Looking for some of the best diverse children’s books published in 2021?
Below I’ve compiled a comprehensive list of children’s books that I consider to be the “best of the best” that were published in 2021. Rest assured, my children and I have read each of these books several times together throughout the year. I believe these are books children (and adults) will be excited to read again and again. Let me know in the comments which of these you’ve read or are excited to read with the little readers in your life.
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Books are not the answer to all of our problems, but I believe they certainly can help...even just a little. Do you agree? I especially feel that way whenever I come across a book that nails a topic on every level so perfectly like this one.
RUN, do not walk, to your nearest indie bookstore or your favorite online bookshop and PURCHASE this book. It captures the COVID-19 pandemic so perfectly...all the praise to this gem written and illustrated by Leuyen Pham.
If you’ve been looking for a children’s book about COVID-19, this is the ONE. Essential workers like doctors, nurses, delivery people, city workers and grocery store workers are highlighted. The author also talks about how some people worked from home while others couldn’t. Some people baked and cooked, but other people worried ALOT.
Bodies Are Cool
This book is an amazing celebration of bodies of all shapes, colors and sizes. I love that it normalizes bodies with scars, body hair, bodies with missing limbs, freckled bodies and so much more!
Bodies Are Cool is one of the best inclusive body positivity children’s books that I’ve seen! The illustrations are so vivid and highlight people of different abilities and disabilities. There is even someone shown wearing an insulin pump who has diabetes which is something I’ve never seen in a children’s book before.
I highly recommend this one for home and school libraries for discussing body positivity with kids.
Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre
What does Memorial Day mean to you? Over the years, the meaning and significance of the day seems to have gotten a bit lost. Many kids just see it as a day off from school. While some adults look forward to having a long holiday weekend to take advantage of sales at stores, cookouts/barbecues, and fireworks to mark the unofficial start of the summer season.
A few years ago, I learned Memorial Day (originally called Decoration Day) was founded by formerly enslaved Black Americans on May 1, 1865 in Charleston, South Carolina. While there are dozens of other places that lay claim to being the birthplace of Memorial Day, this story focuses on the events from 1865.
A procession of ten thousand (most newly freed enslaved people) were led by almost three thousand Black children. They gathered to honor dead soldiers from the Union Army at a racetrack that had been turned into a war prison. They paid tribute to the men who died so that they might be free.
This 1865 ceremony is documented as being the earliest known observance like what we would now recognize as Memorial Day. However, there is no evidence that it led to General Logan’s call for a national Memorial Day holiday in 1868.
A Friend Like You
After a year and a half spent in near isolation from loved ones, it can feel alien and uncomfortable to make new friends, and to reconnect with old ones. As a teaching tool for social emotional learning, A Friend Like You is suited not only for young audiences but will surely resonate with adult readers as well. It serves as a reflection of the social power of friendship, and its publication is a testament to the power of two friends with a common goal: to reunite individuals through literature.
One of the interesting things about friendship is that it evolves as we grow and mature. For young children, friendships can feel magical! Toddlers and elementary-aged kids may imagine their friendships to be like embarking on fantastical adventures each time they get together with their friends. During the tween and teen years, many kids define their friends based on how much their friends show they care about them. By the time you are an adult, many people develop a keen sense of self and are just looking for friends that will support them through all the difficulties of life.
What makes for a good friend in elementary school is different from what makes a good friend in high school, and these shifts continue in our 20s, 30s, and across our lifetimes.
Have you ever had to hand pick your dinner from a muddy ditch by the side of the road? All the while feeling ashamed, embarrassed, and afraid someone you might know may drive by and see you?
Meet an Asian American family of four from China who now reside in the state of Ohio. They own an old Pontiac car with faded red paint.
One day while the family is driving, the car stops abruptly in the middle of the road. Off to the side, the mother sees watercress growing in a field...lots of it. The sight of the watercress immediately reminds the family of their home country of China.
Each family member gets to work helping to gather watercress in their bare feet. It’s a team effort. That watercress ends up being the family’s dinner cooked in a garlicky oil that same night.
