Inclusive books for kids to add to your bookshelf now
These fantastic children's books feature diverse characters and are written by underrepresented authors, so children can see themselves and their world reflected on the pages
As parents, it's crucial that in addition to reading our children books featuring characters and experiences that mirror their own, we also do our best to introduce them to the experiences of others, to encourage conversations, build empathy and understanding from a young age and propel us towards a fairer, juster future.
In the UK in 2018, only 4% of picture books published had a minority ethnic protagonist, up from a measly 1% in 2017. We need to do our part to champion inclusive booksellers, underrepresented authors and books featuring diverse characters for our kids from their earliest days.
Photo: Round Table Books, on Coldharbour Lane in Brixton
We asked Layla Hudson, bookseller at Brixton's inclusive children's bookshop, Round Table Books, for her top recommendations on inclusive kids' books for all ages, and why she loves them, to get you started - and we can't wait to read the ones we haven't yet.
While the shop is currently closed, you can support them through Inclusive Indies, a crowdfunding initiative set up by inclusive children's publisher Knights Of and Jacaranda Books, which helps independent publishers cope through the pandemic and lockdown. Round Table also offers free books to families, schools and food banks which you can also support via their Free Bookshelf here.
Culture Whisper is your curated guide to the best of London. Commission for items purchased through retailer links in this article will be donated to Black Lives Matter.
As independent bookshops begin to re-open slowly, if you can support them here is our roundup of the best kids’ bookshops in town.
Photo: Izzy Gizmo by Pip Jones and Sara Ogilvie, Simon & Schuster
One Love by Cedella Marley
A beautiful board book to read or sing, adapting Bob Marley's beloved song 'One Love'.
Izzy Gizmo by Pip Jones and Sara Ogilvie (illus.)
A delightful book about determination and sticking to things when they seem hard!
Photo: Look Up! by Nathan Bryon and Dapo Adeola, Puffin
Look Up! by Nathan Bryon and Dapo Adeola (illus.)
A beautifully illustrated picture book with a strong message to look up and appreciate the stars in the sky! A constant bestseller at Round Table Books.
My Hair by Hannah Lee & Allen Fatimaharan (illus.)
An excellent picture book about discovering different hairstyles, and sharing joy and excitement from hair.
Photo: Ada Twist and the Perilous Pantaloons by Andrea Beaty and David Roberts, Amulet Books
Early Chapter Books
Ada Twist and the Perilous Pantaloons by Andrea Beaty & David Roberts (illus.)
An early chapter book perfect for young scientists which is bound to make readers think as well as giggle. (Ed note: for younger readers, Ada Twist also appears in the brilliant picture book, Ada Twist, Scientist).
Two Sides by Polly Ho-Yen & Binny Talib (illus.)
A story about two girls who, despite their differences, are the best of friends. A lovely story about friendship.
Photo: A Pocketful of Stars by Aisha Bushby, Egmont
A Kind Of Spark by Elle McNicoll
This book is a brilliant story about standing up for what you believe in, no matter what. A superb own voices book from an incredibly talented debut author.
A Pocketful Of Stars by Aisha Bushby
A moving yet important book about grief, friendship and growth. A brilliant book for ages 11-13. (ed note: A Pocketful of Stars is one of the books in Alexandra Palace's Biblio Buzz challenge, which is accepting entries through June).
Photo: The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta, Hachette
The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta and Anshika Khullar (illus.)
A beautiful LGBT+ verse novel starring mixed race teenager Michael, who learns, finds and lives his true self.
Opposite of Always by Justin A. Reynolds
A touching romance novel with a twist. The characters are determined and you may shed a tear at the end!
Photo: Exceptional Men in Black History by Vashti Harrison, Penguin Random House
Exceptional Men in Black History by Vashti Harrison
A collection featuring inspirational Black men through history - from artists to authors to activists. A must-have for every child's bookshelf (you can download Vashti Harrison's Little Leaders printables here).
This Book Is Anti-Racist by Tiffany Jewell and Aurelia Durand (illus.)
