Welcome to my new series.
Art is such a beautiful expression, it can evoke emotions and speak to truths that can be hard to articulate. It also can often serve as a powerful tool for change, for revolution, to spark people to stand up and make changes.
This series is going to explore the power of art, by looking at actual art. Sometimes it may be written, or it may be visual (who knows, maybe I’ll convince someone to share auditory art with us as well). This will run the third Wednesday of every month, for as long as I can keep it going! (Interested in contributing? Let me know!)
I’m going to start with a type of art that I have long adored, the picture book.
Hannah, of The New Emma Jones Society, let me twist her arm… or, uhm, I mean… volunteered to kick us off with a few of her favorites!
5 Inclusive Picture Books
Reading as a child is connected not only to academic achievement later in life, but to empathy and understanding others. Fantastic picture books abound, for read-alouds or for reading alone as kids get older, but here are some favorites that specifically feature diversity and encourage inclusion:
Do Not Bring Your Dragon to the Library by Julie Gassman and Andy Elkerton (2016)
All the hallmarks of a great picture book: catchy rhyming text, rich art that’s full of sight gags, cute character designs, and (ostensibly) a story about library etiquette. It turns out to be less about procedures and more just comedy, which I love because kids should love the library, but the reason it’s on this list is the casual diversity it shows. The boy with the dragon is a person of color, while the rest of the library-goers are a visibly diverse mix including one kid using a wheelchair. The many dragons given as examples are a mix of male and female. There are a few snags in the rhymes toward the end, but the adorable art and lack of didacticism make it a winner for me. (A similar casually-diverse choice is Brontorina by James Howe.)
The Black Book of Colors by Menena Cottin, Rosana Faria, and Elisa Amado (2006)
This award-winning book creates its pictures as texture on the page, describing colors using everything but color, while text is available in print and braille. Vision-impaired kids can enjoy the pictures, while sighted kids have an opportunity to connect with that experience in an immersive way. It’s an awesome way to experiment with the picture-book format and make it more inclusive at the same time.
The Sissy Duckling by Harvey Fierstein and Henry Cole (2002)
Inspired by the Ugly Duckling story, this book is about a duckling who enjoys cooking and puppet shows instead of sports. I was expecting something a lot more flip, but it’s actually a pretty intense story about bullying, both at home and at school, with more words-per-page to suit the slightly older kids who are experiencing it in that way. The LGBT themes are obvious to adults, but Elmer (the duckling) could stand for any boy who’s not into hypermasculinity, and really anyone being bullied. Just check it out before giving it to your kid, I wouldn’t want any little ones to be surprised by the content the way I was.
Here I Am by Patti Kim and Sonia Sanchez (2012)
A dreamy wordless picture book about a young Asian immigrant experiencing his new city in the US. Wordless books are great in general to help kids with visual literacy and understanding things like facial expressions and body language, but the genre is used to especially good effect in this case since the boy doesn’t speak English and doesn’t understand the words he sees or hears.
A Splendid Friend, Indeed by Suzanne Bloom (2005)
This one is a little older, and a little more traditional — it’s about animals, and the series models different kinds of friendship behaviors in different stories. I’m including this one here because it’s about an introvert and an extrovert learning to understand each other, and while I’ve seen a lot of books teaching friendship, I’ve never seen quite that angle before. We’re all different, and friendship is about learning how to relate to someone else, not making them relate to you.
These are just five of the many picture books out there about diversity, inclusion, and valuing others for their differences. Leave your favorites in the comments!