One of the most important values to teach at the beginning of the school year, and anytime, is to be inclusive. These friendship picture books about inclusion share stories to encourage children to be kind and thoughtful of others.
Picture Books About Inclusion
One of These Is Not Like the Others by Barney Saltzberg
Saltzberg uses minimal text and illustrations to convey an important message of inclusion, friendships, and diversity. Even though one of these is not like the others, that’s just fine with these friends…because it’s how they rock and roll. Cute illustrations show friends groups that don’t all look the same. For example, three pigs and a wolf or three snails and an alien. This is one of my new favorite picture books and great for preschoolers.
Jenny Mei Is Sad by Tracy Subisak
Narrated by Jenny Mei’s friend, we learn that Jenny Mei is sad but she doesn’t always show it. Sometimes she smiles and sometimes she rips things and sometimes she is quiet. And it’s ok. Her friend is always there for “fun and not-fun and everything in between.” This wonderfully shows the importance of accepting a friend’s feelings and behaviors without judgment or trying to fix things.
Together We Grow by Susan Vaught, illustrated by Kelly Murphy
Dynamic illustrations and lyrical text model inclusion and making a difference. This barn full of animals denies entrance to a drenched fox family. But a yellow duckling leaves the barn to comfort the fox family outside. And the other animals soon follow the duckling’s example. “Learn and show together we grow.” As they ALL return to the warm, safe barn, even the foxes, we see that many different kinds of animals are now welcome to find shelter there.
The Someone New by Jill Twiss, illustrated by Eg Keller
A meaningful story with an important message about openheartedness kindness and room enough for everyone… Jitterbug the chipmunk likes everything to be the same. “New” gives her a quiver in her tummy. And she has that quiver when a new snail named Pudding seeks new shelter in Jitterbug’s forest home. So, Jitterbug tells Pudding that she cannot stay. Until her friends remind Jitterbug that they were New once, too — and that even though New can be scary, kindness is better. Jitterbug races off to find Pudding and welcomes her back to their forest.
More Than Peach by Bellen Woodard, illustrated by Fanny Liem
Bellen is bothered when her classmates use the term “skin-colored” when referring to a peach color of crayon. So she talks to her mom and helps her classmates and teacher understand the importance of changing their language and being inclusive and specific so no one is left out.
The Buddy Bench by Patty Brozo, illustrated by Mike Deas
At recess, some students in Miss Mellon’s class don’t have anyone to play with. Soon, other kids notice and invite those lonely kids to play with them. After recess, the class wonders if there’s a better way. That’s when Miss Bellon suggests a Buddy Bench where anyone can go to wait for a friend to play with. Read this with your class and see if they can come up with their own ideas for a Buddy Bench — then actually use it. (My kids have told me that teachers often sat and talked on the Buddy Bench meant for kids at their old school.)
Twig by Aura Parker
My daughter and I love this story about kindness. No one notices the new student named Heidi who is a stick insect. Kids will have to look closely at the brilliant illustrations to see where Heidi is, too. You’ll feel so sad for Heidi who watches the other kids playing. Eventually, Heidi is discovered (by accident by a ladybug) and the teacher has a wonderful idea…all the students will knit a square for Heidi’s new scarf. This new scarf will help everyone see her. Now she always finds friends on the playground!
Strictly No Elephants by Lisa Mantchev, illustrated by Taeeun Yoo
When the Pet Club won’t permit elephants, the sad boy takes his elephant and leaves. He meets a girl with a skunk and soon, other friends with unusual pets who aren’t allowed in the Pet Club. Together the new friends make an inclusive club for all animals in a wonderful tree house! This is one of my favorite books to use for teaching about racism, inclusion, and acceptance because it shows what we can do — not be defeated but take action to make things better.
Dolls and Trucks Are For Everyone by Robb Pearlman, illustrated by Eda Kaban
A warm, inclusive story with a bit of humor that will remind readers (parents and teachers included) that toys and movies and sports are for everyone — and that there’s no need to gender stereotype anything.
Nerdy Birdy by Aaron Reynolds, illustrated by Matt Davies
This is a wonderful story about friendship, clicks, and acceptance! Nerdy Birdy is not cool . . . and he’s lonely. When he finds other nerdy birds, they invite him to be friends. But Nerdy Birdy learns that his new friends aren’t as accepting as he thought. They won’t let Vulture join their group! So Nerdy Birdy befriends Vulture. Since both birds know what it’s like to be lonely, they know that there’s always room for another friend.
My Two Blankets by Irena Kobold, illustrated by Freya Blackwood
Cartwheel arrives in a new country where no one speaks like her and everything sounds and feels strange and lonely. She meets a friendly girl at the park and they play on the swings but she still doesn’t understand what the girl is saying. But, the girl helps her learn new words every time they play. Soon Cartwheel begins to feel comfortable in her new home.
The More the Merrier by David Martin, illustrated by Raissa Figueroa
An exuberant celebration of each animal’s uniqueness as one after the other join bear in dancing through the forest in their own way. Moose galumphs, snake wiggles, deer leaps, owl flies. Rhythmic with repetition, this animal party is a delight to read aloud. As each animal is introduced they say something similar to this — “I like your beat. But I’m not like you. So I’ll just do what I can do.” What fun to celebrate individuality and dance together!
Polly and Her Duck Costume The True Story of a Little Blind Rescue Goat by Leanne Lauricella, illustrated by Jill Howarth
Sweet little Polly, a goat, loves snuggling in a blanket on the couch of her new home because she easily feels anxious. But one day, something unexpected soothes her — a fuzzy duck costume. It makes her feel safe and happy. When she grows out of her costume, she gives it to her new goat friend, Pippa. Pippa’s friendship makes Polly feel safe now, too. Check out the photographs in the back of the real-life Polly in her duck costume! This story will help you learn about the rescue animals from Goats of Anarchy as well as acceptance and inclusion.