200 of the Best Diverse Children’s Books for Preschoolers

An epic book list to teach empathy, anti-racism, feminism, and diversity

Darcy Reeder
Jan 15, 2020 · 12 min read

Children’s books have the power to change the world.

As a Parent Education college instructor who leads storytimes for babies, toddlers, and preschoolers, I often get asked for children’s book recommendations.

Specifically, parents want book recommendations about kindness, empathy, sharing, and how to talk with young children about hard topics like race. And parents want to know, “How do I get my kids to love books?”

I’ve written before about the benefits of reading to kids and how to make books a bigger part of your lives. Now I want to share with you over 200 of the best diverse children’s books for preschoolers and toddlers.

I personally read and re-read every book on this list to my own kindergartner during the first 5 years of her life. These books helped me teach her about empathy and kindness in our beautiful, diverse world; they also started conversations about impossibly hard topics like slavery, war, and bigotry, and what it means to be an ally.

Along the way, we also read books we loved that didn’t necessarily teach a lesson; they were just fun books that made her excited to keep on reading. When these books featured diverse or underrepresented characters, or defied gender norms, I was even more stoked to add them to our list.

Through our library’s 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten program, my daughter and I kept track of each book we read. Once we reached 1,000 books, neither of us wanted to quit counting; by her 5th birthday, we’d almost reached 2,000 unique titles.

The book list below is the top 10% of the thousands of books we read together, and includes over 200 unique children’s book titles, all of which we found at our public library.

Sometimes we loved an author so much, we wanted to explore everything they’d ever written. In this case; I list the author in bold, rather than trying to list every great book of theirs.

It’s a golden age of kid lit — children’s literature — and new children’s books are coming out all the time, so this list of over 200 diverse children’s books is by no means comprehensive. Without further ado…

Great Children’s Books Available as Board Books

These board books work great for babies, toddlers, or preschoolers; and they make perfect birthday or baby shower gifts.

Clive is a Nurse (and the entire Clive series by Jessica Spanyol)
Rosa Loves Dinosaurs (and the entire Rosa series by Jessica Spanyol)
Peekaboo Morning
I Know A LOT!
One Love by Cedella Marley
A is for Activist
Dream Big, Little One
Whose Knees Are These?
¡Buenos Días, Bebé! (and other board books by DK Publishing featuring real photos of kids)
More Blueberries!
Baby Animals (and every other adorable book by Gyo Fujikawa)
I Like When…/Me Gusta Cuando…
Potty / Higher! Higher! (and every book by Leslie Patricelli)
Cleo the Cat series (these simple books really resonated with my kid)
Good Dog, Carl (wordless book about a dog and kid getting into mischief together)
I Like Myself!
Snuggle Puppy! (and every book by Sandra Boynton)

Children’s Books that Teach Kindness and Diversity

These books are appropriate for toddlers and preschoolers (or kids and adults of any age) and feature diverse characters and/or themes of empathy.

