Hello and welcome to the second installment of Ask Your Friendly Neighbourhood Lesbrarian! Let’s get right to it:
Please help! I have a very precocious eight year old daughter who began speaking at nine months and decided that she would marry a woman before she turned two. She learned the term lesbian from the show Supergirl, and now matter of factly proclaims herself a lesbian to anyone. My little blue haired human would love to meet other self-identified tiny lesbians, but I don’t know where to find them. Most groups/services in my area are geared towards older children. She loves reading and would love to read about younger children who know that they are LGBTQ. She tells me that it is heartbreaking to have to continually explain to other children, and adults, that wearing a suit IS something girls can do, they can wear bow ties daily, and when they dream of their future it can include a woman. When I ask people where I can meet other tiny lesbians for my little human many of them question if she is really so self-aware or if I am identifying her that way. I listen to my children and know that my 10 year old son is straight and my eight year old daughter is a lesbian. I know this because they told me and I listened, and if they tell me something different another time then I will believe them then as well.
Can I just say how excited I am to hear from queer-positive parents like you? It gives me so much hope to get requests like this! It is so so important for LGBTQ2IA+ kids to see themselves reflected in the books they read and I’m so glad that as a parent you understand how important that is too.
You’ve hit on an interesting issue and an unfortunate gap in queer literature for young people. While there’s a relatively good selection of picture books that introduce themes like same-sex parents and there are a bunch of amazing queer and trans YA book about coming out, books for readers in between are still sorely lacking. Writers and publishers take note: there’s an especially huge gap in books about queer and/or trans kids, especially trans kids of color, and lesbian/bi girls! That said, there are some really stand-out books that I’ll recommend below. I think readers of all ages (adults included!) will enjoy them. They all fall into the “middle grade” category, which is librarian speak for books for kids about ages 9-12.
The reading difficulty of the ones I chose varies, and some of these might be better to read with your daughter now, or for her to read on her own in a year or so.
George by Alex Gino
In some ways, George by Alex Gino is a very familiar story about a regular kid in a regular school with regular ten-year-old problems: dealing with bullies at school, really wanting a certain part in the school play, an annoying teenage brother, and a busy single mom. Except, this story is about a ten-year-old trans girl. What makes it really special is that George is written by a trans (genderqueer) author and Gino uses she/her to refer to George from the very beginning of the book. The main plot is about George and her BFF Kelly scheming to get George onstage to play Charlotte in the school play of Charlotte’s Web. While they’re at it, they’re gonna tell everyone who George really is: a girl. This book is an authentic, moving introduction to trans issues for cis kids and an empowering, potentially life-saving novel for trans kids. It also deals with adults being confused about the difference between sexual orientation and gender identity. Its reading level is on the low side for middle grade, so it should be accessible for a strong eight-year-old reader.
Princeless: Raven the Pirate Princess by Jeremy Whitley
Princeless: Raven the Pirate Princess by Jeremy Whitley might be everything an adventurous young lesbian wants to read about: a queer girl of colour who’s captain of her own ship and an all-girl crew of pirates. What’s not to love? Raven is the kind of girl who’d never wait for some knight or prince to rescue her and is a great leader for her endearing cast of fellow pirates as they sail the seven seas. This comic is full of non-stop girls kicking butt action and bright, eye-catching illustrations. There are two trade paperback volumes out right now—the second came out earlier this summer—and it’s ongoing, so your daughter can look forward to more if she likes it! Check out Mey’s glowing review of Princeless: Raven the Pirate Princess for more details on the series. Also, Raven’s story is a spin-off of the original all-ages comic simply titled Princeless, which is also a fiercely feminist story about girls saving the day, so you might want to look for that after!
Drama by Raina Telgemeier
Drama by Raina Telgemeier is the kind of charming book that’s hard to resist. It’s a super fun, light-hearted graphic novel about 12-year-old Callie, a musical theatre nerd who is set designer for the drama department, and her two new 13-year-old friends, twin boys named Justin and Jesse. Of course, Callie ends up dealing with lots of onstage and offstage drama. Drama, never failing to live up to its name, is mostly about everyone gossiping about who is dating who, sexual identity, and crushes, as well as how Callie and the rest of the cast and crew manage to put on the show. Telgemeier expertly weaves in more than one bisexual/gay boy character into the story, and walks very well the fine balance between nonchalance inclusion of queer characters as if they are simply a normal part of middle school, and acknowledging that middle school can be a hard time to be out. The pictures as well as the relatively low reading level make this a great book for someone as young as eight.
