Text "DIVERSE PICTURE BOOKS" overlays an image of two children of different ethnicities browsing books in a library.

See Yourself in Stories: Diverse Picture Books to Foster Inclusivity


Picture books are not just for reading aloud; they are powerful tools for teaching empathy, diversity, and inclusivity through diverse picture books. By integrating stories that mirror a multitude of backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives, you can cultivate an environment where every student feels seen and valued. This blog post delves into how picture books, with their diverse characters and settings, can help create a more welcoming classroom atmosphere.

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Promoting Diversity and Inclusivity With Picture Books

Modern, diverse picture books increasingly embrace diverse characters and settings, promoting inclusivity and offering children a broader worldview. Promoting diversity and inclusivity through picture books is crucial in creating a welcoming classroom environment that celebrates differences.

By offering stories that represent various backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives, educators can help students develop empathy and prepare them for life in a diverse and multicultural society.

Why Promote Diversity and Inclusivity with Picture Books?

1. Representation Matters

Representation is critical for children’s sense of identity and belonging. Seeing characters who look like them or share similar experiences helps students feel seen and understood. For instance:

  • Race and Ethnicity: Books like Hair Love by Matthew A. Cherry depict Black families positively, encouraging children of similar backgrounds to embrace their natural hair and heritage.
  • Gender Identity and Family Structures: Stories like Julian Is a Mermaid by Jessica Love provide nuanced representations of gender identity, showing children that it is okay to express themselves freely.
  • Disabilities and Neurodiversity: Gina Kaminski Saves the Wolf by Craig Barr-Green and What Happened to You by James Catchpole depict characters with disabilities and neurodiversity in a positive light, fostering acceptance and understanding.
Illustration from a children's book showing two panels: one with text "MISTAKE One THE CAKE" and a cake image, and another depicting Little Red Riding Hood eating a cookie en route to Granny's house.

2. Fostering Empathy

Understanding diverse perspectives through diverse picture books encourages empathy and reduces prejudice. Picture books help students step into another person’s shoes and see the world through different eyes. Some examples include:

Illustration of diverse people sitting and standing in a bus, engaging in conversation, including a boy asking about a guide dog.
Click on the image for Last Stop on Market Street activity ideas and questions

3. Preparing for a Global Society

Recognizing and valuing diversity through diverse picture books equips students for life in a multicultural world. Students who are exposed to a wide range of perspectives become more adaptable, open-minded, and prepared for global citizenship:

  • Learning about cultural traditions through stories like The Proudest Blue: A Story of Hijab and Family by Ibtihaj Muhammad and Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story by Kevin Noble Maillard.
  • Reading about characters overcoming adversity in Malala’s Magic Pencil by Malala Yousafzai and Emmanuel’s Dream by Laurie Ann Thompson.
Illustration from a children's book showing a close-up of a girl in a blue hijab, with a background scene of kids playing under a large yellow sun.
Click on the image for The Proudest Blue activity ideas and questions

Topics for Promoting Diversity and Inclusivity

Race and Ethnicity

Gender Identity and Family Structures

  • Julian Is a Mermaid by Jessica Love
  • Stella Brings the Family by Miriam B. Schiffer
  • Pink Is for Boys by Robb Pearlman

Disabilities and Neurodiversity

  • We’re All Wonders by R.J. Palacio
  • My Brother Charlie by Holly Robinson Peete
  • A Friend for Henry by Jenn Bailey

Cultural Traditions

A girl walks by a lush cornfield littered with colorful discarded flip-flops beside a dirt road, evocative of rural life and environmental issues.
Click on the image for Rainbow Weaver activity ideas and questions

Use Books to Open Discussions:

Use diverse picture books as conversation starters to engage students in meaningful discussions about diversity and inclusivity. Strategies include:

Read-Alouds: Select books relevant to current classroom topics and facilitate open discussions around the book’s themes. For example:

Question Prompts:
Encourage critical thinking with prompts such as:

  • “What did you learn about this character’s experience?”
  • “How is their life similar to or different from yours?”
  • “Why do you think it’s important to include everyone?”
  • “How can we make sure everyone feels welcome in our classroom?”
Illustration of a diverse group of children and adults engaged in various activities in a colorful classroom setting with international flags and the phrase "You are welcome here.
Click on the image for All Are Welcome activity ideas and questions

Incorporate Multicultural Perspectives in Lessons:

Multicultural perspectives, represented in diverse picture books, should not be confined to special events or specific lessons. Integrate diverse narratives into subjects like history, geography, and social studies.

