Diversity: How to Help Kids See Themselves and Others in the Bible

A list of diverse children's books

I have come to understand through years of teaching, both inside and outside the church, that when children see themselves reflected in the books they read, they have a deeper connection to the text. If you are a parent, a Sunday school teacher or are leading a classroom of children of different races and ethnicities, having a collection of books that adequately reflect diversity is vital for their understanding of the Scriptures and our shared unity in Christ.

Below are two resources that can help you prepare for Sunday School lessons or ensure your home library has books about the Bible that reflect your family’s experience and the experience of others. Literary experts call these books “window and mirror books”—books in which children can see themselves reflected and books from which they can learn about others.

A Diverse Book Collection Checklist

I’d like to invite you to look at your classroom library or your children’s collection of books with fresh eyes and do this simple, yet impactful, critique of your collection (Adapted from Lee & Low 8 Steps to Creating a Diverse Book Collection).

  • Does your collection include books with characters of color?
  • Does your collection assume biblical characters were Caucasian?
  • Does your collection include books with both female and male characters?
  • Does it include books with a main character of color? What about characters with disabilities?
  • Does it include books written or illustrated by a person of color? Of different nationalities or Christian experiences?
  • Are there any books with a person of color on the cover?
  • Does your list provide a mix of “mirror” books and “window” books for your students?

The truth is, not many books that feature characters of color are published per year. But trends are changing; in 2016, only 8.1% of children’s books featured African American characters and 4.8% featured Latino/Hispanic characters.

If, like me, taking this checklist to your collection was eye-opening, there is something you can do about it. Request books for your Sunday School classroom that meet more criteria on this list. Purchase books for your home that are more culturally inclusive—when we choose to purchase these kinds of books, we create demand for more diverse books to be published. This can change the publishing world as we know it!

A Diverse Book Collection

Below is a curated list of books that have diverse characters or are inclusive of different genders and experiences. While the books on this list celebrate our differences, they also celebrate the complete Christian story and what we have in common—our Savior, Jesus Christ.

Storybook Bible

The Children of God Storybook Bible by Archbishop Desmond Tutu

4-8 years

August 14, 2010

This vibrant storybook Bible was illustrated by 20 artists from around the world. Because the illustrators are of different races and backgrounds (Xiao Xin, Javaka Steptoe, Frank Morrison to name a few!) the images in this “global Bible” more accurately reflect the world we live in.

The Read and Learn Bible (Spanish)

3-8 years

September 1, 2007

When children engage the Bible in their heart language, the Scriptures become more applicable to their daily lives. The Lee y Aprende (Read and Learn) Bible features stories from the Old and New Testaments, including: Noah and the Flood, Daniel in the Lion’s Den, the Nativity, Jesus the Teacher, and many more. This Bible includes Parent Guides so Spanish-speaking children can enjoy it with their parents.

Picture Books

Let There Be Light by Desmond Tutu

4-8 years | December 2, 2014

A beautifully illustrated retelling of God’s Creation story for early elementary students. This version of a well-known story focuses on God’s great love for us. (I highly recommend pairing this with Nancy Tillman’s book, Wherever You Are My Love Will Find You, which reads like a love letter from our heavenly Father.)

Sunday is for God by Michael McGowan

4-8 years | January 26, 2010

A sweet and personal account of a little boy struggling with the need to go to church every Sunday when there is so much playing he could be doing! A relatable message for all children on the importance of the Sabbath and the reason for church.

When God Made You by Matthew Paul Turner

3-7 years | February 29. 2017

When God Made You is a rhyming book with fantastic illustrations that are sure to inspire young children about how special they are to God. This story will go perfectly with many from the Bible, especially to supplement the story of creation and why God chose to make us in his image.

Christian Songs

He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands by Kadir Nelson

4-8 years | September 8, 2005

Kadir Nelson, one of our generation’s most-loved illustrators, takes a well-known song and creates an interpretation through images of a young black boy and his family trusting God to care for all that they hold dear. The prophet Isaiah says that God spreads out the heavens as a tent and the nations are like a drop in the bucket (see Isaiah 40). Only God is able to hold the whole world in his hands.

We Shall Overcome: The Story of a Song by Debbie Levy

6-9 years | December 17, 2013

A wonderfully illustrated book (Vanessa Brantley-Newton) that pays tribute to the history of the song, “We Shall Overcome.” Its origins are said to be derived from Galatians 6:9, and shows its importance in our country’s continued fight against racism and inequality.

Let it Shine by Ashley Bryan

4-8 years | January 9, 2007

Ashley Bryan’s colorful illustrations will captivate the hearts of your students as you sing along to the well-known tune of “This Little Light of Mine.” The song signals to Matthew 5:14-16 (ESV), “You are the light of the world,” reminding our children of the impact they have when they share their faith with others.

Women and the Bible

Grit and Grace: Heroic Women of the Bible by Caryn Rivadeneira

8-12 years | August 15, 2017

Each chapter of this book shines light on a heroic female from the Bible. Each woman’s story is written from the heroine’s perspective so that young girls (and boys!) can fully grasp what it might have been like for her. There are prompts to “get the full story” in Scripture as well as response questions to “think about it” at the end of each chapter. This would be a great resource for middle school-age students.

I hope that these resources encourage you to grow your diverse book collection at home or at church. All of these books are available online. If you need support in purchasing books for your church or school, build an online giving campaign and collect donations from family and friends. It takes an entire community of believers to ensure our children get the best opportunity to understand Scripture and apply it to their lives.

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Lauren Popp
Lauren Popp

Lauren Popp is a Project Associate at American Bible Society. She graduated from Temple University with a BA in Journalism/Print Communications in 2011. Upon graduating, she found herself teaching and training teachers-in-training on how to grow literacy skills and a love of books for their students at a non-profit called Tree House Books. You can find her writing about diverse books for children of all ages on her blog, Juniper Ave.

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