The first thing a child learns about their identity is their name. When a child starts to socialize, the first question they get asked is what is their name. The first word a child learns to spell is likely their name.
It’s essential for children to know the significance of names, as these are the foundation of identity. A name has origin and meaning, and it could represent a culture, a tradition, an interest, or even a family story.
Below you will find a list of picture books about the significance of names, which is essential for children to learn empathy and embrace diverse identities.Your Name Is a Song by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow
A little girl named Kora-Jalimuso is mad and doesn’t want to return to school because her teacher and classmates can’t say her name. On their way home, her Momma teaches her that names are songs that come from the heart. Soon Kora-Jalimuso teaches her classmates and teacher to sing names from the heart.
Your Name is a Song by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow is a perfect book to learn about several African American, Arabic, and Asian names and their pronunciations. The writing is beautiful and interactive. Luisa Uribe did the lovely and graceful illustrations with an earthy tone palette.
Publication Year: 2020
Publisher: The Innovation Press
Ages: 4 – 8
Lexile Level: Not Yet Rated
Wakawakaloch is in a terrible mood. Nobody at school can say her name right. She throws a tantrum! At home, she tells her parents she will change her name. Her Pa says her name has been in the “family many, many moons.” It’s not until Elder Mooch advises her to look into the past that Wakawakaloch understands the significance of her name.
My Name is Wakawakaloch! by Chana Stiefel is a witty story about a girl with a unique name during pre-historic times. Its main message is that sometimes names have meanings that originate in the past. Mary Sullivan‘s illustrations are funny cartoons that will make parents and children laugh out loud.
Publication Year: 2019
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Ages: 5 – 8
Lexile Level: 560L
Alma Sofia Esperanza José Pura Candela has a very long name. She is not feeling good about it and tells her Daddy. He tells Alma the story of her name. She discovers that it comes from meaningful people in her family tree, and she has many characteristics in common with her ancestors.
An award-winning picture book, Alma and How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal shows that names can come from ancestors and family stories. It has a subtle supernatural element based on tradition. The author’s minimalistic colored pencil and delicate illustrations made it a Caldecott Honor Book in 2019.
Publication Year: 2018
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Ages: 4 – 8
Lexile Level: 490L
Yoon moved from Korea to the United States. She starts school soon, so her father teaches her to write her name in English. Her name means Shining Wisdom, and she prefers how it looks in Korean. Yoon does not like the United States and wants to go back to Korea. When her teacher asks her to write down her name, Yoon writes other words, like cat, bird, and cupcake. But Yoon’s feelings about America and her name change after she makes a new friend.
My Name is Yoon by Helen Recorvits is a good story for children to learn about immigration, the meaning of names, and adaptation to a new place. The illustrations, for which Gaby Swiatkowska won the Ezra Jack Keats New Illustrator Award in 2004, look like impressionist paintings.
Publishing Year: 2003
Publisher: Frances Foster Books
Ages: 4 – 8
Unhei just moved to the United States from Korea. The kids on the bus to her new school tease her about her name, so Unhei says she hasn’t picked one yet when her classmates ask her name. Her mother and grandmother went to a name master for her name, which means grace. Still, she is not sure she wants to keep it. Her classmates give her a jar full of pieces of paper with names for her to choose one. Will Unhei keep her name or choose one from the name jar? The importance of her Korean name stamp and her new nice friend, Joey, will help her decide.
The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi has become the classic picture book about names. Children follow Unhei on her journey of self-acceptance and being brave enough to be herself. Choi also did the book’s realistic and muted illustrations.
Publication Year: 2001
Publication House: Alfred A. Knopf
Ages: 4 – 8
Lexile Level: 590L
Chrysanthemum loved her name while she was growing up. She thought it was absolutely perfect. That changed when she started school, and a group of classmates bullied her about her name. Chrysanthemum would arrive home feeling crushed. Her parents made her feel much better each day, but the teasing would continue the next day at school. The day the class meets the impressive music teacher, Mrs. Twinkle, things change. It turns out Mrs. Twilkle has a long name and was named after a flower, too. Not only that, she is pregnant, and if her baby is a girl, she is considering calling her Chrysanthemum.
Written by award-winning author Kevin Henkes, Chrysanthemum is a lovely and funny story with themes about bullying, self-esteem, and support. Chrysanthemum’s parents are her rock during those difficult days. Also, it showcases a teacher doing nothing after witnessing the bullying and one standing up for Chrysanthemum, which reflects reality. A Caldecott medal winner, Henkes did the sweet anthropomorphic illustrations—the characters are mice—with a lovely pastel palette.
Publication Year: 1991
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
Ages: 4- 8
Lexile Level: 570L
Fluffy is a porcupine who is not sure about his name, as he is anything but fluffy. Fluffy gets stuck to the door, pokes holes through the mattress, and breaks his umbrella. He tries to become fluffier, like clouds and pillows, without success. One afternoon he meets a large rhinoceros named Hippo. Imagine that! Fluffly and Hippo have a good laugh about their unlikely names and become the best of friends.
Written by Helen Lester, A Porcupine Named Fluffy is a silly and funny picture book about accepting and being yourself. Lynn Munsinger’s anthropomorphic illustrations are light-colored, old-school, and absurd.
Publishing Year: 1986
Publisher: HMH Books
Ages: 4 – 8
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