The beauty of reading to our children is that it can transport us to faraway places, time periods in the past or the future, even worlds only alive in our imaginations.
But – as our family has seen from raising a child with special needs – reading also does something else: it allows us to learn about each other. It enables us to imagine how we might feel in situations we have never been in or to appreciate someone’s life we have never met. Reading provides us with the framework for developing empathy for those we encounter throughout our lives.
As our children move through school, we need to challenge them – not only in academics, in extracurricular activities, but also in relationships. We need to challenge them to extend kindness, to react in compassion, to reach out in love. We need to challenge them not only to do their best, but to also be their best.
Aside from actually living it firsthand, there is no better way to introduce and open conversations about a topic than through the pages of a book.
Some books are particularly perfect for classroom read-aloud time, because they spark engaging class discussions, are set in the school environment, and/or have compelling language for reading out loud.
Whether you’re a teacher instilling the message that differences should be celebrated, or you’re a parent who wants to read a positive book aloud to your child’s class, here are 15 fantastic suggestions:
Spaghetti in a Hot Dog Bun by Maria Dismondy
One of my blog readers recommended this book to me, so I grabbed it from the library, and my kids loved it. The little girl in the book showcases what forgiveness looks like – as well as doing the right thing – and what it means to treat others well. This book could open up lots of conversations about how we treat others – definitely a great one for all ages and absolutely perfect for a classroom read-aloud!
Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match by Monica Brown
Marisol McDonald loves to be mismatched, wearing contrasting patterns on her clothes, making unique art and even celebrating her “mismatched” physical appearance – her father’s Scottish background that gave her red hair and the dark skin she inherited from her mother’s Peruvian side. One day, a friend challenges her to try matching and she ends up miserable until a teacher points out how marvelous her mismatching makes her. Our family loved this book about going against the grain and staying true to who you are – and this would be a fabulous read-aloud that would get a class giggling.
Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon by Patty Lovell
Molly Lou Melon’s grandmother has given her lots of empowering advice like walking tall, smiling big, singing loud and believing in herself. When Molly Lou starts a new school, an unkind boy begins to make fun of her for her bucky front teeth, short stature and more. Molly Lou decides to follow her grandmother’s advice and finds that the other students are inclined to her because of her confidence and positive spirit. Finally, the bully realizes it’s better to be Molly Lou’s friend than to be mean to her. This is a short read that empowers children to stand up for themselves and to not tolerate unkind behavior from others.
Back to Front and Upside Down by Claire Alexander
This is a fantastic book to teach about learning differences. Stan is excited for his principal’s birthday party until he realizes the class needs to make birthday cards, which means writing! Stan has a difficult time with writing but he’s too embarrased to ask for help until a friend reminds him that everyone needs help with something. It turns out another friend in his class is having trouble too, and the two spend extra time practicing their writing. This story can foster discussion with kids to remind them that our brains all learn at different paces and in different ways, and that it’s OK to need extra help!
Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae
All Gerald the Giraffe wants to do is dance. But with his crooked knees, thin legs and awkward movements, he’s the target of some teasing by the other animals. Finally, an important piece of advice helps Gerald to see that he can dance to the beat of his own drum…and the other animals are inspired by his joy and confidence! Giraffes Can’t Dance is zany and engaging, a perfect read-aloud for young kids.
It’s Okay to be Different by Todd Parr
With positive phrases like “It’s okay to need some help” and “It’s okay to wear glasses,” this book is a fantastic introduction for children to recognize and explore differences. It not only covers physical differences, but also emotional and personality differences, playfully showing a child who likes to eat mac and cheese in the bath and a person dancing by themselves. The book ends by reminding the reader, “you are special and important.” This book would be perfect for opening class discussions about how everyone is different and encouraging children to discover what makes them unique.
Different is Awesome by Ryan Haack
I will never tire of recommending Different Is Awesome, because it encompasses so much of what I want to teach my kids and what I want other children to know! Plus, my kids adore it. The author, 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. In his book, he also helps readers to realize that we’re all different from each other, and being different is awesome!
Keep Your Ear on the Ball by Genevieve Petrillo
I especially enjoyed this book. A boy who is blind comes to a new school, and all of the kids try to help him before realizing that he wants to be independent as he can – and that he actually can do most things by himself even though he can’t see. Kickball is a whole different story though… so the class bands together to figure out a way to “help” him with kickball while still letting him do it himself.
Have You Filled a Bucket Today? By Carol McCloud
In this book, the author writes about how, with all of our words and actions, we have the opportunity to fill up or take away from someone’s “bucket.” When we use kind words, or do something nice, or even simply smile at someone, we fill their buckets up. And so the book challenges kids to always try to fill someone’s bucket.
The Sandwich Swap by Queen Rania Al Abdullah of Jordan
Lily and Salma are best friends who do all the same things and like all of the same things. Except sandwiches. Lily eats peanut butter and Salma likes hummus. This difference nearly drives them apart… until they decide to try each other’s sandwiches, and they learn to appreciate each other’s tastes. This is a good lesson in learning to respect the decisions and preferences of others.
Teal by Renee Galvin
Perfect for a classroom read – it features crayons! Teal is a sweet book about a crayon who feels like he doesn’t fit in. He’s teal, which is not blue and not green, so he doesn’t know which color box he belongs to. Then one day, he invites all of the crayons to join him in a circle, and the color wheel is born, where “the crayons are no longer separated by box or label.”
Everyone Matters by Pat Thomas
When you respect someone, this book points out, you “pay more attention to the ways in which you are alike and don’t worry too much about the ways in which you are different.” This is a fantastic book teaching about what respect means, why we should respect ourselves and others, and even some of the ways we earn respect, like by being honest. It touches on why it’s important to have personal opinions and to try to understand others’ opinions. Definitely a must-read for all kids!
Happy In Our Skin by Fran Manushkin
A rhyming book that shares positive observations about everyone’s skin, from various colors to appearances like freckles or birthmarks. It explains the jobs our skin does for our bodies and how unique our skin makes us. “What a wonderful world!” it proclaims at the end. “Such a hullabaloo – with all of us in it. See the splendid view.” The rhyming language makes this a fun book to read out loud, and the positive way it describes physical differences is wonderful opportunity for a class to explore the skin they’re in.
Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes
Our family liked this book so much, we bought a copy for our home after borrowing it from the library. 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.
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.
Looking for more suggestions?
Check out my list of 10 great children’s books that celebrate differences and my list of the best children’s books about disabilities… and lastly, don’t forget to pick up a copy of my ebook Celebrating Our Stories! Celebrating Our Stories offers an in-depth look at how to teach kids about differences, explores why reading is so vital in educating children, and gives more than 100 excellent book recommendations categorized by topic – from being yourself, to physical differences and disabilities, to kindness.
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