by Kasey Short
All educators help shape their students’ worldview–and self-image–with the narratives they hold space for in their curriculum. As an English teacher, I am especially aware of the stories and perspectives I validate through the books I assign and recommend to my students. This Pride Month, I have been considering how I use literature to broaden my students’ understanding of gender expression and sexuality. Though I teach 8th grade English and so am primarily interested in young adult novels, I’ve accumulated a list of some wonderful LGBTQ+ books across the K-12 range!
All students benefit from reading fictional stories about LGBTQ+ characters and nonfiction accounts of the lives and contributions of LGBTQ+ figures. The books below represent a range of LGBTQ+ experiences, from picture books about diverse families and being true to oneself to middle grade and young adult novels about identity, love, friendship, and activism. Students notice who is included in curriculum, libraries, and book talks. Reading aloud, recommending, and assigning these books shows students that the experiences of LGBTQ+ people are honored and valued.
Jacob’s School Play: Starring He, She, and They
By Ian Hoffman and Sarah Hoffman, illustrated by Chris Chase
This book features Jacob from the books Jacob’s New Dress and Jacob’s Room to Choose (both of which are also amazing picture books that feature LGBTQ+ characters). Here, Jacob learns that his friend Ari’s pronouns are they/them and what that means. The reader learns about gender identity and the importance of respecting and using everyone’s correct pronouns. The author uses language that is easily understood by a young audience.
Worm Loves Worm
By J. J. Austrian, illustrated by Mike Curato
This beautiful and engaging book celebrates that love is love through the story of two worms planning a wedding. The worms’ friends are concerned about upholding traditions and want to know who will wear the dress and who will wear the suit. The worms decide that they can make their own rules and do not need to do things the way they have always been done. The author’s website offers a free coloring sheet.
And Tango Makes Three
By Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, illustrated by Henry Cole
This adorable picture book tells the true story of two male penguins at the Central Park Zoo who raised a chick together. The story shows that there are many ways to be a family. A free digital teaching guide with excellent resources is provided by the publisher, Simon and Schuster.
Except When They Don’t
By Laura Gehl, illustrated by Joshua Heinsz
This colorful, rhyming picture book counters gender stereotypes, celebrates inclusivity, inspires self-acceptance, and encourages young readers to be themselves without worrying about how others think they should dress, play, or spend their time.
Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag
By Rob Sanders, illustrated by Steven Salerno
This picture book illustrates the true story of Harvey Milk and his contributions towards Pride, as well as Gilbert Baker, who designed the first Pride flag. This free digital timeline and teaching guide with thoughtful questions and engaging activities is provided by the publisher, Random House.
Be Amazing: A History of Pride
By Desmond Napoles, illustrated by Dylan Glynn
In this vibrant picture book, author Desmond Napoles, whose drag persona is Desmond the Amazing, takes the reader through the history of Pride. The book highlights events such as the Stonewall Riots and the first Pride March, and showcases important LGBTQ+ figures such as Sylvia Rivera, Marsha P. Johnson, and Ru Paul Andre Charles. Through this history, young readers are inspired to love and accept others while feeling pride in the work that has contributed to the fight for equality for the LGBTQ+ community.
Love Makes a Family
By Sophie Beer
This bright and cheerful picture book is perfect for young readers and shows pictures of diverse families doing various everyday activities together. It helps young readers learn about many different types of families and understand that love is what truly makes a family.
The Deepest Breath
By Meg Grehan
This novel-in-verse is a quick read that tells the story of an 11-year-old girl who is navigating her new “fizzy” feelings for a girl. This book shows readers insight into how someone might feel as they are exploring their sexuality and learning more about themselves.
The Girl from the Sea
By Molly Knox Ostertag
This beautifully illustrated graphic fantasy novel tells the story of a girl who has planned to wait until after high school to come out as gay to her friends and family in order to avoid conflict. Then she meets a magical girl and everything changes. Though she at first tries to hide their relationship, she eventually comes to realize the value of being herself.
By Hannah Moskowitz
In this book, a middle school boy enlists his best friend’s help to sneak into the high school prom and win over his crush, who is playing in the prom band. The book authentically explores the middle school experience of a gay student as well as the more universal experience of trying to get the attention of your first crush.
