“The ability for a child to see themselves, a peer, or a family member reflected in a book is priceless. For some, it can be truly life-changing.” —Kieran Slattery, middle school teacher, MA¹
DonorsChoose teachers are known for making sure that their students have access to books that reflect their own identity and experience and for helping them understand identities and experiences that aren’t their own. All year round, we see amazing projects centered on making classrooms more inclusive. We pulled together a list of their most requested books with LGBTQIA+ stories and characters so you can add some pride to your own bookshelf — or the shelf of a kid in your life — all year round.
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
The Best Man, by Richard Peck
Archer Magill’s life is pretty great. He lives in a nice, leafy suburb, he has supportive friends, and gets to hang out with his role models: his dad, his grandfather and his uncle. Through Archer’s viewpoint we get to see him grow up, start a new school, face a death in the family, and realize that his favorite family member is gay AND about to marry his favorite teacher.
Richard Peck, who was a middle-school teacher, knows what it’s like to be in the sixth grade; there are insufferable know-it-alls, kids who cry, and kids who get picked on, but it’s also pretty great — just like Archer’s life. If you want a warm blanket of a book that will leave you feeling good, this is a must read!
Key themes: Family relationships, small-town life, gay marriage
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
Death Prefers Blondes, by Caleb Roehrig
By day, teenage socialite Margo Manning spends her time soaking in the California sun and shaking the paparazzi. But by night, she and her drag queen accomplices dodge cameras and armed security guards to pull off high-stakes burglaries. Life is good, until one day a job to end all jobs puts everything she holds dear at risk.
Described as Ocean’s 8 meets RuPaul’s Drag Race, this book has mystery, romance, action, family drama, and lots of laughs.
Key themes: Rebellion, friendship, coming to terms with one’s identity
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
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
1. Kieran Slattery quoted in Scholastic’s Raise a Reader Blog