I can always use one more book. Opening a book is like shaking hands with someone – like being introduced to new friend.
Reading deepens my understanding of other people. Books by Vashti Harrison introduced me to historical figures I didn’t know existed. Books by Jason Reynolds showed me how racism is still sadly prevalent in our day. Books by Erin Entrada Kelly taught me that unity is possible, despite differences. Reading broadly helps me empathize with others.
Books nurture inclusivity, especially in the young. Introducing children to diversity can begin organically through reading. Intentionally seeking out inclusive books combats prejudice. Generally speaking, I break inclusive children’s books down into three important categories.
First, there are historical or non-fiction books. Biographies, autobiographies, and other narrative nonfiction can be used to highlight important people or events that are not usually included in history books. For example, “Firebird” by ballerina Misty Copeland tells about Copeland’s hard work becoming a soloist in American Ballet Theater in a simple, beautiful way. The book encourages children to make and keep lofty goals through diligent effort while simultaneously teaching a piece of history.
Second, there are books which emphasize inclusion by teaching about specific differences and showing how to overcome them with understanding. For example, “Just Ask” by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor features children with physical, medical, and neurocognitive differences. The book shows these children interacting with the world and inspires tolerance.
Third, there are books which portray children of all stripes just being normal kids. Depicting loving, healthy interactions between all kinds of kids reflects the humanity of all people. Additionally, these books teach the vital truth that embracing differences make a stronger and more beautiful community. Laura F. Nielsen of Hyrum, my aunt, wrote a children’s book that is a great example. In “Mrs. Muddles Holidays,” neighborhood kids celebrate holidays from Ramadan to Pioneer Day. A new neighbor moves in and creates even more special occasions to share with the kids. The neighbors learn to celebrate the act of coming together.
I asked some friends to recommend more books that highlight inclusion. Here are some of the suggestions.
“The Snowy Day” by Ezra Jack Keats. “It shows a little brown boy just being curious and alive,” said author/illustrator Vanessa Brantley-Newton while visiting Salt Lake City for an illustrator’s conference. Brantley-Newton recommends all of Keats’ works, books by Jaqueline Woodson, and she has written or illustrated many books herself which show inclusion, like “Grandma’s Purse,” and “The Youngest Marcher.”
“Proud: Living my American Dream” by Ibtihaj Muhammad. “It tells about her (Muhammad’s) childhood as a Black Muslim and how she came to be an Olympic fencer. It mentions the challenges she faced due to race and religion, but she talks about positive experiences and influences, too; I found it relatable and not preachy or heavy handed. There’s a young readers edition for kids 12 and up,” said history professor Emily Brooksby Wheeler of North Logan. Wheeler also recommends Muhammad’s picture book “The Proudest Blue.”
“Out of My Mind” by Sharon M. Draper. “It’s the story of an 11-year-old girl with cerebral palsy,” said elementary teacher Christina Smith of Smithfield. “She is non-verbal and confined to a wheelchair. The book is written from her perspective and it gives students a wonderful lesson about how the way that we treat every person matters. It’s also the only book I’ve ever read where my entire class cheers.” Smith also recommends “Fish In a Tree” by Lynda Lullaly Hunt about a girl with dyslexia, and “There’s a Boy in the Girls Bathroom” by Louis Sachar, which shows how labels can be harmful to kids.
Here are more recommendations from locals Becky Saldivar, Sarah Dana, Glenna Israelsen Peterson, Emily Wheeler, Laura Nielsen, and Michele Nielsen.
“But Not the Hippopotamus” by Sandra Boynton, a board book on inclusion anyone two or over can enjoy.
“Remarkably You” by Pat Zietlow Miller is about differences that make a child unique. Young picture book.
“Hike” by Pete Oswald portrays a journey of a father and son using only pictures. Young picture book.
“Last Stop on Market Street” by Matt de la Peña is about a black boy and his grandmother finding beauty and friendship in the inner city. Young picture book.
“I Talk Like a River” by Jordan Scott is about a child with a speech impediment. Older picture book.
“My Brother Charlie” by H. R Peete and R. E. Peete is about autism. Older picture Book.
“Emmanuel’s Dream” by Laurie Ann Thompson about a record-breaking African cyclist. Older picture book.
“The Sandwich Swap” by Queen Rania Al Abdullah of Jordan is about friends overcoming cultural barriers, specifically peanut butter vs. hummus. Older picture book.
“Mustaches for Maddie” by Chad Morris and Shelly Brown is about a girl diagnosed with a brain tumor. Middle grade.
“Stolen Girl” by Marscha Forchuk Scrypuch about a girl who is kidnapped and raised by a Nazi family. Middle grade +.
“New Kid” by Jerry Craft is a graphic novel about a boy who is accepted into a private school. Middle grade +.
“All American Boys” by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely about a high school student who is beaten by police. Strong language advisory for 14+.
“The Orphan Keeper” by Camron Wright is a true story of a boy sold into human trafficking. Recommended for 14+.
The list of diverse and inclusive books could go on and on. Hopefully, readers can to look up some of these books to learn something from another person’s perspective. After all, opening a book is like meeting a new friend. And who doesn’t need one more of those?