Accepting Ourselves and Differences
Teaching students about accepting differences of others and their own, is a subject that will forever be important, and even more so today as our schools and communities continue to diversify. “From the current terrorist activities, racial conflicts and gender differences to schoolyard bullies, most of them arise because of misunderstandings and intolerance of differences and diversities among people. Thus, our global community in general and educators in particular, faced with the task of preparing the youngsters to live in today’s diverse global community with each other harmoniously, successfully and productively (Wan, 2006, p.140).”
As stated in Guofang Wan’s article, “Teaching Diversity and Tolerance in the Classroom: A Thematic Storybook Approach”, educators play a vital role in preparing young students to live in today’s diverse global community with each other. Educators can approach this through a variety of ways, starting with trainings and in-service days to help educate teachers and staff about not only the importance of teaching and accepting differences, but more importantly strategies. “Literature is the essence of communication. Through it, we share our opinions, values, experiences, and what makes us happy and sad. We share the most personal aspects of our culture and the ways in which we identify with a particular ethnicity, geographical region, religion, or other cultural groups (Wan, 2006, p.141).” I believe as an educator, starting off the school year with a unit on accepting differences is a way to open the lines of communication with students.
Creating a diverse library with books about different cultures, religions, and disabilities, is a starting point for showing students how to celebrate not only their differences, but differences of their peers and to be proud of them. “Teaching young students to have multiple perspectives is very important (Banks 2009; Norton 2009). To help young children develop an understanding of perspectives different than one’s own, educators often use high quality multicultural children’s books (Morgan, 2009, p.216).”
There were many interesting strategies to teach differences (diversity) from Morgan’s article, Picture Book Biographies for Young Children: A Way to Teach Multiple Perspectives. Some of the strategies include interactive read alouds, group projects and independent reading to encourage students to ask questions to the teacher, ask questions to their peers and also to engage in independent study. Morgan’s article also highly suggests avoiding books that are biased. Some examples of ways to make sure the books chosen for the classroom library to teach diversity are appropriate, are that they are historically accurate and the illustrations show physical differences between people of color.
Teachers play a vital role in educating students starting as early as preschool ages, in explaining and highlighting the importance of accepting everyone’s differences and loving and celebrating their own differences. “Picture books have characteristics that are especially useful for teaching students at the early childhood level (Morgan, 2009, p.220).” As summarized in both Wan and Morgan’s articles, using literature based learning to teach young children about differences and diversity is a very successful and meaningful approach at any age, but definitely has its challenges. For example, in a research study conducted in Shelby County Tennessee, Early Childhood Educators were assessed on their knowledge of multicultural literature for children. Researchers found, “The results of this study demonstrate a critical and comprehensive need for professional development for preservice and in-service early childhood educators to increase their knowledge about culturally specific and multicultural literature (Brinson, 2012, p.32).” While I would like to believe that many educators are receiving adequate in-service trainings and professional development, I understand that this is not always the reality in every school district. I am hopeful though that educators are using their counterparts to share resources and books to help group libraries and knowledge on diversity.
Brinson, S.A. (2012). Knowledge of multicultural literature among early childhood educators. Multicultural Education, 19, 30-33.
Morgan, H. (2009). Picture book biographies for young children: a way to teach multiple perspectives. Early Childhood Educ J, 37, 219–227.
Wan, G. (2006). Teaching diversity and tolerance in the classroom: a thematic storybook approach. Education, 127, 140-154.
- Beale, B.A. (2008). Colin Gets A Chance. Bloomington, IN: AuthorHouse.
Colin, a young boy who has Down Syndrome absolutely loves playing baseball. During the biggest game of the season, his coach sits him on the bench and tells him that he can help cheer on the team; however, Colin’s teammates know that his one dream is to play in the game and hit the ball! Colin’s wish comes true and his teammates cheer him on the whole time. Written by Brian A. Beale, Colin’s father and illustrated by other children who also have Down Syndrome, is a story explaining acceptance from a Special Education standpoint. Throughout the story, Colin explains to his peers that he knows he looks different, but he still has dreams too. This story explains to young readers that just because someone looks different, or learns different doesn’t mean they don’t have dreams like everyone else. Each illustration in the story is hand drawn by other students with Down Syndrome, which again, shows that students with special needs can do things just like everyone else. Using this story in the classroom is a great addition to teach global diversity and acceptance. Many students think of diversity as skin color or hair color or their culture; however this explains to students another side of diversity.
