It is important that every preschool teacher ( and parent) have access to great picture books. Picture books that not only explore the alphabet or counting or our students’ favorite characters. You also need books that help children develop their own character. Social-emotional learning is an important, if not the most important part of early childhood education. Having access to the right books to share with your students is a must.
This list focuses on building community through inclusion and the strength that comes from a diverse community. Some of the books teach this explicitly, and some are more implicit with the lesson. All have wonderful messages for young children. I have a related book list about Books That Teach Children To Include Others that you don’t want to miss. I’ll link it again at the end of this list!
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Books that Promote Diversity and Inclusion
Morris Micklewhite and The Tangerine Dress By Christine Baldachinno. Morris is just who he is. Who he happens to be is a boy who loves to dress up in an orange dress. The adults in the story don’t pass judgment. They support Morris for who he is without labeling or shaming. It takes some time for all the kids to be accepting, but soon their similarities and mutual interests overcame the differences. Everyone plays better together, and Morris doesn’t have to change who he is to be part of the group.
The Big Umbrella by Amy June Bates is an incredibly simple book that could be used with a wide range of ages to teach about inclusion. It is a rainy day, and a child goes out with their umbrella. Soon the umbrella that loves to help is taking in everyone from the rain, no matter who they are or what they look like. The umbrella is, of course, a symbol for an inclusive society but with young children, it can be used as a great tool for discussion. ” How would you feel if there were lots of people under that umbrella, but you weren’t allowed under?” “Why do you think the umbrella lets anyone in?”
Calvin Can’t Fly: The Story of a Bookworm Birdie by Jennifer Berne is a story about a starling Calvin who can’t fly and really isn’t even interested in learning. Calvin loves books and the library, and while all the other birds are flying in a pack, he is off on his own. The other birds find a way to make sure to include Calvin when they migrate. Soon it is Calvin’s turn to use what makes him different to help the whole flock stay safe from a hurricane! I love that this book showed his strengths and weaknesses and how real inclusion means accepting both in a group.
It Takes A Village by Hillary Rodham Clinton is a book that is focused on equity and inclusion. The text is a simple look at what being part of a community is about and what villages of people need to thrive; the right tools, kindness, sharing, and a shared purpose. The purpose, in this case, is building a playground for the children to play and build their own community with. The illustrations by one of my favorite inclusive illustrators, Marla Frazee, add such depth to this book. Every time I read it I find new little stories in the illustrations. There are interracial couples, children, and adults in wheelchairs, young men with babies, a breastfeeding mama, and a man with tattoos all over this arms in addition to all ages, sexes, and races working and playing together.
Last Stop On Market Street by Matt de la Pena is an award-winning book that deserves every award it gets. The story is simple. A little boy and his Nana take the bus after church to a shelter. There they help serve food to people living there. The inclusiveness comes in how Nana speaks to CJ her grandson about all the different people they encounter on their journey. She models how to be part of a diverse community that not only accepts but celebrates everyone.
Egg by Kevin Henkes is a perfect little book about inclusion for very young children. Four little eggs are waiting to hatch. When they do three birds pop out, and the last egg doesn’t hatch. The little birds can’t wait for their fourth sibling. So they start pecking away at the egg only to discover it isn’t a bird after all. When the birds fly away from the different hatchling, readers can explore the negative feelings this spark. But in the end, the birds become friends with the other hatchling who is happy to be part of the family.
Lovely by Jess Hong is well…lovely! The book asks “What is lovely?” and the illustrations that follow answer that with a diverse group of opposites, all accepted as lovely. It celebrates being different and more importantly accepting different as lovely. The illustrations are the backbone of this book, and they do a fantastic job at including many of the fabulous differences in the world.
Brontorina by James Howe is brilliant because it combines dinosaurs with how to make an environment that isn’t inclusive into one that is inclusive with a great story. Brontorina is a dinosaur who wants to dance, but she is too big for the dance studio. At first, they turn her away. Soon, it becomes clear that the studio needs to change. Then she and others realize their dreams of dancing. I love this book, I can’t read it without tearing up, and I have read it many many times. Kids love it too!
This Is How We Do It by Matt Lamothe is a great look at seven children around the globe and what their life is like. To be inclusive, we first need to learn to appreciate differences. Because, it is not inclusive to pretend we are all the same. We are different, and that is a strength, not a weakness. My daughter loved this non-fiction look at what life is like in places like Iran, Japan, and Italy. Children will naturally compare their lives to these children’s lives and note the similarities as well as the differences. What is great is that at least with my daughter we found many with all the children.
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. They don’t share a reason 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.
Come With Me by Holly M. McGhee is a look at how inclusion can work as a force against hate and fear. The kindness that is a part of inclusion and the inclusion that is part of kindness is what this book focuses on. How little gestures and acts of kindness can create a shared sense of well being and community. This book would be a great addition to a lesson about random acts of kindness.
I’m New Here by Ann Sibley O’Brien is a book about being new told through the stories of three recent immigrant children; 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. This book helps to go a little further and imagine not knowing the language. It also shows the power of kindness and inclusion children can show to someone new. Also, how a little goes a long way. None of these children feel included at the beginning of the book. However, as the other children in their classrooms take steps to include them, they begin to blossom.
A Family is a Family is a Family by Sara O’Leary is fantastic! This book starts off with a child nervous to talk about their family because it’s not like everyone else. Soon as all the students share things that make their families unique the child sees all families are different, but they are all families.
I love that what the children share about their families isn’t the label most adults would put on the diverse family in the illustration. It explains a same sex family as “Both my moms are terrible singers…” instead of “I have two moms. They are lesbians.” This is a much more inclusive way to present families, not to mention more natural. It includes many different family structures from same sex, to single parents, big families, families with a new baby, interracial families, families with divorced parents, families with foster children, and more.
All The World by Liz Garten Scanlon has a message about diversity that is subtle and goes so much further than simply human differences. Diversity is everywhere. All of our differences come together to keep the world going. This book is very poetic; it leaves the readers both old and young feeling peaceful and connected. I love this book and its ambiguous but lovely images of people of all different backgrounds working, eating, and playing together. Oh and this is a fantastic book to calm a busy preschool class.
Want more books about inclusion? This book list focuses more on children taking action and learning how to include others and is a great companion to the list above.