Heather Has Two Mommies (published in 1989) is one of the oldest LGBTQ picture books, and it's the first one I remember reading that had queer characters in it. My parents never read it to me as a child, but as a teenager I remember picking it up and thinking to myself “Wow, where was this when I was a kid?” I would see LGBTQ family structures in real life, but where were they in books? Somehow it doesn’t feel real unless some sort of media includes our experience. “See?” a child will point. “They’re just like me.”
There’s a plethora of children’s literature featuring queer characters, whether they be main characters or periphery characters, but the pool of available kid lit could always be better. When putting this list together, I felt the lack of representation of POC main characters, parents, writers, and illustrators; lesbian, gender non-conforming, and trans parents; stories about trans boys; and books for genderqueer kids (stories without pronouns or using they/them pronouns). I think we need a little of each of these on the shelves to remind us of where we’ve come from and how far we still have to go to do a good job of representing the wide diversity of LGBTQAI+ experience.
(Post your favorite LGBTQAI+ books for kids in the comments below!)
1. This Day in June (by Gayle Pitman, illustrated by Kristyna Litten)
If the LGBTQ community is a part of your lived experience, you will probably find yourself in this book! It gave me chills to see all types of queerness represented (drag queens, equality signs, parents with their queer kids or kids with their queer parents etc.). Instead of bogging the poem down with descriptions and history, there is a helpful glossary at the back about LGBT history and a description of the intent of each spread, including explaining Dykes on Bikes, discrimination, activism, San Francisco, pink and black triangles, Human Rights Campaign (HRC), and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). The developmental guide at the back lets parents and caregivers know how and when to talk to kids about gender and sexuality at different stages of development.
2. Baby’s First Words / mis primeras palabras (by Christiane Engel)
This board book is not so much a story, but a collection of first words. The book doesn’t attempt to explain anything about queerness. the story's incidental representation of a child with two dads in a mixed-race family, and I’m here for it! I would love to see more books like this.
3. We Are Family (by Patricia Hegarty, illustrated by Ryan Wheatcroft)
This is probably the most diverse book I’ve EVER seen. There seems to be every race of child and every type of family structure represented in these pages. Each spread shows 10 families doing universal family things, each in their own way, like traveling, eating, playing, taking care of each other when family members are sick, dealing with tragedies or mistakes, and going to sleep at the end of the day. And the poetic closing lines are shiver-inducing “No matter where we live, or our color, creed, or name/In each and every family, the love is all the same.”
4. Introducing Teddy (by Jessica Walton, illustrated by Dougal MacPherson)
This is the most approachable story I’ve seen that shows rather than explicitly tells kids what trans identity means. The main character, a teddy bear named Thomas, is uncomfortable in his skin and afraid to tell his child playmates that “he” is really a “she” named Tilly. The children unconditionally accept Tilly when she changes her bowtie into a hair bow. After Tilly makes this shift, the friends are unconcerned and continue to have tea parties, build robots, ride their bikes, eat sandwiches in the treehouse, and swing reeeeeeeally high.
5. A Tale of Two Daddies (by Vanita Oelschlager, Illustrations by Kristin Blackwood and Mike Blanc)
The poetic question-and-answer format of this book uses repetition to its advantage to tell the story of a girl who had two dads. The main character’s friend asks questions like “Which dad would build your house in a tree?/And which dad helps when you skin your knee?” and the narrator replies “Poppa’s the one who builds in a tree/Daddy’s the one who fixes my knee.” This book both answers questions of children with heterosexual parents while at the same time showing representation for children with same-sex parents.
6. A Tale of Two Mommies (by Vanita Oelschlager, Illustrations by Mike Blanc)
This is basically a repeat of the first book “A Tale of Two Daddies,” but with two mothers who have adopted a black boy. It has a poetic question-and-answer format that can get repetitive to an adult, but very young children will love the rhythm of it. If you’re looking for POC representation, this book has a bit more in the illustrations of the narrator and his friends. My main critique is that the parents are more gendered in this book with one mother being the more “masculine” one and one being the more “feminine” one. The first book with the two fathers included gender neutral questions for the child.
7. Mommy, Mama, and Me (by Leslea Newman, illustrated by Carol Thompson)
Similar to “A Tale of Two Daddies” and “A Tale of Two Mommies,” this story is set in a poetic format showing day-in-the-life scenes of a child with two mothers. The child in this story is a baby, and the board book will delight very young children. (They can even chew on the pages!)
8. Daddy, Papa, & Me (by Leslea Newman, illustrated by Carol Thompson)
This lively little board book is essentially the same as “Mommy, Mama, and Me,” but with two daddies. Both daddies are artistic, active, and musical people who do spend equal time on exciting activities with their child. I appreciated how both books don’t gender the child.
9. King & King (by Linda de Haan, illustrated by Stern Nijland)
In this story, a prince’s mother harps on him to get married, but he’s not interested in marrying any kind of woman. This story could have gone either way (gay, straight, or asexual) if not for the title. While reading, I was actually rooting for the prince to reject marriage altogether to show that it’s okay to not want to get married or have romantic feelings, but at the last moment he finds love with another prince and they live happily ever after.
