We’re talking about the importance of reading and representation.
We all want our children to be kind and understanding to people from all walks of life. We’re a diverse bunch here in Hong Kong, so it’s important to teach our young ones to appreciate our differences. Educating our kids on how to embrace and celebrate diversity will help bring about an accepting, caring and loving generation in the future. Whether it’s knowing that families come in all sorts of arrangements, to the colour of our skin, to our culture, or even just knowing that it is okay to be a little different, books have the wonderful capacity to teach and reinforce the types of values we want to instil in our children.
Here are our favourite books that celebrate diversity for ages starting from toddlers to early teens.
Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes by Mem Fox (ages 0 to 3)
This memorable book and keepsake talks about how babies around the world are born into very different homes but that all of them, no matter where they’re from, share something in common – their ten little fingers, their ten little toes, and the lucky family that loves them. The adorable rhymes and pictures make this book is a great addition and gift to any expecting mama.
Susan Laughs by Jeanne Willis (ages 2 to 6)
Susan is just like you and me even though she has to use a wheelchair. This catchy and easy-to-read book is a great way to get your little ones reading on their own with all of the action words and colourful accompanying pictures. The story is simple and poignant with its empowering message about physical disabilities.
Who’s in a Family? by Robert Skutch (ages 3 to 7)
“Who’s in a Family” has been a (diverse) favourite since the mid-nineties. The book demonstrates that families come in all shapes, sizes and varieties – from small to big, single-parent families to families with two mummies or daddies, all with a wide variety of ethnicities. It’s no wonder this book has continued to be popular for the last twenty years.
Who’s In My Family? All About Our Families by Robie H. Harris (ages 3 to 7)
A delightful read with something for every family, “Who’s In My Family? All About Our Families“ follows children from a few different families on an adventure to the zoo. The book covers cultural food differences, physical appearances and different dynamics. The story closes with a big dinner that includes all the families.
Mommy, Mama and Me by Leslea Newman (ages 3 to 6)
Love is love and this family no exception. The child in this book has two mothers and is loved just like any other family loves its child. The story depicts the wonderful bond between same-sex parents and their children with delightful rhymes and pictures. The last time we checked, the English version of this book is still available to borrow through the Hong Kong library system (ask your local librarian!).
Yoko by Rosemary Wells (ages 3 to 6)
Yoko has asked her mother to prepare sushi, her favourite food, for her lunch tomorrow. When lunchtime comes the other children are disgusted with her strange-looking food! Poor Yoko is very upset but thanks to the quick thinking of her teacher and a new friend, she gets a chance to share her food and try some new ones too. The story talks about the different types of foods that people eat and accepting each other’s differences. Its characters are adorably illustrated animals that will be sure to engage any young reader.
Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress by Christine Baldacchino (ages 4 to 8)
A highly imaginative and heartfelt story about a boy and his tangerine dress. Morris loves his tangerine dress. It reminds him of tigers, the sun and his mother’s hair, but the other children don’t understand – dresses, they say, are for girls. Morris displays courage and bravery and the children finally accept him and his tangerine dress as they realise it doesn’t matter what he wears. The illustrations in this book are fantastic and the story is a great way to teach children about acceptance and gender identities.
We’ll Paint The Octopus Red by Stephanie Stuve-Bodeen (ages 4 to 8)
A new brother or sister is always a tumultuous time for a child. The little girl in “We’ll Paint The Octopus Red” isn’t initially thrilled with the idea of having to share her parents but, after a discussion with her father, she realises that having a sibling might not be so bad. However, after the baby is born, her father tells her that her new brother has Down’s Syndrome and that there may be things that he can’t do that she expects of a little brother. The girl and her father revisit the great list of things she went through with her dad before her brother was born and the two of them realise that when it comes to the things that matter, her baby brother will be able to do them all!
The Skin You Live In by Michael J. Tyler (ages 4 to 8)
A zany and quirky book about the unique shades of our skin. Kids will love the vibrant pictures and catchy rhymes, while also learning to embrace the skin they’re in and acknowledge that while we all come in all different shades, we’re still the same.
