How to Build an Inclusive & LGBTQ-friendly Library for you Children
Before T was even born, Sharon and I were talking about our favourite books and what kind of books T would likely have on his shelves. Classics like; Guess How Much I Love You, Spot, and Goodnight Moon were all up there, but, very quickly, we realised that families like us were rarely represented in children’s books.
At first it was pretty easy to navigate around, we would perhaps change the odd “mum” to a “dad” so that there were two dads in a story, or visa versa; replacing “dad” with a “mama”. But as time went on, or when T started wanting to look at the pictures in the books and subsequently challenging our choice in character, we realised we had to expand our library to make sure he was represented, not to mention show him a fair representation of society!
We already had a few diverse and inclusive books in our collection, but no where near enough LGBTQ books – we needed more.
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Children are like sponges.
They (seldom) listen, but they absolutely learn. Just because they’re not reacting a certain way to things doesn’t mean it’s not in there bubbling at the surface or being absorbed into the filing cabinet called “normal”. Which is where our books and media need to come in. For us, we already had books where two mums or two dads are featured, as well as others that had families from different cultures, but it’s taken us a long time before we could safely say that we had a handsome 60/40 divide between “mainstream” books and more “diverse” books.
One day, it’d be nice when books that feature diverse families aren’t classed as somewhat “specialist”.
A book is a book to T. At the moment, he isn’t bothered whether the main character is black, a wheelchair user, male, an elephant or a train. He just wants a story that captures and excites him. But the more diversity we introduce to him, the added bonus will be that he’ll also be more open-minded at the same time. As a same sex family, we would be doing our child a disservice if we didn’t at least try to make sure we show him what society looks like.
It was just the other day, just as I was wondering whether all of this – all our efforts – was making a difference, he quoted a number of conversations we’d had over the past few nights during our bedtime story, and it reinforced the importance of being as inclusive as possible when it came to our books.
In light of the recent news about how LGBTQ people are spoken about in schools, not to mention everything else that’s been happening in the past month in regards to the Trans* community, I’ve finally got around to creating a guide to starting your own LGBTQ-friendly library (this is in addition to posts I’ve written previously about our favourite LGBTQ children’s books) – packed full of wonderful books that spread love, diversity, and equality.
Most of the books we’ve read already, so we will include a brief synopsis, but others that we haven’t have been based on our friend’s and family’s experience.
“Roy and Silo are just like the other penguin couples at the zoo – they walk together and swim together. But Roy and Silo are different – they’re both boys.”
This was probably one of our first few books we purchased for T that contained a same sex family that wasn’t part of an “educational” book. It’s still one of our favourites.
“Set off on a series of incredible adventures with an adorable family as the stories they read burst into colourful life. Battle dragons, dodge deadly dinosaurs, zoom to the moon and explore the world in a hot air balloon, before winding down in a wonderfully cosy bedtime ending.”
This gorgeous books explores a range of subjects; from adoption to what blended families looks like, at the same time as using your imagination to go on a wild journey.
This story follows Billy and his two mums who are FAR from “normal”. With a rude parrot for a pet, and an usual taste in clothes, Billy wishes his family could be more like everyone else’s.
That is until a swashbuckling adventure, full of fun and laughter, changes everything!
“In a wildly whimsical, and colourful, reflection of the LGBTQ community, This Day In June welcomes readers to experience and witness a pride celebration and share in a day when we are all united.”
This is a fabulous book for teaching about inclusion and respect.
An inclusive adaptation of The Little Mermaid, the story follows a merman called Nen, who spends his days exploring. But he is lonely and feeling empty. So, against his father’s wishes, Nen ventures to the world above and it is here that he meets a lonely fisherman named Ernest.
This is a beautifully illistrated story about love and acceptance, with further messaging about ocean care.
“In a Kingdom where all are considered equal regardless of what they look like or who they love, Promised Land is a brand new fairytale about friendship, responsibility, adventure and love. “
I absolutely adore this book* and it’s so refreshing to find a fairy tale with a same sex couple in it.
“Imagine a planet where people can be who they want to be, welcome to Alien Nation… It is a story about exploring who you are and where you belong. It is a story about celebrating our differences. As you journey through space with us, we hope that you will learn some new words, some new ways of understanding the world around you, and perhaps some new ways of understanding yourself.”
This is probably my most recommended book about Trans identity.
“Stella’s class is having a Mother’s Day celebration, but what’s a girl with two daddies to do? It’s not that she doesn’t have someone who helps her with her homework, or tucks her in at night. Stella has her Papa and Daddy…”
“When the queen insists that the prince get married and take over as king, the search for a suitable mate does not turn out as expected.”
Another great book where same sex couples are featured subtly within the story and without bringing a lot of attention to it.
“From the time she was two years old, Jazz knew that she had a girl’s brain in a boy’s body. She loved pink and dressing up as a mermaid and didn’t feel like herself in boy’s clothing. This confused her family, until they took her to a doctor who said that Jazz was transgender and that she was born that way. Jazz’s story is based on her real-life experience and she tells it in a simple, clear way that will be appreciated by picture book readers, their parents, and teachers.”
