Inside: Bring the world inside your home with these stunning multicultural children’s picture books, the big kid version of our popular diverse baby books list!
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Celebrate the World with Multicultural Children’s Picture Books
Who remembers reading picture books centered around beautiful, diverse characters when you were a child?
Think about it for a moment. Does anything immediately come to mind aside from The Snowy Day?
Believe it or not, diversity was rarely displayed in stories when most of us were children.
Instead, picture books were centered around white children, traditional families, and middle class neighborhoods featuring middle class kids. Rarely would you see a black child in a story. Never would you see a Muslim family at the park with a mother wearing a khimar or a Hispanic family dancing in their kitchen after dinner.
But things are slowly changing — thank goodness! — and, luckily, our children will be exposed to so much more than we were.
The Push for Multicultural Picture Books
The children’s publishing industry is making a tremendous push to feature more kids of color in their books, and the result is that the number of diverse books being published every year has steadily increased. Don’t get me wrong - we still have a LOT of work to do, and we still need a LOT more books written and illustrated by men and women of color.
Nonetheless, we are finally beginning to see more multicultural children’s books featuring diverse children and families. It is becoming easier to read about people from all cultures and all places, with skin colors as varied and beautiful as a rainbow.
Our children are living in an unprecedented time, and every day I’m grateful.
Multicultural Children’s Picture Books Allow All Kids to See Themselves in Stories
If you’ve been following Happily Ever Elephants for a while, you know we are passionate about the notion that all children need to see themselves in the pages of a book.
Every child needs to find characters they relate to in stories. They need to see families who look like theirs, children with the same skin color they have, kids who celebrate the same holidays, share the same struggles, and pride themselves on the same achievements.
Because children get a confidence boost when they see themselves in the stories they read. Reading about kids like themselves helps children of all backgrounds recognize and understand they are not “different.” Books provide safe spaces for kids to see children just like them exploring their emotions and navigating their personal circumstances and journeys. It helps children know they are not alone.
Perhaps even more importantly, young people need to read books that honor all children in every day situations. A black child should see himself in books about losing his first tooth, getting a new pet or playing hide and seek, not just books about the fight for civil rights. A Jewish child needs to see herself in picture books about friendship or days spent enjoying moments with grandparents, not just books about the Holocaust.
When a character’s skin color or religion or country of origin isn’t made a focal point of a story, it normalizes differences. When diverse characters — characters of different colors, nationalities, and religions — are stars, not sidekicks, in stories, we help children (and the adults who read to them!) see there is no one “right” or “ideal” way to be.
This is how we build bridges. This is how we nurture empathy.
Most importantly, this is how we begin to eradicate stigma, highlight similarities, and challenge harmful stereotypes, something we should all strive for every single day as parents.
Why Should I Read Multicultural Children’s Picture Books with My Children?
The positive impressions children gain from multicultural children’s picture books will last a life time.
Need I say more?
For more information about diversity in the publishing industry, I encourage you to check out We Need Diverse Books and Multicultural Children’s Book Day. And now, without further ado, here is our list of 50 phenomenal multicultural picture books!
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Kitchen Dance, by Maurie J. Manning: When a little girl wakes up during the night, she hears mysterious noises coming from the kitchen. She wakes her brother, and when the two creep downstairs, they find their parents dancing and singing as they clean the kitchen: “Como te quiero! Oh, how I love you!" The parents envelop the children into hugs and they all dance together, until the weary children are lulled back to sleep with a lullaby. A true gem!
Thank you, Omu!, by Oge Mora: In this beautiful debut, certain to become a classic, Omu makes a delicious red stew and its delectable scent travels all over the neighborhood. As one neighbor after another visits Omu to ask for a bowl of stew, Omu generously shares with all. But when she goes to make her own dinner, she realizes there is none left for her! Whatever will she do? This is a gorgeous story founded in Nigerian culture, highlighting generosity, selflessness and paying it forward. I am head over heels in love. For our full review of Thank You, Omu! click here!
Dreamers, by Yuyi Morales: This is an exquisitely crafted and collaged book about immigrants and the way in which words and stories changed the lives of a mother and her son upon arriving to the United States. It is a beautiful and poignant testament to the power of libraries, the magic of books, and the enormous promise that lies within the pages of every piece of literature.
Lubna and Pebble, by Wendy Meddour and illustrated by Daniel Egneus: Lubna’s best friend and confidante is a small pebble, found the night she landed in a World of Tents with her father. But when a little boy arrives to the World of Tents, lost and cold, Lubna introduces the boy to Pebble, and the two become friends in their new, uncertain world. When Lubna learns she and her father have found a real home and will be leaving the World of Tents, Lubna knows she has the most perfect gift to leave with the boy. Stunning, poignant, and moving, this has become an all time favorite book. For our full review of Lubna and Pebble, click here!
