Illustration by Basia Tran from My Footprints by Bao Phi (Capstone Press, 2020)
Laura Gaskill (she/her) recently graduated with an MLIS degree from San Jose State University, and is currently an intern at the Diverse BookFinder. She is excited to advocate for diverse and inclusive representation in children’s literature, and strives to make library spaces safe and accessible to all.
During my years as an early childhood educator, I saw firsthand the impact that authentic representation in picture books has on young children. When a child exclaims with sheer joy and unbridled enthusiasm, "Her hair looks like my hair!" or, "I have two dads, too!!" you can't help but feel your heart grow a size or two.
As a white, cisgender woman, I have benefited from abundant representation in the books I've read from a young age. But for BIPOC children, this experience is all too rare. And when LGBTQ+ identification intersects with BIPOC identity, finding books that reflect a child's lived experiences becomes even harder.
At the Diverse BookFinder, our goal is to collect and analyze all current picture books featuring Black and Indigenous people and People of Color (BIPOC). This approach allows us to identify trends in representation within the world of diverse children's literature. In this post, we'll take a deep dive into LGBTQ+ representation in diverse picture books today. To finish, we'll recommend a slew of picture books to share with the young ones in your life, library, or classroom.
Why Does LGBTQ+ Representation Matter?
As children, it's so important to see yourself and your family reflected in the pages of the books you read. This is why inclusive representation is at the heart of all we do at the Diverse BookFinder.
The first time I read a book with a nonbinary protagonist, my heart soared with joy and with the sense that I wasn't alone in my experiences.Es Davis (they/them/theirs), Diverse BookFinder Alum
As Diverse BookFinder alum Es Davis (they/them/theirs) recalls, "the first time I read a book with a nonbinary protagonist, my heart soared with joy and with the sense that I wasn't alone in my experiences." But, they add, "I wished I could have found such a book - and experienced such affirmation - much sooner in my gender exploration process."
Thankfully, we have an opportunity to do better. With a coalition of educators, librarians, creators, publishers, and parents championing diverse titles, we can give more kids the chance to find books that make them feel seen.
All Kids and Families Deserve Representation on the Page
LGBTQ+ people are here - in every town, in every city, in each and every ZIP code. This data shows what we’ve suspected: our community is larger and more widespread than we could have known up to this point.Joni Madison, Human Rights Campaign
According to a Human Rights Campaign report, LGBTQ+ adults make up as much as 8% of the U.S. population, a figure nearly double previous estimates. Not only is the overall size of the LGBTQ+ population larger than previously thought, it's also incredibly widespread. Adults who identify as LGBTQ+ live in every single community in the country.
In other words, if you're wondering whether there are LGBTQ+ families in your community who would benefit from access to inclusive picture books, the answer is a resounding yes!
Reading Books With LGBTQ+ Characters Benefits All Kids
In a piece for American Libraries Magazine, librarian Megan Roberts observes, "children who hear stories about people who are different from them — those who have two mommies or are from another part of the world, for example — develop empathy and an understanding about themselves and others."
Diverse BookFinder alum Es Davis agrees. "Reading these stories with cisgender children helps expand their empathy," says Davis. Adding, "These stories can also teach children how to be allies to the trans and nonbinary people in their lives, now and in the future."
These stories can also teach children how to be allies to the trans and nonbinary people in their lives, now and in the future.Es Davis (They/Them/Theirs), Diverse BookFinder Alum
Davis's point about teaching children how to be allies is important. According to the GLSEN National School Climate Survey, LGBTQ+ BIPOC youth are facing an uptick in racist remarks in schools — even as overall racial harassment declines. And while people in the LGBTQ community already experience a disproportionate amount of violence, Human Rights Campaign Foundation data shows that transgender BIPOC are the most likely to experience harm.
All of this points to the need for getting more LGBTQ+ inclusive books in front of all children. Especially during the early years when biases are being formed. Which leads us to the question: what does LGBTQ+ representation in diverse picture books look like today? Let's take a look at the data.
What Does the Diverse BookFinder Data Say?
LGBQ Representation in Diverse Picture Books
As of this writing, out of 4,410 books in the Diverse BookFinder collection, 102 titles (just over 2%) feature same-sex or queer relationships, same-sex parented or queer families, or individuals who express attraction/desire or sexual identities beyond heterosexuality. However, these numbers do change frequently as more books are added to the collection. For a real-time snapshot, try searching the collection using the LGBQ content filter.
