President Biden’s proclamation of May as National Foster Care Month returns to the inclusion begun by President Obama, with a mention of LGBTQ youth in foster care—and a reminder of the challenges that remain to bring equity and justice to our foster care system.
Biden’s proclamation stresses the unjust treatment of communities of color, especially Black and Native American communities, in the child welfare system, and also notes that children with disabilities are over-represented among youth in care and may not get the individualized support they need. It then says, “Children in foster care—particularly youth of color and LGBTQ+ children who are already subject to disproportionate rates of school discipline and criminalization—are also at an increased risk of becoming involved in the juvenile justice system. And for LGBTQ+ foster youth, foster care systems are not always equipped to safely meet their needs.”
Back in 2015, President Obama’s proclamation of the observance noted that “It is important to ensure all qualified caregivers have the opportunity to serve as foster or adoptive parents, regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, or marital status.” That was the first time LGBTQ people had been referenced in a presidential National Foster Care Month proclamation. The next year, Obama’s proclamation said much the same again, and added a point about LGBTQ youth as well: “When we create environments for all young people to grow and flourish and safely live as who they are—regardless of race, background, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity—our country is stronger.”
The guy in between Obama and Biden? Not so much with the inclusion.
Biden’s proclamation promises that:
My Administration is committed to addressing these entrenched problems in our Nation’s child welfare system, advancing equity and racial justice for every child and family who is touched by the foster care and child welfare system, and focusing on policies that improve child and family well-being. This is why my Administration’s discretionary funding request for 2022 includes $100 million in competitive grants for State and local child welfare systems to advance racial equity and prevent unnecessary child removals.
Let’s hope he (and Congress) can deliver. Additionally, protecting LGBTQ youth in care and LGBTQ prospective caregivers from discrimination will be helped by:
Passing federal legislation like the Equality Act;
A ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia confirming that child service agencies cannot use their religious beliefs to discriminate against LGBTQ people and others. A decision is expected by the end of June.
Stay tuned this month for more resources and stories about foster care!
Hold on to your bookshelves! May and June are absolutely loaded with new LGBTQ-inclusive kids’ books, and I’ll be reviewing them here. Before that happens, however, I made a one-minute video wrap-up of the ones I reviewed in April. Have a look to see if you missed any!
As always, you can visit my Books for Kids posts or my Books for Parents posts to see my full reviews—or go to the database of nearly 700 items to search and filter by topics and identities. And while we’ll be a little book-heavy around here for a while, I’ll still keep bringing you other news and views related to queer parents and our children.
I’ve been adding books fast and furiously to my database and haven’t mentioned them all individually on the blog—so here are a few newish ones that are worth a look!
Click the links to see the database entries for each book, including longer reviews. All are picture books except when noted. Click the headers for even more books from the database on these topics.
Two-Mom Families and Queer Women
A Mother’s Day Surprise, by Lindsay B and illustrated by Kate Phillips. A young Black girl is excited about surprising her two moms (one Black, one White) on Mother’s Day—two mothers mean “two times the fun,” but also “twice the work.”
Mom Marries Mum! by Ken Setterington and illustrated by Alice Priestley (Second Story Press). The simplified board book version of Setterington’s 2004 Mom and Mum Are Getting Married. A young girl wants to help on her moms’ wedding day, and she ends up being the flower girl as her brother carries the rings.
A Portrait in Poems: The Storied Life of Gertrude Stein & Alice B. Toklas, by Evie Robillard and illustrated by Rachel Katstaller (Kids Can Press). A biography of Gertrude Stein and “her partner Alice Toklas” that focuses on their life together in Paris. The poems of the title are free verse and addressed directly to the reader (“The next time you go to Paris…”), and interspersed with bits of Stein’s own writings. Quirky and charming, just like its subjects. Best for the older end of the picture-book age range.
Two Dads and Queer Men
Leaders Like Us: Bayard Rustin, by J. P. Miller and illustrated by Markia Jenai (Discovery Library). 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.”