Mommy’s Khimar, by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow and illustrated by Ebony Glenn: This is a quiet beauty about a young Muslim girl who plays dress-up in her mother’s colorful headscarf. It is a gorgeous and oh-so-important mirror book for Muslim children and a wonderful window book for others, especially as it so elegantly challenges Islamaphobic chatter. Mommy’s Khimar exudes warmth, love and tenderness, and it is a relatable story for so many kids.
Where Are You From, by Yamile Saied Mendez and illustrated by Jaime Kim: This book is exquisite! A little girl of color is continuously asked a question by her peers. “Where are you from?” Though it should have a simple answer, the girl always struggles to reply. One day, she seeks enlightenment from her loving Abuelo, and she gets the most beautiful, thorough answer she could have imagined. Abuelo takes her on a journey under water and through the fields, evoking heritage, family bonds, and the love that exists from generation to generation, carrying us through challenges and giving us answers to age-old questions about self-identify and home. Just beautiful!
Hey Wall: A Story of Art and Community, by Susan Verde and illustrated by John Parra: One creative young boy is increasingly frustrated at an abandoned wall in his neighborhood, finding it not just bleak, but a poor reflection of the happiness and joy bubbling from within homes and buildings. So he sets out to make a change, and with the help of family and neighbors, he uses art to transform the community.
Babymoon, by Hayley Barrett and illustrated by Juana Martinez Neal: Oh my goodness is this book a beauty! Set in the dreamlike haze of an infant’s first few days at home, both parents and baby are adjusting to life as a new family of three. This is a lyrical treasure, perfectly encapsulating those wondrous first moments with a new baby and the delight parents find as they marvel at their new little love’s every tiny movement and action. The perfect gift for new parents!
My Two Blankets, by Irena Kobald and illustrated by Freya Blackwood: In this gorgeous story, a girl called Cartwheel moves to a new country with her auntie, and in her new surroundings, everything is strange. Only a metaphorical blanket brings her comfort, until the day that she meets a new girl and the two embark on a friendship that begins with a smile. This story not only sheds a much-needed light on the refugee experience, but it reminds us that fear of "others" can dissipate so quickly by simply opening our hearts and minds. It can start with a smile, or even just a simple hello. For our full review of My Two Blankets, click here!
A Hat for Mrs. Goldman, by Michelle Edwards and illustrated by G. Brian Karas: Mrs. Goldman knits hats for everyone in their neighborhood to help them stay warm during the harsh winter. But what happens when Sophia realizes that Mrs. Goldman is so busy knitting for everyone else and she has no hat of her own to wear? Sophia takes it upon herself to make Mrs. Goldman the perfect hat, and this simple act makes this a Happily Ever Elephants favorite picture book about friendship! I absolutely love this story of selflessness!
A Big Mooncake for Little Star, by Grace Lin: In this whimsical book, Little Star cannot stay away from the great Mooncake her mama bakes her — she simply cannot resist a nibble! This wonderful book, a modern day myth, tells an enchanting — and totally delightful — story about the different phases of the moon.
Alma and How She Got her Name, by Juana Martinez-Neal: A little girl complains to her father about her long name -- Alma Sofia Esperanza Jose Pura Candela. “It never fits,” she tells her Dad. Her frustration prompts a discussion between father and child as to why Alma was given such a long name, and Alma's eyes suddenly open to the legacies she carries with her and the beloved ancestors for whom she was named. Upon learning all about her vibrant name, Alma realizes that it may be the perfect fit after all. For our full review of Alma and How She Got Her Name, click here!
I am Human, by Susan Verde and illustrated by Peter Reynolds: This is the most beautiful book to remind us that we are all human, all works in progress. Sometimes we make mistakes, sometimes we even hurt others — but we can always improve and better ourselves through good choices, thoughtfulness and kind actions.
My Pet Wants a Pet, by Elise Broach and illustrated by Eric Barclay: One little boy begs his mom for a puppy - so much so, that she finally gives in. Oh, how he loves caring for his new animal! It doesn’t take long though, before he realizes that the puppy wants something to care for too. So the puppy gets a pet cat… and the puppy realizes that the cat wants something to care for too. What happens when the pet wants a pet wants a pet wants a pet? This one had us giggling for days!
