LGBTQ characters in children’s books are constantly a source of controversy. Have a look at any list of banned books and you won’t have to go far to find characters who come under this umbrella term. To be honest, I get quite weary of the controversy. LGBTQ people have literally existed for the whole of history, and there are currently over 1 million LGBTQ people in the UK who have identified themselves as such (many people won’t identify themselves for fear of reprisal, so we can assume the figure is much, much higher). Many of these people are teachers, parents, family members, and even pupils in our schools, and it’s just as important for LGBTQ people to be represented in our books as it is for anyone else.
A quick recap for those of you who aren’t in the know. LGBTQ (sometimes LGBT, LGBTQIA, LGBT*) stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer. It covers most non-heterosexual orientations, also incorporating gender identities as well. Stonewall have a great glossary of terms to help get your head around most of the key terms which you may come across. It’s definitely not necessary to know the terms to enjoy and share the following books.
And so, without further ado, my top LGBTQ focus books for children.
Introducing Teddy by Jess Walton
A beautiful picture book about a teddy bear who realises that they prefer to be described as she rather than he, and to wear their how on their head not their neck. A brilliant introduction to the concept of gender for children, and beautifully done.
And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell
This story, based on the true tale of two male penguins at New York’s Central Park Zoo and their adopted child is still topping banned books lists 12 years after its initial publishing date. It’s a truly beautiful book.
Red: a crayon’s story by Michael Hall
This delightful tale about a mislabelled crayon having an identity crisis is brilliant for any child who might be different, and is particularly great as an explanation of the upset that misgendering or otherwise labelling someone as something that they disagree with can cause.
The Boy in the Dress by David Walliams
This one doesn’t quite fit into this category as the hobby of cross dressing doesn’t equate to transgender-ness, however this book from Walliams is really good from the point of view that it does that cross-dressing is a perfectly normal thing to enjoy doing. There’s also a certain amount of transphobic and homophobic bullying suffered by the main character. Children LOVE Walliams’ books, which are bizarrely like Roald Dahl’s in style.
Percy Jackson/ Heroes of Olympus/ The Trials of Apollo/Magnus Chase by Rick Riordan
Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series were an absolute hit, and are some of the most popular middle grade books of our era. They were followed by the Heroes of Olympus series, which were set in the same universe. The Trials of Apollo are the third (and presumably final) series set in the same universe. The general premise of the books is that the Greek Gods are real, and their children are demigods (á la Hercules) and the adventures that come about as a result.
Whilst the initial Percy Jackson series don’t really have much to do with LGBTQ representation, they’re kind of necessary background information in my opinion so that the other books all make sense. A lot of the characters appear across all three series, and it’s really in the last Heroes of Olympus book that LGBTQ themes begin to appear. The Trials of Apollo also extend this.
Rick Riordan’s Magnus Chase series (based on the Viking Gods, but with links back to the original Percy Jackson Books) is also great in that it contains genderfluid characters as well.
Rick Riordan’s books are incredibly inclusive on many counts. It’s deliberate. They contain characters who use sign language, characters with dyslexia and ADHD, LGBTQ characters, Characters who are people of colour, characters whose first languages are not english and to top it off they are fantastic books. They’re truly, truly enjoyable ( just don’t watch the terrible movies!) They can be a bit complex in places, but broadly speaking the books are suitable for upper KS2 and beyond, maybe some of your stronger lower KS2 pupils would also enjoy them though.