Aalfred and Aalbert: A Love Story, written and illustrated by Morag Hood (Peachtree). Aardvarks Aalfred and Aalbert each sometimes longed to be part of a pair, but each had his own life, one nocturnal and one diurnal, so they never met. When a little bird notices, wordlessly, that they might do well together, it sets out to nudge them into encountering each other. While I tend to prefer books with human LGBTQ characters, who often provide more authentic representation, this book is just darn cute, and would make a nice addition to a collection that already has books with human LGBTQ characters. (Additional observation: The hardback version is titled just Aalfred and Aalbert, but the 2020 paperback version is Aalfred and Aalbert: A Love Story. In its review, School Library Journal called the book “a lovely book about finding a new friend.” Clearly they missed the point—the original U.K. publisher’s own blurb calls the bird a “matchmaker” and says the story “will appeal to families with LGBTQ parents and family members.” The two aardvarks have obviously found aamor.)
Queer Parents and Divorce
Two Moms, Two Houses, by Jessica Wexler and illustrated by Jeric Tan (Pride Fairy Press). A young child of unspecified gender introduces readers to their divorced mommy and mama, to the separate houses they live in with each one, and to the different routines they have with each. I like that it doesn’t try pedantically to explain what divorce is, but just focuses on the positive things that the child does with each mom.
My Family Is Changing: A Drawing and Activity Book for Kids of Divorce, by Tracy McConaghie and illustrated by Karen Greenberg (Rockridge Press). This interactive book is intended to help children better understand and cope with the changes that come with having divorced parents. In it, seven (fictional) children of various skin tones, including one with two moms and one with two dads, share their own stories of having divorced parents. Each story is followed by prompts and activities.
Federico and All His Families, by Mili Hernández and illustrated by Gómez (Nubeocho). A cat wanders through the neighborhood, visiting families with two moms, two dads, one of each, a single mom, and a grandparent caregiver. Also available in Spanish.
Under the Love Umbrella, by Davina Bell and illustrated by Allison Colpoys (Scribble US). Several children encounter 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.
Love in the Wild, by Katy Tanis (Mudpuppy). This board book celebrates the many types of love found in the animal kingdom, “based on scientists’ observations of same-sex couples, adoption, non-binary gender expression and more.” It’s impossible to tell from the illustrations what sex or gender most of the animals are, though, so adults might need this supplemental PDF to launch further discussions of sex and gender, but the book is full of rainbows and the message that “love is love,” making this a sweet addition to storytime reading, regardless.
Families Belong, by Dan Saks and illustrated by Brooke Smart (Penguin Workshop). A simple board book about the things that families do that show they belong together. One page includes a two-mom family.
I Love Us: A Book About Family (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), illustrated by Luisa Uribe. A 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.
Family Is: Count from 1 to 10, by Clever Publishing, illustrated by Katya Longhi. A board book that counts from one to 10 with images of diverse families and the various people in them, including families with two moms or two dads.
My Family, Your Family, by Kathryn Cole and illustrated by Cornelia Li (Second Story Press. A board book celebration of different types of families, including ones with same-sex parents and one with a child who uses “they” pronouns (and maybe a nonbinary adult, too). Note, however, that the page for “Blended family” shows a family with a Black mom, White dad, one White kid, and two Black kids, so some children might assume that “blended” always means multiracial. Adults will need to explain.
Gender Identity and Expression
Patrick’s Polka-Dot Tights, by Kristen McCurry and illustrated by MacKenzie Haley (Capstone Editions). Patrick loves wearing his polka-dot tights and using them imaginatively. They don’t really belong to him, however—they’re his sister’s, though “she failed to appreciate their many uses,” he thinks. When she stains them beyond repair, he’s upset—but both his mom and dad step in to help. Notable for not involving anyone questioning or harassing him for his gender creativity.
Rainbow Boy, by Taylor Rouanzion and illustrated by Stacey Chomiak (Beaming Books). A young boy finds it hard to answer the question: “What’s your favorite color?” He loves his pink tutu, red crayon, orange basketball, and more. His mom tells him at the end that his heart is too big for just one color: “You need a whole rainbow to fill it up.” The protagonist clearly identifies himself as a boy, but has an expanded view of what that means.
