Pram Jam with Beth – Introducing Diversity to Babies

With all that is going on in the world right now, I’m finding it hard to watch the news. Really, really hard. Reading articles online from trustworthy websites or even listening to the news is better, but I feel like maybe that’s a cop out. I’m wanting to shield my kids from the realities of all the pain and suffering that is going on, but at the same time, I want to raise informed, conscious children who can grow into empathetic and progressive adults. So how do we find a balance? What do we say to these little humans, to encourage their curious minds to think critically and react with generosity of heart?

two young children share a book on the floor

Sharing books with a sibling is a great way of building tolerance, and patience, and love… yup…  Picture credit:  Image by christ Poe from Pixabay

In truth, I have no more answers to these questions than you do, in fact, I would love to hear your own thoughts!

For my part, I want to suggest some board book titles that you can start sharing with your babies from birth, in the hopes that reading about and seeing a wide cross-section of cultures, appearances and practices, may help them grow into caring, loving adults.

I know, and you know, that books are not enough. As our babies grow we need to keep having discussions. No newborn is born racist, and it’s up to us to guide our babies to grow into socially aware children and adults. Some of the topics that we keep in mind when talking with our children include:

  • systemic poverty
  • generational unemployment
  • inequalities in access to health care and education
  • prejudices and inequalities, including with interactions with authorities
  • cultural appropriation and appreciation
  • climate change
  • differences in cultural expectations

It’s hard to imagine having such in depth conversations, yes. But babies grow quickly into toddlers, then preschoolers, and before you know it you will have a 6-year-old who wants to know why his classmate’s hair is different, or why another doesn’t have lunch, why this friend travels to see family or doesn’t live with mum and dad. Understanding that many Australians come from different cultures will make these conversations easier, and that is where these early books come into play.

Multi Cultural Board Books at Cockburn Libraries

Upsy-daisy, baby! / written by Susan Hughes ; illustrated by Ashley Barron.

Around the world, little ones are carried in many different ways: in slings, on shoulders, in backpacks, on hips, in baskets and in loving arms. Upsy-daisy baby! depicts ten places around the world, from Afghanistan to northern Canada, Peru to West Africa. In each place, baby is carried by a loving relative. With various family configurations and settings the book wholeheartedly celebrates diversity. Gorgeous cut-paper collage art adds colour, and brings the lyrical text to life. Babywearing is such a universal parenting tool and we love to see babies held safely and lovingly, in culturally appropriate ways. In Western Australia we have the wonderful volunteers at Babywearers WA as a resource for all things babywearing.

Cover image for : Upsy-daisy, baby! / written by Susan Hughes ; illustrated by Ashley Barron.
Cover Image for: Baby goes to market / Atinuke, Angela Brooksbank.

Baby goes to market / Atinuke, Angela Brooksbank.

Join Baby and his doting mama at a bustling southwest Nigerian marketplace for a bright, bouncy read-aloud offering a gentle introduction to numbers. Another wonderful babywearing book showing a mother wearing baby in a traditional kanga or kitenge, this colourful book is a delight.

Baby’s first Chinese New Year / editor, Sally Beets ; design and illustration by Eleanor Bates and Kitty Glavin.

Introducing our babies to cultures other than our own is a wonderful way to raise their awareness around differing family lives. The bright and colourful images in this book are the perfect way to discover the new year holiday traditions together. From colourful lanterns, to beautiful traditional clothes, to special animals that each year is named after, Baby’s First Chinese New Year features all the familiar favourites associated with Asia’s biggest and brightest celebration.

Cover image for : Baby's first Chinese New Year / editor, Sally Beets ; design and illustration by Eleanor Bates and Kitty Glavin.
Cover Image for: All kinds of people / Shelley Rotner & Sheila M. Kelly.

All kinds of people / Shelley Rotner & Sheila M. Kelly.

A colourful exploration of diversity for toddlers. Cocoa, tan, rose and almond–people come in lots of shades. Even in the same family there are differences. With vibrant photographs of children and a short but astute text, this charming book will inspire young readers to take notice–and look beyond the obvious. This is a great title to point out our own self-identifying features, as well as those of friends and family members.

Día de los Muertos / by Hannah Eliot ; illustrated by Jorge Gutierrez.

At the end of October each year, its time to celebrate an ancient tradition: Dia de los Muertos! With vibrant illustrations by Golden Globe winning Mexican illustrator Jorge Gutierrez, this festive board book teaches that Dia de los Muertos honours ancestors and loved ones who have passed. From sugar skulls to papel picado, this is a holiday that truly commemorates the cycle of life. Hannah Eliot also features as the author of the following board book, How do you say I love you?, see below, as well as the board book Ramadan; which introduces the Muslim holiday, discussing the ways in which it is celebrated and why it is important.

Cover image for : Día de los Muertos / by Hannah Eliot ; illustrated by Jorge Gutierrez.
Cover Image for: How do you say I love you? / by Hannah Eliot ; illustrated by Shirley Ng-Benitez.

How do you say I love you? / by Hannah Eliot ; illustrated by Shirley Ng-Benitez.

It may sound different around the world, but the meaning is the same! Learn how to say “I love you” in ten different languages and celebrate the diverse languages of love. The settings of each location range from a bit touristy to very sweet, but the benefits outweigh the negatives in this title – it’s very cute.

The wheels on the bus go round and round and round and round

The Wheels on the Bus rhyme page

Cultures all over the world rely on public transport in some form and I think that The Wheels on the Bus is one of the most universal songs that we can sing with our babies. The babies at Pram Jam all seem to enjoy bumping along on their virtual bus trips!

Just for fun, here is a version of The Wheels on the Bus which includes Auslan key words. Remember that Youtube is a wonderful site to find lots of different rhyme videos to hold you over until we can resume our Pram Jams in person. Hopefully it won’t be too much longer!

I’m missing seeing my Pram Jam families every week, but I am so relieved that the situation with Covid-19 here in Australia seems to be well controlled. I worry for my own family and friends overseas and send best wishes to all of your relatives abroad as well – I know that many of you must be deeply concerned, between the health concerns, economic impact and social justice protests, we are in a time of great unrest. Hold your babies close and keep singing xx