Thursday, October 28, 2021

Pride Is for All Ages: Recommendations for LGBTQIA+ Friendly Children’s Books

You can never be too young to start learning about yourself and/or the people around you, especially when it comes to aspects of a person that they use to define themselves. So in the spirit of Pride month, we’d like to encourage an early start to learning about the LGBTQIA+ community by providing recommendations for books for young readers about or featuring members of the community.

This can be a complicated topic to address and one that has only really gained ground in mainstream publishing in the children’s literature in the past decade or so. Oftentimes, that leads to assumptions that there are not many options available; however, as a children’s librarian, I can happily tell you that is not true. LGBTQIA+ children’s lit is not as common as other subgenres, but there are some wonderful books out there.

Here are 12 LGBTQIA+ children’s books I would recommend, across three categories:

Picture Books

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From Archie to Zack
Author/Illustrator: Vincent X. Kirsch

Abrams Books for Young Readers

From Archie to Zack is a sweet story about a pair of young boys who have something they want to tell each other, but they cannot quite figure out how. Archie tries to write Zack a note to tell him, and while writing down his feeling makes Archie happy, the words never seem to come out right, so he hides his notes. When Archie finally makes up his mind to give his notes to Zach, he goes back to look for his hidden notes, but other people have already found them and given them to Zack. It turns out Zack had been working on a note for Archie, too.

This is a sweet story about two boys working up the nerve to tell the other that they love them. The best part, though, is that both the words and illustrations make it clear that everyone around the boys already knew, and they are so happy when the boys finally succeed. The easy and open acceptance of Archie and Zack in this book makes it a great place to introduce same-sex relationships, with lovely illustrations that help make the story jump off the page.

Love is Love
Author: Michael Genhart, Illustrator: Ken Min

Little Pickle Press
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Love is Love is told from the point of view of a young boy who was teased at school for wearing a shirt with a rainbow heart on it. He talks through how it makes him feel when kids say “That’s so gay!” as an insult, and how he doesn’t understand what makes some people think being gay is a bad thing. He comes to realize that just because he has two dads doesn’t mean that they’re not a family, and that the important thing is that people are able to love who they love.

Tackling a lot of key topics in regards to the LGBTQIA+ community, this book succeeds, because it does so in a way that is easy for kids to understand as it is told from a child’s perspective. Not only does it address the topics in words, but throughout the book, illustrator Ken Min gives beautiful examples of the LGBTQIA+ community. One of the most unique features of this book is the fact that each page spread features either kites, or the outline of kites, in the background which ultimately come together on the final page to form a rainbow heart of kites to reflect the rainbow heart t-shirt that started it all.

Papa, Daddy, and Riley
Author: Seamus Kirst, Illustrator: Devon Holzwarth

Magination Press

Papa, Daddy, and Riley opens on the first day of school as Riley and her classmates are dropped off by their assorted guardians, including Riley’s two dads. This leads one of Riley’s classmates to ask which one of them is her real dad, and Riley doesn’t understand the question. But when her classmate insists that she can only have one, Riley finds herself in the impossible position of having to choose between Papa and Daddy. She can’t decide, so when she gets home, she asks her dads if she really has to choose, and they reassure her that love is what makes a family — not biology.

This is a great book for kids growing up in a non-traditional household, especially one with either two moms or two dads, because it reinforces the fact that family is so much more than just biology. With both the words and illustrations, Papa, Daddy, and Riley makes it clear that Riley has a lot to love about both her Papa and her Daddy, and even though she might not be biologically related to both of them, she is able to relate to each one in a special and unique way. Many kids coming from non-traditional families can find school difficult, because it is often built around a traditional family structure, and books like this can help remind them that just because their family doesn’t look like that, doesn’t mean that it is any less of a family.

My Maddy
Author: Gayle E. Pitman, Illustrator: Violet Tobacco

Magination Press

My Maddy brings to life a child’s school presentation about her parent. Opening with a statement about how most mommies are girls and most daddies are boys, the story details all the ways that the child’s parent, a.k.a. “my Maddy,” is neither. Describing the physical ways that Maddy is neither a girl nor a boy, the child’s presentation focuses on more than just that, making sure to also tell the class about all the ways “my Maddy” is just as normal and as good as a regular mom or dad.

As the story of a child with a non-binary parent, this book makes a good place to start teaching children about gender and preferred pronouns. My Maddy never questions Maddy’s gender and makes sure to use “they/them” whenever a pronoun is used. The illustrations here are also very helpful, as every aspect described in words is also shown in the pictures. However, the illustrations serve an extra purpose here: to teach kids not to simply make judgements based on what they see, as in the majority of the pictures, Maddy has long hair and softer features that might lead one to label them as a girl, which the words tell us is not the case.

