Powerful Picture Books about Identity for the Classroom

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.

Powerful Picture Books about Identity for the Classroom

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?
    1. My internal and external character traits.
    2. My attitude and personality
    3. My beliefs, values and/or religion
    4. My interests and hobbies
    5. 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?

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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.

Alte Zachen: Old Things by Ziggy Hanaor

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. 

Read to promote discussions on acceptance, cultural identity and asking questions.

Amma's Sari by Sandhya Parappukkaran

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.

Promotes discussions on self-esteem, individuality, identity, making friends, and self-expression.

Becoming Vanessa by Vanessa Brantley-Newton

Bilal Cooks Daal by Aisha Saeed

Bilal worries about what his friends will think when they help him and his father cook a traditional Daal dish. Use to discuss cultural differences, patience, community, making connections and asking questions.

Bilal Cooks Daal by Aisha Saeed

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.

Use to teach inferring, self-acceptance, and identity.

The Boy Who Grew Flowers by Jen Wojtowicz

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.

Read to promote discussions on identity, being yourself, individuality, self-acceptance, confidence, and self-esteem.

The Boy Who Tried to Shrink His Name by Sandhya Parappukkaran

Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes

Chrysanthemum loves her name, but she gets teased for its uniqueness on her first day of school. When her music teacher reveals she is naming her baby Chrysanthemum, everyone wants to change their name to a flower.

Promotes identity, friendships and self-management.

Chrysanthemum Activities and Comprehension Questions

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.

Read to promote discussions on empathy, identity, growth mindset, open-mindedness, relationship skills, self-awareness and self-esteem.

The Day You Begin Activities and Comprehension Questions

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.

Read to discuss communication, open-mindedness, identity, and making connections.

Drawn Together by Minh Lê

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.

This book promotes a sense of belonging, identity, self-awareness and a growth mindset.

Exclamation Mark by Amy Krouse Rosenthal

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. 

Promotes self-affirmation, identity, empowerment, self-esteem, intergenerational relationships and making connections.

Eyes That Kiss in the Corners by Joanna Ho

Guji Guji by Chih-Yuan Chen

Guji Guji was raised as a duck but discovers he is actually a crocodile. The other crocodiles want Guji Guji to help them eat his duck family, but he instead formulates a plan to save them.

Promotes acceptance, identity, problem-solving and a sense of belonging.

Guji Guji by Chih-Yuan Chen

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. 

You can use Hair Love in the classroom to promote self-esteem, positive relationships and identity.

Hair Love by Matthew A. Cherry

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.

Promotes acceptance, identity, self-awareness and open-mindedness.

Jack (Not Jackie) by Erica Silverman

Leila in Saffron by Rukhsanna Guidroz

Leila learns self-acceptance from her grandmother and an understanding of her heritage. Her grandmother complements the saffron beads on her scarf, leading Leila to seek out characteristics that make up her unique identity as a Pakistani American.

Leila in Saffron by Rukhsanna Guidroz

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.

Mama's Saris by Pooja Makhijan

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.

Read to promote gender roles, confidence, tolerance and open-mindedness.

Mary Wears What She Wants

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 Bilal by Asma Mobin-Uddin

My Name is Not Refugee by Kate Milner

A boy travels with his mother to somewhere safe to live. They can only pack what they can carry. The book asks “What would you take? Reinforces themes of immigration, resilience and a sense of community.

My Name is Not Refugee by Kate Milner

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.

Read to start discussions on immigration, identity, loneliness, and self-acceptance.

My Name is Yoon by Helen Recorvits

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.

This historical fiction book promotes discussions on self-awareness, identity, and change.

My Place by Nadia Wheatley

My Shadow is Pink by Scott Stuart

A boy with a pink shadow is born into a family of men with blue shadows. He wants to be like his big, strong father, but he loves things that are ‘not for boys’. His loving father supports his son with self-acceptance and helps him embrace his gender identity.

My Shadow is Pink by Scott Stuart

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.

Promotes themes of acceptance, identity, integrity, open-mindedness, principled and tolerance.

The Name Jar Activities and Comprehension Questions

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.

Promotes themes of identity, open-mindedness, making connections, and belonging.

Nana Akua Goes to School by Tricia Elam Walker

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.

This autobiography promotes discussions on self-identity, self-awareness, belonging and identity.

Not My Girl by Christy Jordan-Fenton & Margaret Pokiak-Fenton

Odd Dog Out by Rob Biddulph

In a city full of sausage dogs one feels like she doesn’t belong. She travels to a place where she belongs but another odd dog makes her realise it is about being herself and not everyone else.

Promotes acceptance, belonging, identity, perspective and self-esteem.

Odd Dog Out by Rob Biddulph

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.

Over the Rooftops, Under the Moon by JonArno Lawson

Red: A Crayon’s Story by Michael Hall

Red’s label says red, but he can only create blue no matter how hard he tries. Red’s new friend, Berry, suggests he casts aside his label, opening a whole new world to Red.

Promotes discussions on adaptability, identity, self-awareness and acceptance.

Red: A Crayon’s Story by Michael Hall

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.

Promotes discussions on self-awareness, self-esteem, identity, comparisons, freedomand self-appreciation.

The Remarkable Pigeon by Dorien Brouwers

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.

Promotes discussions on identity, acceptance, confidence, empowerment, kindness, perseverance, individuality, and positivity.

The Story of You by Lisa Ann Scott

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.

Sulwe by Lupita Nyong'o

Super Duper You by Sophy Henn

Celebrate all the different, extraordinary and contradictory sides of us. Adopt the message of the book and let children embrace who they are.

Promotes discussions on wellbeing, self-esteem, point of view, self-awareness and identity.

Super Duper You by Sophy Henn

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.

They She He Me: Free to Be! by Maya Christina Gonzalez

Thunder Boy Jr. by Sherman Alexie

Thunder Boy Smith Jr. is named after his father Thunder Boy Smith, but he wants his own identity. He wants a Native American name that will celebrate what he has done, not his father. After talking with his father he gets the perfect name, for him!

Thunder Boy Jr. by Sherman Alexie

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.

This picture book is a wonderful way to promote tolerance, self-expression and identity.

Under My Hijab by Hena Khan

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.

Use to teach resilience, perseverance, identity and asking questions.

When We Were Alone by David A. Robertson

Where Are You From? by Yamile Saied Méndez

When someone asks a girl where she’s from she doesn’t have a simple answer. Her Abuelo gives her an answer, but not one she expects.

Promotes acceptance, identity and a sense of belonging.

Where Are You From? by Yamile Saied Méndez

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.

This book represents the diversity of our world and an open-minded and respectful attitude.

Why Am I Me? by Paige Britt

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.

Yayoi Kusama Covered Everything in Dots and Wasn't Sorry by Fausto Gilberti

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.

Yo Soy Muslim: A Father's Letter to His Daughter by Mark Gonzales

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.

Promotes themes of identity, respect, individuality, empowerment, love, confidence, and self-esteem.

Your Name Is a Song by J Thompkins-Bigelow

What Next?

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!

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Powerful Picture Books about Identity for the Classroom

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