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A Book List for Teaching Little Ones Tolerance and Understanding

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The author of this piece is also the author of one of the following selections.

Tolerance acknowledges the humanity within every person and offers a safe space for disagreement while celebrating acceptance and inclusion. The essence of tolerance is love and the message that all are welcomed. Isn’t that something worth celebrating? The UN thinks so! First celebrated Nov. 16, 1996, the International Day of Tolerance is a reminder of the importance of “strengthening tolerance by fostering mutual understanding among cultures and peoples,” according to the UN’s website. With that in mind, let’s celebrate by modeling tolerance all year. Here’s a children’s board and book list to help do just that and raise tolerant kids.

Books That Introduce Tolerance to the Youngest of Readers

Book covers clockwise from left: “Love Makes A Family” written and illustrated by Sophie Beer, “Say Hello!” written and illustrated by Rachel Isadora and “All Kinds of People” by Shelley Rotner and Sheila M. Kelly. | Meg Raby

“All Kinds of People” (ages birth-3)
By Shelley Rotner and Sheila M. Kelly

This wonderful board book is full of photographs of ethnically diverse children. It shows children that peoples’ skin colors everywhere — at the playground, at the park, the beach and even in the same family — are different, but all are beautiful.

“Love Makes A Family” (ages birth-3) Written and illustrated by Sophie Beer

The title of this brightly illustrated board book says it all: love makes a family. No matter the family structure, it’s the actions of finding the biggest puddles, having a tea party in a treehouse, reading one more book and making everything better again where family is.

“Say Hello!” (ages birth-3) Written and illustrated by Rachel Isadora

Carmelita takes her dog on a walk through her city. Along the way, she greets several familiar and unfamiliar faces and learns how to say hello in a variety of languages including Arabic, French, Hebrew, Italian, Japanese, Mandarin, Spanish and Swahili. This board book effectively introduces the beauty of diversity and tolerance.

Books for Defining and Teaching Tolerance

Book covers clockwise from right: “The Big Umbrella” by Amy June Bates and Juniper Bates, illustrated by Amy June Bates; “Strictly No Elephants” by Lisa Mantchev and illustrated by Tae-eun Yoo and “The Wall in the Middle of the Book,” written and illustrated by Jon Agee. | Meg Raby

“The Big Umbrella” (ages 4-8)
Written by Amy June Bates and Juniper Bates; illustrated by Amy June Bates

A clever take on extending kindness to all, a big, red umbrella shows the reader that being friendly, helpful and inclusive — even to the tall and the hairy — is what ultimately brings us joy.

“The Wall in the Middle of the Book” (ages 4-8)
Written and illustrated by Jon Agee

This is a brilliant story about tearing down walls in order to experience truth and to possibly discover people are not always as you imagined. The wall in this story separates one side of the book from the other, until it doesn’t. What unfolds is both humorous and poignant, pointing to a message of tolerance in an unexpected way.

“Strictly No Elephants” (ages 4-8)
Written by Lisa Mantchev and illustrated by Tae-eun Yoo

No one wants to be left out. Join a boy and his little elephant as they face disappointment and as they try to participate in the local Pet Club and are rejected. Soon, they decide to create their own community — their own club — where all are welcomed. This charming picture book is full of sweet illustrations and gentle wisdom.

Books on Tolerance and Person-to-Person Differences

Book covers from left to right: “The Same But Different Too” by Karl Newson and illustrated by Kate Hindley and “Sweety” written and illustrated by Andrea Zuill. | Meg Raby

“Sweety” (ages 4-8)
Written and illustrated by Andrea Zuill

A square peg in a round hole, Sweety the headgear-wearing naked mole rat highlights the beauty and the humanity in the peculiar. Sweety is not quite like the others. She likes exploring various species of fungi, interpretative dancing and playing with her doll Zorna, who loves chocolate-beet cake and the color aubergine. Through humor and intensity, “Sweety” shows readers not to shy away from who they are and promises a world where everyone belongs is a world worth striving for.

“The Same But Different Too” (ages 4-8) Written by Karl Newson and illustrated by Kate Hindley

Tolerance is celebrated in this rhyming and engaging picture book about the similarities and differences among animals and humans. An excellent read aloud, “The Same But Different Too” is a wonderful way to start the conversation around acceptance at an early age.

