Books to be proud of—children’s books to read this Pride Month
by Ruth Ennis
Each year in June, Pride Month marks a celebration of LGBTQIA+ identities and highlights the ongoing efforts for equality for this marginalised community. Raising awareness of LGBTQIA+ people and their stories is at the core of this work, and books are an essential part of this.
Children’s books in particular carry a crucial role, as they can often be the first introduction to the language and representation a child will see of this community that can be found in their friends, families, and even themselves.
We are in an age of children’s literature where LGBTQIA+ stories are thriving, are diverse, and are of impeccable quality. Here I want to share a list of ten children’s and young adult books that do a wonderful job of representing one of the most joyful and colourful communities in our world today.
Starting with one of the most stunning picturebooks to be found on shelves today: Julian at the Wedding by Jessica Love (Walker Books). The sequel to Julian is a Mermaid (another fantastic title about explorations in gender expression), this book follows Julian and Marisol as they attend the wedding of two beautiful brides.
During the wedding Julian and Marisol sneak off to play in the trees. When Marisol’s dress is dirtied, they both reinvent their outfits with the inventive use of some leaves. This book uses a minimal amount of text and relies on the breath-taking, vibrant illustrations to tell a story of joy and wonder. Reminding the reader that, above all else, “a wedding is a party for love”, this book is perfect for 2+ years.
It’s always lovely to see the LGBTQIA+ community represented in an Irish context. If you are looking for a similar wedding story set close to home, look no further than Our Big Day by Bob Johnston, illustrated by Michael Emberley (The O’Brien Press).
Uncle David and Simon are getting married, and our young protagonist has a very big job to do: looking after the wedding rings! But this proves harder than expected, so when the rings go missing, she and Bear (the adorably fluffy dog) are on a mission to find them. With reference to the Marriage Equality Act of 2015 and some recognisable Dublin beach settings, this charming picturebook has crafted a recognisably Irish feel to it, with colourful illustrations that are simply timeless.
A Fox Called Herbert by Margaret Sturton (Andersen Press) is a sweet picturebook about Herbert who comes from a family of rabbits, but has always felt like a fox. Bit by bit we see Herbert finding creative ways to present himself as the fox he is on the inside; crafting fox ears from paper, painting himself orange, and even designing a fox tail out of his mother’s dress (which doesn’t go down very well with her!).
His mother doesn’t understand why Herbert can’t just be a good rabbit, until he explains that he’s a fox, not a rabbit. Coming to a heart-warming conclusion filled with acceptance and understanding, this book has quickly become one of my new favourites. Suitable for 2+ years.
Moving on to books for slightly older readers, The Lonely Book (Little Island) is the fourth book by the immensely talented Meg Grehan. Annie lives with her perfectly formed family with her two mums and older sibling. Together they work in an unusual bookshop where, every morning, a pile of books magically appears and they are all perfectly matched for each customer that day.
When one book about non-binary identities is left unclaimed, things in the shop start to go a bit strange. Navigating topics such as coming out, mutism, and anxiety, this short and powerful book will stay with readers long after they put it down. Told in gorgeously sparse and flowing verse, this is suitable for 7+ years.
The delightful debut title from Benjamin Dean, Me, My Dad, and the End of the Rainbow (Simon & Schuster) is an absolute must read. Archie’s mum and dad hate each other ever since they’ve split up, and he’s sure they’re keeping a big secret from him.
When Archie finds his dad’s flyer for the London Pride festival, he and his friends go on a journey to find some answers. A superb book that does a wonderful job navigating the nuances of coming to terms with changes in a family dynamic and understanding LBGTQIA+ identities, this is one of the best children’s books out there. Suitable for 9+ years.
A new release by best-selling author of The Strangeworlds Travel Agency series, comes Jamie by L.D. Lapinski (Orion Children’s Books). Jamie is a big-hearted, passionate, non-binary kid – that means they’re neither a boy nor a girl.
Jamie’s family and friends have been supportive of them, but with secondary school just around the corner, they’re forced to decide whether to go to an all-boys or an all-girls school. Between the awesome protest that Jamie leads in the story and the helpful definitions of LGBTQIA+ terminology offered between chapters, this book will leave any reader inspired and informed. A remarkably excellent and joyful book, suitable for 9+ years.
Another book that is rooted in acceptance and understanding is Nothing Ever Happens Here by Sarah Hagger-Holt (Usborne). Izzy is a musical-loving girl who lives in a small, quiet town.
When her dad comes out as a transgender woman (later affectionately known as Dee), Izzy wants to support her whilst coming to terms with her own complicated feelings with the news. When this becomes public knowledge and things escalate, Izzy stands up for Dee and defends her from hurtful lies about her identity. A brilliant book that doesn’t shy away from highlighting the bigoted harassment transgender people face, this book is suitable for 9+ years.
The Dos and Donuts of Love (Hodder Children’s Books) is the brand-new release by sapphic-love-story-expert Adiba Jaigirdar. Shireen is an enthusiastic and talented baker (her specialty being donuts) and is ecstatic when she is accepted to take part in the Junior Irish Baking Show on TV.
The only problem is, her ex-girlfriend Chris is also on the show, as is the charming Niamh who catches Shireen’s eye. Deliciously punny on every page, this book is the perfect read if you’re looking for a rich story and a sweet protagonist, with positive fat and lesbian representation. The book also navigates experiences of racism within Ireland with great clarity. A brilliant read, perfect for 13+ years.
If you are looking for a LGBTQIA+ story in the graphic novel form, look no further than The Greatest Thing by Sarah Winifred Searle (St. Martin’s Press). A gentle, touching story about coping with sophomore year when Win’s best friends have moved to another high-school.
We follow Win as she deals with self-image issues, understanding her sexuality, and mental-health struggles. This book addresses a multitude of important topics for young adults with grace. Showing nuanced representations of bisexuality and gender fluidity between Win and her new friends, this is gorgeous book that I’ve no doubt will resonate with plenty of readers. Suitable for 15+ years.
Last but not least is the fantastic Loveless by Alice Oseman (Harper Collins). Georgia is about to start university but she feels like she’s missing something because she has never been in love, kissed anyone, or even had a crush on anyone.
With some help from her friends, family, and her college’s LGBTQIA+ society, she is equipped with the language to finally describe herself and accept her identity: asexual and aromantic. A gorgeous read that brilliantly captures a time in a young person’s life where so much is changing, this is a book you will struggle to put down. Suitable for 15+ years.
Though it is always important to highlight LGBTQIA+ books during Pride Month, it is as important to ensure these stories are made accessible all year round and that we continue to support the writing and publishing of such stories. This small list couldn’t include the many excellent stories for children and young adults about the various identities in the LGBTQIA+ community available, but you can find more in the Children’s Books Ireland Pride Reading Guide.