“Matt lives in a lighthouse. He watches the sea every day for ships … and for his friend, Sailor. Rose and Felix say Sailor is never coming back, but Matt won’t give up hope. Surely Sailor will come back for Matt’s birthday?”
This is a charming book about friendship and love. Beautifully illistrated.
“Heather’s favourite number is two – she has two arms, two legs, two pets and two lovely mummies. But when Heather goes to school for the first time, someone asks her about her daddy … and Heather doesn’t have a daddy!”
This is another well-timed book, with the character located within a school – during a conversation about different families.
“A glimpse of three women dressed as mermaids leaves one boy filled with wonder and ready to dazzle the world.”
This is probably one of our faves at the moment for so many reasons. It not only features, what we assume, a little boy who goes against gender stereotypes (which can be explored further) but it features different cultures.
The sequel follows Julian and their friend as they attend a wedding of two women. The illustrations are just as beautiful as the first book and follows a similar theme around gender expression whilst also exploring different relationships.
It is worth noting with both these books that the author is a white, cis-gender woman, which makes these somewhat problematic.
“Having Two Dads is double the fun! Many families are different, this family has Two Dads. A beautifully illustrated, affirming story of life with Two Dads, written from the perspective of their adopted child.”
Made famous by Cbeebies ‘Bed Time Story’, this is a wonderful book for children with adoptive backgrounds.
“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 flower or a shooting star?”
I love love love this book, from the illustrations to the story. It really explores the questions children might face when finding out about one another.
“If you love each other, then you’re a family …
Do you have two dads? Or one step mum? Or what about the world’s biggest grandpa?”
This book really doesn’t need any further explanation. This is a fantastic book to introduce and explore different families, but in a neutral and fun way.
“Donovan’s two moms are getting married, and he can’t wait for the celebration to begin. After all, as ringbearer, he has a very important job to do. “
This book is another book that captures a same sex family without the neon sign. It’s also a heart-warming story about love and celebration.
“These children and animals are all very different to each other. Some are big, some are small. Some are gentle, some are rough. Everyone is playful, but who’s the best at hiding? One thing’s certain: they all love a good bedtime story! The perfect picture book for little ones who are just beginning to make sense of their place in the world.”
This is one of our favourites and encourages children to notice the difference in people, but that its ok!
“George’s family are Yeti’s. George, however, is not yet a yeti. To become a yeti, George needs to learn to enjoy things that Yeti’s do. But George doesn’t want to do any of these things. George wants to be something entirely different. Just accepting this allows him to turn into what he really wants to be.”
Although not directly LGBTQ, this is a wonderful, and beautifully illistrated, introduction to challenging gender stereotypes.
“Meet Marlon Bundo, a lonely bunny who lives with his Grampa, Mike Pence – the Vice President of the United States. But on this Very Special Day, Marlon’s life is about to change forever…”
Aside from being political satire, this is a fabulous book about friendship, tolerance, and democracy.
“This bedtime story about bedtime stories shows how a lively, curious boy helps one of his moms create a magical tale. Together they weave a nighttime adventures that lands young Noah and his singing cat Diva deep in dragon territory.”.
This is a beautifully illustrated book about a little boy and his two mums, and how their bedtime routine plays out.
“Norman loves his new wings, but he’s worried about everyone will think. After all, they’re definitely NOT normal. Norman decides to cover them with a big coat, but hiding such a big part of his life makes him feel miserable. Can Norman find the courage to be himself?”
This is a gorgeous and uplifting book about differences; and how being YOU is something to be celebrated.
“In this story, Chloe sets out to craft her very own princess, however she quickly realises that princesses are more than just frilly dresses and tiaras.
With the help of her two dads, Chloe learns to understand what princesses are not: Perfect. Chloe learns that her imperfections make her uniquely who she is.”
As well as featuring two dads, this wonderful book battles stereotypes and offers readers a confident female lead character full of sparkle.
Other books celebrating diversity (including gender stereotypes)
Whilst this absolutely still comes under the LGBTQ-friendly category, I thought I’d separate and list a few books that talk more about gender and combating stereotypes.
“Poor Duncan just wants to colour. But when he opens his box of crayons, he finds only letters, all saying the same thing: His crayons have had enough! They quit! Beige Crayon is tired of playing second fiddle to Brown Crayon. Black wants to be used for more than just outlining. Blue needs a break from coloring all those bodies of water. And Orange and Yellow are no longer speaking—each believes he is the true color of the sun.”
Other than the books being absolutely hilarious, this series offers a really subtle introduction to gender stereotypes by exploring colours and what they’re often associated with.
Equally, it gave us the chance to talk about never being limited to what people expect of you!
“In the beginning, there were three colours… Reds, Yellows, and Blues.
All special in their own ways, all living in harmony―until one day, a Red says “Reds are the best!” and starts a colour kerfuffle. “
Easily one of our Top 5 books. We read this almost every week.
“Elmer the elephant is bright-coloured patchwork all over. No wonder the other elephants laugh at him!
