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’re revisiting one of the best ways to encourage an early start to learning about the LGBTQIA+ community: books.
Gender and sexuality can be a touchy and complicated subject for any age, but especially for children. Fortunately for people who want to their children to learn about the topic, it has gained traction in mainstream publishing of children’s books over the last decade. More LGBTQIA+ friendly children’s books come out every year. Back in 2021 I shared 12 of my favorite LGBTQIA+ children’s books as a children’s librarian, and now two years later I’m back to recommend 12 more.
Author: Charlotte Sullivan Wild, Illustrator: Charlene Chua
A Valentine’s Day book that can be read all year long, Love, Violet tells the the story of a girl with her first crush. Violet knows that Mira is the most wonderful person she’s ever seen, and all she wants to do is go on adventures together. The problem is, Violet is shy. Even though she made a valentine for Mira, Violet’s not sure how to give it to her when she can barely talk when Mira is around.
With beautiful illustrations portraying an ethnically diverse group of kids, the book draws you into Violet’s world and to the world she imagines having with Mira. You can’t help but be rooting for Violet and Mira to come together in the end. An all around wonderful story about first love and finding the courage to approach someone even when you’re nervous, Love, Violet is a great first introduction to the idea of same sex relationships. The simplicity of Violet’s feelings for Mira combined with her nerves about actually interacting with the other girl create a relatable story that could be applied to any relationship, but in this case just so happens to be one between two girls.
My Shadow is Purple
Author & Illustrator: Scott Stuart
Most people have shadows that are either pink or blue, but that’s not the case for the main character in My Shadow is Purple – their shadow is purple. They like to play sports with the blues and dance with the pinks, and they think toys are fun no matter who they’re for. As the book progresses they ask why it is that they have to choose. Why can’t someone like things that are for both pink and blue? It all comes to a head when they go to a dance where they have to choose: Pink or Blue, but they’re purple – they can’t choose. Luckily it turns out there are others whose shadows are not Pink or Blue!
This book is such a fun way to explain and examine gender norms and stereotypes, while also making sure it’s understood that it’s okay if you don’t fit into those boxes. The illustrations just jump off the page, while the concept of shadows representing each character’s gender really helps you visualize exactly what the words are saying. For parents who suspect that their child might be non-binary, a-gender or gender-fluid this book is a great place to introduce their child to the concept. Even though the terms are never used in the book, the combination of words and illustrations demonstrates the concept perfectly. Plus, if you like this one you can also check out Scott Stuart’s My Shadow is Pink to read about what happens when your shadow doesn’t match how you look on the outside.
Sam is My Sister
Author: Ashley Rhodes-Courter, Illustrator: MacKenzie Haley
Evan loves Sam. Sam is the best brother ever, until he isn’t. Suddenly Sam wants to read princess books and wear dresses, and Evan just doesn’t understand what’s happening. Why doesn’t Sam want to be like Evan anymore?
A wonderful lesson in what it means to be trans, Sam is My Sister tells a simple, yet heartwarming story from the perspective of the sibling of a trans child. Throughout the book Evan watches as Sam changes, and he asks questions, both of his parents and Sam, trying to understand why this is happening. One of my favorite moments in the book is when Evan asks Sam, “Why do you want to look like a girl?” and Sam simply replies, “Because I am a girl.” She then explains to Evan that for her, being a boy felt wrong, sort of like how Evan feels when he tries to draw with the wrong hand. This is an ‘ah ha’ moment for Evan, and for readers, as to what Sam is experiencing. Between wonderfully written moments like this and illustrations that clearly and beautifully show Sam and Ethan’s emotions, Sam is My Sister is the perfect book to introduce kids to the concept of being trans.
Author & Illustrator: Harry Woodgate
Every summer is spent at grandad’s house by the sea. It’s always fun because there’s so much to do, but the best part is listening to grandad talk about his and gramps’ adventures. The two explored all over in their camper van, but grandad rarely travels now because it’s not the same. However, the camper van is still in the garage and perhaps an adventure in the van is just what Grandad needs.
A short and sweet story about a visit with a grandparent, Grandad’s Camper is a wonderfully simple story about the adventures of a same sex couple. With diverse characters and stunning illustrations, this book shows a gay couple as the accepted norm. The main character never questions the fact that she has a grandad and a gramps, and loves hearing the story of how they meet and the adventures they went on together. While tinged with the nostalgia that comes with hearing someone reminisce about the past, Grandad’s Camper celebrates accepting people as they are and celebrating them by doing things they love.
