10 Multicultural picture books to sing

10 Multicultural Picture Books to Sing from Jbrary

I am delighted to have Lindsey and Dana, the two Children’s Librarians behind Jbrary, guest posting today!!  They have a wonderful YouTube channel that  is all about storytime songs, and today they have a list of picture books you can sing before, during or after reading! Not only is singing fun, but it  is one of the five early literacy skills parents can strengthen with children.

Without further ado, here they are:

One of the best parts about being a Children’s Librarian is all the singing we get to do! But singing certainly shouldn’t end at storytime. This list features 10 of our favourite multicultural picture books you can use to encourage singing anytime.

Singing, one of the five early literacy skills that help children get ready to read, has so many benefits. Singing is important because:

  • It slows down language, allowing children to hear the different sounds in words and the syllables that make up each word.
  • Songs often include repeated phases and repetition is essential for early learning.
  • Singing is a great opportunity to bond with your child, and when a child feels safe and loved he or she is more receptive to learning
  • Nursery rhymes and fingerplays often contain new vocabulary children otherwise wouldn’t be exposed to.

We are always on the look out for new books that have a great beat or that can be put to a tune. Our Singable Books for Storytime Pinterest board contains the following 10 suggestions, plus many more.

1. Hush, Little Baby adapted and illustrated by Brian Pinkney

Pinkney transforms this traditional Southern Appalachian lullaby by giving us a peek into a day-in-the-life of an African American family set during the early 1900s. As a tearful baby watches her mother depart for the day, it is up to her father and big brother to cheer her up. The illustrations are bright and vivid and offer a much needed portrait of African American men as caring, nurturing, and loving. After reading this book, try learning a new soothing song, such as Sleep, Sleep Little One, a simple lullaby that can be translated to any language.

2. Punk Farm by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

Krosoczka, author of the Lunch Lady series, bring us this comical book promoting musical diversity. While Farmer Joe is asleep, a group of animals sporting chain necklaces put on a concert featuring four new verses to “Old MacDonald Had a Farm.” In the midst of all the booming and crashing, kids learn musical vocabulary such as amp, keyboard, and bass. Want more farm animals songs? Try this puppet laden hello song!

3. Dragon Dancing by Carole Lexa Schaefer

Though this book isn’t set to a particular tune, it has such a lovely rhythm and colorful array of phrases that we had to include it. Join a group of kids as they assemble a crafty dragon that gets their imaginations spinning. The sing-song quality of this book is highlighted by phrases such as “whish-shoosh” and “mish-mooshing.” Best of all, it will surely inspire some dancing on the reader’s end. Looking for more imaginative play songs? Try our storytime favourite, Zoom, Zoom, Zoom.

4. This Little Light of Mine illustrated by E.B. Lewis

This traditional African American spiritual is brought to life by Lewis’s full page watercolor illustrations featuring a young African American boy sharing his “light” with his community. Despite the religious undertones of this song, Lewis conveys the simple message of being yourself and sharing your happiness with others. The book ends with the musical score and four printed verses. Extend this book by learning the sign language version as we demonstrate below.

5. Bee Bim Bop by Linda Sue Park

Newbery award winning author Linda Sue Park wrote this rhyming chant about one of the staple Korean dishes. With a catchy and bouncy refrain that is easy to sing, kids will love to join in as the little girl in the book helps her mother prepare the meal. This book is a great way to model how to incorporate singing into daily activities, and a recipe for Bee Bim Bop is included at the end. We’ve filmed many songs about food and highly recommend trying Mix a Pancake and Bananas Unite for some additional singing fun!

6. There Was a Tree illustrated by Rachel Isadora

This vibrant reimagining of a traditional song is brought to life by Isadora’s distinct cut paper illustrations and African setting. The pages feature a range of beautiful animals surrounding an umbrella acacia tree. The song is broken into singable chunks with small pictographs standing in for repeated concepts such as hole, tree, and branch. This book is a perfect example of how songs help build memory and narrative skills by incorporating repetition. For another great rhyme which builds and builds try The Key to the City.

7. One Love by Cedella Marley and illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton

Using words from her father’s song One Love Cedella Marley has created a beautifully singable book. The story features a little girl who with the help of her friends and family plants a community garden. Full of diverse families, this would make for a great springtime read. To extend the messages of this book we like to sing I Have a Little Heart, Five Little Hearts or any of the songs on our Emotions and Feelings Storytime Playlist.

8. Jazz Baby by Lisa Wheeler and illustrated by R. Gregory Christie

This book positively comes to life through Wheeler’s musical language and use of several refrains. Jazz Baby is a simple story about a baby who is serenaded by his extended African American family, singing low, singing high, toot-tooting and scat singing. Even the itty-bitty-baby plays a part is this book which is guaranteed to have the whole family singing and tapping along. Keep the cool jazz vibes going with the video below!