And don’t forget the many LGBTQ-inclusive books that I’ve already written about here on the blog!
A new, LGBTQ-inclusive, sex-positive sex-ed book for teens encourages readers to develop critical thinking skills around some of the “big questions” about sex, consent, relationships, and themselves.
The Big Questions Book of Sex and Consent, by Donna Freitas (Levine Querido), is not a “how-to” book about sex or a set of dire warnings about STDs, unwanted pregnancies, and the like. In contrast, it encourages young people of all genders and sexual orientations to think deeply about sex, relationships, and themselves so they can develop a “sexual ethic” in accord with their own values. Freitas first offers four “Big Questions” that inform the whole book:
What does it mean to be a sexual being?
What is the meaning and purpose of sex?
What is love?
What is consent?
She starts by asking readers to think about their “relational ethic” in terms of what it means to be and to have a good friend. This ethic, she says, is a key resource “to teach and remind yourself of who and how you want to be in the world.” With that in mind, she proceeds to chapters on sexual identity, gender identity, and the messages we receive about what it means to be a girl/woman and a boy/man. She acknowledges that the intersection of multiple marginalized identities can mean that some people face even more assumptions about the value (or lack thereof) of their bodies and selves.
Other chapters look more deeply at what sex is, what it means to be a sexual being, and why there is so much shame around sex. Freitas encourages readers to “do a lot of thinking and wondering” about sex before engaging in sexual intimacy. She avoids being prescriptive, assuring readers that it’s okay if they don’t know their gender or sexual identity yet, or if they remain variable forever. Additionally, she asserts, “There is no one-size-fits-all way to be a sexual person.”
Interestingly, she notes that among the thousands of college students she’s met during her research on sex and relationships, “the most sexually self-aware and empowered and practiced critical thinkers are those who identify as LGBTQ.” Because they fall outside of heterosexist norms, the world has forced them to think about these issues, she explains. “Most heterosexual people have a lot of catching up to do when it comes to understanding themselves as sexual beings,” she says. (The downside, of course, is that society often views us LGBTQ folks purely as sexual beings.) Luckily, she’s written a book that can help people of all identities, caught up or not, think even more fruitfully about these topics.
Sexual ethics, she explains, has often meant a set of imposed “don’ts” about sex. What we need instead, she says, is “an alternative sexual ethical framework that is sex-positive, that prioritizes consent, and that truly empowers you to become a liberated, confident, healthy sexual being.” She offers readers tools for thinking about how to develop this framework for themselves. She also explores how a person’s relational ethics may—or may not—be carried over into the virtual world of social media, and how hookup culture unfortunately perpetuates sex outside of relational and sexual ethics.
She then looks at how the #MeToo movement has shown the widespread sexual violence and harassment in our world, and proposes that building a “culture of consent” can help address this. Preventing sexual violence is everyone’s job, she says, and requires us all to think more critically about the messages and expectations we’ve learned about sex.
Prioritizing consent, valuing it, respecting its importance, is an expression of your humanity and the humanity of others.
Consent is about more than just saying yes or saying no, however—and her nuanced take here is what makes this book really shine. She explains, “Prioritizing consent, valuing it, respecting its importance, is an expression of your humanity and the humanity of others.” Consent requires us to listen to and learn about our partners as well as ourselves; it should ideally be “a celebration of many types of communication,” both verbal and nonverbal. “Sexual intimacy has its own language,” she adds. “It’s like speaking Italian or French—quite beautiful when you are fluent.”
The final chapters ask readers to reflect on what love and desire mean for them. In order to love others, however, we must also know our own selves and what is right for us, she says, and urges readers to take time to contemplate that.
Freitas never assumes that readers have a particular gender or sexual identity or come from a particular religious or political background. She’s looking at “big questions” that impact everyone. The book is informed by her research with college students about sex and relationships, but it’s intended as a book for high schoolers, motivated by what the college students wished they knew when they were younger. Despite her conversational and accessible language, the length of the text (300+ pages with back matter) and depth of the topics incline this towards older teens, but some younger ones may also find value in it—and I’d recommend it for all parents of tweens and teens so that we can better help our children (and maybe even ourselves) become thoughtful about the topics covered. (For relevant books aimed at other age groups, see my database under the tag “Gender/bodies/sex ed.”)
