My heart is heavy with the recent surge of antisemitism, institutionalized bullying, and wide-spread intolerance like the hate speech we see on social media. Teachers and parents have asked me to share picture books you can use with children to teach about prejudice, acceptance, inclusion, and tolerance. Here are some good options…
Reading these books will bring up both questions and topics that you can discuss before, during, and after reading. Look for examples in the stories of excluding, judging, and hurt feelings. Ask children where they see stories with solutions to the prejudices. Most of all, just talk. If we don’t talk about these things, we fail our kids. If we don’t talk about these things, we raise a generation who won’t do better.
I hope these stories help.
“Try to be a rainbow in someone else’s cloud.” – Maya Angelou
Picture Books That Teach Kids About Prejudice, Inclusion, and Tolerance
Colors by Arree Chung
Red declares to Yellow and Blue that RED is the best. That’s when these three primary colors separate into distinct groups –groups that don’t mix. But when Yellow and Blue fall in love and have a child, Green, little by little the separation ends and the groups start to come back together making something beautiful.
Strictly No Elephants by Lisa Mantchev, illustrated by Taeeun Yoo
When the Pet Club won’t permit elephants, the boy sadly takes his elephant and leaves. He soon meets a girl with a skunk then other friends with unusual pets. Together they make an inclusive club for all animals in a wonderful tree house! This one of my favorite books to use for teaching about inclusion and acceptance.
The Only Way Is Badger by Stella J. Jones, illustrated by Carmen Saldana
This allegorical story shows what happens when one person elevates himself above others –to the degree that others are unwelcome, excluded, and treated differently. “Badgers are best.” That’s what Badger tells the other animals. He’s so confident that the other animals think maybe he is right. Badger even makes a list of how to be more like him. For example, to be the best you must be able to dig. Which Deer can’t do because of his hooves. So Badger chants, “No deer here” and kicks Deer out. Then when Bear and Moose can’t fit into a burrow, they’re also kicked out of the forest, too. One animal after the other is excluded. Pretty soon, Badger has kicked out everyone. And he’s all alone. That’s when he realizes that Badgers aren’t best. Friends are. I like the full circle ending but the cynical part of me doesn’t see it as realistic. I would be sure to discuss with kids that this revelation and apology might not happen in real life. And what would you do then?
The Wall in the Middle of the Book by Jon Agee
The soldier is glad there is a wall in the middle of the book because of the Ogre. As you read about the soldier’s perception of his so-called safety, children will notice that the soldier is not as safe as he thinks. The illustrations show a crocodile about to eat him. That’s when the “scary” Ogre from the other side saves the soldier. Turns out, it’s actually safe and fun on the other side and the Ogre is quite nice. What will kids learn from this story? Maybe a little something about judging before you have all the information. Or that what we think is scary (the unknown or different) needs more information. I love how the illustrations tell so much of the story, too.
The Junkyard Wonders by Patricia Polacco
I love this picture book about prejudice and inclusion so much. It’s the author’s real-life experience, too. She shows how it feels when other people judge she and her classmates for the way their brains work. They’re called “special” or a “junkyard” class of kids. But their teacher, the amazing Mrs. Peterson, helps each child find their talent and gifts. And it makes a huge difference in their lives! (Go, teachers!)
Hattie & Hudson by Chris Van Dusen
Hattie’s sweet singing draws a large green “monster” reminiscent of the Loch Ness Monster out of the lake’s depths. The two become good friends. Unfortunately, the lake’s other residents are terrified of the supposedly dangerous monster who Hattie has named Hudson. Hudson comes up with a brilliant idea to show the townspeople what they can’t yet see — his kind heart.
Just Like Brothers by Elizabeth Baguley, illustrated by Aurelie Blanz
Lush illustrations and lyrical text tell the redemptive story of a young boy whose mother warns him of the wild wolves in the forest while simultaneously, a wolf cub’s mother warns him of the rough humans. Neither boy nor cub pay too much attention though. They’re too busy chasing rabbits. When they get lost and meet, they’ll discover that their preconceived ideas were wrong. “And soon they’re chasing rabbits, / playing hide-find and tumble-ball, / all wide-smile and wag-tail.” The story ends with the mothers coming together in trust. You will love this BEAUTIFUL message of acceptance and understanding!!! (Also, the fabulous word combinations make this an excellent mentor text for writing workshop.)
Up Above and Down Below by Paloma Valdivia
A thin red line separates the up above people and down below people — we can think of it as the equator or a metaphor for people who are yet unknown to us. Up on top and down below, the people live the same except in a few small ways. “If it’s planting time up above, it’s harvest time down below.” I like this picture book’s simple message. It would be a good introduction to geography as well as not judging others.
My Neighbor Is a Dog by Isabel Minhos Martins and Madalena Matoso
Prejudice lives in our world but when we see it in our own parents, it’s really difficult. New neighbors move in; neighbors that the little girl really likes. But her parents don’t like them and don’t want to live near them because they are different. So her family moves away. The little girl looks forward to coming back without her parents one day. It’s unusual to read a picture book about prejudice in parents who aren’t kind. The story shows how the little girl accepted the reality of her family but still hoped for a difference in the future. What will you think about this picture book’s story?