The Big Bed, by Bunmi Laditan and illustrated by Tom Knight: A young girl has no interest in sleeping in her own room at bedtime (*ahem* nope, can't relate to that one at all!) and wants only to sleep in her parents’ room in bed with her mom. So what does the girl do? She gifts her dad a camping cot and attempts to convince him that he should sleep there instead of his actual bed where he belongs. I love the way this books helps kids learn to frame an argument and explain their positions! For our full review of The Big Bed, click here!
What If, by Samantha Berger and illustrated by Mike Curato: This beautifully illustrated book celebrates the power of imagination and one child’s determination to express herself in any way she can, be it through song, dance, drawing or building. This magical story provides a stunning exploration of the power of creativity and perseverance.
Time for Bed, Miyuki, by Roxanne Marie Galliez and illustrated by Seng Soun Ratanavanh: This gorgeous book tackles a universal problem and is set against an exquisite backdrop adorned with images depicting Japanese culture on every page. Sweet Miyuki just doesn’t want to go to sleep, despite her grandfather’s pleas. Why? There are too many things to do, like water the vegetables, gather the snails and prepare for the arrival of the Dragonfly Queen. With gentleness and patience, her grandfather indulges Miyuki’s antics until finally, she is ready for bed and sleep overtakes her. Exquisite! For our full review of Time for Bed, Miyuki, click here!
Julian is a Mermaid, by Jessica Love: Julian, a young boy, is dazzled while riding the subway - he sees three women dressed up as beautiful mermaids. He can think of nothing better than dressing up just like them, with his own tail and a magical headdress, so he attempts to do just that. But what will Abuela think about the way Julian sees himself?
Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut, by Derrick Barnes and illustrated by Gordon C. James: This one blew me away on the first read through, with its striking illustrations, fabulous pacing, and breathtakingly phenomenal voice. From the very first sentence, Barnes transports his readers right into barbershop culture through vivid details that come to life with brilliant authenticity. It is a celebration of self-confidence and self-worth, a beautiful window into one boy's transformation that enables him to feel recognized and powerful. The voice, the word choice, the rhythm – it is all astonishingly perfect. For our full review of Crown, click here!
We are Grateful: Otsaliheliga, by Traci Sorrell and illustrated by Frane Lessac: Otsaliheliga is a word used by members of the Cherokee Nation to express gratitude. This is a gorgeous “own voices” book that follows a year of holidays and celebrations of one group of Native Americans, and we simply love the way it honors everything from the animals to the land to the water.
A Gift from Abuela, by Celia Ruiz: This is a touching story about the love shared between abuela and her granddaughter. Abuela is saving up to buy something special for her special girl, but when her world turns upside down, it seems like her surprise will be impossible. Luckily, the time Abuela and Nina spend together may just end up being the most special gift of all. Love this story about family bonds that even the passage of time can’t shake!
Alfie: The Turtle that Disappeared, by Thrya Heder: Nia loves her pet turtle, but sometimes she grows frustrated. After all, he can’t talk or do any tricks. But on the night before her birthday, Nia discovers Alfie has gone missing. Did he run away? This innovative book switches perspective mid-way through to show readers how Alfie the turtle didn’t run away at all. Instead, he’s searching for Nia’s perfect birthday present! A fabulous and fun look at point of view.
Jabari Jumps, by Gaia Cornwall: Jabari is quite excited to jump off the diving board at the city pool – if, of course, he can first conquer his fears. In her debut, Cornwall created lovable, memorable characters in both Jabari and his compassionate father who together make a perfect pair. Couple the gentle story with mixed-media illustrations that both complement and accentuate Jabari's fear and joy, and you've got a winning picture book to add to both school and home collections. This is a fabulous growth mindset book for kids, and a wonderful story of courage!
Imagine!, by Raul Colon: This exquisite wordless picture book depicts one boy’s first experience at the Museum of Modern Art and his discovery of some of the world’s greatest artists, including Picasso, Rousseau and Matisse. While pondering a painting, the characters in the painting come alive, break free from the canvases, and join the boy through an exhilarating jaunt around Manhattan.
Mary Had a Little Glam, by Tammi Sauer and illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton: In this twist on the Mother Goose poem, Mary is a style maven who helps other nursery rhyme characters get their glam on. But will they be too dressed up for recess? A total hoot, especially for your budding fashionistas!
The Bagel King, by Andrew Larsen and illustrated by Sandy Nichols: Who else thinks bagels are the best thing about Sunday mornings? Every Sunday morning, Eli could count on his Zaida bringing bagels from Merv’s bakery. But one Sunday, Zaida didn’t come. He had a big fall! When Zaida is told he must stay in bed for two weeks, Eli discovers there may be something he can do to keep the weekly bagel tradition alive!
