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Biblio File, Children's Literature @ NYPL, Children and Parents

Children’s Books, Inclusivity, and Why It Matters

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My toddler son adores Todd Parr, who writes and illustrates picture books about, basically, how to live in the world without being a jerk.

He explains bodies and self-esteem and non-traditional families in the simplest of terms, using bright bold line drawings to illustrate his ideas.

My son is especially partial to It’s Okay to Be Different, a 2009 book about, obviously, difference—differences in size and shape, and also being different by separating yourself from the crowd, saying no to bad things, and being silly or feeling confident.

different

It’s okay to be a different color, Parr tells us. It’s okay to talk about your feelings. It’s okay to get mad, or have no hair, or wear glasses, or come in last. It’s okay to be adopted, or have different moms or different dads. It’s okay to come from a different place.

In fact, the book implies that being different is more than okay; it’s better. It’s preferable to everyone being exactly the same and you should seek it out, actively.

Parr's work encourages even the youngest kids to think. My son is two, and we’ve read him this book at least 100 times, but it’s only recently that he asked a question about it: “Mama, what is ‘have wheels’?”

wheels

So we talked about how different people’s legs work differently and why someone would use a wheelchair. I said that some people need a wheelchair for most of their lives, and others need one as they get older.

“Will I have wheels?” he asked.

He was imagining, for the first time, on the most basic level, what it would feel like to be in a wheelchair—what it would feel like to be like someone else and to be different than he is right now.

And it struck me that this is what good children’s books do, and this is why it matters: because we need to start somewhere when we think about experiences that are different from our own. We need to see empathy in action, and picture books are the right place to start.

okay

Because of its simplicity and clarity, Parr’s message has a quiet power that more nuanced children's literature lacks. His directness about its true subject—inclusivity—is almost unparalleled.

It’s brutally simple, and it's brutally necessary.

parr

Check out more of Todd Parr’s work on his website and in our library catalog.

Be Who You Are (2016)

The Goodbye Book (2015)

It's Okay to Make Mistakes (2014)

The Thankful Book (2012)

The I'm Not Scared Book (2011)

The Earth Book (2009)

The Feelings Book (2009)

We Belong Together: A Book about Adoption and Families (2007)

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Have trouble reading standard print? Many of these titles are available in formats for patrons with print disabilities.

Staff picks are chosen by NYPL staff members and are not intended to be comprehensive lists. We'd love to hear your ideas too, so leave a comment and tell us what you’d recommend. And check out our Staff Picks browse tool for more recommendations!

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Children's books about being different

Excellent article and recommendation! Shall certainly get some of Park's books for my little nephew.

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