The Ugly Vegetables by Grace Lin (ages 4 to 8)
A little girl is helping her mother make a garden but she is confused as her garden is different from the other gardens in the neighbourhood. While some of her neighbours grow flowers, her garden has grown ugly vegetables. Her mother tells her their garden is different as their garden is growing Chinese vegetables. She is envious of her neighbour’s gardens until her mother cooks some food with their harvest and she notices her neighbours piqued interest in their delicious food. The book has a couple of Chinese words for vegetables in it and is a fun story to teach kids about differences.
And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell (ages 4 to 8)
“And Tango Makes Three” teaches children about same-sex families and adoption through some adorable penguins called Silo and Roy. Based on a true story, Silo and Roy live in a zoo in New York and they are just like all the other penguin couples at the zoo, except that they’re both boys. When they notice that the other couples are having babies they want to have a baby of their own too. So when an egg in need of care comes into the picture, Roy and Silo welcome it into their nest.
My Name is Nadia. I Have Autism by Huda Patel. Malay version by Hidayah Amin (ages 4 to 10)
Nadia is an eight-year-old Malaysian girl and, despite her differences in developmental abilities, she is just like other kids. She likes to sing, read books and eat chocolate, but she also likes to repeat words and pace. The book delves into Nadia’s world to give an account of her life. It is based on a real-life little girl named Nadia Sander. This wonderful bilingual book is also available in Malay. This book ships from Singapore for SGD15.
The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi (ages 5 to 10)
Unhei arrived from Korea only a week before attending her brand new school in the US. She misses her grandmother and the children on the bus don’t know how to pronounce her name. Afraid of being different, she tells her class that she doesn’t have a name yet and informs her mother that she wants an English name as she doesn’t want to be different from her American classmates. When she goes to school the next day her classmates have placed a jar on her desk with name suggestions for her. While she is thrilled her classmates are being so helpful, none of the names appeal to her. What is she going to do? A personal favourite among many families, “The Name Jar”, is a wonderfully written and heartwarming story about identity.
Open: A Boy’s Wayang Adventure by Eva Wong Nava (ages 7+)
Benjamin is a seven-year-old boy with autism who really likes to draw and is particularly good at drawing monkeys. When Benjamin’s school decides to put on a rendition of The Monkey King, he needs to decide if he can overcome his fears and step on stage. Following Benjamin and how he interacts with his family and friends provides great insight into the mind and life of someone living with autism. The book is a great read for older kids who are looking for an engaging and relatable story. You can purchase the book online at Singaporean online store Ethos Books (international shipping fees based on weight plus SGD6 handling charge).
Dumpling Days by Grace Lin (ages 8+)
Pacy is going to Taiwan for a whole month to visit family and her parents have even signed her up for a Chinese painting class! Exciting! The trip, however, ends up being a real challenge for Pacy. She looks like her classmates but she can’t speak their language and has trouble making friends. She even has a hard time understanding her teacher. What a disaster! But Pacy learns a lot about herself and her family on this memorable trip. This novel is great for pre-teens as it discusses cultural differences, some of which are specific to Chinese food and culture.
Good Moon Rising by Nancy Garden (ages 12+)
Published in the nineties, “Good Moon Rising” was ahead of its time in offering a genuine and authentic story about two young women in love. The award-winning story follows the two young women who meet while working on a play together. When the two of them realise that they’re gay they must work together to fight the homophobic campaign that has been set up against them. A solid story for teens who are looking for a story on love and bravery with same-sex couples.
You’re Welcome, Universe by Whitney Gardner (ages 12+)
Julia is deaf and a very talented graffiti artist. She attends a special school with others like her but one day she sees that someone has written something terrible about her friend at the back of her school, so she decides to cover it up with her artwork. While her intentions are noble, the act is still illegal. She is kicked out of her school and sent to a mainstream school where she becomes an outcast because of her deafness. With only her art left to drive her, Julia finds herself in an art war with other elusive artists. Vibrant, sassy, fun and exciting, this book is a phenomenal way to teach teens about diversity.
Beyond Magenta by Susan Kuklin (ages 12+)
The author of this book interviews six different transgendered teens to give an honest account of their struggles and accomplishments in becoming their true selves. The author reveals these brave teens’ stories with candour, grace and beauty as you follow each teen through their transitions. Each of the them comes from different walks of life, each with their own stories of heartbreak and triumph. A phenomenal book for teens (or parents) who are curious, or in need of support in regards to transgender and transitioning.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in December 2018 and updated in February 2020.