Tag: Books

Queer Elders and Grandparents Star in New Picture Books

Queer Elders and Grandparents Star in New Picture Books

There have been very few picture books featuring queer elders and grandparents, but several new ones are adding to the list!

Roger and Matthew

Roger and Matthew, by Canadian singer/songwriter Michel Theriault (Fitzhenry & Whiteside), is a poetic, gentle story about the lives of a retired, White, two-man couple. “Everyone in the village knows them. They are part of the neighborhood,” we read. They have known each other since elementary school and “don’t need words to understand each other.” They live in a home with sunlight, flowers, and “sleepy cats.”

They are “two kind gentlemen,” but “because they were different people were often mean to them and sometimes hurt them”—nevertheless, “they weathered these storms with pride and courage.” Now, they are happy and their home is full of love. They are kind, we read again, and the book concludes, “Roger and Matthew are in love.” The story was originally a song called “Roger et Mathieu,” from Thériault’s album Drôle d’oiseau. It then became a picture book in French, Ils sont…, which was translated by Pamela Doll to create this version.

Although bias against the couple is mentioned, the focus is on the happiness they found together and on their quiet strength. Magali Ben’s limited-palette watercolor illustrations are simply gorgeous, perfectly capturing the quiet tone of the words and the everyday details of the couple’s life together. This is a beautiful story with a vision of growing old as a same-sex couple that we rarely see. There’s no indication of the men ever raising children, but nevertheless, children with same-sex grandparents as well as queer children wondering what their future might look like may particularly appreciate it. Having said that, this tender story should be enjoyed by all.

Katy Has Two Grampas

Katy Has Two Grampas, by Julie Schanke Lyford and Robert A. Schanke, with illustrations by Mariia Luzina (Wise Ink), takes its title fairly obviously from Lesléa Newman’s classic Heather Has Two Mommies, but is based on an incident that happened to Lyford’s own daughter (and Schanke’s granddaugher) Katy. Katy, a White first-grader who has a lisp, is often misunderstood by her classmates and teacher, but is excited about inviting her grampas to school on Grandparents’ Day. When Katy draws a picture and tells her teacher that it is of her grampa and grampa, however, her teacher tries to convince her that she meant to say “grandpa and grandMA.” Katy becomes upset and decides she doesn’t want them to come to class with her after all, since she doesn’t want to introduce them in front of the class and be misunderstood. Her big sister explains to the teacher that their grampas are “married to EACH OTHER,” and the teacher apologizes and says that both men are welcome.

On the day of the event, Katy summons her courage and announces, “These are my grampas and know what? They’re married … TO EACH OTHER.” At the end, her grampas praise her and say they’ll take her out for ice cream. The narrative could use a little tightening—it feels a little wordy for a book with a first-grade protagonist—but this is an earnest and heartfelt story that many should like for its depiction of a two-grandfather couple.

Like so many other picture books with same-sex relatives, though, it emphasizes a child getting upset when someone misunderstands about her family (in this case compounded by the teacher’s assumption that Katy’s lisp is the problem), even if the situation later resolves happily. For children who really encounter such questioning of their family structures, such books can offer comfort—but when so many picture books with queer characters have similar storylines, one may long for more stories in which the characters’ queerness is only incidental and doesn’t have to be explained. Nevertheless, it’s great to see one more story among the very few with queer grandparents.

On the promotional site for Katy Has Two Grampas, in fact, the authors say it is “The first children’s book featuring married gay grampas.” It is not, however, the first children’s book to feature a two-grandfather couple. Heather Smith’s A Plan for Pops (Orca, 2019) includes two grandfathers who are obviously a couple, settled into a routine indicative of a long relationship—and the publisher’s website clearly tags the book as having LGBTQ content. True, A Plan for Pops never uses the term “married” to refer to the men—but to see their relationship as anything less than a marriage seems disingenuous. (My full review here.) Additionally, David Hyde Costello’s Little Pig Saves the Ship (Charlesbridge, 2017), also includes a two-grandfather couple; their coupledom is less obvious here (so count it or not as you wish), but Costello confirmed it in a 2017 radio interview. There is power in words, though, and some readers may prefer the explicit ALL CAPS reference in Katy that the grandfathers are married to each other; those looking for a story in which the same-sex relationship doesn’t lead to a misunderstanding may favor the other titles. (Or try them all and see which resonate with you.)

Grandad's Camper

Grandad’s Camper, by Harry Woodgate, an upcoming book from the partnership between GLAAD and Little Bee Books, also depicts a two-grandfather couple. (It comes out April 6 but is available for preorder). Every summer, a child (with brown skin and dark brown hair) goes to stay with her grandad (who is White) by the sea. Her favorite activity is hearing his stories of the “tall and handsome” Gramps (who has brown skin and black hair) and how they explored the world in their camper. Woodgate’s lush illustrations take us with them through cities and jungles, and show us the loving, fun relationship between the two men and between the girl and Grandad.

The child observes that she can see “how much he loved Gramps.” She asks why Grandad doesn’t go anywhere now, and he replies, “Since Gramps died, I just don’t feel like it.” The girl then convinces him to fix up the camper with her. Grandad suggests they pack some snacks and go camp on the beach, just like he and Gramps used to. And so they do.

I like this sweet story a lot. I do wonder, however, about the entire scope of their family. The girl visits Grandad during the summer, so she presumably lives with her parent or parents the rest of the year. We can assume that one of those parents is the child of Grandad and Gramps. We hear and see nothing about those parents in the story, however. Did Gramps die before Grandad even became a father? If so, it feels a little odd (though not completely out of the question) that the girl would call him Gramps, since her parent on that side of the family would probably not even have called him father. If Gramps and Grandad became parents together, however, and Gramps died after their child(ren) grew up, one might assume they’d have used the camper to take trips with their child(ren). In that case, one might think there would have been at least one mention or image of that in the story. Maybe Gramps died after their child(ren) came into the family but before they were old enough to go traveling with them? Did that mean Grandad raised his child(ren) as a single dad during a time when such things were even less common than they are now? If so, all credit to him for that. In a book of this length, I know one can’t go into too many background details, but I would have loved to see just a hint of the family thread—the “love through the generations” touted on the back cover.

Perhaps I’m wanting too much here. Readers may prefer filling in the gaps of the story with their own imaginations. (Clearly, it sparked mine.) Regardless, this is a lovely story about the relationship between a girl and her grandfather and how people in a family continue to have an impact even after they are gone. Gramps is shown on many pages together with Grandad; this isn’t a case of making their relationship invisible (though there’s a different sort of impact in seeing a child interacting with both grandparents in a same-sex couple, as in some of the stories mentioned above). A rainbow flag waving from the camper (on the cover and one interior page), and a pink triangle on Grandad’s shirt in images from his younger days mark this as a queer-inclusive book without making it “about” being queer, which is terrific.

