25 Picture Books That Cultivate Compassion & Value Diversity

Reading picture books is a great way to cultivate compassion and start conversations about the value & beauty of difference with kids.  Here's 25 wonderful picture books from my library you might not be aware of that you can find on Amazon or in your local library.  Enjoy!

 1.  The Secret Footprints

by Julia Alvarez illustrated By Fabian Negrin, Dell Dragonfly Books, 2000


The Dominican legend of the ciguapas, creatures who lived in underwater caves and whose feet were on backward so that humans couldn't follow their footprints, is reinvented by renowned author Julia Alvarez. Although the ciguapas fear humans, Guapa, a bold and brave ciguapa, can't help but be curious--especially about a boy she sees on the nights when she goes on the land to hunt for food. When she gets too close to his family and is discovered, she learns that some humans are kind. Even though she escapes unharmed and promises never to get too close to a human again, Guapa still sneaks over to the boy's house some evenings, where she finds a warm pastelito in the pocket of his jacket on the clothesline


 2.   Beat The Story-Drum, Pum-Pum

By Ashely Bryant, Atheneum, 1987


Here are five Nigerian folktales, retold in language as rhythmic as the beat of the story-drum, and illustrated with vibrant, evocative woodcuts.Here are five Nigerian folktales, retold in language as rhythmic as the beat of the story-drum, and illustrated with vibrant, evocative woodcuts. 

3. Why Mosquitos Buzz in People's Ears

By Verna Aardema Pictures by Leo & Diane Dillon, The Dial Press, 1975


"In this Caldecott Medal winner, Mosquito tells a story that causes a jungle disaster. "Elegance has become the Dillons' hallmark. . . . Matching the art is Aardema's uniquely onomatopoeic text . . . An impressive showpiece."
-Booklist, starred review.

Winner of Caldecott Medal in 1976 and the Brooklyn Art Books for Children Award in 1977.

 4.  The Ugly Vegetables

By Grace Lin, Charlesbridge, 1999


While the gardens in her suburban community look like "rainbows of flowers," and "the wind always smelled sweet," the unnamed narrator is disappointed with her family's Chinese vegetable garden. All she sees are "lumpy," "icky yellow," and "thin and green" vegetables, and she wonders why her family doesn't grow flowers instead. Her mother patiently reassures her that the ugly vegetables are better than flowers, telling her to "wait and see." As the plants grow and finally produce vegetables, readers experience vicariously the simple pleasures of gardening. The simply-told first-person text is well matched with the lively, color-saturated paintings. With slightly distorted, flattened perspectives and rounded, comforting shapes, Lin's style borders on the naive with a fresh folk-like quality. Each page bristles with movement enhanced by pattern: swirls of blue in the sky; variegated brown and green hues of the trees; imaginative designs on fabric; even the washes of background color on which many of the paintings are set are lightly decorated with such motifs as vine, seed, leaf or flower shapes, adding energy to the design and the illustrations. Most readers will identify with the narrator's feeling of mild discontent about her family's differences, and some will be introduced to another culture and cuisine. After the vegetables have been harvested, there's a new scent in the air: ugly vegetable soup, which, the young girl says, "seemed to dance in my mouth and laugh all the way down to my stomach." A final page features a glossary/pronunciation guide for the vegetables' names in Chinese as well as a soup recipe. Grace Lin's debut picture book serves up the savory delights of the harvest in a satisfying story. - The Horn Book

 5.  In The Hollow of Your Hand

Collected & Sung By Alice McGill & Illustrated By Michael Cummings, Houghton Mifflin, 2000


Slave lullabies, created from the African-American experience, were sung to give hope for a better time to come. Although these lullabies were born of hardship and overwhelming sadness, they can be thought of as musical stories for children and adults. By turns soothing, playful, empowering, and bittersweet, the songs convey the love of parents for children. Since childhood, Alice McGill has been collecting and singing these lullabies. Here they are preserved along with vibrant quilt collages and a CD recording of each song, introduced and sung by McGill. Her voice is rich and resonant, adding yet another dimension to these moving pieces of oral history. This beautiful package of lullabies, artwork, and personal history invites readers of all ages to sing along and remember the powerful words and melodies of a people struggling to survive.

