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Multicultural Children's Books

Reading Multicultural Books With Your Children is a Wonderful Way to Introduce Them to Other Cultures and Customs

Why do we read? Why do we encourage others to read? The key to answering these questions lies in the early man cave paintings.

The crude images they scratched on rocks told a story; explained history and culture to the immediate community and the outsider. Human beings have always felt the need to create and share. This desire evolved into cave paintings, storytelling, and oral traditions. When the written word permeated our culture, this desire manifested itself in print. So, we read and inspire reading in others, especially our children.

Since 1967, on or around Hans Christian Andersen's birthday, 2 April, International Children's Book Day (ICBD) has been celebrated to inspire a love of reading and to call attention to children's books. In the present scenario, where multiple cultures mingle and grow together, the ICBS is a great opportunity to introduce children to multicultural worlds.

Children’s multicultural picture books occupy the pride of place in childhood classrooms.

Various genres such as fiction, poetry and non-fiction give children a glimpse of the vast world they will one day step into. These books are also a crucial way in which they gain information, are entertained and add to their perspectives of the environment around them. Multicultural books represent individuals and or ethnic groups and give a complete insight into the workings of a different community.

In preschool, introduction picture books that depict a variety of racial, ethnic and cultural groups are an ideal way of helping them develop an awareness of others, while affirming the identities of children from different backgrounds.

Children’s books serve several purposes. Books can stimulate readers through text and illustrations. They draw the reader into the situations, scenes and story and help them participate through identification. Girls in the Kapahaka, a book by Angie Belcher, is a great example of a book that draws children into the world of the Māori. Indian Tales by Barefoot Books is a visual as well as textual treat.

A study conducted by Jean Mendoza and Debbie Reese and published by Early Childhood Research and Practice explains that books also serve a psychosocial purpose.

Stories give children characters and events with which they “can identify and through which they can consider their own actions, beliefs, and emotions.” Such stories encourage the child to see the world through another’s eyes and “further construct their own views of self and the world.”

Fair Skin Black Fella, a story about Mary, a young Aboriginal girl who lives on a red and dusty cattle station and is shunned because of her fair skin, is a wonderful story to help kids observe and understand the psychological workings of an another culture. It also stimulates discussion about cultural identities.

Children’s literature should ideally reveal the truth about a culture and its experience, and avoid subversion as well as a glossing over of hard facts.

Sabri's Colours reveals a child’s yearning to draw. But as an underprivileged girl, Sabri can dream of drawing only with a rough chalk or her one and only pencil. Her dreams and yearnings intensify when she sees a plethora of colour pencils and paints at school.  This book is a valuable tool to help children discuss what privileged and underprivileged means in various cultures. It can also be used to stimulate discussions about how “dreams and desires” differ amongst children from various ethnic households.

Books are also didactic in nature. In traditional literature, myths, sagas, classics, tales and legends serve to pass on ideas, morals and knowledge from generation to generation. We’re Sailing Down the Nile is a rhyming story text, followed by eleven pages full of educational information about ancient Egypt, gods and goddesses. It captures Egypt as seen through the many myths and stories surrounding it. Tales of Celtic Lands is another book that carries tales of the Emerald Isle.


Books are important catalysts employed in helping the child arrive at a knowledge base about people and world.

So, it’s extremely crucial that the story a child is reading has high standards of accuracy and authenticity. Books also benefit language and literacy development. Zak the Yak, written in Seussical rhyme, and We are One, are books that are written to heighten cultural awareness and develop language development.


All the books mentioned in this article cross cultural boundaries and can be used by children independently or along with a caregiver. Using multicultural books gives children the opportunity to see their own world reflected in different ways.  So, this International Children’s Book Day, gift a child a multicultural book and stand back to see the world open up for them. 

Multicultural resources, Indigenous, Maori, Cultural Diversity in childcare, multiculturalism, cultural learning resources