If we had to narrow down concerns about our new presidential administration to just one, for must of us it would probably be the fact that our new president is attempting to close American borders and single out whole groups of people he views as a threat. He’s setting a dangerous example for the people of the United States, and now — more than ever — it’s up to us to teach our children the importance of tolerance and diversity.
You probably already know that your kids are watching everything you do, for better or for worse. And as a result, the worldview that you present to them at a young age is going to stick with them well into adulthood. Reading to kids about different cultures, races and even gender identities can open their minds — and their hearts.
Sometimes these conversations are hard to have, but these captivating children’s books make it much easier to start introducing diversity at home.
1. One Green Apple
Facing the challenges of being a new kid in a new country with a new language, Farah finds comfort in the similarities she finds on a field trip to an apple orchard. As the class works together to make apple cider, the young Muslim immigrant begins to connect with her classmates when she realizes it takes many types of apples to make the sweet beverage. One Green Apple by Eve Bunting is aimed at kids ages 4 and up. (Amazon.com, $14)
2. Two Mrs. Gibsons
In a world where biracial children are becoming the majority, this touching children’s book celebrates cultural diversity by highlighting a little girl’s relationships with her Japanese mother and her African-American grandmother. While the story teaches kids about diversity, it is the lesson that strengths come in those differences, especially within your own family, that shines through. Two Mrs. Gibsons by Toyomi Igus is suitable for children ages 6 and up. (Valore Books, $6)
3. I Am Jazz
This children’s book about a young transgender girl made a huge splash when it came out in 2014. In the book, recommended for ages 4 to 8, Jazz Jennings tells her story about transitioning as a child in the new millennium. Jazz, who later received a TLC series of the same name, explains what it’s like to be a transgender child in a way that most young kids can understand. As Laverne Cox of Orange Is the New Black put it so well in her book review, “This is an essential tool for parents and teachers to share with children whether those kids identify as trans or not.” (Amazon.com, $13)
4. Little Blue and Little Yellow
Originally written during a time when races were often separated, two little dots of color form a friendship represented by the color green that was not accepted by all, namely their own parents. However, the message of tolerance and acceptance of cultural diversity is delivered through the blending of the colors by the parents themselves in the end. Little Blue and Little Yellow by Leo Lionni is a terrific book for children in preschool and beyond. (Barnes & Noble, $12)
5. Jack & Jim
With messages of tolerance and the beauty of diversity woven into the tales of two birds from different parts of the world, children will grasp the easy-to-understand messages illustrated in the watercolor artwork of Kitty Crowther. Children will learn that the birds’ friendship is based on what’s beyond their feathers — what’s inside their hearts. Jack & Jim by Kitty Crowther is perfect for little ones ages for 4 to 8. (Valore Books, $53)
6. The Big Orange Splot
The message of individuality and self-actualization is easily delivered when Mr. Plumbean’s house is splashed with orange paint. Although the choice he makes to paint his house in multicolored hues is in response to the intolerance of his neighbors, the lesson to accept people as they are is received loud and clear to toddlers and grade-schoolers alike. The Big Orange Splot by Daniel Manus Pinkwater is geared toward children ages 4 and up. (Barnes & Noble, $7)
Next up: Chocolate Milk, Por Favor!
Originally published January 2013. Updated February 2017.