Looking for your next favorite children’s books about family diversity and alternative family structures?We’ve got you covered with the best children’s picture books about blended families, same-sex parents, adoption and more. Check out this fantastic list!
I’ll never forget my first week as an elementary school librarian. I had a lot of weeding to do; a lot of pulling old, outdated books off the shelves to make room for new, current and modern reads. I’ll never forget when I got to the “families” section of our non-fiction shelves and I pulled out a book meant to explain to young children what it means to be a family. There on the page, for all of my students to see, were pictures of four people: a white man and woman, a white little boy and a white little girl. And there on the pages, in words I found startling, it said a family is comprised of a mom, a dad and two children.
So much for family diversity.
I almost dropped the book. And then I furiously grabbed all of the books out of the family section so I could read through those, too. Why did I feel such a sudden overwhelming need to go through this stack? Because this portrayal of a “family,” while totally acceptable for some, was NOT the image I wanted my students to see. Though I work at a small private school, my students come from all backgrounds. They come from divorced families, multi-racial families, and families with same-sex parents. Some kids are adopted, some have adopted siblings, some have only one parent, some live with grandparents. The thought that a child would pick up one of these books and see a family so different from his own, one that broadcasted that this particular structure was the “right” way to be a family, was simply unacceptable.
Why Read About Family Diversity and Alternative Families?
Showcasing diverse families and alternative family structures is critically important for students, because every child needs to be able to find himself in a story, just as they also need to learn about others through story. After all, we can’t expect children to love to read if they don’t see themselves in the books they pick up! I thus made it a mission to purchase books that showcased all the ways in which people can be a family. And you know what each of these books included? No matter what kind of family diversity was highlighted in a particular story, one single thread ran through them all. Love. So much love.
Many have asked why I think it’s important for children to read books about alternative families and family diversity even if they come from traditional families. The answer is simple. No matter what your beliefs, no matter where you live or how you live, your children’s friends and classmates — or your own students if you are an educator — undoubtedly come from various backgrounds. Our goal as parents and educators is to help the next generation see that no matter how different one child’s family structure may look from another, there is no single way to be a family. The more we emphasize this, the more we nurture this understanding in kids, the more compassionate, accepting and inclusive our children will grow to be. Could we ask for anything more in our future leaders?
Here are some of our favorite books about family diversity and alternative families. We hope you read them, learn from them, enjoy them, and share them with others. Happy reading!
Our Favorite Books About Family Diversity and Alternative Families!
A Family is a Family is a Family, by Sara O’Leary and illustrated by Qin Leng: A young student is hesitant to tell her classmates about her unique family. But once the other students begin talking about their own alternative families, the students quickly learn there is no one way to be. Instead, each family is special in its own, uniquely wonderful way. This flawless story conveys that families come in all shapes and sizes, some with divorced parents, others with adopted children, some with same sex parents and others with multiracial parents, just to name a few. It is a book I am proud to display in our school library, and one that is cherished in our home collection because it stands for everything I believe in! For our full review of this beautiful book, click here!
Stella Brings the Family, by Miriam B. Schiffer and illustrated by Holly Clifton-Brown: We simply adore this story about a young girl with two daddies! Stella is distraught when she learns her class will soon have a Mother’s Day celebration at school. After all, Stella has no moms, so who on earth will she bring to the party? With the help of her classmates, Stella realizes she’s got a whole crew of people who love and support her -- and she might just have to bring them all!
One Family, by George Shannon and illustrated by Blanca Gomez: This unique book fabulously explores the power of “one” and shows that the number one possesses a whole slew of different meanings. The number “one” can actually encompass a multitude of numbers, such as one box of eight crayons, one batch of ten cookies, and one family - no matter how many people that family includes! This book uniquely shows, through a wide array of multiracial and multi-generational homes, that “one family” means something different to each of us and can contain any number of people.