Different Kinds of Fruit
Author: Kyle Lukoff
Annabelle expects sixth grade to be nothing if not predictable. Same teacher who’s taught sixth grade for the last decade, same classmates, same everything. Boy was she wrong. The first day of school kicks off with a new teacher, and a new classmate – Bailey. Bailey is different from anyone Annabelle has ever met, as they are non-binary. Annabelle hasn’t met many queer people in her small town, and now she has questions. As it turns out, despite their initial reluctance, her parents are a great place to start as it turns out that her dad is trans. The book follows Annabelle as she asks questions, finds answers, and grows into herself along the way, as do her parents.
This book is unique in that the main character starts out with basically no knowledge of LGBTQ+ anything, but quickly finds out that she is surrounded by it. It’s such a relatable story in that aspect, as many people don’t realize how many queer people are around them until it is pointed out. However, the real impact of this story comes not from Annabelle’s story, but from her fathers. Her dad had experienced a lot of hate due to his status as a trans man, but meeting Bailey and seeing the world through their eyes allowed him to move forward to become more comfortable with and accepting of his place in the queer community. This leads to a story of learning to accept yourself and others, Different Kinds of Fruit walks through many different aspects of LGBTQ+ life that are not often included in middle grade novels.
The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher
Author: Dana Alison Levy
The Fletcher family is a lot of things, but average isn’t one of them. For starters, there’s four boys: Sam, age twelve, who’s sure that fifth grade will be a normal year with soccer and friends; Jax, age ten, who’s excited for fourth grade; Eli, also age ten, who’s thrilled to be starting at a school for the gifted this year;and then there’s ‘Frog’, age 6, who will be saving a seat in kindergarten for his invisible pet cheetah. Add to that Dad, Papa, Zeus (the cat), and Mr Puggles (the dog), it’s no surprise that the school year is anything but boring.
Taking the reader through a single school year in the Fletcher household, The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher is a much more subtly LGBTQ+ book than most others on this list. However, I think it earns its place here through the normalcy with which same sex couples are discussed. From moment one we meet Dad and Papa, and outside of some confusion at Eli’s new school and questions about if the boys are actually related (they’re not, they were all adopted), having two dads is never treated as anything but normal by any of the characters. It’s so refreshing to read a good middle grade novel that doesn’t feel the need to make a big deal of a same sex relationship. Plus, Dana Alison Levy’s characters and story are absolutely wonderful, making this just the cherry on top of an already great book.
Author: Mark Oshiro
Award winning author Mark Oshiro’s 2021 novel follows Héctor Muñoz as his family moves from his home in San Francisco to Orangevale to be closer to his grandparents. Picking up with Héctor’s first day at his new school, The Insiders follows along as he quickly learns that Orangevale Middle School isn’t like his old school: the school doesn’t have a theater department, the rules are strictly enforced – even when you haven’t really broken them – and he’s pretty sure he’s the only gay kid who’s out at school. Quickly catching the attention of the school’s most feared bully, Héctor finds himself feeling isolated as he struggles to fit in. Fortunately there is something looking out for him, as he discovers a magical room that is happy to provide exactly what he really needs – friends and support.
A wonderful mix of fantasy and reality, The Insiders tells a queer story rooted in real life experiences of middle schoolers without being predictable. From the moment readers meet Héctor it’s never hidden that he is out and proud, in fact that is what initially gets him in trouble with the school bully. However, the story is so much more than one of a kid overcoming bullying, as, thanks to the magical room, he makes a pair of new friends. Over the course of the book each friend needs help with a problem, one has been barred from DJing a school dance because she wants to bring her girlfriend and the other needs to save his school’s library. Héctor and his friends work together to solve not only these issues, but Héctor’s own bully problem as well. With just a touch of magic, Oshiro turns a typical ‘gay kid overcomes bully’ story into something so much deeper, and so much more fun to read.
Ellen Outside the Lines
Author: A.J. Sass
Ellen is headed to Spain for a study abroad trip with her Spanish class. Armed with her meticulously compiled schedule, her dot journal, and the knowledge that her Abba (dad) and her best friend Laurel will be there too, she thinks she might be ready. However, nerves begin to creep in when Laurel fails to call to check in for their flight like planned and Ellen’s carefully composed schedule begins to come apart before they even leave. Following Ellen throughout the trip, we see her struggle to fit in with Laurel’s new friends and to adapt to the surprise changes in the trip’s schedule. However, a new student joins them on the trip and Isa may be just what Ellen needs to push herself outside the lines.