9. One is a Drummer by Roseanne Thong and illustrated by Grace Lin

On the surface One is a Drummer is a colourful counting book. A deeper reading however reveals its rich language and exploration of Chinese culture. The verses on each page, which can be sung to the tune of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,” count aspects of the main character’s daily life like the seasons, dim sum carts, and mahjong players. She is joined in her counting by a truly multicultural group of friends and family. To encourage kids to count throughout the day we love this counting rhyme below.

10. Hush! A Thai Lullaby by Minfong Ho and illustrated by Holly Meade

In this beautiful bedtime read a Thai mother discovers the creatures which threaten to disturb her baby’s sleep and asks them through rich rhyming verse to hush. Set in a village in Northern Thailand Meade’s authentic illustrations allow children to explore bedtime in another culture, as well as meet a new cast of animal characters. After reading this book try out an animal song or play the sleeping bunnies game with water buffalos or lizards!


Lindsey Krabbenhoft and Dana Horrocks, two Children’s Librarians from Vancouver, B.C., are the gals behind the storytime YouTube channel Jbrary. Not only do they love to sing, they also have a passion for children’s literature and youth programming. They tweet at @lmkrabbenhoft and @danachorrocks respectively and write weekly blog posts at jbrary.com. They love connecting with other people (librarians or not!) who share an interest in working with youth of all ages.

p.s. I have one more by Marc Brown of the popular Arthur series

Marc Brown’s Playtime Rhymes: A Treasury for Families to Learn and Play Together  by Marc Brown

Twenty favorite childhood rhymes are lovingly illustrated by popular children’s book author and illustrator Marc Brown of the Arthur series. You can use these rhymes to sing along to as well as for finger movements.

To examine any book more closely at Amazon, please click on image of book.

10 Multicultural picture books to sing

I am an Amazon affiliate which means if you buy anything through my blog, I get a very small kickback at no cost to you. I use this money to pay the postage and handling for my giveaways.

Follow PragmaticMom’s board Multicultural Books for Kids on Pinterest.

Follow PragmaticMom’s board Best Books for Kids on Pinterest.

If you enjoyed this post, please consider leaving a comment or subscribing to the RSS feed to have future articles delivered to your feed reader.

By Mia Wenjen, PragmaticMom


  1. Mia,
    Another very enjoyable post! Keep them coming, I love reading your write ups!
    The Funster recently posted…Where Did You Find That?My Profile

  2. Giora

    Loved the video in the 2. Punk Farm and the 8. Jazz Baby. Great job Lindsey and Dana.

  3. Mia, I love it when songs are paired with children’s books. There is nothing more disturbing to me than to hear young children singing pop music. I want them to sing songs appropriate for their age. Are you familiar with Iza Trapini’s book’s: “The Bear Went Over the Mountain,” “The Itsy Bitsy Spider,” “How Much is that Doggie in the Window,” etc. All are written and illustrated around a songs appropriate for children.
    Patricia Tilton recently posted…Inside Out and Back AgainMy Profile

    • Thank you so much for adding to the list Patricia!! You make me smile when you say there is nothing more disturbing than hearing young kids singing to pop music. I remember when I heard my god son at age 3 singing Britney Spears songs. It was a little strange! Children’s nursery rhymes are much more innocent!
      Pragmatic Mom recently posted…How Pi Tells Stories: Happy Pi Day!My Profile

  4. Thanks for sharing this and the info about all of these great books!

    I’m passing it on to my friend whose 2 yr old loved to sing–I know it will be a big hit!

    Thanks, Mia!

  5. Craig Forsyth

    Great post. Our little man is just getting to the point where he’s instigating songs so there’s plenty of useful material here.

  6. What a great list, Mia! I love Thai Lullaby! These would all be great for our library storytime!
    Erica recently posted…Read Aloud Chapter Books for 4 and 5 (and 6) Year OldsMy Profile

  7. This is a fantastic post. When you are able to use all senses, the child understands the book better and has more fun!

    Thank so much for sharing!
    Lisa Nelson recently posted…Sustainable and Upcycle Giveaway Hop GRAND PRIZE – Ends 4/1My Profile

  8. Excellent picks! A few of these are new to me; I’ll have to look for copies!
    maryanne recently posted…Marcus Pfister Books and ActivitiesMy Profile

  9. I love to sing books to my youngest! Our favorite is Bugtown Boogie! What a great post filled with inspiring book ideas. Thanks for sharing this at the After School Linky party!
    Deceptively Educational recently posted…Pot of Gold Multiplication GameMy Profile

  10. These books are all new to me. I plan to see how many I can find. Thanks for these suggestions.
    Books4Learning recently posted…Rude Cakes (Rowboat Watkins)My Profile

Leave a Comment

CommentLuv badge