There are only a few other books I know of that include queer grandparents: George Parker’s Bell’s Knock Knock Birthday (Flamingo Rampant, 2017), in which a child welcomes their nonbinary “Grandmani” to a party, and j wallace skelton’s The Last Place You Look (Flamingo Rampant, 2017), set at a Passover seder hosted by a two-bubbie (grandmother) couple. Clearly the queer grandfathers have a slight numerical edge overall; let’s hope we soon see some more about queer grandmothers and nonbinary grandparents, too. Very often, as Grandad’s Camper makes clear, elders and grandparents are the storytellers of the family (or of the community). Surely there are even more stories they could be telling us.

LGBTQ-Inclusive Kids’ Activity Books to Teach and Entertain

LGBTQ-Inclusive Kids' Activity Books to Teach and Entertain

LGBTQ-inclusive story books are wonderful—but sometimes one wants something a little more interactive. Let’s therefore look today at two queer-inclusive books that aren’t just stories, but offer young readers discussion questions, games, coloring, and more fun activities.

The Big Book of LGBTQ+ Activities: Teaching Children about Gender Identity, Sexuality, Relationships and Different Families

The Big Book of LGBTQ+ Activities: Teaching Children about Gender Identity, Sexuality, Relationships and Different Families, by Amie Taylor and illustrated by Liza Stevens (Jessica Kingsley Press), is built around five fairy tale stories involving LGBTQ characters, with discussion questions, games, and coloring pages associated with each one, aimed at teaching what it means to be LGBTQ+, terms for talking about LGBTQ+ people, and how to be welcoming and supportive to others. A “Guide for Adults” section at the end is intended both as a resource for primary school teachers in the U.K. who are teaching relationship and sex education—but also for parents or other caregivers supporting a child through this workbook at home. While some of the references in the book (the 2010 Equality Act; salt and vinegar crisps) are clear pointers to the book’s U.K. origins, most of it could be fruitfully used by readers in the U.S. and elsewhere, too.

The first story shows us how two female princesses fell in love and got married, and serves to launch a discussion of what it means to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, or straight. Overall, the presentation here is fine, although several times it specifically defines “same-sex marriage” as a term for referring to the princesses’ relationship. Really, they just have a “marriage.” Yes, the term “same-sex marriage” is in common use—but as the GLAAD Media Reference Guide advises, “same-sex marriage … can suggest marriage for same-sex couples is somehow different than other marriages.” Let’s just teach kids that a marriage is a marriage.

Additionally, the “Quick Quiz” in this section asks readers to fill in the terms for a woman attracted to women, a man attracted to men, and a man attracted to women—but not for anyone attracted to both. Instead, space is taken up asking readers to identify the term for “The promises you make to each other at a wedding,” which seems a much less key concept to reinforce here. And a matching card game that asks readers to pair relevant terms with images of various couples shows one couple each on the cards for “Gay,” “Lesbian,” and “Straight or heterosexual,” but two couples (a man and a woman; the same man and a man) on the card for “Bisexual.” That’s not wrong, exactly, but could lead to the misconceptions that either: a) Bisexual people have multiple relationships at once; or b) All bisexuals are male. Still, a little adult guidance can help on this point.

The second story is about two already-married princes and a unicorn who believes that only a prince and a princess should marry—until the princes help him with a problem and the unicorn admits he was wrong. The discussion questions and activities here focus on homophobia—for example, they ask young readers to imagine what they might have said to the unicorn to help him change his mind, and how they might help a classmate if someone was “being mean to them about their two mums or two dads.”

The third story involves a child named Arthur who is a transgender boy. When he tells everyone that he is a boy, “everyone was fine with that.” Arthur encounters a problem, however, when he wants to wear a flamingo costume for the Halloween parade. “The flamingo costumes are for the girls. You are a boy,” his mother tells him. Arthur manages to finagle a flamingo costume and secretly take part in the parade. When the king misgenders him—“Well done, little girl”—Arthur corrects him and the king apologizes. Arthur’s example, however, leads a girl in the parade to assert that she wants to dress up as a pirate, something only boys did. His mother (who happens to be in charge of the palace parades) then declares that anyone can dress any way they like.

Given everyone’s unconditional acceptance of Arthur’s gender identity, however, his mom’s refusal to let him wear a flamingo costume rings false. Much as I like the point about breaking down gender roles, too, adults may have to reinforce (as Taylor tries to) that Arthur’s desire for the flamingo costume wasn’t because he is “really” a girl. Taylor also offers a page and a half of explanation “All About Gender,” which may help both children and adults better understand the topic.

The fourth story brings us back to Princesses Asma and Ruby, who have become parents. One of the palace guards, Kai, is a nonbinary person who uses “they” pronouns. When the guard rescues the princesses’ daughter, the princesses realized they can’t be honored with a knighthood (for men) or a damehood (for women), so they invent a “Kaihood” just for them. Activities for this section revolve around pronouns.

The fifth story tells of two children whose mom and dad are divorced, and whose father starts dating another man. The mother explains that this means he’s bisexual. This is perhaps the only depiction of an explicitly bisexual parent (or even character) in a book for elementary-age children, and it’s great to see. The activities for this story revolve around different types of family, but also explore what “biphobia” is and reinforce some of the terms from the first story.

The activities in the book are a nicely varied lot, including coloring and drawing pages, paired exercises to do with other children, and creative challenges, like making menus for a wedding of two princesses. While some are clearly pedagogical, others are just for fun. Despite a few items that might have been better thought out, teachers and other adults looking for resources to help them teach about LGBTQ people and identities will likely find this a useful starting point.

The Dragtivity Book

The Dragtivity Book, by Mor Erlich, was created through a collaboration between Drag Queen Story Hour (DQSH) and Erlich’s Sez Me, a multidisciplinary educational program that began as a queer-positive Web video series for kids. The book uses the ovoid character of Hello Mellow from the series to take kids on an exploration of what drag is and to imagine their own drag personas. Erlich told me via e-mail:

Usually the DQSH drag storytellers read the first few pages of the book and use it as a conversation starter to get kids and adults talking about what drag means to them. Pre-Covid, we used to bring print outs of a few of the pages for the kids to color and do the activities after the reading. Now, for virtual events on Zoom, we often do the “Find Your Drag Name” exercise. The kids write their new drag names in the chat or unmute and shout them out! ‘Mister Popchip Eleventh’, Miz Hummus D Star’, Dr. Pepsi T. Bootlegger!

The book doesn’t just have to be used at DQSH events, though. You can buy it right from the DQSH NY website (and Erlich tells me they also offer bulk discounts for teachers; contact info at the link).

There are coloring pages, connect-the-dots, matching games, finding games, and more. One page asks kids to indicate the pronouns they use; another steps them through creating their own drag names. Erlich says that some of his favorite parts of using the book with kids at DQSH events have been seeing “lots of great ‘Dragtivity art’ which we share on social media” as well as “lots of silly drag names.”

