Teaching Tolerance with Diverse Picture Books

Help your students respond to discrimination aimed at themselves or others by using diverse picture books. They present a powerful starting point for challenging prejudice, racism and intolerance. They are suitable for children with different levels of understanding and experience.

Teaching Tolerance with Diverse Picture Books

Why Read Diverse Picture Books?

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. 

We can use diverse books to discuss prejudice and inequality starting in pre-school. A safe, non-judgemental classroom supports students in communicating their questions, fears and confusions. 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.

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Open-Minded & Diverse Picture Books

The Boy Who Tried to Shrink His Name 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

The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson

This is the first of two diverse picture books 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

Dear Juno by Soyung Pak

Juno communicates with his Korean grandmother through a series of drawings. She sends back letters, photos, and toys so Juno understands their meaning.

Reinforces themes of communication, letter writing and relationship skills.

Dear Juno by Soyung Pak

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

Freedom Soup by Tami Charles

Freedom soup is an important part of the Haitian Independence Day celebrations. Ti Gran and Belle dance and clap in the kitchen as Belle learns about the traditions of Haiti and the soup, including the history of Haitian slavery and freedom.

Freedom Soup by Tami Charles

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

Hands Up! by Breanna J. McDaniel

A young girl lifts her hands toward the sun, to reach for a book, get a high five and dance, among many other joyful activities. As she ages, she joins in community protest marches, lifting her hand for change.

Hands Up! by Breanna J. McDaniel

Hot Day on Abbott Avenue by Karen English

On a humid summer’s day, two girls, Kishi and Renée, sit on their separate front porches. It is best-friends-breakup day. While they wait for each other to apologise, they hear the sounds of other children playing in the street. They soon forget about being mad at each other and join in a game of jump rope.

Hot Day on Abbott Avenue by Karen English

I Am Enough by Grace Byers

I am Enough follows a girl as she makes positive affirmations for those who lack self-esteem and self-acceptance.

This book celebrates children for who they are and reinforces themes of acceptance, self-esteem and poetry.

I am Enough by Grace Byers Teaching Resources

I Am Every Good Thing by Derrick Barnes

I Am Every Good Thing celebrates and affirms young, black boys. The young, black narrator confidently tells us he is creative, smart, funny, adventurous, and a good friend. We learn how he sometimes fails, but always gets back up. He’s afraid when people misunderstand him and call him names.

Promotes discussions on empowerment, self-acceptance, self-confidence, self-esteem, respect, being misunderstood and resilience.

I Am Every Good Thing by Derrick Barnes

The King of Kindergarten by Derrick Barnes

A young boy is ready for Kindergarten. He meets new friends and takes part in many new experiences. He enthusiastically tells his parents about his day and how he can’t wait for the next day.

King of Kindergarten Pinterest image

Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña

A grumpy CJ and his nana ride a city bus full of wonderful characters. He wonders aloud why he doesn’t have the things his friends do and why they have to volunteer at the soup kitchen every week. His nana’s straightforward and positive responses help CJ see and appreciate what he has and can give.

Read to promote discussions on community, poverty, volunteering, kindness, and optimism.

Last Stop on Market Street Activities and Comprehension Questions

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 characteristics that make up her unique identity as a Pakistani American.

Leila in Saffron by Rukhsanna Guidroz

Lovely by Jess Hong

Read about how we are all lovely in our own unique ways. The book celebrates how special we are no matter who we are and what we can do.

Read to promote discussions on tolerance, identity, and a celebration of diversity.

Lovely by Jess Hong

Malala’s Magic Pencil by Malala Yousafzai

Malala wishes to make people happy and improve their lives. Her experience in Pakistan inspires her to help change the world through her actions, words and writings.

Promotes gender roles, perspectives, courage and resilience.

Malala’s Magic Pencil by Malala Yousafzai

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

A Map into the World by Kao Kalia Yang

Paj Ntaub, a Hmong girl, moves across the street from an elderly couple, Ruth and Bob. As the seasons pass, Ruth dies. The young girl wants to help Bob, so she draws a map into the world for Bob in his driveway. It shows him he can find kindness and support at Paj Ntaub's home.

