"Reading books centered around LGBTQ+ youth and families is essential for all children, regardless of their family makeup," says Tatiana Quiroga, director of Family Equity & Diversity at Family Equality, a social justice nonprofit in New York City. "Expanding the definition of a family helps create a well rounded, caring, empathic individual." It's thrilling that more and more publishers are investing in stories about LGBTQ+ leaders, many of whom who blazed trails long before Pride parades and the legalization of same-sex marriage. And while we still have a ways to go, the list of
children's books about LGBTQ+ icons is only growing.
With the help of activist organizations like Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (
GLAAD), the Alliance for Full Acceptance, Family Equality Council, and Bureau of General Services—Queer Division book store, here you'll find a stack of great reading material filled with humor, heart, vivid art, and engaging and touching storylines. Every story is as unique as the individuals who make up the vibrant LGBTQ+ community and builds a library of understanding and empathy that families can add to as their children grow. From a transgender Civil War soldier to drag queen RuPaul Andre Charles, tennis phenom Billie Jean King to astronaut Sally Ride, the stories included here include capture the lives some of the most significant (and often overlooked) figures in modern history. Here are 26 children's books about LGBTQ+ history makers children will want to read again and again. We only include products that have been independently selected by Romper's editorial team. However, we may receive a portion of sales if you purchase a product through a link in this article. 1 A book about gay rights pioneer Harvey Milk
Social activist Harvey Milk was the first openly gay elected official in the history of California, but what you may not know is that he also was behind finding a symbol for the gay rights movement — the rainbow flag. Chase Glenn, Executive Director of the social justice organization
Alliance for Full Acceptance keeps this book in his 2-year-old son's bookshelf as a resource for future discussions. "As an LGBTQ+ person, it's important to me that I share books with my son that have a diverse representation of characters and themes," he tells Romper. "Representation matters." 2 An LGBTQ+ History Book
"This is an important book that puts the present day gains of the LGBT movement into perspective for today’s youth," says
Lesléa Newman, author of about this book written for children fourth grade and up. "Interesting, informative, and full of wonderful archival photographs, I applaud Jerome Pohlen for this significant contribution to LGBT literature for young readers." Heather Has Two Mommies, 3 A Book About an Overlooked Civil War Hero GLAAD was founded as a media monitoring organization in response to sensationalized reporting about HIV and AIDS in 1985. Its work of promoting tolerance and acceptance continues today with its partnership with Little Bee Books to produce LGBTQ+-inclusive picture books, like this one recommended by Rich Ferraro, the organization's chief communication officer. The story tells a little known tale of Albert D.J. Cashier, a transgender man who fought in the civil war, and explores his bravery both on the battlefield and in life. 4 The Story of Artist Keith Haring for Kids
New York City's
Bureau of General Services—Queer Division (BGSQD) is an independent, volunteer-staffed bookstore that lives inside the LGBT Community Center and as such is a great resource of books for all ages. One such book is about openly gay pop artist Keith Haring, who rose to fame in New York City in the '80s using some of his work to advocate for AIDS awareness and social activism. Sadly, he died of AIDS-related complications in 1990. But this celebratory story looks at his life and beautiful work in a way children can appreciate. 5 The Story of How a Tennis Great Changed Sports for LGBTQ+
"Children who learn of LGBTQ people who are celebrated for their lives and achievements will grow up knowing that queer lives are worth learning about, worth living, and worth defending and supporting," says BGSQD books co-founder Greg Newton. "This may very well save their lives." That's why he recommends this story about arguably one of the greatest tennis players in history, Billie Jean King who battled not only on the court, but in the court of public opinion as she fought for fairness in women's sports.
6 A Children's Primer on Resistance
Peaceful Fights for Equal Rights is a book about fighting for what you believe in. It took home the 2018 Florida Book Awards prize for Younger Children's Literature. That's why Glenn counts it among his toddler son's reading material. "For LGBTQ+ people and their families, so often we don’t see stories like ours on the pages of books — especially children’s books," he says. "It’s so powerful to be able to read the stories of LGBTQ+ icons and leaders of the movement, and to normalize the representation of characters in children’s books that also just happen to identify as LGBTQ+." 7 A Tale of Real Life Lesbian Activists in San Francisco
It's rare to find a picture book centering a powerful lesbian couple. This one tells the story of Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin — whom
calls "activists and mentors before there was a movement or community" — and how they transformed San Francisco with their activism. It's another recommendation from BGSQD's Newton. As a bonus, the book comes with a reading guide to add historical context for educators. The Guardian 8 A Biography of the Man Behind the Rainbow Flag
Though Harvey Milk popularized the rainbow flag now associated as the symbol of LGBTQ+ pride,
Sewing the Rainbow: A Story About Gilbert Baker, tells children the story of the man who created it. This picture book shares Baker's life story, from learning to love fabric at his grandma's clothing store in Kansas, to his father's rejection of his love of art, to his move to San Francisco and subsequent creation of the pride flag. Another BGSQD suggestion, this book also made the 2019 ALA GLBT Round Table Rainbow Book List. 9 A Colorful Look at LGBTQ+ Heroes
This wildly illustrated book introduces young readers to everyone from Frida Kahlo to Freddie Mercury, James Baldwin to Leonardo Da Vinci — artists, innovators, athletes, and activists who put their stamp on the world.