The one-minute promo video below shows drag queen Jade talking with a child about the book; the creators also have a longer, free Dragtivity Book Lesson Plan video, and a video conversation between Erlich and Jade in which they read the book, share clips from Sez Me, and discuss drag, gendered language, family, role models, self-expression, performance, and fashion.

20+ LGBTQ-Inclusive Kids’ Books About Love

20+ LGBTQ-Inclusive Kids' Books About Love

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!

Valentine's Day - LGBTQ Kids Books with a Theme of Love

Romantic Love

  • 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.

Loving Friendships

  • 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.

Family Love

  • 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.

2021 Rainbow Book List Shows Record Increase in LGBTQ Kids’ Books

2021 Rainbow Book List Shows Record Increase in LGBTQ Kids'

The American Library Association has just announced its 2021 Rainbow Book List—with a record-setting number of 129 librarian-approved LGBTQ-inclusive children’s and young adult books! There are so many, in fact, that for the first time, there are two Top 10 sub-lists of books with “exceptional merit,” one for younger children and one for older youth readers. Learn more and see some charts that illustrate just how the genre has grown.

Rainbow Book List Young Readers Top 10 - 2021

Unlike the recently announced Stonewall Awards for children’s and young adult books, which recognize only a very few titles at the peak of excellence, the Rainbow Book List is a larger selection, intended to help young people find “quality books with significant and authentic GLBTQ content” and assist librarians in developing their collections and advising readers. Its value is not only in recommending quality titles, but also in offering the imprimatur of the oldest and largest library association in the world, which can help convince communities to keep these books on the shelves. It’s a great resource for parents and teachers, too.

This year, the Rainbow Book List Committee of the American Library Association’s (ALA’s) Rainbow Round Table nearly 600 books (a record number!) and selected 129 titles of fiction and non-fiction books for toddlers through young adults. The committee noted: “This year’s offerings give us everything from precious board books, touching picture books, astonishing true stories and biographies of remarkable people. We provide you with titles that incorporate the wide and varied lives of young people, non-fiction titles that challenge the status quo, and fiction that will break your heart and mend it together again.”

Also, “As a result of the sheer number of eligible titles and those ultimately chosen,” the committee also for the first time ever offered a whopping 20 picks “of exceptional merit,” 10 in each of two age categories. The Top 10 Titles for birth through middle grade are:

  1. Burgess, Matthew and Josh Cochran (Illustrator). Drawing on Walls: A Story of Keith Haring.
  2. Mercurio, Peter and Leo Espinosa (Illustrator). Our Subway Baby. 2020.
  3. Neal, DeShanna, Trinity Neal, and Art Twink (Illustrator). My Rainbow.
  4. Pitman, Gayle E. and Violet Tobacco (Illustrator). My Maddy.
  5. Simon, Rachel E. and Noah Grigni (Illustrator). The Every Body Book: LGBTQ+ Inclusive Guide for Kids about Sex, Gender, Bodies, and Families.
  6. Callender, Kacen. King and the Dragonflies.
  7. Sass, A.J. Ana on the Edge.
  8. Leyh, Kat. Snapdragon.
  9. Nguyen, Trung Le. The Magic Fish.
  10. Smith, Niki. The Deep & Dark Blue.

I hope you’ll go check out the Top 10 list for Young Adults and the full list of books for all ages. Many of the books are also ones in my own Mombian Database of LGBTQ Family Books, Media, and More (which can be filtered to show just the books from 2020 or any year), though my focus is on picture books and books for parents, with some select middle grade titles, since I’m only one person and can’t do everything. On the other hand, I’m probably a little more willing to include some titles simply to show the range of LGBTQ-inclusive children’s books today, even if they don’t all rise to quite the level of quality needed to make them library recommendations (though I do try to give an indication of quality in my reviews). With slightly different goals, we’ll end up with slightly different lists—but all with the aim of getting these books into readers’ hands. (Also, note that the Rainbow Book List includes books published in 2020 and between July 1 and December 31 of 2019, so it’s a little more than just one year—and may have omitted a few books published towards the end of 2020 that will be caught in next year’s list.)

I also want to share two charts to show visually just how much the number of LGBTQ-inclusive kids’ books has accelerated in the past few years. The first chart shows the number of Rainbow Book List titles since the List’s founding in 2008. I’ve hand counted the number of titles from the Rainbow Book List website; all errors in tabulation and charting are my own. Even this doesn’t fully show the sweeping change in LGBTQ-inclusive titles, though; several of the committee’s picture book picks in the earlier years, for example, had rather vague or highly allegorical queer content. Today’s books, on the whole, are more likely to show clearly queer characters. You’ll see the big leap starting with 2019’s list, which covers books published between July 2017 and December 2018. (Notes on method: In 2021, the Rainbow List broke out “Juvenile Fiction” into its own category for the first time; I’ve kept it with Middle Grade for the purpose of this chart. I’ve also counted Board Books as Picture Books, since they haven’t always been broken out. Graphic/Manga includes both middle grade and YA titles; since the Rainbow List has never broken them out, though, neither did I.)

Rainbow Book List Count by Year

The second chart shows the number of books the Committee evaluated each year before coming up with their final selections. This chart starts in 2013, when the Committee began regularly reporting this data. Again, the past few years have seen a significant jump. As I said last year as well, the fact that the committee evaluated so many titles and selected a much smaller percentage (roughly 17 to 32 percent) speaks both to the growing number of LGBTQ-inclusive books that are being published and the fact that many of them still have a ways to go in terms of quality and “significant and authentic” LGBTQ content. Let’s hope that budding authors find ways of improving their skills and getting feedback on their drafts. I’ll also suggest that prospective authors read widely among existing LGBTQ-inclusive kids’ books and other diverse, top-rated children’s titles before embarking on efforts of their own.

Books Evaluated by Rainbow Book List Committee

For a bit of history, here’s my interview with Nel Ward, chair of the Rainbow Book List Committee when the list first launched in 2008. It’s been a pleasure watching the number of titles grow and diversify over the years.

As always, many thanks to the librarians who put together the Rainbow Book List and to all of the librarians everywhere whose recommendations and support continue to positively impact the lives of so many young people and families.

LGBTQ-Inclusive Kids’ Books Centering Black Families

LGBTQ-Inclusive Kids' Books Centering Black Families

It’s Black History Month, and I’m partnering with Family Equality to share some #OwnVoices LGBTQ-inclusive picture books that focus on Black characters and families, with the acknowledgement that these books are for all year round, not just February.

Black History Month 2021 - LGBTQ Kids Books

These are LGBTQ-inclusive kids’ books with #OwnVoices Black writers and/or illustrators, which center Black characters and Black families. A growing number of other LGBTQ-inclusive picture books also include Black characters as part of multiracial families or ensemble casts. That’s great—but I believe we also need more books where the entire family or cast of characters is Black (and much the same could be said for characters with any non-White identities). Additionally, while all of the below books offer affirming representation, only two are really about Black history per se. There is unfortunately still a real lack of picture book biographies of famous LGBTQ Black people (or other LGBTQ people of color) that also acknowledge their LGBTQ identities (without necessarily focusing on them).

Want more LGBTQ-inclusive books with characters of various LGBTQ, racial/ethnic, and other identities? The new Mombian Database of LGBTQ Family Books, Media, and More includes nearly 600 items, including more than 300 picture books, and can be searched and filtered by various categories and tags to find items with the representation you’re seeking (if they exist).

In alphabetical order by title:

  • I Am Perfectly Designed, by Karamo Brown with Jason Rachel Brown, illustrated by Anoosha Syed (Henry Holt & Company, 2019). A gentle yet affirming conversation between a young Black boy and his father about their life together, as they walk through their vibrant, multicultural, queer-inclusive neighborhood. The book captures universal feelings of parental-child love in simple but elegant phrases.
  • I Promise, by Catherine Hernandez and illustrated by Syrus Marcus Ware (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2019). A parent addresses her child’s curiosity about how different types of families form—not by going into technical details, but by focusing on the parental promise of love and support that underlies them.
  • Keesha’s South African Adventure, by Cheril N. Clarke and Monica Bey-Clarke, illustrated by Julia Selyutina (My Family!/Dodi Press, 2016). When Keesha’s moms surprise her with a trip to South Africa, she learns about the country’s animals, food, and landmarks. The fact that she has two moms is immaterial; the story focuses on the anticipation of the trip, the adventure of exploring a new place, and the excitement of sharing with classmates upon her return. See also Keesha & Her Two Moms Go Swimming, where Keesha and her moms go to the neighborhood pool for a day of fun. Keesha plays with her best friend Trevor, who has two dads, and befriends another boy who has no one to play with.
  • Leaders Like Us: Bayard Rustin, by J. P. Miller and illustrated by Markia Jenai (Discovery Library, 2020). A biography that focuses on Rustin’s work with the Black civil rights movement, but that also notes “Some people treated Bayard unfairly because he was gay, but that did not stop him.” There is no mention of his later work speaking for gay rights or of how standing up for one part of his identity compelled him to speak up for the other, as this History article explains. Still, the fact that the text says he was gay is a step forward in picture book biographies of him.
  • Love Is in the Hair, written and illustrated by Syrus Marcus Ware (Flamingo Rampant, 2015). A child is staying with her two uncles while waiting for the birth of a new sibling, and learns the stories of her family through the objects woven into the dreadlocks of one uncle’s hair. The uncles’ queerness is incidental; this is simply a charming tale of the way we collect, keep, and share family memories.
  • My Name  Is Troy, Christian A’Xavier Lovehall and illustrated by Chamar M. Cooper (Self-published; 2020). “My name is Troy, and I’m a beautiful, Black Trans boy!” this book proudly begins, then takes us through Troy’s day in rhyming couplets as he shares what he likes (playing outdoors, sports, and bugs)  and doesn’t like (the color pink and playing with dolls). We see images from his life and with his supportive parents. Trans boys whose interests go beyond the traditionally “boyish” ones that Troy favors might not see themselves reflected quite as well, but they should still be buoyed by his happiness and the love that surrounds him.
  • My Rainbow, by Deshanna Neal and Trinity Neal, illustrated by Art Twink (Kokila, 2020). Based on Trinity’s real life as a Black transgender girl with autism, this story tells of her mom and nonbinary sibling helping her get the long hair she wants to express her true self. The love of the family for Trinity and their desire to help her shines from every page.
  • Sylvia and Marsha Start a Revolution! The Story of the Trans Women of Color Who Made LGBTQ+ History, by Joy Ellison and illustrated by Teshika Silver (Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2020). Tells the story of Stonewall icons Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson by focusing on their close friendship and how they cared for their community in the face of harassment. Some of the violence during the rebellion has been tempered for the age group and a few historical details could be argued, but as the author notes, this is only one possible retelling. What comes through clearly is the bond between the friends and how they worked to help those in need.

For some middle-grade titles (most, but not all, #OwnVoices), see the results of the “Middle grade fiction” category and “Black protagonist/family” tags my database.

Nonbinary, Gender Creative Children Summon Courage in New Picture Books

Nonbinary, Gender Creative Children Summon Courage in New Picture Books

Two new picture books, including one in English and Spanish, show nonbinary and gender creative children being proud and confident even as they face bias. This post is also my contribution to Multicultural Children’s Book Day today! #ReadYourWorld

Toby Wears a Tutu

Toby Wears a Tutu, by Lori Starling and illustrated by Anita DuFalia (Brandylane), is told from the first-person perspective of the titular character, a young, Black child who is ready for the first day of school with a “freshly shaved head, purple glasses, button-down blouse, dapper blue bow tie, and frilly pink tutu.” Toby confidently asserts, “The world is mine to discover.” In class, Toby sits with a group of diverse children and their Black, male teacher (which hearkens back, intentionally or not, to the 1979 picture book about a gender creative boy, Jesse’s Dream Skirt, and the supportive Black, male teacher there). All is well until recess time, when a boy tells Toby not to play kickball because it’s only for boys. Another child asks, “Wait, what are you?” while others giggle and laugh as they variously identify him as a boy or a girl. “Confused” and “nervous” from the questions, Toby goes off to sit alone.

At home, Toby and Toby’s mother (who reads as White) talk. She “lets me be my own person” and offers the reminder that some people will think “boy” and “girl” labels are important, but they don’t really matter. Toby also relates her advice that “it’s important that I talk to my friends about my thoughts and feelings. If I need to, Mom tells me, I can always talk with them in front of an adult I trust, like her or my teacher.” The slight pedantry is offset by Toby’s first-person narration, which makes this feel a little less like an adult lecture.

They decorate cookies together and Toby’s mother advises Toby to grab the courage to speak with friends just like grabbing the bag of icing, and to “put love and kindness into your words.” Toby promises “to always grab hold of my courage and speak words of love about myself,” which feels like a bit of a cognitive leap for a young child. On the surface, the mother was talking about speaking to others with love and kindness; for Toby to take away the message about loving oneself feels like an unbelievable amount of self-awareness. While this passage doesn’t quite ring true, though, the sentiment about loving oneself is certainly an important one.

The next day at school, the children again confront Toby, asking “What are you?” Toby summons courage and says, “I’m Toby,” and then proceeds to share the things that Toby likes to eat, wear, do, and be. Toby tells them “Sometimes I feel like a boy” and sometimes a girl; most days, though, Toby is somewhere in between. Another child asks, “So… you’re just a Toby?” Toby nods, and gets invited to go play kickball. “It’s amazing to just be a me,” Toby concludes.

