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Reading the Rainbow: Essential LGBTQ Books to Brighten Your Bookshelf

Add some pride to your library with these top teacher-requested books featuring LGBTQ stories and characters.


When we ask DonorsChoose teachers what kinds of books have the biggest impact, one theme resounds in classrooms across the country: All kids need access to stories that reflect their own identities and experiences. 

This Pride month, we’ve put together a list of the most-requested books featuring LGBTQ stories and characters to help you build your classroom or school library.

Elementary Books

Julián Is a Mermaid, by Jessica Love

One day, riding home on the subway with his abuela, Julián notices three women dressed as mermaids. He is mesmerized by their hair and their beautifully colored costumes and headdresses. When he gets home, Julián decides that he wants to become a mermaid too and uses a potted fern, curtains, and all his creativity to make his costume. 

What will Abuela think when she sees the mess Julián has made — and more importantly, what will she think when she sees how he is dressed? Full of love and joy, this beautifully drawn story book is about inclusion, acceptance, and being yourself.

Key themes: Self-love, celebrating individuality, freedom of gender expression

A Family Is a Family Is a Family, by Sara O’Leary

This beautifully illustrated picture shows that what makes your family different is also what makes them special. It tells the stories of families with just one child, lots of children, and adopted and foster children. It also shows that kids can be raised by a single parent, divorced parents, same-sex parents, interaccial parents, parents in a wheelchair, or their grandparents. This book is unique because it focuses on what the characters love about their families; for example, one child says her moms love to sing. 

Full of warmth and whimsy, this book helps kids realize that all families that love and cherish each other are special.

Key themes: Family, diversity, feeling different, love

Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag, by Rob Sanders

This Junior Library Guild Selection traces the life of the Gay Pride Flag through the struggles and victories it encountered to get to it’s place in today’s culture. Young readers will learn about Harvey Milk, one of the first openly gay politicians, and Gilbert Baker, artist, gay rights activist and designer of the rainbow flag. 

This deeply moving story will empower young readers to explore the concepts of identity, equality, and pride in a simple and accessible way.

Key themes: Activism, equality, identity, cultural symbols, hope

Middle School Books

Drama, by Raina Telgemeier

Callie and her friends are working hard to bring their middle school’s spring musical to life. Callie wants to be an actress, but she can’t act or sing. So instead, she’s the set designer — and she is determined to create a Broadway-worthy set for the performance. However, with drama on and off the stage, friendship struggles, crushes, and two cute brothers thrown into the mix, Callie isn’t sure she can pull it off!

If you were into theater at school, this graphic novel will have you reliving the joy and frustrations of being in 8th grade and falling in and out of love with ease.

Key themes: Friendship, family, sexual preference, overcoming obstacles

Ivy Aberdeen's Letter to the World, by Ashley Herring Blake

After a tornado destroys their home, Ivy Aberdeen and her family struggle to piece their lives back together. Living in a small hotel room with her four siblings and parents, Ivy feels overlooked. Without her journal to confide in and no privacy, Ivy doesn’t know who she can talk to about the feelings she is developing for a girl at school.

This book falls under the category of “I’m jealous of people who get to read this for the first time”. Ivy is a strong-willed, relatable character who faces the confusing questions of “who am I?” and “what should I feel?” with courage and perseverance and comes out stronger for it.

Key themes: Family, first love, navigating through unexpected challenges

Pet, by Akwaeke Emezi

Transgender teen Jam has lived in the city of Lucille all her life, and in Lucille, there are no monsters – at least, that’s what she’s been told. But when Pet, a creature made of thorns and claws, emerges from one of her mother’s paintings to hunt a monster they say is living in Jam’s best friend’s house, Jam must reconsider everything she’s been told. How do you save the world from monsters if no one will admit they exist?

This 2019 award-winning speculative novel from Nigerian non-binary author Akwaeke Emezi is unlike any other. Approaching complicated and challenging themes through the lens of sci-fi/fantasy, Pet is the kind of book that will linger long after the last page has been turned.

