Children’s Books about Family Diversity

After watching my daughter’s daycare provider fumble and brush off a child’s question about my daughter’s “dad” – and coming to terms with my own lack of having just the right thing to say in the moment – I wanted to get more acquainted with children’s books that broach the subject of diverse families. Reading enough books about others’ lived experiences can solve all the world’s problems. I truly believe that.

So I headed to my local library and found some real gems.

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After my previous post about baby books for raising socially conscious kids, my friend Speck of Awesome recommended this one.

This book is written in a celebratory tone: All families are special. It also paints diversity as the norm, rather than telling a tale about one special family that is “different”. Another thing I like about this book is it’s international applicability. I believe the families represented in the book reflect far more than the typical Western, Colonial family structures we are familiar with. This is more than a book about same-sex parents, adoption, and mixed race families (although those discussions alone would be enough to make me happy at this point); it’s more inclusive than that.

One thing to warn about in this book is that it mentions “all families are sad when they lose someone they love.” I believe this is a great piece to include in a book about families, but I’m also not ready to talk about death with my toddler. I don’t really want to provoke those questions about loss and permanence of loss. The book also seems to leave out polyamorous families (leaves it at, “some families have one parent instead of two”). Otherwise, top notch reading material for kids and their caregivers.

This book is about a child first realizing that her family looks different from other families in her school. She not only learns that all families actually look a little different from each other, but she also learns to celebrate her family and define them for herself. The book addresses how a mother’s day project at school might impact a child with two dads, but it’s relatable for any kind of family. I really have no qualms with this book. It’s a cute story and it has earned a permanent place on our bookshelf!

This is a really sweet book about families created through adoption, and in typical Todd Parr style, the families represented in its pages are diverse. The “races” of the family members are ambiguous because Parr uses all colours of the rainbow as skin colours – but, he still mixes the colours within the families because, of course, not all members of a family need to share the same skin colour. Some of the family types represented include a single mom, a single dad, elderly (i.e., grey haired) parents, mixed race parents, two moms, and two dads. The message is sweet and genuine: “We belong together because you needed someone to help you grow up healthy and strong, and I had help to give. Now we can grow up together.”

This is kind of a counting book, but it does more to represent different types of families than to teach counting. Each page showcases a different family structure. Page one is one person reading to her cat. Page two is a parent or caregiver and one child. Page three is – you guessed it – two parents and a child. The families grow in size and also diversity, some with multiple generations, some with three caregiver-type figures, and of course two moms and two dads are included. What I really like about this book is that the family members are a bit ambiguous, to the point where pretty much anybody could see themselves in one of these families, even though there are only 10 families in the book. I went so far as to imagine that one family was two dads, their baby, their surrogate, their surrogate’s partner and two children, and one grandparent. My wife interpreted this family completely differently. That’s how this book can be so all-encompassing of family types in only 10 pages. And while it doesn’t overtly teach about family diversity in terms of the text, the pictures are inclusive, and most importantly, anyone can see their own family reflected in the pages of this book.

This was on my previous book list about socially conscious baby books. It’s so incredibly relevant to today’s topic, though, that it’s worth including again. What Makes a Baby COULD NOT POSSIBLY be more inclusive. It talks about the three components you need to make a baby: an egg, sperm, and a uterus. It talks about the egg and sperm sharing stories with each other about the body they came from, which I think is a pure genius way to describe to young kids the role of DNA. All family structures, from adoptive to two dads to single mom, will all feel included by this book. And, just as important, kids reading this book will be free from imposed assumptions about family structure. This book opens the mind to the possibilities. And it does so without ever mentioning SEX – so parents who are concerned about discussions of family diversity equalling discussions about sexual activity and sexual preference, fear not. This book is colourful and eye catching with fun graphics and a narrative so clean and simple that I’m pretty sure my <2 year old can understand. Could not recommend this book more.

***Bonus Book***

This book was a random selection at my local library that I didn’t realize was anything special until my second time reading it. It’s a simple, sweet bedtime book with simple verses that you could read to a newborn or a toddler. Although it doesn’t highlight diverse family types, it does represent a very underrepresented type of parent in children’s books – the DAD (or masculine-presenting parent). Literally all of our children’s books have at least one mom (mommy, mama, etc.). That may be partially due to the fact that we are a dad-less family and we are drawn to books without dads, but I’m quite certain that books highlighting a father’s parenting role are few and far between. Hush a Bye, Baby shows dads of different races solo-parenting their babies at bedtime. Refreshing.

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Avery doesn’t have a dad

We love our day-care provider. And when we interviewed her we asked how she would handle it if other kids asked about Avery having two moms, and she gave a satisfactory answer. But today, when she was talking about how tall Avery is, she blurted out, “how tall is her dad?”

I was surprised because I haven’t heard anyone use that language around us in a long time. We tried to clarify our preferred language (“donor”) to everyone in our lives before Avery was even born.

Our daycare provider quickly changed her wording and said, “I mean, her donor.” All was fine. But it wasn’t fine, because her 6 year old daughter overheard and then said “I didn’t know Avery had a dad…”. Their whole family has met both my wife and I. They all know Avery has two moms. It’s no wonder she was confused.

Unfortunately, I’m not happy with how our provider handled the situation. She told her daughter, “yes, but it’s complicated,” and kind of brushed it off like it was going to be too much of a hassle to explain it.

I’m not going to tell a parent how or when to explain how babies are made, but I feel like she could have made more of an effort. I don’t want Avery to be witness to that kind of conversation (although I’m not naive enough to think I can shelter her from it forever). How would it make Avery feel to hear for the first time that she has a “dad” and that “it’s complicated”? I mean, that’s how she did hear it for the first time. I’m only assuming she isn’t quite old enough to grasp the nuances of what was said in front of her.

How and when can my wife and I start talking to her about her donor, about the fact that some people will assume she has a dad, and about how some people will get uncomfortable with discussing it and freeze up, or worse – say something hurtful?

Currently we try to read her books that have different family structures (dads are not excluded from our repertoire, although they play a smaller role than families that resemble ours in Avery’s library). We also have Cory Silverburg’s book, What Makes a Baby, which is an awesome book about sperm, eggs, and uteruses that is completely non-graphic, non-gross, and kid-friendly by anyone’s standards.

I’m totally open to tips and ideas, here. It’s something I thought we were prepared for, but now that it’s happening and Avery’s listening I’m feeling significantly underprepared. I also need to grow a backbone, because the thought of bringing this up with our provider at a later date is making me nauseous.