There are now a number of picture books about nonbinary or gender creative children being teased or told they can’t do certain things at school. While the storyline here is very similar in particular to that of Sarah Savage’s Are You a Boy or Are You a Girl?, the bullying children are harsher in Savage’s book. Adults not wanting to scare young children might prefer Toby—though Toby still gets teased and laughed at. Those seeking a book about gender creative and nonbinary identities that doesn’t include teasing or bullying might want to try Laurin Mayeno’s One of a Kind, Like Me/ Único Como Yo (where some kids are initially surprised by the protagonist’s gender creativity, but don’t tease), or Elana K. Arnold’s What Riley Wore (where there is no teasing or questioning whatsoever).

At the same time, Savage’s book is a little clearer in affirming that there are no such things as “boy” activities and “girl” activities. Other books that also handle this point well are Afsaneh Moradian’s Jamie Is Jamie and Deborah Underwood’s Ogilvy, where it’s clearer that the nonbinary protagonist has caused the other kids to rethink their gender stereotypes. In Toby, while “all” the kids go play kickball at the end and we see at least one girl in the illustration, it’s unclear what motivated the boys not only to let the nonbinary Toby, but also the girls, play what they’d previously seen as a “boy” thing. Adults may want to bring that up as a point of discussion.

Toby’s self-confidence is inspiring, though, reminding me of the similarly confident protagonists in What Riley Wore (nonbinary) and Dazzling Travis (gender creative boy). While Toby doesn’t step too far from the storylines in many of these other books, it nevertheless holds its own with them. Readers’ preferences may depend on whether they are dealing with real children whose identities or situations are closer to one particular book.

Pepito Has a Doll/Pepito Tiene una Muñeca

Pepito Has a Doll/Pepito Tiene una Muñeca, by Jesús Canchola Sánchez and illustrated by Armando Minjárez Monárrez (BookBaby), is the bilingual story of a boy who takes his favorite doll to school with him every day, but hides her in his backpack so that no one will know. In his case, his family is cautious; he asks his grandmother, “Abuela, why do I have to hide Lola at school?” and she responds, “We have to be careful. Someone can make fun of you or hurt you. If someone does something to you, tell me. I will always protect you.”

At night, the shy Pepito prays that nothing happens to Lola or his abuela and that he finds a friend at school. One day, a new boy, Miguel, arrives at school and the two become friends (or “amigos” even in the English portion of the text, which sprinkles in Spanish words that are easily understood from the context, illustrations, or glossary). Miguel likes Lola, too. Soon we see the boys walking hand-in-hand to school together. When Lola falls out of Pepito’s backpack one day, however, the other kids tease him and call him a “girl.” Pepito cries as Miguel defends him by holding out his hand in a “stop” gesture. Pepito then finds the courage to speak up about how much he loves Lola “and there’s nothing wrong with that.” The other kids leave. Thankful to his friend, Pepito gives Miguel a “besito” (kiss) on the cheek—and then three more.

“Today, Pepito feels the same freedom at school that he does at home. He is fearless,” the book tells us, and then offers a final page reminding us that some boys play with dolls, some girls climb trees, and some do both. “It’s so wonderful to be a child and play freely,” it concludes. I’d add that it’s also wonderful to have a supportive friend or significant other, as Pepito does.

This #OwnVoices book is also one of few LGBTQ-inclusive children’s books that shows the protagonist as a person of faith. Several times we see Pepito praying at his bed; in one image, we see a cross on the wall above it. Those seeking such representation should welcome it here.

Again, though, Pepito is yet another book about a gender creative or nonbinary child in which the child is teased. Such books have their place, especially in settings where such teasing has occurred, but I’m still hoping the future brings us more stories about gender creative and nonbinary children in which their gender is not a focus of the plot.

7 Young Adult Sapphic Books With Latinx Representation – The Lesbrary

7 Young Adult Sapphic Books With Latinx Representation – The

Sapphic Latinx Young Adult Books graphic

The sapphic spectrum runs far and wide, which is why it’s important to remember to add a little diversity to your reading list. You may have missed some of these spectacular reads as your never-ending TBR pile grows.

Diamond City by Francesca FloreDiamond City and Shadow City by Francesca Flores

Two for one! The first book in the Diamond and Steel duology, Diamond City, follows Aina Solís as she becomes an assassin to survive after her parents’ murder. Diamond City is a place filled with darkness, tyranny and magic, and Aina must find a way to live in a world that wants her dead.

The sequel, Shadow City, was just released today (January 26, 2021). It continues Aina’s story as she struggles to gain control of an assassin empire after fighting her way to the top of the criminal ranks.

Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida CordovaLabyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova

The first in the Brooklyn Brujas trilogy follows middle sister Alex Mortiz as she quickly approaches her Death Day, a bruja’s right of passage in this magical world. Terrified of her powers and wanting to be rid of them, Alex casts a Canto with devastating consequences. She must fight her way through the magical realm of Los Lagos to rescue her family before it’s too late to save them.

The Summer of Jordi PerezThe Summer of Jordi Pérez by Amy Spalding

Abby Ives has always been satisfied with playing sidekick to others’ stories. She’s content to run her plus-size style blog as she dreams of shaking up the fashion world. But one summer, everything changes. She lands a dream internship at a local boutique and falls for fellow intern Jordi Pérez. Things can’t be so simple of course, as they develop feelings for each other as they both compete for a coveted job at the shop after the internship ends.

Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby RiveraJuliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera

Juliet Milagros Palante comes out to her mom and isn’t sure she’ll ever speak to her again. But that doesn’t stop her from leaving the Bronx to go to Portland, Oregon for an internship with her favorite author, Harlowe Brisbane.

It’s a life-changing summer for Juliet as she navigates the whole “Puerto Rican lesbian” thing and finds herself. A classic coming of age tale.

We Set the Dark on Fire by Tehlor Kay MejiaWe Set the Dark on Fire and We Unleash the Merciless Storm by Tehlor Kay Mejia

Another double set! In We Set the Dark on Fire, Daniela Vargas, a student at Medio School for Girls, lives in a society that defines her place as a woman in two ways only: running a husband’s household or raising his children. But she’s living a lie, as her parents forged papers to get her into this school, and she must keep the secret as her upcoming nuptials to a politico’s son quickly approach. She has to decide if she upholds everything her parents fought for or if she will choose another path for herself.

The follow-up book, We Unleash the Merciless Storm, is Carmen Santos’ story. On the other side of Medio, the oppressed fight for their freedom. Carmen is committed to the resistance group, La Voz. So much so she’s spent years undercover, but now that her cover is blown, she must return her home to an island on the brink of civil war. Carmen must choose between breaking away from her community to save the girl she loves or embracing her full, rebel identity.