Racial and Cultural Representation within LGBQ Titles
Of the 102 titles with LGBQ representation in the Diverse BookFinder collection:
- 41 feature brown-skinned and/or race unspecified protagonists
- 34 feature a multi-racial cast of characters
- 22 feature Black, African, and African American protagonists
- 15 feature Asian, Pacific Islander, and Asian American protagonists
- 8 feature Latinx, Hispanic, and Latin American protagonists
- 3 feature biracial, multiracial, and mixed race protagonists
- 2 feature First Nations, Native Nations, American Indian, and Indigenous protagonists
- 1 title features Middle Eastern, North African, and Arab protagonists
This breakdown roughly follows the same trends in BIPOC representation by racial/cultural group as the total collection, with an important caveat. While the largest portion (30%) of books in the total collection feature Black/African/African American protagonists, within LGBQ titles brown-skinned/race unspecified characters are seen most frequently. These racially ambiguous characters make up just 24% of titles in the collection as a whole, but appear in 40% of LGBQ titles.
Diverse BookFinder Categories Represented in LGBQ Titles
In terms of Diverse BookFinder categories, the 102 LGBQ titles in the collection include:
- 47 Any Child
- 36 Incidental
- 18 Cross Group
- 13 Informational
- 10 Beautiful Life
- 7 Race/Culture Concepts
- 5 Biographies
- 4 Oppression & Resilience
- 2 Folklore.
The Any Child category makes up a large piece of the LGBQ segment. This is similar to what we see in the collection as a whole. The Incidental category is more prevalent among LGBQ titles than in the larger collection. Beautiful Life and Biography, on the other hand, make up a smaller share of titles.
Gender Representation within LGBQ Titles
Characters who self-identify as a boys/men or girls/women make up the majority of characters represented in LGBQ titles. This is consistent with the collection as a whole. However, identities beyond the gender binary are represented more widely within LGBQ titles. For example, self-identified transgender characters are represented in less than 1% of the Diverse BookFinder collection as a whole. But nearly 6% of LGBQ titles feature transgender characters.
Diverse Picture Books Featuring LGBTQ+ Characters
When choosing picture books, remember that the LGBTQ+ community is wide-ranging and diverse! A single picture book can't possibly cover it all. With that in mind, the titles in this list are divided into 5 categories:
- LGBTQ+ family members
- LGBQ kids
- Kids outside the gender binary
- Transgender kids
- LGBTQ+ history
Picture Books Featuring LGBTQ+ Family Members
Upset after being bullied, Thuy, a Vietnamese American, pretends she is different creatures, including an especially strong, wonderful being made up of her two mothers and herself. Includes note about the phoenix and the Sarabha.
In this illustrated picture book, a child helps their grandparents deal with a difficult change in abilities.--Provided by publisher
When a classmate insists a family must have a mother and a father, Riley fears she will have to choose between Papa and Daddy until her fathers assure her that love makes a family
"Chloe's favorite uncle is getting married, and she's not happy about it. But after a magical day with Uncle Bobby and his boyfriend, Jamie, Chloe realizes she's not losing an uncle, but gaining one. Selected by Kirkus Reviews as one of the best picture books of 2020 and by the American Library Association as a 2021 Rainbow Book List title, celebrate family with this gorgeous picture book. When Chloe's favorite uncle announces that he's getting married, everyone is excited. Everyone except Chloe, that is. What if Uncle Bobby no longer has time for picnics, swimming, or flying kites? Chloe just wants to keep having fun with her favorite uncle, but she's afraid everything is going to change. Can Uncle Bobby and his boyfriend Jamie show Chloe that, when it comes to family, the more the merrier? In this inspiring, love-filled story, Chloe learns just what family means. Produced in coordination with GLAAD, this adorable picture book is a positive example of same-sex marriage and a celebration of family." -- publisher
While shopping with her two dads for supplies for her birthday party, Harriet, who is wearing a penguin costume, is carried away by a waddle of penguins and must hatch a plan in order to get herself back to the store in the city.--Provided by Publisher
