Fifty years ago, the term diversity was limited to racial and ethnic differences. Legislation was passed in the United States to integrate schools and businesses in response to the issue. Since then, the term has expanded to also include differences in language, abilities and exceptionalities, gender and socioeconomic status. A great way to model acceptance and respect for the diversity of children is to share books that reflect their background and the background of others.
A yummy way to learn respect for diversity is through food. The series of books by Nora Dooley, including “Everybody Cooks Rice,” uses familiar foods such as rice, bread, soup and noodles to allow children to see their own culture and customs accurately portrayed and recognize commonalities between cultures. Books like “Jalapeno Bagels” by Natasha Wing also demonstrate how various populations are influencing one another. Most of the books include recipes so that parents and teachers get an added bonus of creating the dishes with children.
Books about Alaskan, Appalachian, Cajun, Creole and other regional cultures can help children develop comfort with and respect for unfamiliar people, places and lifestyles. “Tar Beach” by Faith Ringgold is set in Harlem, New York and displays how rooftops are also recreational spaces for families. “The Rag Coat” by Lauren Mills is an Appalachian girl’s account of the stories behind quilt pieces that are stitched together to make her coat. Regional fiction gives children chances to hear stories and interact with characters whose lives and experiences are different from their own. It also exposes children to regional celebrations such as Mardi Gras and Juneteenth.
Diversity in Abilities
Stories that offer a glimpse of life for disabled children and their ability to solve problems, overcome obstacles and work and play with everyone including able-bodied and able-minded children can be found in “Be Good to Eddie Lee” by Virginia Fleming, which addresses Down syndrome, and “Susan Laughs” by Jeanne Willis about a girl who uses a wheelchair. Children’s books about diverse abilities show that talents and skills are not limited to any one group of individuals. They also demonstrate that people are not characterized or defined by their disability.
Respect for gender can be demonstrated by reading “Virgie Goes to School with Us Boys” by Elizabeth Fitzgerald Howard, while socioeconomic issues can be explored by reading “Those Shoes” by Maribeth Boelts. For more book suggestions that respect children’s diversity, consult The Global Fund for Children’s list of books that highlight diversity of cultures and families in the United States. The books on the list are appropriate for preschool through eighth grade and were chosen because they tell interesting stories that convey a message of respect for diversity. Topics include adoption into multiethnic families, intergenerational family dynamics and bilingualism along with stories about a variety of ethnicities.
- Global Fund for Children: Diversity in the United States
- Fleming, Virginia: Be Good to Eddie Lee
- Boelts, Maribeth: Those Shoes
- Dooley, Norah: Everybody Cooks Rice
- Wing, Natasha: Jalapeno Bagels
- Tar Beach: Faith Ringgold
- Mills, Lauren: The Rag Coat
- Willis Jeanne: Susan Laughs
- Fitzgerald Howard, Elizabeth: Virgie Goes to School with Us Boys
- Photo Credit Ryan McVay/Digital Vision/Getty Images
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