What are your favorite bi or lesbian Latina YA books? Let us know what we missed in the comments!

Elliot Page Is Getting Divorced, Another Day in the Books for Love Being a Lie

Elliot Page Is Getting Divorced, Another Day in the Books

It’s Broccoli Cheddar Soup Night! And I cannot f*cking wait.

Queer as in F*ck You

Elliot Page and Emma Portner Announce Plans to Divorce: We ‘Remain Close Friends.’ The AS editors conferred about this during the afternoon, and we all agreed that Drew had the best take:

With all our hearts, wishing Elliot and Emma peace and privacy at this time.

In a new exhibit, LGBTQ elders share what it was like to spend most of their lives in the closet.

Saw This, Thought of You

Bernie Sanders Turned His Inauguration Meme Into a Sweatshirt for Charity. All proceeds go to Meals on Wheels Vermont.

Andra Day Bares All — Here’s What It Meant To Play Her Icon, Billie Holiday. (Exactly 30 days left until The United States vs. Billie Holiday and I cannot wait!!)

Charmay has been a GIFT during this last year, and I have learned so much about Black American Sign Language from her: Black, Deaf and Extremely Online

And while we are still on the topic of young, gifted, and Black — did yall see Nia Dennis’ gymnastics floor routine for UCLA that’s gone viral?? Including Kendrick Lamar, Beyoncé, Missy Elliott, Megan thee Stallion, and 2Pac among others.

If you are white, this is your “must read” of today — and it won’t be easy, but wow I promise you that it is necessary, Breaking Up With White Supremacy Was Always The End Game: “If you follow all the prescriptions of checking your privilege, unpacking your invisible knapsack, centering the marginalized, excavating your deeply held white supremacist notions and not becoming a Karen, you will absolutely positively have to break up with actual white people.”

Related to above, White People Least Likely to Wear Masks Consistently, Study Finds — “The essential values this country was founded on are individualism and personal responsibility, and this idea of community is not something that is necessarily inherent in (white) American culture.” The parenthesis is my own.

Political Snacks

Biden Overturns Trump Ban on Transgender People Serving in U.S. Military. I have A LOT of feelings about the role of the U.S. military and imperialism and war and war profiteering and the military industrial complex. I also acknowledge that the ban itself hurt a lot of trans people who were trying to serve their country, and I hope that those people found some healing in this week.

Also.(also.also), a reminder that Joe Biden Will Lie to You. All presidents do.

But that said, this is a step in the right direction, Biden Orders End of Federally Run Private Prisons. (And yet! To my previous point, Biden’s Order to End Use of Private Prisons Excludes Immigrant Detention Facilities)

And Another Thing!

Crissle West coming thru with the laughs for your mid-week slump:

Best fantasy books to fall in love with in 2021 that aren’t by JK Rowling

Best fantasy books to fall in love with in 2021

JK Rowling. (Walter McBride/WireImage)

JK Rowling spent the majority of 2020 airing her explosive views on trans people, trans healthcare and trans rights, much to the disappointment of LGBT+ fans of the Harry Potter series.

It led to fans distancing themselves from the franchise and ridding themselves of any books, memorabilia and even tattoos inspired by the boy wizard series

Meanwhile a number celebrities and organisations, including of the stars of the Harry Potter film series have spoken out in support of trans equality with Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson all releasing statements.

But if Rowling’s many, many outbursts on trans people has left you with mixed feelings towards the Harry Potter franchise, then there’s plenty of other fantasy series out there to fall in love with.

We’ve rounded up a range of different fantasy themed novels below from stand alone books to entire series focusing on witches, wizards and more to get stuck into. They include books that centre on queer characters and explore their very relatable human stories alongside fantasy adventures.

His Dark Materials

The His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman
The His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman features witches and talking polar bears. (Philip Pullman)

This trilogy of fantasy novels comes from Philip Pullman and features three novels Northern Lights (also known as The Golden Compass), The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass

The story follows orphan Lyra Belacqua and teenager Will Parry, from our world, as they wander through a series of parallel universes to uncover the secrets of a mysterious substance called Dust. It features witches and armoured polar bears as well as dæmons, which are the physical manifestation of a person’s inner-self. In Lyra’s case it’s a companion named Pan that can take the form of any animal, similar to other children’s dæmons, until they take a final form later in life.

Writer Pullman has previously supported a campaign to stop children’s books being labelled ‘for girls’ or ‘for boys’. “I’m against anything, from age-ranging to pinking and blueing, whose effect is to shut the door in the face of children who might enjoy coming in.” He said. “No publisher should announce on the cover of any book the sort of readers the book would prefer. Let the readers decide for themselves.”

More recently the trilogy was adapted into a series by HBO and BBC starring Ruth Wilson, Andrew Scott, James McAvoy and Lin-Manuel Miranda. It’s aired for two seasons and has been renewed for a third and final series covering the last book in the trilogy.

Once you’ve finished reading the series you can watch the television adaption on BBC iPlayer in the UK and HBO Max in the US.

To purchase the trilogy of books go to the following links below:

Labyrinth Lost

Labyrinth Lost is part one in the Brooklyn Brujas Series
Labyrinth Lost is part one in the Brooklyn Brujas Series. (Zoraida Cordova)

Labyrinth Lost is part one in the Brooklyn Brujas trilogy series described as a ‘Latinx-infused queer fantasy’ that follows three sisters who are teen witches. The first book centres on Alex, a bruja and the most powerful witch in her family, but she’s hated magic ever since it made her father disappear into thin air.

While most girls celebrate their Quinceañera, Alex prepares for her Deathday, the most important day in a bruja’s life and the only opportunity to rid herself of magic. When the curse backfires and her family vanishes she teams up with Nova, a brujo and they need to travel to fantasy world Los Lagos which is as strange as Wonderland where she discovers more about herself, her powers and her family.

The second book focuses on Lula’s story and is set on the streets of Brooklyn, while the third story follows Rose and is set in the magical lost realm of Adas.

To purchase the three books in the Brooklyn Brujas Series go to the links below:

Children of Blood and Bone

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi. (Tomi Adeyemi)

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi conjures up a world of dark magic and danger in this West African-inspired fantasy novel.

The story is set in Orïsha which was previously ruled by different clans, the Burners igniting flames, Tiders beckoning waves and main character Zélie’s Reaper mother summoning souls. But now under the orders of a ruthless king, anyone with powers will be targeted and killed leaving Zélie and her people without hope.

Zélie is one of the few people who remain with the power to use magic and has the chance to strike against the monarchy, with the help of a rogue princess. She must learn to harness her powers and outrun the crown prince who is set on erasing magic forever.

Despite the dangers in Orïsha, from the strange creatures to vengeful spirits in the waters, the greatest danger may be Zélie herself as she struggles to come to terms with the strength of her magic.