The House You Pass on the Way by Jacqueline Woodson
The House You Pass on the Way by Jacqueline Woodson is a classic as far as queer middle grade books go: it won the Lambda Literary award for children’s literature in 1998. It’s a quiet, subtle story about Stagerlee, a 13-year-old girl trying to find her place in the world. Even before questioning her sexuality, Stagerlee has felt different as the daughter of an interracial marriage in an all-black town. One summer, Stagerlee’s older cousin Trout comes to stay, and Trout’s openness about queer sexuality moves Stagerlee to imagine what her future might hold. Tackling racism from the point of view of a mixed race person and early lesbian sexuality, Woodson’s novel asks some complex, hard questions. Although it’s a slim book, The House You Pass on the Way isn’t really a fast read and the vocabulary is relatively complex; it’s best to read in an introspective, quiet mood.
Star-Crossed by Barbara Dee
Star-Crossed by Barbara Dee isn’t quite out yet—it’s set to be published in March 2017—but it sounds really awesome. It follows Mattie, an eighth-grader recently cast as Romeo in the school’s production of Romeo and Juliet. Juliet is played by Gemma, the outgoing, brilliant new girl at school. As rehearsals for the play go on, Mattie realizes that she has a crush on her co-star. But she’s pretty confused about it, especially since not that long ago she found herself crushing on a boy. In addition to trying to understand having crushes on boys and girls, Mattie also has to deal with the real life drama that starts happening backstage of the production. It seems like the whole experience is going to help her figure out how to be the star of her own life. As far as I know, this is the first middle grade novel that has a bisexual main character! I’ve got my fingers crossed that it lives up to how great it sounds.
Letters in the Attic by Bonnie Shimko
Letters in the Attic by Bonnie Shimko is historical fiction set in a small town in New York State in the ’60s. It stars 12-year-old Lizzy, who has spent most of her life looking after her mom; they’ve ended up in Ridgewood, NY with Lizzy’s grandparents because the man Lizzy thought was her father has left them. (It turns out Lizzy’s mom has been keeping secrets from her.) But Lizzy’s got some secrets of her own: she’s falling in love with her BFF Eva. To top that off, she has to deal with all the trauma/hilarity of stuff like getting her first period in the worst place ever and buying her first bra. Lizzy’s a great character, one for girls to look up to: she’s strong, smart, and observant. The supporting characters are lovingly fleshed out as well. My teacher-librarian aunt recommends this book for kid readers in grade four and up, so it might be best to share Letters in the Attic with your daughter, especially as it would help to have an adult explain some of the cool historical details.
Lumberjanes by Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, and more!
Obviously, I have to mention Lumberjanes here; after all, it just won Autostraddle’s Comic and Sequential Art Award for Favourite All-Ages Comic. Endlessly charming, Lumberjanes is about a group of diverse butt-kicking feminists at a summer camp where the strangest supernatural things happen. Two queer cis girls, as well as a trans girl and a non-binary kid, are featured in the comic, but their orientations and gender identities aren’t the focus of the story. Rather, it’s the team working together, using all of their different strengths, to navigate the paranormal adventures that keep falling into their laps. There’s really nothing not to love about Lumberjanes: baby dyke romance, magic, random silliness, feminism, and so much diversity. I especially love the racial and ethnic diversity, as well as how the characters all have different body types, gender presentations, and skills. See Mey’s endless rave reviews of the long-standing series to be convinced of its genius. It’s a comic I’d recommend to any kid age eight and up.
Princess Princess Ever After by Katie O’Neill
Last but certainly not least is Princess Princess Ever After by Katie O’Neill. Autostraddlers may remember this all-ages comic since Mey loves it and it won the Autostraddle Comic and Sequential Art Award for Best Graphic Novel/Book in 2014. It’s an adorable and lovable princess story, which starts when Sadie, kind-hearted princess, is rescued from her tower prison by heroic princess Amira. That’s the beginning of their adventure travelling across the kingdom, where they discover that they bring out the best in each other. Good thing, too, since they’ll need all of their knowledge, bravery, and compassion to defeat the evil jealous sorceress who wants to get rid of Sadie! Will Sadie and Amira get the happily-ever-after they deserve? You’ll have to read to find out. This graphic novel is easy to read for younger kids like an eight-year-old and, to top it all off, has positive representation of black girls and fat girls!
Bonus! There are a couple books coming out in the kind-of-far future that you’ll want to be on the look-out for. PS, I Miss You by Jen-Petro Roy isn’t out until fall 2017 and it features middle schooler Evie writing letters to her disappeared older sister about her first crush on a girl, her religious parents, and other growing-up stuff. Hurricane Child by Kheryn Callender is even further away, slated for a 2018 release, but it sounds incredible: it’s a magical realist novel set in the U.S. Virgin Islands about 12-year-old Caroline. Caroline sees spirits no one else can – except for the new girl, and her crush, at school; these two set out in a hurricane to search for Caroline’s missing mother.
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