5. My Name Is Yoon

By Helen Recorvits, Pictures By Gabi Swiatkowska, Frances Foster Books, FSG, 2003


Getting to feel at home in a new country

Yoon's name means "shining wisdom," and when she writes it in Korean, it looks happy, like dancing figures. But her father tells her that she must learn to write it in English. In English, all the lines and circles stand alone, which is just how Yoon feels in the United States. Yoon isn't sure that she wants to be YOON. At her new school, she tries out different names―maybe CAT or BIRD. Maybe CUPCAKE!

Helen Recorvits's spare and inspiring story about a little girl finding her place in a new country is given luminous pictures filled with surprising vistas and dreamscapes by Gabi Swiatkowska.

My Name Is Yoon is a Bank Street Best Children's Book of the Year.

7. A Chair For My Mother, Un Silon Para Mi Mama

Caldecott Medal, Greenwillow, 1988, Spanish & English   


This classic and award-winning picture book was written and illustrated by the celebrated Vera B. Williams and was named a Caldecott Honor Book by the American Library Association. "A tender knockout . . . it's rare to find much vitality, spontaneity, and depth of feeling in such a simple, young book."—Kirkus Reviews

After their home is destroyed by a fire, Rosa, her mother, and grandmother save their coins to buy a really comfortable chair for all to enjoy. A Chair for My Mother has sold more than a million copies and is an ideal choice for reading and sharing at home and in the classroom. "A superbly conceived picture book expressing the joyful spirit of a loving family."—The Horn Book

 8.  Tar Beach

By Faith Ringgold, Caldecott Medal, Crown Publishers, 1998  


Cassie Louise Lightfoot has a dream: to be free to go wherever she wants for the rest of her life. One night, up on "Tar Beach" — the rooftop of her family's Harlem apartment building — her dream comes true. The stars lift her up, and Cassie Louise Lightfoot is flying over the city, claiming everything she sees as her own.
A Caldecott Honor Book Winner of the Coretta Scott King Award A New York Times Best Illustrated Book Winner of the Parents' Choice Gold Award


 9.  A Story, A Story

Retold & Illustrated By Gail E. Haley, Aladdin Paperbacks, Simon & Schuster, 1970


Winner of the Caldecott Medal
Once, all the stories in the world belonged to Nyame, the Sky God. He kept them in a box beside his throne. But Ananse, the Spider man, wanted them -- and caught three sly creatures to get them.
This story of how we got our own stories to tell is adapted from an African folktale.


10.   Talk Peace

Sam Williams & Illustrated By Mique Moriuchi, House, 2005


Talk soft Talk loud Talk shy Talk proud Talk highTalk low Way to go Talk peace

Starting in the playground with a personal encounter and moving outwards to a park, a city, a mountain and eventually encompassing the globe, each beautiful scene is portrayed through stunning artwork that perfectly captures the feel of this text.


 11.  Words With Wings, A Treasury of African American Art & Poetry

Selected By Belinda Rochelle, Harper, 2001


African-American poetry and art take wing and soar in this collection compiled by Belinda Rochelle.

With work that spans the nineteenth century through the present, this stunning collection pairs twenty poems by distinguished African-American poets with twenty works of art by acclaimed African-American artists.

Renowned poets and artists such as Maya Angelou, Langston Hughes, Rita Dove, Countee Cullen, Jacob Lawrence, and Paul Lawrence Dunbar powerfully explore themes of slavery, racism, and black pride, among many others.

Named as one of the New York Public Library's "100 Titles for Reading and Sharing," this important collection was described as "a stirring book that will take [readers] up close and also extend their view of themselves" in a starred review by Booklist.


