Books featuring all body shapes

No longer do girls claim the sole attention of media bombardment when it comes to unrealistic, hyper-slim body images. All children, even those of proactive parents, receive a consistent message from birth: bodies that look like the ones we show you are valuable, and those that don’t are not. Unchecked, this message can have a devastating impact: not only will our kids believe it, they may grow up to be authors of that message themselves! I’ve curated a short list of picture and board books with characters of all shapes and sizes. My criteria:

  1. I wanted differently shaped characters who were just existing in their lives in the stories, not explicitly persuading the reader about body positivity. While a few of the titles below include that theme, I find body positivity books a bit easier to find and think it’s important for the subliminal messaging of the media to be combated or at least counterbalanced with the increased presence of diverse characters.
  2. I chose picture books and board books because they have pictures. Chapter books can be illustrated but this thin-obsessed imaging and tiny caricature illustration style are most prevalent in books with the most pictures.
  3. Books had to be written or crafted well to be included. This is non-negotiable for me. I was also looking in particular for books with heart-warming themes or experiences.
  4. Thin or trim bodies are not bad of course! But since they are represented in the vast majority of children’s books, a realistic depiction of those bodies was not the focus of my list.

Join me in sharing these beautiful books with our kids so that people with all types of bodies can say, and then begin to believe, “I matter.”

Picture books

My Papi Has a Motorcycle
by Isabel Quintero & Zeke Peña
This is my favorite on this list, and one of my favorites in any category. Quintero writes beautifully without it seeming forced, emphasizing family heritage and community connection, and highlighting the father (rare in picture books). The book would be a perfect mentor text for teen authors and an enjoyable read aloud for those who are younger. “My eyes try to catch everything, but the colors of houses blend into one another redbluegreenorangepink.” The soft illustrations + comic book features + fast paced narrative = something to keep everyone interested.

The Princess and the Pony
by Kate Beaton
The playful illustrations and vocabulary in this story about Princess Pinecone will make you laugh out loud. Perfect for any Viking aficionado or parents who like to read clever books aloud.

How to Find a Fox
by Nilah Magruder
The suspense your little one will feel reading this playful story will keep them turning pages faster than you can read! It will likely become a “reread” with preschoolers.

A Big Mooncake for Little Star
by Grace Lin
This beautiful tale from one of my favorite author/illustrators juxtaposes the charming reality of a mother/daughter bond with fun fantasy. Lin’s illustrations convey ease, comfort, and intimacy – they make you feel like you are in the story with your parent, reliving a memory that might not even be your own.

Something About Hensley’s
by Patricia Polacco
Old John has a heart for the neighbors and seems to find ways to supply exactly what they need – even intangible things you normally wouldn’t find in a neighborhood shop. Look at Polacco’s many other titles for more characters of all sizes and longer, complex storylines that will appeal to middle grade readers.

Alma and How She Got Her Name
by Juana Martinez-Neal
Martinez-Neal shares an author’s note at the end revealing that her own childhood inspired the creation of Alma Sofia Esperanza Jose Pura Candela and her very long name. Brief, charming, and a wonderful gift for a baby shower. This is another title that will become a favorite quick-read, and likely inspire your kiddo to ask you “tell me again about my names!”

Strega Nona
by Tomie dePaola
This legendary children’s book character has won the hearts of countless readers and Big Anthony’s antics are hysterical! Young readers will enjoy this and all iterations of Strega Nona, and older readers will enjoy the nostalgia of revisiting her stories.

by Lupita Nyong’o & Vashti Harrison
A little girl tries everything to change her skin before learning that brightness is just who you are, a message perfectly paired with glowing illustrations.

Cinder Edna
by Ellen Jackson & Kevin O’Malley
This fractured fairy-tale follows both Cinderella and Cinder Edna, contrasting fantasy and reality and endearing Edna to us all the way.

Red Riding Hood
by James Marshall
Marshall’s fairy-tale adaptations are smartly done and the wry humor comes through in the sarcastic tone and illustrations, too. He is subverting the traditional fairy-tale in every sense and it is delightful.

Priscilla Gorilla
by Barbara Bottner & Michael Emberley
Priscilla learns to value both being true to herself and thoughtful of others. Younger kids will connect with her antics and adults will find useful inspiration for corralling their mischief-makers in a way that honors who they are.

Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon
by Patty Lovell & David Catrow
This one has been a longtime favorite of mine and “Molly Melon” is what my toddlers called “watermelon” for awhile. This plucky girl has such confidence in who she is because of how her grandma raised her. Eventually she even wins over the bully in her class with her quirky charm.

I Will Dance
by Nancy Bo Flood & Julianna Swaney
This stream-of-consciousness first person narration invites us into the inner thoughts of a child with a disability. She dreams of what it would be like to dance – and then she gets to do it.

Thank You, Omu!
by Oge Mora
Omu’s generosity makes a heartwarming story about what friendship tastes like.

No Longer Alone
by Joseph Coelho
A little girl opens up to her Dad about how she feels in poetic, poignant language. Content consideration: it’s implied she feels alone because she lost her mother.

What if You Had Animal Teeth?
by Sandra Markle & Howard McWilliam
Unconventional approaches to non-fiction animal facts are hugely popular with kids. And while McWilliam has pictures in the caricature style that I typically dislike, his illustrations are more varied and depict kids of all shapes, colors, sizes, and abilities. No cookie cutter kids here, which is a subtly happy discovery underneath the more obvious and hilarious animal feature illustrations. Grab the whole series for some animal fact fun!

Board books

Say Hello!
by Rachel Isadora
A family greets different neighbors in different languages as they walk around the block. Isadora’s bright collage illustrations are fun to look at in this book and her other titles, too.

Kids Like Me Learn ABCs
by Laura Ronay & Jon Wayne Kishimoto
This series of board books features kiddos with Down Syndrome along with their friends and siblings. Lots of joy in these photos! ABC board books are fun to read with babies and toddlers, but also perfect for kids ages 5-7 who are beginning readers.

Bea at Ballet
by Rachel Isadora
Little Bea and her sweet toddler friends (boys as well!) get dressed up for ballet. Look for the Nutcracker Bea book, too!

My Heart Fills With Happiness
by Monique Gray Smith & Julie Flett
Simple graces are the focus of this sweet book with brief thoughts on each page. Toddlers aren’t too young to begin this practice of gratitude. What a wonderful way to invite them to name some of their favorite things and people, too!

Lola Plants a Garden
by Anna McQuinn & Rosalind Beardshaw
Lola spends time with her family planting a garden in this title, and enjoying other activities in the series. This isn’t a board book but her sweet personality and the simple text will appeal to toddlers and preschoolers.

Baby Love
by Helen Oxenbury
Helen Oxenbury is well known, if not by name, then by her bright illustrations of babies that are meant for babies. Her babies tickle, crawl, coo, and clap – and will be cherished by your baby, too.

Flower Garden
by Eve Bunting & Kathryn Hewitt
Another family story – a little girl and her dad gather supplies to make a special gift for her mom. Simple text and realistic illustrations may inspire your little kiddo to surprise Mommy, too.

Fry Bread
by Kevin Noble Maillard & Juana Martinez-Neal
Sensory, poetic words capture the experience of making fry bread as a family. Another non-board book with brief text that will appeal to the young ones in your family.

Disclosure: I receive a small commission when you purchase one of these books through my affiliate links.