Over a year into the We Need Diverse Books campaign, most of us in library land know what diversity means to the publishing world—but to a child under age five? Simply put, diversity simply means “different.” Young children start life out as amazing explorers: “What does dirt taste like versus cheese?” “Hey, that baby’s skin is lighter/darker than mine.” The aim of this compilation is not to address every possible configuration of diversity, but instead to offer titles for the sub five-year-old set that showcase “different” in a positive, broad, or subtle way.
A Tale of Two Daddies. Oelschlager, Vanita. Illustrated by Kristin Blackwood. Vanita Books, 2010. 9780981971452.
A young girl with two fathers answers questions: “Which dad helps when your team needs a coach? /Which dad cooks you eggs and toast?” “Daddy is my soccer coach. / Poppa cooks me eggs and toast.”
A Tale of Two Mommies. Oelschlager, Vanita. Illustrated by Mike Blanc. Vanita Books, 2011. 9780982636671.
Similar in format to A Tale of Two Daddies, questions among three beach-enjoying preschoolers who wonder about everyday life in a two-mom family.
All the World . Scanlon, Liz Gordon. Illustrated by Marla Frazee. S. & S./Beach Lane, 2009. 9781416985808.
Expressive couplets celebrate humankind. Pencil and watercolor illustrations depict a multicultural family, from a summer morning on the beach through a busy day and night.
Double Happiness . Ling, Nancy Tupper. Illustrated by Alina Chau. Chronicle, 2015. 9781452129181.
Told in verses of alternating perspectives as it explores a young brother and sister’s feelings of transition when faced with a move cross-country away from their beloved Nai Nai.
Families . Rotner, Shelley and Sheila Kelly. Photos by Shelley Rotner. Holiday House, 2015. 978082 3430536.
Rotner’s inclusive photographs eloquently visualize dozens of family configurations that help young readers see beyond their own experiences.
Families, Families, Families. Lang, Suzanne, and Max Lang. Random, 2015. 9780553499384.
A menagerie of animal families, each cleverly outlined in a picture frame, creates the effect of a unique family album.
Heather Has Two Mommies . Newman, Lesléa. Illustrated by Laura Cornell. Candlewick, 2015. 9780763666316.
This updated classic features a revised text with new watercolor illustrations and the powerful reminder of “the most important thing about a family is that all the people in it love each other.”
I Love Saturdays/Y Domingos . Ada, Alma Flor. Illustrated by Elivia Savadier. S. & S./Atheneum. 2004. 9780689874093.
A young girl is loved by her English-speaking Euro-American grandparents that she visits on Saturdays, and her Mexican American Spanish-speaking grandparents that she sees on Sundays.
Lola Plants a Garden . McQuinn, Anna. Illustrated by Rosalind Beardshaw. Charlesbridge, 2014. 9781580896948.
Mocha-colored Lola and her brother Leo are back, with Lola inspired to plant a garden after reading a library book of gardening poems.
Mango, Abuela, and Me. Medina, Meg. Illustrated by Angela Dominguez. Candlewick, 2015. 9780763669003.
Mia loves her Abuela, and is excited to have her move in. But Mia speaks English, and Abuela speaks Spanish. Enter Mango—a bilingual parrot that serves as the cutest language liaison ever.
One Family. Shannon, George. Illustrated by Blanca Gomez. Farrar/Foster, 2015. 9780374300036.
An interactive counting book that illustrates how a family can be comprised of multiple variations of both gender and culture. Everyone literally counts.
Peeny Butter Fudge. Morrison, Toni. Illustrated by Slade Morrison. S. & S., 2009. 9781416983323.
An African American family shares their love for one another via cooking intergenerationally.
Please Baby, Please. Lee, Spike and Tonya Lewis Lee. Illustrated by Kadir Nelson. S. & S., 2006. 9780689834578.
Nelson’s illustrations of an exuberant brown-skinned, springy-haired toddler pair perfectly with the Lees’s sweetly rhyming text.
Sunday Shopping. Derby, Sally. Illustrated by Shadra Strickland. Lee & Low, 2015. ISBN: 9781600604386.
Digitally composed illustrations march across buttery yellow backgrounds as Evie and her grandmother peruse the Sunday paper advertisements, questioning each other on what they would “purchase.”
The NEW Small Person. Child, Lauren. Candlewick, 2014. 9780763678104.
Mixed media illustrations show a family of color adapting to the changing dynamics of their family.
