In honor of National Coming Out Day, I thought I would share an assignment I just finished for the Children’s Literature class I’m currently taking. We were asked to create a “Diversity Bibliography” to present and distribute to classmates. Rather than focus on books related to a particular ethnicity or disability, I set out to find quality children’s literature that positively depicts LGBT characters. We were supposed to focus either on books appropriate for Kindergarten through 2nd grade, or 3rd through 5th grade. I chose the latter because it seemed to me that kids around this age would start becoming more aware of the world around them and differences between themselves and others. I firmly believe that children deserve quality stories that help them make sense of the world around them as well as literature that promotes tolerance in an often intolerant world.
When I set out to find titles appropriate for grades 3-5, I had no idea how difficult it would be to find high quality, recently published material. I found many picture books for the lower grades and an abundance of literature for young adults, but there’s a dearth of material for those years in between. And even when I did find some titles, many were not available through our local library system. That said, what I did find was good, sometimes really good.
For the most part, the stories here are not primarily about LGBT people or issues; rather, they tend to be entertaining tales that happen to have lesbian and gay characters who are depicted in positive ways (I found almost nothing on the “BT” front, by the way). They are books that people who like stories will also like. Imagine that – good stories! If you know of other titles I should add to this list, please let me know. Otherwise – enjoy!
P.S. Many of these titles are award-winning; all have been positively reviewed in respected educational journals. For these and other award-winning titles, check out the American Library Association’s Rainbow Book List and Stonewall Book Awards as well as the Lambda Literary Awards.
Agell, Charlotte. The Accidental Adventures of India McAllister. New York: Henry Holt & Co., 2010
India is nearly 10 and lives in Maine with her artistic mom and dog, Tofu. Her dad lives nearby with his partner, Richard. This book, which is filled with India’s drawings and lists (such as things that make her happy), chronicles her adventures, many with her friend Colby, including a nighttime hunt for a UFO.
Bauert, A.C.E. No Castles Here. New York: Random House Books for Young Readers, 2007.
Augie’s life in Camden, NJ, is less than ideal. He’s picked on by his classmates, has a mom who’s always working, and lives in a gang-ridden neighborhood. It seems like things are getting worse when he accidentally steals a book and is matched up with a Big Brother who turns out to be gay – something Augie thinks will cause Dwaine and Fox Tooth to beat him up even more. What will happen when the book starts exhibiting magical properties and an ice storm threatens to close Augie’s school for good?
Coville, Bruce. The Skull of Truth: A Magic Shop Book. Sandpiper, 2007.
Charlie is no stranger to stretching the truth, and everyone knows it. Life becomes complicated when he takes a skull from a mysterious magic shop. The skull begins to talk to him, and explains its magical powers over Charlie: Charlie is forced to tell the truth. The truth gets Charlie in trouble again and again. It’s a good thing he has his favorite uncle, Bennie, to help him out. When Bennie reveals that he has been hiding something, too – that he is gay – Charlie is forced to come to some important realizations about truth.
Howe, James. Totally Joe. New York: Ginee Seo Books, 2005.
Joe has always been a bit different. He likes Barbies and Cher, and just can’t (and doesn’t really want to) figure out how to be a boy. Luckily, he has friends like Addie and Bobby, as well as his parents and Aunt Pam, who support him no matter what. Fellow seventh-grader and popular kid Colin isn’t so lucky. He likes Joe but isn’t ready for the consequences when bully Kevin starts to pick on Colin and Joe. Will Joe find a way to be happy without Colin? And will Colin find acceptance from his friends, family, and most importantly, himself?
Note: This book may be most appropriate for older elementary and middle school students. Though there is no sexual content, it includes slurs such as “faggot” and “queer.” That said, it’s probably my favorite book on this list, and might be a godsend for the right kid.
Ignatow, Amy. The Popularity Papers: Research for the Social Improvement and General Betterment of Lydia Goldblatt and Julie Graham-Chang. New York: Amulet Books, 2011.
Meet Julie and Lydia, fourth graders who are determined to make a (somewhat) scientific study of popular kids in order to learn to be popular themselves. They record their observations and adventures in a notebook filled with whimsical drawings and amusing lists. They run away so their parents will want them to have cell phones (all popular kids do), which backfires when Lydia’s mom and dad still refuse to give her one, and Julie’s dads give her an embarrassingly old phone. But when the girls each befriend different groups of popular girls, will their friendship survive?
McCaughrean, Geraldine. The Death-Defying Pepper Roux. New York: Harper Collins, 2010.
It’s his 14th birthday and for as long as he remembers, Pepper Roux has known this is the day he is supposed to die. In an attempt to sidestep fate, he steals his ship-captain father’s identity and embarks on an adventure at sea with a cross-dressing steward named Duchesse at his side. In his attempts to escape death, he also becomes a deli-meat slicer, a journalist, and a member of the foreign legion, each time barely escaping his supposed fate. But will death eventually catch up with him?
Polacco, Patricia. In Our Mothers’ House. New York: Philomel, 2009
Excerpt from School Library Journal, May 2009:
“This gem of a book illustrates how love makes a family, even if it’s not a traditional one. The narrator, a black girl, describes how her two Caucasian mothers, Marmee and Meema, adopted her, her Asian brother, and her red-headed sister. She tells about the wonderful times they have growing up in Berkeley, CA. … The story serves as a model of inclusiveness for children who have same-sex parents, as well as for children who may have questions about a ‘different’ family in their neighborhood. A lovely book that can help youngsters better understand their world.”
Snow, Judith. How it Feels to Have a Gay or Lesbian Parent: A Book by Kids for Kids of All Ages. New York: Routledge, 2004.
Excerpt from Booklist Review, Jan. 2005, Grades 5 and up:
“Thirty-two individuals, ranging in age from 7 to 31, reflect on the experience of having a homosexual parent. Of course, some are more articulate than others, but all candidly express their feelings, which typically range from initial bafflement through hurt to acceptance. … Though primarily targeted at children of gay and lesbian parents, this book has information, insight, and understanding to offer to readers of different circumstances and ages.”