I recently received a book bundle from Macmillan that subtly highlights diversity while joyfully teaching messages of inclusion. Ways to Welcome (2020), written by Linda Ashman and illustrated by Joey Chou, and All Welcome Here (2020), written by James Preller and illustrated by Mary GrandPre, both explore the awkwardness of going somewhere new and show the importance of welcoming strangers to turn them into friends. Both books incorporate diverse characters including women in burkas and children in wheelchairs. What makes characters unique isn’t addressed, but it is an essential part of the visual story.
Finding Kindness (2019), written by Deborah Underwood and illustrated by Irene Chan, takes a similar approach to diversity. It doesn’t make difference a theme, but it does visually depict diversity throughout. All of these texts also show children as agents of kindness.
Written and illustrated by Aidan Cassie, The Word For Friend (2020) also explores themes of kindness and welcoming, but whereas the other books mentioned don’t focus on a specific character or highlight a specific aspect of diversity, this text focuses on a character who has moved with her mother to a new country where her home language isn’t spoken. Cassie introduces readers to Esperanto, the language spoken in the protagonist’s new home. Esperanto is a language created in 1887 that isn’t associated with a particular country and will probably feel foreign to most readers. In this way, young learners can identify with the challenge of making a new home where language differences make fitting in a challenge. This is a personal favorite of mine that I’m sure will prompt meaningful discussions about concrete ways to make people with specific differences, such as language, feel welcome.
Written by Karamo Brown of Queer Eye fame, and illustrated by Anoosha Said, I am Perfectly Designed (2020) is a beautiful exploration of a father-son relationship. The phrase “perfectly designed” repeats throughout the text as father and son banter back-and-forth, reflecting on their sweet relationship. I am Perfectly Designed is a delightful anytime pick-me-up story emphasizing love, affection, and familial support. It’s the perfect book for fathers to share with their sons and is especially significant because it features an African American father-and-son duo navigating an urban landscape. Representation matters, and this particular representation remains rare. I loved spotting background characters wearing t-shirts with phrases like “girl power” and “feminist.” Great art in this one!
Speaking of great art, Black is a Rainbow Color (2020), written by Angela Joy and illustrated by Ekua Holmes is gorgeous. The book introduced readers to a thoughtful girl, maybe 8 or 9 years old, sitting on a stoop as she contemplates the colors in a rainbow: red, green, blue, yellow, orange, violet, and indigo. She claims the color Black for herself and notes that there is “no BLACK in rainbows.” However, page after page shows beautiful objects that Black is found in. Black may not be in rainbows, but the text reminds readers where it can be found: “tangled in a box,” “a feather on white winter snow,” and “dirt where sunflowers grow.” Black is beautiful and vital. The picture book ends with the line, “Black is a rainbow, too.” Joy and Holmes depict Black as a celebration of culture, history, and family in this fantastic children’s book.
Readers will be happy to know Macmillan has created a wonderful set of teaching tools to help young readers reflect on the messages of joy and inclusion found in these books. Check it out here: https://www.mackidsschoolandlibrary.com/activity-kit-embrace-difference-make-a-difference/.