20 Must-Read LGBTQIA+ Children’s Books
This week, GLAAD released the findings from its fourth annual Accelerating Acceptance report, a national survey that measures American attitudes toward LGBTQ people and issues. For the first time, the 2018 report found a decrease in acceptance of LGBTQ people. Less than half of non-LGBTQ adults reported being “very” or “somewhat” comfortable with LGBTQ people across seven situations. This is a significant decline from the previous year and the first time the report has shown a drop in acceptance for LGBTQ people. There was also a significant increase in the number of LGBTQ people who experienced discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. “In a single year, we’ve seen significant declines from what had been an increasingly accepting America to one now less supportive. And this lost ground of acceptance cuts across many in American society”, said John Gerzema, CEO of The Harris Poll.
To promote awareness of children’s books that uplift LGBTQIA+ voices, history, and culture, The Conscious Kid has put together a list of 21 recommended reads. The books are relevant for ages 0–18 so can be used across all age groups to provide early and diverse LGBTQIA+ representation.
Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag by Rob Sanders, illustrated by Steven Salerno: The very first picture book about the remarkable and inspiring story of the Gay Pride Flag! In this deeply moving and empowering true story, young readers will trace the life of the Gay Pride Flag, from its beginnings in 1978 with social activist Harvey Milk and designer Gilbert Baker to its spanning of the globe and its role in today’’s world. A story of love, hope, equality, and pride. To be released April 10, 2018. Ages 4–8.
Julián is a Mermaid by Jessica Love: While riding the subway home from the pool with his abuela one day, Julián notices three women spectacularly dressed up. Their hair billows in brilliant hues, their dresses end in fishtails, and their joy fills the train car. When Julián gets home, daydreaming of the magic he’s seen, all he can think about is dressing up just like the ladies in his own fabulous mermaid costume: a butter-yellow curtain for his tail, the fronds of a potted fern for his headdress. But what will Abuela think about the mess he makes — and even more importantly, what will she think about how Julián sees himself? Mesmerizing and full of heart, Jessica Love’s author-illustrator debut is a jubilant picture of self-love and a radiant celebration of individuality. Ages 4–8.
Large Fears by Myles E. Johnson, illustrated by Kendrick Daye: “This book aims to create a space for queer Black boys in children’s literature and help young kids of color see themselves reflected in the stories that they read. It tells the story of Jeremiah Nebula ― a Black boy who loves pink things. Jeremiah Nebula longs to travel to Mars where he thinks he will find people and things that accept him rather than shame or alienation for being different from other young Black boys in his life. According to Johnson, this longing leads to a daydream that causes Nebula to confront several fears he would have about going to Mars. The story follows him as he lands on different stars that symbolize different fears he has along his journey.” (HuffPost, Queer Voices) Ages 4–8.
The Boy & The Bindi by Vivek Shraya, illustrated by Rajni Perera: A five-year-old South Asian boy becomes fascinated with his mother’s bindi, the red dot commonly worn by Hindu women to indicate the point at which creation begins, and wishes to have one of his own. Rather than chastise her son, she agrees to it, and teaches him about its cultural significance, allowing the boy to discover the magic of the bindi, which in turn gives him permission to be more fully himself. Beautifully illustrated by Rajni Perera, The Boy & the Bindi is a joyful celebration of gender and cultural difference. Ages 4–8.
When You Look Out the Window: How Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin Built a Community by Gayle E. Pitman, illustrated by Christopher Lyles: This is a picture book about Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin, one of San Francisco’s most well-known and politically active lesbian couples. In this story, Phyllis and Del point out landmarks through the city that can be seen out their window. The Reader’s Note describes how Phyllis and Del left their mark on each of these sites. This is a unique way to introduce children to untold stories in history while also being a clever tribute to two notable women. Ages 4–8.
