LGBTQ+ children’s books make all the difference

Contributed by Holly Green

Education Programmes Manager at Stonewall

Fri 4 Jun 2021

A love of reading is a gift all children and young people deserve, but for those who are lesbian, gay, bi, trans, queer, questioning and ace (LGBTQ+), books play a particular role.

Between the pages of a book, children and young people find adventure, mystery and magic. A good book is a window into another world, one built by imagination. Stories can also be the key to understanding our world better: a way for children and young people to learn about those who are different from them, developing empathy as they grow their understanding of a diverse world.

I still remember the first time I read Jeanette Winterson’s Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit. I read it cover to cover, barely able to put it down, then went straight back to the beginning and reread it. It’s a beautiful book, following the story of a young woman growing up in a Northern working-class family, exploring her identity, her faith and her sexual orientation.

It’s Pride Month and I returned to Oranges, as I usually do, because it’s a wonderful story, both funny and deeply moving. I also come back to it because it was the first time I had encountered an LGBTQ+ character in a book. I still remember how powerful it was for my teenage self to encounter another LGBTQ+ person, even on the page: someone who was like me in some ways and different in others, reassuring me that LGBTQ+ people exist and that I was not alone. 

We strive to create a world where LGBTQ+ children can be themselves

As Education Programmes Manager at Stonewall, I’m part of the Education & Youth Team. We work with schools, colleges, local authorities, and children and young people’s services to create a world where all LGBTQ+ children and young people are free to be themselves. We provide support for education settings across the country, including staff training, inclusive education resources and best practice award programmes. Our membership programmes for schools and colleges and children and young people’s services help create inclusive settings where children and young people can thrive.

Many years after my first encounter with LGBTQ+ representation in books, our research shows that LGBTQ+ children and young people still find representative media powerful and they want more of it:

“Seeing TV shows or reading books with LGBT representation makes a huge difference. It makes me feel safe and just reminds me that I’m not alone.” Courtney, 15, secondary school, Scotland (Stonewall School Report, 2017)

LGBTQ+ children and young people want to see books, films, music and TV shows representing a wide range of LGBTQ+ people, including bi and trans people. It’s clear that inclusive media, including books, play a key role in helping LGBTQ+ young people feel safe and included – yet nearly half of LGBTQ+ pupils say that they don’t know whether their school library stocks books and films with LGBTQ+ characters (School Report, 2017).

It’s not only LGBTQ+ children and young people who benefit from learning and growing in an environment where LGBTQ+ people are celebrated and accepted. Learning about LGBTQ+ people is part and parcel of understanding diversity, equality and respect. When children and young people who aren’t LGBTQ+ encounter LGBTQ+ stories, and characters that they look up to, they can build their capacity to empathise with people who are different from them.

For younger children, in particular, a storybook that shows a family with LGBTQ+ parents can be a great way to start the conversation about celebrating difference. What’s more, LGBTQ+ inclusive books help children and young people understand that being different is okay – a message that can help all children and young people feel more confident.

Stonewall recommended LGBTQ+ books for children

With 45% of LGBTQ+ children and young people still experiencing homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying at school in 2017, LGBTQ+ inclusive education has never been more important. We know inclusive books help LGBTQ+ young people feel safe and connected – that’s why we’re developing recommended book lists for schools, colleges, parents and carers, with books for every age group.

You can download some recommendations for primary schools and secondary schools from our website now. We’re working hard to add more books to the list, and we’ll be launching an extensive update in September.

Whether you’re a parent or carer searching for the perfect bedtime read for your child or a school librarian looking to restock your shelves, there are some fantastic inclusive books available for children and young people of all ages. Check out the following recommended reads:

For ages 2 4: Two Mums and a Menagerie by Carolyn Robertson and Patricia deVilliers: After two mums adopt their children, they are soon convinced to look after lots and lots of animals. They get so many animals that they end up going to live on a farm — a lovely book for younger children. 

Books2All blog - LGBTQ+ children’s books make all the difference by Holly Green
Two Mums and a Menagerie published by Sparklypoo Publications (2015)

For ages 5 – 9: My Maddy by Gayle E. Pitman and Violet Tobacco: A story about a child’s relationship with their Maddy, a non-binary parent. This book will help children understand that some people are not men or women, and that’s okay.

For ages 10 12: Princess Princess Ever After by K O’Neill: A princess rescues a princess from a tower and they go on an adventure. The comic book style story addresses the impact of others’ expectations, gender stereotypes and self-actualisation. 

Books2All blog - LGBTQ+ children’s books make all the difference by Holly Green
Princess Princess Ever After published by Oni Press (2020)

For ages 13 15: Color Outside the Lines: Stories about Love by Sangu Mandanna: A wonderful, positive anthology of stories about race, gender, sexuality and love that celebrates the beauty of difference.

For ages 15+: Trumpet by Jackie Kay: Joss Moody is a celebrated jazz trumpeter who created music that convinced everyone who heard it that they knew the man who made it. But Joss’s death has proved them all wrong: Joss Moody lived his life inside a stunning secret.

Books2All blog - LGBTQ+ children’s books make all the difference by Holly Green
Trumpet published by Picador (2016)

Stonewall represents lesbian, gay, bi, trans, queer, questioning and ace (LGBTQ+) people everywhere. We fight for our freedom, equity and potential at every stage of our lives. We are proud of who we are and what we have achieved together, and we know more change is desperately needed. We will continue our work until the world we imagine is the world we live in.

Thank you for visiting our blog. Our vision here at Books2All is a world where every child finds the books that help them reach their true potential. If you have spare books in good condition at home that you think might be appropriate for school children, please sign up for our app’s pre-release waiting list. If you represent a school, please register to receive books for your students.

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