The best children’s picture books that uniquely portray children figuring out their place in the world

Who am I?

As someone straddling multiple cultures, growing up everywhere and belonging nowhere, I know what it feels like to not fit in. I know what it feels like to want to hide parts of yourself so you can fit in. And so, as a picture book writer and a Kindergarten teacher, I'm always looking for books that share stories about children trying to figure out their place in the world. I didn't have those books growing up. What a difference that would have made in my own journey. The books that I picked are unique in the way they portray belonging. I hope you love these gems as much as I do!


I wrote...

American Desi

By Jyoti Rajan Gopal, Supriya Kelkar (illustrator),

Book cover of American Desi

What is my book about?

A young girl longs to know where she fits in: Is she American? Or is she Indian? Does she have to pick or can she be both? American Desi celebrates the experiences of young children growing up first and second-generation Indian American: straddling the two cultural worlds they belong to, embracing all they love of both worlds, and refusing to be limited by either.

The books I picked & why

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Your Mama

By NoNieqa Ramos, Jacqueline Alcántara (illustrator),

Book cover of Your Mama

Why this book?

I absolutely adore this book for its poetic voice and sassiness. It turns the “yo mama” joke into a joyful ode. With sprinkles of Spanish, imagery that pops and sizzles, and a rhythm that begs to be read again and again, Your Mama celebrates Latinx moms, and strong, confident, proud, single mothers everywhere. The illustrations are just gorgeous with vibrant tattoo motifs and fonts. This is a beautiful love letter to the mother and daughter family unit as a thriving, driving force, and I book talk this to whomever, whenever I can!

Your Mama

By NoNieqa Ramos, Jacqueline Alcántara (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Your Mama as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A sweet twist on the age-old "yo mama" joke, celebrating fierce moms everywhere with playful lyricism and gorgeous illustrations. Perfect for Mother's Day. Yo' mama so sweet, she could be a bakery. She dresses so fine, she could have a clothing line. And, even when you mess up, she's so forgiving, she lets you keep on living. Heartwarming and richly imagined, Your Mama twists an old joke into a point of pride that honors the love, hard work, and dedication of mamas everywhere. AGES: 4 to 7 AUTHOR: NoNieqa Ramos is an educator who wrote the THE DISTURBED GIRL'S DICTIONARY,…

I Talk Like a River

By Jordan Scott, Sydney Smith (illustrator),

Book cover of I Talk Like a River

Why this book?

This book swept me into its pages like the very river that embodies the boy’s voice in this story. When the author tells us that certain letters “tangle my tongue” or grow “roots inside my mouth”, the painful realities of having a stutter are made poignantly clear. This tender, moving story is not just for those who stutter but just as importantly, for those who don’t. It brought home to me in such an eloquent way the isolation that can come from being unable to speak with fluency and the power of acceptance to counteract that isolation. I love how it gently reminds us to honor the different ways we speak and frames it with such beautiful language. An absolute gem of a book in every way.

I Talk Like a River

By Jordan Scott, Sydney Smith (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked I Talk Like a River as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


Gibberish

By Young Vo,

Book cover of Gibberish

Why this book?

I love Gibberish for the brilliant way that Voh portrays how it feels to be the new kid at school, in a new country, with a new language. It’s a familiar story arc but told in such a unique way! Voh’s use of speech bubbles and emojis to represent the new language as gibberish is such a powerful tool to convey the confusion of the unfamiliar. I love how easily children relate to the text and the images—and in so doing, connect with the new kid. Masterfully done, I highly recommend this!

Gibberish

By Young Vo,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Gibberish as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

It's Dat's first day of school in a new country! Dat and his Mah made a long journey to get here, and Dat doesn't know the language. To Dat, everything everybody says - from the school bus driver to his new classmates - sounds like gibberish. How is Dat going to make new friends if they can't understand each other?
Luckily there's a friendly girl in Dat's class who knows that there are other ways to communicate, besides just talking. Could she help make sense of the gibberish?

Drawn Together

By Minh Lê, Dan Santat (illustrator),

Book cover of Drawn Together

Why this book?

A young boy and his grandfather are thrown together for the afternoon. They are both lost for words—the grandfather does not speak English and the boy does not speak Thai. What I love about this book is how the spare text in this story manages to speak volumes and the gorgeous, evocative illustrations illuminate their relationship. The language gap and culture gap seems to loom between them. And yet…. unexpectedly, a sketchbook ignites a silent conversation as the two draw their way to a new understanding of and connection to each other. It’s a heartfelt storyso relatablethat beautifully depicts an age-old immigrant experience, the sometimes painful cultural alienation between older and younger generations.

Drawn Together

By Minh Lê, Dan Santat (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Drawn Together as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


Lubna and Pebble

By Wendy Meddour, Daniel Egnéus (illustrator),

Book cover of Lubna and Pebble

Why this book?

Such a tenderly written refugee story. I’ve included this picture book because it offers a gentle but much-needed glimpse into the lives of refugee children and reminds us how we all, but especially those who are fleeing their homelands through no fault of their own, seek a place to belong. Through Pebble, Lubna reminds us that we all need someone who sees and accepts us without judgment and with unconditional love. And that we can also be that person for someone else. Such a joy to read!

Lubna and Pebble

By Wendy Meddour, Daniel Egnéus (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Lubna and Pebble as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In an unforgettable story that subtly addresses the refugee crisis, a young girl must decide if friendship means giving up the one item that brings her comfort during a time of utter uncertainty.

Lubna's best friend is a pebble. Pebble always listens to her stories. Pebble always smiles when she feels scared. But when a lost little boy arrives in the World of Tents, Lubna realizes that he needs Pebble even more than she does.

This emotionally stirring and stunningly illustrated picture book explores one girl's powerful act of friendship in the midst of an unknown situation.

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