- Carlson, N. (1988). I Like Me! New York, NY: Penguin Group.
I Like Me! Written and Illustrated by Nancy Carlson is a bright and cheery picture book about a fabulous and very confident Pig. Nancy Carlson’s Pig paints, bikes, reads book and even bakes! These are just a few of the things that Pig likes about herself/himself. Pig celebrates being “Me!” from the activities Pig enjoys doing to the physical traits, to even the way Pig cheers herself/himself up. Carlson’s use of colorful paints and colored pencils to illustrate her pages makes the story aesthetically pleasing to all ages. Nancy decorates her story with unique wallpaper designs to describe an activity that is occurring on the page. Carlson also uses one short sentence or phrase per page for easy comprehension and reading for beginning readers. I Like Me! is a fantastic book to teach students about how to celebrate their unique qualities and to share them with their peers. This could be taught in the beginning of the lesson or in the beginning of the school year to get to know one another and share all of the positive characteristics about one another. Students can create posters, draw self-portraits or even create their own “All About Me” books. Building self confidence in children at a young age is very crucial for success in and outside of the classroom.
- Cheltenham Elementary School Kindergarteners. (1991). We Are All Alike…We Are All Different. New York, NY: Scholastic Inc.
We Are All Alike…We Are All Different, written and illustrated for kids and by kids, is a wonderful story about similarities and differences for young readers. The students at Cheltenham Elementary School created pages on top of pages of how “we are all alike and we are all different”. From everything from the way we look, to the type of house we live in, to even our families, each idea is written by an elementary student. This story struck me as high quality literature for young students because it is written by children. As a teacher I love that students can easily connect to this book because someone their age has written each similarity and each difference. Not only are the words reader friendly, but the illustrations are also very real. Each page is either a photograph of young students who wrote the book, or a drawing or painting by the children. I think this also speaks to the theme of “we are all alike…we are all different” because everyone has different artistic abilities. This story would be a great introduction to school or included in any writing or social studies unit about accepting differences. Teachers can use this as a prompt for a writing exercise and each student can make their own page for a “we are all alike…we are all different” book for their classroom.
- Choi, Y. (2001). The Name Jar. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf.
The Name Jar is both written and illustrated by Yangsook Choi. Unhei, a young girl whose family emigrated from Korea, is preparing for her first day of school in America. Feeling anxious and scared, she rides the bus for the first time and children begin to ask her what her name is and then tease her because they are unable to pronounce it. Scared to introduce herself to her classmates now, she becomes silent. Her classmates create a jar on her desk and fill it with pieces of paper with names written on them, “giving her a name”. A young boy in her class befriends her and eventually figures out her name, which gives her confidence to finally introduce herself to her class. This wonderful tale about Unhei explains cultural diversity to students ages Pre-Kindergarten to Third Grade. Author and illustrator Yangsook Choi writes her story to share with young students the importance of accepting and understanding different cultures and also to be proud of your own culture, and who you are. Choi illustrates each page with children of all different cultures, which is relatable to all classrooms. This story is a fabulous way for teachers and parents to introduce cultural diversity. Students can have the opportunity to research their names and what their names mean in different cultures. Students can also have the opportunity to interview family members about their culture and research the origin of their culture. Finally, a class or school wide diversity celebration could be arranged at the end of the unit to share information about each student’s individual culture.
- Curtis, J.L. (2002). I’m Gonna Like Me: Letting off a little self-esteem. New York, NY: Harper Collins Publishers.
I’m Gonna Like Me: Letting off a Little Self-Esteem is written and illustrated by the New York Times best-selling team, Jamie Lee Curtis and Laura Cornell. Everyone has special qualities about themselves that they love and some that they may not be too enthusiastic about; however, in the story I’m Gonna Like Me, Jamie Lee Curtis shows her readers that it is important to try and like them all! Whether you have a big space in between your two front teeth or maybe you don’t run as fast as everyone else, that is what makes you, YOU. Jamie Lee Curtis shares different scenarios and situations with her readers where the characters in the story accept themselves for who they truly are. As Teachers and parents explaining to young children the importance of acceptance and loving who you are, this story shows children how to love themselves through good and bad. Laura Cornell illustrates this story to meet the needs of all different children. She has decorated each page with a diverse group of students ranging in size, shape, gender, skin color and more. What really caught my eye as a teacher was the ending of the story. The story ends with “I’m gonna like me. I already do! But enough about me- How about YOU?” This is a great conversation starter to brainstorm on chart paper all of the things we like about ourselves and each other. This could also be used as a prompt for journal writing during a writing period.