Everyone in the family is happy about eating watercress except for the daughter. She is embarrassed and wants to eat vegetables from the grocery store, not watercress from a muddy ditch that recently had snails hanging from its roots.
Will the daughter reconsider in the end?
Watercress is a moving and original true story based on the author’s life. As the author states, “The story is about the power of memory. Not just the beautiful memories, but also the difficult ones, the memories that are sometimes too painful to share.”
Author Andrea Wang remembers growing up as an immigrant family in a predominantly white neighborhood in Ohio. She remembers being very aware of how different her family was. She remembers picking watercress in a muddy ditch on the side of the road.
This book is both an apology and a love letter to her parents. It’s also an encouragement to all children who feel different and to families with difficult pasts. A winner!
Our Skin: A First Conversation About Race
Are you looking for an excellent conversation starter book to introduce kids to the topic of race? If so, you may want to consider this one.
In this book, you will find an amazing way to begin conversations about race, skin tone, melanin, stereotypes and prejudice, racism, family diversity and more.
The back of the book invites you to dive deeper and continue the conversation. The terms used throughout the book are defined and examples are provided to help guide you.
So, if you’ve been putting off having conversations about race with your children, start here. You can thank me later.
Race Cars: A Children's Book About White Privilege
Race Cars offers a simple, yet powerful, way to introduce these complicated themes to our children and is a valuable addition to classroom and home libraries. Written by therapist and author Jenny Devenny and edited by Charnaie Gordon, author and creator of Here Wee Read (that’s me!)
Race Cars tells the story of 2 best friends, a white car and a black car, that have different experiences and face different rules while entering the same race.
Filled with bright, attention-grabbing illustrations, a notes and activities section at the back helps parents, guardians, and teachers further discuss these issues with children.
Many Shapes of Clay
Many Shapes of Clay is a beautiful story about a little girl who finds a clay shape that reminds her of picking lemons with her father who recently passed away. When the shape accidentally breaks, Eisha and her mother find a creative and meaningful way to put the broken pieces back together again.
This book is a comforting and heartwarming story about grief, which celebrates the healing power of creativity.
Are you looking for a fun summer picture book for kids?
Grab an ice cream cone, and travel to a bustling Koreatown neighborhood in Los Angeles, California where icy-cold ice cream/popsicle (paleta) treats and a catchy tune unite children and teach the value of community, friendships and kindness. This vibrant story includes Spanish words and phrases throughout is sure to be well loved by readers. Check out the synopsis from the publisher below and then head to the temporary link in my bio to review or purchase.
Ring! Ring! Ring! Can you hear his call? Paletas for one! Paletas for all!
What’s the best way to cool off on a hot summer day? Run quick and find Paletero José!
Follow along with our narrator as he passes through his busy neighborhood in search of the Paletero Man. But when he finally catches up with him, our narrator’s pockets are empty. Oh no! What happened to his dinero? It will take the help of the entire community to get the tasty treat now.
Written by Latin Grammy-winning musician Lucky Diaz, Paletero Man is full of musicality, generosity, kindness, and ice pops. Includes an author’s note from Lucky Diaz, and a link to a live version of the Lucky Band’s popular song that inspired the book.
Violet fondly remembered the table. It’s the same table she and her family used to gather at and eat meals together. Now, everyone in the family is too busy to enjoy sit down meals and Violet sits alone at the table. Everyone is too preoccupied with their screens to pay any attention to Violet.
Dad watches tv sitting in his favorite chair in the living room. Mom sits on the stairs glued to her phone and her brother plays video games online with his friends using a tablet. Violet wants things to go back to the way they were before technology took over.
Can Violet remind her family of the warmth of time spent together, and gather around the table once more?
Unfortunately, the overconsumption of technology and social media is undermining family and personal relationships across the world. As a result, many people are missing important opportunities for connection and strengthening social skills.
