Children's books occupy a tricky place in literature, especially when their aim is to change the minds of readers. With Heather Has Two Mommies, author Lesléa Newman was the first person to portray a pair of lesbian mothers in a positive way in a children's book, and it instigated criticism during the culture wars of the '90s. Now with its 25th anniversary re-release, we look at other books that include LGBT characters. It's a fine line to tread: without verging into the realm of preachy, all good children's books have a lesson, but kids can’t know that they’re learning! Here’s a handful of (mostly) recent books that stand out.
Soma So Strange, by Carrie Rosten
Soma is surrounded by Meanies and Townies who bully and torment her for being so-called “strange.” They don’t like the fact that she can be a bit loud, or that she loves to eat sushi. So Soma leaves town with a band of misfit pirates to understand why the Meanies have to be like that, and ends up learning why being “strange” is actually a really good thing.
In this book, with illustrations by Shelagh McNicholas,based on the real-life experience of Jazz Jennings, perhaps America's most famous trans tween, now teenager, who has become a spokesperson for transkids everywhere, we learn compassion and what it means to be a little girl in 21st-century America.
"This is an essential tool for parents and teachers to share with children whether those kids identify as trans or not. I wish I had had a book like this when I was a kid struggling with gender identity questions. I found it deeply moving in its simplicity and honesty," wrote Laverne Cox.
Jeremiah Nebula is a black boy who loves pink. In Large Fears, a surrealist tale penned by Myles E. Johnson and beautifully illustrated by Brooklyn artist Kendrick Daye, Jeremiah is faced with his scariest adventure yet: a trip to Mars. But will he find the courage to embark on it? As Jeremiah confronts his deepest fears, he will also learn one of life's heaviest lessons. A sweet and cosmic gem of a book, putting a spotlight --for the first time in childen's literature-- on a queer black kid.
When two male penguins at the Central Park Zoo adopted an egg, it attracted quite a bit of international attention –- good and bad. The only book on this list based on a true story, it shows that love can come in a variety of shapes, even avian.
Sometimes The Spoon Runs Away With Another Spoon, by Jacinta Bunnell and Nathaniel Kusinitz
This coloring book is an important addition to the genre. Children engage with books well before they can read, all it takes is a fistful of crayons. A pity it isn’t a trend we carry on through adulthood.
Oliver Button Is A Sissy, by Tomie dePaola
This isn’t recent -- it came out in 1979 -- but it set the stage for a lot of work that came after it. It also spawned a musical and established dePaola's place within children’s literature.
The Bravest Knight Who Ever Lived, by Daniel Errico
Cedric is a poor pumpkin-knight whose mission is to save a prince and princess. Along the way, he falls madly in love.
Hello, Sailor, by Ingrid Godon and Andre Sollie
Capturing listless romance is a challenge in any genre, let alone in a book catered to kids. Here, a man waits for his sailor at a lighthouse, and then they sail of together. It’s as beautiful as it is simple.
King and King, by Linda de Haan and Stern Nijland
Translated from Dutch in 2002, Koning en Koning caused quite a fuss by featuring the first man-on-man kiss in children’s literature. The book avoided censure, however, and went on to have a sequel in which the kings adopt a child.
The Boy Who Cried Fabulous, by Lesléa Newman
Possibly the most prolific author of LGBT children's fiction, Newman is great because she also leaves readers with a strong vocabulary.
Mom and Mum Are Getting Married, by Ken Setterington
This one deserves special attention. Instead of focusing on the practicalities of same-sex marriage, it focuses on what kids really care about: the party!
The Daddy Machine, by Johnny Valentine
The children of two women want a dad, so they decide to create a daddy-making machine. Things go a bit wrong (they are kids, after all), and it just won’t stop churning out men. ... Are these things available for sale?
Of course, these books have sparked backlashes from certain corners of society, but the good they’ve done to spread acceptance is undeniable. LGBT positive books are finally making their way into early education, and while there are still bound to be a few fraught PTA meetings each time a new book is introduced, this should give us a great deal of hope in the future.