Meanwhile a film adaption is currently in the works with the producer’s of other book-to-screen hits including Twilight, The Maze Runner and The Fault In Our Stars, behind the helm.

To purchase Children of Blood and Bone go to the links below

The Lord of the Rings

Readers can get all three The Lord of the Rings books in a boxset
Readers can get all three The Lord of the Rings books in a boxset. (JRR Tolkien)

The Lord of the Rings film series was released around the same time as the Harry Potter films, with the two franchises often drawing comparisons, mainly because of the fantasy themes that run through both, plus Rowling has noted JRR Tolkien’s writing as an inspiration for the Potter books.

If you’re yet to read the The Lord of the Rings trilogy or want to revisit them then 2021 could be the perfect time. This is because a new series adaption of the books is heading to Amazon Prime Video later this year after Amazon bought the television rights for a whopping $250 million.

The trilogy by Tolkien names the story’s main antagonist, the Dark Lord Sauron who had in an earlier age created the One Ring to rule the other Rings of Power as the ultimate weapon in his campaign to conquer and rule all of Middle-earth. The story begins in the homely Shire, a hobbit land reminiscent of the English countryside. It then ranges across Middle-earth, following the quest mainly through the eyes of the hobbits Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin.

You can purchase the book trilogy The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers and The Return of the King via the links below. Plus the film series is available to rent from Prime Video here.

When We Were Magic

When We Were Magic follows six witch friends
When We Were Magic follows six witch friends. (Sarah Gailey)

This novel follows a group of six witch friends – some who are queer – that need to cover up a prom night murder. It focuses on Alexis from the group who accidentally kills the boy she was about to hook up with at an after-prom party. Her friends come together to try and right a terrible wrong but after their attempts fail and their left with the remains – literally – of their failed spells they each need to find a way to live with their part of the story.

It was released in 2020 and offers a modern story of witchcraft, set against the backdrop of today’s high school as opposed to the typical dark and gothic castles and cloaks for uniform often featured in fantasy novels. It’s written by Sarah Gailey who’s previously penned Magic For Liars.

You can order the book and other works by Sarah Gailey from the links below:

The Witch Boy

The Witch Boy by Molly Ostertag
The Witch Boy by Molly Ostertag. (Molly Ostertag)

This graphic novel from openly gay author Molly Ostertag explores gender identity and family. It follows 13-year-old Aster who’s family raise girls to be witches and boys to be shapeshifters and if anyone dares to cross the line then they are exiled. Aster is unable to shapeshift and becomes fascinated by witchcraft which comes to play when a mysterious danger threatens the other boys and the only way to help is through Aster’s magic. He’s encouraged by a new friend, the non-magical and non-conforming Charlie to practice his skills and gain the courage to save his family, and of course to be his true self.

The story will be relatable for many LGBT+ people who don’t feel like they fit in because they can’t conform to expectations of family and wider society and is a perfect fantasy and witchey alternative to the Harry Potter stories.

Plus Ostertag offered to draw free coverups for any Harry Potter tattoos last year in exchange for donations to the Trans Women of Color collective or a similar organisation following Rowling’s views on trans women.


It’s available to purchase from on paperback or hardback as well as the Kindle. Plus readers can also get Ostertag’s other books from the graphic novel series, The Hidden Witch and The Midwinter Witch.

I’m a Gay Wizard

I'm a Gay Wizard and its sequel are written by V.S. Santoni
I’m a Gay Wizard and its sequel are written by V.S. Santoni. (V.S. Santoni)

A famous line from the Harry Potter books is ‘yer a wizard Harry’, well how about ‘yer a gay wizard’? This book by VS Santoni follows gay angsty teen Johnny and his best friends, trans girl Alison who spend their summer dabbling in magic.

After the pair use spells to defend themselves from bullies, they find themselves whisked away to the Marduk Institute, a school for wayward wizards. They need to adapt to a new world of spells, fraternities and cute boys like Hunter and Blake.

But the school isn’t just spells and crushes as they’re pulled into a supernatural fight for their lives and need to find the strength to battle the monsters lurking in the shadows alongside the demons that only exist in their head.

Since its release Santoni has written a sequel entitled I’m a Gay Wizard in the City of the Nightmare King, so hopefully an entire franchise featuring LGBT+ wizards is on the way that can rival the Potter books.

To purchase I’m a Gay Wizard and its sequel go to the links below:

The Secret of Platform 13

The Secret of Platform 13 also features a secret entrance at King's Cross station
The Secret of Platform 13 also features a secret entrance at King’s Cross station. (Eva Ibbotson)

Released three years before the first Harry Potter book, Eva Ibbotson’s The Secret of Platform 13 sees characters pass through a railway platform in King’s Cross Station to enter their own secret world.

If that sounds hauntingly familiar to the fantasy series about The Boy Wizard then you wouldn’t be mistaken, as Harry and co pass through Platform 9 and ¾ at King’s Cross to get the Hogwarts Express at the beginning of each school year.

However there are differences in the plot and characters as the magical kingdom is an island with humans living happily among feys, mermaids, ogres and more. The island is only accessible when the door opens for nine days every nine years. And in this story a Mrs Trottle kidnaps the prince of the island and takes him back to London, which means an ogre, a hag, a wizard and a fey need to troop around the capital to rescue him.

Ibbotson’s book has gained more recognition following the release of Harry Potter with some critics claiming that Rowling has plagiarised it, but Ibbotson has disputed this and says that writers often borrow from each other.

The Secret of Platform 13 is available from the links below:

The Magicians

Part one in The Magicians trilogy by Lev Grossman
Part one in The Magicians trilogy by Lev Grossman. (Lev Grossman)

The Magicians trilogy by Lev Grossman follows Quentin Coldwater who’s life is changed forever when he turns up for his entrance interview to Princeton University only to find his interviewer dead. He discovers an envelope which leads him down a different path, to study at Brakebills which is a secret college of modern-day sorcerers.

He heads into a world of freedom and power but some are more seductive and dangerous than sorcery, and he is drawn into a world far darker than he ever imagined in this twisted tale that would frighten the characters in Harry Potter.

Since the release of the trilogy there’s also been a graphic novel spin-off entitled Alice’s Story and comic book versions. It’s also been adapted into a television series on SyFy. There’s five seasons altogether and they’re available to stream on Amazon Prime Video for Prime members. You can sign up for a free 30-day trial and then pay £7.99 per month or cancel your subscription.

To purchase the first book in the series and its sequels go to the links below:

The Mermaid, the Witch and the Sea

The Mermaid, the Witch and the Sea by Maggie Tokuda-Hall
The Mermaid, the Witch and the Sea follows Flora who assumes the identity of a pirate named Florian and falls for Lady Evelyn Hasegawa. (Maggie Tokuda-Hall)

In this queer fantasy novel by Maggie Tokuda-Hall a girl named Flora takes on the identity of Florian the man to earn respect aboard the pirate ship, Dove. While on the voyage across a fantasy world she’s drawn to Lady Evelyn Hasegawa who is headed to a dreaded arranged marriage. The pair begin to fall in love and set in motion an escape plan that will free a captured mermaid, include the mysterious Pirate Supreme, an opportunistic witch, double agents and the Sea herself in this fantasy-adventure.