I love this book because it’s a true representation of what many families are currently experiencing. This book illustrates that while technology can be great, it’s different from physical connection and personal contact. Put your phones and devices away at the table and when in the presence of people you love and respect.
May Your Life Be Deliciosa
Meet Rosie. Every year on Christmas Eve, she and her mamá, tía (aunt), sister, and cousins all gather together in Abuela’s kitchen to make tamales and tell stories.
When Rosie asks her Abuela, “Where is the recipe?” Abuela responds with an answer that only a sage grandmother can give, “It is in my heart, Rosie. I use mis ojos, my eyes, to measure. Mis manos, my hands, to feel. Mi boca, my mouth, to taste.”
The entire family gathers around Abuela as she begins to tell the story of how to make a tamale. Rosie learns not only the recipe, but she also learns how to make a delicious life. A life filled with lots of love, spice, adventure, and family.
In the back matter readers learn about the author’s childhood growing up in a predominantly Latinx community. Making tamales was an important part of his culture. He loved being a part of this family tradition, but what he loved the most was the stories told by his grandmother and other family members. They shared stories of hardship and stories of joy.
This intergenerational bilingual story is about so much more than making tamales. It gives readers the “special ingredients” needed to live a full life. A life that includes protection, security, love, affection, and support of family and community. May we all learn to stand tall and proud. May all of our lives be deliciosa.
When We Say Black Lives Matter
Saying that Black lives matter doesn't mean that other lives do not. We ALL matter.
In this lyrical picture book, a Black child’s parents explain why Black Lives Matter through poetic prose. Readers see the child go from birth to graduating from school in the beautiful collage-style illustrations.
While some elementary aged children will be able to read this book independently, I think it may be best suited to be read with a grown up to explain some of the context. For example, explain some of the history from the past as well as present-day examples in an age-appropriate way.
“Little one, when we say Black Lives Matter, we’re saying Black people are wonderful-strong. That we deserve to be treated with basic respect, and that history’s done us wrong. . .”
We All Play
Animals and kids love to play! This wonderful book celebrates playtime and the connection between children and the natural world. Beautiful illustrations show:
birds who chase and chirp!
bears who wiggle and wobble!
whales who swim and squirt!
owls who peek and peep!
and a diverse group of kids who love to do the same, shouting:
We play too! / kimêtawânaw mîna
At the end of the book, animals and children gently fall asleep after a fun day of playing outside, making this book a great bedtime story. A beautiful ode to the animals and humans we share our world with, We All Play belongs on every bookshelf.
This book also includes:
A glossary of Cree words for wild animals in the book
A pronunciation guide and link to audio pronunciation recordings
My Heart Beats
No matter what language we speak, no matter where we live in the world, our hearts beat with the same rhythm. We may hear and say the sounds differently--doki doki in Japanese, tu tump tu tump in Italian, dugeun dugeun in Korean, dhak dhak in Urdu, boum boum in French and thump thump in English--but when our hearts beat, all the sounds mean the same thing: you are alive and you are loved.
A beautiful photographic board book featuring babies from all over the world and the sounds their hearts make as they beat with love.
Eyes That Kiss in the Corners
Eyes That Kiss in the Corners is a beautifully written and illustrated love letter that celebrates Asian eyes. It’s a lyrical ode to loving oneself, self-acceptance, and having confidence. Four generations of women are featured in this story and they all have eyes that kiss in the corners and glow like warm tea.
This book is an absolute must-have for Asian and Asian-American children (and adults) who may have grown up feeling ashamed about their eyes. If you grew up wearing eyelid tape or Scotch tape to make your eyes appear bigger, read this. If you ever had eyelid surgery to change your Asian eyes, read this. If you were made fun of or called names because of your eyes, read this. It is sure to heal your soul and fill you with so much pride and joy about your eyes.
Everyone should read this book, not just Asians or Asian-Americans. Reading it can help build empathy, compassion, and a better understanding for some readers. Books like Eyes That Kiss in the Corners are so needed to help reflect our multicultural world.
I Sang You Down from the Stars
The overall experience of motherhood differs for each person, but motherhood itself is universal. Do you believe this to be true?
