The power of the page using diverse picture books teaching tolerance.

The Power of the Page: Using Diverse Picture Books for Teaching Tolerance

In a world brimming with different cultures, ideologies, and backgrounds, we must foster classroom environments of understanding and acceptance. Diverse picture books serve as a potent tool for teaching tolerance, offering a rich tapestry of perspectives that provoke thought, evoke empathy, and lay the foundation for a more inclusive future.

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What is Tolerance and Why It's Important in the Classroom

Tolerance is the acceptance and understanding of differences—whether those differences are racial, cultural, religious, or ideological. Teaching tolerance at an early age is critical to building an inclusive and harmonious society.

Discrimination is everywhere, so raising tolerant and open-minded children is vital. As educators, we can support children to respond to discrimination, whether aimed at themselves or others. This could involve standing up for people unfairly treated and not following the crowd displaying negative behaviour. 

A group of people's faces on a wooden background.

Why Read Diverse Picture Books When Teaching Tolerance?

Our classrooms are a melting pot of cultures and backgrounds. It’s our responsibility as educators to instil values of tolerance and acceptance in our students, using every possible tool in our arsenal to achieve this— and picture books are one such mighty tool.

Starting in preschool, we can use diverse picture books to discuss prejudice and inequality. A safe, non-judgemental classroom supports students in communicating their questions, fears and confusions. 

Picture books can uniquely present complex issues like tolerance in a simple, engaging way. They use visuals and narratives to evoke empathy, helping children understand, appreciate, and respect differences.

We don’t have all the answers, but we can work with our students to better understand intolerance. While discussions about racism, prejudice, and tolerance are challenging, they must be ongoing.

Character Traits in Diverse Picture Books

Picture books often showcase characters that display tolerance, understanding, and acceptance. They also highlight actions and attitudes that promote these values, such as kindness, open-mindedness, and empathy.

In contrast, picture books also present characters that display intolerance. Their actions and attitudes are a foil to characters embodying tolerance, providing children with valuable lessons.

Discussing Sensitive Issues Related to Tolerance

Teaching tolerance can come with its own set of challenges. It’s essential to approach these conversations with sensitivity and openness. Regularly revisiting these themes and encouraging open dialogue can help create an inclusive classroom environment.

A group of young girls posing for a photo.

Questions to Use With Tolerance Books

These questions will help you engage your students in a meaningful discussion when teaching tolerance with diverse picture books.

  • What prompted the change in a character’s attitude towards tolerance?
  • What would happen if the characters were not tolerant of each other?
  • How do the characters in this book show respect for each other’s differences?
  • Are there any misunderstandings between the characters because they come from different backgrounds? How do they overcome these misunderstandings?
  • What did you learn about a culture or society that is different from yours? 
  • How do the characters’ experiences differ from your own?
  • How does the author use the story and characters to teach us about acceptance?
  • Why do you think it’s important for us to read stories about people different from us?
  • Can you identify a moment in the story where a character shows empathy towards another character’s experiences?
  • How does the story challenge stereotypes or assumptions about different people or cultures?
  • Is there a character you relate to, even if their life differs from yours? Why?
  • If you were in the story, how would you show tolerance and acceptance to the characters?

Tolerance Picture Books for the Classroom

The Big Umbrella by Amy June Bates

A cheerful red umbrella stands by the front door, ready to provide shelter. No matter how many people (or even a dog) come under it, the big umbrella can cover them all because “there is always room.” 

The Big Umbrella inspires conversations on empathy, acceptance and the limitless nature of kindness and inclusivity.

The Boy Who Tried to Shrink His Name by Sandhya Parappukkaran

Zimdalamishkermishkada struggles with his unusually long name as he starts school. Feeling self-conscious, he adopts the shorter name ‘Zim,’ but it doesn’t sit well with him. Talking with his mother helps him appreciate his name, leading him to embrace his full name. 

The Boy Who Tried to Shrink His Name promotes conversations on identity, individuality, self-acceptance, confidence, and self-esteem.

