Diverse books for babies and toddlers
Why aren’t more books for babies culturally diverse? I believe it’s never too early to fill your baby or toddler’s bookshelf with multicultural and inclusive books.
As children’s book author Kate DePalma writes “Children start building their concrete ideas about the world long, long before they can understand the abstract notions of diversity and inclusivity. I want to normalize diverse and inclusive depictions of the world so that they are part of my daughter’s…world from the beginning.”
In this post, I offer a roundup of 16 of my favorite diverse books for babies and toddlers. I’ve also included a downloadable checklist of do’s and dont’s for talking about diversity with toddlers.
16 Culturally Diverse Books for Babies and Toddlers
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links to my Amazon Associates account, as well as links to my Barefoot Books storefront. If you purchase items through these links, I earn a small commission at no additional cost to you.
Baby’s First Words by Christiane Engel
This new release stands out from other word books for babies for several reasons. It’s a multiracial family, a little girl with two Dads. One of the Dads stays how with her, presenting little ones with a different image of fatherhood than they get from most of our culture.
Some of the words chosen for the book are modern, like laptop. There are also plenty of words beyond nouns, including emotion words, adjectives, and fun sounds that babies and toddlers will love making.
Old MacDonald Had a Farm by Jonas Sickler
If you’ve ever despaired that your baby wants to chew on her books, you’ll appreciate the Indestructibles line of books for babies. Though they’re not board books, they are chew and rip proof and washable. I also like that their wordless retelling of some familiar songs have been put into new cultural settings.
In Old MacDonald Had a Farm, the farmer lives in Bolivia. He and his daughter take care of not just cows and pigs, but llamas and goats too. The bright colors are sure to draw little ones in to study the pictures.
Mama, Do You Love Me? by Barbara M. Joosse and Barbara Lavallee
I treasure this particular book for babies because of the poetic way it conveys a mother’s love for her child. The little girl in the book poses all kinds of questions about things she could do that might affect her mama’s love for her, like falling and breaking their ptarmigan eggs. Over and over, mama reassures her that even if she were sorry or angry, she will still love her.
This is an excellent book to ask your toddler about how he is like the child in the book and how he is different. One other diversity note: the family shown in this book is Canadian Inuit, which some people have called Eskimo. Many Inuit people find the word Eskimo to be offensive, and therefore I do not use it with my child.
Leo Loves Baby Time by Anna McQuinn and Ruth Hearson
This delightful book would be a great one to read to your baby if you plan on going to a baby storytime at your library. We follow Leo step by step from his house through each part of baby time. Little ones will be especially delighted by the page where Leo and the other babies “zoooommmm to the mooon!”
If your toddler loves this book, there are also a number of books by McQuinna nd Hearson about Leo’s big sister Lola and her love of books.
Toddler Two by Anastasia Suen and Winnie Cheon
I love the tactile nature of Toddler Two, a board book filled with felt illustrations that look 3-D. Two toddlers play alone and together in many different ways, counting one, two on each page. If you’re looking for books for babies and toddlers that reinforce vocabulary, this one is ideal for learning the names of body parts.
Baby Talk by Stella Blackstone
Finding books that are suitable for newborns can be a bit challenging. It’s important not to overstimulate them with pictures that are too busy. Baby Talk is ideal for young babies for a couple of reasons. The black and white illustrations are what development specialists call “high contrast.” These are easier for newborns, who have limited vision, to see. Research shows that babies also prefer to look at faces.
Baby Talk is filled with simple, loving photographs of families of all ethnic backgrounds, paired with words about sharing cuddles, talking, playing, and more.
Global Babies and American Babies by the Global Fund for Children
Books for babies that feature faces and photographs are very likely to interest curious little ones. Each picture in Global Babies is labelled with the country where the baby lives. (If you’re reading the book with a toddler, you might want to get out a globe and point out where you live, and where a few of the countries that the babies live in are.) American Babies shows babies exploring their world and enjoying their day in ways that will be likely be familiar to your little one.
I Can Do It Too! by Karen Baicker and Ken Wilson-Max
I remember how delighted our son was with this book when he was a toddler, heavy into his “let me do it!” phase. The toddler featured in the story watches her Daddy pour the juice, and find that she can do it too. She can bake a chocolate cake like Grandma (though adults may wonder from the picture if she’s baking or just eating raw batter!) This vibrantly illustrated book is ideal for celebrating your toddler’s growing independence.
More More More Said the Baby by Vera B. Williams
Vera B. Williams presents this book as “three love stories.” Little Guy rambunctiously plays with his Daddy, squealing “More. More. More!” as he kisses his belly button. Grandma swings Little Pumpkin around and nibbles on his fingers and toes and he laughs “More. More. More.” Little Bird is so sleepy she almost falls of the couch before her mama catches her. As mama gives her kisses on her little eyes, she sleepily responds “Mmm. Mmm. Mmm.”
Say Hello! by Rachel Isadora
Say Hello! provides a perfect entry point to talking about language with toddlers. Especially if you don’t live in a neighborhood where multiple languages are spoken, your toddler may not know that everyone does not speak her language.
As Carmelita, her mother, and their dog walk through the neighborhood, they greet their neighbors in their own languages. As they pass the bodega, they tell Senor Enrico “Buenos Dias!” Mrs. Rosen and her family call out “Shalom!” Isadora’s colorful paintings, which resemble paper cut artwork, are also delightfully engaging.
Yum Yum Dim Sum by Amy Wilson Sanger
Food can be a fun way to introduce toddlers to other cultures, and the vivid, collage illustrations of dim sum will make your toddler want to try to touch the pages. The rhyming text manages to convey the sensory experience of the food even though it’s made from paper. If you’re not familiar with the foods, a glossary on the back page describes each dish that is served during dim sum.
Fast and Slow by Britta Teckentrup
Any list of books for babies is incomplete without a book about things that go! The simple vocabulary and brightly colored textured illustrations let babies and toddlers compare things that are slow with things that are fast. From hot air balloons and rafts to speedy rockets and cars, every form of transportation is included.
Green is a Chile Pepper: A Book of Colors by Roseanne Greefield Thong and John Parra
Green is a Chile Pepper will not only help toddlers learn their colors, it will also introduce them to aspects of Mexican culture and a smattering of Spanish vocabulary. This is one book to read slowly and pause between sentences so that your toddler has a chance to explore the detailed illustrations. As your child’s attention span grows, you may also want to share some information from the glossary about the cultural concepts presented in the book.
The Animal Boogie by Debbie Harter
This singalong book with CD was the first paperback book I read to our toddler. He loved dancing (and sometimes singing) along with the animals of the Indian jungle. In addition to featuring children of several different skin tones, the book also includes a child in a wheelchair. She dances like a bird, flapping her wings. I used this book to have our first conversation about disabilities, pointing out that she uses her chair to get around in the same way that my son uses his legs.
What’s your favorite diverse book for babies or toddlers? Help us keep this list growing by leaving a comment!