The greatest children's books about diversity often win one or more literary awards because of the stellar combination of their message, text, and/or illustrations. Children's books that celebrate diversity include topics like accepting differences, remembering history, religious diversity, multiculturalism, and inclusion. Check out these award-winning books for kids all about cultural diversity.
The term children's literature actually spans a wide berth of book types, including board books, picture books, chapter books, middle grade books, and even young adult literature. The topic of cultural diversity in books highlights the differences among people because of their ethnic, racial, or religious background, and each type of book can handle this topic in its own way.
Each of the following books has won at least one literary award, but many have won multiple awards. Ready to get reading?
A young boy and his grandfather don't speak the same language, but they learn to communicate despite their cultural differences. Their shared love of art is beautifully illustrated by Dan Santat. Drawn Together by Minh Le won the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature in the Picture Book category in 2019 among numerous other awards.
The Faithful Friend by Robert D. San Souci is a tale of friendship that can't be broken by cultural difference. Based on an old tale from the French West Indies, this book focuses on two main characters, one Black and the other white, who don't let their differences affect their loyalty to each other. This picture book is illustrated by Brian Pinkney and was a Caldecott Honor recipient in 1996.
Grandfather's Journey, written and illustrated by Allen Say, won the Caldecott Medal in 1994. The author shares the story of his grandfather's immigrant experience as a man who loves both America and Japan, and longs for home in both spaces, in this picture book.
Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly is a chapter book that won the Newbery Award in 2018. The story—told from different points of view—follows a group of neighborhood kids from a culturally diverse set of backgrounds. It's a mesmerizing story that touches on bullying, self-acceptance, cross-cultural and cross-generational friendships, and hope as all the characters' lives become entwined.
Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña won the Newbery Award and a Caldecott Honor in 2016, among other awards. This picture book is about a boy who questions all the differences he sees among people on the bus route while riding through town with his grandma. Illustrator Christian Robinson uses a unique art style to highlight the cultural diversity.
In Lovely, author and illustrator Jess Hong showcases how our differences make each of us beautiful. The book subtly challenges stereotypes by presenting words with unique illustrations that go against what you might expect to see. The book won the Bank Street College of Education's Best Children's Book of the Year in 2018.
A young Korean girl and her classmates explore how widely different names can be and what makes those diverse names great in The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi. This longer picture book has received many accolades and nominations, including a Best of the Best award by the Chicago Public Library and a California Young Reader Medal nomination.
Ruth Behar received the Pura Belpré Children's Author Award in 2018 for her middle grade book Lucky Broken Girl, which follow the emotional journey of Ruthie and her family from Cuba to New York City. Ruthie suffers a major accident that leaves her stuck in a body cast but brings her culturally diverse family and neighbors closer to her and each other.
We Are Water Protectors, written by Carole Lindstrom and illustrated by Michaela Goade, is a lilting picture book that introduces readers to the indigenous-led movements to safeguard the earth and protect water resources. This book won the Caldecott Medal in 2021 because of the harmony between its fluid imagery and writing. It celebrates Native American connections to land and invites others into these culturally diverse perspectives.
The Way to Start a Day by Byrd Baylor won a Caldecott Honor in 1979. Paintings by Peter Parnall show how different cultures throughout history have celebrated dawn. Each page of this picture book encourages readers to practice greeting the sun in the ways others do.
Jerry Craft's graphic novel New Kid follows a boy who starts seventh grade at an elite school as one of the few Black students there. At times humorous and thoughtful, this book—which explores identity and finding one's place—won many awards including the Newbery Medal and Coretta Scott King Author Award in 2020.
Let's end with something a little different. Winning the Newbery Medal and the Pura Belpré Children's Author Award in 2022, The Last Cuentista by Donna Barba Higuera is a middle-grade science fiction novel that revels in cultural diversity by centering the narrative on Mexican folklore. A young girl arrives on a new planet and relies on the stories of her ancestors and culture to survive and save others.
Kids can learn the concept of cultural diversity by reading great books with that theme. You can take your multicultural reading to the next step by checking out children's books about specific cultures or books about social justice and racism.