I am Enough, by Grace Byers and illustrated by Keturah A. Bobo: This is a lovely poem about finding your inner beauty, respecting yourself and treating others with kindness. If you are looking to teach your kids about self worth and confidence, this lyrical book is the perfect tool!
Drawn Together, by Minh Le and illustrated by Dan Santat: A young boy visits his grandfather, only to find a giant chasm between them as they do not speak the same language. But then the two sit down to draw, and that’s when magic happens. Drawn Together is a testament to the power of art to transcend words, and this stunning book perfectly encapsulates that bonds can be found and formed even when we may not share the same language.
What is Given from the Heart, by Patricia C. McKissack and illustrated by April Harrison: James Otis and his Mama don’t have much, but they have their health and strength, so Mama says they are blessed. One Sunday, their reverend makes an announcement that the Temple family has lost everything in a fire, and everyone will make a Love Box to help them in their time of need. James Otis wonders hard - what should he give that the family will like? He comes up with an idea from the heart, but will it be enough? For our full review of What is Given from the Heart, click here!
The Word Collector, by Peter H. Reynolds: Jerome discovers something amazing - words contain magic! Big words, small words, short words, sweet words. No matter their size or shape, words carry so much significance- not just to create change, but also to empower. When we share our words with the world, our impact can be magnificent!
Carmela Full of Wishes, by Matt De La Pena: This beautiful story, a testament to the power of wishes and an ode to underrepresented children around the country, is another stunner from the duo who brought us Last Stop on Market Street. It poignantly showcases a sibling relationship, one girls hurry to grow up, while at the same time relishing in everyday magic that is seen only through young eyes.
The Field, by Baptiste Paul: A group of children assemble on a field and get ready for a game of soccer. They have their bol (ball), soulye (shoes) and goal (goal), and just like that, they are off! Paul weaves Creole words into the narrative, and the story simply buzzes with energy, from the vibrant illustrations to the fast paced game, reminding us that we can weather all challenges, no matter how daunting they may seem. If your athlete loves children’s books about sports, he will adore this one! For our full review of The Field, click here!
Remarkably You, by Pat Zeitlow Miller and illustrated by Patrice Barton: This great book, with its illustrations of diverse kids, is an ode to children detailing all of the ways in which each of us is remarkable. In rhyming, pitch perfect versus, it conveys to kids that each of us walks to the beat of our own drum — we are all wondrous, we each have special talents and we are all so perfectly unique! Our unique attributes are ones to celebrate, and no matter who we are or what we do, each of us has the ability to make a difference in our world! For our full review of Remarkably You, click here!
I Walk with Vanessa: A Story About a Simple Act of Kindness by Kerascoet: A stunning, wordless exploration of the harmful act of bullying, and how one simple act of kindness by an upstander can be a change agent for the entire community. I absolutely love letting children ponder these pictures and tell their own stories. The “plots” they come up with are intriguing and insightful - and their words will give you such a significant glimpse into their minds and hearts.
My Heart Fills With Happiness, by Monique Gray Smith and illustrated by Julie Flett: Without explicitly stating it, this gorgeous book celebrates and supports the wellness of indigenous children. It honors those special moments that fill our hearts with joy and encourages children to always remember those things that make them happy.
Those Shoes, by Maribeth Boelts and illustrated by Noah Jones: Jeremy wants nothing more than the same pair of shoes that the rest of the kids at school wear. But, according to his grandma, Jeremy’s “wants” are not nearly as important as his “needs.” This is such a special story, one I read to my students every year around Thanksgiving because it masterfully sparks a discussion about wants and needs, as well as the fulfillment that can be found in helping others. For our full review of Those Shoes, click here!
Green Pants, by Kenneth Kraegel: So many of our children are attached to an object - be it a lovey, a stuffed animal, or a favorite article of clothing. In this sweet story, Jameson is attached to his green pants! But he has a decision to make: if he wants to be in his cousin’s wedding, he must wear black pants instead. Will he find a way to make his family happy while also staying true to himself?
Under My Hijab, by Kena Khan and illustrated by Aaliya Jaleel: This book is absolutely wonderful for showing all the ways Muslim women wear their hijabs and what they look like underneath their beautiful head scarves. I fell hard for this story and the way it provides a window into the lives of Muslim ladies, showing them at work, at play and celebrating their glorious culture.
