Want to make sure that the books you love to read with your children over and over again also spread awareness? Here are some timeless classics to consider. It’s vital for our children’s bookshelves to showcase the diversity of the human experience, so we have compiled a list to help you do just that! From a story about a transgender child to an anthology of rad women in American history, these books are fun and informative, helping kids understand situations beyond their own. Some of them have been around for decades, others for just a few years, but all of these books are classics that will inspire your child.
- By Mary Hoffman
- Illustrations by Caroline Binch
- Published in 1991
- For readers 4-7+
This lively romp through Grace’s active and theatrical life leads up to her audition for the school play. Some of Grace’s classmates tell her she can’t be Peter Pan because she’s both black and a girl. Grace’s mother and grandmother support her as she learns about the power she has within herself.
What we love: Amazing Grace is truly revolutionary, because there are so few children’s books featuring black females that aren’t also focused on the civil rights movement. We love that Grace, aided by the support of strong female figures, doesn’t allow the racism of her classmates to sabotage her enthusiasm.
Things to know: Some editions of amazing Grace have a whiff of cultural insensitivity when Grace is acting out the stories of Hiawatha, Mowgli, and Aladdin. (In newer editions, these pages have been removed.)
I am Jazz
- By Jazz Jennings and Jessica Herthel
- Illustrations by Shelagh McNicholas
- Published in 2014
- For readers 4-8+
Jazz likes the color pink, playing with dolls, and wearing a mermaid tail. While she likes to talk to her older sister about her “girl thoughts,” Jazz was designated as a male at birth. This story describes Jazz’s struggle as a young child feeling like she was in the wrong body, and the challenges she and her family face.
What we love: Jazz co-authored this story, making it both authentic and easy-to-understand story for kids. We think every family should have at least one book showcasing gender as a spectrum – and I am Jazz is a classic!
Things to know: Keep in mind that I Am Jazz does designate certain activities as ‘girly’, which reinforces gender roles.
A Chair for My Mother
- Written and illustrated by Vera B. Williams
- Published in 1982
- For readers 5-8+
Every evening, a little girl, her mother, and her grandmother deposit any extra cash they have into a large jar. As the jar fills, they dream of buying a luxurious, soft, wide chair.
What we love: This book documents the time and hard work that goes into rebuilding a home. A Chair for My Mother artfully illustrates one family’s daily struggle to make enough money, a topic few children’s books ever address.
Things to know: The narrator is never named, which creates a little bit of confusion.
The Emperor and the Kite
- By Jane Yolen
- Illustrations by Ed Young
- Published in 1967
- For readers 4-8
While her royal family runs the country, Djeow Seow is forgotten, left to fly her kite by herself. One day, her father is kidnapped and only Djeow Seow sees where he is locked up. Can she save him?
What we love: Djeow Seow perseveres through hardship with strength and grace. Her father becomes her ally, an example of a male character uplifting a female into a position of power.
Things to know: Some of the story is heavy handed, as there’s a clear divide between the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ guys — a rather one-dimensional look at people.
The Paper Bag Princess
- By Robert Munsch
- Illustrations by Michael Martchenko
- Published in 1980
- For readers 4-8
When a dragon destroys her castle, he burns her dress– forcing Princess Elizabeth to wear a paper bag! What’s worse, he kidnaps her perfect Prince Ronald! What’s a princess to do? Why, go and get her prince back of course! Armed with her wits , Elizabeth will surely triumph, but once she gets to Prince Ronald, things might not go quite how she planned.
What we love: This book takes the traditional prince-princess-dragon story type and humorously flips it on its head.
Things to know: Some of the stereotypes that this book breaks may seem a little outdated. However, the damsel-in-distress narrative remains very alive, and an example of busting it apart is important exposure for our kids.
Rad American Women: A-Z
- By Kate Schatz
- Illustrations by Miriam Klein Stahl
- Published in 2015
- For readers 7+
This book is filled with sleek, stylized illustrations of mind-blowingly cool women, as well as brief descriptions of their accomplishments, perseverance, and the changes they created. Rad American Women: A-Z is an important reminder of what women, and especially women of color, can do. One of the hardest things about this book is that there’s only room for 26 women!
What we love: This anthology showcases just a portion of the women who affected major change throughout America’s history. It’s an important reminder of the power that women have, their determination, and the work required to create a lasting impact. This book features a motivating ethos that encourages all of us to make our own mark on the world.
Things to know: This book is lighter on illustrations and heavier on text, so it’s definitely for older readers. Rad Women Worldwide is a similar work by Katy Schatz and Miriam Klein Stahl.
We know you already have classics on your child’s bookshelf. Now, you can expose your child to even more diversity. Here’s to building empathy through stories!
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