Teaching World Literature was one of the greatest experiences of my life. I taught texts written from authors around the world to high school students, but I also wanted my own children to have early interactions with multicultural stories. Below you will find recommendations for diverse books that we love:
1.) For Every Child, A Better World by Kermit the Frog
This book was created in cooperation with the United Nations and illustrated by Bruce McNally. It is, without a doubt, one of my all time favorite children’s books. While the content can be seen as heavy, it is realistic, straightforward, and well presented. It provides great opportunities for parents to discuss world issues, differences, and needs with their children. The book reminds us all how fortunate we are to have food, clean water, shelter, clean air, medicine, school, peace, and play.
“Every child needs clean water to drink. But sometimes you have to go a long way to get it. Every child needs a home. But some children don’t have one.”
2. Ruby’s Wish by Shirin Yim Bridges, Illustrated by Sophie Blackall
I’m not going to give away the ending of this book, but let me assure you it is fantastic. This book tells the story of a family in China and a little girl named Ruby who wanted to go to school during a time when “most girls were never taught to read or write.” It is one of my absolute favorite children’s books.
“Alas, bad luck to be born a girl; worse luck to be born into this house where only boys are cared for.”
“Ruby could feel the eyes of all her family on her as she opened the lucky red envelope. Can you guess what was in it?”
3.) Gathering the Sun An Alphabet in Spanish and English by Alma Flor Ada, English Translation by Rosa Zubizarreta and Illustrations by Simon Silva
This book has beautiful illustrations and pairs the Spanish version of each selection beside the English version. Parents can show children the differences in the language and how both can express beautiful ideas. And, of course, children can try to read both languages. There may be a few giggles for children who aren’t sure of their own pronunciations but they will learning and stretching their minds while reading.
“Pajarito que vuelas sobre el campo/Little bird flying over the fields,
where do you take the dreams I place upon your wings?”
4. I Just Want to Say Good Night by Rachel Isadora
I received this book through Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library (sign up now for your child if you haven’t already) and the timing couldn’t have been more perfect. I had just shared an African culture kit with my gifted students that included a galimoto (a toy made from whatever materials you can find, often wire) and it was cool to see one in the little girl’s bedroom in this book. What was even cooler was how this book reminds us that we may have different looking homes, different traditions and ways of life, but we are all human and often more alike than we assume. The little girl in the story doesn’t want to go to sleep and she’s doing anything she can to stall. I can relate and I’m sure many other parents can as well. After reading the story you can let your child create their own galimoto (it doesn’t have to be complicated, pipe cleaners work okay for the design but of course wouldn’t roll like a real truck).
“On the African veld, there is a village. As the sun sets, parents tell their children, “It is time for bed.”
5. How Zebras Got Their Stripes Retold by Lesley Sims, Ilustrated by Laure Fournier
Do you remember reading this as a kid? I do! When I was in the 5th grade, we read this story and then created our own stories to share a new, original way that zebras gained their stripes. This story from Africa has been popular for so many years because it’s fun and everyone loves it.
“It’s not your pond,” he said. “You must share it.” “No!” said Baboon. “Go away.” Baboon got lots of sticks. He piled them by the pond. Then he lit a big fire. Now everyone will stay away! Zebra wasn’t scared.
6. Hair Love by Matthew A. Cherry, Illustrated by Vashti Harrison
My 8 year old daughter loves this book and the video that goes with it online. Search “Hair Love” and you will find it in no time. The book showcases the bond between a young girl and her father as he struggles to fix her hair just right. The beautiful girl has a lot of hair and she wants it to be perfect for her mother’s homecoming. The book showcases different hairstyles, and shows children not familiar with African American hair that hair differences are beautiful things because they represent who we are.
“My name is Zuri, and I have hair that has a mind of its own. It kinks, coils, and curls every which way. Daddy tells me it is beautiful. That makes me proud.”
7. Los pollitos dicen The Baby Chicks Sing Traditional Games, Nursery Rhymes, and Songs from Spanish-Speaking Countries by Nancy Abraham Hall and Jill Syverson-Stork, Illustrated by Kay Chorao The illustrations in this book are so wonderful and it’s awesome to sing new songs with your children. You can read/sing the English version as well as the Spanish version presented. One unique feature is that the book includes music notes so you could also play along with your instrument of choice if you’d like. From “Giddyup, Little Pony” to “Little Corn Cakes” to “Rice Pudding with Milk” the titles are fun and children will really enjoy them.
“The baby chicks are saying, “Peep, peep, peep.” It means they’re cold and hungry; It means they need some sleep.”
“Giddyup, little pony, To Bethlehem we go. Tomorrow and the next day Are holidays, you know.”
8. Henry’s Freedom Box A True Story from the Underground Railroad by Ellen Levine and Kadir Nelson
Historians believe it is possible that as many as 100,000 slaves in the United States escaped to gain their freedom. This book is the true story of Henry Brown who literally mailed himself in order to be free. Last year my daughter’s school welcomed a theater group who showcased Brown and I was so glad that my children had already learned about this story. History is important! Remarkably, Henry Brown traveled 350 miles from Richmond, Virginia to Philadelphia. He was in the box for 27 hours.
“Henry Brown wasn’t sure how old he was. Henry was a slave. And slaves weren’t allowed to know their birthdays.
We hope you enjoy all of these books as much as we do!