A Map into the World by Kao Kalia Yang

Masai and I by Virginia Kroll

At school, Linda learns about the Masai people who live in East Africa. She wonders what her life would be like if she were a Masai. “Would I live in an apartment building the way I do now? Would I have a pet hamster or a new pair of sneakers? What would my family be like if I were Masai?”

Use to promote making connections, perspectives, empathy, and open-mindedness.

Masai and I by Virginia Kroll

Mommy's Khimar by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow

A young girl loves her mother’s khimar. She watches as her mother wraps beautiful scarves around her head before she leaves the house. When she dresses up in her mother’s headscarves, she feels her mother's love.

Mommy's Khimar by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow

My Papi Has a Motorcycle by Isabel Quintero

Daisy Ramona loves zooming around the neighbourhood with her Papi on his motorcycle. She witnesses her rapidly changing community but knows her Papi’s love will always be there.

My Papi Has a Motorcycle by Isabel Quintero

My Two Grannies by Floella Benjamin

When Alvina’s parents go on holiday, her two grannies look after her. Grannie Vero is from Trinidad, and Grannie Rose is from the north of England. They eat different food, tell different stories and play different games, leading to some tension. Alvina comes up with an idea to help her grannies compromise.

Promotes discussions on different family structures, identity, compromise and a sense of belonging.

My Two Grannies by Floella Benjamin

The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson

This is the second of two diverse picture books by Jacqueline Woodson. Jacqueline Woodson addresses race relations with two young girls, one black and one white. A fence segregates their homes, but they slowly get to know each other by sitting on this barrier. 

Promotes tolerance, communication, friendship and open-mindedness.

The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson

The Proudest Blue: A Story of Hijab and Family by Ibtihaj Muhammad

On the first day of school, sisters, Asiya and Faizah walk hand in hand. Asiya is wearing a hijab for the first time, representing being strong. Faizah admires her sister's beautiful blue scarf but hears other children making fun of her. The sisters follow their mother's advice about being strong and true to themselves in the face of bullying.

Promotes themes of tolerance, self-esteem, making connections, and different points of view.

The Proudest Blue Activities and Comprehension Activities

Sarah Rising by Ty Chapman

Sarah Rising is inspired by the protests during the Minneapolis Uprising after the police killing of George Floyd. Sarah tells the reader about attending a demonstration with her father and what it is like to protest racial injustice.

Promotes discussions on activism, community, social justice and standing up against intolerance and racism.

Saturday by Oge Mora

Ava waits for the weekend to arrive all week as Saturday means special mother and daughter time. She is disappointed when things don’t quite go as they planned, but she learns that things will work out.

Promotes themes of adaptability, making connections, and resilience.

Saturday by Oge Mora

Smoky Night by Eve Bunting

Daniel and his mother watch the LA riots happening in their neighbourhood. After going to bed, they learn their building was on fire. Daniel hesitates as they evacuate because he cannot find his cat, but a firefighter later finds it.

Use to discuss racism, communities, conflict, synthesising, inferring and perspectives.

Smoky Night by Eve Bunting

So Much! by Trish Cooke

Mum and the baby weren’t doing much until the doorbell rang, and rang, and rang. They open the door to fun and loving family members who come to celebrate dad's birthday.

So Much! by Trish Cooke

Something Beautiful by Sharon Dennis Wyeth

A teacher helps a young girl see beyond her scary feeling for her neighbourhood. She looks for beauty in her community with the help of her neighbours. Her beautiful journey helps her feel happy and hopeful.

Promotes a sense of community, poverty, responsibility and hope.

Something Beautiful by Sharon Dennis Wyeth

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

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 future and how 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

We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga by Traci Sorell

Members of the Cherokee Nation community use the word ‘Otsaliheliga’ to express their gratitude. We Are Grateful follows a year of Cherokee celebrations and the gratitude they express.

We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga by Traci Sorell

What Next?

There is much more diversity in children's books. However, there is still a long way to go for all children to feel represented in books. Let me know your favourite diverse picture books in the comments.

Social Justice Books: Children, Arab Heritage, and Anti-Bias Education

Learning for Justice: Questioning Identity, while Respecting Diversity. Learning Plan

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Teaching Tolerance with Diverse Picture Books

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