How to Use Books to Promote Diversity in Early Education Classrooms

Something I’ve seen many educators struggle with is how to introduce the topic of diversity and differences in a classroom. How do we manage to do this without making one child or any of our children feel singled out? How do we make diversity something that we celebrate and talk about instead of acting like we are all the same? How do we ensure that all our staff participates in the discussion?

I’ve found that a great way to introduce this topic when working with the age range that you have in an early education classroom is through your reading material. Books are a great way to get children talking about many things and a great way to simplify what we may call “difficult” subjects. A book provides a starting point to a conversation and the opportunity for children to ask questions meaning that all we have to do is continue that conversation by answering their questions or asking more questions.

You might get others who question if the kids understand these books or if it’s appropriate for them, and in response to both of those, I say yes. You might get people who question why should you bring certain topics up if those kids aren’t in your classroom, for instance: ‘why should we read a book about children with disabilities without having a child with disabilities in our classroom?’

Something to keep in mind as educators is that we may be the only way that a child gets introduced to others who are different than them. We also have to keep in mind that families trust us to educate their children and isn’t a part of educating children learning how to embrace ourselves and others regardless of our differences?

The difference between diversity in a picture book and diversity in a book for older children is that picture books celebrate diversity. They typically do not focus on the harsh reality of what differences can mean for others as you grow older the way that a young adult novel might have. This helps set students in the right direction by thinking positively about those who are different than themselves.

So don’t be afraid to start these discussions in our classrooms; there are so many ways to do this. Get the families involved if you can, include all of your staff, invite the community to read to your students…and however you do it, have fun!

List of Preschool Books for Promoting Diversity

Here are a few books I’ve enjoyed and found great to use with early childhood education students to get you started:

Pancho Rabbit and Coyote book cover

Pancho Rabbit and Coyote

by Duncan Tonatiuh

In this allegorical picture book, a young rabbit named Pancho eagerly awaits his papa’s return. Papa Rabbit traveled north two years ago to find work in the great carrot and lettuce fields to earn money for his family. When Papa does not return, Pancho sets out to find him. He packs Papa’s favorite meal—mole, rice and beans, a heap of warm tortillas, and a jug of aguamiel—and heads north. He meets a coyote, who offers to help Pancho in exchange for some of Papa’s food. They travel together until the food is gone and the coyote decides he is still hungry . . . for Pancho!

Hair Love book cover

Hair Love

by Matthew A. Cherry and Vashti Harrison

Zuri’s hair has a mind of its own. It kinks, coils, and curls every which way. Zuri knows it’s beautiful. When mommy does Zuri’s hair, she feels like a superhero. But when mommy is away, it’s up to daddy to step in! And even though daddy has a lot to learn, he LOVES his Zuri. And he’ll do anything to make her—and her hair—happy.

Tender and empowering, Hair Love is an ode to loving your natural hair—and a celebration of daddies and daughters everywhere.

The Day You Begin book cover

The Day You Begin

by Jacqueline Woodson and Rafael Lopez

There will be times when you walk into a room
and no one there is quite like you.

There are many reasons to feel different. Maybe it’s how you look or talk, or where you’re from; maybe it’s what you eat, or something just as random. It’s not easy to take those first steps into a place where nobody really knows you yet, but somehow you do it.

Jacqueline Woodson’s lyrical text and Rafael Lopez’s dazzling art reminds us that we all feel like outsiders sometimes-and how brave it is that we go forth anyway. And that sometimes, when we reach out and begin to share our stories, others will be happy to meet us halfway.

Pink Is for Boys

by Robb Pearlman and Eda Kaban

Pink is for boys… and girls… and everyone! This timely and beautiful picture book rethinks and reframes the stereotypical blue/pink gender binary and empowers kids – and their grown-ups – to express themselves in every color of the rainbow. Featuring a diverse group of relatable characters, Pink Is for Boys invites and encourages girls and boys to enjoy what they love to do, whether it’s racing cars and playing baseball, or loving unicorns and dressing up. Vibrant illustrations help children learn and identify the myriad colors that surround them every day, from the orange of a popsicle, to the green of a grassy field, all the way up to the wonder of a multicolored rainbow.

Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match / Marisol McDonald no combina

by Monica Brown and Sara Palacios

Marisol McDonald has flaming red hair and nut-brown skin. Polka dots and stripes are her favorite combination. She prefers peanut butter and jelly burritos in her lunch box. And don’t even think of asking her to choose one or the other activity at recess–she’ll just be a soccer playing pirate princess, thank you very much. To Marisol McDonald, these seemingly mismatched things make perfect sense together.

Unfortunately, they don’t always make sense to everyone else. Other people wrinkle their nose in confusion at Marisol–can’t she just be one or the other? Try as she might, in a world where everyone tries to put this biracial, Peruvian-Scottish-American girl into a box, Marisol McDonald doesn’t match. And that’s just fine with her.

A mestiza Peruvian American of European, Jewish, and Amerindian heritage, renowned author Monica Brown wrote this lively story to bring her own experience of being mismatched to life. Her buoyant prose is perfectly matched by Sara Palacios’ engaging acrylic illustrations.

A Family Is a Family Is a Family

by Sara O’Leary and Qin Leng

When a teacher asks the children in her class to think about what makes their families special, the answers are all different in many ways — but the same in the one way that matters most of all.

One child is worried that her family is just too different to explain, but listens as her classmates talk about what makes their families special. One is raised by a grandmother, and another has two dads. One is full of stepsiblings, and another has a new baby.

As one by one, her classmates describe who they live with and who loves them — family of every shape, size and every kind of relation — the child realizes that as long as her family is full of caring people, her family is special.

Mommy, Mama, and Me

by Leslea Newman and Carol Thompson

Rhythmic text and illustrations with universal appeal show a toddler spending the day with its mommies. From hide-and-seek to dress-up, then bath time and a kiss goodnight, there’s no limit to what a loving family can do together.

Shares the loving bond between same-sex parents and their children.

Green Is a Chile Pepper: A Book of Colors

by Roseanne Thong and John Parra

Children discover all the bright colors in their Hispanic American neighborhood.

What books have you used to promote diversity in your classrooms? Let us know in the comments!

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Dai Guerra

Dai Guerra is a student affairs professional who also works as a substitute teacher's aide in his spare time. He received his Master's of Science in Education at California State University, Fullerton and got his Bachelor's degree at the University of San Francisco in Critical Diversity Studies. When not working one of two jobs you can find Dai curled up with a book, writing book reviews for his blog, or taking photos of books for Instagram. You can read more about Dai Guerra and what he likes to read at


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