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Do You See Me? Picture Books that Promote Empathy and Inclusion

Parents, have you found an opportunity recently to talk with your kids about empathy? You might describe it as really seeing someone else. Not seeing just with your eyes, but with your heart and feelings. The skill of listening is so important to understanding. Another big idea is inclusion, or being intentional about welcoming others who seem different in some way. Let's look at picture books that might help start conversations like these.

Happy in Our Skin by Fran Manushkin, illustrations by Lauren Tobia (2015). Have you thought about how amazing your skin is? Enjoy this little book with a small friend, and see how many different kinds of skin are being enjoyed out in the world every day. Manushkin sums it up: "Bouquets of people, blooming and boisterous, brawny and thin, loving each day, happy in our skin!"


A Big Mooncake for Little Star by Grace Lin (2018). Award-winning author and illustrator Grace Lin uses her signature style to create a glowing explanation of why the moon looks different at different times of the month. A little girl nibbles away secretly at her mooncake, then giggling when her mama finds the moon all gone. Mooncakes play an important role in the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival; Lin gives readers a peek into Asian-American family and culture. A Caldecott Honor book.

Saturday by Oge Mora (2019). This joyful, rainbow-bright explosion of love between a hard-working mom and her daughter will appeal to all ages. While it addresses the way life can fail our expectations, it also shines a hopeful light on how we can respond to disappointment. Walk with Ava and her mother through a splendid day of enjoying being together.

Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña, illustrated by Christian Robinson. (2015). Why? Why do we have to...? Why can't we ...? If your kids pepper you with questions like these, you will enjoy this simple, colorful trip with Nana and CJ. As they wait in the rain, ride the bus and greet people, Nana shares deceptively simple lessons about inclusion and welcome. Winner of the Newbery Medal for children's literature, as well as a Caldecott Honor book.

Mommy's Khimar by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow, illustrated by Ebony Glenn (2018). Another celebration of family, the embrace of this book helps us to see life from the eyes of a girl admiring her pretty mommy. When she puts on a khimar (also called a hijab, or head scarf) her mother loves, this girl feels that nothing is out of her reach. A story of love and family that will appeal to all ages.


Woke: a young poet's call to justice by Mahogany Browne, with Elizabeth Acevedo and Olivia Gatwood (2020). If being 'woke' isn't a term that's familiar to you, this book will give new life and meaning to a familiar word. Browne, Acevedo, and Gatwood spin word pictures about seeing with our eyes open. Their creative poetry is accessible to both children and adults. The message of this book is clear: we need to do what it takes to stay woke.

Goin' Someplace Special by Patricia McKissack, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney. (2001). A beautifully told and illustrated historical fiction picture book. In a Southern town in the 1950s, 'Tricia Ann hopes to get permission to go 'Someplace Special' all by herself. Her grandmother is hesitant, but feels she's given 'Tricia Ann enough tools to ride the bus and walk through town by herself. Why is this so hard? In the Jim Crow South, an African-American girl by herself faces many challenges, from choosing the right seat on the bus to deciding whether it's OK to sit on a bench. The ending is hopeful; the author's note begins with, "This story is my story." A perfect introduction to a difficult topic for young people.


Other books to consider:

You Matter by Christian Robinson (2020).

Sulwe by Lupita Nyong'o, illustrated by Vashti Harrison. (2019)

Fry Bread, a Native American family story by Kevin Noble Maillard, illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal. (2019)

Honeysmoke: a story of finding your color by Monique Fields, illustrated by Yesenia Moises. (2019).

If You Plant a Seed by Kadir Nelson. (2015)

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