Key themes: Appearance vs reality, race, self-identity, gender, speaking out 

Fifteen Hundred Miles from the Sun, by Jonny Garza Villa

Julián Luna has big plans for himself. He’s gonna graduate high school, get into UCLA, and leave his sometimes suffocating hometown of Corpus Christi, Texas far behind. Then, with one impulsive tweet, he accidentally outs himself. As his tweet goes viral and his worst fears – and dreams – come true, Julián must overcome prejudice, learn how to live authentically as himself, navigate new love… and meanwhile, the only person who understands him is fifteen hundred miles away.

Funny, poignant, and open-hearted, this 2021 debut from award-winning and beloved Tejane/Chicane author Jonny Garza Villa shows middle grade readers that sometimes, being your true and best self can be hard… but it’s always worth it.

Key themes: Race, family, gender, self-identity, social media, friendship

High School Books

Clap When You Land,  by Elizabeth Acevedo

Sisters Camino and Yahaira Rios were born three months apart, but live in different countries and don’t know of each other’s existence…. Until their father dies in a plane crash. As the sister’s deal with their father’s loss, they realize that he wasn’t the man they thought he was and find that they will have to fight to keep their dreams alive.

This novel-in-verse is guaranteed to bring its readers to tears, brimming with heartbreak, grief and love.

Key themes: Loss of a parent, sexual assault, grief and anger, forgiveness, hope

Picture Us in the Light, by Kelly Loy Gilbert

Danny Cheng is a high school senior, a talented artist, and just got into the school of his dreams. As Danny worries about being apart from his best friend Henry, he grapples with the one-year anniversary of a tragedy within the friendship group and unearths family secrets that will rock him to the core. 

Through this story, Kelly Loy Gilbert shows the reader that life is full of complexities and beauty; bad things, friendships change, and our family structure can fall apart. But through that hardship and loss, we find love, joy, art, and if we’re lucky… ourselves.

Key themes: Sexuality, socioeconomic status, immigration, friendship, mental illness, child/parent relationships

An Unkindness of Ghosts, by Rivers Solomon

The HSS Matilda is a brutal place to live, especially when you’re like Aster: autistic, Black, gender non-conforming, and stuck on a spaceship that looks like the antebellum South. As Aster spends her days working hard in the fields under a cruel overseer, she’s told again and again, like the generations before her, that the Matilda is taking her – and the rest of the last of humanity – to somewhere known only as the Promised Land. But as the government grows increasingly brutal and truths begin to spill out into the open, Aster must make a choice that will change the course of human history… forever.

This startling sci-fi debut from award-winning nonbinary writer Rivers Solomon includes a whole cast of LGBTQ and BIPOC characters, each of whom must learn the power of community, mutual care, and resistance in the face of oppression.

Key themes: Race, gender, self-identity, oppression, Black history, neurodiversity    

How It All Blew Up, by Arvin Ahmadi

A TSA interrogation room at the airport isn’t really where eighteen-year old Amir Azadi thought coming out to his Muslim family would take him. Then again, how else was he supposed to react to a failed relationship, bullying, and blackmail? Running away to Rome seemed like the only option at the time… and you have to admit, late night parties and dates to the Sistine Chapel have made for a pretty good escape. But now, Amir’s old life has come to find him again, and he’ll have to tell the whole truth – and nothing but the truth – to a US Customs officer, or risk losing his hard-won freedom.

Equal parts devastating, hilarious, and uplifting, How It All Blew Up follows one Iranian gay teen as he does whatever it takes to build a life he can live authentically as himself.

Key themes: Self-identity, culturally religious upbringing, family, race, prejudice, acceptance 


You can help teachers bring these titles and more into their classrooms by supporting one of these inspiring classroom projects curated by our LGBTQIA+ staff and allies

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