Buy picture books as Christmas gifts? These stories with diverse characters can help children develop empathy

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Providing children’s books can be more than just giving them something to read. Books are portals to adventure, imagination and new experiences. Most importantly, books can help children understand and appreciate themselves and those around them.

Unfortunately, books normalizing racial, cultural, family or gender diversity and diverse abilities are scarce.

When children see characters and stories reflecting their past, they can develop a stronger sense of identity. Research also shows that reading books with diverse characters and stories helps children better understand and appreciate people who are different from themselves.



Read more: Children’s books must be diverse, otherwise children will grow up believing white is superior


Here are some suggestions of various picture books you could buy for kids this Christmas.

1. Books with various characters


Hachette Australia

A student teacher I know was teaching a nine year old Muslim girl and decided to share a book called The Rainbow Hijab with her. When the girl saw the book her eyes lit up with excitement and she turned to her tutor and said, “I didn’t know they were doing books about Muslim girls like me.

No child should feel invisible in books. All children should be able to see themselves and people other than them in a positive and inclusive way.

The best children’s books are those that contain enjoyable stories and reflect diversity without preaching about it.

Maxine Beneba Clarke’s Patchwork Bike, illustrated by Van T. Rudd, is about children of African and Muslim descent and the bicycle they build together from things they find around them. All children can relate to the joyful story of playing outside and being creative.

Other books containing relatable childhood stories are:

2. Books describing various abilities


Magabala Books

Almost 5% of Australian children live with a severe disability, while almost 8% have some degree of disability. This number is likely higher because many children have complex, undiagnosed needs, such as autism.

Two Mates, written and illustrated by Melanie Prewett, is about a young Indigenous boy and his non-Indigenous best friend with spina bifida. The story focuses on their friendship and adventures rather than their differences. All children benefit from having their various abilities represented in such a positive way.

Two other books in which various abilities are standardized rather than emphasized are:

3. Books describing the diversity of genres and families


Larrikin House

Many adults find it difficult to choose children’s books. My research and that of others shows that adults generally choose children’s books based on what they liked when they were kids.

This can be a problem, as older books often reflect outdated views on gender, families, diversity of cultures and abilities.

For example, there are almost 48,000 single sex families in Australia. yet the children of these families rarely see characters like them in the books.

My Shadow is Pink, written and illustrated by Scott Stuart, is a rhyming book about a young child of different genres. This book beautifully explores his relationship with his father who helps him be proud of who he is.

Two other books that tell stories of gender or family diversity in an encouraging and informative way are:

4. Books that challenge gender stereotypes

I want to be a superhero by Breanna Humes, illustrated by Ambelin Kwaymullina tells the story of a little girl who wants to be a superhero. Her grandfather encourages and supports her as she discovers that it’s okay to dream big. It’s important for children to see that gender or race shouldn’t define who you are or what you can do.

Two other books promoting positive messages that disrupt traditional gender stereotypes are:

5. Books with messages on social justice

These books shine a light on important social justice issues through sweet, informative stories.

Other miscellaneous books that I just have to recommend


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