Lamda Literary, an organization that champions LGBTQ+ books and authors, says of the book, " offers kids ... biographies that honor people’s queerness Queer Heroes their accomplishments." as integral to 10 A Kid-Friendly Tome on Megan Rapinoe
Designed for young readers, this book will
teach your little soccer player all about their favorite football superstar, Megan Rapinoe. The book looks at how the woman who famously said, “You can’t win a championship without gays on your team — it’s never been done before, ever," is a role model for equality both on and off the field. 11 A vividly illustrated look at dance pioneer Alvin Ailey Alvin Ailey was one of the most pioneering American dancers in modern history. His work shining a light on marginalized dancers lives on today with continued productions of his choreography for works like his best-known piece "Revelations," performed to African-American spirituals. In her 1993 review for , Moira Hodgson wrote of this book, "Ailey's story keeps a child in thrall. I tried the book out on a 5-year-old who listened quietly throughout. When the refrain 'Rocka My Soul' comes around again at that first performance of 'Revelations,' he sat up in bed, began to snap his fingers and said: 'That's how it all started! Right?'" The New York Times 12 A kid-appropriate take on the Stonewall Riots
"Someday girls like us will be able to wear whatever we want. They'll respect that we are women. The cops will leave us alone and no one will go hungry." That's a line from this book about
Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson, two transgender women of color who helped start the Stonewall Riots. In fact, just last year the City of New York announced plans to immortalize the women in a monument near the famous tavern. To contextualize their significance in the LGBTQ+ movement, parents can turn to this book filled with colorful illustrations that explains how they championed their identities while helping their homeless queer friends.
"This book tells an important story that is often ignored in education," one
GoodReads reviewer writes. "The language is simple and accessible without diminishing the important message of tolerance and acceptance, which will help parents and teachers alike explain Marsha & Sylvia’s story in a simple and clear way." 13 An elementary intro to the piano man Little People, Big Dreams is a children's book collection that showcases outstanding people in history. This one on pop superstar and gay activist Elton John is a kid-friendly biography that includes fun facts, illustrations, and a biographical timeline of the piano man who, once upon a time, was a shy young boy who found the greatest comfort tinkering with the black and white keys of his favorite instrument. 14 A photobiography of an LGBTQ+ astronaut
A role model for kids everywhere,
Sally Ride was the first woman astronaut to fly in space. She was also gay. While that wasn't revealed until after her death, it's another compelling biographical detail for children hoping to follow in her footsteps. Introduce them to the famous woman with this book — selected for the 2016 National Science Teachers Association's Outstanding Science Trade Books List — written by her partner of 27 years, Tam O'Shaughnessy . The book uses photos to paint a scrapbook-style portrait of Ride complete with touching details like O'Shaughnessy's description of the women's first encounter at tennis practice when they were in middle school: "I had no idea that brief conversation was the start of a friendship that would last a lifetime, and so much more." 15 A collection of mini profiles on LGBTQ+ leaders
Tatiana Quiroga of
Family Equality recommends this big illustrated book, which also was named one of Time Out's LGBTQ+ books for kids to read during Pride Month." “ 16 An homage to LGBTQ+ activists of color
In this book all about the history of the LGBTQ+ community, we follow narrator drag kid Desmond who teaches readers all about incredible people like the aforementioned Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, as well as drag queen super star RuPaul. The inclusive book, as one
School Library Journal writer wrote, "pays homage to queer, trans, and gay activists of color." 17 The true story on one young transgender girl
Every single activist I spoke to for this story recommended
I Am Jazz. Based on the real life story of transgender spokesperson Jazz Jennings, the says this Houston Chronicle "groundbreaking new picture book for children explains in clear, direct language what it means — and how it feels — to be transgender." 18 A board book all about drag queen RuPaul
Arguably America's most famous drag queen, RuPaul carved a path for acceptance and understanding of the drag community, and helping children understand his accomplishments is what this book from the