The Rabbit Listened (disappointment and the power of listening. Features an ambiguously gendered kid, which is rare in kid lit.)
A Normal Pig by K-Fai Steele (one of our very, very favorite books. I wrote about it here.)
Noodlephant (a funny story about civil disobediance)
Let’s Talk About Body Boundaries, Consent, & Respect (the best book I’ve seen on teaching consent to kids.)
Teddy’s Favorite Toy (Normalizes all toys for all kids, and the only children’s book I’ve seen with the phrase “Yas queen!”)
Jabari Jumps (overcoming fear, features an awesome Black father)
Hair Love (another great Black dad)
Princess Hair by Sharee Miller (Black girls being awesome with all different hair. I wrote about it here.)
Don’t Touch My Hair! also by Sharee Miller. (I wrote about it here.)
Sulwe (colorism)
The Paper Bag Princess (feminist story subverts the princess narrative)
The Princess Knight (another feminist princess story)
Paper Princess/Paper Princess Finds Her Way by Elisa Kleven
Abuela, also by Elisa Kleven (family, immigration, Latinx)
Dreamers by Yuyi Morales (immigration)
Carmela Full of Wishes (artfully hints that the main character’s dad was deported. I wrote about it here.)
Hey, Wall: A Story of Art and Community
The Tortilla Factory by Gary Paulsen (all the steps of growing, creating, and delivering tortillas)
Alma and How She Got Her Name (exploring family history)
Margaret and Margarita / Margarita y Margaret (kids playing together, despite a language barrier)
Last Stop on Market Street
Saturdays (single working mom, love, handling disappointment)
Making Friends by Fred Rogers
My Footprints (multicultural Asian family with two moms)
Intersection Allies
All the World / Everywhere Babies (and others illustrated by Marla Frazee)
Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History
The Snowy Day (1962 classic about a little Black boy enjoying the snow)
Heather Has Two Mommies (one of the first children’s books to depict same-sex parenting — I wrote about it here.)
Who Are You — The Kid’s Guide to Gender Identity (A must-have for all kids to learn about and explore gender.)
Julián is a Mermaid (Also a must-read!)
Red: A Crayon’s Story (Fantastic story! A blue crayon with a red label is a metaphor for being trans, or for anyone who doesn’t feel truly seen)
What Makes a Baby (This book answers “Where do babies come from?” in an unimaginably inclusive way. Read more about it — and it’s sequel — here.)
From the Stars in the Sky to the Fish in the Sea (features a fantastic nonbinary protagonist with they pronouns. I write about it here.)
And Tango Makes Three (true story of gay penguins who became adoptive dads)
Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag
They, She, He, Me: Free to Be!
Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress (Fantastic book if your kid has already observed people trying to enforce gender norms. If they’ve never heard anyone say, “Boys don’t wear dresses,” no need to introduce them to that idea with this book.)
Jack (Not Jackie) (my favorite children’s book about a kid coming out as trans)
A Fairy Went A-Marketing
Ish by Peter H. Reynolds
I Walk with Vanessa (being an ally)
Adrian Simcox Does NOT Have a Horse (Maybe save this one for age 4 or older. Beautifully illustrated book about empathy and classism.)
Sidewalk Flowers
Small World by Ishta Mercurio
My Friends/Mis Amigos (and other books by Tarō Gomi)
The Hello, Goodbye Window
Say Hello by Rachel Isadora
Waiting for the Biblioburro
They Say Blue
The Remember Balloons (Alzheimer’s)
Alfie: (The Turtle That Disappeared)
I Want to Be a Doctor by Laura Driscoll
Oscar’s Half Birthday (and all books by Bob Graham)
The Barefoot Book of Children
Families Around the World
We are Family by Patricia Hegarty
The Skin You Live In (explores race in a kid-friendly way, but uses a lot of yummy food comparisons, which some people don’t like.)
Skin Again by bell hooks
Shades of People (my favorite children’s book on race, featuring photos of real kids and families)
Happy in Our Skin (The pictures are better than the words.)
What’s the Difference? Being Different is Amazing
