Multicultural children's books which celebrate different countries, different languages and diverse cultures are a great tool for teaching kids about diverse cultures celebrating different countries and different languages. This article explores the concept of culturally responsive teaching, and how Harmony Day and the United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination help to shine a spotlight on racism and discrimination.
Multicultural literature is a powerful way to explore complex themes with younger children. You'll find a comprehensive list of quality multicultural picture books to add to your classroom library, so that multicultural stories and diverse books become an integral part of your classroom. These are some of my favourite children's books to pull out not only on the first day of school or for special events, but throughout the entire school year.
What is culturally responsive teaching?
Culturally responsive pedagogy emphasises the importance of culturally relevant teaching, which involves appreciating, valuing and incorporating students' diverse cultural backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives into the curriculum and instructional practices. These best practices not only validate students' identities but also enhance student engagement and student achievement.
Culturally responsive educators don't just recognise diversity, but actually use it in how they teach, design their lessons, and manage their diverse classrooms. At its core, culturally responsive teaching aims to create a learning environment where every student feels included, respected, and important. Culturally responsive teaching involves adapting classroom instruction, learning materials, and assessments to meet the diverse needs of students from different cultural, ethnic, linguistic, and socio-economic backgrounds. Responsive practices recognise that the cultural identities and experiences of diverse learners (and the prior knowledge that they bring from these experiences) can influence student learning: how they learn, engage with content, and interact with others.
By celebrating students' cultures and life experiences, responsive teachers provide a safe space where various cultural backgrounds and unique perspectives are valued. Culturally responsive education is particularly important for diverse students or students of color, but it is also a powerful learning experience for all students. 'Culturally responsive pedagogy', a term coined by Geneva Gay's, is a powerful tool, and a much-needed antidote to many of the issues that we unfortunately see in society today.
As teachers, it's our job to embrace diversity and make sure our students' education respects and represents who they are. By utilising responsive instruction and reading culturally responsive teaching books, we can make big improvements in our classrooms. We'll create spaces that celebrate diversity, empower students, and inspire a lifelong love for learning.
If you'd like to learn more about culturally responsive pedagogy, and a list of further reading, head to the bottom of this blogpost.
Harmony Day is a celebration of cultural diversity and inclusiveness in Australia. It is held each year on the 21st of March, which marks the United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. The day was established as a way to promote understanding and respect across cultural boundaries in Australia, as well as provide an opportunity to celebrate our rich cultural heritage. Harmony Day encourages people to focus on what we have in common, rather than our differences, and to appreciate the value of living harmoniously with each other.
Below is a list of 20 diverse children's books to read on Harmony Day with young kids. They are some of the best children's books for exploring a mixture of themes including diversity, inclusion, love, kindness, different cultures, peace and harmony. They are essential reading material for the needs of today, drawing upon real-life classroom stories, diverse characters and authors' own cultural experiences. No matter your teaching style, these books will be an invaluable resource to support culturally responsive practice in your classroom!
Plus, scroll to the bottom for loads of FREE Harmony Day resources to use in your classroom!
Harmony Day Book List
"Whoever You Are" by Mem Fox celebrates the similarities and differences of children all around the world. Through poetic language and colourful illustrations, this wonderful book emphasises that regardless of where we come from, what we look like, or what language we speak, we all share the same basic human emotions and experiences. "Whoever You Are" highlights the universality of love, laughter, and joy, as it celebrates a group of children from all different places around the world.
"This Love" by Isabel Otter celebrates the universal nature of love. The book explores the many ways in which love is expressed, experienced, and shared by children all around the world. From hugs with their parents to the joy of playing with friends, the book showcases the beauty and universality of love, and its ability to bring people together. At its core, "This Love" reminds us that love is a common language that transcends borders and boundaries. It teaches children that no matter where they come from or what their background is, they all share the capacity for love and connection. Kids will love the vibrant illustrations and bright colours.
"I'm Australian Too" by Mem Fox celebrates the diverse cultural heritage of Australia. The story features a diverse cast of characters, each with their unique cultural background. From First Nation Australians to refugees, the book celebrates the many different cultures that make up Australia, and emphasises the importance of inclusivity and acceptance. It encourages children to celebrate their own cultural heritage, whilst also respecting and appreciating the cultures of others too.
"The Colors of Us" by Karen Katz celebrates diversity and promotes a positive self-image. The story follows a young girl named Lena as she takes a walk through her neighbourhood with her mother, who is an artist. Along the way, Lena learns to see the many different shades of skin colour that exist in her community, and her mother uses paint to show her how to mix the colours to create an accurate representation of the people she sees.