Sparkle Boy by Lesléa Newman, illustrated by Maria Mola: Casey loves to play with his blocks, puzzles, and dump truck, but he also loves things that sparkle, shimmer, and glitter. When his older sister, Jessie, shows off her new shimmery skirt, Casey wants to wear a shimmery skirt too. When Jessie comes home from a party with glittery nails, Casey wants glittery nails too. And when Abuelita visits wearing an armful of sparkly bracelets, Casey gets one to wear, just like Jessie. The adults in Casey’s life embrace his interests, but Jessie isn’t so sure. Boys aren’t supposed to wear sparkly, shimmery, glittery things. Then, when older boys at the library tease Casey for wearing “girl” things, Jessie realizes that Casey has the right to be himself and wear whatever he wants. Why can’t both she and Casey love all things shimmery, glittery, and sparkly? Here is a sweet, heartwarming story about acceptance, respect, and the freedom to be yourself in a world where any gender expression should be celebrated. Sparkly things are for everyone to enjoy! Ages 4–8.
Daddy, Papa and Me by Lesléa Newman, illustrated by Carol Thompson: Rhythmic text and illustrations with universal appeal show a toddler spending the day with its daddies. From hide-and-seek to dress-up, then bath time and a kiss goodnight, there’s no limit to what a loving family can do together. Share the loving bond between same-sex parents and their children. Ages 0–5.
I Am Jazz by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings, illustrated by Shelagh McNicholas: From the time she was two years old, Jazz knew that she had a girl’s brain in a boy’s body. She loved pink and dressing up as a mermaid and didn’t feel like herself in boys’ clothing. This confused her family, until they took her to a doctor who said that Jazz was transgender and that she was born that way. Jazz’s story is based on her real-life experience. Ages 4–8.
And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, illustrated by Henry Cole: The heartwarming true story of two penguins who create a nontraditional family. At the penguin house at the Central Park Zoo, two penguins named Roy and Silo were a little bit different from the others. But their desire for a family was the same. And with the help of a kindly zookeeper, Roy and Silo got the chance to welcome a baby penguin of their very own. Ages 2–5.
Heather Has Two Mommies by Lesléa Newman, illustrated by Laura Cornell: Heather has two mommies. When Heather goes to school for the first time, someone asks her about her daddy, but Heather doesn’t have a daddy. Then something interesting happens. When Heather and her classmates all draw pictures of their families, not one drawing is the same. It doesn’t matter who makes up a family, the teacher says, because “the most important thing about a family is that all the people in it love one another.” Ages 3–7.
From the Stars in the Sky to the Fish in the Sea by Kai Cheng Thom, illustrated by Wai-Yant Li and Kai Yun Ching: In the magical time between night and day, when both the sun and the moon are in the sky, a child is born in a little blue house on a hill. And Miu Lan is not just any child, but one who can change into any shape they can imagine. The only problem is they can’t decide what to be: A boy or a girl? A bird or a fish? A flower or a shooting star? At school, though, they must endure inquisitive looks and difficult questions from the other children, and they have trouble finding friends who will accept them for who they are. But they find comfort in the loving arms of their mother, who always offers them the same loving refrain: “whatever you dream of / i believe you can be / from the stars in the sky to the fish in the sea.” In this captivating book about gender, identity, and the acceptance of the differences between us, Miu Lan faces many questions about who they are and who they may be. Ages 3–8.
They She He Me, Free to Be! by Maya & Matthew Gonzales: They She He Me, Free to Be shows many gender presentations under each pronoun and invites even more. A go-to place to help keep the conversations alive, break down assumptions of who is “she” or “he” and expand beyond the binary to include “they” and more. Ages 3–7.
Mommy, Mama, and Me by Lesléa Newman, illustrated by Carol Thompson: Rhythmic text and illustrations with universal appeal show a toddler spending the day with its mommies. From hide-and-seek to dress-up, then bath time and a kiss goodnight, there’s no limit to what a loving family can do together. Ages 0–5.
George by Alex Gino: When people look at George, they think they see a boy. But she knows she’s not a boy. She knows she’s a girl. George thinks she’ll have to keep this a secret forever. Then her teacher announces that their class play is going to be Charlotte’s Web. George really, really, REALLY wants to play Charlotte. But the teacher says she can’t even try out for the part . . . because she’s a boy. With the help of her best friend, Kelly, George comes up with a plan. Not just so she can be Charlotte — but so everyone can know who she is, once and for all. Ages 9–12.
History is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera: When Griffin’s first love and ex-boyfriend, Theo, dies in a drowning accident, his universe implodes. Even though Theo had moved to California for college and started seeing Jackson, Griffin never doubted Theo would come back to him when the time was right. But now, the future he’s been imagining for himself has gone far off course. To make things worse, the only person who truly understands his heartache is Jackson. But no matter how much they open up to each other, Griffin’s downward spiral continues. If Griffin is ever to rebuild his future, he must first confront his history, every last heartbreaking piece in the puzzle of his life. Ages 14 and up.
Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli: Sixteen-year-old and not-so-openly gay Simon Spier prefers to save his drama for the school musical. But when an email falls into the wrong hands, his secret is at risk of being thrust into the spotlight. Now change-averse Simon has to find a way to step out of his comfort zone before he’s pushed out — without alienating his friends, compromising himself, or fumbling a shot at happiness with the most confusing, adorable guy he’s never met. Incredibly funny and poignant, this twenty-first-century coming-of-age, coming out story — wrapped in a geek romance — is a knockout of a debut novel by Becky Albertalli. Ages 12–18.
Let’s Talk About Love by Claire Kann: Alice had her whole summer planned. Nonstop all-you-can-eat buffets while marathoning her favorite TV shows (best friends totally included) with the smallest dash of adulting―working at the library to pay her share of the rent. The only thing missing from her perfect plan? Her girlfriend (who ended things when Alice confessed she’s asexual). Alice is done with dating―no thank you, do not pass go, stick a fork in her, done. But then Alice meets Takumi and she can’t stop thinking about him or the rom com-grade romance feels she did not ask for (uncertainty, butterflies, and swoons, oh my!). When her blissful summer takes an unexpected turn and Takumi becomes her knight with a shiny library-employee badge (close enough), Alice has to decide if she’s willing to risk their friendship for a love that might not be reciprocated―or understood. Ages 13 and up.
They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera: On September 5, a little after midnight, Death-Cast calls Mateo Torrez and bisexual Rufus Emeterio to give them some bad news: They’re going to die today. Mateo and Rufus are total strangers, but, for different reasons, they’re both looking to make a new friend on their End Day. The good news: There’s an app for that. It’s called the Last Friend, and through it, Rufus and Mateo are about to meet up for one last great adventure — to live a lifetime in a single day. Ages 13 and up.
Being Jazz: My Life as a Transgender Teen by Jazz Jennings: Jazz Jennings is one of the youngest and most prominent voices in the national discussion about gender identity. At the age of five, Jazz transitioned to life as a girl, with the support of her parents. A year later, her parents allowed her to share her incredible journey in her first Barbara Walters interview, aired at a time when the public was much less knowledgeable or accepting of the transgender community. This groundbreaking interview was followed over the years by other high-profile interviews, a documentary, the launch of her YouTube channel, a picture book, and her own reality TV series — I Am Jazz — making her one of the most recognizable activists for transgender teens, children, and adults. In her remarkable memoir, Jazz reflects on these very public experiences and how they have helped shape the mainstream attitude toward the transgender community. Ages 12 and up.
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz: “Some boys just know they’re gay,” writer Benjamin Alire Saenz said. “And I think other boys don’t know, and then they start discovering that. And that’s the book." Aristotle is an angry teen with a brother in prison. Dante is a know-it-all who has an unusual way of looking at the world. When the two Mexican-American boys meet at the swimming pool, they seem to have nothing in common. But as the loners start spending time together, they discover that they share a special friendship — the kind that changes lives and lasts a lifetime. And it is through this friendship that Ari and Dante will learn the most important truths about themselves and the kind of people they want to be. Ages 14–18.
The Conscious Kid is an education, research and policy organization dedicated to reducing bias and promoting positive identity development in youth. We partner with organizations, children’s museums, schools, and families across the country to promote access to children’s books centering underrepresented and oppressed groups. theconsciouskid.org