Children’s Books as “Windows” and “Mirrors”
“[Children] look through window frames in order to see the realities of others, and into mirrors in order to see her/his own reality reflected. The delightful truth is that sometimes when we hear another out, glancing through the window of their humanity, we can see our own image reflected in the glass of their window. The window becomes a mirror!” – educator Emily Style in 1988, as quoted in this incredibly thorough & helpful article that I’ve bookmarked: “Children’s Books as Windows and Mirrors” by Janelle Durham, social worker and educator.
“Diversity [in kids books] is not only important for the underrepresented, it’s really important for everyone. We all need to be exposed to other races and other cultures in positive ways, not in stereotypical ones, not in problematic ways…having good representation helps people learn tolerance and acceptance of differences.” Ellen Oh, Korean-American author + co-founder of We Need Diverse Books, a non-profit dedicated to increasing diversity in children’s literature.
I’ve often talked on IG about reading to Nori since birth, even when she seemed too young or too distracted (turns out, little brains are truly sponges and soak up so much both directly and indirectly). We’ve always made a conscious effort for her to feel represented in books, but also be exposed to diverse main characters (not just supporting characters) and situations different from her own. In light of recent events, and per requests, I wanted to share a few favorite reads from our library!
We enjoy each book on this list, but I’ve starred ** Nori’s top favorites that she reaches for daily!
1. Books with Black Main Characters
**Don’t Touch My Hair (also on BookShop)**
By Sharee Miller
Nori loves the vibrant and whimsical illustrations in this book, while I love the themes of celebrating diverse features and consent. Miller writes in her note, “This is also a story about personal boundaries … I hope that … children can learn the importance of asking for permission and of not being afraid to say “no” — and not being afraid to hear “no,” too!”
**I Just Want to Say Goodnight (also on BookShop)**
By Rachel Isadora
This has been a TOP request during nap and bedtime! It follows Lala, a little girl living a very different life in an African village, but with similarities that little ones around the world can relate to. Nori loves to say good night to all her (stuffed) animals one by one just like Lala, and points out her own copy of Goodnight Moon when Lala reads hers.
Dream Big, Little One (also on BookShop)
By Vashti Harrison
This is a smaller board book adaptation from Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History, and highlights trailblazing Black women in American history. While it doesn’t hold Nori’s attention for long periods, it’s well illustrated and informative even for myself. I admittedly didn’t know many of the women in the book, and ended up looking them up to learn more about them.
2. Books with Asian Main Characters
Dim Sum for Everyone, The Ugly Vegetables (also on BookShop)
By Grace Lin
We have several books by Grace Lin (I enjoyed her Ted Talk here!), who bases many of her main characters and themes on her Taiwanese American family and upbringing (Lin grew up in a small upstate New York town, and now lives in western Mass).
Lin’s first book, The Ugly Vegetables, is about an Asian American girl who is initially embarrassed about the unusual veggies her mother grows while all their neighbors plant flowers. By the end of the story, she comes to understand the beauty of the veggies and appreciate their differences. For younger kids, we also have Dim Sum for Everyone which is a more simple and colorful read. The writing in these tend to be more straightforward, so I find myself embellishing to and adding my own commentary on the illustrations for Nori.
Big Cities Little Foodies Hong Kong (also available for Tokyo)
By Cheryl Yau Chepusova, Illustrations by Isabel Foo
Being part Cantonese, this book brought back all the tasty memories from my hometown that I hope to continue introducing Nori to! Per Chepusova, “We saw characters illustrated with black hair and yellow skin depicted in children’s books…but Asia is vast and there are so many varying nationalities and languages in the region, and not all Asian children identify with the same stereotypes. We won’t be able to cover all of them in our series, but we do hope to draw more attention to cultures and cuisines that aren’t as mainstream.”
Filipino Friends (also on BookShop)
By Liana Romulo, Illustrations by Corazon Dandan-Albano
I didn’t realize I had such a robust Filipino readership before sharing this book on IG stories! This is more like an illustrated dictionary-style reference book of Filipino terms and culture rather than a storybook, but we enjoy thumbing through the imagery and learning simple words and phrases together (Nori is 1/4 Filipino).
Other Asian-focused kids books recommended by friends:
– P Is for Poppadoms!: An Indian Alphabet Book by Kabir Sehgal
– Bee-Bim Bop by Linda Sue Park (title is a play on the popular Korean dish, Bibimbap)
3. Other Books on Representation & Inclusivity
**A Normal Pig (also on BookShop)**
By K-Fai Steele
This book level may better suit early school aged children, but it’s another winner where Nori loves the illustrations and I love the themes of inclusivity, bullying, bi-racial families, and more. This book spoke to me in particular as Nori is not even 2 years old and has already been teased by other kids due to the “weird” food we give her (she may not understand the teasing just yet, but will soon).
In an interview, San Francisco based author-illustrator Steele said: “A Normal Pig is absolutely informed by my childhood experiences as a brown mixed-race kid with a non-typical name in a mostly-white rural town, and my deep desire to be normal. It’s also…about what it was like to grow up and not fit into a category, or simply be very different from the community you grew up in.”
When <insert your kid’s name> Grows Up
By Hooray Heroes
For families and kids who have trouble finding representation in books, these offer a ton of customization options, such as:
- Main character name, gender and appearance including skin color, hairstyle (more than 10 options!), hair color, eye shape, eye color, glasses, freckles.
- Supplementary characters like siblings and parents can be customized in the same way, making this especially nice for mixed race or adoptive families.
What I Like About Me! (also on BookShop)
By Allia Zobel-Nolan
This book celebrates non-racial differences like different hair types, braces, big feet, small ears, etc. On the last page, there’s a mirror asking the reader what they love about themselves and Nori always kisses her reflection ; ) There is also a follow-up book, What I Like About You!
Other top rec: I Am Enough (also on BookShop) by Grace Byers illustrated by Keturah A. Bobo. I plan on adding this one to our library!
I hope you guys enjoyed this list, whether it’s for gift giving purposes or for your own little ones! For more baby and toddler book recommendations, check out this blog post where I shared some of our favorite early learning, bilingual & customizable books!