A Further Reading list at the end offers a selection of middle grade and young adult novels related to some of the big questions that she has raised. They include numerous LGBTQ characters and authors. Additionally, throughout the book, other writers she knows (queer and not) have offered “Advice to Our Younger Selves” on the various topics covered. A bibliography of nonfiction works, mostly intended for adults, may be of less interest to teen readers, but is there for “when you’re ready,” Freitas says.
Freitas writes that the task of figuring out sex and our sexualities is “an ongoing journey.” Luckily, she’s given young people a helpful travel guide.
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, 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, 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.
On a certain level, I’d argue that most LGBTQ-inclusive picture books have a theme of love—but here are a few that particularly showcase that emotion in some of its many forms, from romantic love to family love to deep and abiding friendships. Happy Valentine’s Day!
From Archie to Zack, by Vincent X. Kirsch (Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2020): The sweet story of two boys in love—whose love is recognized and accepted by their classmates—trying to express their feelings for each other. Full review.
When We Love Someone We Sing to Them: Cuando Amamos Cantamos, by Ernesto Javier Martinez and illustrated by Maya Gonzalez (Reflection Press, 2018): A lyrical bilingual book celebrating both the love between two boys and the supportive relationship between the boy and his father. Pura Belpré Honor Award winner Maya Christina Gonzalez deserves equal credit for her vibrant illustrations. Full review.
Jerome by Heart, by Thomas Scotto and illustrated by Olivier Tallec (Enchanted Lion Books, 2018): One boy expresses his (maybe romantic, maybe close friendship) love for another. His parents are bothered by this, and he struggles with their disapproval, but ultimately decides his love for Jerome supersedes it. Translated from French by Claudia Bedrick.
Love Around the World, by Fleur Pierets and illustrated by Fatinha Ramos (Six Foot Press, 2019): The beautifully rendered story of two women who set out on a journey to marry in every country where they legally can. We see them wed in various countries in North America, South America, Europe, and Australia. Their story continues in Love is Love: The Journey Continues, and shows the couple marrying in various countries in Europe, Asia, South America, and Africa. Some may find their desire to marry “in the traditional wedding attire of each country we visit” somewhat appropriating, though Pierets also makes a point of showcasing the actions and activists within each country that have helped enact marriage equality, so this could also be viewed as respecting local traditions. One of the few LGBTQ-inclusive children’s books that offers a global perspective.
Ways to Say I Love You, by Marilyn Singer and illustrated by Alette Straathof (words & pictures, 2020): In rhyming couplets, this book contrasts courtship rituals in the natural world with those of humans. (“Garter snakes huddle. People like to cuddle.”) There are same- and different-sex couples shown, and the intent is sweet, but some may be put off by the book’s narrow focus on paired, romantic love, as it begins with the assertion, “It’s the truth. There’s no debate. Every creature wants a mate.” The afterward, too, states, “People like to pair up with other people.” Those who identify as asexual or aromantic (or are just happy being single, sans label) may disagree with this central premise, which seems a little too sweeping. Still, the art is gorgeous and for those wanting a book celebrating two-person romance, there are at least some same-sex couples among the pairs.
Romantic Love – Fairy Tales
Porcupine Cupid, by Jason June and illustrated by Lori Richmond (Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2020): Porcupine is excited that it’s Valentine’s Day, and uses his quills like Cupid’s arrows to poke the other members of his forest community as he tells them he hopes they will find their true loves. The other animals don’t like being poked, however, and call a town meeting to discuss “the poke-y porcupine problem.” When they all meet up, however, pairs of the animals bond over their shared dislike of Porcupine’s actions, leading to new romances. Not only could some of the pairings be viewed as same-sex pairs, but queer cues in the illustrations indicate other LGBTQ identities among the animals as well. (One wears a scarf colored like the trans flag; another has a yoga mat colored like the genderqueer flag. The broad queer representation is delightful, though I’m not sure how I feel about relationships forming out of a common dislike of something. But—spoiler alert—Porcupine himself gets stuck by love in the end, so it seems the animals have clued in to his well-intentioned deception. Perhaps this can just be viewed as a cute parable about how we sometimes need to be prodded into action when it comes to romance. Full review.
