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Who Am I? Sharing Picture Books that Nurture Positive Self-Identity

When books have characters that look like them and relatable stories, children learn their lives are worthy of being celebrated.
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Books with characters that look like them. Stories that represent their own experiences. These read-aloud favorites tell children that their lives are worthy of being thought about, discussed and celebrated.

If you spend any time at all with young children, you’ve probably read A Snowy Day more times than you can count. There’s a lot to love in this classic story by Ezra Jack Keats. There’s the magic of a snowfall as seen through the eyes of a child. There are the collage illustrations of a city neighborhood that looks a lot like Brooklyn. And there’s one more thing. When A Snowy Day was published in 1962, it was the first full-color picture book to feature an African American child as the main character. “None of the manuscripts I’d been illustrating featured any Black kids,” wrote the author. “My book would have him there simply because he should have been there all along.”

It’s important that kids see themselves in the stories they read. Seeing characters that look like them and stories that represent their own experiences tells children that their lives are worthy of being thought about, discussed and celebrated. Stories that feature a wide variety of characters and experiences are a powerful way for all families to challenge stereotypes from the start. Use the Diverse Book Finder to discover new gems, searchable by ethnicity, culture, gender, and more.

Below, we share some of our favorite picture books that celebrate all of our beautiful differences.

The Book Why We Like It Notes for Grown-Ups
by Elizabeth Verdick and Marjorie Lisovskis
Babies are fascinated by other babies, and the baby photos in this board book are likely to be a hit. What do babies look like? What do babies do? Point out baby’s features (eyes, nose, mouth, hands) and activities, and compare with all the great things your little one can do.
Ten Tiny Babies
by Karen Katz
This board book has everything—counting from one to ten, a rhyme that’s revealed as each page is turned, and a diverse cast of bouncy babies! Your little one can jump, hop, and wriggle her nose and toes along with the babies in this book. Play I-Spy and see if you can spot a baby with a green dress, brown skin, or red hair.
The Colors of Us
by Karen Katz
A mom takes her daughter on a walk through the neighborhood. Each person they encounter is a different color, from golden honey to chocolate-cupcake brown. This book offers a chance to see, name, and appreciate a range of skin colors. The perfect starting point for a self-portrait.
Happy In Our Skin
by Fran Manushkin
A celebration of skin, written in rhyme! “This is how we all begin, small and happy in our skin.” Sweet illustrations with humans of every color, age, shape, and size. So much to observe and talk about in this book! You can point out dogs, babies, and families doing everything that your family does. And there’s great info about bodies that will interest little ones: scabs, tans, dimples, and goose pimples.
The Skin You Live In
by Michael Tyler
A lively poem that moves from every-day observations about skin (“The skin you’re all day in, the skin that you play in”) to much deeper messages about equality (“It’s not tall skin or short skin or best in the sport skin, or fat skin or thin skin, you lose and I win skin”). This is a book that will grow with your child. Come for the language that’s fun to read aloud to your baby or toddler. Stay for the grown-up messages.
Julián Is a Mermaid
by Jessica Love
This story may leave you with a lump in your throat, as a little boy “mermaid” finds his tribe at the Mermaid Parade in Coney Island. This is a great story for observing the details in the illustrations, discussing how characters are feeling, and predicting what will happen next.
It’s Okay to Be Different
by Todd Parr
Author Todd Parr gives kids permission to do and feel EVERYTHING. It’s ok to use a wheelchair (“have wheels”), have big ears, or eat mac and cheese in the bathtub. Colorful illustrations and silly situations will make this a favorite. Every picture has the potential to prompt a discussion of same and different. Do you “have wheels”? Know someone who does? Are you missing teeth? Know someone who is? This story’s simple “okay to be different” message is just right for little ones.
by Rosemary Wells
Yoko’s mom packs a sushi lunch with “a secret treasure inside each piece.” Yoko’s classmates think it’s yucky and won’t even try it on International Food Day. Yoko isn’t sure that she’ll ever fit in in her new classroom. Children will recognize many of the routines in this story from their own experiences in preschool. It’s the perfect choice for nurturing empathy by discussing how Yoko feels and what your child might do if he or she was a student in Yoko’s class.


This article is part of a series on Parenting for Social Justice. For more, visit zerotothree.org/parentingforsocialjustice.

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