10 Uplifting Books that Teach Diversity

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Hey y’all — hope your 2019 is off to a great start. I’m starting a new series today that hopefully will have lots of installments over the coming months/years. I get lots of questions about how to curate/how to begin/where should I start when creating a classroom library. Yeesh, what a big challenge! But it’s a new year and I’m ready for a challenge, especially one that I hope will be helpful to you all.

First off, know that creating a classroom library is a HUGE job, and will likely take many years. So if you’re a first or second year teacher, don’t worry about buying a hundred books at once. Give yourself the freedom to collect good books you love over time, there’s no rush. This post contains affiliate links – simply click the book cover to visit the Amazon listing.

That being said, I’d love to share with you 10 books that celebrate differences, diversity, and humanity. It was SO DIFFICULT to pick just ten y’all. There are SO many good ones. These are in no particular order and address lots of differences that arise in the classroom and in life — great conversation starters for you and your students.

Whoever You Are
Written by Mem Fox
Illustrated by Leslie Staub

This is a wonderful book on differences that unite us for ANY elementary classroom. From the author’s website — “This story weaves its way across cultures and generations, celebrating the bond that unites us all.” Timeless.

I Am Human
Written by Susan Verde
Illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds

Part of a series that also includes “I Am Peace” and “I Am Yoga”, Susan Verde has written an INSTANT #1 New York Times Bestseller that is a wonderful book to read as a class any time of year. This book “is a celebration of empathy and compassion that lifts up the flawed fullness of humanity and encourages children to see themselves as part of one big imperfect family—millions strong”.

The Girl Who Thought in Pictures: The Story of Dr. Temple Grandin
Written by Julia Finley Mosca
Illustrated by Daniel Rieley

While technically not released until March of 2019, we just read this in class and my students LOVED it. Everyone needs it. It’s part of a series of STEM books focusing “the inspirational lives of amazing scientists”. So cool, right? It rhymes, includes a biography and fun facts, and even a note from Dr. Grandin herself. If you don’t know Dr. Grandin, she’s a scientist who happens to be on the autism spectrum and is a wonderful inspiration especially to children who learn differently. Her story can teach any classroom a lot about accepting people who learn or express themselves differently.

It’s Ok to Be Different
Written & Illustrated by Todd Parr

A classic. Fun and colorful. A great addition to any classroom library. Children’s Literature says this “book unites the concept of tolerance of differences with simple images for easy understanding and comprehension. It’s Okay to be Different encourages readers to accept themselves and others”.

The Last Stop on Market Street
Written by Matt de la Peña
Illustrated by Christian Robinson

A #1 New York Times Bestseller, winner of the 2016 Newbery Medal, 2016 Caldecott Honor Book AND a 2016 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor book — this book speaks to issues of class, relationships, and being grateful for what we have. It offers children a new perspective through the lens of another generation, brought to life with a “vibrant text” and “radiant illustrations”.

Drawn Together
Written by Minh Lê
Illustrated by Dan Santat

Language barriers and generational gaps can often make people dismiss each other as too much work to be in a relationship with or not worth getting to know. That’s certainly what the young boy in “Drawn Together” thought about his grandfather. That is, until they learned to share their love of drawing, which helps them form a bond beyond words. A beautiful picture books that illustrates how to reach across barriers to connect with other humans.

Not My Idea: A Book About Whiteness (Ordinary Terrible Things)
Written & Illustrated by Anastasia Higginbotham

Anastasia Higginbotham has a series of books — Ordinary Terrible Things — which tackle topics that can be difficult to talk about with students. Named one of School Library Journal’s Best Books of 2018, “Not My Idea: A Book About Whiteness” is “a much-needed title that provides a strong foundation for critical discussions of white people and racism, particularly for young audiences. Recommended for all collections.” If we’re not brave enough to tackle these topics in the classroom we risk sending students uninformed and unprepared into a world that needs them to enact change!

Let the Children March
Written by Monica Clark-Robinson
Illustrated by Frank Morrison

This beautiful retrospective looks at the historical events in 1963 Birmingham, Alabama from the perspective of children, making it easily accessible to students of all ages. “This remarkable story remains relevant today as young readers think about their roles in the ongoing struggle for justice” (School Library Journal). A great read aloud book for February, or ANY month of the year.

The Boy and the Bindi
Written by Vivek Shraya
Illustrated by Rajni Perera

The Boy and the Bindi is a beautiful book perfect for your classroom’s collection. It provides conversation starters for your students to discuss Hindu culture as well as gender expression. “Imparting an important lesson on inclusivity and individuality, this multicultural, intergenerational story of young agency is a timely acquisition for all libraries” (Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon). Must have.

Giraffes Can’t Dance
Written by Giles Andraea
Illustrated by Guy Parker-Rees

Oh how much I love this book! Definitely a classic for your bookshelf, “Giraffes Can’t Dance” tells the story of Gerald the giraffe, who wants nothing more than to dance. But with his awkward frame and lanky legs, he’s not what you’d expect for a typical dancer. “With light-footed rhymes and high-stepping illustrations, this tale is gentle inspiration for every child with dreams of greatness.” Get. It. Now.

So there you go, 10 books on diversity that I just love. If you’re itching for more there are so many good lists out there — here, here and here are great places to start. What about you? What books do you use to celebrate and talk about diversity in your classroom?

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