Hiya everyone, it’s Sarah!
Happy Pride Month to our LGBTQIA community!
This month is celebrated each year to honor the Stonewall Uprising/Riots of June 28, 1969. These riots occurred in reaction to the continuous raiding of gay bars in New York City. This event sparked the national movement for gay rights (for more information). Since places across the nation honor pride at many points throughout June, Pride has evolved into a month long celebration.
As a tween, you begin exploring your identity, which includes sexuality. While ten years ago, it was impossible to find tween fiction books with characters in the LGBTQIA community, but finally the lit world has responded and there are more and more examples of representation each day. If you are a teacher and are looking for resources to assist within the classroom, please visit the Teaching Tolerance website related to celebrating pride month. Also, if you are looking for more history related to Pride Month, visit the Library of Congress’s page about it.
I have created a list of middle grade books that provide strong characters on the LGBTQIA spectrum in fiction. If any great recommendations for this topic, please comment below.
George and Rick by Alex Gino
These books are both set in the same world, but explore different aspects of the LGBTQIA spectrum. George follows a girl who was biologically as a boy, but identifies as a girl. George is determined to play Charlotte in her class’s play, Charlotte’s Web. She receives backlash from identifying as a girl and is bullied. Rick is the friend of one of George’s main bullies and in his book, he begins to question the treatment of George. In fact, Rick begins questioning his sexuality, realizing that he doesn’t like “like” boys or girls.
George has received criticism because it is entitled with the main character’s dead name. I believe that this book does bring up transgender issues and explorations in an age relevant way. I also think that it was one of the first to do this and gain a widespread popularity. Though I believe it is important to discuss the problematic aspects of this novel as well.
The Other Boy by MG Hennessey
This story explains the journey of a young transgender boy. Shane has been living his life as an avid baseball player, with best friends and a possible crush. He is forced to miss an important game because he needs to go out of town to visit his dad. While there, Shane also visits a doctor to discuss the possibility of beginning testosterone, or the next step in his transition from female to male. Shane’s dad is uncomfortable with his son’s desires, but his mom is extremely supportive. Shane is dealing with his father’s emotions, when an off-the-cuff remark to a schoolyard bully brings Shane’s secret to light. The school soon learns that Shane was born a girl and sees pictures of him before his transition. Shane deals with severe bullying, depression, and loss of friends.
Redwood and Ponytail by K.A. Holt
Two middle school girls are both popular in their own ways at school, yet their paths haven’t crossed before. Kate, aka Ponytail, has worked hard to become head cheerleader, mostly based on the pressure of her mother. For her birthday, Kate is able to take her whole squad to the hottest concert of the year. However, when she meets Tam, she wants to spend more time with her than her squad. Also, Tam, or Redwood, lets Kate be Kate. Tam is a star volleyball player and knows everyone, but her best friend is a short stack, who she razzes all the time. Tam finds her calm with Kate and thinks that she might like like Kate. Does Kate feel the same, will her mother allow her to feel the same?
The characters are not as well-developed in this book because it is told through verse. However, it is an approachable way to explore the begin possibility of like liking someone of the same gender, which more than makes up for the lack of character development.
PS I miss You by Jen Petro-Roy
Evie’s older sister has gotten pregnant and her parents have sent her away to live with an aunt until the baby comes, and then she will begin attending a boarding school. Evie cannot comprehend why her family has been torn apart. She begins writing letters to her older sister, in attempt to process the changes around her. While Evie wants her sister to write back, she doesn’t know if she will ever receive an answer. Through the year, Evie begins questioning her sexuality, finding that she isn’t boy crazy like her friends. However, she finds a new girl attractive and sees a potential for something more.
The Mighty Heart of Sunny St. James by Ashley Herring Blake
Sunny has recently received a heart transplant and she is determined to live her life to the fullest with her new heart. Sunny was abandoned by her mother when she was young, but has a good relationship with her adoptive mother. However, things begin to become more difficult for Sunny when her bio mom shows back up. Sunny wants to be perfect in the eyes of her bio mom, but her new romantic feelings for her best friend Quinn add more emotional turmoil.
Ashley Herring Blake is a powerhouse of middle grade books with LGBTQIA characters. While this is the first middle grade book by her that I have read, my librarian friends have recommended her other middle grade books.
I couldn’t choose only 5 books to add to this list and I certainly couldn’t leave out any of these graphic novels.
Drama by Raina Telgemeier
Callie is obsessed with theater. She can’t sing or act at all, but she is a great artist and lends her talents to the stage crew. As the crew prepares for their next show Moon Over Mississippi , Callie makes new friends with a set of twins. One twin has come out as gay, while the other incites romantic feelings from Callie. However, through a comedy of errors and confusion, the drama really heats up.
This is a great funny book about being in middle school. Finding a person you like that likes you back is hard and Telgemeier gets right to the heart of the matter. Quick fluffy funny graphic novel
Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang
Frances is a lowly seamstress, who is hidden in the background with several others. Frances is given an opportunity to shine, when she is tasked with creating a ball gown for a local young woman, who hopes to land the prince’s hand in marriage. Surprisingly, Frances gains the attentions of Prince Sebastian, who has a secret life as Lady Crystallia. Frances begins creating dresses for Lady Crystallia and gaining the notice of all other well to-do ladies. As Frances’s popularity grows, Prince Sebastian begins worrying about the kingdom finding out about his secret. Is there a way for both Prince Sebastian and Frances to remain true to themselves without hurting the other?
I love that the main character is gender fluid. There are not many gender fluid characters found in graphic novels, who are accepted instead of being the butt of a farce. I loved the illustrations. I totally want to own a Frances creation. I would even enjoy spending more time in this world. Jen Wang offers stellar art with LGBTQIA storylines. There is buzz that this graphic novel will be turned into a movie (squee!).
Nimona by Noelle Stevenson
Set in this alternative medieval yet techie world, there are heroes and villains. Nimona, a shapeshifter, goes to work with the infamous villain, Ballister Blackheart. The two work together to exact revenge upon Blackheart’s arch-nemesis, Ambrosius Goldenloin, who back in the day cut off Blackheart’s hand. Along the way they uncover a dastardly plan to hurt the local population, becoming Robin Hood like characters.
This is a quirky graphic novel, with interesting twists on typical fairy tales. The lgbtqia storyline is a fresh perspective and fits nicely within the plot.
Princess Princess Ever After by Katie O’Neill
One princess saves another (woohoo challenge that fairytale trope!) and on their way back to the kingdom the two find a perfect companion in the other. The art is gorgeous and each princess is a distinct person.
The Witch Boy by Molly Ostertag
Aster lives in a magical family, but the type of magic is determined by gender. All females are witches and all males are shapeshifters. It is time for Aster to begin shifting, like all of his fellow cousins. However, Aster is more interested in learning witchcraft and has no affinity for shapeshifting. Aster begins spying on the witch lessons and learning how to use these powers on his own. It is taboo in Aster’s family for these gender roles to be reversed because when it happened in the past, things horrifically twisted. Aster stumbles on a new non-magical friend, who helps him be proud of his truth. When a new demon threatens the family, Aster may be the only person able to save them.
I think this is a clever way to begin discussing gender norms and identities with middle grade readers because its mix of supernatural with coming-of-age will interest these readers while also making them think.
Comment below if you have any reads to add to the list. I am always looking to add to my TBR.