Valarie from Jump Into a Book and I are starting series of book lists to highlight our favorite multicultural children’s books. We plan to turn this into an eBook which we will give away next January for Multicultural Children’s Book Day and sell the rest of the year to raise money for our non-profit so that we can donate more books to kids.
I’m kicking off my lists with my favorite multicultural board books for babies and toddlers. I’ve always loved board books; they are full body entertainment for babies who might explore them with their teeth and virtually indestructible for toddlers! But it was surprisingly hard to find board books with diversity and inclusive themes to help develop empathy skills. I hope you like my first list!
What are your favorite multicultural board books? Please share!
Newly Published Diversity Board Books
These board books are hot off the presses!
Masha and Her Sisters by Suzy Ultman
This is such a cute board book modeled after Russian nesting dolls, also known as matryoshka. The perfect multicultural board book to introduce babies and toddlers to Russian folk art. (The first Russian nested doll set was made in 1890 by Vasily Zvyozdochkin from a design by Sergey Malyutin, who was a folk crafts painter at Abramtsevo.) [board book, ages 1 and up]
Little Chickens/Los Pollitos by Susie Jaramillo
Both Little Chickens/Los Pollitos and Little Elephants/Elefantitos are bilingual Spanish pull out interactive books. Read one side in Spanish; flip over and read the story again in English. The words are also meant to be sung as songs. There are flaps to lift and tabs to pull too. This is a delightful board book series to read in both English and Spanish! [board book, ages 2 and up]
Little Elephants/Elefantitos by Susie Jaramillo
Padmini is Powerful by Amy Maranville, illustrated by Tim Palin
Learn about Hindu gods who share traits with Padmini. She’s wise like Ganesh, creative like Sarasvati, and full of energy like Parvati. This is a wonderful way for Hindi children to see themselves in books — literally, there’s a mirror page in the back — and for those who are not Hindu, to learn about a major world religion in a really fun way. [board book, ages 1 and up]
Cuauhtémoc Shapes/Formas: A Bilingual Book of Shapes by Patty Rodriguez and Ariana Stein
I’m so impressed with the Lil’Libros series of bilingual Spanish board books for kids. They are a beautiful multicultural addition to any home library! In this book, shapes are reflected from images inspired by the last Aztec emperor of Tenochtitlan. This is a nice introduction to Aztec culture that will be a warm memory to recall in late elementary school when kids study the Aztecs and Mayans. My kids learned about it in 5th grade. [board book, ages 1 and up]
The Tiny Traveler: Japan by Misti Kenison
This book of nature teaches colors by referencing iconic images of Japan like Mount Fuji, cherry blossoms, and bonsai. Armchair travel with your toddler or preschooler! This great series covers other countries including Egpyt, France, and Italy. [board books, ages 1 and up]
Cozy Classics: The Nutcracker
This series is not necessarily a diversity board book series but I include it because teens, kids and adults alike were smitten with the felted dolls that recreate each classic. This series uses just a few words to describe the plot; one per image. I think lovers of the classics like this very brief, cozy rendition in an extreme way! I know the people I gifted these board books to were delighted and charmed by both the images and the plot told in about 12 words (and yet, capturing the storyline precisely!). Gift this to a new mom or dad who majored in English in college! [board books, ages 1 and up]
Diversity Board Books for Kids
10. Round is a Mooncake: A Book of Shapes by Roseanne Thong, illustrated by Grace Lin
I love that this first book of shapes uses rhyming text and Asian objects like ink stones, rice bowls, and name chop as well as familiar household objects to identify circles, squares and rectangles. Grace Lin’s brightly colored illustrations draw the reader in and a glossary of terms at the end of the book fills in the blanks for anything that isn’t familiar.
9. Ten Tiny Babies by Karen Katz
It’s not easy to create a counting-to-ten book that isn’t monotonous reading, especially the 22nd time! It’s the ingenious layout that makes this book a page-turner. The text is not only rhyming, but the page spreads are split 80/20 so that the punchline for each baby is revealed after the reader turns the page in the 20% space… and the next baby is introduced in larger space.
It’s the bright happy babies of all colors that make this a wonderfully inclusive board book. By the time all 10 babies are fast asleep, we see babies of all shades as well as mixed-race parents!
