One of the few bright spots of 2020 was the number of new, LGBTQ-inclusive children’s books. Here’s my annual list of picture books and a few select middle grade ones that caught my eye, plus queer-inclusive kids’ music albums—and a few titles for and about us LGBTQ parents.
Most of the LGBTQ-inclusive kids’ books published this year were great—and I’m happy to see a (slowly) growing increase in protagonists of color and in books that aren’t “about” LGBTQ families per se. There has also been a relative surge in books about transgender, nonbinary, and gender creative characters. A few of this year’s books I didn’t love, but have included below in case you come across them or if they happen to fit a particular need. For the most part, though, this was a terrific year—and I can’t wait to see what 2021 brings!
Pride 1 2 3, by Michael Joosten and illustrated by Wednesday Holmes (Little Simon), is a simple counting book set at a Pride celebration. Full review.
Who Is Making a Mess? by Maria D’Haene and illustrated by Charlie Eve Ryan (Amicus), is full of surprises and diverse families as it celebrates the messiness of life. Full review.
Kevin Keller’s Favorite Colors, from Little Bee Books, stars the Archie comics’ first gay character explaining the meaning of each of the colors in the Pride flag (including the recent additions of black and brown), as other characters from the comic demonstrate. Aside from the use of Archie characters, this book adds little that is different from existing books (Pride Colors, by Robin Stevenson; Rainbow: A First Book of Pride, by Michael Genhard; and Our Rainbow, by Little Bee Books)—and one might wonder whether Archie’s high schoolers really appeal to very young children. Best for adult fans who want it for their children.
Harvey Milk, Ellen DeGeneres, and RuPaul Charles from Little Bee Books (2020) with no stated author, illustrated by Victoria Grace Elliott, each offer simple takes on these figures’ lives, though not as simple as the board book format might imply. Full review.
Picture Books: Families
Wonderful You, by Lisa Graff and illustrated by Ramona Kaulitski (Philomel), takes us along with a diverse group of expecting families, including ones with two moms and two dads, as their babies-to-be grow and are born as their own delightful selves. Full review.
I Looked Into Your Eyes: A Poem for New Families, by Aviva Brown and Rivka Badik-Schultz, celebrates diverse families in the Jewish spiritual tradition, including ones with same-sex and gender non-conforming parents and Jewish families of color. Use the code MOMBIAN when buying the book at Brown’s website to get 10 percent off your purchase. Additionally, 15 percent of the proceeds from sales until Dec. 31, 2020 will be donated to Be’chol Lashon, an organization dedicated to celebrating Jewish diversity and raising awareness about multicultural Jews of all races, languages, and ethnicities. Full review.
Picture Books: Transgender Characters
Sylvia and Marsha Start a Revolution, by Joy Michael Ellison and Teshika Silver (Jessica Kingsley), focuses on the close friendship of Stonewall icons Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson and how they cared for their community. Full review.
Max on the Farm, by Kyle Lukoff and illustrated by Luciano Lozano (Reycraft), is the third in the series about Max, a White transgender boy. Here, Max goes on a trip to a farm with his class, including his friend Teresa, a darker-skinned girl, and the two get into gentle mischief. Full review.
She’s My Dad!, by Sarah Savage and illustrated by Joules Garcia (Jessica Kingsley Publishers) is the first-person story of Mini, a White six-year-old who speaks with pride about their dad, a transgender woman. Full review.
My Rainbow, by DeShanna Neal and Trinity Neal and illustrated by Art Twink (Kokila), based on Trinity’s own life as a Black transgender girl with autism, tells of her mom and nonbinary sibling helping her get the long hair she wants to express her true self.
I’m Not a Girl, by Maddox Lyons and Jessica Verdi, with illustrations by Dana Simpson (Roaring Brook), is a first-person story based on Lyons’ own life as a White transgender boy. Full review.
The Fighting Infantryman, by Rob Sanders and illustrated by Nabi H. Ali (Little Bee), is the true story of Albert D. J. Cashier, an Irish immigrant, a Union soldier in the U.S. Civil War, and a transgender man. Full review.
Raven Wild, by Caitlin Spice, Adam Reynolds, and Chaz Harris, with illustrations by Christine Luiten and Bo Moore, is the third in the Promised Land fantasy series (after Promised Land and Maiden Voyage), but can be read as a standalone tale. In it, Raven, a transgender young woman, has various daring adventures and eventually finds love. Wordy for a picture book, but notable for being simply a fun adventure and romance and not simply “about” being trans per se. Full review.
