Sometimes we can be at a loss for words when trying to teach children about difficult topics. This past year has stretched us in ways we probably didn’t imagine possible and our young ones are no doubt feeling the effects. To help, we’ve put together a list of children’s books on topics like racial diversity, losing friends to distance, being different, and leaving home for the first time.
For a book that invites readers to look beyond simple labels A Day So Gray by Marie Lamba with Illustrations by Alea Marley offers a delightful story of two little girls with two different views of the world. One girl complains of the “gray day” and the “boring white” snow. She sees only the black cat and the orange fire. The other little girl invites her friend to see more than just the single, dull colors. She teaches her to see beauty, even in gray days. To the girl in the red jacket, the orange fire is filled with “flashes of red and yellow and sizzling black logs and gray bits of smoke.” With every narrow noticing of the first girl, the second gently points to the diversity in all the things around them. This book subtly teaches young readers to study their surroundings and to see more than just black or white. Best for teaching kids to see the beauty and nuance in life.
32 pages, 8 x 10
Clarion Books ISBN: 9781328695994
Take a tour of different cultures with Are Your Stars Like My Stars? by Leslie Helakoski with illustrations by Heidi Woodward Sheffield. Does the little boy playing by the ocean see the same blue as kids kicking a soccer ball on city streets? Each set of pages continues through an array of colors and questions with vibrant illustrations of scenes and people from around the world. Watch a woman in a sari light a golden candle and a mother in a hijab as she eats a puff of pink cotton candy. See Inuit children run toward big white igloos or a family flying bright paper lanterns. The children all come together in the final pages. Best for learning about different cultures.
32 pages, 11 x 8 ½
Sterling Children’s Books
Entering school for the first time can be scary in a normal year, but it might be extra stressful during a pandemic year. Over the Moon by James Proimos with Illustrations by Zoey Abbott tells the story of one brave little girl as she slowly leaves home. Gentle watercolor illustrations make this whimsical world less intimidating. The story begins with a young girl floating down a river. She is picked up, taken in, and raised by two wolves. The first wolf is committed to teaching her about all the good and bad things in the world, while the second is hoping the little girl will make for a nice meal. As she grows and learns and becomes a part of their family, the second wolf is glad not to have eaten her. Eventually, the little girl sees other children like her who are reading beneath trees and she wants to learn like they do. In the end, she goes to school with the others, but is welcomed back home each night by her wolf parents who, they assure, will always be there to receive her. Best for back-to-school jitters.
44 pages, 8 1/4 x 10 ¼
Being different can be difficult, especially when that difference makes it harder to communicate with others. I Talk Like a River by Jordan Scott with illustrations by Sydney Smith depicts one boy’s journey to speak as smoothly as other children. The softness of the strokes in each illustration allow the colors to blur and blend creating a soft feel to the pictures. The story itself is written poetically with metaphorical lines like, “Pine tree grows roots inside my mouth and tangles my tongue.” He outlines letters that trip him up– like M for moon that “makes me mumble” and “c is a crow that sticks in the back of my throat.” After an especially difficult speech day, the boy’s father takes him to the river where he sees his own struggle in the bubbling, churning, crashing, and whirring of the water. He also notices the places where words come easily “beyond the rapids where water is smooth and glistening.” Based on the author’s own experience, this beautiful picture book will help anyone accept and overcome their own differences and respect others for theirs. Best for overcoming adversity.
40 pages, 9 1/4 x 10 ¼
Neal Porter Books
We’ve all had to deal with being separated from the ones we love over the past year. In a Jar, written and illustrated by Deborah Marcero, is a beautifully rendered story about how two bunnies stay close to each other despite the distance. Panoramic illustrations like an aerial view of the woods with thousands of falling leaves inspire and mesmerize. Little Llewellyn collects things“like buttercups, feathers, and heart-shaped stones”in small glass jars. One night by the shore, he meets Evelyn and the two collect the sunset on the water. Later, they team up to gather things “like rainbows, the ocean, and the wind just before snow falls.” When Evelyn moves away, Llewelyn’s heart feels “like an empty jar,” until he discovers a way to connect with her across the distance. This is a truly beautiful book about capturing and appreciating the moment and staying in touch with others across the miles. Best for long-distance goodbyes and friends far apart.
40 pages, 8 1/2 x 11
G. P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers