On a certain level, I’d argue that most LGBTQ-inclusive picture books have a theme of love—but here are a few that particularly showcase that emotion in some of its many forms, from romantic love to family love to deep and abiding friendships. Happy Valentine’s Day!
- From Archie to Zack, by Vincent X. Kirsch (Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2020): The sweet story of two boys in love—whose love is recognized and accepted by their classmates—trying to express their feelings for each other. Full review.
- When We Love Someone We Sing to Them: Cuando Amamos Cantamos, by Ernesto Javier Martinez and illustrated by Maya Gonzalez (Reflection Press, 2018): A lyrical bilingual book celebrating both the love between two boys and the supportive relationship between the boy and his father. Pura Belpré Honor Award winner Maya Christina Gonzalez deserves equal credit for her vibrant illustrations. Full review.
- Jerome by Heart, by Thomas Scotto and illustrated by Olivier Tallec (Enchanted Lion Books, 2018): One boy expresses his (maybe romantic, maybe close friendship) love for another. His parents are bothered by this, and he struggles with their disapproval, but ultimately decides his love for Jerome supersedes it. Translated from French by Claudia Bedrick.
- Love Around the World, by Fleur Pierets and illustrated by Fatinha Ramos (Six Foot Press, 2019): The beautifully rendered story of two women who set out on a journey to marry in every country where they legally can. We see them wed in various countries in North America, South America, Europe, and Australia. Their story continues in Love is Love: The Journey Continues, and shows the couple marrying in various countries in Europe, Asia, South America, and Africa. Some may find their desire to marry “in the traditional wedding attire of each country we visit” somewhat appropriating, though Pierets also makes a point of showcasing the actions and activists within each country that have helped enact marriage equality, so this could also be viewed as respecting local traditions. One of the few LGBTQ-inclusive children’s books that offers a global perspective.
- Ways to Say I Love You, by Marilyn Singer and illustrated by Alette Straathof (words & pictures, 2020): In rhyming couplets, this book contrasts courtship rituals in the natural world with those of humans. (“Garter snakes huddle. People like to cuddle.”) There are same- and different-sex couples shown, and the intent is sweet, but some may be put off by the book’s narrow focus on paired, romantic love, as it begins with the assertion, “It’s the truth. There’s no debate. Every creature wants a mate.” The afterward, too, states, “People like to pair up with other people.” Those who identify as asexual or aromantic (or are just happy being single, sans label) may disagree with this central premise, which seems a little too sweeping. Still, the art is gorgeous and for those wanting a book celebrating two-person romance, there are at least some same-sex couples among the pairs.
Romantic Love – Fairy Tales
- Porcupine Cupid, by Jason June and illustrated by Lori Richmond (Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2020): Porcupine is excited that it’s Valentine’s Day, and uses his quills like Cupid’s arrows to poke the other members of his forest community as he tells them he hopes they will find their true loves. The other animals don’t like being poked, however, and call a town meeting to discuss “the poke-y porcupine problem.” When they all meet up, however, pairs of the animals bond over their shared dislike of Porcupine’s actions, leading to new romances. Not only could some of the pairings be viewed as same-sex pairs, but queer cues in the illustrations indicate other LGBTQ identities among the animals as well. (One wears a scarf colored like the trans flag; another has a yoga mat colored like the genderqueer flag. The broad queer representation is delightful, though I’m not sure how I feel about relationships forming out of a common dislike of something. But—spoiler alert—Porcupine himself gets stuck by love in the end, so it seems the animals have clued in to his well-intentioned deception. Perhaps this can just be viewed as a cute parable about how we sometimes need to be prodded into action when it comes to romance. Full review.
- Maiden and Princess, by Daniel Haack and illustrated by Isabel Galupo (Little Bee Books, 2019): A maiden and a princess fall in love with the support of their families in this empowering fairy tale.
- Princess Princess Ever After, by Katie O’Neill (Oni Press, 2016): The traditional fairy tale trope gets flipped in this graphic novel when Amira, a princess with a mohawk, rescues Princess Sadie, a princess trapped by her evil sister. Sadie eventually rescues Amira in return and the two feisty royals fall in love. The graphic form will have wide appeal; some of the language, in complexity (“spontaneous,” “fulfillment”) and tone (“butthead”) may make it better for middle-grade readers than younger ones.
