As a lesbian parent searching for LGBTQ+ related books for our child, I was surprised to find a wide selection and that these books offer a wonderful introduction to difference that can help foster open- mindedness, understanding, and kindness in all children.
When we found out we were pregnant with Finn, my mother gave me all of the beloved children’s books I grew up reading, and we collected many more from friends and loved ones. While we have enjoyed reading these to Finn, one thing I noticed was that when families are presented, these families are typically heteronormative, traditional families—those made up of a mother, a father, and children. I also noticed that most children’s books present stereotypical gender roles and normative identities.
Theresa and I wanted Finn to be able to see reflections of his family in the books that he reads. But we also wanted him to be exposed to many other types of family formations. We wanted him to understand, as the popular Target (yay Target!) child’s t-shirt says, “Love Makes a Family”—no matter who makes up that family. We also wanted to find books that would show Finn the many different ways of being, both for his own identity acceptance and for acceptance of others’ identities. Thus began our search for more inclusive books.
To our delight, we found many LGBTQ+ family and identity inclusive books, and many of these encourage celebrating difference in any form. I have been so excited to share these that I now teach a very popular unit on children’s books in my Intro to LGBTQ+ literature course. One of my students noted that before the class she would have been afraid to share these books with her kids out of fear: fear that the books would influence her children (turn them gay or gender nonconforming) and fear that the books would bring up questions she didn’t know how to answer. Since my class is an open discussion, many students were able to speak to these fears by pointing out that had they had these books as children, they would have felt less alone, less concerned about their own identities, and less afraid to be who they are. While they might have still had questions, they would have been less afraid to talk about it with their parents and may have created a stronger bond with them as they explored the questions together.
Here are a few of the books we found and why we love them. I hope you’ll consider sharing them with your children.
The Family Book and It’s Ok to Be Different by Todd Parr
These are great books that introduce children to difference. They show different family formations (same-sex parents, divorced and single parents, and adoptive parents) and different identities (differences in ability, appearance, and personalities). Finn is just now getting into these books as he moves beyond board books and into more complex structures, but they are full of colorful illustrations and short catchy phrases.
Zak’s Safari: A Story About Donor-Conceived Kids of Two-Mom Families by Christy Tyner and Ciaee (illustrator). We have always felt that we wanted to be open with Finn about how he came to be from a very young age. This book hit the nail on the head for us! It gives the story of a boy who was created by two mothers through the use of donor sperm—the same way we created Finn. It is frank, open, and informative in a creative and engaging way that is perfect for children. Although it may be a while before he really gets into this book, as it is recommended for ages 4-8, we read and talk about it with Finn and will continue to until he grows beyond it.
Mommy, Mama, and Me by Leslea Newman and Carol Thompson (illustrator). One of our all-time favorite books! It presents a biracial lesbian couple and their child. We have been reading it to Finn since he was born. He loves pointing out the Mama, the Mommy, and the baby in the book and naming the items in all of their activities. Also by this author and illustrator is Daddy, Papa, and Me, which we have added to our collection. My students pointed out that this version is more fluid in terms of presenting gender roles, but both are great for showing and normalizing same-sex families.
And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson, Peter Parnell, and Henry Cole (Illustrator). This is a great board book that tells the story of a real life, same-sex parent family— a family of penguins in the New York’s Central Park Zoo made up of two male penguins and their adopted daughter. Finn is still working on saying "penguin," but he’s getting it with the help of this book.
I am Jazz by Jessica Herthel, Jazz Jennings, and Shelagh McNicholas (illustrator). This book, based on a true story of a transgender girl, has been controversial since its beginnings. Transgender issues, especially in children, are often passionately debated. But amid the controversy, the book has been very popular and has been successfully introduced to children and classrooms as a tool for dealing with bullying. Jazz Jennings now has her own TV show of the same title on TLC. While the reading level is a bit advanced for my two-year-old, we have been reading it in pieces and talking about it as we go. It is a great way to introduce gender diversity and acceptance of difference.
The Barefoot Book of Children by Tessa Strickland, Kate DePalma, and David Dean (illustrator) was introduced to us at the MidSouth Book Festival children’s book tent. This book introduces children to difference by presenting not only alternate family formations, including but not limited to same-sex parents, but also different living situations. Children from different races and cultures, differently abled children, and a diverse illustration of activities all kinds of children enjoy are all featured. Finn loves the pictures in this book and all of the different things he is learning to name.
Whether you are a member of the LGBTQ+ community, a straight ally, or merely a parent that is interested in introducing your child to openness and acceptance of difference, these books are great places to start. They are entertaining and fun, but they also can help a child feel loved and accepted while learning to love and accept others regardless of difference—something, we, as parents, sometimes need to be reminded of as well.