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11 Books Every Parent Should Read to Their Child (or to Themselves)

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Recently, I found myself browsing through a bookstore searching for a child’s book to give a newborn baby girl for whom I hope to be a role model. It felt like a lot of pressure, imagining this book could shape and form key development for her.

Maybe I took this task too seriously. Searching through titles from some classics like, “Everyone Poops” to “Goodnight Moon” I ended up picking out a new book about a fierce warrior princess who learns to love a pony that wasn’t as strong and brave as she hoped. The book, “The Princess and Her Pony,” was filled with colorful depictions of characters big and small with a range of skintones, and personalities (as many as you get in 20 pages) and ended with a heartfelt moral about accepting others. I began to wonder, how many books out there portray people to be as diverse as the world really is?

Turns out, there are a good amount. Here is a list of books for kids to read to learn about the beauty of diversity that exists throughout the world.

What Is Your Language?” by Deborah Leventhal, illustrated by Monica Wellington

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In this book, a boy travels the world meeting other children from various countries across the globe. A spark for international travel and the importance of engaging with multiple cultures to learn languages outside your own, this book is great for early expansion of culture. The book covers how to say yes, and no in Spanish, Arabic, Inuktitut, German, French, Russian, Japanese, Chinese, and Swahili other languages with a song at the end!

“Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters” written and illustrated by John Steptoe

While this story is not exactly one for gender equality, it’s filled with beautiful illustrations which capture native flora and fauna of Zimbabwe. The story tells the tale of Mufaro (meaning happy man), and his three daughters — Mayara (ashamed), Nyasha (mercy), and Nyoka (snake). The story follows a Cinderella plotline where two sisters mistreat the kind Nyasha. The story was collected from people living near surrounding ancient ruins in Zimbabwe, and the illustrations are worth it! It’s especially refreshing to see a “classic Cinderella” plotline told through the cultural lense of African folklore.

The Breadwinner” by Deborah Ellis (Young Adult)

Deborah Ellis’ most well-known novel for children, “The Breadwinner,” introduces readers to Parvana — a girl growing up under Taliban rule in Afghanistan. Her father attended university outside Afghanistan, and was threatened by the Taliban for receiving a foreign education. The threats from the Taliban became incrementally worse, rising to the point where he could not earn an income for their family. So his daughter became “the breadwinner.” Parvana, at age 11, dresses as a boy risking everything to help their family survive. Ellis spent months interviewing female refugees before publishing the critically acclaimed novel in 2000.

Anansi the Spider” by Gerald McDermott

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Anansi is a traditional Ashanti tale about a spider who sets out on an adventure, encountering dangerous animals along the river he travels. Through the help of his seven sons, Anansi completes his journey, yet is faced with the decision of choosing one son to reward. Nyame, the God of All Things, helps out the spider in a story with rich illustrations of African motifs and design and weavings of Ashanti language. Fun fact: Though Anansi is a male spider — Ashanti culture is a matriarchal society; land rights, property and titles all would’ve passed down the mama spider’s side of the family.

The Legend of the Bluebonnet” by Tomie dePaola

The Legend of the Bluebonnet” is the story of the Comanche tribe facing famine and drought, but, really, it’s the story of an orphaned girl named She-Who-Is-Alone, her treasured doll, and an incredible feat of selflessness. This beautifully illustrated book is based on the Comanche origin story of the bluebonnet flower — the state flower of Texas. dePaola extensively researched Comanche customs and traditions in order to faithfully bring this legend to life.

“Mama, Do You Love Me?” By Barbara M. Joosse

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Young children will recognize themselves in this book’s mischievous main character — a little girl only referred to as “Dear One.” The first line of the book is the same as its title: “Mama, do you love me?” The answer is, of course, yes. Which prompts the little girl to test the limit of that love, with every response, she imagines an even worse scenario, and repeats the question, only to find that a mother’s love is truly unconditional. Using gorgeous illustrations of Inuit culture and Alaska, Joosse explores a universal theme.

Everyone Poops” by Taro Gomi

What better way to teach kids everyone is equal than talking about poop? “Everyone Poops” covers the basics of digestion, and how all living creatures from elephants to ants do it. This book can also be a gateway to talking to children about proper WASH ethics.

Shabanu: Daughter of the Wind” by Suzanne Fisher Staples (Young Adult)

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Shabanu is 12-year-old girl living in Pakistan’s Cholistan Desert. As the second daughter in a family who has no sons, she’s been allowed to do many things most other Pakistani girls cannot. She and her sister are betrothed to two brothers, but when her sister’s intended is vengefully murdered, Shabanu is married off to the murderer’s brother. She, a child bride, becomes the fourth wife of an old man and must choose between protecting her family and her own freedom.

“Esperanza Rising” by Pam Muñoz Ryan (Young Adult)

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This young adult novel is about a girl, Esperanza Ortega, growing up in Mexico after her father is killed by group of men. The murder was probably at the hands of his step brother, who also has a vested interest in marrying Esperanza's mother. Think Macbeth but Mexican culture during the Great Depression Era and with a strong female protagonists.

The Jataka Tales”

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This book is taken from the Buddhist canon, and was written originally in Sanskrit. It’s now  available in multiple languages, including English. The book contains stories about humans and animals but with morals to learn at the end. An Eastern parallel to “Grimm’s Fairy Tales.” We highly recommend the English language comic-book versions.

“Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are?” by Dr. Seuss

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While we strive to end poverty and make the world a more equal place for all. Dr. Seuss’ tale about people less fortunate than “Ducky” creatively explores a myriad of problems others face throughout the world. A message on optimism from Dr. Seuss, this book is a reminder we all face different challenges.

There are many other books to explore all the world’s people, places and everything in between out there. What are some of your favorites?