With a main character who is Jewish, autistic, and not quite straight, Ellen Outside the Lines is one of my favorite middle grade novels to come out in 2022. From the outset readers know that there is something different about Ellen, so when she explains that she is autistic it comes as no surprise. What does come as a very pleasant surprise is how well presented Ellen’s autism is. She is never presented as disabled or less than, even when she is treated that way by other characters in the book either. In fact, in regards to how this book treats LGBTQ+ concepts, Ellen’s autism is an aid in that she is unafraid to ask questions about Isa’s status as non-binary. This leads to some great conversations about gender identities, coming out, and other difficult to approach topics, all at a level that is ideal for elementary school kids.
The Pronoun Book
Author: Chris Ayala-Kronos, Illustrator: Melita Tirado
A book that does exactly what the title suggests, The Pronoun Book is a simple guide to pronouns that works for all ages. Opening with the question, “How do you know what someone wants to be called?”, the book then dedicates a page to each of the possible pronouns complete with visual representations of the different people who might use them. All building to the answer to the original question, which is to simply ask people what they’d like to be called.
Pronouns, especially within the LGBTQ+ community, can be complicated, but limited words and vibrant illustrations work together here to create a brilliantly basic book that simplifies the topic. Although most pages only have one or two words, Tirado’s illustrations nearly jump off the page so you don’t need long explanations of who the people represented are – you can see it for yourself! It’s fun to see a book like this where the pictures do all the heavy lifting. Bear in mind though, that this book is a jumping off point. It is designed to get kids thinking and asking questions.
People of Pride: 25 Great LGBTQ Americans
Author: Chase Clemesha
Why include a single biography on this list when I can include 25? People of Pride is a compilation of 25 short biographies of notable LGBTQ Americans, including names kids might recognize like Andy Warhol, Sally Ride, and Ellen Degeneres. With a two page spread celebrating each person, kids get a chance to learn a little bit about a wide selection of people. Plus, the book includes a note from the author about growing up gay, a timeline of LGBTQ history in the United States and a glossary of LGBTQ terms!
With a colorful cover and full color photos of each featured person, People of Pride draws kids into what could otherwise be just another boring biography. Instead, it is a great introduction to the who’s who of famous American LGBTQ people. Even without the biographies though, this book is worth including on this list for the sake of the glossary of LGBTQ terms! This walks you through all the queer specific terms used in the book and is helpful in understanding how they work together.
Pride: An Inspirational History of the LGBTQ+ Movement
Author: Stella Caldwell, Illustrator: Season of Victory
The longest of our four non-fiction recommendations, Pride: An Inspirational History of the LGBTQ+ Movement walks readers through a fairly comprehensive history of all things LGBTQ+. The book has six chapters, each covering an era of history starting with pre-1900 and coming all the way up to today. Every chapter features an informative section that walks the reader through what was happening in that era interspersed with quotes from and short bios of queer people of that era, as well as a three to four page profile of a notable LGBTQ+ figure. Each chapter also ends with a short essay from a modern queer person explaining why they have pride.
The format of this book makes it simple for people of all ages to dive into LGBTQ+ history. By providing examples from real people in history who were queer readers can relate to the stories they’re reading about, while the choice to integrate colorful quote boxes within the informative text keeps your eye on the page. Caldwell outdid herself with this book. It covers tough topics without being overwhelming and keeps the reader interested even when the topic might otherwise be considered dull. This is a can’t miss for both kids and adults who want to learn about the history of the LGBTQ+ movement.
Author: Rob Sanders, Illustrator: Jamey Christoph
Another non-fiction picture book, Stonewall take readers through the history of the Stonewall building from the building’s perspective. Starting with it’s days as stable houses in the 1840s, the building tells the story of Greenwich Village up through the joining of the stable houses to become Bonnie’s Stonewall Restaurant in 1930. Then it walks readers through the people who came to the restaurant over the years and how that changed, before finally discussing the Stonewall riots.
While Stonewall, in particular the riots, might seem like too dark of a topic for kids, Sanders and Christoph do a wonderful job putting in a kid friendly perspective without watering down the significance. That is not to say that this is a lighthearted book. It’s not. However, telling the story from the perspective of the building allows for a version of the story that can be read with elementary school kids. The illustrations match the tone of the words, so kids can quickly see when the tone of the story changes and adapt accordingly. Altogether, while this is not something I would recommend for a fun read for pride, it tells the story of an important piece of America’s LGBTQ+ history in a way that is designed for kids.
While it may be easy to look at this list and think that these books are great for Pride Month, it is important to remember that books like the ones on this list are important all year long. June is dedicated to celebrating Pride and the community it represents, but that doesn’t mean that we should ignore them the rest of the year. Sharing books like this with our children is a great way help kids better understand why we celebrate Pride, why the LGBTQIA+ community matters, and how they may be a part of it. So 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 remember that Pride is for everyone all year long.