Maiden and Princess, by Daniel Haack and illustrated by Isabel Galupo (Little Bee Books, 2019): A maiden and a princess fall in love with the support of their families in this empowering fairy tale.
Princess Princess Ever After, by Katie O’Neill (Oni Press, 2016): The traditional fairy tale trope gets flipped in this graphic novel when Amira, a princess with a mohawk, rescues Princess Sadie, a princess trapped by her evil sister. Sadie eventually rescues Amira in return and the two feisty royals fall in love. The graphic form will have wide appeal; some of the language, in complexity (“spontaneous,” “fulfillment”) and tone (“butthead”) may make it better for middle-grade readers than younger ones.
Maiden Voyage, by Adam Reynolds, Chaz Harris, and Jaimee Poipoi, illustrated by Bo Moore and Christine Luiten (Promised Land Entertainment Limited, 2018): In the same universe as Promised Land (below), but with a new cast of characters, this tale of adventure features a fisherman’s daughter, a courageous female captain, pirates, and an evil queen. Despite a few stylistic flaws, it has plenty of action and heart. Full review.
Raven Wild, by Adam Reynolds, Caitlin Spice, and Chaz Harris, illustrated by Bo Moore and Christine Luiten (Promised Land Entertainment Limited, 2020): Also in the same universe as Promised Land (below), a young trans woman has adventures and finds love in a fantasy world. Empowering, but wordy for the picture-book age group. Full review.
Prince and Knight, by Daniel Haack and illustrated by Stevie Lewis (Little Bee Books, 2018): A prince’s parents seek to find him a bride. While defending the kingdom from a dragon, however, he falls in love with the (male) knight who helps him. His parents are overjoyed he has found someone to love, and the two marry. Full review.
The Bravest Knight Who Ever Lived, by Daniel Errico and illustrated by Shiloh Penfield (Schiffer Kids, 2019): A noble young man might marry a princess, but chooses her brother the prince instead, after a series of chivalric adventures. Full review of original edition; see also interview with author about the Hulu television show based on the book, now available in the new edition shown here.
Promised Land, by Adam Reynolds and Chaz Harris, illustrated by Bo Moore and Christine Luiten (Promised Land Entertainment Limited, 2017): A young Prince and a farm boy fall in love. However, when the Queen re-marries, her sinister new husband seeks control of the Enchanted Forest and the land the farm boy’s family are responsible for protecting. Full review.
Prince Henry: A Gay Fairytale Romance for Young Readers, by Olly Pike (2015): Prince Henry faces difficulties because the man he loves is of a much lower social class. Full review.
King & King, by Linda de Haan and illustrated by Stern Nijland (Tricycle Press, 2003): A prince rejects all the princesses his mother wants him to marry. Luckily, when he finds his prince, his family is supportive.
The Girls, by Lauren Ace and illustrated by Jenny Løvlie (Rodale Kids, 2019): A beautiful celebration of female friendship as we see four girls—best friends—support each other through hardships and celebrate each others successes from childhood and into adulthood. One of them ends up in a relationship with another woman; we also see all four friends marching together in a Pride parade as they “always took pride in their friendship.” After so many children’s books in which the non-queer characters don’t understand or tease the queer character, this image of active and unconditional support by the friends is a breath of fresh air.
My Best Friend, by Julie Fogliano and illustrated by Jillian Tamaki (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2020): Beautifully captures the magical spirit of childhood friendships at an age when children are still figuring out what it means to have—and to be—a friend. It’s not exactly queer inclusive, but the close relationship between the two girls, one White, one Asian, may resonate with some queer women and girls. Full review.
