Teaching compassion and celebrating difference: our favourite books to help raise woke kids
It can be hard to know how to raise compassionate, kind children, but telling them stories that normalise people that are different from them is a great place to start.
Reading stories to children is a favourite activity for both parents and kids. It provides a chance to spend time together, and often provides a starting point to talk more about the book’s subject.
This is why books can be a great place to introduce ideas to children, especially about other people in the world around us. The term ‘woke’ is often dismissed, but it boils down to having consideration and kindness towards people that are different from ourselves, whether that’s in terms of race, gender identity or ability, and that’s surely something everyone wants their children to have.
Here are some of our favourite children’s books that help explore these topics. If you’re ordering online, why not see if they’re available at an Irish independent bookshop, like Gutter Books, Books Paper Scissors, or Kennys.
The Girls, by Lauren Ace , illustrated by Jenny Lovlie
This charming book tells the story of four little girls who meet under an apple tree and form a bond that continues as they grow up. A gorgeous story of female friendship, despite many differences.
Red: A Crayon’s Story, by Michael Hall
Red is a crayon who doesn’t feel like his label matches what he is inside. While people try to help him feel more red, he can’t be happy until he accepts that he is in fact blue. This story has a wonderful message of being true to yourself, as well as introducing ideas about what society expects of us not necessarily matching how we are.
Mae Among the Stars, by Roda Ahmed, Illustrated by Stasia Burrington
Inspired by the life of the first African American woman to travel in space, Mae Jemison, this book shows children that anyone can dream big.
Break the Mould: How to Take Your Place in the World, by Sinéad Burke, illustrated by Natalie Byrne
Teacher, activist and now author Sinéad Burke has written this book encouraging young readers to believe in themselves, have pride in who they are and use their voice to make the world a fairer, more inclusive place.
Where Are You From? By Yamile Saied Mendez , illustrated by Jaime Kim
This award-winning book tells the story of a little girl who never seems to have the right answer when people ask where she’s from. She turns to her abuelo for help, and he helps her understand the beauty of her identity, and discover that home can mean different things.
All Are Welcome, by Alexandra Penfold , illustrated by Suzanne Kaufman
This #1 New York Times bestselling book follows a group of children in a school, where they learn about each other’s traditions, and come to see their diversity as a strength.
Girls Play Too: Inspiring Stories of Irish Sportswomen, by Jacqui Hurley
A lovely book to teach young children about the many amazing sportswomen our country has, something that’s still not seen often enough in the media.
Sulwe, by Lupita Nyong’o, illustrated by Vashti Harrison
Academy Award–winning actress Lupita Nyong’o has written this beautiful book about a girl called Sulwe. Her skin is darker than everyone in her family and her school, and she wishes to change. Then, a magical journey in the night sky opens her eyes and changes her perspective.
Along Came a Different, by Tom McLaughlin
This book tells the story of reds liking reds, blues liking blues and yellows liking yellows, but not each other, until something comes along to show them that they have more in common than they thought.
Julián Is a Mermaid, by Jessica Love
This beautiful book tells the story of a young boy who is mesmerised by the sight of some women spectacularly dressed up in mermaid costumes, and can’t help but try to recreate it for himself. With themes of individuality and self-acceptance, this is a joyful read.
My Friend Isabelle, by Eliza Woloson, illustrated by Bryan Gough
This beautifully illustrated book was written by Isabelle’s mother, and tells the story of her daughter with Down’s Syndrome through the eyes of one of her friends. Although they are different in some ways, there are similar in a lot of ways, too.
King for a Day, by Rukhsana Khan, illustrated by Christine Krömer
An exciting story about a boy, Malik’s, chance to be the best kite fighter. Malik uses a wheelchair, but this is not the author’s focus, normalising this experience for children.
Bunnybear, by Andrea J. Loney, illustrated by Carmen Saldaña
This sweet tale is about a bear who feels more like a bunny, and his struggle to be accepted by either the bears or the bunnies. With gorgeous illustrations and a light-hearted tone, this book is suitable for even very young children.
Antiracist Baby, by Ibram X. Kendi, illustrated by Ashley Lukashevsky
With nine steps for building a more equitable world, this book introduces the young readers and the grown ups in their lives to the concept and power of antiracism through bold illustrations and accessible language.
Susan Laughs, by Jeanne Willis, illustrated by Tony Ross
This story follows Susan, a little girl who likes to do all sorts of activities. It’s not until the end that we realise Susan is a little different, focusing on all the things she can do, rather than what she can’t.
The Boy & the Bindi, by Vivek Shraya, illustrated by Rajni Perera
Another one worth the buy for its illustrations alone, this book also tells a beautiful story of a boy fascinated by his mother’s bindi. He wishes to have one of his own, and rather than deny him, his mother agrees, and uses it to teach him about its cultural significance, and helps him realise more about his own identity.
Read more: Baby on board? 100 essential tips for first-time parents (from mums who’ve been there)
Read more: Keep the kids busy after school with these monster crispy treats
Read more: Life as a foster carer: ‘When she first came to us she was like a frightened rabbit’