Dear Dragon: A Pen Pal Tale, by Josh Funk and Rodolfo Montalvo: Georgie and Blaise are pen pals, and they write each other about everything under the sun. They get along so well and cannot wait to meet in real life. But when they do they are very different than anticipated. Why? Because Georgie is a person, and Blaise is a dragon! We love this story about looking beyond differences to appreciate what lies inside each of us.
The PInata the Farm Maiden Hung, by Samantha R. Vamos and illustrated by Sebastia Serra: This is a great bilingual story of a farm maiden preparing a pinata for a young girl’s surprise party while the girl is out running errands. With the help of a boy, and a farmer, together with a goose, horse, cat and sheep, they scramble to finish the preparations just in time. We love cumulative stories, and this one, with its interwoven Spanish vocabulary, is just so much fun!
My Hair is a Garden, by Cozbi A. Cabrera: In this exquisite book, Mackenzie is frustrated because she is continually made fun of for her natural black hair. She seeks comfort from her neighbor, Miss Tillie, who, using the backyard gardens as a metaphor, tells Mackenzie how to maintain and care for her hair with love.
I Am Famous, by Tara Luebbe and Becky Cattie and illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff: Kiely has no doubt that she is unbelievably famous. Why? Because the adoring paparazzi follow her wherever she goes! And just who are the paparazzi? Kiely’s family, of course, documenting her every move with their cameras. This clever book will have kids in stitches while also reminding parents to put down their phones and be present with their children. We also love the companion to this book, I Used to Be Famous!
The Princess and the Pea, by Rachel Isadora: Isadora gives this classic fairy tale an innovating African twist! This is an awesome retelling of the traditional princess and the pea story about a prince looking for his true princess, and the queen’s placement of a single pea underneath many mattresses. The wonderful artwork makes this rendition a winner.
The Snowy Day, by Ezra Jack Keats: In this classic, a young boy wakes up to discover snow has fallen during the night. He goes outside to fully experience the first snowfall of winter, and as he plays, his eyes open to the wonder and possibility of the new world at his fingertips, for everything changes when draped in a blanket of soft white.
Have you Seen Elephant, by David Barrow: Elephant wants to play hide and seek — and he warns his sweet friend that he is really, really good at the game. This book will have you and your little ones in fits of giggles as the pictures totally contradict the text-- the boy is truly astounded that he can't find the elephant, yet the reader can see that the elephant is virtually in plain sight. A simple, fun read with beautiful illustrations that will give all of your family a laugh!
Maybe Something Beautiful, by F. Isabel Campoy and Theresa Howell: This delightful book tells the story of young Mira, a girl who believes that just a little splash of color can make a big, big difference in her otherwise dreary community. Based on the true story of the Urban Art Trail in San Diego, Mira shows us how even kids can accomplish great things - including transformation.
A Different Pond, by Bao Phi and illustrated by Thi Bui: This was a 2018 Caldecott Honor Book, one brimming with hope, tradition and authenticity. Bao tells the story of going to fish early in the morning with his father, but the fishing was for food, not fun, and they had to get home quickly so Bao’s father could subsequently rush to work. This tale of an immigrant family beautifully weaves together a father’s life in Vietnam and a son’s role as the youngest child in a family of refugees.
The Very Last Castle, by Travis Jonker and illustrated by Mark Pett: We simply love the way this book challenges the preconceived notions of an entire community - all but one small, curious girl! This is a fabulous story in which a child overcomes fear of the unknown lurking within an old castle. In the process, she discovers her inner courage, makes a new friend, and creates a big change right within her community.
When’s My Birthday, by Julie Fogliano and illustrated by Christian Robinson: In this exuberant book, one child eagerly awaits her birthday, counting down the days, dreaming of presents she would love, and thinking of every tiny thing that will make her birthday the very best one yet. This is such a winner, and we are always captivated by its lyrical prose and gorgeous illustrations!
Monster Trouble, by Lane Fredrickson and illustrated by Michael Robertson: Poor Winifred Schnitzel can’t seem to get rid of the neighborhood monsters that creep into her room at night and desperately try to scare the daylights out of her. Can she make them go away with a kiss? Fun rhymes and goofy illustrations make this a silly - not scary - monster book guaranteed to delight all children!
The Day You Begin, by Jacqueline Woodson and illustrated by Rafael Lopez: So many of us have felt anxiety upon standing in a doorway about to enter a room where the blanket of faces staring back at us look wholly different from our own. This book tells that story, that of a young girl who walks into a new classroom and finds no one like her. But eventually she sits down and her classmates begin talking, and as their words fill the air, shared sentiments become bridges to building connection. A breathtaking read, both in pictures and prose. For our full review of The Day You Begin, click here!
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