Using Picture Books to Celebrate Diversity

Help young learners develop social awareness and tolerance by integrating these books into your lessons.

By Christen Amico

Teacher reading book with young student

The concept of discrimination is far above the comprehension level of most children. However, by engaging in developmentally appropriate conversations early on, teachers can build character and set the stage for a deeper understanding of this important topic as pupils mature. Children are incredibly impressionable and every word that an adult says leaves a mark. Lessons geared towards practicing kindness towards others and seeing peoples' differences as a blessing will have lasting benefits.

What If the Zebras Lost Their Stripes?

This is a classic picture book written by John Reitano about how silly the world would be if there were separate zebra lands for black zebras and white zebras. The lighthearted, rhythmic tone of this work reinforces how weird it would be for black zebras and white zebras not to be friends just because of their fur color. The author never directly connects the zebras to people, nor does he mention words like racism or discrimination; however, the message is very clear.

Here are some ideas to extend the book’s message:

  • Give students a piece of colored construction paper, black paint, white paint, and two paint brushes. Ask them to retell the story in a painting.
  • Create a class rainbow and have each child jump through it.
  • Make a class collage or wreath using pupils' handprints and a variety of colors.
  • Have each child complete the sentence: I am special because ________.
  • If you wish to be more direct, ask the class, “Can we be friends with someone who has different colored skin?"

"The Crayon Box That Talked"

This delightful poem written by Shane Derolf and Michale Letzig focuses on diversity and tolerance among all people. Most importantly, the authors teach children that our world would be like a very boring picture if we only had one color. It is in fact, our differences that make life so vibrant and interesting.

Here are some ideas to extend the book’s message:

  • Create a class crayon box in which each child decorates a paper crayon to symbolize his/her uniqueness.
  • Try painting with only one color and discuss why more colors are better or more interesting.
  • Compile a class book in which each child illustrates a line from the poem.
  • Act out the story and video record the production to share with other children.

Whoever You Are

Mem Fox’s second book is focused on diversity and peace among the world's nationalities. The simple message is that people may look different on the outside, but everyone is the same on the inside. Multiculturalism is recognized and celebrated in simple, yet influential sentences.

Here are some ideas to extend the book’s message:

  • Research different countries and encourage children to come to school dressed as a person from another country.
  • Use a class map to locate the country of origin for each child in the class.
  • Learn to say "hello” in as many languages as possible.
  • Host a multi-cultural day at school and invite parents to prepare a dish from another country. Everyone can taste and enjoy diversity. 

As you can see, picture books can be used in a variety of ways to help young learners see the importance of promoting kindness and empathy towards those who look different than they do. Talented authors such as these, have carefully intertwined mature subject matter into easy-to-understand and highly relatable stories. It is never to early to introduce topics such as multiculturalism, tolerance, and impartiality.

Here Are a Few More Ideas for Introducing Tolerance:

The All About Me Poster

Teachers and parents can use this template to encourage young artists to create a poster to explain what makes him/her special. This resource also includes information on using informational biographies in a primary classroom.


Help introduce young learners to the world of Abraham Lincoln by reading and discussing Mr. Lincoln’s Way by Patricia Polacco. After reading the story, children are invited to create their own special bird and celebrate how each person is special and unique.

Tell Me a Story

This is a thorough lesson plan for first graders. They work collaboratively to create a class story about people from a far away land. This provides a great opportunity for incorporating the idea of different cultures and countries into your classroom.