Wolfie the Bunny, by Ame Dyckman and illustrated by Zachariah OHora: What happens when your parents adopt a new baby, but the baby is not a bunny like the rest of the family but a wolf instead? Mom and Dad are so smitten with their new arrival, and only their daughter realizes that Wolfie may eat them all up! This take on adoption, sibling rivalry and overcoming differences is spot on -- leaving readers young and old entertained, enlightened, and, most importantly, grinning from ear to ear.
The Family Book, by Todd Parr: Two dads? Two moms? Single parents? Multiracial families? Whether your family is big or small, clean or messy, Todd Parr’s vibrant, simple book is perfect for young readers. The Family Book happens to be one of our very favorite of Parr’s books for the fantastic way it teaches children to appreciate our differences and the beauty of family diversity. As long as there is love, nothing else matters! This book about alternative families should be in every classroom and on every child’s bookshelf around the country.
Just Right Family, An Adoption Story, by Silvia Lopez and illustrated by Ziyue Chen: This beautiful adoption story about a multiracial family hit all the right notes for us! Melli was adopted from China when she was just a baby, and now her parents are ready to bring home another baby girl — this time, from Haiti! Melli is not excited by this news, however, because she thinks her family is just right as it. This tender story of love and learning explores a wonderful and important journey. It beautifully conveys how Melli’s parents teach Melli about her own adoption and birth country, as well as the manner in which they will welcome a new baby from another country and background into their home. Superb!
Fred Stays with Me!, by Nancy Coffelt and illustrated by Tricia Tusa: There are so few stories about divorce that aren’t didactic or heavy handed. This one follows a girl learning to navigate her new life with two homes and going back and forth between mom’s and dad’s houses. The child’s dog, Fred, goes back and forth with her, providing stability for the girl and common ground for the parents. The dog also provides an avenue for the parents to learn to resolve conflict. A great story that is simple and not overly sentimental.
And Tango Makes Three, by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson, illustrated by Henry Cole: This is the true story of two male penguins living at the Central Park Zoo. The penguins, Roy and Silo were inseparable. Though they were both males and had a different relationship from the other penguins in their habitat, they had a clear desire for a family. The zookeepers recognized the penguins’ yearning for a baby and thus gave the two a motherless egg. What happened next was surprising, stunning and so incredibly sweet — the two male penguins successfully hatched baby Tango! A beautiful, poignant story to show that a family is a family, no matter what it looks like.
Gaston, by Kelly DiPucchio and illustrated by Christian Robinson: When two families — a bulldog crew and a poodle clan — meet up in the park, the chance encounter reveals there has been a mix-up among the pups. No wonder Gaston, a bull dog, has little resemblance to his siblings! The dogs’ mothers decide to switch the two puppies, but all quickly realize this may not have been the right decision. Without feeling heavy handed, this book fabulously explores family diversity. Gaston conveys that family is built on love, and physical appearances do not mean everything. Though one may be able to find commonalities with others who are more outwardly "similar," home is with the ones that nurture and love you, above all else. This one makes us swoon! For our full review of Gaston, click here!
The Case for Loving: The Fight for Interracial Marriage, by Selina Alko and illustrated by Sean Qualls: I absolutely love this beautiful, non-fiction book about the Lovings and their fight to make interracial marriage legal in every state across America. Richard (a white man) and Mildred (a black woman) fell in love and got married - yet, marriage between people of different races was illegal in Virginia. The Lovings were thus forced to marry in DC so their marriage would be legally recognized. After exchanging their vows, the police barged into their Virginia home one evening and jailed the couple, prompting a fight against the unfair law that ended up before the Supreme Court -- where the Lovings won. A fabulous intro to the Lovings, multiracial families, and the fight for marriage equality.
My Two Homes, by Claire Masurel and illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton: Alex has two homes, one with mommy and one with daddy. She also has two bedrooms, two comfy chairs, and friends to play with at each house. Despite the fact that Alex’s parents are divorced and she has two of everything, one thing remains constant, no matter where she is: she is so very loved. For children of divorced families, this reassuring book addresses the things children “gain” during a divorce - and the things that will never change when parents separate.