One of the most natural ways to build awareness of race and social justice into your classroom from the beginning of the year is to choose books that kids can see themselves in.
So, when you're choosing books for your classroom, think in terms of not only how these books can help set the tone for the year, but that help children to see themselves as heroes and heroines of their own stories.
When kids see themselves in books, they see characters who look just like them who have overcome challenges, who have faced obstacles, and who have made a difference in the world.
Here are my favorites (so far)! If you know a book that you feel should be added to this list, please comment below and let me know. 😊
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The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson is a wonderful book for the beginning of the school year as children enter a new classroom and wonder if they’ll fit in, if there’s anyone like them in this new place.
It’s a book all about feeling different and gathering the courage to connect with others, even when you’re afraid and even when you feel or look different from other kids.
I Am Enough by Grace Byers is about owning your gifts and having faith in who you are. It’s about respecting yourself and the importance of kindness to others.
Of course, these are all lessons we teach children at the beginning of the school year and throughout the year, but the difference is that this book features a young black girl – again, helping children to see heros and heroines that look like them.
An entertaining yet creative way to address and celebrate diversity among young children. Guaranteed to make you smile and a bit hungry."
"Teachers do so much more than just teach academics. They build a sense of community within their classrooms, creating a home away from home where they make their students feel safe, included, and loved.
With its heartfelt message and colorfully whimsical illustrations, “Our Class is a Family” is a book that will help build and strengthen that class community. Kids learn that their classroom is a place where it’s safe to be themselves, it’s okay to make mistakes, and it’s important to be a friend to others. When hearing this story being read aloud by their teacher, students are sure to feel like they are part of a special family." Source: Amazon
"A stirring, dramatic story of a slave who mails himself to freedom by a Jane Addams Peace Award-winning author and a Coretta Scott King Award-winning artist.
Henry Brown doesn't know how old he is. Nobody keeps records of slaves' birthdays. All the time he dreams about freedom, but that dream seems farther away than ever when he is torn from his family and put to work in a warehouse. Henry grows up and marries, but he is again devastated when his family is sold at the slave market. Then one day, as he lifts a crate at the warehouse, he knows exactly what he must do: He will mail himself to the North. After an arduous journey in the crate, Henry finally has a birthday -- his first day of freedom." Source: Amazon
"Actress, producer, and parent Kristen Bell (The Good Place, Veronica Mars, Frozen) and creative director and parent Benjamin Hart have a new challenge for you and your kids: become a purple person by embracing what makes YOU special while finding common ground with those around you."
"Through a child's eyes, the world may seem chaotic with coronavirus (COVID19), masks, and social distancing. Masked Ninja explains what's going on in our current pandemic and shows us actionable steps we can take to prevent the spread of viruses and racism.
Find out what happens in this comedic book about pandemics, viruses, and kindness.
"Follow the real lives of seven kids from Italy, Japan, Iran, India, Peru, Uganda, and Russia for a single day! In Japan Kei plays Freeze Tag, while in Uganda Daphine likes to jump rope. But while the way they play may differ, the shared rhythm of their days—and this one world we all share—unites them.
This genuine exchange provides a window into traditions that may be different from our own as well as a mirror reflecting our common experiences. Inspired by his own travels, Matt Lamothe transports readers across the globe and back with this luminous and thoughtful picture book."
This book "embraces all of our beautiful differences. Aimed to help children understand there are many great reasons for being friends with those who are different than they are. Whether they have red hair or brown hair, green eyes or blue eyes, long legs or short legs, light skin or dark skin, glasses, uses a wheelchair or anything else, it's absolutely OKAY!
Our differences are what makes us unique and if we truly think about it, would you want to be the exact same as someone else?
What If We Were All The Same! is fun-filled with rhymes and colorful illustrations, and brings attention to tough topics children can relate to." Source: Amazon
"By highlighting the ways kids are different from one another it helps children to accept themselves and others as the beautifully unique individuals that they are. It's OK to be Different encourages kids to be kind and befriend those who are different from themselves, showing young children that they don't have to look alike or enjoy doing the same activities to be kind to one another.
Readers will come away with the message: "You should always be kind to those who are different from you. Because to them, YOU are different too." Source: Amazon
"Who better than Sesame Street to teach us that we may all look different on the outside—but it's important to remember that deep down, we are all very much alike. We all have the same needs, desires, and feelings.