People of Pride board book series is all about. Just released last month, this is the latest in the series from GLAAD and Little Bee Books, which also features Ellen DeGeneres and Harvey Milk. While the website Mombian: Sustenance for Lesbian Moms, noted the language of the book is better suited for older children, it did compliment the series for introducing kids to LGBTQ+ heroes, writing, "GLAAD and Little Bee are to be commended for reminding us of this ongoing need." 19 An illustrated look at Mayor Pete Mayor Pete Buttigieg made history this election season by becoming the first openly gay candidate for president. Now the story of this remarkable man has been put into picture book format which Publishers Weekly calls "an accessible and informative picture book biography." 20 An uplifting book about basketball legend Sheryl Swoopes
Sheryl Swoopes is not just one of the best female basketball players ever, she's an Olympic gold medal winner. But that doesn't mean she hasn't faced adversity, both for her race and her sexuality. In this book filled with beautiful photos of her playing, she teaches children how to rebound on the court and from life's challenges. "Along with basketball basics, Kuklin and Swoopes deliver a potent message about female strength and self-esteem," writes
Publishers Weekly. 21 Maddox Lyons’ true story of coming out as a boy Booklist, the review arm of the American Library Association, calls I 'm Not A Girl, "An important book that can serve as a conversation starter with gender-expansive children and as a tool for cis children to build empathy." It's a brave re-telling of real life 13-year-old Maddox Lyon's transgender identity journey. The young LGBTQ+ activist wrote the book himself, a rarity in LGBTQ+ children's literature. 22 Inspiring tales of incredible girls
This book, which
The Guardian called “a real inspiration,” features vividly illustrated stories of 100 fabulous women including Coy Mathis, “who at 6 years old took Colorado to court after her school refused to allow her to use her preferred bathroom,” writes the Georgia Voice. In a chilling illustration of the need for just this kind of literature, when the book was published in Russia, the same publication reports that Mathis’ story was censored leaving only a blank page where it once stood due to the country’s propaganda laws. 23 Stories about brave kids
With stories about extraordinary people like Emma González, Parkland shooting survivor, former president of her high school's
gay–straight alliance, gun control advocate, and one of magazine's Time 100 Most Influential People of 2018, this book highlights individuals who have gone out on a ledge for what they believe in. One Good Reads reviewer, where the book has received 4.18 out of 5 stars, wrote, "This is an inspiring book for all children. It teaches them that they can follow their dreams, and to stand up for themselves." 24 An LBGTQ+ refugee story
The plight of LGBTQ+ refugees is something that doesn't often get media attention, let alone recognition in children's literature. That's why real life refugees and husbands Rainer Oktovianus and Eka Nasution, who left Indonesia (where same-sex relationships are criminalized) for Canada, decided to tell their own story in a children's book written by Oktovianus and author Robin Stevenson.
The story is told from the perspective of their cat Ghost who fled with them. "One child may simply understand it as a story about a cat who is afraid and moves to a safer place with her family," Stevenson wrote on Canadian literature website,
All Lit Up "Another may have more questions and want to discuss the issues behind the story in more depth — so we included an author’s note providing background information that will be useful for parents and for teachers who want to use the book as a classroom resource."
An added incentive to buy this book: All author royalties and partial publisher proceeds will go support LGBTQ+ refugees, through
Rainbow Refugee and Rainbow Railroad. 25 The Cliff’s Notes of Gay Rights Welcoming Schools, a human rights organization in Boston that advocates for inclusivity, recommends The Gay Rights Movement in its list of "Great LGBTQ Inclusive Picture & Middle Grade Books." Written for children as young as 8, this comprehensive book looks at LGBTQ+ history and icons, like Harvey Milk and Ellen DeGeneres, taking what could be textbook fodder and livening it up with photos and informative sidebars. 26 A story of parental acceptance by Karamo Brown Queer Eye's Karamo Brown's story is all about loving yourself for who you are and that message is extended in the illustrations by Anoosha Syed. Book review magazine Kirkus describes Syed's clever use of inclusive imagery way: "The artwork includes details among background characters that enrich the tale with a meaningful message of kindness and inclusion, as in T-shirts with such slogans as “Be Kind” and “Feminist,” multiple same-sex couples, and characters with various types of religious garb."
100 Most Banned and Challenged Books of the last decade, half of the list’s top 20 contained lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer themes, per NBC News. It's abundantly clear children need diverse stories now more than ever. They need heroes, and these books have them.
This article was originally published on
November 7, 2020