10. 10,000 Dresses (by Marcus Ewert, illustrated by Rex Ray)
This story hurts my heart a little bit. Bailey, a trans girl, dreams of wearing 10,000 dresses. Dresses made of crystals that flashes rainbows in the sun. But about half of the book is spent on family members (mom, dad, and brother) telling Bailey that boys can’t wear dresses. Though very real, scenes like these could be triggering or discouraging for kids. Toward the end of the book, Bailey finds a friend called “Laurel, the big girl. It’s unclear whether Laurel is a trans woman or a cis woman who mentors Bailey and helps her make two dresses out of mirrors. Laurel and Bailey end the book hand in hand, showing that found family are the ones who understand and support you.
11. Worm Loves Worm (by J.J. Austrian, illustrated by Mike Curato)
This is a very odd story about two worms getting married. By using animals and leaving out gender pronouns, this story leaves it up to the reader to assign a gender (or not). It ends in a mix-match outfitted ceremony where one worm wears a veil and a tux and one worm wears a dress and a top hat. I would have preferred if the worms didn’t have any clothes at all (because they’re animals!), but it’s still a cute story that introduces the idea of gender fluidity.
12. And Tango Makes Three (by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, illustrated by Henry Cole)
This is a nonfiction story of how two male penguins fell in love and became parents. It’s a heartwarming story that introduces a different family structure without going into oppression. The story starts off as an ordinary trip to the zoo and does a great job of sticking to the science and animal behavior behind a loving family.
13. I Am Jazz (by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings, illustrated by Shelagh McNicholas)
I appreciated that the story began by introducing Jazz as a child who likes all sorts of things before it dives into what it means to be a trans girl. All of the characters, family included, are supportive of Jazz’s transition and are positive influences in her life. My favorite part about this book was that it is based on a real child, co-author Jazz Jennings, and that we get to see photographs of her as a very young child, both as she’s transitioning and as her true self. The photos at the end make it real for the reader. (Check out my middle grade book list where I’ll be reviewing a memoir Jazz wrote called “Being Jazz: My Life as a Transgender Teen.”)
14. Stella Brings the Family (by Miriam B. Schiffer, illustrated by Holly Clifton-Brown)
Stella has two dads and she’s wondering what to do on Mother’s Day and whether there’s a place for her family in it. Her solution? Bring the whole family to the party! This story does a great job of including diverse side characters and different family structures. Stella and the characters in her world feel very real, as if they exist somewhere in a real world classroom in our multicultural world.
15. Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag (by Rob Sanders, illustrated by Steven Salerno)
This story is a little more sophisticated and rooted in historical fact for older picture book readers. I like that it gets into both anti- and pro-gay protests, touches on Harvey Milk’s life work, as well as his death, but in a non-scary way. As an adult, I learned a lot about where the symbolic flag came from, and my favorite spread was of all the different types of people who wave it (couples, disabled veterans, older men, fancy men, drag queens, surfer dudes, female service members, doctors). The back of the book offers a full timeline, reading resources, and websites for a curious reader who wants to know more. (I’ll be reviewing some of these resources in my middle grade nonfiction list.)
16. Jacob’s New Dress (by Sarah and Ian Hoffman, illustrated by Chris Case)
The gender non-conforming main character, Jacob, prefers dresses to all other clothes. I especially liked Jacob’s best friend Emily in this story, as she protects Jacob’s right to wear whatever he chooses and helps him stand up to his bullies. The bully is a realistic kid who probably has anti-gay parents at home and parrots whatever the parents say. But Jacob’s parents and teachers are supportive of Jacob’s desire to wear dresses. Whether he will grow to identify as trans, gender non-conforming, or cis-gendered male is left open to interpretation without putting any labels on the child.
17. Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress (by Christine Baldacchino, illustrated by Isabelle Malenfant)
This story has a similar plot to “Jacob’s New Dress,” where a boy always chooses a dress during dress-up time at school. But both his male and female classmates both tease Morris and ostracize him throughout the story, so much so that he doesn’t want to return to school. On his own, through art, his mom’s support, and his own imagination, Morris decides to return to school and the students eventually become his friends. While reading this book, I was unsure what it was that finally pushed the students to become Morris’s friends. There seemed to be no clear explanation for their change of heart.
18. Red A Crayon’s Story (by Michael Hall)
This book could be interpreted in many different ways. A reader could see the crayon as a child whose inside doesn’t match the inside, who is having trouble communicating with the outside world because of a learning disability, or some other internal conflict. The author did a good job of showing the negative voices of the community as well as how good it feels to find a friend who understands what the child might be going through.
19. In Our Mother’s House (by Patricia Polacco)
An oldie but goodie, this story shows a multicultural family and it’s progression as two women marry and bring their adopted children home. There’s a lot of love and diversity in this book! The book follows the progression of the narrator as a very young child all the way up to when her parents pass away and leave the house for future generations. From homemade Halloween costumes to block parties and afternoon tea, the narrator grows up in a sweet and accepting household. But the book doesn’t sugar coat that sometimes the outside world (specifically one neighboring family) will feel threatened by a family with same-sex parents.