Board books starring children of color

This list is a combination of depressing and uplifting. Depressing, because the selection of board books with children of color at their center is truly limited. Uplifting, because many of the individual titles are fantastic. This is one where I will really really appreciate tips on other books that fit the criteria--remember, board only, not picture books, and focused on one particular child of color, not just inclusive. This list is intended for very young kids, 0-3. 

It's important for all kids to see themselves reflected in story--if your child hasn't seen a kid in a book who looks like the one in the mirror yet, keep looking. The payoff can be striking. Photo books (Global Babies, American Babies) and books you make yourself from family photos are starting points if there isn't a satisfactory storybook published. Once your baby graduates to picture books, you are almost certain to find something great--there are links at the bottom of the page to get you started there.

It's just as important that children see kids who don't look like them in the starring role too. Narrative is one way to learn to identify with other people. If all the stories we hear are about people who look one way, that becomes a default. It increases the perception that people who look different are "other." That's damaging to everyone.  

The books here are great for all kids, but I have divided the list up to match the apparent race of the protagonist to help if you're looking to mirror a particular child. I try to mention age and gender where they're defined for the same reason.

This is a running list. Asterisks* denote family favorites. Links, where present, are Amazon affiliate/indie bookstore. Please send any suggestions to letitstand@gmail.com or @drivelanddrool. 

Last updated: August 2017

Black kids

  • *Please Baby Please (Amazon/Indiebound): The rhythm and repetition of the baby-pleases means this one sometimes has to be read three times in a row. Toddler girl with primarily mom. 
  • *Girl of Mine (Amazon/Indiebound): A singsong bedtime celebration of a toddler girl, sung by her dad. LeUyen Pham’s illustrations are adorable. The rhythm of the text leaves me a little wrong-footed though.
  • Peekaboo Morning (Amazon/Indiebound): A small child finds Mommy and Daddy, among plenty of other peekaboo targets. The baby could be a boy or a girl. There are also two sequels, Peekaboo Bedtime and Uh-Oh, available as picture books. 
  • *Ten, Nine, Eight (Amazon/Indiebound): A counting backward book about getting ready for bed. Features a girl somewhere between 2-5 and her father.
  • I Am So Brave! (Amazon/Indiebound): A toddler boy talks about what he used to be afraid of, and how he conquered those fears. Part of the Empowerment Series, which also has a story about a black toddler girl, I Know a Lot (Amazon/Indiebound). 
  • Whose Toes Are Those?  (Amazon/Indiebound): A song about sweet little brown toes, which turn out to belong to a toddler girl.
  • Whose Knees Are These? (Amazon/Indiebound): A celebration of some excellent knees, belonging to a toddler boy.
  • I Can Do It Too! (Amazon/Indiebound): A toddler girl revels in new skills, like pouring juice and dressing herself, just like the big people in the family. 
  • Jacob Lawrence in the City (Amazon/Indiebound): A collection of Jacob Lawrence’s paintings (depicting black people at daily tasks during the 1930s) with text added to celebrate city life. Text flow is a bit clunky. 
  • Whistle for Willie (Amazon/Indiebound): Featuring Peter, who also stars in The Snowy Day (Wintertime setting) and Peter’s Chair (about a new sister), among others. These are lovely but originally meant as picture books, not board books, and thus aimed at a slightly older audience. A little simplification and improvisation on the text can suit them to a younger crowd.
  • Corduroy (Amazon/Indiebound): Technically the stuffed bear is the protagonist, but Lisa (the 6-7ish year old girl who takes Corduroy home) is the love interest. There are several in the series. 
  • More More More Said the Baby (Amazon/Indiebound): The second protagonist is a black toddler with a doting white grandma. Hard to get a small kid to sit through all three stories but one or two at a run go over well. 
  • Charlie Parker Played Be Bop (Amazon/Indiebound): An odd one and a picture book conversion, but tries to translate the experience of jazz to the page via nonsense and rhythm. Features grown-up Charlie Parker but mostly just pictures of stuff. 

Asian kids

  • *Boy of Mine, Jabari Asim (Amazon/Indiebound): a singsong bedtime celebration of a toddler boy (Asian, sung by mom). LeUyen Pham’s illustrations are adorable and the text is sweet. Beware demands for repeated readings. 
  • Bringing in the New Year (Amazon/Indiebound): A book about Chinese New Year featuring a Chinese-American girl protagonist and her family (MC seems to be 4-6 or so). Fold-out dragon at the end! Grace Lin also has several picture books featuring these characters, based on her own family. This means mostly no little boys, however, as she only has sisters.
  • Snow White (Once Upon a World) (Amazon/Indiebound): The Grimms' story of Snow White, set in Japan. Illustrations are aiming to reference ink-brush technique. 
  • Little You (Amazon/Indiebound): A spare and loving celebration of what a new person means to his or her family. Described online as featuring an Asian family but author and illustrator are both First Nations so may be ethnically ambiguous. 
  • Toddler Two (Amazon/Indiebound): All about the pairs of things a boy and girl toddler can explore. Illustrated in an unusual felt collage style.
  • More More More Said the Baby (Amazon/Indiebound): The third protagonist is an Asian toddler with a cuddly mama. Hard to get a small kid to sit through all three stories but one or two at a run go over well. 
  • I Love You Like Crazy Cakes (Amazon/Indiebound): A story of a single white woman adopting a baby girl from China, this is a picture book also available in board book format.