"The Colors of Us" teaches children to celebrate and appreciate the many different skin tones that make up our world. It emphasises the idea that while we may look different on the outside, we are all the same on the inside, with unique personalities, interests, and experiences.
"The Skin You Live In" by Michael Tyler encourages children to embrace their unique physical attributes and to appreciate the beauty of differences in others. The book emphasises that while we may look different on the outside, we all share the same basic human emotions and experiences. It also emphasizes that everyone deserves to be treated with kindness and respect, regardless of their physical appearance.
"Happy In Our Skin" by Fran Manushkin emphasises that skin color is just one aspect of who we are as people, and that we are all special and unique in our own way.
A diverse group of animals join together to celebrate one very important idea: We are all equal, let’s shout it out loud. We share hopes and dreams, we’re equal and proud.
The animal in this book have different lifestyles, different origins, different strengths and abilities, different families, and more. But regardless of whether they are small or big, strong or weak, native to the land or come from another land, these animals know that they are all equal. No animal is better, more important or more worthy than the other animals. But big or small, weak or strong, native or new to their land, these animals are all equal, with no one better, more important, or more worthy than the others.
This book celebrates the many different ways to be - and demonstrates that no matter our differences, we are all welcome and equal.
"The Peace Book" by Todd Parr celebrates the concept of peace. This colourful book explores what peace means and how it can be achieved, touching on topics such as treating others with kindness, accepting differences, and resolving conflicts in a peaceful way. The book encourages children to be peacemakers, and to spread peace and love wherever they go. It helps us to teach young children about the importance of peace, and to inspire them to become agents of positive change in the world.
"Activists Assemble: We Are All Equal" by Shannon Weber is a book that educates children on the meaning and importance of equality. This book emphasises that every individual has the right to be treated fairly and equally within their community, and highlights the significance of using your voice to stand up for what is right.
Shannon Weber provides readers with historical context on the fight for equality, showcasing both the successes and struggles of the movement. Through inspiring stories of past and present activists, children can learn how they too can make a difference and fight against discrimination.
The book covers a range of important topics such as disabilities, gender, religion, and race, offering practical advice on how to challenge inequality and create a more equitable society. This book encourages children to become advocates for justice and equality.
"Skin Like Mine" by LaTashia M. Perry celebrates diversity and self-love. The book explores the many different shades of brown skin, and the unique features that make each person special. It encourages children to embrace their own unique beauty and to appreciate the beauty of others. The book also touches on topics such as self-acceptance and the importance of loving yourself just the way you are.
"Our Home, Our Heartbeat" is adapted from Briggs’ song 'The Children Came Back'. It is a celebration of past and present First Nations legends, as well as emerging generations. It honours the oldest continuous culture on earth.
The book takes readers on a journey through the different regions of Australia, showcasing the rich cultural heritage of First Nations peoples. The book also touches on themes such as the importance of community, the impact of colonisation, and the need to protect and preserve our natural environment. This is a great book for teaching children about First Nations culture, Australian history, and environmental stewardship.
"Wide Big World" by Maxine Beneba Clarke is a beautiful picture book which celebrates our diverse and wonderful world. It shows that differences are everywhere, with beautiful illustrations and rich descriptive language.
"A New Alphabet for Humanity" by Leesa McGregor reimagines the traditional alphabet by using words and concepts that promote empathy, understanding, and social change. Each letter of the alphabet represents a different value or principle, such as compassion, diversity, equality, kindness, and justice, and is accompanied by a beautiful illustration that captures the essence of the word. The book encourages children to embrace these values and make a positive impact in the world by fostering a more inclusive, just, and compassionate society.
"Malala's Pencil" by Malala Yousafzai is a moving and inspiring story that shows the power of education and the resilience of the human spirit. Malala shares her own experience of growing up in Pakistan and the challenges she faced in pursuing her education. When the Taliban took over her town, they banned girls from going to school, but Malala refused to give up on her dreams. She started speaking out for girls' rights and advocating for education for all, even if it meant risking her own life. Through her courage and determination, Malala became a symbol of hope and inspiration around the world, and she continues to fight for a brighter future for all children.
"Malala's Pencil" is a powerful reminder that education is a fundamental human right and that every child has the potential to make a difference in the world.
WARNING - please read through first yourself before reading with children. You may decide that some of the details about the Taliban are too confronting for young children.
In "Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes", Mem Fox celebrates the universal joy that new parents experience when welcoming their babies into the world. We follow ten little babies from all over the globe who share one thing in common: they each have ten little fingers and ten little toes. The illustrations by Helen Oxenbury depict babies of different races, cultures, and backgrounds, emphasising the idea that while we may look different on the outside, we are all the same on the inside. This book is most appropriate for little learners!