The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson

This is the first of three diverse picture books by Jacqueline Woodson. The Day You Begin sheds light on the importance of sharing our personal stories, expressing that we sometimes feel like outsiders. Yet, it’s this courage to be ourselves that truly connects us.

This book facilitates discussions on empathy, identity, a sense of belonging, a growth mindset, open-mindedness, self-awareness, and self-esteem.

Don't Touch My Hair! by Sharee Miller

Aria loves her hair but doesn’t like it when people touch it without permission. She realises she needs to be assertive and clarifies that her hair is a part of her personal space, and people must respect that.

Don’t Touch My Hair! promotes discussions on respect for personal boundaries, self-esteem, assertiveness, and consent.

Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson

This is the second of three diverse picture books by Jacqueline Woodson. Chloe and her friends consistently exclude the new girl, Maya, until a powerful lesson on kindness makes Chloe reconsider her actions.

Each Kindness explores the importance of relationship skills, the value of inclusion, the impact of bullying, the power of kindness and the need for self-reflection.

Elmer by David McKee

Elmer, a patchwork of colours, is different from the other elephants. He changes his skin to grey to fit in but discovers he enjoys being different. The other elephants accept Elmer for who he is, and he realises it is okay to be different.

Elmer promotes discussions on individuality, acceptance, self-awareness, open-mindedness, and the importance of being oneself.

Freedom Summer by Deborah Wiles

Joe and John navigate the realities of segregation when John, who is black, may not use the pool. Despite the Civil Rights Act, the local pool closed rather than allowing black people to use it. Joe cannot understand why John doesn’t have the same rights as himself.

Freedom Summer prompts discussions on civil rights, segregation, equality, tolerance, prejudice and challenging inequality.

The Fragile World by Alexandra Mîrzac

A conflict, with a long-forgotten reason, exists between the Reds and the Blues in a china cabinet. The Blue wanted to have what the Reds had, and after trying to paint the Reds blue, an all-out war began. When everything is destroyed, the Reds and Blues realise they are stronger together.

The Fragile World promotes discussions on conflict resolution, tolerance, accepting differences, cooperation and war.

Grandad's Pride by Harry Woodgate

After finding a pride flag in her grandad’s attic, Milly learns about his past – his love for his late partner Gramps, their shared experiences at Pride parades, and their advocacy for LGBT+ rights. Despite Grandad’s initial hesitations, Milly inspires him to revive the spirit of Pride in their small town.

Grandad’s Pride invites conversations about activism, LGBT+ rights, the power of community, and the importance of understanding and accepting different identities.

Hair Love by Matthew A. Cherry

Zuri adores her curly hair, even though it has a mind of its own. Her daddy steps up to the challenge, ready to learn and do whatever it takes to make Zuri and her hair shine with joy.

Read Hair Love to foster discussions on self-esteem, positive relationships, cultural pride and identity, self-expression, individuality and inclusivity.

Hot Day on Abbott Avenue by Karen English

Best friends Kishi and Renée are waiting for each other to apologise. They sit on their front porches, but before long, they forget their fight and join in the fun, showing the power of forgiveness and the strength of their friendship.

Hot Day on Abbott Avenue inspires discussions on conflict resolution, forgiveness, and positive friendships. Friendship’s ups and downs underline that bonds can endure even after a quarrel.

I Am Every Good Thing by Derrick Barnes

A young black boy describes himself as creative, smart, funny, adventurous, and a good friend. He acknowledges his failures but emphasises his resilience in overcoming setbacks. He shares his fears of being misjudged by others, revealing the reality many young black boys face.

I Am Every Good Thing explores self-acceptance, self-confidence, self-esteem, respect, resilience, and the struggles of being misunderstood.

The Island by Judith Wisdom

Three friends find an island and get trapped in a zoo due to the hostility of the locals. They escape with other zoo creatures during a storm, aiding the islanders. They teach the villagers about tolerance despite the prior mistreatment. 

The Island introduces discussions about empathy, immigration, belonging, open-mindedness, conformity, social awareness, kindness, and tolerance.