"A rhyming alphabet book featuring a family that has lost its dog at a Pride parade. A young child and their family are having a wonderful time together celebrating Pride Day—meeting up with Grandma, making new friends and eating ice cream. But then something terrible happens: their dog gets lost in the parade! Luckily, there are lots of people around to help reunite the pup with his family. This rhyming alphabet book tells a lively story, with rich, colorful illustrations that will have readers poring over every detail as they spot items starting with each of the letters of the alphabet. An affirming and inclusive book that offers a joyful glimpse of a Pride parade and the vibrant community that celebrates this day each year." -- publisher
"An uplifting story about the power of art, finding your voice, and telling your story even when you’re out of step with your peers from the #1 bestselling creators of Sofia Valdez, Future Prez and Ada Twist, Scientist! Aaron Slater loves listening to stories and dreams of one day writing them himself. But when it comes to reading, the letters just look like squiggles to him, and it soon becomes clear he struggles more than his peers. When his teacher asks each child in the class to write a story, Aaron can’t get a single word down. He is sure his dream of being a storyteller is out of reach . . . until inspiration strikes, and Aaron finds a way to spin a tale in a way that is uniquely his. Printed with a dyslexia-friendly font, Aaron Slater, Illustrator tells the empowering story of a boy with dyslexia who discovers that his learning disability may inform who he is, but it does not define who he is, and that there are many ways to be a gifted communicator." -- publisher
"A diverse family embarks on a series of whimsical adventures in this Own Voices bedtime read aloud, perfect for LGBTQ+ and adoptive families! Set off on a series of incredible adventures with an endearing, diverse family as the bedtime stories they read burst into colorful life. Together, the daddies and their little one battle dragons, dodge deadly dinosaurs, zoom to the moon, and explore the world in a hot air balloon, before winding down to sleep in a wonderfully cozy ending. Own voices author and illustrator team Gareth Peter and Garry Parsons deliver an imaginative, heartwarming tale filled with bright, optimistic acrylic and pencil illustrations that celebrate the magic of books and unique family stories as well as the beauty of diverse families." -- publisher
Picture Books Featuring LGBQ Kids
A reclamation of the Mexican serenata tradition, follow the story of a young boy who asks his father if there is a song for a boy who loves a boy.
"A 6th grader speaks out about his queerness, Blackness, and the love that dismantles whiteness. FEATURED IN MS. MAGAZINE'S "15 BOOKS FOR KIDS THAT PROVE YOU CAN BE A FEMINIST AT ANY AGE" Anastasia Higginbotham's What You Don't Know: A Story of Liberated Childhood delves into queerness, Blackness, and the love that dismantles whiteness. It’s a book about knowing deeply that you matter—always did, always will. It’s a book about what schools get wrong and churches don’t say; but institutions are made by people and the people are evolving. It’s a book about being known and cherished by family, and living in communion with your own personal Jesus, Buddha, Spirit, Source, Father, Mother, God, breath, inner space, outer space, nothingness, and however else we name and relate to our divinity and humility in the presence of all we don’t know." -- publisher
Kids Outside the Gender Binary in Picture Books
"Some people are boys. Some people are girls. Some people are both, neither, or somewhere in between. This sweet, straightforward exploration of gender identity will give children a fuller understanding of themselves and others. With child-friendly language and vibrant art, It Feels Good to Be Yourself provides young readers and parents alike with the vocabulary to discuss this important topic with sensitivity." --publisher
"This stereotype-breaking book invites children to examine what they’re told “boy” and “girl” activities are and encourages them to play with whatever they want to and to be exactly who they are! This book is published in partnership with GLAAD to accelerate LGBTQ inclusivity and acceptance." -- publisher
While riding the subway home from the pool with his abuela one day, Julián notices three women spectacularly dressed up. Their hair billows in brilliant hues, their dresses end in fishtails, and their joy fills the train car. When Julián gets home, daydreaming of the magic he's seen, all he can think about is dressing up just like the ladies in his own fabulous mermaid costume: a butter-yellow curtain for his tail, the fronds of a potted fern for his headdress. But what will Abuela think about the mess he makes -- and even more importantly, what will she think about how Julián sees himself?