The debut novel from Tokuda-Hall features a diverse cast of characters and searches for answers to big questions about identity, power and love.

The Mermaid, the Witch and the Sea is available to purchase via the links below:

The Southern Vampire Mysteries

Dead Until Dark is the first book in the The Southern Vampire Mysteries series
Dead Until Dark is the first book in the The Southern Vampire Mysteries series. (Charlaine Harris)

This series from Charlaine Harris focuses on vampires but as it unfolds – there’s 13 books altogether – readers are introduced to weres and shapeshifters, fairies, telepaths and wiccans and witches.

The series starts off from the view point of Sookie Stackhouse, a waitress and telepath in the fictional town of Bon Temps in Louisiana. In the beginning of the story, vampires have existed openly in society for a couple of years which has garnered strong backlash from some communities, while other supernatural beings become public later in the series.

Once you’ve finished the books there’s also a television series to get stuck into. It’s under a different title that might be more familiar, True Blood. There’s seven seasons in total and it has often been noted as an allegory for the LGBT+ rights movement. This is through the vampires struggle for equal rights in society and phrases including ‘God Hates Fangs’ and ‘coming out of the coffin’ that is used throughout, plus it also features a number of queer characters including Lafayette played by the late Nelsan Ellis.

To purchase the book series go to the links below and to stream the show you can find out more here.

A Darker Shade of Magic

A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab
A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab. (V.E. Schwab)

If you’re after another fantasy magic series rather than a standalone book then A Darker Shade of Magic will be perfect for you.

The story by V. E. Schwab follows Kell, who is one of the last Travelers magicians with a rare ability to travel between parallel Londons. There’s Grey London, which is dirty, crowded and without magic and is home to the mad King George III. There’s Red London, where life and magic are revered, White London which is ruled by whoever has murdered their way to the throne. And once upon a time there was Black London, which readers will find out more about.

Once you’ve finished part one you can read A Gathering of Shadows and A Conjuring of Light where the story continues.

To purchase the three books in the series go to the links below:

The Wizards of Once

The Wizards of Once series is by Cressida Cowell
The Wizards of Once series is by Cressida Cowell. (Cressida Cowell)

The Wizards of Once by Cressida Cowell is a four-part book series that is aimed at children but can be enjoyed by all ages.

The story follows Xar, son of the King of Wizards who can’t cast a single spell and Wish, daughter of the Warrior queen who owns a banned magical object. The pair are from opposing worlds and are taught to hate each other from birth, but when they collide in the wildwood on the trail of a deadly witch it begins the start of a grand adventure that might change the fabric of their worlds.

There’s been four books released in total including the original, Twice Magic, Knock Three Times while the fourth part, Never and Forever was released recently in September 2020.

Cowell also penned the How to Train Your Dragon book series which has been adapted for the screen including the award-winning movies and a television show that ran for eight seasons.

To purchase the four books in The Wizards of Once series go to the links below:

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Stonewall Book Award Winners for LGBTQ Kids’ and Young Adult Books

Stonewall Book Award Winners for LGBTQ Kids’ and Young Adult

The American Library Association (ALA) today announced its 2021 Stonewall Book Awards for LGBTQ-inclusive children’s and young adult books, part of the Youth Media Awards that also include the prestigious Newbery and Caldecott Medals.

We Are Little Feminists: Families

The Stonewall Book Awards — Mike Morgan & Larry Romans Children’s & Young Adult Literature Award (to distinguish them from the Stonewall Book Awards for adult books) are chosen by a committee of the ALA’s Rainbow Round Table, “the oldest professional association for LGBTQIA+ people in the United States.” This year’s winner is:

  • We Are Little Feminists: Families, by Archaa Shrivastav (Little Feminist), a board book that uses simply rhymes to celebrate many types of families as it shows photos of real families around the world engaged in everyday activities. While other books may have similar themes, this one is notable for the photos of real families and the broad LGBTQ inclusion. Several of the families include two moms and two dads; there are also children who seem nonbinary or gender creative, and one image of a transgender man who is pregnant. (Readers may recognize him as trans advocate Trystan Reese, who posts about his family on Instagram at @biffandi.) Some images are below; note the publisher has not made the one with Reese available to the media, but it’s very similar to this one on his Instagram.

Four honor books were also selected:

  • Beetle & The Hollowbones, written and illustrated by Aliza Layne (Atheneum Books for Young Readers): In this middle grade graphic novel, 12-year-old goblin-witch Beetle, who lives in the eerie town of ‘Allows, fits in neither as a sorceress nor as a ghost whose spirit is trapped in the mall, like her nonbinary best friend Blob Ghost. When Beetle’s old best friend, Kat Hollowbone, returns to town for a sorcery apprenticeship with her Aunt Hollowbone, Beetle is reminded of her inadequacy. Yet plans are afoot that endanger Blob Ghost and force Beetle to act, confronting her fears and her feelings for Kat. A fun and clever story that is surprisingly human despite the fantastical characters.
  • You Should See Me in a Crown, by Leah Johnson (Scholastic): In this middle grade novel, 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.
  • Darius the Great Deserves Better, by Adib Khorram (Dial Books): This sequel to Khorram’s young adult novel Darius the Great Is Not Okay, continues the story of Darius, an out gay Iranian American teen navigating romantic relationships and family as well as bullying, racism, and his family’s financial struggles. He also has queer grandmothers.
  • Felix Ever After, by Kacen Callender (Balzer + Bray): A young adult novel about a Black, transgender teen whose plan to foil transphobic harassment lands him in an unexpected love triangle—but also leads him to redefine how he feels about himself.

In addition to the above, Welcoming Elijah: A Passover Tale with a Tail, by Lesléa Newman and illustrated by Susan Gal (Charlesbridge) won the Sydney Taylor Book Award, presented annually to “outstanding books for children and teens that authentically portray the Jewish experience.” While the LGBTQ content is slight (one pair of visiting relatives to the Passover seder is a two-dad couple), I’m still going to mention it. Newman, author of Heather Has Two Mommies and many other LGBTQ-inclusive works, arguably brought LGBTQ picture books into mainstream awareness, so I’m happy to celebrate any recognition of her work. Full review.

And queer mom Jacqueline Woodson won the Coretta Scott King (Author) Book Award for her middle grade novel Before the Ever After (Nancy Paulsen Books) about a 12-year-old whose father, a retired football player, is grappling with traumatic brain injury.

The full list of ALA Youth Media Award winners is here.

Congratulations to them all!

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