Elmo and his Sesame Street friends help teach toddlers and the adults in their lives that everyone is the same on the inside, and it's our differences that make this wonderful world, which is home to us all, an interesting—and special—place. This enduring, colorful, and charmingly illustrated book offers an easy, enjoyable way to learn about differences—and what truly matters. It is an engaging read for toddlers and adults alike." Source: Amazon
"Being the new kid in school is hard enough, but what about when nobody can pronounce your name? Having just moved from Korea, Unhei is anxious that American kids will like her. So instead of introducing herself on the first day of school, she tells the class that she will choose a name by the following week. Her new classmates are fascinated by this no-name girl and decide to help out by filling a glass jar with names for her to pick from. But while Unhei practices being a Suzy, Laura, or Amanda, one of her classmates comes to her neighborhood and discovers her real name and its special meaning. On the day of her name choosing, the name jar has mysteriously disappeared. Encouraged by her new friends, Unhei chooses her own Korean name and helps everyone pronounce it—Yoon-Hey." Source: Amazon
"Feeling different, especially as a kid, can be tough. But in the same way that different types of plants and flowers make a garden more beautiful and enjoyable, different types of people make our world more vibrant and wonderful.
In Just Ask, United States Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor celebrates the different abilities kids (and people of all ages) have. Using her own experience as a child who was diagnosed with diabetes, Justice Sotomayor writes about children with all sorts of challenges--and looks at the special powers those kids have as well. As the kids work together to build a community garden, asking questions of each other along the way, this book encourages readers to do the same: When we come across someone who is different from us but we're not sure why, all we have to do is Just Ask." Source: Amazon
"From early on, children are looking to discover their place in the world and longing to understand how their personalities, traits, and talents fit in. The assurance that they are deeply loved and a unique creation in our big universe is certain to help them spread their wings and fly.
Through playful, charming rhyme and vivid, fantastical illustrations, When God Made You inspires young readers to learn about their own special gifts and how they fit into God’s divine plan as they grow, explore, and begin to create for themselves." Source: Amazon
"From skin, hair, and eyes in a multitude of colors to different personalities and interests, God gave us all special traits and characteristics that make us uniquely ourselves. And we all have things in common too: like sharing fun and laughter on the playground, a sense of curiosity, big feelings, and so many other things that show how we are all more alike than we are different." Source: Amazon
"Discover a school where—no matter what—young children have a place, have a space, and are loved and appreciated.
Follow a group of children through a day in their school, where everyone is welcomed with open arms. A school where students from all backgrounds learn from and celebrate each other's traditions. A school that shows the world as we will make it to be."
"Every Sunday after church, CJ and his grandma ride the bus across town. But today, CJ wonders why they don't own a car like his friend Colby. Why doesn’t he have an iPod like the boys on the bus? How come they always have to get off in the dirty part of town? Each question is met with an encouraging answer from grandma, who helps him see the beauty—and fun—in their routine and the world around them.
This energetic ride through a bustling city highlights the wonderful perspective only grandparent and grandchild can share, and comes to life through Matt de la Pena’s vibrant text and Christian Robinson’s radiant illustrations."
"Every day all over the world, children are laughing and crying, playing and learning, eating and sleeping. They may not look the same. They may not speak the same language. Their lives may be quite different. But inside, they are all alike. Stirring words and bold paintings weave their way around our earth, across cultures and generations.
At a time when, unfortunately, the lessons of tolerance still need to be learned, Whoever You Are urges us to accept our differences, to recognize our similarities, and-most importantly-to rejoice in both." Source: Amazon
"George has a house made from a big cardboard box, and he says that no one else at the playground can come in. Not Lindy, because George's house "isn't for girls," nor Freddie, because it "isn't for small people." Sophie can't come in because, George says, "This house isn't for people with glasses." But when George leaves his house for a moment, everyone piles in, and on his return, George gets a taste of his own medicine. Aided by Bob Graham's striking illustrations of an urban playground, Michael Rosen tells the tale of a little boy who makes a big discovery — that letting everyone into his playhouse is a lot more fun than keeping them out." Source: Amazon
"Frustrated by a day full of teachers and classmates mispronouncing her beautiful name, a little girl tells her mother she never wants to come back to school. In response, the girl's mother teaches her about the musicality of African, Asian, Black-American, Latinx, and Middle Eastern names on their lyrical walk home through the city. Empowered by this newfound understanding, the young girl is ready to return the next day to share her knowledge with her class. Your Name is a Song is a celebration to remind all of us about the beauty, history, and magic behind names." Source: Amazon
I hope you've enjoyed this incredible list of titles to help highlight and teach diversity in your classroom! If you know of other titles that you feel should be added to this list, be sure to comment below to let me know.
Dr. Lori Friesen | Beginning Teacher Mentor
Creator of the R.E.A.D.Y. for School Academy, Dr. Lori Friesen has mentored thousands of beginning teachers across the country through her workshops and courses. Host of the popular podcast, Beginning Teacher Talk, and creator of the innovative literacy program for 1st and 2nd grade, Dogs Help Kids Read and Succeed, Dr. Lori is dedicated to serving educators and inspiring learners. Learn more at drlorifriesen.com and at howdogshelpkids.com.
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