From books with main characters who are LGBTQ or still figuring out their sexual orientation to stories of straight kids or teens with gay friends or parents, these books portray many aspects of the LGBTQ experience.
Preschool (ages 2–4)
1. “And Tango Makes Three” by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, illustrated by Henry Cole
“And Tango Makes Three” is a powerful, gentle story of two male penguins who fall in love at the zoo and together nurture and parent another penguin couple's offspring from the time it's an egg. Based on a true story from the Central Park Zoo in New York City, it shows there are different kinds of families, using familiar images and concepts of love and tolerance, while weaving in the idea of adoption and how a community helps kids and families thrive.
2. “Worm Loves Worm” by J.J. Austrian, illustrated by Mike Curato
“Worm Loves Worm” is a charming way to demonstrate that the trappings of a marriage ceremony aren't nearly as important as the love of those being wed. It's an excellent book to start a conversation about same-sex marriage, but it works just as well as an introduction to wedding celebrations or as an example of how creativity, individuality and unconventionality can make a big event even more special.
3. “I Am Jazz,” by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings, illustrated by Shelagh McNicholas
“I Am Jazz” is an autobiographical picture book about a transgender child. In her words, “I have a girl brain but a boy body.” Coauthor Jazz Jennings, 13, sketches out the story of her life so far as a transgender child with a loving, supportive family and good friends. She encounters challenges and teasing, and the way she copes makes her story helpful to all children who sometimes feel like outsiders.
Older elementary school (ages 8–9)
4. “George” by Alex Gino
“George” is about a transgender fourth-grader who increasingly learns to be herself and to tell others about her secret. Along the way, she finds many supportive advocates, but her greatest ally is her best friend Kelly. Some kids taunt George, and she's called a freak and gets punched by a school bully. Some people, such as George's brother, assume George is gay, but she says she doesn't “know who she liked, really, boys or girls.” Parents and teachers can use this book to talk about a wide variety of topics, including what it means to be transgender and to how to stand up for someone.
Common Sense Media note: In the story, George's older brother shows George how to clear the browsing history after using their mother's computer. George then does this after searching the internet for transgender information. The Common Sense K–12 Digital Citizenship Curriculum advises families and educators to empower kids to think critically about the websites they visit. However, families may choose to review their kids' browsing history to make sure they're making safe choices online.
Tweens (ages 10–12)
5. “Better Nate Than Ever” by Tim Federle
This is a charming story of a boy who sneaks away from home and falls in love with New York City. He takes his brother's fake ID and his mom's ATM card and lies to adults. His conscience weighs on him, but he's focused on his goal: to audition for a Broadway musical. While Nate says his sexuality remains “undecided,” he's routinely bullied for being gay and shows some interest in boys. His family has had problems with alcoholism and infidelity.
Common Sense Media note: The publisher recommends this title for ages 9 and older. We recommend 10 and older due to the mature themes and language. It can be a good choice for younger kids, but risks introducing anti-gay slurs to more sheltered kids.
6. “Drama” by Raina Telgemeier
“Drama” is a funny, affecting look at what it takes to put on a middle school musical. The story emphasizes the need for teamwork, both onstage and backstage. Some readers may be uncomfortable with the graphic novel's depiction of homosexual crushes between young teens, but the author treats the subject with discretion, and there's no depiction of romantic contact between members of the same sex. One male character is forthrightly gay, while another seems uncertain about his sexuality.
7. “My Mixed-Up Berry Blue Summer” by Jennifer Gennari
The main theme of “My Mixed-Up Berry Blue Summer” is prejudice against same-sex marriage and gay people in general. When June's mother decides to marry her girlfriend under Vermont's civil union law, June is uncomfortable with the negative attention she receives because of her mother's decision. June is bullied by some older boys, and her family is targeted by local townspeople. The content includes some anti-gay slurs, and some townspeople accuse gays of being pedophiles and spreading AIDS.
8. “Addie on the Inside” by James Howe
This companion to author James Howe's “The Misfits” and “Totally Joe” deals with slightly offbeat kids trying to fit in. This time it's 13-year-old Addie, whose story is told completely in narrative poetry that poignantly captures the turmoil and confusion she faces. Themes range from learning how to stay strong and smart and sensitive in the face of taunting by “mean girls” to overbearing teachers, young love and broken hearts, and how and when to speak your mind.
It also juxtaposes the painful but almost silly struggles of middle school with the atrocities that take place around the world: child brides who are raped, disfigured and sold; battered women; a student driven to suicide by bullying. Addie helps organize the Gay-Straight Alliance in support of her openly gay friends and dares to hold a Day of Silence even when it's nixed by the principal.
9. “Two Boys Kissing” by David Levithan
“Two Boys Kissing” weaves together events that occur in the lives of several gay teens while two former lovers attempt to break the world's record for the longest kiss. The book is narrated by omniscient spirits of gay ancestors from different generations, including many who died of AIDS. Characters experience intense emotions of love, discovery, pain, fear and self-loathing.
Common Sense Media note: A couple of disturbing, violent scenes in this book include child abuse and a hate crime. There's also some suggestive "sexting," descriptions of sexual arousal and passionate kissing. The f-word is used in anger once, and hateful anti-gay language is used several times.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published by Common Sense Media in 2018, and republished with permission in June 2021.