Where’s Lenny? Wilson-Max, Ken. Frances Lincoln, 2014. 9781847803184.
Join Lenny and his biracial family as they frolic and play in this universally appealing story of familial love.
You Can Do It Too! Baicker, Karen. Illustrated by Ken Wilson-Max. Chronicle, 2010. 9780811875615.
Who better to teach an African American baby brother the way of the land than an adoring older sister?
Jessica’s Box. Carnavas, Peter. Kane Miller, 2015. ISBN 9781610673471.
Originally published in Australia in 2008, this new version features Jessica using a wheelchair (she was able-bodied in the previous edition) as a subtle ode to physical differences.
Marisol McDonald and the Clash Bash: Marisol McDonald y la fiesta sin igual. Brown, Monica. Illustrated by Sara Palacios. Children’s Book Pr., English and Spanish edition, 2013. 9780892392735.
Biracial Marisol is quirky, confident, and doesn’t like to match. At her birthday party, Marisol dresses as a soccer-player-pirate-princess-unicorn.
Me, Too! Dunklee, Annika. Illustrated by Lori Joy Smith. Kids Can Pr., 2015. 9781771381048.
Best friends share many traits, such as a penchant for other languages (oinky boinky , Swedish). But when a new girl arrives—is three a crowd? Colored pencil drawings feature a multicultural trio of friends.
My Three Best Friends and Me, Zulay. Best, Cary. Illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton. Farrar, 2015. 9780374388195.
Zulay and her three friends are all in the same first grade class, where Zulay aspires to run the relay race at Field Day—even though she is blind. An uplifting look at how disabilities do not define a person.
Yoko. Wells, Rosemary. Disney-Hyperion, 2009. 9781423119838.
Yoko is excited to start school—until the other students make fun of her sushi lunch. An intuitive teacher helps students learn about the benefits of cultural differences.
ABC for You and Me. Girnis, Meg. Illustrated by Shirley Leamon Green. Albert Whitman, 2000. ISBN: 9780807501016.
Easily identifiable objects (W is for wagon, K is for kite) are included with color photographs of multinational kids, some also have Down Syndrome, offering a subtle introduction to physical differences.
Black Book of Colors. Cottin, Menena. Illustrated by Rosana Faria. Translated by Elisa Amado. Groundwood, 2008. 9780888998736.
Innovatively describes what it is like for a blind person to experience or think of color. Using an all-black background and raised line art, readers trace and feel the imagery-based illustrations. A braille alphabet is included.
The Handmade Alphabet. Rankin, Laura. Puffin, Reprint edition, 1996. 9780140558760.
Exquisitely drawn hands of all shades and sizes illustrate the ASL manual alphabet.
World Food Alphabet. Caldicott, Chris. Frances Lincoln, 2015. 9781847806536.
An alphabetic photo essay featuring different food from around the globe.
Baby Born. Suen, Anastasia. Illustrated by Chih-Wei Chang. Lee & Low, 1999. 9781880000953.
A lift-the-flap book of multinational newborns seen through their active first years of life documents changes in development and the seasons through short rhymes with a lullaby cadence.
Bee-bim Bop! Park, Linda Sue. Illustrated by Ho Baek Lee. HMH, Reprint edition, 2008. 9780547076713.
Park introduces preschoolers to the culinary culture of Korea. Each spread presents a detailed and busy kitchen scene enhancing the rhyming text.
By Day, By Night. Gibson, Amy. Illustrated by Meilo So. Boyds Mill Pr., 2014. 9781590789919.
A buoyant look at children engaging in similar activities around the globe.
Chocolate Me. Diggs, Taye. Illustrated by Shane Evans. Feiwel & Friends, 2011. 9780312603267.
When teased by his classmates because of his thick, curly hair and dark skin, a little boy’s mother helps him see his beauty.
City I Love . Hopkins, Lee Bennet. Illustrated by Marcellus Hall. Abrams, 2009. 9780810983274.
Eighteen clever poems celebrate the diversity and joy of urban life.
Día de los Muertos. Thong, Roseanne Greenfield. Illustrated by Carles Ballesteros. Albert Whitman, 2015. 9780807515662.
A look at the Latin American holiday known in English as “Day of the Dead.”
Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music. Engle, Margarita. Illustrated by Rafael López. HMH, 2015. 9780544102293.
Lush acrylic paintings set an enchanting backdrop for Engle’s tale of a Chinese-African-Cuban girl who broke through Cuba’s taboo against female drummers.
