Looking for windows to the world to help your children and young learners explore other cultures without leaving home? Check out this list of picture books, each of which celebrates the main character’s unique culture through the eyes of a child.
For many years before my boys went to bed, we sat down on the floor and read piles of books about all sorts of topics. It helped them develop a love for learning, but it also gave them a glimpse into so many worlds they had never seen (and many they never will see).
Books are amazing windows into other people’s lives. For kids, it’s especially poignant when they get to see other worlds through the eyes of other children to whom they might be able to relate.
The following list of picture books includes many stories, told through the eyes of children, that highlight a variety of cultures and important elements of the main character’s culture. In many cases, the stories include elements of self-acceptance related to the unique cultural characteristics of their families and themselves that might make them feel different or stand out from others.
There are lots of books like this (which is amazing). This list isn’t meant to be exhaustive by any means. But I hope that by providing you with this list, you can check out a few from your local library or borrow them from a friend to bring cultures from around the world into your family’s life without leaving your home.
A Note On Buying and Borrowing Books
We’ve included affiliate links to each of the books below. If you purchase through one of these links, Raising Global Kidizens earns a very small commission that has no impact on your purchase price.
If you can find the books from your local library, from a friend, at an independent bookstore, or through a used book shop, those sources are ideal. Using the library is zero waste, saves money, and saves space in your home because you can read all the books without storing all the books on your bookshelves. If you’re not sure of the best way to use your local library, check out these tips to make the most of your local library. With a little exposure, your kids will learn to LOVE the library!
If you prefer to listen to audiobooks, we recommend using Libro.fm, our favorite audiobook app. We’ve tried several audiobook apps and love that Libro.fm supports independent bookstores and offers a great user experience.
Leila in Saffron by Rukhsanna Guidroz
Just before having dinner with her family one evening, Leila looks in the mirror and isn’t sure if she likes what sees. Throughout dinner, however, she identifies different elements of herself, her family members, their culture, and the traditions that she loves.
The story highlights cultural food she shares with her family, important clothing items in her grandmother’s closet, and the connections she has with her family, especially her grandmother. Young readers get a glimpse into the colors, sights, and tastes of Leila’s Pakistani culture as well as watch her accept these important parts of who she is.
Age 4 – 8 | Pages 32
This is such a neat book! Going through the alphabet from A to Z, each page features two young girls whose names start with the respective letter from a country and with a descriptive word for each girl that starts with the respective letter as well.
The illustrations add depth to the poem as well as show characters from all over the world and offer a glimpse into how a local community might look in that country. This is such a great way to celebrate people from so many different places through the voices of young children.
Age 3 – 7 | Pages 40
Sulwe by Lupita Nyong’o
Sulwe has very dark skin and isn’t comfortable with how dark her skin is, especially compared to the lighter skin tones of her sister and parents. She tries many failed attempts at making her skin lighter.
Finally, she wishes for lighter skin, and a magical journey shows her how beautiful her skin is and the importance of both dark and light. It’s a whimsical and heartwarming story to inspire children to see their own unique beauty.
Age 4 – 8 | Pages 48
The Proudest Blue by Ibtihaj Muhammad
Looking different at school can be hard, especially when other children don’t understand the differences. This story shares the experience of a young girl attending a new school with her sister, who has just started wearing a hijab. Together, they overcome uncomfortable situations with their peers and learn to be proud of who they are.
Age 4 – 8 | Pages 40
Your Name is A Song by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow
On her first day at school, a young girl comes home very frustrated because her teacher can’t pronounce her name. Instead of getting angry, her mom convinces her that every name is a song and we can learn to pronounce each other’s names even if it’s hard. The next day at school, after a bit of reluctance, she teaches her teacher how to say her name properly.
The story celebrates names from lots of different origins around the world and encourages young readers to learn how to say everyone’s name, even if it doesn’t roll off the tongue right away. Names are important and proper name pronunciation matters.
Age 5 – 10 | Pages 40
Bilal Cooks Daal by Aisha Saeed
A young boy, Bilal, is very excited to share his favorite family recipe with his friends. Bilal loves Daal (known as lentils in English), a slow-cooked lentil dish from South Asia. His friends haven’t tried daal before, but they are excited to share this new dish that is an important part of Bilal’s culture and family tradition.
Daal requires lots of ingredients and cooks for a long time. Throughout the day, the friends play and periodically check in on the daal to see how it’s cooking. In the end, the friends share daal with Bilal and experience a part of his culture that is new to them.
As a bonus, the book includes a daal recipe in the back for kids to try at home!
Age 4 – 8 | Pages 40
Fatima’s Great Outdoors by Ambreen Tariq
Fatima and her Indian family can’t wait for their special camping trip. While some kids at school make fun of certain foods she eats for lunch and the way she says certain words, she hopes that the time outdoors will be a perfect opportunity to be with her family without any cultural challenges from peers.