8. Reach: A board book about curiosity by Elizabeth Verdick and Marjorie Lisovkis
Part of the Happy Healthy Baby Series, Reach show babies of different ethnicities discovering the world around them.
7. Green is a Chile Pepper: A Book of Colors by Roseanne Thong, illustrated by John Parra
Roseanne Thong has a Latino-themed book of colors filled with the same vibrancy as Round is a Mooncake. With Spanish words sprinkled throughout, Thong’s rhyming text and John Parra’s illustrations make this book crackle with the energy of a fiesta. Like Round is a Mooncake, there is a glossary of terms in the back of the book. Green is a Chile Pepper is a multi-tasking miracle teaching kids colors, Spanish words, and Latino culture.
6. More More More Said the Baby: 3 Love Stories by Vera B. Williams
Three toddlers are beloved by the adults in their lives and Vera B. Williams shows by telling the story of each of these three little ones, how families can be different but very much the same when it comes to love. Little Guy is Caucasian with a Caucasian daddy who tosses him high and kisses his belly button. Little Pumpkin is African-American with a Caucasian grandmother who swings him about and nibbles his toes. Little Bird is Asian American with an Asian mother who rocks her back and forth and kisses her eyes. I love that Vera B. Williams included a multi-racial family!
5. Mama, Do You Love Me? by Barbara M. Joosse
The Inuit culture and Arctic wildlife are highlighted in this board book of the familiar question that children like to pose to their parents. The little girl probes her mother’s love for her with different scenarios to test her: breaking Ptarmigan eggs, putting lemmings in her mukluks, running away or turning into a polar bear. No matter what, the mama assures her daughter that she will love her, no matter what, forever and for always.
4. Whoever You Are by Mem Fox, illustrated by Leslie Staub
Understanding our differences begins with starting with how we are the same. Mem Fox takes us through differences in skin color, homes, schools and languages to find our similarities. We all smile, laugh, hurt and cry just the same, whoever we are, wherever we are, all over the world. This is a board book to bring the world a little closer together. Leslie Staub’s illustrations lovingly depict the diversity in our world that can also bring us together.
3. Yum Yum Dim Sum by Amy Wilson Sanger
My kids have been going to dim sum for years but they didn’t like it at first. A few years ago, there was an unexpected turnaround — I’m not sure why — and now going to dim sum is accompanied by a joyful chant of “yum yum dim sum”. It has nothing to do with this book because I failed to read it to my kids when they were young.
But I suspect if I had the wherewithal to read Yum Yum Dim Sum to them very young, there might not have been any resistance to dim sum in the first place. The collage art makes it fun to figure out how the food is depicted and the rhyming text will get you hungry for your own trip to dim sum!
Our trip to Dim Sum includes several of the items in the board book: ha gau (shrimp dumpling) is at the top, sui mai (pork dumpling) is the middle one with the red dot, cha siu bao (barbequed pork steamed bun) is at the bottom. These are all my kids’ favorites!
2. Global Babies by The Global Fund for Kids
I’ve read that babies are fascinated with photographs of people, particularly babies. Adorable babies from around the world are shown in native costume — I love how the Spanish baby is sporting an FC Barcelona shirt. The text is both rhyming and bilingual in Spanish.
My favorite detail is different ways babies are “worn” and transported in a hands-free way by their parents: the U.S.A. baby is in a cradleboard, the Malian baby is wrapped in cloth at her mother’s back, and the Rwandan and Malawian babies are wrapped in gorgeous African cloth carriers and tied to their moms with just their heads peeking out.
The countries represented include: Guatemala, Thailand, Greenland, Mali, USA, India, South Africa, Fiji, Peru, Afghanistan, Malawi, Spain, Iraq, Rwanda, and Bhutan.
1. Whistle For Willie by Ezra Jack Keats
Ezra Jack Keats takes us on another gentle adventure with Peter and his dog Willie. Peter wants desperately to whistle so that Willie will run right to him, but it’s so hard to do! So instead, he spins in circles, hides in a box and plays with chalk. It might have been his dad’s old hat or his persistent practicing but he hid a second time in the carton, he suddenly was able to whistle! And everyone loved it!
p.s. More Multicultural Book Lists for Kids
Sprout’s Bookshelf has a great list! Color Your Bookshelf: 39 Diverse Board Books to Give a Baby or Toddler
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