- Derolf, S. (1996,1997). The Crayon Box that Talked. New York, NY: Random House,
While walking through a toy store, a young child overhears a crayon box chattering and arguing about how they do not like each other because of their different colors. The young child purchases the box of crayons and uses all of the colors to create a beautiful masterpiece. The crayons see that they worked together to create the drawing and they soon realize that they work much better together. Just like in a classroom, there are different “colors” or different “crayons”, but when we all work together just like the crayons did, we are better. This story would be a nice read to continue a conversation about accepting differences and coming together as a whole. Creating a giant crayon box in the classroom or on a bulletin board and putting a picture of each student on the top of the crayon can set the tone in the room that we are just like the crayons in the crayon box, different, but when we’re together we work the best.
- Fox, M. (1997). Whoever You Are. Orlando, FL: Harcourt, Inc.
Whoever You Are, Written by Mem Fox and Illustrated by Leslie Staub weaves together differences and similarities by celebrating all cultures around the world. Using the theme that we are all different, but we are also all the same, Mem Fox shares that all over the world we live in different types of houses, attend different types of schools, live in different lands etc. but, we all laugh, smile, cry and hurt. We all have joy and we all have pain. Fox touches on all types of differences and similarities, from physical to emotional. Fox uses repetitive wording throughout the story to reiterate “wherever they are, all over the world”, which allows young readers to learn the patterns of words in the story. Illustrator Leslie Staub creates artwork on each page to incorporate a variety of different cultures and traditions for her readers to see. Whoever You Are is another celebration of culture that should be added to any school library. This book can be paired with a research unit on comparing student’s cultures with others, discussing and sharing the differences and similarities. Students can bring in show and tell items and pictures about their cultures to share with their peers. A cultural museum within the classroom can be created for all to see.
- Henkes, K. (1991). Chrysanthemum. New York, NY: Greenwillow Books.
Written and Illustrated by Kevin Henkes, Chrysanthemum is a wonderful picture book explaining acceptance and self-esteem. Chrysanthemum is a young little mouse who is extremely proud of her unique name. She loves everything about her name until she goes to school. Chrysanthemum’s classmates tease her about it being too long and the fact that she’s named after a flower. Unhappy, sad and embarrassed, Chrysanthemum does not want to go to school anymore, until she meets her music teacher who also has a long, beautiful name like hers and named after a flower too! Her classmates soon realize how special her name is and they too want to have flower names just like Chrysanthemum. Henkes takes the very serious topic of acceptance, and explains it in a very relatable and kid friendly way for his readers in any early elementary classroom. Henkes uses terms like “blooming” and “wilted” when explaining Chrysanthemum’s feelings. Henkes cheerful artwork illustrates each page, appealing to all young readers. This story is a fun addition to a classroom library especially to introduce acceptance in the beginning of the school year. Students can share in small and large groups what they are proud of about themselves. This can also be used as an ice breaker or a morning meeting activity where each student has to say what they like about 1 person. Teachers can pass out names on a piece of paper so each student is partnered with a new friend.
- Katz, K. (1999). The Colors of Us. New York, NY: Henry Holt and Company, LLC.
Written and Illustrated by Karen Katz, The Color of Us is about a young girl named Lena who is learning about different skin tones through painting. Lena’s Mother is an artist, and takes Lena on a long walk through their hometown; Lena comes to realize that all of the friends she encounters on the walk have different shades of browns and tans. At the end of the story, Lena uses her observations from her walk to mix her paint colors together to create many beautiful masterpieces. Katz illustrates her story with the main focus of each page being the person she is describing and the city is featured in the background. This allows her readers to really visualize the different cultures and skin tones she is describing with vibrant colors throughout the pages. Katz also uses a comparison technique. Comparing each skin tone she writes about with a different type of food; “Isabella is chocolate brown, like the cupcakes we had for her birthday.” Karen Katz does a wonderful job of showcasing to her readers that there are so many beautiful skin colors in the world and young children can find this story relatable as food is something that they eat every day. This story can be used in the classroom for many activities and projects. During social studies or literacy studies, students can create their own self-portraits while learning to mix paint colors together to match their own skin tone. Each student can create their own page for a class book, comparing their skin tone to a type of food they believe their skin looks like or the self-portraits can be showcased on a wall to see the diversity in the classroom.
