Someone I know once said, “The beautiful thing about books is that you can find all of humanity in their pages.” And yet, until recently, there hasn’t been much emphasis on books that have diverse characters, particularly when it comes to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer issues.
Why is it important for kids to read books that have characters representing a wide range of humanity? Donna Gephart, author of “Lily and Dunkin,” which tells the story of a transgender girl, says, “Reading about LGBTQ characters allows young readers to walk in someone else’s shoes and gain empathy, which naturally leads to understanding, compassion, and kindness — something so needed in today’s world.”
It’s also important for anyone questioning his identity to see characters struggling with issues similar to his. Gephart says a transgender woman once told her that having positive role models could have saved her a lot of suffering when she was younger.
“We all need and deserve mirrors in the books we read to affirm and validate our existence, to let us know we’re not alone in this world, and to provide role models, so we can envision a bright future,” said Gephart.
Here are 15 titles, ranging in appropriateness from toddlers to teens, where readers can find a variety of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer characters.
Introduce the concept of diversity to children ages 4 to 8 with these titles:
“My Dad is a Clown” by José Carlos Andrés and Natalia Hernandez. This bilingual (English and Spanish) story is told by a boy who has two dads, one of whom works to make people laugh in his job as a clown.
“Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress” by Christine Baldacchino and Isabelle Malenfant. Other kids make fun of Morris for donning a tangerine dress. But with support from his mom and an active imagination, he helps them see that outward appearances aren’t as important as what’s inside.
“The Great Big Book of Families” by Mary Hoffman and Ros Asquith. Families come in a variety of types and sizes, and this book celebrates that diversity.
“It’s Okay to Be Different” by Todd Parr. Bright colors and funny drawings highlight differences of all kinds, including skin color, family makeup, disability, and more, while getting the message across that these differences are all just fine.
“And Tango Makes Three” by Justin Richardson, Pete Parnell, and Henry Cole. This tale about two male penguins given the chance to hatch an egg is based on the real-life story of Roy, Silo, and baby Tango, who live at the penguin house in the Central Park Zoo.
Ages 9 to 13 is a time for kids to begin exploring their individuality and how it fits into the big picture. Try these reads:
“Lily and Dunkin” by Donna Gephart. Timothy knows that deep inside he’s really Lily, but how does he show his true self to the rest of the world without getting hurt?
“The Best Man” by Richard Peck. Archer learns a lot from all of the male role models in his life, including his grandpa, his dad, his uncle — who happens to be gay — and his substitute teacher, Mr. McLeod, who dates Uncle Paul.
“George” by Alex Gino. A tender story about someone who sees herself as a girl even though the world sees her as a boy. With the help of a friend, and inspiration from “Charlotte’s Web,” she finds a way to express who she really is.
“Drama” by Raina Telgemeier. A graphic novel that highlights the “drama” that can occur in middle school, when kids are learning how to navigate budding interest in romance and relationships.
“Lumber Janes” by Noelle Stevenson and Shannon Watters. This graphic novel series is about the adventures of five female friends who attend summer camp and end up battling monsters and solving a mystery.
Teens ages 14 and older are ready for edgy content that addresses issues directly:
“Will Grayson, Will Grayson” by John Green and David Levithan. A random meeting between two high school boys with the same name, one gay, one straight, changes both their worlds in unexpected ways.
“The You I’ve Never Known” by Ellen Hopkins. Ariel isn’t sure if she’s more attracted to boys or other girls, and she’s afraid to share her conflicted feelings with her dad, who claims Ariel’s mom left him for another woman.
“Ask the Passengers” by A. S. King. A story that explores the issue of sexual identity and what defining it means not only to the teen, but to the people surrounding her as well.
“If I Was Your Girl” by Meredith Russo. Amanda wants to start a new life in a new town by moving in with her estranged dad. But as a transgender female, she finds the issues of having friendships and dating difficult to navigate.
“Symptoms of Being Human” by Jeff Garvin. It’s hard enough being a teen who’s gender fluid, but when your dad is running for Congress, it means everything about your life will eventually end up in the spotlight.
Cindy Hudson writes about books, reading, and family literacy at Mothe
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