Whoever You Are (race)
Wish by Matthew Cordell (poignant story can be a way to talk about adoption)
A Mother for Choco (adoption)
The Surprise Family by Lynn Reiser
The Dead Bird (death)
Rabbityness (grief)
The Tenth Good Thing About Barney (pet death)
Bertolt (beautifully explores loss through the death of an old tree)
The Forest by Riccardo Bozzi (unique Italian book about life and death)
Why Am I Me?
The Forever Garden
La Manta de Maya/Maya’s Blanket
Chirri and Chirra series (dreamy, gentle, imaginative books by Kaya Doi — translated from Japanese)
The Girl and the Bicycle (poignant wordless book about persistence and kindness)
Flotando en la Canción de Mama
Tar Beach
Round is a Tortilla
Round is a Mooncake
Shape Space by Cathryn Fallwell
Families, Families, Families! by Suzanne Lang
Lissy’s Friends / The Ugly Vegetables (Read every book by Grace Lin!)
The Lorax (Dr. Seuss environmentalist tale)
The World Turns Round and Round
Strictly No Elephants (inclusivity)
Thumbtack Dancer
Deer Dancer
Emma and Julia Love Ballet
Ballerina Dreams (This one is super pink “princessy,” but is a true photo-story of a dance class for kids with cerebral palsy)
Lola at the Library / Lola Loves Stories
Hello Goodbye Dog (A loving dog becomes a school therapy dog. The main human character is in a wheelchair, which you don’t see much in books.)
Two Bobbies: A True Story of Hurricane Katrina, Friendship, and Survival (a longish book about two pets who survived Katrina)
Should I Share My Ice Cream? / Knuffle Bunny Trilogy (and every other book by Mo Willems)
The Digger and the Flower (environmentalism, natural beauty, and the ability of one person to make a difference, told with construction vehicles)
Ella Sarah Gets Dressed
Super Narwhal and Jelly Jolt by Ben Clanton (This hilarious intro to comic books doesn’t include any of the bad stuff superhero stories usually have.)
The Tea Dragon Society (beautiful, subversive, fantasy comic)
Giving Thanks — A Native American Good Morning Message
Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat
Stella’s Starliner
The Wonderful Things You Will Be
It’s Okay to Be Different (and all books by Todd Parr)
Saffron Ice Cream (emigrating from Iran)
Love is by Diane Adams
I Like Me! (self-love!)
Hanukkah Moon (Latinx Hanukkah!)
Beautiful Yetta / Beautiful Yetta Hanukkah Kitten (trilingual in English, Yiddish, and Spanish)
Geraldine by Elizabeth Lilly
Thank You, Omu! (sharing, neighbors)
I Am Enough (self-love for girls)
Melia and Jo
A Young Dancer: The Life of an Ailey Student
I am: I am a Dancer by Eleanor Schick (body-positive, joyful book)
Uno’s Garden (a unique book with a strong environmental message, with the bonus of teaching math to little kids)
The Trouble with Dragons (environmentalism)
Two Nests (divorce)
Mama, Do You Love Me? (unconditional parental love, Inuit family)
The Stuff of Stars (artistic book about the big bang and how we’re all made of stars)
The Big Umbrella
I am Rosa Parks (manages to make a tough subject age-appropriate for preschoolers)
I am Martin Luther King Jr. (Ditto. Read the whole “Ordinary People Change the World” series by Brad Meltzer.)
I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark
Lubna and Pebble (This book is about refugees, but leaves it up to parents how much to explain.)
Mustafa by Gay Marie Louise (from perspective of a refugee child, friendship)
Franny’s Father is a Feminist
Amazing Grace
The Little Little Girl with the BIG BIG VOICE
I’m A Girl! by Yasmin Ismail (Wait on this one until your kid has already heard gender stereotypes. I wrote about it here.)
Drum Dream Girl
The Secret of Black Rock
Pecan Pie Baby
One Gorilla — A Counting Book (Includes humans as just one in a list of primates.)
Not Quite Narwhal (Biracial and adopted kids may feel especially seen by this story about an animal caught between the worlds of narwhals and unicorns.)
Spork (ditto, but with spoons and forks)
The Happy Book (the importance of all emotions, not just happiness.)
In My Heart — A Book of Feelings
Happy by Mies Van Hout (beautiful art, fish emotions)
Red Knit Cap Girl series
I am Human: A Book of Empathy