Love Remains: A Rosh Hashanah Story of Transformation, shows changes in the life of a Jewish mother, father, and child as they go year after year to the grandparents’ house for Rosh Hashanah. One year, their favorite flower shop is closed and they must find another; the next year, the grandfather has died; the year after that, a cousin has a new baby. The child similarly transforms and comes into his identity as a transgender boy, which the family wholeheartedly accepts. Full review.
Picture Books: Nonbinary Characters
My Maddy, by Gayle Pitman and illustrated by Violet Tobacco (Magination), is a gentle story told as a series of reflections by a White child about her nonbinary parent. Full review.
Peanut Goes for the Gold, by “Queer Eye” star Jonathan Van Ness and illustrated by Gillian Reid (HarperCollins), tells of a nonbinary guinea pig finding the power and joy of being themselves. Full review.
A More Graceful Shaboom, by Jacinta Bunnell and illustrated by Crystal Vielula (PM Press), is a surreal romp of a book that follows a nonbinary child with “an extravagant collection of belongings” that they find hard to keep organized until they encounter a magical purse. Full review.
Picture Books: Gender Expression
Carlos, the Fairy Boy/Carlos, El Niño Hada, by Juan A. Ríos Vega (Reflection Press), is the bilingual story of a boy learning about his cultural traditions in Panama while he gets support from his abuela and a queer elder to follow his fairy boy dreams. Full review.
Julián at the Wedding, by Jessica Love (Candlewick), the sequel to Julián Is a Mermaid, shows Julián and his abuela attending a wedding, where Julián meets a new friend and proves that he’s still full of imagination and style. Full review.
Glad Glad Bear, by Kimberly Gee (Beach Lane), explores the gender creative Bear’s emotions during his first day at dance class, wearing both a tutu and leggings. Full review.
The Hips on the Drag Queen Go Swish, Swish, Swish, by Lil Miss Hot Mess, a founding member of Drag Queen Story Hour, and illustrated by Olga de Dios (Running Press), is a fun and flamboyant take on the classic children’s song “The Wheels on the Bus.” Full review.
Auntie Uncle: Drag Queen Hero, by Ellie Royce and illustrated by Hannah Chambers (POW!) stars a young White boy loves his Uncle Leo, an accountant, and his Auntie Lotta, a drag queen—who are both the same person. When Leo/Lotta ends up in a situation that would reveal both identities to people who don’t yet know both, the boy helps find a solution that incorporates both aspects of his “Auntie Uncle’s” personality. Full review.
Tabitha and Magoo Dress Up Too, by Drag Queen Story Hour founder Michelle Tea and illustrated by Ellis van der Does (Feminist Press), shows us a brother-sister pair who love playing dress-up in gender creative ways, though they’re hesitant to go outside in these outfits. The drag queen Morgana then magically appears and helps them learn to celebrate being themselves. Morgana then takes them in a flying car to a nearby library for a diverse and fun-filled story time. Full review.
Bling Blaine: Throw Glitter, Not Shade, by Rob Sanders (Sterling Publishing), centers on a young Black boy who loves to sparkle. When he is bullied by some classmates, however, others come to his aid in this book showing the importance of allyship. Full review.
The One and Only Dylan St. Claire, by Kamen Edwards and illustrated by Jeffrey Ebbeler (Doubleday/Random House) features a White protagonist who shows he’s a bit of a drama queen when he doesn’t get cast as the star of the school play, but he ultimately finds his own way to shine in this fun and funny tale. Although Dylan isn’t identified as queer in the text, Edwards’ bio at Amazon explains that the book is “a nostalgic re-imagining of an out and proud childhood.” Full review.
In It’s Okay to Be a Unicorn, by Jason Tharp (Imprint/Macmillan), Cornelius J. Sparklesteed is known and loved throughout the town of Hoofington for his incredible handmade hats. Hoofington is a friendly place … unless you’re a unicorn. And Cornelius is hiding a secret, in a book that isn’t explicitly queer-inclusive—but that offers an obvious analogy. Full review.
Hooray, What A Day!/¡Viva, Qué Día! by Molly Allis, takes us on a day-long adventure as two gender creative children (one with two dads) explore their queer and colorful community. Full review.
Jamie and Bubbie: A Book About People’s Pronouns, written by Afsaneh Moradian and illustrated by Maria Bogade (Free Spirit Publishing) is a sequel to the duo’s Jamie Is Jamie (my review here), but either can be read independently. Here, Jamie’s Bubbie comes for a visit, but mistakenly misgenders several of the people they meet on their neighborhood walk. Jamie, a White child whose gender is never specified, knows everyone’s correct genders and pronouns, though, and gently informs Bubbie, who is receptive to the feedback. Full review.
I Am Brown, written by Ashok Banker and illustrated by Sandhya Prabhat (Latana Publishing), takes us on a journey through the world of a young brown child and friends, celebrating and affirming brown children’s varied cultural and geographic origins, interests, talents, physical appearances, and relationships—and it’s inclusive of creative gender expressions as well. Full review.
Jesse’s Dream Skirt, written by Bruce Mack (under the name “Morning Star”) was first published in 1977, but was republished this year by its illustrator, Marian Buchanan. The tale of a young White boy who wants to wear a skirt to school and is supported by his mother and his Black teacher holds up surprisingly well today. Full review.
Picture Books: Same-Sex Relationships
Plenty of Hugs, by Fran Manushkin (Dial Books/Penguin Young Readers) is a gentle celebration of the loving relationship between a White toddler and parents who happen to be two moms, one of whom has a more masculine gender expression. Full review.
The Bread Pet: A Sourdough Story, by Kate DePalma and illustrated by Nelleke Verhoeff (Barefoot Books), is the whimsical tale of a Black girl and an out-of-control sourdough starter left by her White uncle (who could be read as gay). She happens to have two moms, one Black and one White; the latter has a more masculine gender expression. Full review.
Uncle Bobby’s Wedding, is a revised edition of the 2008 book about a girl worried that her favorite uncle will no longer have time for her after he marries his boyfriend. The original anthropomorphic guinea pigs are replaced by human characters: a White girl and her uncles, one White and one Black. Full review.
A Kid of Their Own, by Megan Dowd Lambert and illustrated by Jessica Lanan (Charlesbridge), is a fun story of adorable animals, gay farmers, clever wordplay, and adoption. Full review.
Who’s Your Real Mom? by Bernadette Green and illustrated by Anna Zobel (Scribble) shows a White girl with two moms answering the question in a clever and empowered way (her real mom is “a pirate in disguise” and “speaks fluent gorilla” she teases) that may better convey its message than a more serious treatment. Full review.
Mighty May Won’t Cry Today, by Kendra and Claire-Voe Ocampo and illustrated by Erica De Chavez (Bunny Patch Press), tells of a White girl’s first day of school as she learns that it’s okay to express her emotions. She happens to have two moms. Full review.
An Ordinary Day, written by Elana K. Arnold and illustrated by Elizabet Vukovic (Beach Lane/Simon & Schuster), shows us nothing less than the circle of life by showing us the parallel stories of two families: one with two moms and their three kids saying goodbye to their beloved but ailing golden retriever, and another with a mom, dad, and child who are welcoming a new baby. It’s poignant, but also gently shows the cycle of life and death. Full review.
My best friend, by Julie Fogliano and Jillian Tamaki (Atheneum/Simon & Schuster), 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 is likely to resonate with a lot of queer women and girls. Full review.
Papa, Daddy, and Riley, by Seamus Kirst and illustrated by Devon Holzwarth (Magination), tells of Riley, a Black girl, whose classmate asks which of her dads is her “real” dad. Riley gets upset thinking she must choose, until her dads (one Black, one White) explain that she doesn’t have to. Full review.
Pickles & Ocho: Our Favorite Place, is the second in a series about two French bulldogs with two human dads. In this one, they’re worried about moving to a new house, but discover that they’re happy wherever their family is. Sweet, but might have offered more effective representation if the human dads had human children.
Freeda the Frog and the Two Mommas Next Door, by Nadine Haruni and illustrated by Tina Modugno (Mascot Books), tries to address kids’ questions about same-sex parents in a rather pedantic book that seems aimed at those who don’t have same-sex parents themselves. If kids haven’t already heard erroneous things about same-sex parents, however (they’re “confusing,” “weird,” and “wrong”), this book might not be the best place to start. (Try another book that simply discusses diverse types of families in a positive way.) Full review.
Mayor Pete: The Story of Pete Buttigieg, by Rob Sanders and illustrated by Levi Hastings (Henry Holt), takes us from Buttigieg’s birth in Indiana to his announcement of a groundbreaking run for president. It may inspire young readers on their own journeys of self-discovery and service. Full review.
For Spacious Skies: Katharine Lee Bates and the Inspiration for “America the Beautiful,” by Nancy Churnin and illustrated by Olga Baumert (Albert Whitman), tells of Bates’ childhood during the Civil War, her dedication to study, and her work to address social injustices, as well as the trip that inspired her most famous poem. It mentions “the home she shared with Katharine Coman”; an afterward calls their relationship “a close companionship,” though as I explain in my full review, it was likely more than that.
Picture Books: Activism and Pride
No Voice Too Small: Fourteen Young Americans Making History, edited by Lindsay H. Metcalf, Keila V. Dawson and Jeanette Bradley, and illustrated by Jeanette Bradley (Charlesbridge), pairs the stories of youth activists with #OwnVoices poems from exceptional adult poets who were inspired by their work. Unsurprisingly, there are queer voices among them. Full review.
V Is for Voting, an alphabet book by Kate Farrell and illustrated by Caitlin Kuhwald (Henry Holt), offers simple phrases and sentences for each letter, all related to voting and democracy. Harvey Milk is the only famous person shown who is clearly queer (though you can count Eleanor Roosevelt if you like), but several of the unnamed cast carry rainbow signs and transgender symbols during protests and marches. (Yes, the November election is past, but there’s a critical runoff in Georgia in January—and there’s always next year.) Full review.
Be Amazing: A History of Pride, by “Drag Kid” Desmond Is Amazing (Farrar Staus Giroux), is less a detailed history than a short overview of the Stonewall Riots and the first March one year later; brief biographies of Stonewall icons Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera; and a description of the influence of Pride on Desmond’s life. What it lacks as a history it makes up for with dazzling illustrations from Dylan Glynn and an enthusiastic message to “Be amazing.” Full review.
Middle Grade Novels and Graphic Novels
I don’t review as many middle grade books as picture books (if I did, I’d have no time to take care of my own family), but here are a few I have reviewed and liked.
The Deep & Dark Blue, by Niki Smith (Little, Brown) is a graphic novel in which two twins must hide with a group of magical women after a coup threatens their noble house. For one, dressing as a woman to blend in with the group is a disguise; for the other, it is the first step towards living as her real gender. The story takes up some familiar fantasy tropes—noble families; an evil relative who takes over from a rightful heir; young people coming of age—but transforms them into something fresh and original. Full review.
Snapdragon, by Kat Leyh, one of the creators of the lauded Lumberjanes comics is a magical realist graphic novel about a town with a witch (maybe), a girl who doesn’t quite act like one, and her transgender best friend. There’s also a queer romance, but I’ll say no more so I don’t spoil it. The protagonist and her family are Black; other characters are White. Full review.
A Home for Goddesses and Dogs, by National Book Award Finalist Leslie Connor (Katherine Tegen/HarperCollins), is a beautiful, lyrical, and insightful story about moving through grief, growing up, and finding family, focusing on a 13-year-old girl who must move in with her aunt and her wife after her mother dies. Full review.
The Only Black Girls in Town, by Brandy Colbert (Little, Brown), is the story of 12-year-old Alberta, who lives with her two dads, the only Black family in their California beach town. When another 12-year-old Black girl and her mom move in across the street, Alberta is excited. When she and the new girl, Edie, discover some old journals in Edie’s attic, they work together to unravel their mysteries, which leads them on a journey back through history and the toxic threads of racism, colorism, passing, and privilege in the U.S., even as they grapple with micro- (and not-so-micro) aggressions in their own community. Full review.
Goldie Vance: The Hotel Whodunit, by Lilliam Rivera (Little, Brown), is an original novel based on the bestselling BOOM! Studios comic series by Hope Larsen and Brittney Williams. Goldie, a biracial, queer 16-year-old, lives at the Crossed Palms Resort Hotel in Florida in the 1960s, where she is the valet and aspiring hotel detective. When a Hollywood studio comes to the resort to shoot a movie, everyone is swept up into the excitement and glamour until a diamond-encrusted swim cap goes missing. Goldie’s mom is implicated, and Goldie must call on all her detective skills to find the real thief. Full review.
