Monday, June 8, 2020

Middle-Grade LGBTQ+

middle grade LGTBQ+

This is a list of middle-grade LGBTQ+ books I compiled for a collection development project, attempting to show as many representations as possible within 20 titles. I know from experience how hard it can be to find LGBTQ+ middle-grade books, particularly with certain representations, so I thought others might find it helpful for their own collection development and reader's advisory. 

This is by no means a comprehensive list and was designed to fill the gaps in a specific collection. I based selection on awards (primarily Lambda and Stonewall), the ALA Rainbow List, professional reviews, and my own reviews as I have personally read many of these. I have starred my personal favorites and linked to my own reviews on Goodreads where applicable. There have been quite a few new books published in the last year or so that I had not yet become aware of when I first compiled this list last fall, so please, feel free to add more in the comments! 


*Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the WorldBlake, A. H. (2018). New York: Little Brown & Company. ISBN-13: 9780316515467 (Hardback)

This book is a 2019 Stonewall Award honor book, is listed on the ALA Rainbow List, and received several favorable reviews. SLJ describes it as “filling a much-needed gap in middle grade literature, this story addresses not just the topic of a first crush, but also the invisibility frequently felt by middle children… A first purchase for public and school libraries,” (Frencham, 2018). Ivy’s family has suffered the loss of their home in a tornado and subsequent displacement, as well as dealing with newborn twins, which leaves Ivy feeling a bit invisible and with no one to turn to when she begins questioning her feelings for another girl and her dreams and what they mean. In addition to Ivy, there is also a minor bisexual teenage character and an adult lesbian who helps Ivy and her family. Though Ivy and her family are white, other ethnicities are represented as well. My Full Review

The Mighty Heart of Sunny St. JamesBlake, A. H. (2019). New York: Little Brown & Company. ISBN-13: 9780316515535 (Hardback)

Called a “heartwarming and engaging tale that treats Sunny's emerging sexual identity with care, authenticity, and age appropriateness. A first purchase for public and school-libraries” by SLJ (Frencham, 2019) and “an accomplished, layered, moving story featuring a girl questioning her sexuality…a welcome addition” in a starred Booklist review (Barnes, 2019), this book tells the story of a young girl who has just had a heart transplant and whose biological mother has reappeared in her life after abandoning her as a toddler, and also questioning her sexuality as she finds herself attracted to her best friend rather than the boy she thought she wanted to kiss. In addition to filling the need for middle-grade LGTBQ+ materials, this book also features ethnically diverse characters, including Latinx, Asian, and African-American. The author was previously honored by the Stonewall Award committee (see above). My Review

*Zenobia JulyBunker, L. (2019). New York: Penguin Books for Young Readers. ISBN-13: 9780451479402 (Hardback)

This “own voices” book provides greatly needed representation of several queer identities in addition to that of the main character, a transgender girl. After the deaths of both of her parents, Zenobia is sent to live with her aunt Lucy and her wife and is finally allowed to be her true self. She becomes friends with a group of “misfits” who are delightfully diverse, quirky, and queer, and uses her computer skills to solve the mystery of who is hacking the school’s website with anti-Muslim and anti-queer hate-speech. Kirkus Reviews (2019) gave it a favorable review, saying “Zenobia is an endearing white trans girl heroine, with an accessible amount of angst and anxiety that never tips over into titillating tragedy. Her community of weirdos and queers (including her aunts' drag-queen friend Sprink) offers desperately needed representation. Hijab-wearing Congolese immigrant Dyna and Asian Elijah provide some racial diversity…A fun read that manages to feel solidly traditional while breaking new ground.” My Review

Hurricane Child. Callender, K. (2018). New York: Scholastic, Inc. ISBN-13: 9781338129304 (Hardback)

This book is one of the very few to show representation of a queer person of color, as well as portraying Caribbean culture. The main character, Caroline, was born during a hurricane, which is perceived as being unlucky in her homeland of the Virgin Islands. She is dealing with the loss of her mother, who left her and her father several years before, and is bullied unmercifully by not only her classmates, but by her teacher as well, in part for being very dark skinned. She is befriended by a new girl, Kalinda, and soon begins to question whether her feelings for Kalinda go beyond friendship, and whether Kalinda feels the same. The book is listed on the ALA Rainbow List Top 10, and won both the Stonewall and Lambda book awards for LGBTQ+ children’s literature. A SLJ reviewer called Hurricane Child “An excellent and nuanced coming-of-age tale with a dash of magical realism for readers who enjoy character-driven novels, especially those with middle grade LGBTQ+ characterizations.” (Gafkowitz, 2018). My Review

*Star-CrossedDee, B. (2017). New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN-13: 9781481478489 (Hardback).