 12.  The Frog Who Wanted To Be A Singer

By Linda Goss & Illustrated By Cynthia Jabar, Orchard Books, 1996


13. The Lotus Seed

By Sherry garland, Pictures By Tatsuro Kiuchi, Harcourt, 1993


When she is forced to leave Vietnam, a young girl brings a lotus seed with her to America in remembrance of her homeland. “Exquisite artwork fuses with a compelling narrative--a concise endnote places the story effectively within a historical context--to produce a moving and polished offering.”--Publishers Weekly

14.  I Live In Tokyo

Written & Illustrated by Mari Takabayashi, Houghton Mifflin, 2005


Have you ever been to Tokyo, Japan? Far away, in the Pacific Ocean, Tokyo is a busy city of color, activity, celebrations, gigantic buildings, and much more. Seven-year-old Mimiko lives in Tokyo, and here you can follow a year’s worth of fun, food and festivities in Mimiko’s life, month by month. Learn the right way to put on a kimono and see Mimiko’s top ten favorite meals—just try not to eat the pages featuring delicious wagashi!

15. Conrows

By Camille Yarbrough & Illustrated By Carole Byard, Putnam, 1979


Every design has a name and means something in the powerful past and present richness of the Black tradition.

Mama's and Great-Grammaw's gentle fingers weave the design, and their lulling voices weave the tale, as they braid their children's hair into the striking cornrow patterns of Africa.

16. Red Butterfly

By Deborah Noyes & Illustrated By Sophie Blackall, Candlewick, 2007


An enchanting tale of hidden beauty and fierce courage, retold in the style of T’ang Dynasty poetry and illustrated with charm and grace

A young Chinese princess is sent from her father’s kingdom to marry the king of a far-off land. She must leave behind her home of splendors: sour plums and pink peach petals and — most precious and secret of all — the small silkworm. She begs her father to let her stay, but he insists that she go and fulfill her destiny as the queen of Khotan. Beautifully told and arrestingly illustrated, here is a coming-of-age tale of a brave young princess whose clever plan will go on to live in legend — and will ensure that her cherished home is with her always.

17.   No Hickory, No Dickory, No Dock, Caribbean Nursery Rhymes, By John Agard & Grace Nichols, Illustrated by Cynthia Jabar, Candlewick, 1991


Caribbean renditions of nursery rhymes apply the lilting, musical beats of the region to familiar favorites and are accompanied by colorful scratchboard illustrations that highlight such images as Mother Goose playing the marimba.

18.   What A Wonderful World

By George David Weiss & Bob Theile & Illustrated By Ashley Bryant, Atheneum, 1995


What simpler way could there be to express to children the beauty and the harmony in the world around them than through the lyrics of this song by George David Weiss and Bob Thiele, made famous by the great Louis Armstrong? And what better visual accompaniment than the bright colorful artwork by award-winning Ashley Bryan depicting children of many backgrounds (and Louis Armstrong himself) performing a puppet show that brings the lyrics to life. Here is a book of brightness, wonder, and hope to be shared by all.


Gr 2-5-- When Uncle Willie visits her South Carolina home, L'il Sis begins a close relationship with the warm, understanding man that endures throughletters for many years. Uncle Willie is William H. Johnson, an African-American painter whose work (from the National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution) illustrates and is the inspiration for the story. While it is unusual for a text to be written to accompany illustrations, in this case, it works beautifully. Johnson's paintings are varied in style from a strongly textured almost impressionistic self-portrait, to a geometric, flat-toned picture of children playing by a dock, to a lively and imaginative primitive Swing Low, Sweet Chariot. He paints both historical and contemporary subjects such as L'il Sis and her doll, life in pre-World War II Harlem, and the hanging of Nat Turner. Through his art, readers and Sis come to see some of the harshness and beauty in the African-American experience. Sis's first-person narration brings the story to a child's level, explaining such things as the Underground Railroad. The warmth of the special uncle-niece relationship shines through and makes readers care about Uncle Willie, his artwork, and the life and places he painted. --Louise L. Sherman, Anna C. Scott School, Leonia, NJ, School Library Journal - School Library Journal

20.   Ghandi, Written & Illustrated By Demi, Simon & Schuster, 2001


Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, known by his followers as Mahatma -- or great soul -- was born in India in 1869 and grew up to become one of the most influential and well-respected political and social leaders the world has ever known.
An adamant idealist and a courageous thinker, Gandhi identified himself with the struggles of the common people. He became the sole voice of the downtrodden and the exploited and believed fervently in the notion that "hatred can only be overcome by love." He vowed to instigate social and political change through nonviolent means and succeeded in changing India's prejudicial caste system and winning India's independence from British rule.
Gandhi's teachings inspired Martin Luther King's nonviolent civil rights movement in the United States and Nelson Mandela's anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. Gandhi's philosophies of nonviolence and peaceful protest continue to inspire people around the world.
In beautiful language and exquisite illustrations inspired by Gandhi's own belief in the simplicity and truth of life, Demi captures the spirit that was Mahatma Gandhi and pays homage to this great man.