Chapter Books

Second Dad Summer
Author: Benjamin Klas, Illustrator: Fian Arroyo

One Elm Books

Second Dad Summer tells the story of the first summer Jeremiah spends with his dad since his dad’s boyfriend Michael moved in, and from the start, it is obvious this will not be like his normal summers with dad. For starters, his dad has just moved into a small apartment in downtown Minneapolis, and then there’s Michael — Michael who wears too-short shorts, serves weird organic food, and rides a very obnoxious bike he calls the ‘Uni-Cycle’. Jeremiah is not impressed. However, over the course of the summer, Jeremiah learns that maybe the apartment isn’t so bad — he even made friends (ish) with the cranky old man down the hall — and maybe it wouldn’t be so bad if Michael stuck around for a while.

This short, illustrated, chapter book highlights the fact that not everyone presents the fact that they are queer in the same way. Jeremiah is used to his dad, who didn’t change when he came out as bisexual — he still likes biking, fishing, and is very down to earth — so when he encounters Michael, who is very flamboyant and would rather have a dinner party than go fishing, it makes Jeremiah uncomfortable. The story is a great example to help kids understand that there is no correct way to being part of the LGBTQIA+ community. Beyond this, it also touches on the fact that being part of the LGBTQIA+ community is not always easy. Between the story behind Michael’s ‘Uni-Cycle’ and Mr. Keeler’s (the grouchy neighbor) story about when he was younger, readers get a glimpse into how far the community has come and how far it still needs to go, and the role of community allies in that process.

While Second Dad Summer stands alone, a sequel has been announced with a release date of August this year.

Hazel’s Theory of Evolution
Author: Lisa Jenn Bigelow

HarperCollins Children’s Books

Following Hazel as she deals with everything happening at school and at home, Hazel’s Theory of Evolution tells a story of friendship, family, and acceptance that every pre-teen could use. From the start, Hazel is not impressed with the redistricting that sent her to a new middle school and separated her from her best friend. While she did eventually manage to make two new friends at school, Hazel still does not feel like she fits in there any better than she does anywhere else. On top of all that, things at home are complicated, because one of her moms (Mimi) in pregnant, but the last two times Mimi was pregnant, she miscarried, and Hazel is terrified. She does not want to acknowledge her fear, but she can’t be hopeful like her moms and brother either, so she ignores the pregnancy for as long as she can.

This book is a bit of a heavier emotional read than the other books on this list, but given the topics it covers, that is unsurprising. The great thing about this book, though, is how casually queer the book is. Not only does the main character have two moms, but one of her new friends is clearly transgender, and it is mentioned that Hazel is asexual and aromantic — she mentions feeling ill at the thought of having sex. The book in no way shies away from representing the LGBTQIA+ community and some of the issues surrounding it. From artificial insemination to bullying to transitioning, this book has a little bit of everything.

If you are looking for a strong emotional story with great representation of both the LGBTQIA+ community and other minority groups, plus loveable characters, Hazel’s Theory of Evolution should be next on your list to read.

Saturdays With Hitchcock
Author: Ellen Wittlinger

Charlesbridge Publishing

Maisie usually spends her Saturdays at the old theater in town watching classic movies with her best friend Cyrus. But lately, with her grandmother being diagnosed with dementia and her Hollywood actor uncle living with them, Maisie’s home life is not nearly as simple as her Saturdays. On top of that, she is dealing with a boy who has a crush on her for the first time, and it just so happens to be the one boy her best friend has a crush on. So things are … complicated.

This book is not as in-your-face about LGBTQIA+ representation as others on this list, but the way that Maisie deals with Cyrus coming out as gay and the way both Maisie and Gary Hackett deal with his crush on Gary makes it worth being on this list. Maisie knows that Gary has a crush on her, and she may even like him back, but she steps aside because she knows that Gary is Cyrus’s first crush, and she will not stand in the way of that. Then, when Gary realizes what is happening, he is completely cool about it. There is not a single moment that Gary is weird about Cyrus’s crush or that he seems uncomfortable, and it is such a wonderful example for kids to see that even if you do not like people of the gender of the person who likes you, you can react with grace and kindness.

A High Five For Glenn Burke
Author: Phil Bildner

Farrar Straus Giroux Books For Young Readers

Silas Wade is a huge baseball fan and a strong player in his local league, and he recently discovered his new favorite player: Glenn Burke. Burke was both the inventor of the high five and one of the first gay players in Major League Baseball, so not only is Silas excited about the inventor of a favorite handshake, but he relates to Burke on a deeper level as well, because he’s gay, too. A school presentation on Burke serves as Silas’s first baby step towards coming out in A High Five For Glenn Burke. We follow Silas continue to make steps toward coming out, and while the path is not a smooth one and Silas struggles along the way, he ultimately is one step closer to truly being himself.

This is a true coming-out story, and like many people getting ready to come out, Silas spends most of the book being terrified of people’s reactions. The difference is that he also has his knowledge of what happened to Glenn Burke hanging over his head — Burke was called names and forced out of Major League Baseball by powerful homophobes. Ultimately, Silas convinces himself that coming out is important, and he comes out to two people before the end of the book. However, before the end, he makes it clear that the comfort of being truly able to be himself with these two people has convinced him that it is time to come out to everyone, and soon. This is a story that queer kids everywhere may be able to relate to, especially if they happen to be baseball fans, and the emotional roller coaster Silas rides over the course of the book will hit close to home — hopefully in the best way possible.