This book is a rare story with implied bisexual representation as the main character begins to realize she is attracted to another girl and decides to explore those feelings, without ruling out the possibility of also being attracted to boys. It is very age-appropriate, especially in the sense that she does not feel the need to assign any particular label to how she feels at this young age. This book was a Goodreads Book of the Year nominee and a Top 10 on the 2018 ALA Rainbow List. SLJ describes it as “a sweet coming-out story for junior high readers. The clever Shakespeare content is a bonus, and Dee deserves praise for a strong example of gender-blind casting. The charming cover art accurately portrays the spirit of the novel. VERDICT A fine choice for middle school libraries in need of accessible LGBTQ stories.” (Fultz, 2017) and Publisher’s Weekly called it a “welcome addition to the middle grade LGBTQ bookshelf” (Grinberg, 2017). My Review

GeorgeGino, A. (2015). New York: Scholastic. ISBN-13: 9780545812542 (Hardback)
*NOTE - This book has been re-released with the title Melissa (2022).*

A groundbreaking book about a transgender child written by a transgender author, George tells the story about a transgender girl that sees herself as Melissa, but everyone else sees as a boy named George. The reader follows the main character as she struggles with her identity and being brave enough to tell her family and best friends. George was the winner of the 2016 Stonewall award for LGBTQ+ literature for children, nominated for the NCTE Charlotte Hack award, and selected for the ALA Rainbow List. This book received several favorable reviews, including starred reviews from Booklist, calling it “a sensitive, insightful portrayal of a transgender child coming to terms with gender identity,” (Cart, 2015), and SLJ, declaring it “a required purchase for any collection that serves a middle grade population” (Abrams, 2015). My Review

The Pants Project. Clarke, C. (2017). Napierville, IL: The Sourcebook, Inc. ISBN-13: 9781492638094 (Hardback)

The Pants Project provides difficult to find representation of a transgender boy in middle grade literature, telling the story of Liv, who is comfortable in his own skin, but not quite ready to be out to family and friends, and his fight against the outdated school dress code requiring girls, which the school sees him as, to wear skirts. The story provides additional representation of a family headed by a same-sex couple as Liv has two moms. Liv tells his story in a strong voice, with a touch of humor, making it a fun read and the character very relatable. Though ineligible for most awards because the author is British, this book garnered several favorable reviews. Kirkus Reviews (2017) said “A fine addition to LGBTQ children's literature… Liv's two moms add further dimension to a tale that unabashedly affirms the importance of accepting and celebrating differences,” and SLJ called it “A strong purchase, especially in light of the need for younger middle grade fiction featuring transgender characters.” (Frencham, 2017). My Review

Gracefully GraysonPolansky, A. (2016 [2014]). New York: Hyperion. ISBN-13: 9781484723654 (Paperback)

This book was named as one of the Top 10 on the 2016 ALA Rainbow List, and tells the story of Grayson, an orphaned transgender girl living with her aunt and uncle who is still coming to terms with her identity. She tries out for the role of Persephone in the school play as a chance to experiment with expressing a female identity. Gracefully Grayson received several favorable reviews, with Horn Book Magazine saying “Polonsky captures the loneliness of a child resigned to disappear rather than be rejected, and then the courageous risk that child eventually takes to be seen for who she is. The first-person narration successfully positions readers to experience Grayson's confusion, fear, pain, and triumphs as they happen, lending an immediate and intimate feel to the narrative.” (Hardeson, 2014), and Kirkus (2014) reporting “Grayson's journey is portrayed with gentleness and respect, and readers will root for the show to go on. A kind and earnest look at a young transgender adolescent's experience.” SCJ notes “This title has less obvious and didactic intent than other novels featuring transgender protagonists” and calls it “A welcome addition to a burgeoning genre” (Lukoff, 2014).

Better Nate Than EverFederle, T. (2013). New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN-13: 9781442446892 (Hardback)

This is the first of an ongoing series (books 2 & 3 are listed below as well) that has won several honors and high praise for its portrayal of an adolescent boy who runs off to New York to pursue his goal of performing on Broadway, and deals with issues of family dysfunction, bullying and sexuality along the way. Though it can be inferred that Nate will eventually realize he is gay, it is not stated explicitly, and at this point, he is in no rush to figure it all out or label himself. Better Nate Than Ever was a 2014 Stonewall Honor book as well as a Lambda Award nominee, and honored by several other lesser known awards for youth literature, as well as being one of Publishers Weekly “Best Children’s Books 2013”. It received several favorable reviews, including one from Kirkus (2013) which said “Federle's debut addresses--deftly--big and solemn issues in the second half of the novel, particularly with regard to family, sexuality and religion. Bravo, Nate!”

