One of the things I love most about bringing up my bookworms in London is the cultural diversity that they are surrounded by on a daily basis. N° 1 is only two and there are absolutely no signs of her being prejudiced in any way about anything or, more importantly, anyone. She did not bat an eyelid when little boys with sidelocks joined her in the playground the other month nor when she saw a group of children in wheelchairs. She understands we are all human and we are all essentially the same.
But how can I maintain her pure and undamaged view of the world? I am very aware that in popular culture, to call it broadly, not all kinds of people are represented. TV broadcasters, toys, even book characters are mainly white, English, healthy and, when in any position of power, male. Can I expect my Worm to continue seeing everyone as equal if this is not what the world is trying to teach her?
Well, I will try my best, that’s for sure!
‘Be the change you want to see in the world’, they say, and I happily abide by it. And, to be frank, whilst the book industry is no different to any other when it comes to ethical/gender representation, it is more than possible to read to our kids about all kinds of people. I really believe that it is vital that we do this, that we show our children that all people get represented and thus teach them that EVERYONE matters.
So here, as ever, a very subjective list of books that celebrate diversity, be it race, culture or gender.
First, my top 5 choices for babies and younger toddlers promoting diversity:
1. My ABSOLUTE FAVOURITE, Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes by Mem Fox and illustrated by Helen Oxenbury. A very simple, gorgeous rhyming book about how all babies have teeny tiny fingers and incy wincy toes and they are all equally beautiful and special, no matter how they look. And, no matter how many times I have read it (and we are talking triple digits!), the last page always makes me very emotional. I LOVE this book.
2. My First Signs by Annie Kubler – page by page, this one teaches little ones (and their grown ups!) how to sign the very first words. There are plenty of benefits to teach babies to sign, even those with perfectly good hearing (if you’d like to read about these benefits, please look here)
3. An old classic, The Baby’s Catalogue, by the iconic picture book team, Allan and Janet Ahlberg. It is basically a very first baby picture dictionary. Equally suitable for learning about new words as it is about teaching about diversity. Have a look:
4. Peekabo Morning by Rachel Isadora – a very simple little rhyming book about a playful toddler who plays Peekabo with the world around him. I always have to read it at least three times before we can move on to the next book!
5. A touch and feel Diwali book published by Priddy. With one bright picture per page (such as oil lamps, fireworks, Lakshmi etc.) and really small board book format this one is really lovely not only for those celebrating the day.
And here are my top 5 Picture Books suitable for older toddlers that promote diversity:
1. A fift-the-flap Goldilocks by Stephen Tucker and illustrated by Nick Sharratt. A great interpretation of your good old Goldilocks (yup, she’s sporting blond dreadlocks!)
2. Ten Little Pirates by Mike Brownlow and illustrated by Simon Rickerty – a fun rhyming counting book featuring all sorts of pirates!
3. The Sneetches by Dr. Seuss – a very witty, tongue-twisty satire for toddlers about discrimination (originally inspired by Dr. Seuss attitude towards antisemitism)
4. Handa’s Surprise by Eileen Browne – another old favourite. This one is set in Kenya.
5. Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae and illustrated by Guy Parker-Rees – not an obvious choice but I love this book for its celebration of one’s uniqueness and going against the mainstream trends!