Inclusive Books for Young Children
As a independent Sex and Sexuality Educator, part of my job is to find and recommend books for parents, libraries, and schools, that promote inclusion and foster an appreciation of diversity. I have taken the time to put together a list of books that I have personally held, read, shared with my own toddler (and other young children), and feel good about recommending to others.
Most of these books are picture books with very little text. A few have additional information to be shared with older children, used for facilitating discussions with children of all ages, or for adults/parents, to give them ideas on how to keep the conversation going beyond storytime. A few of these books have been read at our local Drag Queen Story Hour, Storytime, and shared with children in the classroom setting. The suggested age range for these books varies and the whole range is from birth to ten years old. I personally think all of these books can be used with children of all ages, depending on how they are presented -- Be creative!
This list is NOT exhaustive and it is quite possible that I have left off your personal favourite(s) or ones that you expected to see here. If there's a book you think should be included, please feel free to leave a comment or contact me and if you want to send me a copy to review, I would be happy to do so. It's possible that an excluded book might be one I just haven't gotten around to reading yet or I have an opinion about why it was not included.
On to the list!*
GENDER Neither - Sweet story about an inclusive community of mythical animals that take in Neither (no pronoun), a nonbinary duck-rabbit creature from The Land of This and That. One of few picture books featuring a nonbinary character and that does not use any pronouns for any of the characters. This book does not specifically mention gender, but it presents a beautiful opportunity for the adult reader to point out how Neither is like a nonbinary person that the child reader knows. Due to two spreads (4 pages) depicting bullying in the form of exclusion/alienation, the book also provides an opportunity for readers to talk about how to be a good friend, especially when their friends are different from them.
Not Quite Narwhal - A magical and adorable story about a unicorn named Kelp (he/him) that is born under the sea, raised by narwhals, and believes he is a narwhal. One day Kelp discovers unicorns and realises that he is really a unicorn, but then he is conflicted about whether to live under the sea with his narwhal family or on land with his new unicorn friends. The ending is of course happy and creates an opportunity to discuss breaking out of the gender binary, nonbinary people, and being transgender.
From the Stars in the Sky to the Fish in the Sea - This book has amazing and beautiful illustrations depicting Miu Lan (they/them) evolving and changing with ease, grace, and fluidity as different animals, celestial bodies, and genders. No matter who or what Miu Lan is, their mother loves them unconditionally. Themes that could be explored would be nonbinary and genderfluid genders, exploring one's gender, unconditional love, and possibly being born intersex.
They She He Me: Free to Be! - "The Pronoun Book" is a beautiful and simple picture book with rich illustrations depicting many people on each page accompanied with different pronouns (me/he/she/they/tree/ze/we). The people represent various gender expressions, body types, races, and ages and little ones will love looking at all of the different and friendly faces. The back of the book continues with more information for older children, classrooms, discussions, and information for parents/adults. This is a very affirming and open-ended book about personal pronouns and is a great way to begin the conversation about gender and gender expression. The additional information in the back encourages children to try on new pronouns, play with pronouns, and even create their own or opt for no pronouns. It is a great companion book to Gender Wheel.
Gender Wheel - "A nature-based, inclusive, body positive story of gender." This book has a kind of Waldorf-y vibe while being accessible to everyone. It manages to connect gender to nature, and our larger world. The actual gender wheel helps illustrate these connections. This beautiful book and its accompanying colouring book, Gender Now, have even been turned into a curriculum for talking to students about gender and how to incorporate gender expansion and awareness into lessons. The book also introduces readers to the 3rd and 4th genders of Indigenous People of the Americas.
Red: A Crayon's Story - Essentially, this is the story of Red (he/him), a blue crayon who has a red label, and how hard he tries to be red. This book covers many themes involved with gender without mentioning gender beyond giving Red he/him pronouns: being transgender, being "in the wrong body", incongruent gender expression, being misgendered, being encouraged to try harder to be one's assigned gender (adhering to gender roles -- with opportunities to talk about how this is harmful), and being embraced for being your true self.
A House for Everyone - This book helps children explore gender identity, gender stereotypes (and breaking them), and gender expression across the gender spectrum. A group of children build a house during recess and each one gets introduced with details about their gender and expression. They all have different jobs or responsibilities building the house and work together to demonstrate to readers that people with differences can be in community together.
GENDER NON-CONFORMING I'm Jay, Let's Play - This book walks the readers through a typical day at preschool for Jay (no pronouns) and Jay's classmates. None of the children in the book have pronouns, but they all have open and varied interests and demonstrate the natural gender fluidity of preschoolers (who haven't been raised heavily with gender binary parenting). There is additional information for parents/adults in the back of the book with suggestions for discussing gender and stereotypes with young children.
Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress - Despite a tiny bit of initial confusion by Morris's mother and classmates, this is just a story about a boy named Morris (he/him) who likes the colour tangerine and loves wearing the tangerine dress in the dress-up section at school. I personally find this "boy who likes dresses and having his nails painted" book to be the least annoying of the genre of books like it (and there are a LOT of them). It seems to have the least amount of pushback or bullying from adults or other children (despite it still having a fair amount unfortunately) and it does a pretty good job of helping to normalise an open or expansive gender expression for children who have been assigned as or self-identify as boys.
SEX/SEXUALITY EDUCATION What Makes a Baby - THIS is the book for explaining to young children how babies come to be if you are looking for a book that is suitable for all children and all families. It's gender inclusive (and NOT bio-essentialist), family structure inclusive, and it is also inclusive of alternative pregnancy/birth choices including using midwives and birthing at home (by not mentioning a place of birth). No matter how a child came to be, this book will help adults/parents talk about it in a positive and inclusive way.
Sex is a Funny Word - Picking up where What Makes a Baby leaves off, this book is a little bit more about feelings about growing up and who a person is. It is body-positive, gender inclusive, and represents all kinds of children and families. This book is intended to help facilitate conversations between adult/parent and child, leaving room for adults/parents to share their beliefs. Rumour has it, that a third book in this series of books by Cory Silverberg is being written for middle schoolers!
C is for Consent - If you are looking for a simple story about consent and boundaries, this is it. Sometimes children, especially younger ones, need to see a character working through important things like consent and this book will help children learn how to navigate getting and giving physical affection. The story revolves around Finn (he/him) and his family at a party with friends and family. This book also addresses not forcing children to give/get physical affection with adults/family members, a sometimes grey area that can be confusing for children in families where their bodily autonomy and boundaries might not be respected by (older) family members.
FAMILIES The Family Book - A simple and brightly colourful book that shows all kinds of family structures in an fairly inclusive and positive way. It does still suggest a gender binary when talking about blended families by stating stepmom/stepdad and stepsisters/stepbrothers instead of stepparent and stepsiblings, but hey, it's a start!
Harriet Gets Carried Away - An adorable story about Harriet (she/her) who LOVES to wear costumes all day, every day! The story takes place during preparations for her birthday party and while her two dads are getting supplies, Harriet who is dressed up like a penguin goes on an adventure of her own! I LOVE this book because Harriet is a Child of Colour who does a little gender stereotype busting and her having two dads (an interracial couple at that) is presented in a normalising way, unlike books that focus on "how normal it is that Kiddo has two mums/dads" in a way that to me, just makes it seem not normal (and almost all of them are SUPER WHITE).
And Tango Makes Three - The classic, lovely, and true story of two male penguins who hatch an orphaned penguin egg and raise the chick together. Enough said!
Umi and Uma: The Story of Two Mommies and a Baby - Another beautiful story of two mothers making a family that is written by two mothers who made a family together. The story explains to the daughter of the two mothers how their journey to becoming a family came to be. The story takes place in the land of Astrin, which reads like a gay parent's utopia and represents community love and support beautifully. All of the characters are People of Colour and there is a mention of doulas in the book, which is a first in a book for children that I am aware of (if you know of a book for children that mentions doulas, please contact me)!
DIVERSITY OF PEOPLE & COMMUNITY Be Who You Are - A simple and brightly colourful book that encourages children (and adults) to be who they are and to love who they are. This is a good book for reading aloud to a large group at storytime or in a classroom when talking about self-respect/esteem and loving our true selves.
Lovely - This book is simple with few words, most of which are "lovely" written in many different ways (including spelled out in ASL letters with a potpourri of various hands). The book can be used to help show how everyone is wonderful and different and weird and lovely. Non-readers will definitely enjoy all of the different people depicted.
Counting on Community - This is a board book depicting various aspects of community and community building while counting from 1-10. A must for any activist baby's library!
All Are Welcome - Imagine a school where diversity is celebrated, students and staff learn from each other's different cultures, and all children are welcome; that is exactly what this book depicts. This book is perfect for "Welcoming Schools" who want to drive home the concept that no matter who you are, you are welcome here.
The Big Umbrella - This book is pretty much one big analogy for inclusion and community. It is an open-ended picture book depicting a cheery umbrella that continues to grow in order to shelter everyone from the rain. The diverse group of people and creatures seeking shelter are all included and welcomed without hesitation or a fear of not fitting in (quite literally as the umbrella seems to be infinite in size).
Call Me Tree - A beautiful book of self-discovery and celebration of being interconnected with nature and everyone else. This book portrays a child called Tree (no pronouns) growing from the inside out and how Tree relates to the natural world and other children (trees). Free to be! I love this book because it depicts racially diverse children with all kinds of gender expressions (with no pronouns) and the incorporation of nature. The book is also bilingual (English/Spanish).
LGBTQ This Day in June - Is a simple picture book depicting many sights from the typical Pride Parade. It can be read just is for very young children, maybe before going to their first Pride Parade, and the additional information in the back spans ideas for discussing various aspects of the images and the history of Pride with children preschool through high school aged.
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