Five, Six, Seven, NateFederle, T. (2014). New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN-13: 9781442446939 (Hardback)

This second book in the Nate trilogy continues to follow Nate’s story through drama, comedy, tragedy and romance in New York after he lands a role in the chorus in a musical adaptation of E.T. This installment of the series was the winner of the 2015 Lambda award for LGBTQ youth literature, and also received numerous favorable reviews. Kirkus Reviews (2014) observed “While humor is clearly one of Federle's strengths, what sets this novel apart is how beautifully he explores Nate's vulnerabilities, particularly with regard to his sexuality, his family and his own self-esteem”; Horn Book Magazine (2014) said “Federle addresses his likable character's burgeoning interest in boys in a laudably straightforward way, making this entertaining backstage pass especially rewarding,” and SLJ found “The story approaches head-on mature issues such as sexuality, bullying, and terminal illness with humor and tenderness.” (Verbrugge, 2014).

Nate ExpectationsFederle, T. (2018). New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN-13: 9781481404129 (Hardback)

In the conclusion to this award-winning story, Nate returns home to his freshman year in high school after ET: The Musical closes abruptly, where he continues his journey of self-discovery, and eventually comes out to his family and friends. This series provides one of the few middle-grade/young YA representations of a young male adolescent questioning his sexuality and coming out as gay. While this has not won as many awards and honors as the first two books, it is listed on the ALA Rainbow list and has several favorable reviews. Horn Book (2019) says “Smart and snappy prose, lighthearted drama, and great characterizations make for an entertaining and moving trilogy finale.” and Kirkus Reviews (2019) describes it as “An exceptional swan song for a beloved character.”

*Summer of a Thousand PiesDilloway, M. (2019). New York: HarperCollins. ISBN-13: 9780062803467 (Hardback)

This book tells the touching story of Cady, who had been living homeless with her Dad for several years after the death of her mother. When he shows up at her school drunk and is arrested, Cady is sent to live with her aunt Michelle, who she has never met, and Michelle’s partner Suzanne. There she begins to build a new life with friends and family, and learns to trust again. This provides representation for those families headed by same-sex couples, and the story also address the issues of homelessness and undocumented immigrants. Cady is of Mexican descent, and her new friend and his family are recent immigrants. Kirkus Reviews (2019) calls it “a gentle mix of sweet and savory themes with a lovable and diverse cast that includes an undocumented Latinx family and a same-sex couple” and Booklist says “[Cady’s] reactions reflect the journey of a child who has had to take on too much responsibility, and her story is inspiring and hopeful without oversimplifying Cady's experiences. The appended recipes for Cady's pies add a sweet touch to this tender coming-of-age story, perfect for fans for Lynda Mullaly Hunt and Ali Benjamin.” (Thompson, 2019).

Ashes to AshevilleDooley, S. (2017). New York: Penguin Young Readers Group. ISBN-13: 9780399165047 (Hardback)

This Lambda award nominee portrays the difficulties families with same-sex parents faced prior to the Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage, and may still face. Twelve-year old Ophelia, better known as “Fella”, is torn from the only family she knows after her biological mother dies and the court gives custody to her grandmother, someone she doesn’t even know, rather than let her stay with her other mother, Mama Shannon, and her sister Zoey. Booklist’s starred review said “The court battle for Fella's custody shows the extent to which state battles over same-sex marriage create fissures in families and have an enduring and tragic impact on the lives of young people. A tender, touching, and timely read.” (Barnes, 2017) and SLJ finds Dooley makes readers stop and think about what really constitutes a family and whether laws should ultimately define those parameters…Poignantly told with verve and a splash of humor, this novel explores sensitive topics with care and belongs in all middle grade collections.” (Shaw, 2017). 

