My youngest is a diehard princess fan. We’ve watched Frozen more times than I can count, she wants everything in her life to be purple because of Sophia the First, and she insists on wearing a dress almost every single day no matter the weather. “No pants, Mama,” she says. “Pants are dumb.” (True story, kiddo.) So it goes without saying that when it comes to storytime, she’s much more interested in the “Once upon a time” variety than a classic like Velveteen Rabbit.
In our household, I strive to keep my children’s book collections and library picks as diverse as possible. Seeing superheroes and princesses in different skin colors and from different cultural backgrounds matters a lot. According to the nonprofit advocacy organization We Need Diverse Books:
For white children, they also suffer from not seeing the true nature of the world around them. It can distort the world around them and their connections to other humans. All children can learn from the richness of culture. As this School Library Journal blog post notes, non-white parents are three times more likely to talk about race to their children than white parents. Even at a young age, children do categorize themselves into groups. Children’s books can be used as a resource to help with tough topics.
Enter Chloe Perkins’ series of board books, Once Upon a World. I found Cinderella at my favorite bookstore, Curious Iguana, when doing some shopping with my toddler and she wouldn’t put it down once she spotted it in the store. I had to buy it in order to avoid a meltdown, but the truth is that I would have probably picked this title up myself based on the gorgeous cover art alone. This version of Cinderella tells the same classic tale, but the setting and the characters are Mexican. It’s positively alight with gorgeous, vibrant colors and features traditional Mexican garments on the characters (major props to illustrator Sandra Equihua). We read it at least ten times the first day we brought it home; it easily became her new favorite book.
That is, until I got her Rapunzel.
Rapunzel is, again, a traditional retelling of the story with the usual plot details, except it takes place in India. I can’t say enough good things about the illustration in this book; honestly, I’d hang some of these pieces as art in my own home. It’s so beautiful to look at, you won’t even mind reading it to your child for the seven millionth time. Illustrated by Archana Sreenivasan.
The other two books which round out the series are Snow White, styled as a Japanese fairy tale with gorgeously muted, ethereal sketches by illustrator Misa Saburi; and The Princess and the Pea, illustrated by Dinara Mirtalipova with whimsical folkloric scenes set in Russia.
And bonus: they’re board books! Toddler-friendly! Wipe-able! Paper pages and my two year-old just don’t mix yet. At some point during the design and planning phase of this series, somebody on a conference call said, “Hey, let’s make them board books!” (It was probably a mom.)
Buy these. Buy them all. Make your own boxed set and gift them to a new or expectant parent. I rave about the Once Upon a World Books to anyone and everyone I come across in parenting circles because they’re just so darn pretty to look at and to store on a shelf. I truly hope that Chloe Perkins plans to add more to this series (can I request a Nigerian-set Beauty and the Beast? Or a Native American Little Red Riding Hood? Please and thank you). But the four that do exist are an absolute treasure and are toddler approved.