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.
This is such an incredible article Casey! You’re so great at scouting out queer books and talking about them in an engaging/useful way. Marie, you sound like an awesome mum, I’m sure that your children are fabulous young people with lots of help from you! Your daughter sounds like a role model too :)
Thanks Abi! I was really impressed with this mom, too!
i just love this. books books books. <3
I think if I had these books available to me during my adolescence, I would not have been so angry and self destructive.
I wish this so hard too. :(
I think if I had these books available during my adolescence, it wouldn’t have taken me 32 years to figure things out.
Hen and Chick: The Marauder’s Island is a young YA all-POC mother-daughter pirate adventure (reads like the Alanna books) with trans woman, bi, and poly representation. I think it could be a great read-together book.
Hen and Chick: The Marauder’s Island looks amazing, thanks for recommending. Adding to my to-read list now!
Be right back reading ALL OF THESE.
I agree there’s a relative dearth of middle grade, LGBTQ-inclusive books. I few I love are The Other Boy, a fairly new one told from the perspective of a 12-year-old trans boy; and The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher (and its sequel, The Family Fletcher Takes Rock Island), about a multi-racial, multi-ethnic two-dad family with four boys ages six to twelve.
A trans boy! That is very exciting. It’s the first one for middle readers as far as I know! Thanks for letting me know.
I also haven’t heard of The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher! I was focusing in this article on books with queer and trans identified young people, but I think middle grade books with queer and trans parents are really important too! I left it off this list, but I really liked My Mixed-Up Berry Blue Summer by Jennifer Gennari which has lesbian moms.
Thanks so much for all of these. I need to share them all with my best kiddo.
trying not to cry in public lol casual. representation!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Excellent timing, as I am a kids librarian in need of expanding my collection. Bought bought bought!
I second the rec for The Family Fletcher series, and add in Tim Federle’s Nate books. Also, Richard Peck’s latest, Best Man, has Archer and his dad working to set up his uncle and his student teacher Mr. McLeod, and the importance of all these men as his role models.
A fellow librarian! (:
Great recs for books featuring queer men and boys, thank you!
Awesome, awesome, awesome. So much awesome!
This is such an amazing list! Thank you :)
My pleasure. Thanks for reading! (:
Another queer book is David Walliam’s ‘The Boy in the Dress’, which my teacher read to us as a class in year 6 (age about 11), about a boy who wears dresses, and how his friends and family reacts. I found it really funny, engaging and well done.
Yeah I really liked that book too! I thought it was nice how it left his gender identity / sexual orientation open but just explored him liking to wear dresses. And all the boys playing soccer in dresses at the end was the best!
There is a graphic novel about Ruby and Sapphire from Steven Universe!!!, if ur kid has not seen that show yet, i hope she does!! it’s full of girls who love other girls and it’s a kids show!!. Amazing story, good recs, and good luck!! :D
this is the book
Oh my gosh, yes, I hope Marie’s daughter watches Steven Universe too!
Holler! SU is so amazing! And this book is so beautiful.
can I point out that THREE of these selections are in some way theater related? That is so appropriate and adorable and 10th grade drama and choir geek Nina would be all about these books. So awesome.
Tim Federle’s middle grade Nate books are also about theatre and a queer boy who loves it if you’re all about theatre and queers!
What a great article. Both Marie’s letter and the subsequent list of books and reviews were like a hot chocolate topped with whipped cream and cinnamon for my heart.
Aw, what a lovely description. Thank you!
I’m a 6th grade English teacher and a lot of my kids went crazy for Alex London’s Proxy last year, which is a dystopian novel with a gay male protagonist, who also happens to be a proxy born to take the punishment for his rich patron. Provoked a lot of amazing conversations in our class about why there are so few LGBTQ characters in middle school literature. Another great one is Gracefully Grayson, which is about a transgender girl coming to terms with her identity through taking part in the school play. Another one for drama geeks!
Thanks for the rec of Proxy. Sounds interesting!
To be honest, I deliberately excluded Gracefully Grayson because I thought it wasn’t very well done; it seemed very clearly written for a cis audience with the main purpose of evoking pity for the trans girl. I know that some young cis readers have responded well to the book, but I just don’t feel good recommending it.
Gracefully Grayson was great!
Love this. I sent it on to a few queer librarians I know.
I also checked my library, and we have two of the recommended titles, George and the House You Pass Along the Way. I’ll forward it on to the person who selects children’s books, but I doubt we’ll get much more. The selectors (aside from the Communications one) seem really opposed to visual novels/comics.
What a shame about the selectors being opposed to comics. They’re such a great medium for reluctant readers. And it’s just another kind of reading, reading pictures, isn’t it?
We do have Maus, Persepholis, and Fun Home; because of class use. We have very few childrens/YA graphic novels (though we do have Nimona), the ones we do have come as part of the Junior Library Guild subscription.
The communications selector is trying to add more, thankfully, but juvenile material isn’t in his area. He did get Preacher recently, which saw MASSIVE use; and got Sandman several years ago that also saw a lot of charges. I should be able to get him to order some adult graphic novels at least!
From my experience, graphic novels / comics in the kids section are a big hit. If you have to argue for them based on projected increased circ and that gets more into the library, why not?
Lily and Dunkin by Donna Gephart is an amazing MG novel about a trans girl. The Other Boy by M.G. Hennessey is great, too. It’s about a trans boy.
I haven’t read Lily and Dunkin yet, but I heard some negative reviews about the portrayal of the trans girl, which is why I excluded it here. What I read said that because of the switching perspectives, we hear about the trans girl character from the other character’s POV and he doesn’t know she’s a girl until near the end of the book, so there’s a lot of misgendering. I wondered why the author chose that structure.
Really saddened that The Other Boy isn’t on this list, it’s one of the absolute best new books out there and the only one with a trans boy who is post-transition.
Aw I’m sorry I hadn’t heard of it! Also I was focusing on books about LGBTQ girls.
There’s actually a Latina trans girl in The Other Boy who befriends Shane in a support group. I think that’s one of the things my kids really liked about it, that more than one trans experience was portrayed.