21. Martin's Big Words

The Life of Martin Luther King Jr., By Doreen Rappaport & Illustrated By Bryan Collier, Hyperion, 2001

This picture-book biography is an excellent and accessible introduction for young readers to learn about one of the world's most influential leaders, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Doreen Rappaport weaves the immortal words of Dr. King into a captivating narrative to tell the story of his life. With stunning art by acclaimed illustrator Bryan Collier, Martin's Big Words is an unforgettable portrait of a man whose dream changed America-and the world-forever.

23. Tiger On A Tree

By Anoushka Ravihandkar & Illustrated By Pulak Biswas, Tara Publishing, 1997

Tiger Tiger on a tree Is it true? Can it be? Did he fly? Did he flee? Did he fall and hurt his knee? Did he cry? Did he plead? If you want to know: read The tale of a wild tiger cub who wanders into an Indian village, and the reactions he encounters from the stunned village inhabitants. The art, verse and typography run and bounce off the page, drawing both the curious child and the quizzical adult into the lively world of the book. Now translated into eight languages and having sold 40,000 copies worldwide, this is the first softcover edition of a quintessential Tara title.

23. We are All Alike, We Are All Different

Written & Illustrated By the Cheltenhame Elementary School Kindergartners, Scholastic, 1991


We are all alike...we all have hearts and brains.
We are all different...we do not think or feel the same way."

An important lesson for children, by children.

We Are All Alike... We Are All Different celebrates the multitude of differences in our society — at a time when understanding tolerance and diversity have never been more important. Written by children for children, We Are All Alike... We Are All Different reinforces multicultural and anti-bias learning and appreciation.

With original drawings and their own lyrical words, a class of kindergartners share the ways they look and feel, the games they play, the foods they like, the homes they live in, and the families they live with, concluding that "We are all alike. We are all different. We are a family."

24.  The Big Box

By Toni Morrison With Slade Morrison Illustrated by Giselle Potter, Hyperion, 1999


Morrison and her son have created a rhymed parable—clearly addressing adults—about three children who are firmly, lovingly locked into a room-sized box because they "can't handle their freedom." Patty, Mickey, and Liza Sue don't follow all the rules, e.g., at school, Patty "ran through the halls and wouldn't play with dolls/And when we pledged to the flag she'd spoil it." Their teachers, parents, and neighbors nervously put them away, not listening to their repeated protestation: " `I know that you think/You're doing what is best for me./But if freedom is handled just your way/Then it's not my freedom or free.'Ê" Potter places sad children and grave adults into fresh compositions, done in restrained colors, scattered with the small animals and items mentioned in the text. The Morrisons end with a challenge—"Who says they can't handle their freedom?"—that is weakened by an illustration that, in showing the children effortlessly pushing down the box's walls, misses the point. Nonetheless, it's a valid message, strongly made, and a promising children's book debut for the authors. - Kirkus Reviews, (Picture book. 8+)


25. Dizzy

By Jonah Winter & Illustrated By Sean Qualls, Arthur Levine, 2006


From the author of FRIDA comes a jangly, jumpy, beboping book about Dizzy Gillespie, the clown prince of jazz.

This is the story of Dizzy Gillespie, a real cool cat who must have been born with a horn in his hands, judging from the way he played the trumpet. Jazz was his ticket on a train to better days, and he left his hard life in a small town for New York City and the hottest band around. But did Dizzy stand straight and play right? NO! He was a clown. He hit high notes, low notes, never-been-heard notes, and before he knew it, Dizzy created a whole new music: BEBOP.

This is a story about a boy who breaks all the rules -- and finds his own personal heaven along the way.

What are some of your favorites?

Tweet them to me: @cynthiajabar or share them in the comments below.

Thanks & happy reading!