Everywhere Babies. Meyers, Susan. Illustrated by Marla Frazee. HMH, Board Book edition, 2011. 9780547510743.
An appealing text with charmingly endearing multi-toned illustrations celebrates all that boisterous babies do best: playing, sleeping, crawling, and of course, making exuberant noise.
Global Babies. The Global Fund for Children. Charlesbridge, 2007. 9781580891745.
Seventeen cultures are presented in cultural context with photographs showcasing babies in diverse settings.
Happy in our Skin . Manushkin, Fran. Illustrated by Lauren Tobia. Candlewick, 2015. 9780763670023.
This is a sweet ode to diversity in a neighborhood city landscape filled with bustling, loving families of all orientations and backgrounds.
Happy! Williams, Pharrel. Putnam, 2015. 9780399176432.
Children across cultures display their definitions of happy through dimpled smiles and the lyrics of Williams’s chart-topping song in this lighthearted title.
I Am America. Smith Jr., Charles. Scholastic/Cartwheel, 2003. 9780439431798.
A striking look at America through the poetic words and lens of Smith, highlighting multicultural children.
I Am Latino: The Beauty in Me . Pinkney, Sandra. Illustrated by Myles Pinkney. Little Brown, 2013. 9780316233859.
A happy celebration told via breezy text and crisp photographs of smiling children using their senses to showcase traditional food, music, and more.
I’m Like You, You’re Like Me. Gainer, Cindy. Illustrated by Miki Sakamoto. Free Spirit Publishing, Reprint edition. 2013. 9781575424361.
A newly illustrated reprint of the 1988 original. Sakamoto’s illustrations showcase people of varying abilities and ethnicities, demonstrating diversity and differences.
Last Stop on Market Street. de la Peña, Matt. Illustrated by Christian Robinson. Putnam, 2015. 9780399257742.
Figures of all shapes, sizes, colors, and abilities are introduced via a city bus trip, where a young boy sees the beauty of everyday objects through his grandmother’s mentoring.
Maria Had a Little Llama/ María tenía una Llamita. Dominguez, Angela. Holt, 2013. 9780805093339.
Peruvian-inspired illustrations lead this retelling of “Mary Had a Little Lamb” into a more diverse landscape.
My Colors, My World: Mis colores, mi mundo . Gonzalez, Maya Christina. Children’s Book Pr., 2013. 9780892392780.
This Pura Belpré Honor book tells the story of Maya and her search for color among the tawny hues of her desert background.
My People. Hughes, Langston. Illustrated by Charles Smith Jr. S. & S./Atheneum, 2009. 9781416935407.
Hughes’s classic 33-word poem explodes to life when paired with crisp, sepia-toned photos featuring African Americans from toddlers to seniors.
My Village: Rhymes from Around the World . Wright, Danielle. Illustrated by Mique Moriuchi. Frances Lincoln, 2015. 9781847806277.
This new edition of 22 nursery rhymes features collage illustrations with rhymes appearing in its original language next to English translations.
Over the Hills and Far Away. Hammill, Elizabeth. Various Illustrators. Candlewick, 2015. 9780763677299.
A global compilation of 150 nursery rhymes. Little Miss Muffet is frightened by a spider, a wombat (Australia), grasshopper (America), and “bredda Anancy” (Jamaica).
Peekaboo Morning. Isadora, Rachel. Putnam, Board Book edition, 2008. 9780 399251535.
A toddler plays the universally loved game of “peek-a-boo!” with family members, friends, and the reader of the book via an attached mirror.
Ramadan Moon. Robert, Na’ima. Illustrated by Shirin Adi. Frances Lincoln, 2015. 9781847802064.
Poetic words and spirited, patterned collage artwork capture the solemnity and joy of this monthlong Muslim observance.
Say Hello! Davick, Linda. S. & S./Beach Lane, 2015. 9781481428675.
Multiethnic young children demonstrate different ways to say hello in this rhyming text.
Shades of People. Rotner, Shelley, and Sheila Kelly. Holiday House, 2010. 9780823423057.
Celebrates the varying tonal shades of “our skin [which ]is just a covering like wrapping paper…” in a straightforward manner.
Tan to Tamarind: Poems About the Color Brown . Iyengar, Malathai. Illustrated by Jamel Akib. Children’s Book Pr., 2009. 9780892392278.
An inviting poetry collection that reminds readers that each shade of the color is beautiful.
