A good sense of identity helps children feel more positive about themselves and more open-minded to people different from themselves. These picture books about identity help you sensitively teach about a positive self-image in your classroom. This post explores books about identity, race, religion, gender and culture, supporting positive self-esteem and confidence.
Why Read Children's Books about Identity?
We often hear about adults who struggle with their identity. So imagine how challenging it is for children in a world full of mixed messages, stereotypes, and media and cultural pressures.
Children can suffer from anxiety and depression because they feel different or can't truly embrace their true selves. Children's books about identity, race, religion, gender and culture support positive self-esteem and confidence.
Picture books are a great way to introduce important topics to children in a way that is age-appropriate and engaging. If you are looking for books that discuss identity, here are some great options to get you started.
These picture books about identity will help open up conversations about what it means to be unique and special and how everyone has something valuable to offer. Reading about similar characters who face the same challenges sends a message that they are not alone.
Identity Questions For Your Students
- What makes you who you are?
- Do you choose your identity?
- What can influence your identity?
- Can your identity change over time?
- Can other people influence our identity?
- Can parts of your identity be similar or different to other people?
- What happens when we view someone negatively because they are different from us?
- Why is an open-mind important when talking about the identity of others?
- How are the following part of your identity?
- My internal and external character traits.
- My attitude and personality
- My beliefs, values and/or religion
- My interests and hobbies
- Cultures I come from
Questions to Use With Picture Books about Identity
- Why is it important to read books with people and characters similar to you?
- Why is it important to read books with people and characters different from you?
- How similar/different are you to the characters/people in this book?
- How do you feel when you read about characters who are similar to you?
- Do the author and illustrator show the identities of the characters in a respectful way?
- Do you notice any stereotypes in the story or illustrations? (Race, gender, economic, age, etc.)
- What did this story and the characters teach you about people’s identities?
- Why did some characters stand up for/protest for parts of their identity that some people view negatively?
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. If you purchase anything through them, I will get a small referral fee and you will be supporting me and my blog at no extra cost to you, so thank you! You can find more information here.
Self-Esteem Boosting Children's Books about Identity
There is a growing selection of published books exploring identity for children. I have brought together a collection that covers many aspects of identity to help you find the best books for your needs. These picture books about identity for preschoolers going up to books for older children.
Alte Zachen: Old Things by Ziggy Hanaor
Benji and his grandmother, Bubbe Rosa, walk around New York shopping for Shabbat. Bubbe Rosa is elderly, irritable, and a little confused. She thinks of good and bad memories from her childhood in Germany. Surprisingly, this past appears in front of her while out shopping with Benji.
Promotes discussions on intergenerational relationships, identity, and religious and cultural traditions.
Amma's Sari by Sandhya Parappukkaran
This is the first of two picture books about identity by Sandhya Parappukkaran. Shreya initially feels awkward about her mother's sari when they go outside their home. Amma explains to her the importance of the sari, and Shreya learns to appreciate her cultural identity as she navigates the world outside her immigrant family.
Becoming Vanessa by Vanessa Brantley-Newton
Vanessa wears her fanciest outfit on her first day of school. The reaction from her new classmates to her bold clothes makes her feel self-conscious. This feeling increases when she tries to write her long name. She complains to her mother, who tells her why she is called Vanessa. This gives her the confidence to find a common bond and make new friends.
The Boy Who Grew Flowers by Jen Wojtowicz
Rink Bowagon is ignored by his teacher and classmates because he sprouts flowers from his body. He notices the new girl wears a flower in her hair and has one leg shorter than the other, so Rink makes her a special pair of shoes. Excited, she invited him to the school dance where he discovers the flower behind her ear is his.
The Boy Who Tried to Shrink His Name by Sandhya Parappukkaran
This is the second of two picture books about identity by Sandhya Parappukkaran. When Zimdalamishkermishkada starts school he feels self-conscious about his long name. He decides to go by Zim, but it doesn't feel right. His mother explains the significance of his name and he recognises the importance of accepting it. He returns to school and lets everyone know he will be known as Zimdalamashkermishkada, not Zim.
The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson
The Day You Begin considers the difficulty of entering a room where you don’t know anyone. We are “an only” until we share our personal stories in these situations. Woodson reminds us that we are all outsiders, and it takes courage to be ourselves.
Drawn Together by Minh Lê
A young boy and his grandfather lack a common language and struggle to communicate, leading to confusing, frustrating and silent meetings. When they discover their love of art they communicate with each other through art rather than words.
Exclamation Mark by Amy Krouse Rosenthal
An exclamation mark lacks self-esteem because it doesn’t fit in. A question mark grilles the exclamation mark until he exclaims, “STOP!” He finally understands his role in the punctuation family.
Eyes That Kiss in the Corners by Joanna Ho
A young Asian girl notices her eyes kiss in the corners, just like her mother, grandmother and little sister. She feels empowered by this connection to her family and is filled with love and appreciation for her own identity and beauty.
Hair Love by Matthew A. Cherry
Zuri loves her curly hair even though it has a mind of its own. Her daddy has a lot to learn when he styles it for a special occasion, but he will do anything to make Zuri and her hair happy.
