A Difference Book List

Staff Picks

A Difference Book List

Children, Tweens and Teens

In honor of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Day/Week many will seek out opportunities to make their communities more inclusive. Some will give aid to the unseen. Some will make their feelings known through writing campaigns and protests. Others will learn more about those who are different from themselves. The following book list is in the spirit of inclusion through seeing and validating difference.

Global Babies by Global Fund for Children.

The faces of the babies in the color photographs will appeal the most to children under 2, but fact that the children from Guatemala, Thailand, Greenland, Mali, the U.S., India, South Africa, Fiji, Peru, Afghanistan, Malawi, Spain, Iraq, Rwanda and Bhutan are different in dress and appearance make this lovely book one to share. Use this book and others in the Global Fund for Children series to build language skills with toddlers by talking about what the child sees in the photographs.

Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes by Mem Fox; illustrated by Helen Oxenbury.

The rhythmic rhyme and repetition are why this book is a perennial choice for toddlers and preschoolers, but a key takeaway from the story is the loving celebration of each child's culture.

I Love My Hair! by Natasha Anastasia Tarpley; illustrated by E.B. Lewis.

Several years ago, Sesame Street aired a segment of a puppet with afro-textured hair singing about all the wonderful characteristics of hair. Two years prior, the book I Love My Hair! was written. Following a nightly hair-combing ritual, little Keyana receives encouraging words from her mother. She soon recalls all the ways her hair is special, from the way her beaded hair makes its own music to the way it encircles her head when it’s loose. The images of Keyana's joy in her hair are inspirational and worth sharing as a read aloud.

Red, A Crayon’s Story written and illustrated by Michael Hall

When Red is asked to draw strawberries, ants or cherries, Red can't seem to get it right. A new friend challenges the crayon to do something that does jibe with it's factory-made wrapper. The result is success for Red and new understanding from the other crayons. The bright illustrations and brief text provide an accessible and thought-provoking story on seeing what's beneath an individual's exterior.

Mommy, Mama, and Me and Daddy, Papa, and Me by Lesléa Newman; illustrated by Carol Thompson

A toddler and preschooler experience a day of play with each same-sex parent in turn. The gender is not given for either child and their dress and play are gender neutral. Each parent shares the duties of caring for the child, from feeding to rest. The rhyming text is joyful as are the bright watercolor images for both of these books about loving families. 

A Mother for Choco written and illustrated by Keiko Kasza

Choco begins a search for his mother. His mother must resemble him in some way, so he first asks Mrs. Giraffe who is yellow like him. Each mother sends Choco on his way until his despair attracts the attention of Mrs. Bear. Mrs. Bear is just perfect for Choco and her other adoptive children. In this sweet tale, Choco gets the mother he needs whether she looks like him or not.

I’m New Here written and illustrated by Anne Sibley O’Brien

Maria, Jin and Fatimah begin school among English speakers. Maria could fluidly communicate with her friends while at play in Guatemala. Jin could read and write with ease in Korea. Fatimah fit in with her classmates in Somalia. The children are lonely, confused and sad in their new classroom, but each makes a brave step and their classmates come to appreciate the talent the three bring from their culturally rich pasts. I'm New Here concisely describes the ordeal of many accomplished children struggling to belong while keeping those accomplishments.

The Name Jar written and illustrated by Yangsook Choi

On the bus ride to her new school, Unhei is asked her name and is teased about it. This instance of bullying leaves an impression, so when her classmates also ask for her name, Unhei responds that she hasn’t come up with one yet. The children begin volunteering names familiar to them that they place in a jar. Each day, Unhei rejects the names until a letter from her grandmother helps Unhei assert herself, much to the admiration of everyone. 

The Storyteller's Candle = La Velita de los Cuentos by Lucia Gonzalez; ilustrated by Lulu Delacre.

Cousins Hildamar and Santiago pass a building they know to be the library every day on their way to school, but they are told it is no place for children and no one there speaks Spanish. As the winter holidays approach, a tall lady with a gift for storytelling visits the children’s school. She is none other than Pura Belpré, the first Latina librarian employed by New York Public Library and a storyteller, puppeteer and author (Perez and Martina: A Puerto Rican FolktalePérez y Martina: un cuento folklório puertorriqueño). This picture book honors the woman who sought to not only to express her own cultural knowledge, but provide a community with a much needed connection to its new home.

10,000 Dresses by Marcus Ewert; illustrated by Rex Ray

Bailey dreams of dresses on staircase, and each night one particular dress catches her eye. She asks a family member each morning if they could make a dress like the one she saw in her dreams, but is told she is a boy and cannot wear dresses and to go away. One episode proves particularly upsetting for Bailey and she runs away. Upon meeting an older child good with a needle, but in need of inspiration, Bailey finds someone who can help not only fulfill her dreams, but someone who values her. Real (Bailey runs from a confrontation with her brother in fear) yet fable-like, this story will appeal to the youngest of readers while providing much for discussion for all ages.

Those Shoes by Maribeth Boelts; illustrated by Noah Z. Jones.

Jeremy has been eyeing a pair of black high-top sneakers with two stripes and it seems that everyone at school has a pair. His grandmother tells him she can only buy what they need. During kickball, the school guidance counselor takes Jeremy aside and helps him pick out a pair of shoes. Jeremy thinks the shoes are babyish and so do his classmates. They all laugh, except his friend Antonio. After visiting several thrift stores Jeremy finds a pair of the high-top sneakers. They don’t fit, but he comes to see how he can help someone else in need. Great for early and middle grade readers, Jeremy's story is universal in its themes of want versus need and kindness being its own reward, but also asks the reader to put themselves in Jeremy's shoes.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

Marguerite and her older brother, Bailey, are sent to live with their formidable paternal grandmother in Stamps, Arkansas, upon their parents' divorce. Though the grandmother attempts to shield the children from the daily indignities experienced by African Americans in Stamps, Marguerite sees in the customers of her grandmother’s general store a people oppressed. Residents of her part of town work only to be cheated of profits. With little or no recourse for their lost income, they also grow increasing indebted to commissaries and Marguerite’s grandmother. Marguerite becomes a victim of the anger and frustration in her community as economic and social disparities turn inward. This unforgettable autobiography vividly describes how individuals in a marginalized community come to see themselves and how it negatively impacts other individuals of the community.

George by Alex Gino

George has a secret. George is a girl, but doesn’t know how to tell everyone. Each day is an ordeal with misunderstandings by well-meaning family members, adults and even her best friend, Kelly. Roles have been assigned for the annual school production of Charlotte’s Web and George is assigned Wilbur, the lead role. George loves and connects with the Charlotte character and through the school play George finds the courage to show others who she truly is.

Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero


It’s Gabriela’s senior year in high school. One of her closest friends is raped and becomes pregnant, another comes out to his family but needs support from their negativity. Her father is an addict and her brother has fallen in with the wrong crowd. In this highly readable coming of age story a young woman struggles to help others navigate their social and emotional isolation while struggling with her own issues.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas


Sixteen-year-old Starr is in the car with her friend, Khalil when they are pulled over by police. Khalil is killed and the resulting media coverage has the two communities Starr navigates—the classmates of her predominately white, well-to-do high school and her predominately African-American and poor neighborhood expressing their own opinions about what happened. Starr has an uncle who is a police officer and a father who spent time in prison. Knowing and loving both contributes to her perspective as a witness to the shooting. Inspired by the killing of Oscar Grant III at Fruitvale Station and Tupac Shakur’s famous tattoo, “THUG LIFE,” The Hate U Give examines a topic in the news through the eyes of someone close to an incident living with its wide-ranging repercussions.