- Maiden Voyage, by Adam Reynolds, Chaz Harris, and Jaimee Poipoi, illustrated by Bo Moore and Christine Luiten (Promised Land Entertainment Limited, 2018): In the same universe as Promised Land (below), but with a new cast of characters, this tale of adventure features a fisherman’s daughter, a courageous female captain, pirates, and an evil queen. Despite a few stylistic flaws, it has plenty of action and heart. Full review.
- Raven Wild, by Adam Reynolds, Caitlin Spice, and Chaz Harris, illustrated by Bo Moore and Christine Luiten (Promised Land Entertainment Limited, 2020): Also in the same universe as Promised Land (below), a young trans woman has adventures and finds love in a fantasy world. Empowering, but wordy for the picture-book age group. Full review.
- Prince and Knight, by Daniel Haack and illustrated by Stevie Lewis (Little Bee Books, 2018): A prince’s parents seek to find him a bride. While defending the kingdom from a dragon, however, he falls in love with the (male) knight who helps him. His parents are overjoyed he has found someone to love, and the two marry. Full review.
- The Bravest Knight Who Ever Lived, by Daniel Errico and illustrated by Shiloh Penfield (Schiffer Kids, 2019): A noble young man might marry a princess, but chooses her brother the prince instead, after a series of chivalric adventures. Full review of original edition; see also interview with author about the Hulu television show based on the book, now available in the new edition shown here.
- Promised Land, by Adam Reynolds and Chaz Harris, illustrated by Bo Moore and Christine Luiten (Promised Land Entertainment Limited, 2017): A young Prince and a farm boy fall in love. However, when the Queen re-marries, her sinister new husband seeks control of the Enchanted Forest and the land the farm boy’s family are responsible for protecting. Full review.
- Prince Henry: A Gay Fairytale Romance for Young Readers, by Olly Pike (2015): Prince Henry faces difficulties because the man he loves is of a much lower social class. Full review.
- King & King, by Linda de Haan and illustrated by Stern Nijland (Tricycle Press, 2003): A prince rejects all the princesses his mother wants him to marry. Luckily, when he finds his prince, his family is supportive.
- The Girls, by Lauren Ace and illustrated by Jenny Løvlie (Rodale Kids, 2019): A beautiful celebration of female friendship as we see four girls—best friends—support each other through hardships and celebrate each others successes from childhood and into adulthood. One of them ends up in a relationship with another woman; we also see all four friends marching together in a Pride parade as they “always took pride in their friendship.” After so many children’s books in which the non-queer characters don’t understand or tease the queer character, this image of active and unconditional support by the friends is a breath of fresh air.
- My Best Friend, by Julie Fogliano and illustrated by Jillian Tamaki (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2020): Beautifully captures the magical spirit of childhood friendships at an age when children are still figuring out what it means to have—and to be—a friend. It’s not exactly queer inclusive, but the close relationship between the two girls, one White, one Asian, may resonate with some queer women and girls. Full review.
- This Love: A Celebration of Harmony Around the World, by Isabel Otter and illustrated by Harriet Lynas (Tiger Tales, 2019): “Love is a special language that’s understood by all,” says this gentle book that shows the many types of love felt by people and families around the world. A two-mom and a two-dad family are among those depicted.
- Under the Love Umbrella, by Davina Bell and illustrated by Allison Colpoys (Scribble US, 2020): We see several children encountering everyday difficulties—a broken toy; a friend who is unfair; a scary barking dog, a moment of shyness—as a parental narrator (or really, several narrators, as we see several different families) soothingly reassures them that the “umbrella of my love” is always with them. One of the children has two moms.
- I Love Us: A Book About Family, from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and illustrated by Luisa Uribe (2020): A simple board book about different types of families, including one with two dads (and maybe one with two moms; it’s unclear if they’re together or in two separate families). On each page, a narrator (presumably a child in the depicted family) tells us all the things they love to do with their family. Includes a mirror (unbreakable) in the back and a freeform family tree for readers to reflect themselves.
- Elvis Presley’s Love Me Tender, with illustrations by Stephanie Graegin (Dial Books, 2017): The classic song, adapted as a sweet ode to family love. Includes a two-mom family among the several types shown.
- Love Makes a Family, by Sophie Beer (Dial Books, 2018): A sweet board book with images of people in families demonstrating what “love is” on each page. We see families with two moms, two dads, one of each, and single parents, among others.