In "Say Hello," author Jack and Michael Foreman encourages children to embrace diversity and inclusivity by saying hello to people from all walks of life. Through simple rhyming text and illustrations, we are introduced to children from various backgrounds, cultures, and abilities. Whether it's saying hello to someone who looks different, speaks a different language, or has a different physical ability, the book emphasises the importance of kindness, empathy, and understanding. It encourages children to embrace new cultures and different people.
In "My Two Blankets," a young refugee named Cartwheel moves to a new country where everything is unfamiliar and the language is strange. To help ease her feelings of loneliness and homesickness in this new experience, she creates her own special blanket made up of items from her homeland. But as she begins to learn the language and make new friends, she realises that her old blanket isn't as comforting as it once was. This lovely book explores themes of displacement, cultural identity, and finding a sense of belonging in a new special place.
"Room on Our Rock" by Kate and Jol Temple is a unique and thought-provoking picture book which can be read in two different ways. On one side, it tells the story of a group of seals who need a new home and discover a rock that appears to be just right. On the other side, it tells the story of the same event from a different perspective, revealing a completely different interpretation of events. The book explores themes of perspective, diversity, and community, challenging children to consider how their own biases and assumptions shape their understanding of the world around them.
"Queen Celine" by Matt Shanks is a great story with themes of kindness, inclusion and the importance of treating others with respect and generosity. In Celine's eyes, she reigns over the most stunning rock pool in the entire world. It's absolute paradise, and she's determined to keep it that way by constructing a wall around it. However, this decision quickly proves to be a mistake. Celine is responsible for fixing her error and reinstating her rock pool to its former glory, but this time with an open invitation to everyone. With the help of her friends and family, by the end of the book Celine has learned that being a true queen means showing kindness, compassion, and empathy towards others.
I hope that this list of children's picture books will make their way onto your own bookshelves! They really are some of the best books for teaching children such important life lessons from a young age.
Looking for Harmony Day resources?
You may like the following freebies:
I hope these displays, activities and books can help to generate meaningful discussions with your students this Harmony Day!
Looking for more professional development for culturally responsive teaching?
Here's a list of authors & culturally responsive teaching books for teachers:
Zaretta Hammond is another respected educator and author who is known for her work on culturally responsive teaching and the development of culturally responsive instructional practices. Zaretta Hammond draws on the concept of "ready for rigor". She argues that there is an achievement gap amongst the diverse student population, as many students from marginalised communities are not adequately prepared for the academic demands of rigorous instruction due to systemic inequities.
Hammond provides practical strategies and a conceptual framework to support teachers in creating culturally responsive classrooms which bridge the gap and prepare all students for academic success, regardless of their socioeconomic status and background.
Hammond also stresses the significance of developing a growth mindset and fostering a sense of belonging and affirmation for students. She advocates for creating classroom environments which prioritise the social-emotional well-being of students and nurture their academic identities, building on the learning experiences and cultural assets of students in your class. Other practical strategies for culturally responsive educators can include building stronger partnerships with local community members and diverse ethnic groups within your school districts.
Hammond's book, "Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain" explores the intersection of culture, neuroscience, and education. It provides practical strategies for teachers to create culturally responsive classrooms and support the academic success of culturally and linguistically diverse students.
Hammond explores educational psychology, the cutting-edge neuroscience research about how students' brains learn, and the impact of culture on learning. She explains how cultural factors can shape students' cognitive processes, engagement, and motivation, and offers insights and actionable strategies to optimise instruction for diverse learners.
Gloria Ladson-Billings emphasises the importance of culturally relevant pedagogy. Ladson-Billings has written several books, but she is probably best known for "The Dreamkeepers: Successful Teachers of African American Children." In this book, Ladson-Billings explores the experiences and practices of effective teachers who have successfully educated African American students.
Geneva Gay's foundational book in the field of culturally responsive teaching is titled "Culturally Responsive Teaching: Theory, Research, and Practice." This book has become a widely recognised resource for educators seeking to develop their understanding and implementation of culturally responsive pedagogy.
In "Pedagogy of the Oppressed", Paulo Freire argues that traditional education can perpetuate oppressive systems because it treats students as passive recipients of knowledge- like they're just empty sponges soaking up information. He's all about shaking things up! Freire advocates for an innovative approach which encourages dialogue, participation and collaboration between teachers and students. This way, students don't just sit back and listen. Instead, they take charge of their own learning and agents of social justice and social transformation.
Award-winning educator Christopher Emdin is an advocate for cultural responsiveness, multicultural ed and STEM education. In his book, "For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood... and the Rest of Y'all Too: Reality Pedagogy and Urban Education", Emdin challenges traditional teaching methods and offers practical strategies for educators to authentically connect with and support students from diverse backgrounds.