Plant the seeds of cultural awareness from the youngest ages with a board book, and keep nurturing them through late elementary with books that introduce kids to different religions, foods, and customs. These fiction and nonfiction books demonstrate that although we may live in different homes, eat different foods, and wear different clothes, we are all still very much the same.
Global Babies, and To Be a Kid by Maya Ajmera and John D. Ivanko
Give even the littlest tots a look at kids like them with these board books. Each sturdy page features babies and older kids with their friends playing, snacking, and learning all over the globe, with the featured country listed on the page. (Keep your eyes peeled for other works by Maya Ajmera, as she's written other terrific picture books highlighting children around the world.)
One World, One Day by Barbara Kerley
This look at a day in the lives of children around the world is a great chance for parents and children to talk together about what the children in each picture are doing and where they could be. (Unlike To Be a Kid, the location isn't at the bottom of each picture; they're listed at the end of the book, some with fascinating photographer's notes and a world map of all the locations.) The simple wording and beautiful photos make for a surprisingly moving book.
A Ride on Mother's Back by Emery and Durga Bernhard
The colorful, vividly illustrated pictures demonstrate how babies and toddlers around the world are carried by their mothers while the grownups work: in fields, with livestock, in forests, and in towns. Parents and children can read the book and examine each page, discussing the work the adults are doing, and how traditions vary from culture to culture and country to country.
Babies Can't Eat Kimchee!, by Nancy Patz
It's tough to be a big sister in any culture, especially when you have a baby sister who's too little to do anything. (Trust me; I have personal experience with this one.) Many an older sibling has grown frustrated when the new baby arrives and isn't an instant playmate who can't yet play, dance, sing songs, or dress up in her ceremonial hanbok. Babies Can't Eat Kimchee! is a sweet look at one big sister's impatience -- this one in Korea -- to teach her little sister everything she needs to know. Any child, from Seoul to Silver Spring, will be able to relate.
Say Hello! by Rachel Isadora
Learning about other cultures doesn't require a passport or a trip to the airport, either. In fact, it can be as simple as a walk through the neighborhood. Say Hello! features greetings in nine different languages and is a wonderfully participatory book for storytime (it's a surefire hit for both toddlers and preschoolers, I've found), bedtime, or any snuggle-up time. Isadora's collage-like pictures make the book as much fun to look at as it is to read.
Children Just Like Me by Barnabas and Anabel Kindersley
Published by DK, the gold standard in children's nonfiction, the book depicts kids' food, families, types of schools, religious practices, and lists other details. While it can be used for research purposes, most young patrons just enjoy paging through it. To create the book, the authors, a teacher and photographer, spent two years visiting children all over the world. It's geared toward ages 8 and older, and features an introduction by Goodwill Ambassador to UNICEF Harry Belafonte.
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About the Author: Anne L.