The popular children’s song by Raffi,
called “Like Me And You” is supposed to be about how we’re all alike. For years
it has irritated me to no end. My family loves Raffi, particularly his song, “Baby
Beluga”, but Raffi doesn’t love us. He shows no sign of ever having considered
a family like ours. “Like Me And You” names children from countries around the
world, saying “Each one is much like another / The child of a mother and a
When my son was about two years old and we
listened to the song for the first time, we paused after that lyric to explain
that Raffi forgot our family. And then we proceeded to sing loudly on each
repetition, “The child of a DADA and a PAPA”.
It’s important for children who belong to
marginalized or underrepresented communities to have access to books and other media with
characters that are like them and their families. I’m a transgender guy in a
gay relationship, and I want my kids to read books that include two-mom or two-dad
families, or characters who express their gender as non-binary or trans.
I also desperately want my kids’ friends
who come from typical mom-and-dad families to see families like mine reflected
in the literature they read. Kids notice everything. All our kids will notice
if every single book they read is about a family with a mom and a dad, and they
will naturally extrapolate that families like mine, which are not in the books,
are lesser than, not worth featuring.
The same goes for race, ethnicity, culture,
and (dis)ability. Kids notice skin colour, whether parents like it or not. If
all the good guys on TV are white, and the bad guys are Black, kids will absorb
that and it will become part of their worldview. I need my able-bodied, neurotypical white
kids with blue eyes and blond hair to access books that feature main characters
including those in wheelchairs, or who are nonverbal, who are indigenous and
people of colour. This is one of my most important parenting jobs in my journey
to raise decent, anti-racist (simply non-racist is not good enough) human
Today I’m writing in celebration of my
little collection of diverse children’s books, magazines, and music. I have
built it thoughtfully over the last few years. It is by no means exhaustive but
I do feel that each work on this list is valuable in its own right as a piece
of literature and art, as well as including and centering marginalized voices.
Sometimes it can be hard to tell from a glance online whether a “diverse” book
is truly as diverse as it claims, or even if the story, writing, and
illustrations are decent. I hope that sharing some of the legwork I’ve done
will be helpful to others.
you have favourite diverse kids’ books not on this list? Please mention them in
All the books on this list have
indigenous authors. (Yes, white people are still publishing books about
indigenous people written by white people. Beware of those.)
Sometimes I Feel
Like a Fox by Danielle Daniel
Ages 2 and up
This book is dedicated “to the thousands of
Métis and Aboriginal children who grew up never knowing their totem animal.”
Each page spread depicts a different totem animal in the Anishinaabe tradition
and describes the animal’s character.
My toddler, like many her age, loves
animals. “Fox Book”, as she calls it, was her first true favourite book. My
6-year-old gets a lot out of the rich, descriptive vocabulary, including words
like, “confident”, “purposeful”, “delicate,” and “intuitive.”
My Heart Fills
With Happiness by Monique Gray Smith, illustrations by Julie Flett
Singing, drumming, baking bannock, and
holding hands are among the beautiful (and easy to sound out!) activities that
“fill my heart with happiness.” My toddler loves it and my six-year-old is
capable of reading it to her. Win/win. Illustrations show kids who indigenous
children will notice look like themselves.
This booklet states it may be copied for
educational, non-commercial purposes with appropriate credit given to the
publisher, so you can order a copy and share with friends. Each page spread
depicts a different indigenous dwelling and includes a written explanation of
the dwelling’s features. We’ve read it and looked at it at length with our
six-year-old because there is so much to explore, but he hasn’t coloured in it
The Raven and the
Loon by Rachel and Sean Qitsualik-Tinsley, illustrated by Kim Smith
An Inuit story told by Inuit story-tellers.
A toddler can begin to grasp the narrative through the bright pictures and
direct emotional language, but there’s plenty going on to keep my six-year-old
written and illustrated by Alan Syliboy
Most amazing illustrations ever! The artist
lives in Millbrook First Nation in Nova Scotia, and draws inspiration from the
Mi’kmaw petroglyph tradition as well as mixed-media work. In this story, Little
Thunder learns about the importance of making thunder for his people, and makes
some dramatic mistakes along the way. The simple sentences are packed with
action, like throwing around thunderbolts, holes that open up to swallow
monsters, and animals and objects that change form.
Serpent by Dick Roughsey
I picked up this book at an airport in
Australia. It was the only book in the store about an aboriginal story that
wasn’t written by some white guy descended from colonizers. Despite being
published by an imprint of HarperCollins, it has a few obvious typos.
Nevertheless, my six-year-old and I LOVE this book. It tells an exciting story,
in Aboriginal tradition of Australia, about how the land was formed into the
hills and mountains of today, and how some people turned into different species
of animals. The narrative explains that since animal species originated from humans,
we must always protect them; these animals came from us and are our relatives.
This offers a way of understanding the human relationship to the environment
that contrasts sharply with assumptions inherent in capitalist,
Missing Nimama by Melanie Florence, Illustrated by Francois Thisdale
Parents need to pre-read this one before
deciding if it is appropriate for their kid. The story is about a child whose
mother is missing, like far too many missing and murdered aboriginal women in
Canada. The narrative shifts perspective subtly between the child, the missing
mother, and the grandmother in a way that will probably be confusing for most
kids under age eight or so. I hand this book (and a tissue) to most adults who
come to visit us. It’s a hard, sad read that we absolutely must read to bring
awareness to the crisis of missing and murdered aboriginal women. This book
reminds us that these women have families – they are daughters, sisters, and
mothers who are deeply missed.
