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12 Picture Books That Encourage Cultural Awareness

In my early years I remember knowing my dad was from Mexico but that was about it. We had never known the language or anything of our heritage. When I was 10 years old my family packed up and moved to Mexico for two plus years. At the time, it was hard being away from family and all we ever had known, but now, I can look back and see what a beautiful experience it was and how fortunate we were to be immersed in a different culture.

To experience the beauty of the culture and the language. To discover my heritage. 

Now, as a mother, I see and feel the importance of passing down the heritage, culture, and history to my children. I want them to experience not just our own culture and heritage, but the diverse cultures across the globe. Living in rural Iowa with a limited budget, that task can seem impossible! But it is possible—through the power of books! 

I’ve compiled a list of the top 12 picture books I feel every child should read in order to open their eyes to the cultural diversity of the world. These all have beautiful story-lines and imaginative illustrations. They’ll give you a glimpse into other cultures and show diversity in an approachable way that children can comprehend.

Tap-Tap by Karen Lynn Williams

My husband ordered Tap-Tap for my daughter after he returned from a trip to Haiti. He had taken many pictures of Tap-Taps (their version of taxis) just for her. This is a book about a little girl who really wants to ride on a Tap-Tap but her mom doesn’t think she is ready.

I Love Saturday’s y Domingos by Alma Flor Ada

I Love Saturdays y Domingos  is a story about a girl who visits Grandma and Grandpa, who come from a European-American background, and on Sundays (Los Domingos) she visits Abuelito y Abuelita, who are Mexican-American. While the two sets of grandparents are different in many ways, they also have a great deal in common, like their love for their granddaughter.

Everybody Cooks Rice by Norah Dooley

Everybody Cooks Rice is about a little girl who has to track down her brother for supper. As she goes to each neighbor’s house (all from different parts of the world), she samples all the different foods. Though they are all different, they are all cooking the same thing. Rice!

The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson

The Other Side is one of our favorites! The pictures are beautiful and the story is so well written. Clover’s mom says it isn’t safe to cross the fence that segregates their African-American side of town from the white side where Anna lives. But the two girls strike up a friendship and get around the grown-ups’ rules by sitting on top of the fence together. (Another great book by this author is Each Kindness)

Henry’s Freedom Box by Ellen Levine

Henry’s Freedom Box is a true story from the underground railroad. Henry decides his way to freedom is to mail himself to the north. Another beautifully written and illustrated story. It is so important for our children to know the history of our country. (This one is my favorite)

Lala Salama: A Tanzanian Lullaby by  Patricia MacLachlan

Lala Salama is a  gentle story of an African family’s day from sunup to sundown. It really is a glimpse into a culture so different from our own.

New Shoes for Silvia by Johanna Hurwitz

In New Shoes For Silvia, a little girl receives a pair of red shoes from her aunt. They are beautiful in every way. They are also too big so her mom won’t let her wear them. Being grateful for a pair of shoes she can’t even wear leads Silvia to find many other interesting uses for her shoes until she can finally wear them!

The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi

The Name Jar is about a little girl whose family moves to America from Korea. To fit in with her peers, she tells her new classmates she doesn’t have a name and will choose another one. So they create “The Name Jar” and fill it with names. After a classmate discovers her real name and the beautiful meaning behind it, her new friend encourages her to keep her name.

Mama Elizabeti by Stephanie Stuve-Bodeen

Mama Elizabeti shows us that adjusting to a new sibling is hard no matter where you live!  This is sure to be a true classic that you and your kids will enjoy over and over. There is also a story about Elizabeti’s Doll and another of Elizabeti going to school. I had trouble deciding which one to highlight because they are all worth reading!

The Worry Stone by Marianna Dengler

The Worry Stone weaves together three tales about the way human lives are connected, despite distance and time. It pays homage to the first people of California’s Ojai Valley, the Chumash Indians, and the power of folktales spoken aloud. This book is a little longer than the others on the list and has a reading level of 3rd grade and up. However, I truly feel it is important to read a variety of books to children, including chapter books!  

Whoever You Are by Mem Fox

Whoever You Are is a beautiful celebration of all the world’s cultures. No matter who you are or where you are from, we all share the same joys, pain and love; and the blood running through our veins is the same.


Wangari’s Trees of Peace

We found this gem at our local library and it quickly became my daughters favorite. Based on a true story of a young girl growing up in Kenya, Wangari was surrounded by trees. But years later when she returns home, she is shocked to see whole forests being cut down, and she knows that soon all the trees will be destroyed. So Wangari decides to do something—and starts by planting nine seedlings in her own backyard


I know you will enjoy these books as much as we have!  My hope is that they will not only open doors for many wonderful questions and discussions with your children, but compel you to find more books that show your own heritage and history, and to open their eyes to more than just our small corner of the world.


In the last year we have made a conscious decision in our house to be mindful of the books we’ve brought into our home. We have been intentional about creating a cultural awareness using books! If your children are past the picture book stage I think they will still enjoy many of these.

If you are looking for a bigger list with age appropriate suggestions, I have found the perfect resource!  (Think “Honey For A Child’s Heart” but with stories from around the world!)

Give Your Child The World: Raising Globally Minded Kids One Book At A Time by Jamie C. Martin.


Each area of the world is divided up into ages. Under each age bracket you will find a whole list of books that are age appropriate. Some of the ones listed above are included. All the work of trying to find the perfect book is done for you! We have found many of the titles at our local library. The author has done an amazing job creating a resource that I know I will come back to again and again now and in years to come. I know you will too!





*These are NOT affiliated links. I am in no way being compensated for any of these reviews. I highly encourage you to check your local library first!


Did I miss one that you love? Comment below and share your favorite culture filled book!

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