Jack (Not Jackie) by Erica Silverman
Susan wants Jackie to be like her, pretending to be forest fairies or kittens. But Jackie dons a cape or plays in the mud. As Jackie gets older, she wants to wear boys' clothes. Susan's feelings become more confused as her sister changes her name to Jack and cuts her hair short.
Mama's Saris by Pooja Makhijan
A young girl longs to wear one of her mother's saris but she is too young to wear the complicated outfit. Her mother realises how important it is for her so she wraps her in a blue sari and the girl is thrilled to be just like her mother.
Mary Wears What She Wants by Keith Negley
Mary courageously challenges the gender norms in the 1830s. One day she wears trousers and the townsfolk react with disapproval and they throw things at her and shout that she should not dress in boys’ clothes.
My Name is Bilal by Asma Mobin-Uddin
When Bilal moves he worries about being teased for being Muslim. He thinks about telling his new classmates he is called Bill and not telling them about his religion. A Muslim teacher helps Bilal and his sister settle in by giving them a book about Bilal Ibn Rabah, another Bilal who struggled with his identity.
My Name is Yoon by Helen Recorvits
After leaving South Korea, Yoon tries to settle into her new home in America. Her name means ‘Shining wisdom’, and she loves how it looks written in Korean. She doesn’t like how it looks when written in English. She wonders if she should change her name to help her fit in.
My Place by Nadia Wheatley
Spanning over two centuries, from 1788 to 1988, we see how a quarter acre of land in Australia has changed. Through the perspective of the children living on the land, the reader travels back through time and Australian history. There is a map on each page showing what changed over time.
The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi
When Unhei moves from Korea to America, her classmates can’t pronounce her name. She wants to choose a new name that is easier to pronounce but decides she likes her name just the way it is.
Nana Akua Goes to School by Tricia Elam Walker
Zura hesitantly brings her Nana Akua to her school for Grandparents Day. With traditional Ghanian tribal markings on her face, Nana Akua looks very different from the other grandparents. She creatively explains to Zura and her classmates the meaning of her culture and why it makes her special.
Not My Girl by Christy Jordan-Fenton & Margaret Pokiak-Fenton
Margaret, an indigenous girl, was removed from her family and the First Nations community. Her cultural way of life is erased in a Canadian residential school for indigenous children. When Margaret returns to her reservation, her mother says, “not my girl”. She has to immerse herself in her culture and traditions to reconnect with her family.
Over the Rooftops, Under the Moon by JonArno Lawson
A bird sometimes feels part of his flock and other times full of loneliness. The bird unexpectedly connects with a young girl and starts to wonder about life. Lost in its thoughts, the bird is separated from its flock leaving it to its own adventures.
The Remarkable Pigeon by Dorien Brouwers
A pigeon feels self-conscious when it visits birds at a zoo’s aviary. There are birds with colourful feathers that fly backwards and sing sweetly. The pigeon realises it has something more precious than these birds. It is free.
The Story of You by Lisa Ann Scott
You are the authors of your own stories. No one can tell you who you are ―it's up to you! The Story of You illustrates how the actions we take and the words we say are essential to who we are.
Sulwe by Lupita Nyong'o
Sulwe’s skin is darker than everyone in her family and at school. She wants to lighten her skin, the colour of midnight, so she is no longer teased. Her mama empowers Sulwe by telling her a story that helps her love and accept who she is, and dismisses the negative opinions of others.
They She He Me: Free to Be! by Maya Christina Gonzalez
They She He Me: Free to Be! explores the themes of identity, inclusion and gender through the use of pronouns and gender fluidity.
Under My Hijab by Hena Khan
Under My Hijab illustrates the cultural and religious importance of the hijab through the eyes of a young girl. She watches how the contemporary Muslim women in her family wear their hijab in different ways. She dreams about her own future and all the ways she can express herself through her hijab.
When We Were Alone by David A. Robertson
A young girl asks her grandmother why she has long braided hair, wears colourful clothes and speaks another language. She learns about her grandmother’s time, along with many other First Nation children, in a Canadian residential school. They were stripped of their Cree culture, which is why she proudly expresses the traditions and language every day.
Why Am I Me? by Paige Britt
Who would you be if you were someone else? This is the question posed by a young boy and girl. They ponder if they weren’t who they are would they be taller, faster, smaller, smarter or lighter, older, darker, or bolder.
Yayoi Kusama Covered Everything in Dots and Wasn't Sorry by Fausto Gilberti
Yayoi Kusama dreams of becoming an artist as she grows up in Japan. She sees the world covered in dots and transfers this vision to her artwork, an infinity of dots.
Use this biography to discuss artists and how their background, culture, and identity inspire their creations.
Yo Soy Muslim: A Father's Letter to His Daughter by Mark Gonzales
A father writes a poetic letter to his daughter encouraging her to embrace her identity. He shares the significance of their Muslim faith and lets her know it’s okay if some people don’t understand her.
Your Name Is a Song by J Thompkins-Bigelow
A young girl leaves school frustrated after a day of her classmates and teacher mispronouncing her name. On their walk home she tells her mother she doesn’t want to go back, who in turn tells her daughter “your name is a song.” She returns to school empowered and shares what she has learned.
Celebrating identity in your classroom is a powerful way to help your students grow into confident, courageous and empathetic adults. Let me know how you promote positive identity in your classroom. What are your favourite children's books about identity? Add the title to the comments below!