- Lester, H. (1999). Hooway For Wodney Wat. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin
Hooway For Wodney Wat, written by Helen Lester and Illustrated by Lynn Munsinger, is a tale about young Rodney Rat who can’t pronounce is r’s. The other rodents at his school tease him relentlessly, but when a mean, big, bad bully, Camilla Capybara comes to join Rodney’s class, all of the rodents are now afraid of her. As the story progresses, Rodney Rat ends up saving the whole class from the mean bully! Hooway For Wodney Wat approaches “accepting differences” from a different standpoint. Helen Lester shares with her readers that not everyone speaks the same, and everyone needs help with different things; like talking. Lynn Munsinger brings the story to life with her detailed illustrations, which really depicts the feelings that the characters are experiencing, such as sadness, anger, happiness and laughter. Specifically, Munsinger allows the readers to see Rodney Rat’s reactions to being made fun of for his differences and how it affects him, which can be used in the class for a discussion about tolerance. Teachers and parents can use this story in a discussion on accepting differences and the great affects prejudice can have on people when they are not accepted for their differences, for example, Rodney Rat’s speech. Teachers and parents can also use this story for a problem solving discussion about how the bully, Camilla Capybara and the other students in the class could have behaved differently and how the story would have been different.
- Lovell, P. (2001). Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon. New York, NY: G.P. Putnam’s Sons.
Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon is Written by Patty Lovell and Illustrated by David Catrow. Stand Tall Molly Lou Melon is a fantastic and uplifting story about a confident young girl with a lot of unique qualities. Molly Lou Melon has a very special relationship with her Grandmother, who is always telling her to stand tall and be proud of herself. She starts a new school and has a run-in with a not so nice bully. He attempts to put her down during every activity, but Molly Lou Melon stands tall and proves him wrong. Molly Lou Melon accepts all of her special characteristics; her size, her buck teeth, her voice and much more. Lovell uses word patterns and repetition throughout the story. Each page where Molly Lou Melon is “standing tall” has a specially designed illustration by Catrow spanning across two pages to really emphasize Molly Lou’s celebration of herself. This story can be used inside a classroom and or at home. Students can break into small or large groups to discuss if they have ever been teased and how they handled the situation. If working with older elementary students, this could be made into a role playing activity. Students can also practice sharing what they “stand tall” about, or why they are proud of whom they are.
- Mayer, G., & Mayer M. (1992). This Is My Family. New York, NY: Golden Books.
Written by Gina and Mercer Mayer, This Is My Family explains global diversity and differences within families. Every family is made up of different people whether it’s a Mother and Father, Grandparents, Aunts and Uncles, siblings or no siblings, pets or no pets, every family is different. Each person within a family is different, but there is always love. Using this story to explain differences within families and the makeups of families is another way for students to understand the concept of diversity. Gina and Mercer Mayer use very straightforward and easily comprehendible writing for young children to relate to. Students can easily connect to the similarities and differences of the Critter family and share their own family units with the class. Before reading this story, I think brainstorming with the class what exactly a family is, is very important because some children may not have the typical “mother and a father” family. Letting the class know beforehand that families can be made up of many people not just a Mom and a Dad is key.
- Parr, T. (2001). It’s Okay to Be Different. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company.
It’s Okay to Be Different, written and illustrated by Todd Parr shares with his readers that it is okay to be different, and most importantly, it is okay to be YOU. Whether you are small, medium, large or extra-large; adopted or have two different moms or dads, or you have an imaginary friend, it is okay. Todd Parr touches on a wide variety of differences that celebrate diversity. Not only does Todd write about physical and family differences, Parr explains that it is okay to share your feelings and it is okay to do something nice for someone else. It’s Okay to Be Different explains to its readers on each page a difference and an illustration to go along, making this story easy for children to comprehend and relate to. Todd Parr uses “kid-friendly” illustrations, which are also very relatable to young readers, as they may choose to draw a picture of themselves after reading this story. Both Teachers and Parents can use this wonderful story to explain diversity to young children on many levels; physical, emotional, family structures and more. In the classroom, Teachers can use this story to explore the words different and similar and teachers can make a chart as a whole group with differences and similarities within the classroom. Students can also have an opportunity to break into small groups to write down, discuss and share differences and similarities with one another. Todd Parr also has a website, www.toddparr.com and students and families can use this as a resource as well for activities.