I Sang You Down from the Stars is a lyrical book that celebrates the special bond between mother and child. Two Indigenous creators, Tasha Spillett-Sumner and Michaela Goade used their cultural heritage and Indigenous traditions as inspiration to bring forth this stunning book.
As the mother awaits the arrival of her new baby, she gathers gifts to create a sacred bundle. Each addition to the bundle will offer the baby strength and connection to tradition, family, and community.
Tasha Spillett-Sumner is Cree and Trinidadian. She is an award-winning poet and author who is also working on her doctoral degree in Indigenous land–based education.
Tasha states this book shines a light on the traditional understanding of her Nation, the Inniniwak, and many other Indigenous peoples globally: that babies choose their parents. It also shows the mindful preparation that is involved in getting ready to welcome a baby into a family and community.
Michaela Goade is an award-winning illustrator who grew up in the rain forests and on the beaches of Juneau, Alaska. She comes from the Tlingit Nation-People of the Tides.
The Lost Package
The Lost Package is a heartwarming story of a package that gets lost, then found, and an in-depth behind-the-scenes look at what happens at the post office.
Like other packages, this one began as an empty box. It was packed with great care, sealed tight, and given a personal touch. Like other packages, it left the post office with hope. But unlike most packages, before it got to its destination...it got lost.
Follow one package that loses its way and discover a friendship tale that proves distance can't always keep us apart.
The People Remember
I think this book is so moving and gorgeous! It tells the journey of African descendants in America by connecting their history to the seven principles of Kwanzaa.
Read the synopsis from the publisher.
The story begins in Africa, where people were taken from their homes and families. They spoke different languages and had different customs.
Yet they were bound and chained together and forced onto ships sailing into an unknown future. Ultimately, all these people had to learn one common language and create a culture that combined their memories of home with new traditions that enabled them to thrive in this new land.
This is an important book to read as a family—a story young readers can visit over and over again to deepen their understanding of African American history in relation to their own lives and current social justice movements. By turns powerful and revealing, this is a lyrical narrative that tells the story of survival, as well as the many moments of joy, celebration, and innovation of Black people in America.
Room for Everyone
This is a fun book to read aloud! A family rides the local bus to get to the beach in Zanzibar. They’re on their way to feast on fish at the Friday bazaar. Along the way the bus keeps stopping to pick up additional passengers. One stop becomes two, which soon becomes ten. How many more people can get in?
Room for Everyone is inspired by the author’s bus ride from Stone Town to Nungwi Beach, in Zanzibar. Zanzibar is an archipelago and a part of the country of Tanzania.
As the author’s note says, “I hope [this book] inspires you to make room for new and wonderful experiences and people who may be waiting around the bend.”
What I Am
A young narrator describes herself: a girl, a granddaughter, Indian, and American. Soon, we see the young girl as a plethora of things: selfish and generous, mean and kind, brave and mischievous. While many of these qualities oppose each other, the context and illustrations make it abundantly clear that she speaks the truth. She is a walking contradiction, and that is precisely what makes her both a unique individual and an essential piece of the greater world around her. Divya Srinivasan shows what makes us human and proud to be who we are.
Saturday at the Food Pantry
Saturday at the Food Pantry introduces readers to Molly. It’s Friday night and Molly and her mom are eating chili for dinner—again. They’ve had it for dinner every day this week. Molly’s mom scoops out the last bit of chili into their bowls and they eat. But Molly still goes to bed hungry with a growling tummy.
The next day is Saturday. It’s the day Molly and her mom go to their local food pantry to get groceries. In the beginning, Molly is excited to be at the food pantry, but after a while she starts to feel embarrassed and ashamed. Then she remembers the words her mom told her, “Everybody needs help sometimes.”
This is such a great book that tackles the topic of food insecurity in a way that is easy for children to understand. It teaches kids that it’s okay to turn to places like food pantries in times of need. Having access to fresh food is a human right and no one should have to go to bed hungry.