This Love: A Celebration of Harmony Around the World, by Isabel Otter and illustrated by Harriet Lynas (Tiger Tales, 2019): “Love is a special language that’s understood by all,” says this gentle book that shows the many types of love felt by people and families around the world. A two-mom and a two-dad family are among those depicted.
Under the Love Umbrella, by Davina Bell and illustrated by Allison Colpoys (Scribble US, 2020): We see several children encountering everyday difficulties—a broken toy; a friend who is unfair; a scary barking dog, a moment of shyness—as a parental narrator (or really, several narrators, as we see several different families) soothingly reassures them that the “umbrella of my love” is always with them. One of the children has two moms.
I Love Us: A Book About Family, from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and illustrated by Luisa Uribe (2020): A simple board book about different types of families, including one with two dads (and maybe one with two moms; it’s unclear if they’re together or in two separate families). On each page, a narrator (presumably a child in the depicted family) tells us all the things they love to do with their family. Includes a mirror (unbreakable) in the back and a freeform family tree for readers to reflect themselves.
Elvis Presley’s Love Me Tender, with illustrations by Stephanie Graegin (Dial Books, 2017): The classic song, adapted as a sweet ode to family love. Includes a two-mom family among the several types shown.
Love Makes a Family, by Sophie Beer (Dial Books, 2018): A sweet board book with images of people in families demonstrating what “love is” on each page. We see families with two moms, two dads, one of each, and single parents, among others.
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.
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.
GLAAD yesterday released its latest annual “Where We Are on TV” report, which looks at the number of LGBTQ regular and recurring scripted characters on network television, cable, and streaming services. Let’s look at what they discovered about LGBTQ inclusion in children’s shows—while I wildly speculate about some LGBTQ-inclusive kids’ books that I’d love to see made into shows.
The good news that there’s been “significant growth” in programming for children and families in recent years, “and the space continues to grow rapidly with new LGBTQ stories premiering on all platforms.” GLAAD therefore this year announced a second GLAAD Media Awards category to honor outstanding LGBTQ programming for young audiences—an Outstanding Children’s Programming category in addition to the existing Outstanding Kids & Family Programming category. Stay tuned to hear the results at the 32nd Annual GLAAD Media Awards later this year.
Let’s focus here on shows for the younger age group. GLAAD informs us that in 2020, Cartoon Network aired the final episodes of Steven Universe Future, a limited-series epilogue to Steven Universe. They don’t tell us what the LGBTQ representation was in the miniseries, however, perhaps assuming that we’ll know the main series (which ended in 2019) was one of the queerest kids’ shows ever. This queerness carried over into the epilogue, with an episode in which one female character has a crush on another, and an episode with a character who uses they/them pronouns and is dating a female character. A show storyboarder has also tweeted that another character is asexual and aromantic.
Other inclusive shows listed by GLAAD include:
Nickelodeon’s The Loud House, with bisexual character Luna Loud and her girlfriend Sammy, as well as the two dads of protagonist Lincoln Loud’s best friend Clyde.
Nickelodeon’s Danger Force!, which had one episode that included two gay dads who recently adopted a son.
Disney XD’s DuckTales, which introduced a two-dad couple, the parents of Huey, Dewey, and Louie’s friend Violet. I’ll add that co-executive Producer Frank Angones has said that while they “do not play a huge role in the story thus far,” he’s “well aware that the ‘queer representation through parents and background characters’ trope is an issue, and “We do have some themes and ideas coming up that address relevant LGBTQ+ narratives.” Other episodes, GLAAD tells us, focused on a new character named Penumbra “who was confirmed to be a lesbian by the episode’s writer and director on Twitter. The character is not expected to return.” Half credit if the queerness has to be confirmed separately and the character is only temporary?
The Disney Channel animated series The Owl House, which developed a romantic storyline for bisexual protagonist Luz and a female classmate.
The finale of Netflix’s She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, which confirmed that the two female lead characters were in love. While that might seem like yet another example of queer inclusion being revealed only when the show was on its way out, the show in fact has had many queer secondary characters, some in same-sex relationships, one nonbinary, and others who are gender creative. In this case, keeping the main characters’ love for each other as a reveal at the end was about building romantic tension (which was pretty obvious in earlier episodes).