Non-Fiction

Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag
Author: Rob Sanders, Illustrator: Steven Salerno

Random House Children’s Books

This picture book-style biography is a fairly short but informative feature on Harvey Milk, the man originally behind the rainbow flag that became the Pride flag we know today. In 1977, Harvey Milk was one of the first gay men elected to political office, and with his platform, he saw the need for a some sort of symbol for the LGBTQIA+ rights moment he was so politically active in. Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag tells the story of how Milk helped bring about the rainbow flag as the symbol of Pride and continues on past his assassination to show how the flag became so important to the LGBTQIA+ community.

Beautiful illustrations make this biography into something more than just the dry informational book it could be. They help create a special story about someone who made a real difference in the LGBTQIA+ community, while also visually demonstrating the difference a symbol can make to a movement. Pride gives children some important background on the Rainbow Flag, including giving them a face, name(s), and a story to associate with it. For kids, sometimes having these things to associate with a symbol makes all the difference in the world in making that symbol matter.

You Be You: The Kid’s Guide to Gender, Sexuality and Family
Author: Jonathan Branfman, Illustrator: Julie Benbassat

Jessica Kingsley Publishers

An illustrated chapter book, You Be You dives into the complicated world that is gender identity, romantic orientation, and family diversity, presenting it in a way that is simple for kids to understand. Aimed at ages five and up, the book looks at nine important factors that kids need to be aware of: the sexes, gender, gender identity, love & affection, having kids, discrimination, privilege, intersectionality, and being an ally. Each of these sections (plus the introductory and closing chapters) combines simple but direct informational writing with beautiful and pointed illustrations to paint a clear picture for the reader.

Personally, I found this to be one of the best guides to gender, sexuality, and family, period. This is largely because of the simple language and illustrations combined with the overall positive attitude of the book. This book touches on a lot of aspects of the LGBTQIA+ community, including some that aren’t always touched on, specifically discrimination and privilege. You Be You provides kids with a great foundational knowledge that will serve them well as they grow and learn how to be the people they truly are.

Were I Not A Girl
Author: Lisa Robinson, Illustrator: Lauren Simkin Berke

Schwartz and Wade Books

Were I Not A Girl tells the surprising story of Dr. James Barry who, way back in the 1800s, took control of his own fate by becoming the man he always knew he was. Born Margaret Ann Bulkley, Dr. James Barry lived in an age when women were not able to do most things, including going to college. So when Margaret decided she wanted to go to college, she, with the help of some friends, became James Barry. Barry ultimately became a doctor, served as a military surgeon, fought in a duel, and fell in love with a fellow officer.

This picture book tells what history knows about the story of someone who did not conform to gender norms, becoming transgender before transgender was a recognized term. The story is told in a way that highlights the positive aspects of the transition as well as the fact that Barry went on to become a very successful man, allowing kids to see how important it can be to truly be yourself. It also normalizes the idea that someone may need to change their gender to feel truly happy, and that is okay.

The Every Body Book: The LGBTQ+ Inclusive Book for Kids About Sex, Gender, Bodies, and Families
Author: Rachel E. Simon, Illustrator: Noah Grigni

Jessica Kingsley Publishers

This is another great guide for introducing kids to the topics of gender, sex, bodies, and families. However, unlike You Be You, this book is decidedly aimed at slightly older kids — the back of the book recommends ages eight to twelve. With a stronger focus on the physical aspects, The Every Body Book uses words and illustrations to explain everything from love and attraction to intercourse and pregnancy, looking at it in relation to both the dynamics of straight and LGBTQIA+ relationships.

This is an ideal book for kids hitting puberty, because not only does it spend a whole chapter on the changes brought about by puberty, but it also covers so many important topics that they will be facing in the coming years. From safe sex to consent to basic biology, this book is a one-stop shop for tweens to learn about topics that are not always covered in school, especially when it comes to the LGBTQIA+ community. With clearly labeled diagrams where necessary and catchy illustrations in other spots, kids will come away from this book with a clearer understanding of a lot of very important topics.

As Pride month draws to a close, it is important to remember that books like the ones on this list are important all year long. We may spend June celebrating Pride and the community, but it is important that we don’t let our excitement fade throughout the rest of the year. Reading books like these can help kids better understand why we celebrate Pride, but also why the LGBTQIA+ community matters and needs to be remembered all year long. So the next time you are looking for a book to read with your child, or for your child to read, keep this list in mind, and help us celebrate Pride all year long.

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LeeAnn
LeeAnn is children's librarian who joined Nerds and Beyond in 2020 as a way to stretch her writing skills and connect with others who have the same pop culture passions as she does. She loves music, reading (obviously), and any TV show that can grab and hold her attention. Currently some of her favorite things to nerd out over include Supernatural, Prodigal Son, Louden Swain and Percy Jackson (books, theater, or upcoming show - lets leave the movies out of it).

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