A superb book to help educate younger readers (10+) about racism, and what sort of things they can do in their lives to educate others.
Photo: Riley Can Be Anything by Davina Hamilton and Elena Reinoso
Other resources and ideas for parents looking for more inclusive children's books
Do your part to ensure inclusive books are available in your local schools and libraries
There's currently a petition circulating to get Reni Eddo-Lodge's Why I'm No Longer Talking To White People About Race and Nikesh Shukla's Good Immigrant book of essays on the GCSE reading list, while children can request inclusive titles from their local libraries (once they reopen) and write letters to their schools asking them to choose books with a more diverse cast of protagonists. A much more exciting, and just as educational, way to spend your next morning of homeschooling.
Reading isn't the only way to appreciate diverse authors and protagonists
Encouraging your child to love books can come from watching a great film or listening to an amazing story read by an inspiring individual.
Photo: Noughts & Crosses, BBC
Teens may enjoy film and TV adaptations of Malorie Blackman's Noughts & Crosses and Angie Thomas' The Hate U Give, which could in turn lead them to the books, and many others. There are five Noughts & Crosses books to read and younger readers might like Blackman's Pig-Heart Boy, about a boy who has a heart transplant and is given a pig's heart, while Thomas' latest, On the Come Up, is essential YA reading.
You can also introduce teens to the works from brilliant African-American writers like Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, Langston Hughes, Lorraine Hansberry, Richard Wright, Alice Walker, Ntozake Shange and Zora Neale Hurston, to name a few.
Seek out other diverse authors and protagonists
Former TV presenter Cerrie Burnell became a children's book author after feeling frustrated at the lack of disabled protagonists in children's literature. Her bestselling picture books and chapter books include major characters who are mixed race, hearing impaired, and wheelchair-users.
David Baddiel's 2019 bestseller, The Taylor TurboChaser, is about a car enthusiast 11-year-old named Amy, who just happens to be in a wheelchair.
For an immersive LGBT literary experience for youngsters, Drag Queen Storytime features drag performers reading inclusive works like And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell (illustrated by Henry Cole), 10,000 Dresses by Marcus Ewert and Rex Ray (illus.) and King & King by Linda De Haan and Stern Nijland.
Photo: Candice Brathwaite's I Am Not Your Baby Mother
Follow social media accounts that educate and inspire
Social media can be a force for good, as well as a space to get inspiration and ideas. Here are some accounts to follow now:
Candice Brathwaite: The founder of Make Motherhood Diverse and author of bestseller I Am Not Your Baby Mother has made it her mission to tell the stories of mothers - and families - that are too-often ignored in the mainstream.
The Conscious Kid: If you want to start those conversations about race and identity with your children but don't know how, The Conscious Kid creates educational resources for parents through a critical race lens.
Marley Dias: This inspiring American teen and activist founded #1000BlackGirlBooks, to encourage black, female representation in literature. She's even written her own book to encourage activists-in-training, Marley Dias Gets It Done and So Can You.
Support other inclusive shops
As shops start to reopen, now's a great opportunity to support other inclusive bookshops and ventures.
Persephone Books in Lamb's Conduit Street is devoted to 20th century women writers, Gay's The Word on Marchmont Street is London's LGBT book specialist and New Beacon Books in Finsbury Park is your go-to for African and Caribbean literature, since the 1960s. Letterbox Library is an online purveyor of inclusive books for kids.
Photo: Woke Babies
Woke Babies is a monthly book subscription box for kids, featuring children's books with black characters for kids up to the age of 11, along with activities and learning resources. You can also shop online for specific children's books, like founder Kelly-Jade Nicholls' current favourites, Bedtime Classics remakes of The Wizard of Oz and Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, illustrated by Carly Gledhill.
Photo: Bedtime Classics' Alice in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll and Carly Gledhill (illus), photo courtesy of Woke Babies
Woke Babies is currently raising money to help provide schools with more diverse books, to help incentivise young black children to become future authors and to help turn around the recent government statistic (from May 2020) which shows that only 56% of black Caribbean key stage 2 pupils are meeting the expected standard for reading, writing and maths. You can donate here.