- Tarpley, N.A. (1998). I Love My Hair. Canada: Little, Brown and Company.
Written by Natasha Anastasia Tarpley and Illustrated by E. B. Lewis, I Love My Hair is a story about Keyana, a young girl who is learning to love her wild and crazy hair. Every night before bedtime Keyana sits in between her Mother’s knees as she gets her hair combed, but it always hurts! Keyana does not feel lucky to have her hair. Throughout the story Keyana learns all of the wonderful things that she can do with her hair and eventually learns to accept and love her hair. E.B. Lewis’ illustrations on each page bring the story to life. The artwork and paint colors used throughout the story look like real life portraits of people. Author Natasha Anastasia Tarpley creates images in her reader’s minds by describing the various things that can be made with Keyana’s hair, such as “spinning her hair into fine yarn”, and “parting her hair into straight lines and planting rows of braids like seeds in a garden”. I Love My Hair is another story that teachers and parents can use to both celebrate and explain differences in physical appearance to young children. Being proud of the features you have and creating conversations to build confidence and acceptance. This story can be used in both small and large group discussions about what students like about themselves and what they think is unique about them. This story can be paired with a lesson about culture, discussing cultural differences and special qualities, celebrations and traditions.
- Tyler, M. (2005). The skin You Live In. Chicago, IL: Chicago Children’s Museum.
The Skin You Live In, written by Michael Tyler and illustrated by David Lee Csicsko, is a simply written nursery rhyme storybook, exploring the theme of acceptance to young readers. Each page playfully describes all of the exciting activities and adventures one can go on “in your skin”; dreaming in your bed, jumping and skipping outside and celebrating a birthday. Michael Tyler digs even deeper as the nursery rhyme progresses into being happy in the skin you live in, explaining “You’re a gifted creation with imagination.” David Lee Csicsko’s illustrations depict all different sized, shaped and colored children to appeal to all readers. Using a repetitive pattern of writing, “The skin you have fun in; the skin that you run in; the skin that you hop, skip and jump in the sun in…” allows a reader to follow along and even read out loud with the story patterns. The Skin You Live In is another wonderful story to add to a classroom collection to teach a unit on acceptance and differences. During large group instruction, students can brainstorm all of the adventures they go on “in their skin”. Students can also have an opportunity for independent practice and create their own journal entries about adventures in their own skin and have an opportunity to share with the class if desired.
All of the books compiled in this annotated bibliography would be a great addition to any classroom library to teach young students ages Pre-Kindergarten to Third Grade about acceptance and differences (global diversity). Specifically, We Are All Alike…We Are All Different, I Like Me!, The Crayon Box that Talked, The Name Jar, and The Colors Of Us could be used for a social studies or literature unit or lesson.
These five stories address a variety of differences while also celebrating all of the things students like about themselves. In the beginning of the unit, the story We Are All Alike…We Are All Different can be read to introduce the theme to the class. Brainstorming what diversity is and after the book is read, specific similarities and differences within the classroom of students. The class can work on compiling their own book together about differences and similarities in the classroom as a long term project. I Like Me! Can be used for a writing lesson as a prompt before students write. Students can create their own free write or journal entries about all of the things they like about themselves. Students can also create “I Like Me” posters and each week a different student can be assigned to share their poster and it can be displayed throughout the class. The Name Jar, and The Colors Of Us can be used to address diversity and acceptance from a cultural aspect for a social studies lesson. Both stories touch on cultural differences, which can introduce a research project to the class about finding out about their own cultures or even researching what their names mean. The class can plan a special cultural day and celebrate with food, clothing, songs, dancing etc. Finally, The Crayon Box that Talked summarizes that everyone is different but when we work together we are much better off as one, celebrating all of unique qualities. This story can conclude the unit with a whole class discussion about how the class has come together despite all of the differences.