A magical gender variant child brings transformation and change to the world around them thanks to their mother's enduring love. In the magical time between night and day, when both the sun and the moon are in the sky, a child is born in a little blue house on a hill. And Miu Lan is not just any child, but one who can change into any shape they can imagine. The only problem is they can't decide what to be: a boy or a girl? A bird or a fish? A flower or a shooting star? At school, though, they must endure inquisitive looks and difficult questions from the other children, and have trouble finding friends who will accept them for who they are. But they find comfort in the loving arms of their mother, who always offers them the same loving refrain: "whatever you dream of / i believe you can be / from the stars in the sky to the fish in the sea." In this captivating, beautifully imagined picture book about gender, identity, and the acceptance of the differences between us, Miu Lan faces many questions about who they are and who they may be. But one thing’s for sure: no matter what this child becomes, their mother will love them just the same.
In this beautiful children's picture book, a five-year-old boy becomes fascinated with his mother's bindi, the red dot commonly worn by South Asian women to indicate the point at which creation begins, and wishes to have one of his own. Rather than chastise her son, she agrees to it, and teaches him about its cultural significance, allowing the boy to discover the magic of the bindi, which in turn gives him permission to be more fully himself. The Boy & the Bindi is a joyful celebration of gender and cultural difference. --Publisher
Picture Books Featuring Transgender, Two-Spirit, & Māhū Kids
Peyton loves to dance, and especially at pow wow, but her Auntie notices that she's been dancing less and less. When Peyton shares that she just can't be comfortable wearing a dress anymore, Auntie Eyota asks some friends for help to get Peyton what she needs. |cPage 4 of cover
"Jodie Patterson, activist and Chair of the Human Rights Campaign Foundation Board, shares her transgender son’s experience in this important picture book about identity and acceptance. Penelope knows that he’s a boy. (And a ninja.) The problem is getting everyone else to realize it. In this exuberant companion to Jodie Patterson’s adult memoir, The Bold World, Patterson shares her son Penelope’s frustrations and triumphs on his journey to share himself with the world. Penelope’s experiences show children that it always makes you stronger when you are true to yourself and who you really are." -- publisher
"A dedicated mom puts love into action as she creates the perfect rainbow-colored wig for her transgender daughter, based on the real-life experience of mother-daughter advocate duo Trinity and DeShanna Neal"--
"An empowering celebration of identity, acceptance and Hawaiian culture based on the true story of a young girl in Hawai'i who dreams of leading the boys-only hula troupe at her school. Ho'onani feels in-between. She doesn't see herself as wahine (girl) OR kane (boy). She's happy to be in the middle. But not everyone sees it that way. When Ho'onani finds out that there will be a school performance of a traditional kane hula chant, she wants to be part of it. But can a girl really lead the all-male troupe? Ho'onani has to try..."--
"Aidan, a transgender boy, experiences complicated emotions as he and his parents prepare for the arrival of a new baby"--|cProvided by publisher
LGBTQ+ History in Picture Books
"Celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising with the very first picture book to tell of its historic and inspiring role in the gay civil rights movement. From Rob Sanders, author of the acclaimed Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag, comes this powerful and timeless true story that will allow young readers to discover the rich and dynamic history of the Stonewall Inn and its role in the LGBTQ+ civil rights movement—a movement that continues to this very day. In the early-morning hours of June 28, 1969, the Stonewall Inn was raided by police in New York City. Though the inn had been raided before, that night would be different. It would be the night when empowered members of the LGBTQ+ community—in and around the Stonewall Inn—began to protest and demand their equal rights as citizens of the United States. Movingly narrated by the Stonewall Inn itself, and featuring stirring and dynamic illustrations, Stonewall: A Building. An Uprising. A Revolution is an essential and empowering civil rights story that every child deserves to hear." -- publisher
"A picture book about the trans women of colour who started an LGBTQ+ revolution. Sylvia and Marsha are closer than sisters. They are kind and brave and not afraid to speak their truth, even when it makes other people angry. This illustrated book introduces children to the story of Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson, the two transgender women of colour who helped kickstart the Stonewall Riots and dedicated their lives to fighting for LGBTQ+ equality. It introduces children to issues surrounding gender identity and diversity, accompanied by a reading guide and teaching materials to further the conversation. A picture book telling the story of Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson, the transgender women of colour who fought for LGBTQ+ equality. Depicting the events that surrounded the Stonewall Riots, this is a playful introduction to trans identities and LGBTQ+ history for young children." -- publisher
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Sources and Further Reading
- ALA Rainbow Book List
- ALA best practices and resources for public libraries serving LGBTQ youth
- Human Rights Campaign Foundation report on violence against transgender and gender non-conforming people in the United States in 2021
- GSLEN National School Climate Survey