Ten Little Babies . Fujikawa, Gyo. Sterling, 2008. 9781402757006.
Tots of varying skin tones help readers count backward from 10 to none.
Tickle Tickle. Oxenbury, Helen. Board Book edition. S. & S./Little Simon, 1999. 9780689819865.
One example from a classic book series featuring sumptuous babies of all shades and colors playing and learning.
Under the Ramadan Moon . Whitman, Sylvia. Illustrated by Sue Williams. Albert Whitman, 2011. 9780807583050.
A lyrical introduction to Ramadan with richly textured pastel spreads featuring a Muslim family at home and the temple.
We All Count: A Book of Cree Numbers. Fleet, Julie. Native Northwest Publishers, 2014. 9781554763986.
Readers explore new words and different animals via charming illustrations. Pronunciations are given for Cree words.
Whoever You Are/Quienquiera que seas. Fox, Mem. Illustrated by Leslie Staub. Translated by Alma Flor Ada. Board Book edition. HMH, 2007. 9780152058913.
“Joys are the same, / and love is the same. / Pain is the same, / and blood is the same.” Folk art illustrations depict global children in this gentle rhythm of love and acceptance.
Wild Berries. Fleet, Julie. Illustrated by Julie Fleet. Translated by Earl N. Cook. Simply Read Bks., 2014. 9781897476895.
Watercolor and collage illustrations depict a blueberry-picking journey between a young boy and his grandmother. Certain words are translated into n-dialect/Swampy Cree. A recipe for wild blueberry jam, and a pronunciation guide for Cree words round out this serene title.
A Is for Activist. Nagara, Innosanto. Triangle Square, 2013. 9781609805395.
While activism is typically a message for older audiences, this non-traditional ABC book introduces the topic to little ones.
We March. Evans, Shane W. Roaring Brook, 2012. 9781596435391.
Brings to life Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech with a minimal text and inclusive paintings in warm hues.
And Tango Makes Three. Richardson, Justin, and Peter Parnell. Illustrated by Henry Cole. S. & S., 2005. 9780689878459.
The heartwarming story of two male penguins that create a family of their own with the help of a kindly zookeeper.
Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend. Sanat, Dan. Little Brown, 2014. 9780316199988.
Mixed media illustrations bring Beekle to life as he leaves his island of imaginary friends to explore a colorful new city in search of a true friend. Learning to be independent and patient are the backbone of this Caldecott winner.
It’s Ok to Be Different . Parr, Todd. Little Brown, 2009. 9780316043472.
This feel-good message of individuality and acceptance is classic Parr—filled with rainbow-hued cartoonish illustrations with thick black outlines.
Jacob’s New Dress. Hoffman, Sarah and Ian Hoffman. Illustrated by Chris Case. Albert Whitman, 2014. ISBN: 9780807563731.
A gently didactic story, with warmly hued cartoon-style illustrations, follows non-gender conforming Jacob, who wishes he could wear a dress to school.
Red: A Crayon’s Story. Hall, Michael. HarperCollins/Greenwillow, 2015. 9780062252074.
Red Crayon’s label says “red” but his true color is blue. Well-meaning friends try to encourage his redness, yet it isn’t until Berry Crayon asks for Red’s help in completing a blue ocean in his picture that Red accepts his true self.
This Day in June. Pittman, Gayle E. Illustrated by Kristyna Litten. American Psychological Association/Magination, 2014. 9781433816581.
Winner of the 2015 ALA Stonewall Book award, readers experience the exuberance of a Pride Parade. A note to parents and caregivers help make the book a must.
Moreillon, Judi. “Building Bridges for Cultural Understanding: Cultural Literature Collection Development and Programming.” Children and Libraries 11 (2): 35-38. 2013.
Disability in Kidlit — Reviews, articles, and more about the portrayal of disabilities in children’s fiction
LGBTQ Diversity: Building a Collection for Independent Readers | School Library Journal
Different Versions of Diversity:
The World Of Children’s Books Is Still Very White | FiveThirtyEight
Myers, Walter Dean. “Where are the People of Color in Children’s Books?” New York Times, March 15, 2014.
Naidoo, Jamie Campbell. The Importance of Diversity in Library Programs and Material Collections for Children. Written for the Association for Library Service to Children. April 2014.
We Need Diverse Books | Official site of the #WeNeedDiverseBooks Campaign
Multicultural Literature | Cooperative Children’s Book Center
University of Wisconsin-Madison