You Should See Me in a Crown (Scholastic) by Leah Johnson, ) is the first novel from Leah Johnson, a 2021 Lambda Literary Emerging Writers Fellow. Liz Lighty is a Black, nerdy, poor, wallflower, which sets her apart in her small, rich, Midwestern town. But when a scholarship to an elite college falls through, she unexpectedly finds herself in the social spotlight, running for prom queen and the prize money that brings. As if that’s not hard enough, she may also be falling for one of her competitors. Full review.
Middle Grade Nonfiction
Pride: The Celebration and the Struggle, by Robin Stevenson (Orca, 2020), is an updated edition of her 2016 Pride: Celebrating Diversity and Community, which blends a history of the event with a broader look at the struggle for LGBTQ equality, along with a look at what it means to come out, what to expect at Pride events around the world, a glossary, and an explanation of gender identity. The new edition places a greater focus on activism and activists, as the need for such work has grown over the past few years.
Rainbow Revolutionaries: Fifty LGBTQ+ People Who Made History, by Sarah Prager (HarperCollins, 2020), offers short but engaging profiles of LGBTQ+ people who have had an impact on the world in a variety of times and places. The format matches her book for teens, Queer There and Everywhere: 23 People Who Changed the World, but the language has been tuned to a slightly younger audience. In both books, Prager writes in an informal, approachable style while also providing substantial facts about each person’s life and motivations. (Full review.)
Rainbow Revolutions: Power, Pride, and Protest in the Fight for Queer Rights, by Jamie Lawson (Crocodile Books/Interlink), takes a more event-based approach to history, rather than Prager’s people-based one, offering brief snapshots of significant moments and movements in LGBTQ history from the Victorian age to our current era. The choices about what to focus on feel somewhat uneven, but this is a beautiful volume that will likely engage tween (and even teen) readers. Full review.
The Every Body Book: The LGBTQ+ Inclusive Guide for Kids about Sex, Gender, Bodies, and Families, written by Rachel Simon and illustrated by Noah Grigni (Jessica Kingsley), offers tweens information on sex, gender, bodies, and relationships—and assumes an audience of all sexual orientations and gender identities. Full review.
On the Field with … Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan, Carli Lloyd, and Mallory Pugh, by Matt Christopher (Little, Brown), follows Megan Rapinoe and three of her 2019 U.S. Women’s National Soccer teammates from their starts in the sport through their rise to global fame—and which also discusses Rapinoe’s coming out and its positive impact on her life. Full review.
Noisemakers (Alfred A. Knopf), a new book from Kazoo Media, has brought together 25 of today’s best women and nonbinary comic artists to offer engaging graphic biographies of “25 women who raised their voices and changed the world.” When the promotional blurbs on the covers are from Jacqueline Woodson and Alison Bechdel, you know it’s going to be good. (Full review.)
Kids’ Music (that Won’t Annoy Grown-Ups)
The Trans and Nonbinary Kids Mix is a multi-artist, multi-genre music album offering transgender and nonbinary children and youth songs that reflect and support who they are. It’s the brainchild of Julie Lipson, one half of children’s music duo Ants on a Log, and contains 21 songs from musicians representing hip-hop, pop, folk, country, and other genres. Download it free at the link; if you choose to make a donation, it will go to Camp Aranu’tiq, a summer camp for transgender and nonbinary youth. Full review.
Be a Pain: An Album for Young (& Old) Leaders, by Alastair Moock, which just received a Grammy nomination, seeks to inspire young listeners to become leaders for positive change. It includes a song for his nonbinary child, one that praises Harvey Milk, and another that invites young listeners to imagine leaders who are LGBTQ, among other identities. Full review.
For LGBTQ Parents
If These Ovaries Could Talk: The Things We’ve Learned About Making an LGBTQ Family, by Jaimie Kelton and Robin Hopkins,, the hosts of a popular podcast, captures the lively spirit of the show and the insights of their many guests as it explores LGBTQ family making. Full review.
What’s in a Name: Perspectives from Nonbiological and Nongestational Queer Mothers, edited by Sherri Martin-Baron, Raechel Johns, and Emily Regan Wills (Demeter Press), is a must-read anthology about queer women and nonbinary people who are nonbiological and nongestational parents looks at their paths to parenthood, their experiences as parents, and the evolving meanings of what it is to be a mother. Full review.
I’m Still Here, by Martina Reaves (She Writes Press) interweaves the strands of her life from San Francisco in the 1960s through teaching, law school, coming out, starting a family, and surviving two types of cancer. Full review.
Want even more? Check out my Gift Guide from last year or see my longer lists.
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