Netflix’s animated Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts, which included central character Benson, in love with another male character, Troy. The series has ended, however.
Netflix’s The Baby-Sitters Club, a reboot of the 1990s show, which had one episode where one of the main characters is asked to sit for a young transgender girl, played by 9-year-old transgender actor Kai Shappley.
And one possible future show, the animated series Little Ellen on HBO Max, which follows the 7-year-old Ellen DeGeneres on various adventures. I have been unable to find a premiere date for it; given accusations of a toxic workplace environment on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, I have to wonder (though I have no evidence one way or another) if the kids’ show is in jeopardy.
Other queer-inclusive “family” shows on streaming services seem aimed at teens and up, so I won’t recap them here, but I encourage you to go read the full GLAAD report if you’re interested in shows for that age group.
Amazon has quietly shown characters with same-sex parents on its ongoing animated shows for young children, Pete the Cat and Bug Diaries, but GLAAD has not included them in its report, so I assume those characters did not appear in 2020 episodes. And the only kids’ show on a mainstream network to center on a child with LGBTQ parents, Hulu’s The Bravest Knight (about which more here), dropped its first season in 2019 but has not yet announced a second.
So: Progress? Yes. Where we need to be? Hardly. We need both LGBTQ characters who populate the world as secondary characters and LGBTQ characters and those with LGBTQ parents who are the stars of the show (without necessarily focusing the show on their LGBTQ identities).
Original television programming is one way to achieve the latter. Another is to use the accelerating number of LGBTQ-inclusive children’s books as starting points. Here are just a few of many possible ideas, which I offer with absolutely no inside information on whether any such things are in the works or if the authors would even be interested:
I’ve said before that Kyle Lukoff’s Max and Friends series, about a young transgender boy and his classmates, would make a terrific foundation for an animated series. And while there are happily many young trans actors who could voice the main role, my dream casting (not only because of his acting skills, but because of the attention it would bring to the show) would be Elliot Page.
Daniel Haack’s Prince & Knight, which is getting a sequel this year, feels like a natural fit. In my 2018 review, I even said the images have a “Disney-like” quality. Since Hulu’s The Bravest Knight focuses on a girl with two dads, and Prince & Knight focuses on the same-sex couple themselves, they seem sufficiently different.
Lesléa Newman’s classic Heather Has Two Mommies has the name recognition to be a hit. Expand it into “Heather and Friends” or “Heather and Her World” and it could work as a series about the adventures of a young girl.
The four-book Magic Misfits series by actor Neil Patrick Harris, about six friends and aspiring magicians (one of whom has two dads), seems ready-made for an ensemble-cast show, either animated or live action.
Emma Donoghue’s two books about the Lotterys, the multiracial, multiethnic, neurodiverse family of two same-sex couples co-parenting seven children, has the kind of controlled chaos that could make it a fun television romp (or even a feature film).
Dana Allison Levy’s four books set in the universe of her Family Fletcher, which include a family with two dads and one with two moms, feel like they could translate into a live-action show for older kids and tweens.
I’d also love a show in which a two-mom family (preferably a family of color) and their kids fly around the galaxy in a spaceship meeting diverse people and aliens and learning STEM lessons each episode. Clearly there is no end of ideas; we just need the networks and streaming services to commit to increasing further the LGBTQ representation in children’s programming. Are they tuning in?
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 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.
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.
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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I wrote yesterday about the many attempts to ban LGBTQ-inclusive children’s books from schools and libraries—so here’s a story to counter that, about three different initiatives that are now offering free (yes, free!) LGBTQ-inclusive books and resources to educators and schools throughout the U.S.
Hope in a Box, which launched a pilot program with 30 schools in September 2019, is now a national nonprofit that focuses on public middle and high schools in rural areas and those receiving Title I federal funding. Founder Joe English, a former consultant for McKinsey & Company, grew up gay in a small rural town, and explained in an interview, “For a lot of kids who still live in rural towns, it’s scary to grow up queer. There isn’t the same type of acceptance that we see now in cities like Boston or New York or San Francisco.”
