This isn’t the list I set out to write. I had decided to search my bookshelves and the hundreds of picture books I’ve acquired over the years. I was in search of old favorites.
I’m the kind of reader who is often seduced by the latest and greatest. I LOVE a great book list, especially one filled with hot new titles. But sometimes I find my love for new and shiny overshadowing some of my favorites that become forgotten, sitting lonely on the bookshelf.
I was in search of those lonely books, plucking them out and making a pile, when I found myself making a second pile. Books have always been my go to for starting conversations or tackling issues with kids- it began in the classroom and has been something that’s transferred to home, now that I have my own children. In the classroom, if there were friendship issues bubbling, I pulled out titles like Enemy Pie, by Derek Munson or Ruby Sings the Blues, by Nikki Daly. At home, when my middle daughter decided her friends at daycare were tasty, Teeth Are Not For Biting was a daily read for us.
The second pile I found myself making were books I thought would help my girls with a topic of conversation that has been getting more air time in our house recently. It began with a play date and a friend asking my daughter why she had black skin. At bedtime that same day, both of my older daughters began asking a lot of questions, wondering why they didn’t look like me. I did my best to explain that they were a little bit of me, Irish and Italian, and a little bit of their dad, Haitian- a perfect mix of the people that love them most.
But long after the girls fell asleep, the conversation lingered in my thoughts. I went back to Sara Ahmed’s book, Being the Change and reviewed the pieces related to identity. I also searched the web wondering had I answered the right way? How could I help my strong little girls to feel proud of who they are?
These are the titles that made it into that second stack-books that have helped us to have conversations about being different, celebrating who you are, and above all, treating everyone with kindness.
It’s Okay to Be Different
By Todd Parr
This has been a favorite for many years in our house. It began as a silly read aloud, laughing over it being “okay to eat macaroni and cheese in the bathtub” or wear a fish in your hair. But we’ve often found ourselves going back to the text to remind the girls, in real life situations, to remember that it’s ok to be different colors, shapes, sizes, and to like different things. Todd Parr’s books are great for generating conversations at an early age in a fun and lighthearted way. The Family Book and The Earth Book are other favorites.
By Taye Diggs
Illustrated By Shane W. Evans
My husband bought this book for our girls last Valentines Day. He wrote a lovely note inside that I had forgotten about. He ended the note with, “There is no one like you in the world and that’s an awesome thing.” This book celebrate a young boy who has parents that look different than one another. Throughout the story he encounters people who ask questions about his family and the way he looks. This book offers kids like “Mixed Mike” ideas for ways to respond to these kinds of encounters that are bound to happen.
I Am Enough
By Grace Byers
Illustrated By Keturah A. Bobo
I am Enough is a simple book with a message that we are all different and “that does not dictate our worth; we both have places here on earth.”
Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls
By Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo
This book was a gift for our oldest daughter, Wren, a few years ago. She loved it from the moment she laid eyes on it, at the age of four. She’d beg to read “just one more” one page biography of a influential woman. At first I was worried that some of the content was a little mature for her, but the conversations we have had as a result have been so valuable. The stories of these women have begun to give my own girls perspective that not everyone’s lives have looked like their own or currently look like their’s. Reading about Manal Al-Sharif, a women’s rights activist from Saudi Arabia, who worked for women to have the right to drive was mind boggling for Wren. “What do you mean girls can’t drive?” The stories also provide context for explaining other situations. For instance, there have been times when something comes up about segregation and we relate it back to Nina Simone, a singer who once refused to perform until her parents who were black and seated at the back of the venue were allowed to move forward. “Did that really happen?” Wren has asked on more than one occasion while reading these stories.
Black, White, Just Right!
By Marguerite W. Davol
Illustrated By Irene Trivas
I’m pretty sure I bought this book before Wren was born, six years ago. It’s been a good one for our family because our girls can see themselves on these pages. It’s a nice celebration of being “just right,” no matter who you are.
Julian is a Mermaid
By Jessica Love
My mermaid loving daughters didn’t blink an eye reading this story about a little boy who also loves mermaids. When I asked them what they thought Julian learned in the story, they said, “how to be a mermaid.” With a little more conversation, they came to realize that Julian’s grandmother accepted Julian for who he was and that it’s okay to like what you like and be who you are. This is still a concept we need to work on because they are quick to declare pink a “girl color” and blue is for boys. But books like this keep us talking.
Mixed: A Colorful Story
By Arree Chung
I ordered this book after the play date conversation and it is PERFECT! I have spotted this book on many “back to school lists,” including Pernille Ripp’s (my shopping cart is full after seeing this one!). This book is not just for kids who may look different, but about how we all bring something to a community. I think our nation could use a good sit down read aloud with Mixed:A Colorful Story.
My Heart Fills With Happiness
By Monique Gray Smith
Illustrated by Julie Flett
At the end of the day, I just want my kids to be happy and kind people. This simple book is about finding joy in the small things like singing or walking barefoot in the grass. At the end, Monique Gray Smith asks, “What fills your heart with happiness?” This book has been a good one for helping us find the beauty and happiness in every day moments.
The Big Umbrella
By Amy June Bates
Cowritten with Juniper Bates
I was introduced to this book through Two Writing Teachers. In this beautifully illustrated book, there is always room under the big umbrella for others-no matter what you look like.
The Sandwich Swap
By Queen Rania of Jordan Al Abdullah and Kelly DiPucchio
Illustrated By Tricia Tusa
The Sandwich Swap has been a favorite in our house for a long time. We read it long before my daughters ever went to school. It’s about two friends who get in a tiff over liking different foods. In the end they learn to accept and try new things. After starting kindergarten, low and behold, someone commented that my daughter’s lunch was disgusting… more than once. Talking about this book helped us through. It’s also helped us when debating whether to try something new. “You might like it… just like in The Sandwich Swap!”
After beginning to draft this list, I saw a Tweet from Katie Clements, from TCRWP, who shared a quote from James Howe. It said, “The world we are living in now makes the world of the book all that much more important as we consider what we want to say to our children about how to live, about what being human in a community should look like.” I think this sums up this list. This wasn’t the list I set out to write, but it was the list my family needed right now. I’m so thankful that there are so many books available to help us have conversations and share examples that help my kids, and others, to see themselves- that there are others going through similar experiences. Books have given us friends and a vocabulary for navigating the world.