I think one of the best ways to help children learn about the world around them and to teach them how to empathize and relate is through reading.
We have made reading a top priority with both of our kids since they were born because my husband Evan and I both love to read so much, and we believe whole-heartedly that a passion for reading leads to a passion for life-long learning. I have also been excited to witness how reading a certain book opens up a great conversation between me and my kids or sparks their interest about a specific topic that they want to learn more about.
And so when our daughter Brenna was born with a visible difference, I began to search for books that teach about differences and about being yourself and liking yourself. I realized how important it was to teach my children about all kinds of difference – not only the visual difference that we live every day, but also cultural/racial differences, religious differences and various disabilities – so that they can relate to, be comfortable with and celebrate what makes everyone unique.
We’ve been reading various books relating to celebrating uniqueness for years now, and from those we’ve found through researching, at the library and at the bookstore, here are our favorites:
1. Whoever You Are by Mem Fox. Oh, how I loved this book! I loved it so much that I first got it from the library, and then bought it for our own collection. It has a wonderful message for children about how even though everyone is different in their looks, beliefs, cultures, etc., we are so similar too because we all experience joy, laughs and love. Not only a must-read, but a must-have!
2. Different is Awesome by Ryan Haack. Hands down, my kids’ favorite book on this list! Ryan wrote this story about himself, to help teach children that even though he was born with his left hand missing, he can still do just about anything everyone else can do to – he just may do it a little bit differently. But in his book, he helps readers to realize that we’re all different from each other, and being different is awesome!
3. The Colors of Us by Karen Katz. Another book that is just beautiful and made me get a little choked up. A mother points out to her little girl how many different shades of brown there are while she is painting herself, and the girl then notices how beautiful and unique everyone’s skin color is, comparing them all to foods like cinnamon, chocolate and peaches. Connor really related to the little girl mixing different paint colors, because he loves to paint, and we then talked about how even in our own little family, we all have different colors of skin…and he thought that was pretty neat 🙂
4. Little Quack’s New Friend by Lauren Thompson. This has been on our bookshelf for years, and the kids and I both love this playful story so much! At first, a group of sibling ducks is hesitant to play with a frog because he is so different. But they soon discover that they all have fun together, and that’s what really matters.
5. Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes. We recently got this from the library, and I think Connor learned a lot from it. It tells the story of a mouse named Chrysanthemum who loves her unique name…until her classmates begin to make fun of it. In the end, you’ll get to see how she learns to love her name again.
6. Not Your Typical Dragon by Dan Bar-el. Connor immediately took to this book… not only is the story really cute and kind of silly with lovable characters, but the ending was so perfect. I bought this without reading it, and I’m really glad I gave it a chance. In the book, the little dragon discovers he can’t breathe fire like all the other dragons, though he can breathe bubbles and other silly things. At first he and his family are embarrassed, but in the end, they all realize how special he really is.
7. You Be You by Linda Kranz. My mom found this for the kids while on vacation, and it’s really cute. While out swimming one day, a little fish realizes how different all of the fish are…and how those differences make the world a much more beautiful place!
8. Ballerino Nate by Kimberly Bradley. We also got this one from the library, and now it’s on my must-have list too. It’s a fantastic book with a fantastic message, and it opened up a lot of good opportunities for me to point out to Connor that boys and girls are all interested in different activities – and that’s a good thing – and that if he wants to play baseball, that’s OK, and if he wants to do ballet, that’s OK too. In the book, Nate wants to dance ballet, because he likes it, but his brother makes fun of him. In the end, he feels confident in himself to keep doing what he loves.
9. Exclamation Mark by Amy Krouse Rosenthal. This is a very simple story with an awesome message about an exclamation mark who tries to fit in with his period friends, but realizes he was made to stand out. It’s a little silly too, and Connor gets a huge kick out of it.
10. Suki’s Kimono by Chieri Uegaki. This is a very sweet story about a little girl who wants to wear her kimono to the first day of school because she is so proud of her heritage. Her sisters are embarrassed by this, but in the end, Suki has pride and confidence in who she is and what she likes…and all of the children in her class really appreciate her unique wardrobe.
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