8 inclusive children’s books to add to your shopping list
Educators recommend these great holiday reads celebrating diverse cultures.
Anything can happen in a children’s book. A magical train carries young boys and girls to the North Pole; a little girl befriends a lost reindeer.
Yet not all children will see their cultures represented in these classic tales. Only 30% of U.S. children’s books in 2020 were written by authors of color or about racially diverse characters or subjects, according to the Associated Press.
It’s a problem that’s front-of-mind for Krista Griffin, associate professor of Elementary Education and Literacy at Metropolitan State University of Denver. Educators struggle to know how to celebrate the holidays, she said, because they don’t want to leave out any students.
“I realized I had gotten rid of many (holiday books) because it can be problematic if we don’t represent all of our learners,” Griffin said.
This holiday season, she and other faculty members at MSU Denver recommend children’s books that are inclusive of multiple cultures.
“What Do You Celebrate? Holidays and Festivals Around the World,” written by Whitney Stewart and illustrated by Christiane Engel (reading ages 5–9)
This picture book introduces young readers to 14 cultures from five continents. Each celebration features an introduction of the traditions, a craft or recipe and some key words that are important for the occasion. If you’re an adult reading this book to a child, you could learn something new too!
“A Year Full of Celebrations and Festivals: Over 90 fun and fabulous festivals from around the world!,” compiled by Christopher Corr and Claire Grace (reading ages 4–10)
This illustrated book dives into holidays and the histories behind them. Whether expressing gratitude at Thanksgiving or color-splashing at the Holi festival of colors, these holidays span many times of the year and are from all over the globe.
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Aaron Richmond, professor of Psychological Sciences with expertise in adolescent education, recommends:
“’Twas Nochubuena,” written by Roseanne Greenfield Thong and illustrated by Sara Palacios (reading ages 3–5)
This book explores Latino traditions at Christmas Eve, such as making tamales with the family and exchanging gifts and feasting at the stroke of midnight.
“Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins,” written by Eric A. Kimmel and illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman (reading ages 3–10)
Exploring the Jewish tradition, this book tells the story of Hershel, a classic folk hero who saves a village from goblins that have invaded their synagogue.
“Tree of Cranes,” by Allen Say (reading ages 4–7)
This book intertwines Japanese and American cultures. It’s told from the perspective of a boy whose mother teaches him the Western tradition of Christmas trees and decorates them with cranes and candles.
“The Nutcracker in Harlem,” written by T.E. McMorrow and illustrated by James E. Ransome (reading ages 4–8)
McMorrow retells the classic story of “The Nutcracker” with a Harlem Renaissance twist. All characters are African American, illustrated with a brilliant watercolor palette.
“Between Us and Abuela: A Family Story from the Border,” written by Mitali Perkins and illustrated by Sara Palacios (reading ages 3–6)
A heartwarming story about traveling to the U.S.-Mexico border, this book features a family who comes up with an ingenious way to give gifts to their grandmother despite the fence that stands between them.
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Chalane E. Lechuga, professor of Chicana/o Studies, recommends:
“The Farolitos of Christmas,” written by Rudolfo Anaya and illustrated by Amy Córdova (reading ages 8–11)
Anaya, perhaps best known for “Bless Me, Ultima,” wrote this children’s Christmas story in 1987, emphasizing Mexican traditions. The story follows a young girl who helps her sick grandfather make farolitos (candles in paper bags with sand, also known as luminarias).