 South Asian Kids

  • Rapunzel (Once Upon a World) (Amazon/Indiebound): The Grimms' fairy tale, told straight but set in India. Cheery illustrations reference mehndi-style vines, borders, and leaves and impart a sense of motion to the story about a lovely princess and the handsome prince who climbs her tower to see her. I edit out most of the romance when I read this one but it's not too hard to do on the fly. 
  • Padmini Is Powerful (Amazon/Indiebound): A little girl is wise like Ganesh, creative like Sarasvati, and compared to a number of other Hindu gods. 

Hispanic kids

  • Fiesta! (Amazon/Indiebound): A bilingual counting book about a group of kids preparing for a party (Seems like in Mexican/Central American setting).
  • Siesta! (Amazon/Indiebound): A brother and sister collect a bunch of different-colored items from their house in two languages, on a mysterious mission.
  • Besos for Baby: A Little Book of Kisses (Amazon/Indiebound): A dark-haired little girl gets besos from her mami, papi, the wind, etc. Text plays with both languages but primarily English. 
  • Cinderella (Once Upon a World) (Amazon/Indiebound): The Grimms' fairy tale, told straight and set in Mexico with bright, expressive, depthless illustrations that recall Frida Kahlo crossed with cartoons. 
  • Whose Toes Are Those?  (Amazon/Indiebound): A song about sweet little brown toes, which turn out to belong to a toddler girl.
  • Swim! (Amazon/Indiebound): Features a brown-skinned boy and girl visiting the pool. Illustrations hit the uncanny valley for me, but the concept is fun. 
  • The Lil' Libros series focuses on Hispanic culture, including bilingual books focusing on Frida Kahlo, Celia Cruz, Emiliano Zapata, La Llorona, the Virgen of Guadalupe, and Lucha Libre, but there's no narrative, not much text, and the pictures are mostly just objects identified by shape, number, or color on the "theme" of the book's alleged subject. 

Native American/First Nations kids

  • *On Mother's Lap (Amazon/Indiebound): Michael, a three- or four-year-old child, piles everything imaginable on his mother's lap with him, but is sure there's no room for his baby sister. Of course, there is; this one is sweet and funny and has excellent detail and makes me tear up every time. The edition I have is 1992 illustrations set to text from 1972, and features a very simple interior in a cold environment; the family is identified as "Eskimo" by the cataloguing information. Comes in a Spanish/English bilingual edition.
  • Little You (Amazon/Indiebound): A spare and loving celebration of what a new person means to his or her family. Described online as featuring an Asian family but author and illustrator are both First Nations so may be ethnically ambiguous.
  • Mama, Do You Love Me? (Amazon/Indiebound): A picture book available in board book form featuring an Alaskan Inuit mother and daughter. 
  • *Baby Beluga (Amazon/Indiebound): The board book version of the Raffi song. Characters are mostly arctic animals, but features a fur-hooded kayaker (seems like a preteen or teen girl) who sleeps in an igloo.
  • Thunder Boy Jr. (Amazon/Indiebound): A picture book aimed at slightly older kids but gorgeously illustrated and newly released with a stated age range of 2-5. The story of Little Thunder (4-5), who wants a name of his own, and his dad. If the hardcover does well a board book might follow. 

As of this writing, I have not found any board books with main characters of other ethnicities. Still looking. Mixed-race kids are included in some of the above books but given the difficulty of determining the author and illustrator's intent there I have not called it out. It's much more common in picture books (see lists at I'm Not The Nanny, What Do We Do All Day?).

See also:

ColoursofUs has specific recommendations by ethnicity and age from baby and toddler all through high school, and they are incredibly easy to use too. 

Sprout's Bookshelf has this list of 39 diverse board books as well as good reading in general. 

Pragmatic Mom's diversity lists, featuring multicultural board books and linking to excellent categorized lists of picture books by culture and topic (immigration, etc.) for the older set. 

Illustrator Eileen Brown collected a list of lovely multicultural picture books for The Guardian

School Library Journal's under-5 diversity list includes different family types, abilities, and ethnicities. 

The Global Baby series has no stories, but most babies do seem to enjoy looking at pictures of other babies.