We all love reading here at Kind Kids Book Club HQ but as a busy mum with limited time
and money, for a long period, when it came to children’s books, if it wasn’t on a supermarket
shelf within grabbing distance, I wasn’t buying it.
Don’t get me wrong, there are some fantastic books on supermarket shelves and we love
them – but it always felt like I was missing something.
My three sons see themselves regularly in the pages of the books we read. They are
knights on horseback, dinosaur keepers, doctors, pilots, friends to all manner of woodland
animals and heroes. They are at the heart of the story. They are the story. But what about everyone and everything else? What about BIPOC characters? What about
different cultures and different countries, strong girls and women, families that aren’t 2.4
children and people with disabilities? And not just tokenism. Central protagonists, one and
How can I really teach my children to be kind – to show empathy and understanding for the
world around them and the people they meet wherever their lives might take them – if they
aren’t seeing it right now in the books with read together?
In 1996, educator Emily Style advocated for an inclusive ‘both/and thinking’ approach to how
children learn. This method means all children should be invited to look through
metaphorical ‘windows’ for insight into unfamiliar experiences (to build their empathy and
understanding) and ‘mirrors’ which reflect their own experience back to them (to build their
self-esteem and confidence).
So, if this sounds like you too – here are our top tips for getting started on diversifying your bookshelves:
CHECK WHAT YOU HAVE
Go through all of the books you already have and really look at them. Can you spot any lazy
or harmful stereotypes or a one-size-fits-all approach to representation – however subtle or
normalised it might seem? I pride myself on being vigilant about what the boys read – but
even I was surprised by some of the things I spotted.
ALL ABOUT THE STORY
There are some brilliant non-fiction children’s reference books out there about everything
from anti-racism to feminism and they absolutely have their place and purpose – but, in
general, children love a really good story. Choose books that tell a great tale and
demonstrate inclusive representation that is mostly incidental to the story line. This is about
keeping it really simple: the picture books on your shelves should depict people with
disabilities, Black protagonists, strong girls, sensitive boys and families of all shapes and
sizes and so much more. Not because these characters have something to say about their
body, the colour of their skin, their struggles or their family set up – but because this
accurately reflects the diversity of the world around us.
SEEK OUT OWN VOICES
Own voices authors and illustrators create works based on their own lived experiences. This
might mean what it’s like to be from a particular country, or live with a disability, or follow a
certain religion and much more. Own voices are important because they offer an authentic
representation of heritage, culture, identity and perspective from often marginalised and
under-represented groups. This means that their insight is real and honest and never relies
on harmful assumptions, generalisations, tropes or stereotypes to tell the story.
MAKE A WISH LIST
Start making a list of books you would like to add to your collection and hand it out to family
and friends when they ask for ideas for birthday and Christmas presents. This way, boosting
your bookshelves doesn’t have to cost a fortune and your house is much less likely to be
filled with unwanted gifts that gather dust!
ASK AT YOUR LOCAL LIBRARY
The library is a brilliant way to start diversifying your book collection without spending a small fortune. If you are looking to give particular titles a try, it’s definitely worth asking your local library to order them in for you if they don’t already have them. The added bonus here is that lots of other families will also benefit from a more diversified assortment to choose from.
Amie is owner of Kind Kids Book Club - A monthly subscription service featuring inclusive children’s books with heart. Expect beautiful books to engage, empower and educate and inclusive stories that celebrate empathy, diversity and equality.