History and Geography

  • Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation by Duncan Tonatiuh discusses the struggle for equality.
  • The Journey by Francesca Sanna talks about the refugee experience.

Social Studies

  • The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi for discussions about names and identity.
  • My Two Grannies by Floella Benjamin explores different cultural backgrounds within families.

Language Arts

  • Ask students to write or illustrate their own family traditions after reading Festival of Colors by Kabir Sehgal.
  • After reading Just Ask!: Be Different, Be Brave, Be You by Sonia Sotomayor, create identity maps.
Illustration of a classroom scene with a young boy presenting in front of his classmates and a teacher, pointing at a drawing on the board.
Click on the image for The Name Jar activity ideas and questions

Celebrate Diverse Holidays and Heritage Months:

Make diversity and inclusivity a year-round focus by celebrating various holidays and heritage months with picture books.

Black History Month

Pride Month

  • I Am Jazz by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings
  • Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag by Rob Sanders
  • Prince & Knight by Daniel Haack

Diwali, Lunar New Year, Eid, and More
: Highlight books that explore these celebrations:

  • Binny’s Diwali by Thrity Umrigar
  • Ruby’s Chinese New Year by Vickie Lee
  • Under My Hijab by Hena Khan
An illustration depicting a Black mother and son observing racially segregated facilities labeled "White Only." The image includes an inspirational quote.
Click on the image for Martin's Big Words activity ideas and questions

Highlight Author and Illustrator Diversity:

Supporting diverse voices in literature means featuring diverse picture books by authors and illustrators of various backgrounds. Share works from creators like:

  • Jacqueline Woodson (The Day You Begin)
  • Grace Lin (A Big Mooncake for Little Star)
  • Yuyi Morales (Dreamers)
  • Matt de la Peña (Carmela Full of Wishes)
A whimsical illustration of a mother and child reading among floating books, toys, and whimsical space and sea elements.
Click on the image for Dreamers activity ideas and questions

5. Encourage Student Voice and Choice:

Make the classroom library a reflection of students’ identities and interests. Encourage student involvement by:

  1. Creating a Diverse Library: Ask students to recommend books representing their culture or background. This can help ensure the library includes stories that resonate with the classroom community.
  2. Student-Led Book Talks: Allow students to share their favourite culturally relevant stories through book talks or presentations.
  3. Book Club Discussions: Create small groups for students to discuss books like Red: A Crayon’s Story by Michael Hall or Dreamers by Yuyi Morales.

Address Stereotypes and Bias:

Books can challenge stereotypes and biases by showing the diversity within communities. Help students critically analyze stereotypes by:

Challenging Gender Stereotypes: Use books like:

Recognizing Stereotypes in Media
: Discuss how illustrations and language can perpetuate stereotypes and how to recognize them. Use The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi or My Papi Has a Motorcycle by Isabel Quintero as starting points.

Critical Analysis: Encourage students to question how characters are portrayed and whether they reflect real-world diversity.

Illustration from a children's book showing a girl in pink encountering various groups of people, with dialogue about not wanting to get married, set in a stylized, colorful village.
Click on the image for Mary Wears What She Wants activity ideas and questions

Collaborate with Families and Communities:

Promote inclusivity by partnering with families and local organizations to bring diverse voices into the classroom.

Family Involvement: Invite families to share stories, traditions, or recipes from their cultures. This can be done through:

  • Story Sharing Days where families read their favorite culturally relevant books.
  • Cultural Show-and-Tell, where students bring items that represent their heritage.

Community Partnerships
: Partner with local libraries or cultural organizations to expand resources.

  • Organize multicultural storytelling sessions with local storytellers.
  • Borrow multicultural book kits from local libraries.
  • Arrange field trips to cultural museums or exhibitions.
A woman reads a book titled "HONEY" to a young girl and boy inside a cozy room adorned with a play tent and toys.

In Summary

By thoughtfully selecting and using picture books, you can promote diversity and inclusivity, helping students appreciate different perspectives and fostering a supportive learning environment.

With a focus on representation, empathy, and global citizenship, picture books can open the door to meaningful conversations and build.

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