Rainbow Revolutionaries: 50 LGBTQ+ People Who Made History
By Sarah Prager and Sarah Papworth
This nonfiction book celebrates the lives of fifty influential queer people throughout history. It includes bright artwork and engaging short biographies that highlight the accomplishments and contributions of each individual. The biographies encourage readers to make a difference and can be read as stand-alone informational text or from cover to cover.
The Witch Boy
By Molly Knox Ostertag
This graphic novel is set in a family where all the boys grow up to be shapeshifters and all the girls grow up to be witches—and anyone who does not follow this tradition is sent away. One boy, however, has not shapeshifted even though he is thirteen, and is secretly interested in witchcraft. This book breaks down gender norms and encourages readers to be themselves.
The Stonewall Riots
By Gayle E. Pitman
This is an engaging historical account of the Stonewall Riots written for a middle grade audience. It includes short essays, interviews from people who were present during the riots, photos, illustrations, and newspaper clippings. The reader gains an understanding of the historical significance of this event and an appreciation for the activists who have worked towards equality for the LGBTQ+ community. This free teaching guide from the publisher, Abrams, offers discussion questions, activities, and prereading suggestions.
Like a Love Story
By Abdi Nazemian
Set in New York City in the late 1980’s during the AIDS epidemic, this novel tells the story of three friends: an Iranian boy who is gay but afraid to tell his family and terrified of contracting AIDS, a girl whose uncle is a gay activist who is dying of AIDS, and a boy who is openly gay but whose sexuality is not accepted by his family. These three teens come together to create a beautiful story of friendship, love, and the value being true to yourself. This comprehensive free teaching guide from the publisher, HarperCollins, includes information about the author, a note to teachers, resources, activities, trigger warnings, connection to common core standards, discussion questions, and more.
All Boys Aren’t Blue: A Memoir-Manifesto
By George M. Johnson
This book is a powerful collection of personal essays that George M. Johnson shares about his childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood as a Black queer boy. He recounts his memories of love, pain, family, joy, shame, and the impacts of toxic masculinity on his life. The reader benefits from his honest and personal account.
Felix Ever After
By Kacen Callender
While attending a summer arts program, transgender teen Felix receives transphobic messages from a student who has posted Felix’s deadname and pre-transition photos online. Felix’s first instinct is to get revenge–but he instead winds up in a love triangle. The book explores a Black, queer, transgender teen’s deep feelings of hurt, his struggle to believe in his self-worth, and then his journey to discovering that he is worthy of love and respect. This free educator guide was created by We Need Diverse Books and includes questions and activities.
Juliet Takes a Breath
By Gabby Rivera
This novel tells the story of Juliet, a Puerto Rican from the Bronx who has just recently came out to her family as a lesbian. She moves to Portland for the summer to intern and live with a feminist writer. Through her summer experiences she makes authentic female friendships, has many new experiences, and explores her identity. This is an honest, engaging, funny, and emotional story that provides the reader insight into Juliet’s journey to love herself. This free teaching guide from Random House includes lesson ideas, discussion questions, journal prompts, additional resources, and more.
October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard
By Leslea Newman
This deeply moving novel-in-verse was written in remembrance of Matthew Shepard, a gay teen who was murdered in 1998. The author uses poetry to create a fictional account of this tragedy. The poems are written from many different perspectives including objects, animals, family members, and more. The book also includes resources and additional information about the tragedy.
Hani and Ishu’s Guide to Fake Dating
By Adiba Jaigirdar
In this book, a high school girl is told by her friends that she is not bisexual because she has only dated boys. To try to prove her identity, she lies and tells them that she is dating a girl—specifically, a girl they all hate. Suddenly, she finds herself in a fake relationship, and though it starts out as a way for both girls to get something they want, it eventually turns into a real friendship and more. What starts as a lie helps both girls discover their truth.
Proud: Stories, Poetry, and Art on the Theme of Pride
Compiled by Juno Dawson
Proud is an anthology of illustrated stories and poems by LGBTQ+ authors and artists, targeted at a YA audience. The stories celebrate the pride of LGBTQ+ communities and their diverse experiences.
Pride Month is an excellent time to consider how we are representing and validating the experiences of the LGBTQ+ community to our students. LGBTQ+ books encourage all students to celebrate their unique identities—whatever that may look like!
Kasey Short attended UNC-Chapel Hill and earned a bachelor of arts in middle school education with a concentration in English and history. She then went on to earn a master’s of education in curriculum and instruction from Winthrop University. She is currently an 8th grade English teacher as well as English Department chair at Charlotte Country Day School.