Children’s Books that Dive into Difficult Realities

I read each of these incredible books to my daughter when she was a preschooler, but some families may wish to wait, as the themes are quite heavy.

Show Way (slavery)
Love Twelve Miles Long (slavery)
Before She was Harriet (slavery)
Freedom in Congo Square (slavery)
Malala’s Magic Pencil (war/terrorism)
Malala, A Brave Girl from Pakistan/Iqbal, A Brave Boy from Pakistan (war/terrorism)
Rosa by Nikki Giovanni (Jim Crow)
Ruth and the Green Book (Jim Crow)
Separate is Never Equal (desegregation)
En Mi Familia, and others by Carmen Lomas Garza (her beautiful art features some intense imagery, like slaughtered animals)
Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family’s Journey (about refugees, told through pebble mosaics)
Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers’ Strike of 1909 (child labor)
Love by Matt de la Peña (911)
Something Happened in Our Town: A Child’s Story About Racial Injustice (police shootings)

Random Children’s Books We Love

Some of these children’s books have positive messages, but mostly we love them because they’re funny/fun to read or feature quirky art.

There is a Bird on Your Head! (Okay, I already mentioned some other books by Mo Willems, but seriously, go read them all!)
Where the Wild Things Are
Moon by Alison Oliver (feels like a retelling of Wild Things, with a female protagonist)
Boris and the Snoozebox (funny cat book with unique collage art)
How to Give Your Cat a Bath: In Five Easy Steps
Pickle Things
The Book With No Pictures
Journey / Quest / Return (incredible wordless trilogy by Aaron Becker about imagination, adventure, friendship, and family)
Everybody Needs a Rock (and other poetic books by Byrd Baylor/Peter Parnall)
Bunnies on Ice
Bunny Dreams
Bunny’s Book Club
Everybunny Dance!/Everybunny Count! (Yes, there are a lot of great books with bunnies in them.)
Bunny Days / Wonder Bear (adorably imaginative books by Tao Nyeu)
Ginger series by Charlotte Voake (cats)
Big Dog… Little Dog / Go, Dog, Go! both by P. D. Eastman (great books for learning to read)
Fred and Ted Go Camping (Eastman’s Big Dog and Little Dog have a vegan camping trip.)
Just Like Me! (silly book to get kids up and moving)
Monster Boogie (Laurie Berkner song with art by Ben Clanton — can help kids get over fear, and features kids of color)
A Folk Tale — Deep in the Woods
Louise, The Adventures of a Chicken (a favorite in our house. good introduction to chapters.)
A house that once was (super-cool art)
Big Brown Bear’s Cave (teaches why we don’t want to be hoarders)
Little Bear’s Little Boat (growing up, passing on old toys)
You are a Lion! And Other Fun Yoga Poses
Only a Witch Can Fly (our favorite non-scary Halloween book)
Ghosts in the House! / The Midnight Library, both by Kazuno Kohara
Press Here / Mix It Up, both by Hervé Tullet (interactive art books)
A Carousel Tale (Read every book illustrated by Elisa Kleven)
Wave / Shadow (wordless books by Suzy Lee)
On the Day You Were Born by Debra Frasier
Leap Back Home to Me (exploring then coming back safely to your parents
The Bear and the Piano (very different story but same theme)
Ten in the Bed by Jane Cabrera
Owl Moon (Poetic story of a dad taking his kid out in the snow to find an owl. The kid is based on Jane Yolen’s daughter but isn’t given pronouns in the book.)
Dancing with Daddy (silly father daughter book)
Frederick / Swimmy (and all books by Leo Lionni)
Stay: A Girl, A Dog, A Bucket List (about a beloved pet getting older)
A Stone for Sascha (wordless book travels through time and space after a family dog dies)
Dog and Bear (series by Laura Vaccaro Seeger that my kid just loves)
Petra (Petra is a rock. My kid thinks it’s hilarious.)
The Table Sets Itself
Fortunately by Remy Charlip (Gets more and more bizarre. Really funny.)
All the Animals Where I Live (understated look at life in the country)
Early Bird
Polar Bear Night / Polar Bear Morning
Red Cat, Blue Cat
T-Veg: The Story of a Carrot-Crunching Dinosaur (vegan)
Little Green Peas series by Keith Baker
Chicka Chicka Boom Boom
Little Owl’s Night
Happy / I Love My Mommy (So many sweet books by Emma Dodd.)
Tell Me Something Happy Before I Go to Sleep
You Are Special, Little One / I Love You, Little One
A Tree is Nice
Thank You and Good Night
My Many Colored Days / Hop on Pop (and many others by Dr. Seuss)
Quiet Bunny & Noisy Puppy
The Honeybee by Kirsten Hall
The Wheels on the Tuk Tuk
My Pet Wants a Pet
Read the Book, Lemmings!
Ganesha’s Sweet Tooth
Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11 (The 2019 expanded version. Here’s the story of how I raised my voice and asked the author to make the book more inclusive.)

Wow! That’s a lot of great diverse children’s books!

Thank you for reading to your babies, toddlers, preschoolers, and kids of all ages; you’re giving them an incredible gift! If there’s a book you adore that’s not on this list— even one you wrote or illustrated — please share!

Also feel free to ask for recommendations about which children’s books on this list would be helpful for a specific family, situation, value, or lesson. Let’s all geek out about children’s books!

Sign up for my weekly newsletter, Empathy For the Win! to keep up with my writing, see what else I’m reading on Medium, and of course to listen to me gush about how awesome my kid is.

Family Matters

A publication for parents and families of all types to share their experiences.

Darcy Reeder

Written by

Empathy for the win! Published in Gen, Human Parts, Heated, Tenderly —Feminism, Sexuality, Veganism, Anti-Racism, Parenting. She/They darcyreeder.substack.com

Family Matters

A publication for parents and families of all types to share their experiences.

Darcy Reeder

Written by

Empathy for the win! Published in Gen, Human Parts, Heated, Tenderly —Feminism, Sexuality, Veganism, Anti-Racism, Parenting. She/They darcyreeder.substack.com

Family Matters

A publication for parents and families of all types to share their experiences.

Medium is an open platform where 170 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface. Learn more

Follow the writers, publications, and topics that matter to you, and you’ll see them on your homepage and in your inbox. Explore

If you have a story to tell, knowledge to share, or a perspective to offer — welcome home. It’s easy and free to post your thinking on any topic. Write on Medium

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store