Throughout the story, Fatima and her family enjoy traditional Indian foods while camping at a local state park. Fatima also reflects on certain aspects of the camping trip that remind her of her life back in India. This book normalizes for young readers that nature is for everyone, including brown people, who aren’t always as welcomed into nature’s recreational spaces.
Age 4 – 8 | Pages 40
Fry Bread: A Native American Story by Kevin Noble Maillard
Fry bread is an important element of Native American heritage for many Indigenous tribes. The short story introduces fry bread through a child’s many senses and helps young readers understand why it’s an important element of Native American culture.
The book also includes a recipe at the end so children, with help from an adult, can make their own fry bread and get a taste of the important Native American recipe.
Age 3 – 6 | Pages 48
Under My Hijab by Hena Khan
In this story, a young Muslim girl observes how many women in her life wear hijabs in different ways. She notices how they wear them in public but not usually at home. And she delights in how they can be a stylish piece of an outfit for her older sister or her mother, for example.
Through simple rhyming, this book provides a friendly introduction to hijabs for all readers and celebrates the Muslim women and girls who choose to wear them.
On a personal note, I read this book to my boys when they were about 5 and 7 years old. Not long after I read it, my older son came home from school and commented how the mother of one of his classmates wore a hijab to school.
Simply by reading this book, the hijab became much less foreign to him. He knew how to pronounce it, knew a bit about why she was wearing it, and didn’t think it was a big deal. At the very least, my son was one less person his classmate needed to educate on his mom’s relatively unique attire in a school with few Muslim students.
I think these simple introductions through picture books can really help our children begin to understand their peers who are different from them in an approachable and effective way.
Age 4 – 7 | Pages 32
I Want To Ride the Tap Tap by Danielle Joseph
Through the eyes of a young boy watching his father get on the tap-tap each day, young readers see insights into the everyday life of a Black family life in Haiti. A tap-tap is a colorfully decorated, privately owned vehicle that ranges in size from a school bus to a pickup truck that people use to travel around the city.
Each morning, he watches his Dad get on the tap-tap with people from various walks of life in Haiti. When the weekend finally arrives, he gets to participate in the cultural events represented by each of the tap-tap riders.
Age 2 – 6 | Pages 40
Islandborn by Junot Diaz
Through the eyes of a young girl living in a community of people from other places, the story explores the importance of understanding where we each come from. While we don’t all know our cultural histories from our own experience, we can be proud of our heritage and learn all about it from our family and neighbors who are from the same place.
The story celebrates the color, joy, and camaraderie of people in a community with a shared background, especially when it’s different from those around them. Then, the little girl has the opportunity to share her background with those of her class at school, and they can all appreciate the wonderful differences each brings to benefit the class as a whole.
Age 5 – 8 | Pages 48
A Different Pond by Bao Phi
A young boy recounts the stories he shared with his father as they fished early in the morning to catch food for their family. His parents were immigrants from Vietnam, and the story touches on some of the difficult situations his parents dealt with as immigrants to the United States.
Without being a sad story, it offers references to poverty and prejudice felt as an immigrant in a foreign country. I appreciate books that provide opportunities to discuss difficult realities with our children in a language they can understand. I believe it’s helpful to lightly introduce our children to different experiences, particularly when they won’t experience them themselves.
Age 6 – 8 | Pages 32
All The Way To Havana by Margarita Engle
A little Cuban boy shares a story about how much he enjoys working on the old family car with his Dad. They don’t have much money, and they have a very old car, but the book is a celebration of the ingenuity and perseverance Cuban families have without many financial resources.
Although the topic is a bit deep, the story is written in a light enough way that it’s engaging for little ones even if they may not directly catch the underlying message of the book.
Age 4 – 8 | Pages 40
A Song of Frutas by Margarita Engle
Through letters with her grandfather in Cuba, a young girl celebrates her relationship with him even though he lives far away. She reflects on her grandfather’s life as a singing street vendor and all the fun she has with him each time she visits.
The rich illustrations and the rhythmic text bring life to the important relationship this young girl has with her grandfather and the lively neighborhoods of island life in Cuba.
Age 4 – 8 | Pages 40
Mango Abuela, and Me by Meg Medina
Mia’s Abuela moved from her home to live with Mia and her parents in the city. While they cook, Mia helps Abuela learn English, and Mia learns some Spanish, too, but it’s still hard for Abuela to learn enough words to tell Mia her stories.
Then Mia sees a parrot in the pet-shop window and has the perfect idea to help them communicate a little better. Here is an endearing tale that speaks loud and clear about the love that binds families across the generations.
Age 5 – 8 | Pages 32
About The Author
Jen Panaro, a co-founder of Raising Global Kidizens, is a self-proclaimed composting nerd and an advocate for sustainable living for modern families. She’s also a serial library book borrower and a messy gardener.
As a mom to two boys, she is passionate about helping families be more responsible stewards to their communities and the planet. She also owns Honestly Modern, an online space focused on eco-friendly living for modern families.