grandin is a world-renowned scientist and autism advocate, and this rhyming biography does a great job at introducing her and the importance of inclusion to young kids. An important part of Ms. Grandin’s life story is that her mother refused to send her away after she was misdiagnosed with brain damage. This is important because this is inclusion at its core. Her mom accepted her and refused to send her to an institution even though that was very common sixty years ago. Throughout the book, the idea of different not less is stressed, as it should be. This is a lovely book for many reasons, shining a light on a bright mind and important voice for inclusion.
The Only One Club by Jane Naliboff is a cute book about a little girl named Jennifer who is the only one in her class who celebrates Hanukkah. Soon she finds out that there are lots of “Only Ones” in her class, as the only one with red hair, the only one who wears dresses every day and the only one with a unique last name. I love that diversity is celebrated in wide and small ways. When children see that there is diversity in every group, sometimes it’s diversity you can see, sometimes it’s diversity you can’t they get the message that it’s not US vs. THEM. This books makes it clear that we should celebrate our diversity and tell our kids it’s not a bad thing to be unique.
Let Them Play (True Story) by Margot Theis Raven and Chris Ellison is an amazing book, it tells the true story of the 1955 State Champion Little League team from South Carolina. The story is heartbreaking and heartwarming all at once as the authors tell the readers about the realities and injustice that this team of little boys faced. They were the first all black all-star team who were disqualified from playing in the little league world series because they hadn’t played a single game to become state champs because all the other teams forfeited. I dare you not to cry; I was a sobbing mess by the end, nothing makes me cry more easily than when something is unfair. What I love about this book is that it has the power to open children’s eyes to what injustice feels like, even for a minute. That is important, that is the power of books, and young children can relate to being forced to sit out of a championship. Many kids, mine included have little experience with being treated unjustly at this level, all the more reason to read this book and create some empathy and understanding of what it feels like.
You, Me, and Empathy by Jayneen Sanders was sent to me by the author, and I am so glad it was because it’s a great book. The main character is Quinn, a child who’s gender is not revealed which makes them more universal for readers to relate to in this story about recognizing feelings in yourself and others. One line in the book stands out to me and is why I think this book had to be included in this list; ” People together from far and wide, we’re all on this planet, we’re on the same side.” It doesn’t always feel like that to kids or adults but if we teach children to see the similarities, to try to make the connections and to be includers we have a lot better chance to make that come true!
I’m New Here by Ann Sibley O’Brien is my daughter loves this book, I totally get why she loves it, the story is pretty universal, even if you aren’t an immigrant. The book is a collection of three stories of children who are immigrants; Maria from Guatemala, Jin from Korea, and Fatimah from Somalia. Readers see the struggles that the children face learning a new language, feelings of isolation, and then each child gaining confidence in their new home. All children can relate to new experiences, and this book helps to go a little further and imagine not knowing the language it also shows the power of kindness children can show to someone new and how a little goes a long way. None of these children fee included at the beginning of the book, but as the other children in their classrooms take steps to include them they begin to blossom.
The Bracelet by Yoshiko Uchida is a brilliant book because it sets the stage to teach children that the Americans that were detained and imprisoned in these internment camps were not villains they were Americans living just like other Americans. Emi is given a bracelet from her best friend to remember her while she is away. The bracelet is lost, and after some time Emi realizes that she doesn’t need a thing to remember a friend. The greater imagery for me is that the bracelet is what links her to the free world and even though she is American, the government can’t see that, just like she can no longer see the bracelet. However, it is inside her, despite the inhumane treatment she is receiving her sense of self and connection to her life outside the fence is there with or without the bracelet. The reason I am adding this book to the list is that not only does it show that you can be an includer even when the world is against it but just how terrible being excluded can be, and how it’s not just a kid issue.
Introducing Teddy by Jessica Walton is a FANTASTIC book.What makes this book about a teddy bear who is transgender so amazing is that it really reflects most young children’s view and acceptance of someone who is transgender. When a member of our church came out as transgender, my then 4-year-old was like “Cool can I have some cookies?”. My 7-year-old said “So I shouldn’t say she anymore? OK.”And that was IT. I had already explained what transgender meant, and that was all they needed to accept someone. That is exactly what this book is like. Teddy is all sad and worried that her friends won’t accept that inside she is a girl teddy even though outside she looks like a boy. She spills the beans, and everyone accepts her and her new name Tilly. I love how frank and simple this book is, and its focus on friendship and inclusion is lovely.
This list is not set in stone – what book would you have me add to it?