It's important to me that the books I read my children reflect the world around them. Even when my kids were babies and toddlers and chewing on board books I wanted them not only to see their own faces peering at them from the pages, but the faces of their friends and neighbors. Previously I shared 21 picture books with diverse characters and promised it was the first in a continuing series of book lists celebrating diversity.
Today I'm sharing multicultural books for babies and toddlers. These titles are perfect for the very youngest listeners and lap-sitters. Most (but not all) are available as board books so they can tolerate a lot of abuse from teething babies!
There has been a lot of chatter in the publishing world about whether or not there is enough diversity in children's picture books. "Enough" is probably the wrong word, in my opinion. In any case, it's clear that families want and need a greater selection of books which reflect the multicultural world in which their kids are growing up. These selections will get you started. (Note: titles and covers are affiliate links.)
Bonus Book #16: This is a late addition to the list, but I loved it so much I had to add it.
Little You is an adorable board book that is a tender, rhyming love story from mom and dad to their baby.
Peekaboo Morning. This is a darling, playful book about a toddler playing every young chid's favorite game. Each page starts, "Peekaboo I see..." with a visual clue that leads to the subject, be it mommy, daddy, grandma, etc. The overall tone of the book is cheerful and the colors and illustrations are gorgeous, capturing the charming spirit of classic toddler play.
Ten, Nine, Eight Board Book. This is one of my absolute favorite board books. I loved reading it to both my boys at night time and I can still recite it from memory. I even included it in my list of toddler books I'll miss reading. A young girl counts items in her room as she gets ready for bed. "10 small toes all soft and warm. 9 soft friends in a quiet room," all the way down to "1 big girl all ready for bed." It's a nice touch that it is daddy who puts the child to bed, too. In my opinion this is a must have for the toddler library. You can also find this book in Spanish.
Machines at Work. Bet you weren't expecting to find a construction book on the list! Byron Barton's books are nothing short of genius for little kids. He approaches popular subjects like cars, trucks and planes with an engaging simplicity. I so appreciate that Barton's construction workers come in ever color and include both men and women among their ranks. Even though I cannot remember ever seeing a woman construction worker in real life (although I know they are not mythical), I'm glad to have a book that allows for their inclusion in my sons' imaginations.
Hush! A Thai Lullaby. I love this book and am sad I discovered it after my kids had outgrown the toddler stage. I would have enjoyed reading it every night at bedtime. After a mom puts her baby to sleep in a hammock she has to hush to sounds around her. Author Minfong Ho writes each animal's onomatopoetic sound and I like that they are unusual. For example, the lizard says "tuk-ghaa", the pig says, "uut-uut." The gentle, rhythmic text creates such a lovely lullaby. The publisher says this is for ages 4 and up but I strongly disagree. This is a wonderful story to read to the under 3 crowd, too.
Everywhere Babies. Meyers' book celebrates the diversity of babies all over the world and how babies might sleep, eat, play and live differently but are all loved equally. Frazee is a wonderful artist and the variety of facial expressions on all the babies are terrific. Frazee does a great job of including people from all different walks of life in her illustrations. I loved the contrast between the "older" parents and the younger ones. That made me giggle a bit.
"More More More," Said the Baby. Vera B. Williams' book is composed of three vignettes, each showing a grown up (daddy, grandma, mommy) playing with a baby. The three families are diverse: a white child, a bi-racial child and an Asian-American - all equally loved, all equally playful. At the end of each vignette the babies are tucked into bed by their loving grownup.
Baby Faces. The Baby Faces board book series is perfect to share with lap sitting babies. Babies love to look at photographs of other babies and we had the Eat! book at our house, which my younger son became quite obsessed with for a time. The books are very short, only about 5 pages. I was happy to have a book of photographs representing the diversity of babies he was also seeing out in the real world.
Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes. Mem Fox, in my opinion, is a rhyming genius. Her text seems so simple, yet it is so infectious (in a good way!). Fox and illustrator Oxenbury introduce us to babies living in different parts of the world, from large cities to the country, from the ice to the hills - a multicultural array of babies, in other words. Fox concludes ends her story with the statement that each of these babies "as everyone knows, have ten little fingers and ten little toes." One could argue that this statement is not actually accurate (I know someone born with 11 fingers) but the sentiment is well-placed. Also available in a bilingual edition.
Clap Hands. Oxenbury (who illustrated Mem Fox's book above) has a terrific board book series featuring a diverse group of babies. These are extra short books (only 10 pages, including cover) and the simple text is great for babies and toddlers. Each lively book shows winsome babies engaged in a specific type of play, like clapping hands, tickling, saying goodnight, etc. As you might imagine, this book encourages parents to interact with their lap sitter and no doubt you will be clapping your hands from beginning to end. All Fall Down is particularly fun.
Fiesta Babies. I almost put this book on the list I made for Artchoo! - Books for Hispanic Heritage Month - but I was greedy and saved it for this list. The lively, rhyming text and illustrations feature aspects of Latino culture like music, fiestas, food and of course, besos and abrazos. I really appreciated that illustrator Amy Cordova recognized that not all Latinos have the same skin color! Includes a short glossary.
Say Hello! by Rachel Isadora. Carmelita walks her dog in the neighborhood, greeting all her neighbors. Each neighbor in turn answers "Hello!" in his or her own language. My kids probably hear 4 or 5 different languages every day just by being outside so it's nice to have a book that recognizes that reality. Isadora's collage illustrations are wonderful (as usual).
Whose Knees are These?. This adorable book (and it's companion, Whose Toes are Those?) is perfect for a lap sitter. Short, sweet rhymes will encourage parents and babies to interact and giggle with each other.
Ten Tiny Babies. Karen Katz is best known for her playful lift-the-flap books. This rhyming counting book is great for bedtime. On each page an increasing number of babies engage in the sort of activity that drives a parent nuts right when it's time to get ready for bed: wiggling, giggling, spinning, bouncing, etc. Fortunately, the bedtime ritual wears them out and the precious darlings are peacefully snoozing by the time we get to 10.
I Can Do It Too! A cheerful child declares her ability to independently perform everyday tasks just like other members of her family. As each family member or friend performs a chore, like pouring juice or getting dressed, the girl declares, "I can do it to!" The accompanying illustration may show her performing the task a bit imperfectly, but very enthusiastically. This is a great read for toddlers starting to assert their independence or parents who might want to encourage a bit more self-directed learning.
The Family Book. Todd Parr's illustrations are instantly recognizable. I've always loved how the people are unusual colors like blue or orange. This book celebrates all the different kinds of families, different ethnicities, different make-ups like single or same-sex parents, adopted or step-families and so forth. The message of the book is loud and clear: all families are unique, special and valuable.
More great books for babies and toddlers:
- Best toddler books
- Math books for babies and toddlers
- Interactive books for kids
- Favorite bedtime books
- See all our dedicated book lists featuring multicultural characters