Inexpensive Multicultural Gifts

If you're anything like me right now, you're budget is feelin' it. books I haven't bought traditional toys for Christmas in a really long time -- years, I would say. I've mostly been buying books as gifts for people. And, even then, we're moving into much more environmental consciousness and moving away from print books. So, while I now buy less books for adults, I do still tend to buy books for the children on my holiday shopping list. I think that kids still really like the tactile feel of books, enjoy looking at the pictures on paper (rather than on the computer screen or downloaded copies on an iPod), and caretakers can easily pack them for a car ride.

If you're looking for some great gifts for kids, and want to do some educational exposure on the side, here are some of my favorite books to give and to read.

Note: While I could certainly use the kick-back income, I get nothing from these folks in terms of financial compensation, so this is truly a financially unbiased list (but, hey, if any of you are the authors of this book, a comment or shout-out would be well appreciated!).

Hyperion and Jump At the Sun (JATS) books

Good for ages 2-6. I bought nearly every one of the "classic fairytale" books. My family already owned the ones with all white characters and I was thrilled to know the same stories were being told with Black characters, too. I love them because we can mix up the same stories with different racial characters being shown. My kids have visions of princes and princesses being BOTH Black and White. The books are inexpensive - $3.50 for most of the paperback JATS classic fairy tale books.

Hyperion's Motown Series (use the same link as above)

Adorable. Simply put. These are good board books as gifts for infants/parents. They just take the words from popular Motown songs but show a range of diversity in the pictures of the babies that are being shown. It's rare to find a board book that features a range of skin colors, and this is one of those rare gems. These are about $7 each.

Teaching For Change books (

Just note: the website is but my hotlink goes to their webstore.

Africa is Not a Country by Margy Burns Knight is what you expect. This probably would have been a good 39 page read for Palin.... good purchase for 2+ years old.

Amazing Grace and Boundless Grace by Mary Hoffman is read in my house at least 1x a week at the request of my kids. It's a cute story of Grace, a go-gettin' little gal, who follows her dreams. She's raised by her Mom and Grandmother in the first book but then travels to Africa in the second book to be with her dad.

I Love My Hair by Natasha Tarplay is one that I like to pick at least once every few weeks. I have stick straight hair. My 5 year old daughter has curly, curly, curly hair. So, it's hard for her to relate to me when it comes time to brush, condition, braid, re-condition, etc. hair. She loves this book, though, because she "has hair like the girl." One of my favorites.

Keep Your Ear on the Ball by Genevive Petrillo and Lea Lyon is another one of my favorites. And, in a list that's dominated here by topics mostly related to girl characters, this is a boy-centered one. My daughter, who is partially blind, loves this because she likes that the boy does everything the other kids do. Seriously great book.

And Tango Makes Three by Peter Parnell is a book we haven't purchased yet but I've read it in the store. It's a beautiful story about 2 male penguins who take care of an abandoned egg and raise the chick. For people who aren't quite comfortable yet discussing gay families, this is a nice introduction to the idea that "parents" aren't just opposite sex parents.

Grace for President by Kelly Dipuccio is a great book that really focuses on the gender piece of politics. And, Grace is Black. But, what people (and I) love about the book is that Grace-being-Black is never addressed. She's just Grace. A girl. Who wants to run for President. My girls love this book.

Lola in the Library by Anne Mcquinn is another great book that just simply is about a little girl in a library. Lola is Black. But, the story is about her experience in the library. Another favorite one in my house.

Those are just a few suggestions from my own library (okay, and one that I just read in the store!). I know there are adoptive parents who read this blog, single parents, same sex parents, etc. PLEASE leave a comment about other resources, books, toys, etc. that you have given/will give/received that were both wallet-friendly as well as diversity/education focused!

Nursery Rhymes

Got inspired by my buddies over at Anti-Racist Parent with this one about nursery rhymes and the racial undertones (and overt messages) of many of them. I realized I had a post in "draft" form about my family's visit to Storyland. In all honesty, we did have a very fun time and will absolutely return there at some point (when gas prices go down, perhaps?).

But, imagine our surprise when one of the first exhibits we saw was this:

 Funny.. this isn't how I imagined "Little Miss Muffett's" spider when I read that story.



Just when we thought it couldn't get any worse, we went to the next exhibit and saw this:

I had never ever heard of this nursery rhyme, but apparently there is one about a young Indian boy named "Sambo". What was most disturbing interesting was when a white mother was reading the nursery rhyme (posted next to the cut out figure with brown hands) and the words "Sambo" just floated off her lips effortlessly. From Wikipedia:

The Story of Little Black Sambo, a children's book by Helen Bannerman, a Scot living in India, was first published in London in 1899. In the tale, an Indian boy named Sambo prevails over a group of hungry tigers. The little boy has to give his colorful new clothes, shoes, and umbrella to four tigers so they will not eat him. Sambo recovers the clothes when the jealous, conceited tigers chase each other around a tree until they are reduced to a pool of delicious melted butter. The story was a children's favorite for half a century, but then became controversial due to the use of the word sambo, a racial slur in some countries.[1].

My husband and I are pretty good-humored anti-racists, so we went on a quest to find ANY positive images of people of color at Storyland. Here's what we found:

That's right. The only dark skinned positive character is a guard .. and you really had to look to find him!

So, back to nursery rhymes ... we routinely change the words to nursery rhymes with our kids. We won't sing that "Rock-a-bye-baby" song, instead opting to create individual songs for each of our children. Even, "Ring around the Rosie" gets some lyric changes, too.

It's amazing how much violence, racism and sexism is ingrained in these songs that we have memorized and then teach our own children. Now, not to be mistaken - we don't totally innoculate our children just for the sake of doing so. And, yes, "we turned out fine."

When my kids were born, we asked that people not give us toys but rather books. Naturally, we received a number of "Children's First Nursery Rhymes" type books. I had put them away until recently when I started working with my 4-year old on reading skills. Well, I found that we had to get rid of the books because *I* (not she) was freaked out by the messages. How many more times did some one have to get eaten by a random wild animal? How many times did we have to read about bullying and manipulating others?

We do read the stories but process them a little differently.

  • "So, kids, how do you think that wolf felt when no one wanted to let him in?"
  • "Why do you think that 'troll' under the bridge won't let the goats pass?" "
  • "If the wolf wanted that little girl's basket of cookies, do you think she would have given it to him if he asked nicely?"
  • "If you are sitting and eating your cereal, and along came a spider, would you be scared?"

We recently bought the Jump at the Sun series books that have African American lead characters, and those are pretty much the only ones we'll read at our house. We also have other neat books like "Dim Sum for Everyone". Drop me a note if you have some well-written multicultural children's books, will ya?