The best children’s books that create a sense of belonging

Who am I?

I’ve published many books for children, but this one is truly special. The Everybody Club is a collaboration with my dear friend Linda Hayen in memory of her daughter, Carissa. As a child, Carissa started a real-life Everybody Club. The first members were toys, dolls, the family cat, and her brothers, one of whom had severe disabilities. Carissa died in a car accident at the age of 16, and this book is Linda’s way of sharing her daughter’s generous spirit with the world. A note for adults at the end of the book shares this backstory.


I wrote...

The Everybody Club

By Nancy Loewen, Linda Hayen, Yana Zybina (illustrator)

Book cover of The Everybody Club

What is my book about?

The Everybody Club is a feel-good rhyming read-aloud. It's a book with plenty of heart and a powerful message: We belong. Every one of us. Join in the fun and see what the Everybody Club is up to in this catchy, joyful romp for young readers!

The books I picked & why

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I Walk with Vanessa: A Story About a Simple Act of Kindness

By Kerascoët,

Book cover of I Walk with Vanessa: A Story About a Simple Act of Kindness

Why this book?

Kindness multiplies. These words (from the endnotes) come to life in the stirring story portrayed in I Walk With Vanessa: A Story About a Simple Act of Kindness. The new girl in school is bullied, but another girl’s decision to walk her to school creates a community outpouring of empathy—and joy. The story itself has no words, but the illustrations offer many opportunities for discovery and discussion. One of my all-time favorites!


Ways to Welcome

By Linda Ashman, Joey Chou (illustrator),

Book cover of Ways to Welcome

Why this book?

So often we address the “what” and “why” but not the “how.” Ways to Welcome is all about the “how.” Just how can we make others feel included? I love the specific examples in this book—from waves, smiles, and “hellos” to cups of tea, bouquets of flowers, and retrieving a lost hat. We even see ways we can welcome dogs, bees, and birds. The rhyming text is buoyant, and the illustrations are bold and bright. This book positively exudes warmth!


Circle Round

By Anne Sibley O'Brien, Hanna Cha (illustrator),

Book cover of Circle Round

Why this book?

What can a circle be? It can be a ball, a bike tire, a bubble, a cookie, a balloon… A circle can also be people joined together in the spirit of love and acceptance. Circle Round has few words, but the illustrations pull readers into a world full of activity and fun. It’s a counting book that is both playful and profound. 

At the end of the book, I felt I was part of the circle myself.


Lovely

By Jess Hong,

Book cover of Lovely

Why this book?

“Different, weird, and wonderful”—this is how the author describes “lovely,” and I think that’s a great description of the book itself. Lovely is quirky and bold and puts a different spin on the usual tropes. For example, “black” shows a fair-skinned woman in a black ensemble, holding a black umbrella (a goth Mary Poppins!) and “white” shows a black woman with flowing white hair and striking white eyebrows. I especially loved the hairy leg with fancy, pearl-draped shoes and the prosthetic leg with sporty shoes. There’s even a character with a monobrow that spells “lovely.” And bonus points for using the fun word “stompy”!


Change Sings: A Children's Anthem

By Amanda Gorman, Loren Long (illustrator),

Book cover of Change Sings: A Children's Anthem

Why this book?

Written by Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman, the text of Change Sings is particularly dense with poetic devices such as assonance and rhyme. The story is in the illustrations, and it’s a powerful one. A girl with a guitar meets a boy with a tuba, and gradually they are joined by others, who are given instruments as well. As the band grows, the characters do all sorts of community-building tasks, such as picking up garbage, building a wheelchair ramp, and painting a mural. The illustrations are rich and deep. Many books with the theme of inclusion are meant for younger readers, but I think Change Sings would be an especially good choice for sharing this theme with older readers.


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