Books on Tolerance of Culture and Race

Book covers clockwise from left: “The Day You Begin” written by Jacqueline Woodson and illustrated by Rafael Lopez, “This Is How We Do It: One Day in the Lives of Seven Kids from Around the World” by Matt Lamothe and “Everybody Cooks Rice” written by Norah Dooley and illustrated by Peter J. Thornton. | Meg Raby

“The Day You Begin”  (ages 4-8)
Written by Jacqueline Woodson and illustrated by Rafael Lopez

This powerful picture book written in lyrical form takes the reader to school and other well-visited spaces to highlight the beauty of different cultures and races. It acknowledges the initial discomfort of being different and portrays the strength of vulnerability. Gorgeous illustrations of children of different skin colors, socioeconomic status and experiences perfectly amplify the message that when one steps out in bravery and is simply themself, they can and should be met with wide open arms.

“This Is How We Do It: One Day in the Lives of Seven Kids from Around the World”  (ages 4-8) By Matt Lamothe

This gorgeous nonfiction picture book gives the reader a peek at the homes, families, clothing, transportation, schools, written language, meals, types of play, and responsibilities across seven different countries. It is both informative and celebratory of the differences from country to country and provides child-friendly context for conversations on tolerance. It concludes with an illustration spread capturing the night sky in which all humankind sleeps under.

“Everybody Cooks Rice” (ages 4-8)
Written by Norah Dooley and illustrated by Peter J. Thornton

Carrie is off in search of her brother Anthony in order to let him know it is time for dinner. Anthony is always taste-testing his neighbors’ meals, so Carrie is off to each house on the block. Along the way she, too, tastes meals from cultures around the world including Barbados, Vietnam, China, Haiti and Italy. In no time, she discovers that despite where her neighbors come from, rice is served at every home. With a message of community and tolerance, “Everybody Cooks Rice” teaches the reader to look for the things that bring us together.

Books on Tolerance and Neurodiversity

Book covers from left to right: “A Friend for Henry” written by Jenn Bailey and illustrated by Mika Song and “My Brother Otto” written by Meg Raby and illustrated by Elisa Pallmer. | Meg Raby

“A Friend for Henry” (ages 4-8)
Written by Jenn Bailey and illustrated by Mika Song

The message that everyone wants a friend rings true in this tender picture book about a boy named Henry who is autistic. Henry is searching for someone who understands him, who will listen and who will play with him. He discovers this in a girl named Katie who doesn’t like broccoli and respects his distaste for triangles. Written by a mother of a boy on the autism spectrum, “A Friend For Henry”  is a story told from the heart that champions the message of acceptance and belonging.

“My Brother Otto” (ages 4-8) Written by Meg Raby and illustrated by Elisa Pallmer

Otto Crow is a nonverbal, little crow on the autism spectrum who uses alternative means to communicate, including a tablet and various behaviors or actions. His older sister, Piper Crow, who loves him immensely, walks the reader through a week of play and daily activities they engage in together. Piper recognizes their differences in approach and experience to the world around them, but she also sees how similar they are in their desires to have fun, to be loved and to be included. A beautiful message complemented with adorable, engaging illustrations.

Books on Tolerance and Religion

Book covers from left to right: “My Religion, Your Religion” written by Lisa Bullard and illustrated by Holli Conger and “A Kids Book About God” by Paul J. Pastor. | Meg Raby

“A Kids Book About God” (ages 4-8) By Paul J. Pastor

The latest book in the “A Kids Book About” series is about the curious nature of kids and their desires for answers to hard questions about God. One profound goal of this book is to encourage these hard questions and to be okay with not knowing all of the answers. Another is to recognize that religion can and has led to mean words and actions when people do not agree on God and who he is or is not. Finally, the last goal is to converse with children about the essence of God and that God is love.

“My Religion, Your Religion” (ages 4-8) Written by Lisa Bullard and illustrated by Holli Conger

The message of this thoughtful, kid-friendly book is that different families have different beliefs that are to be respected and understood even if disagreements exist. This helpful picture book takes the reader from religion to religion through the eyes of a Christian boy named David. Full of religious practices and traditions, David attends a Jewish bar mitzvah that sparks a desire to learn more about other religions. Though initially nervous, he soon discovers there are many similarities between religions and learning about each can be fun.

A Book That Ties Tolerance Together

Book cover of “I’ll Walk with You” by Carol Lynn Pearson and illustrated by Jane Sanders. | Meg Raby

“I’ll Walk with You” (ages 4-8) Written by Carol Lynn Pearson and illustrated by Jane Sanders

If I could recommend only one picture book purchase on tolerance to add to every child’s home library, “I’ll Walk With You” by Carol Lynn Pearson would be it. The diverse and modern aesthetic of the illustrations and the poetic message that everyone deserves to be loved no matter what is beautifully depicted on each page. It effortlessly ties the essence of tolerance together and is a truly wonderful read.

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