If he were ordinary elephant colour, the others might stop laughing. That would make Elmer feel better, wouldn’t it?”
Another firm favourite, exploring the power of laughter but also perhaps one of the first visual representations of Pride and accepting differences.
“Raffi is a shy boy who doesn’t like noisy games and is often teased at school. But when he gets the idea of making a scarf for his dad’s birthday he is full of enthusiasm, even though the other children think it is girly to knit.”
We’ve only read this at our library a few times, but it’s always a treat as we always end up talking about “girl things” and “boy things” and concluding anyone can do anything.
“Reds love being red. Yellows love being yellow. And Blues love being blue. The problem is that they just don’t like each other.
But one day, along comes a different colour who likes Reds, Yellows and Blues, and suddenly everything starts to change.
Maybe being different doesn’t mean you can’t be friends …”
“Casey and his older sister Jessie love the same things, from shimmering skirts to sparkly nails, but when older boys at the library tease Casey for wearing “girl” things, Jessie realises that Casey has the right to be himself and wear whatever he wants.
Why can’t both she and Casey love all things shimmery, glittery, and sparkly?”
A very simple story about gender stereotyping, offering the reader a chance to discuss how to challenge negative behaviour from others.
“Bertie the giraffe’s life is very simple and predictable. But one day, Bertie oversleeps and wakes up lost and alone. Well, not quite alone—he meets Blue, a lonely blue giraffe who offers to show him the way home. .. But when Bertie gets home, will his herd welcome Blue, even though he is different?”
A beautiful story about friendship and new perspectives.
“Just savour these bouquets of babies—cocoa-brown, cinnamon, peaches and cream. As they grow, their clever skin does too, enjoying hugs and tickles, protecting them inside and out, and making them one of a kind. “
This is a really rich and vibrant book about race and diverse families, it even features a same sex family.
“You see, each Huey looks the same, thinks the same, and does the same exact things. So you can imagine the chaos when one of them has the idea of knitting a sweater!”
A short story about being a bit different and celebrating it, with some few surprises along the way.
“Duck wants to join a club. But he needs to be able to ROAR to join Lion Club, or TRUMPET to join Elephant Club. And all he can do is QUACK! What’s a Duck to do? Why, set up his own club of course… where everyone is welcome to join!”
An absolutely wonderful book about diversity and friendship – perfect if your little ones are starting school soon.
“In this timely and charming story about the importance of being true to yourself, mindfulness, and standing by your friends, we meet Leonard, a lion, and his best friend Marianne, a . . . duck. Learning (and teaching others) that there is more than one way to be a Lion”.
Another one of our favourites, this wonderful story challenges stereotypes and how it’s good to be different from the rest!
There’s also a lovely message about being a good friend / ally.
“Every night, Bailey dreams about magical dresses: dresses made of crystals and rainbows, dresses made of flowers, dresses made of windows. . . . Unfortunately, when Bailey’s awake, no one wants to hear about these beautiful dreams. That is, until he meets Laurel.”
Another one to open conversation about gender and becoming the person you feel.
Although extensive, this list is – thankfully – not all the LGBTQ-friendly books out there. There are some fantastic books we are still yet to read or ones from several decades ago, whilst still hitting the sweet spot, that are probably outdated now. Here are a few of our favourite places to buy more diverse books.
Obviously, it goes without saying, places such as Amazon, Waterstones, and the like will stock a number of inclusive books, but there really is nothing better than supporting a local or independent business – especially one that has taken the time to specialise and invest in families like mine.
Queer Lit – Based in Manchester, Queer Lit is an independent book shop that stocks over 1500 LGBTQ+ titles at any given time. Supporting LGBT Foundation, they sell a number of LGBTQ books, from Autobiographies to Children’s books!
A Box of Books – Just down the road in Lewes, this incredible haven for book lovers is the perfect solution for a rainy day if you’re in the area. There’s not a single gender label in sight and all books are categorised by theme (eg. Feelings, animals, or age). They have a huge collection of diverse books. There’s an online shop too!
Gay’s The Word – This is the UK’s oldest and most iconic LGBT bookshop. A “touchstone for the broader LGBT community”. Set up in January 1979 by a group of gay socialists as a community space, where all profits were funnelled back into the business. This ethos continues today with shelves bursting with books and the space used for book and community events.
Letterbox Library – A not-for-profit children’s book seller specialising in diversity and inclusion, featuring an array of topics from gender to bereavement. They also offer themed ‘Book Packs’ if you’re looking for several books on certain certain subjects. Well worth a visit!
Books for Queers – A new find for us recently, but already one we no doubt will shop with time and time again as they have a modest children’s section which will hopefully grow over time.
Little Box of Books – Although primarily a subscription service as opposed to a book “shop”, these guys still work tirelessly to make sure children from all backgrounds see themselves in the literature they read. Worth a follow and would make the perfect gift for young readers. With every purchase, they also donate books to the Doorstep Library.
*We were sent ‘Promised Land’ and ‘Maiden Voyage’ for the purpose of an honest review / feature, however all thoughts and opinions are our own.