When the Rain
Sings: Poems by Young Native Americans edited by Lee Francis
The poems in this collection, published in
1999, were written by Native kids ages 7 to 17. These young poets tackle a wide
range of topics from sunshine, sunset, and raindrops to missing family members,
changing or lost culture, and police. A photograph accompanies each poem
(examples include a traditional cradleboard, a camp scene from 1890, and
dancers in 2006). One direct and brutally honest poem by a 17-year-old begins
with, “My name belongs to a dead white woman. How it got down to me?” The poet
goes on to describe the meaning of her aboriginal name, Spotted Feather.
Daddy, Papa and
Me, by Leslea Newman, Illustrated by Carol Thompson
Daddy, Papa, and Me are a Caucasian,
two-dad family that have a busy day full of activities. By the end of it, Daddy
and Papa are exhausted. This board book has decent rhymes and is suitable for
babies, toddlers or kids learning to read and sound out simple words.
And Tango Makes
Three, by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, Illustrated by Henry Cole
Based on a true story about two male
penguins that hatched an egg and raised a chick together at a zoo in Central
Park, New York City. The illustrations are beautiful, and the story is
interesting and informative. The human families depicted visiting the zoo are
What Makes a Baby,
by Cory Silverberg, Illustrated by Fiona Smyth
We relied heavily on this book to explain
the creation of baby number two to our first child. Silverberg explains about
the uterus, sperm, and eggs, but doesn’t connect them to genders or “mommy” and
“daddy.” What Makes a Baby works for
everyone, including folks who make their families using assisted reproductive
technology or surrogacy, as well as lesbian couples and transgender men who
carry a pregnancy. The narrative also explains both vaginal (“through a part of
the boy that most people call the vagina”) and surgical births.
My only (slight) complaint has to do with
consent and medical procedures. One sentence in the book reads, “Sometimes a
midwife or a doctor will be the one to say it is time for the baby to be born.”
Ideally, I’d prefer a more nuanced phrasing that includes some mention of the
parent whose body is doing the gestating and birthing.
The music on this album is of such decent
quality that the professional musicians in our household can mostly tolerate
the fact that the toddler insists on listening to it on repeat in the car (for
months now). Musical styles include hip-hop, pop, folk, and disco. For those
who need to know, the pitch and rhythm are excellent and phrasing is capable.
The songs celebrate gender diversity and
also provide kids with some words to deal with dogma they might encounter. For
example, a kid on one track explains that, “there’s no such thing as boy
colours or girl colours.” Songs also mention historical figures who challenged
norms and changed our society.
We’ve been listening to Rainbow Train for a few years, and the
kids get more and more out of it as they mature. Both my kids thought for a
LONG time that the lyric “gender, gender gender, put it in a blender” was all
about blending up some ginger. I recently explained to the six-year-old that
the lyric is, in fact, GENDER, and we talked about the difference between
gender and sex.
Gina’s Wheels, by Mary Harelkin Bishop
Gina’s Wheels addresses disability
explicitly. As in, the whole book is entirely focused on disability, which is
okay-ish, though I ought to hunt around for some books that simply include
disabled characters being who they are.
Gina, an able-bodied young girl with orange
hair, becomes fascinated with wheelchairs after meeting the Paralympian Colette
Bourgonje. We learn about Colette’s injury and her tremendous athletic
achievements, which, again, is okay-ish. However, I need to find some stories
with disabled characters that aren’t all about achieving physical prowess
despite disability (known as the disabled hero, or “supercrip” narrative).
When Gina goes to kindergarten and meets a
classmate in a wheelchair, she is ready to be friends. D’aww. The classroom
includes a girl wearing a hijab and a Black boy, but they don’t say words or
have roles in the narrative. All the main characters are Caucasian.
Books that fit
into more than one category!!!
What?! What will we do?
Yes, it’s true. There are some books that
celebrate a wonderful range of diversity on more than one level.
Everywhere Babies, by Susan Meyers, illustrated by Marla Frazee
This sweet board book is lovely for babies,
toddlers, kids who are learning to read, and those expecting new siblings. The
text highlights all the different ways that babies are loved and cared for by
their families and caregivers. The illustrations include two mom and two dad
families, grandparent caregivers, teenage caregivers, and male caregivers in
addition to the more common mom-and-dad family unit. There are depictions of
Asian, Brown, Black (some with natural African hairstyles), and Caucasian
children and families. One of my favourite pages describes the many ways babies
are fed, including pictures of breastfeeding, bottlefeeding, cup feeding, spoon
feeding, and beginning solid foods (along with giant messes!).
Under the Love Umbrella by Davina Bell, Illustrated by Allison Colpoys
This is a story about feeling connected to
our loved ones, when we are excited, scared, shy, hesitant, tired, or even
apart. No matter where you are, you’re always under your loved one’s “love
umbrella”. The illustrations are bright and detailed. The main characters
depicted include people of colour and a two-mom family.
This is sold as a “magazine for girls age 5
to 10”, but we all need to get it for our boys, too. My boy needs to see
representations of strong, intelligent, creative, powerful women just as much
as my girl does. If we’re ever going to improve on our patriarchal rape
culture, surely we must educate our boys.
I LOVE this mag. It comes out 4 times per
year and includes stories, poems, articles, word puzzles, colouring, and lots
of suggested activities. Every item in the magazine is girl or woman-focused.
For instance, January’s issue was all about building stuff, and included an
interview with a female engineer.
The editor’s approach is obviously
intersectional, and care is taken to include women from typically
underrepresented groups. In the last issue we received, a story featured a girl
in a wheelchair as a main character. Unlike Gina’s
Wheels, disability was not the focus of the story, but was incorporated
into the narrative. As readers, we got a sense of how disability made the
girl’s lived experience different from the world of able-bodied folks – without
making her into a rarified hero or a pitiful dependent.
Fair warning to parents: My 6-year-old
needs plenty of help in reading this mag and trying out the various projects.
There’s lots to discuss and not much that he can do alone at his age.
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