I think one of the most underreported stories in the mainstream press in the last six months has been how hard COVID has been on LGBTQ kids…. It’s even more important for educators to have the materials and the resources to make these kids feel safe and welcome and included.
By the end of October, Hope in a Box will have sent books to 300 schools across 50 states. The need for these books is greater than ever. “I think one of the most underreported stories in the mainstream press in the last six months has been how hard COVID has been on LGBTQ kids,” English said. This year, whether virtually or in-person, “It’s even more important for educators to have the materials and the resources to make these kids feel safe and welcome and included.”
Before agreeing to a request for books, he noted, Hope in a Box considers whether the situation is “right for potential impact” and if there are educators there who are “passionate” about the program and can put the materials to use. If so, they first sent a “library builder” box of many curated titles, from classics like “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” by Oscar Wilde to just-released works like “Red at the Bone,” by Jacqueline Woodson. After that, “If an educator wants to formally incorporate one of the books into their curriculum, then we will provide a class set.”
But books are only the first step. After the project first began, many teachers asked them for help incorporating the books into the curriculum and responding to concerns from parents. This fall, therefore, the organization is launching a new program, working with experienced English teachers to write a “detailed, Common Core-aligned curriculum” for each book, along with guides that include tips on teaching LGBTQ topics, sample student activities, additional resources, and more, all available free online. They also have two educators running a private Facebook group and monthly, small group Zoom calls for educators to connect, share, and find coaching and support.
Another similar project, Pride and Less Prejudice (PLP), is focusing on much younger children, offering free, LGBTQ-inclusive books for pre-K through third grade classrooms. Founder Lisa Forman has been a music teacher for 25 years and has two grown daughters. When her daughter Rebecca Damante, who is queer, was a teenager, “She started to see some LGBTQ representation on TV and to relate to the queer storylines,” Forman said. “I saw what a huge difference that made for her.” Forman “realized that must have been a big hole not just in her childhood, but in other children’s developmental years.”
After doing her own research and soliciting help from friends who were teachers, Forman launched PLP last November. Rebecca is the outreach coordinator and content editor; her other daughter, Ally Damante, is the creative content editor and videographer. They also have about 10 volunteers working on everything from resource guides for the books to social media, partnerships, and development. They’ve had requests from teachers in 36 states, in both public and private schools, and shipped over 200 books so far. Forty-five percent of the requests are from Title I schools.
They usually send two to three books per request, and Forman noted, “We’re trying to be really personal and customized” if there are particular topics a teacher wants to cover or if they already have certain books.
Most of the project’s growth has been through word of mouth, but when Rebecca posted about it last spring at Pantsuit Nation, a Facebook group with over three million members that had been founded to help elect Hillary Clinton, they realized they needed more money to support the flood of requests. Ally came up with the idea of a celebrity video; Rebecca reached out to more than 100 publicists. More than a dozen celebrities, including Adam Rippon, Nicole Maines, Tig Notaro, and Rufus Wainwright then offered their voices in support of the project. PLP used the video to launch their #ReadOutProud campaign in August, which seeks to raise $10,000 to provide 800 books to classrooms across the U.S. and Canada. They’re also offering an online professional development workshop on October 12.
A third initiative, the Make It Safe Project, gives free LGBTQ-inclusive books for teens to schools, youth homeless shelters, and juvenile detention centers. It was founded in 2011 by Amelia Roskin-Frazee, an out lesbian student, when she was 14 years old. She’s now a Ph.D. student in sociology at the University of California Irvine and Make It Safe has given more than 160,000 youth access to books. For three years, they have also offered a writing scholarship to LGBTQ teens, and the best submissions will be published in an upcoming anthology, she told me. They’ll be including it in their free book boxes and selling it online, with all proceeds supporting the project.
English and Forman say that while donations from individuals have been the bulk of their support so far, they are now also seeking grants from foundations and other organizations. If you are an educator interested in receiving books or would simply like to support any of these projects, visit hopeinabox.org, prideandlessprejudice.org, or makeitsafeproject.org.
(Originally published as my Mombian newspaper column.)