*The Misadventures of the Family FletcherLevy, D. A. (2015). New York: Random House Children’s Books. ISBN-13: 9780385376556 (Paperback)

In the vein of Beverly Cleary, Judy Blume, and Jeanne Birdsall, Dana Levy tells the story of a lovable, boisterous family and their everyday (mis)adventures, only this multi-racial family just happens to have two dads and four adopted sons. Each of the four boys has very different personalities and interests, and deal with everyday issues and problems, so there is something relatable for almost any reader. SLJ gave it a starred review, saying "With its semi-episodic structure, laugh-out-loud humor, and mix of zaniness and love, Levy's debut offers something truly significant: a middle-grade family story featuring gay parents and interracial families that is never about either issue." (Ratzan, 2015) and “a great choice for libraries wanting to diversify their collections.” (Horn, 2015). Kirkus Reviews (2015) said “This book is notable for its matter-of-fact depiction of an atypical family, the same-sex couple and their ethnically diverse children: two white, one African-American, one adopted from India. The boys are very different from one another but closely tied with warm family bonds. Their banter is realistic, and the disorder of their everyday lives, convincing. The Fletcher family rules!” I personally found it an absolute delight!

*To Night Owl From DogfishSloan, H. G. & Wolitzer, M. (2019). New York: Dial Books for Young Readers. ISBN-13: 9780525553236 (Hardback)

Many readers have described this story as a modern re-telling of The Parent Trap with a twist. In this story, the parents are two gay men, each with a daughter, who have been dating, and the girls are not biologically related. The girls are sent to the same summer camp in order to get to know one another, and after a rough start, eventually become friends. Meanwhile, however, their dads have broken up and the girls plot to get them back together so they can be a family. A great story that shows there are many ways to form a family. Kirkus Reviews (2018) notes the characters are of mixed heritage, one girl is African-American and Brazilian and the other is of Ukranian Jewish descent, and calls the story “A sweet and amusing tale that celebrates diversity while reinforcing the power of love and the importance of family.” SLJ also gives a favorable review, summarizing “While remaining lighthearted, the narrative successfully weaves in important topics like puberty, religion, surrogacy, race, and sexual orientation, reminiscent of Judy Blume's signature style…An imaginative and compelling middle-grade novel depicting modern friendships and modern families.” (Hickey, 2019). My Review

Graphic Novels

Princess Princess Ever AfterO’Neill, K. (2016 [2014]). New York: Simon & Schuster. 
ISBN-13: 9781620103401 (Hardback)

This story featuring diverse characters helps to fill the gap in LGTBQ+ graphic novels for middle-grade/young YA readers, with the full-figured Princess Sadie being rescued by the adventurous and heroic Princess Amira. Together, they help save a hapless prince and restore Sadie’s rightful place in her kingdom, and eventually marry. This book has received many favorable reviews and recognition, being named to the 2017 ALA Rainbow List Top Ten, YALSA Great Graphic Novels for Teens, and the Amelia Bloomer List for children’s literature with feminist themes. Booklist Online says “O'Neill's warm, friendly drawings add to the fun of this body-positive story that also features a main character of color. Appropriately for a fairy tale, O'Neill wraps things up with a wedding that promises happily-ever-after, sealed with a kiss. Give this to young romance readers and watch them smile.” (Wildsmith, 2016). Book Riot (2019) describes it as “super cute, super queer, and feminist as all get out."

The Tea Dragon SocietyO’Neill, K. (2017). Portland, OR: Oni Press, Inc. ISBN-13:9781620104415 (Hardback)

This high-fantasy manga-influenced graphic novel provides a very diverse cast of queer characters that care for unusual miniature dragons that grow magical tea leaves on their horns. Maybe a little weird and too cutesy for some readers, but fills a gap for those who delight in this style. This book was chosen by SLJ as one of the Top 10 Graphic Novels of 2017 as well as being named to the 2018 ALA Rainbow List. Kirkus Reviews (2017) says “O'Neill has composed a feel-good tale just right for middle-grade fantasy fans. In alluringly hued, manga-inspired illustrations, O'Neill's diverse characters display an array of different skin colors, orientations, and abilities. Helping to add depth to the worldbuilding is an excerpt from a fictional tome that explains the history of tea dragons and their individual characteristics. Undeniably whimsical and extremely cute.” And SLJ rules it “This warm and funny story would be a wonderful addition to most graphic novel collections. It quietly illustrates and normalizes a variety of family situations and personal identities.” (Gile, 2017).


A Queer History of the United States for Young People. Bronski, M. (2019). Boston, MA: Beacon Press. ISBN-13: 9780807056127 (Hardback)

This book tells the stories of a number of LGTBQ+ individuals and groups, some well-known and some less familiar, and their contributions to American history. SLJ named it one of the Best Nonfiction Books of 2019, saying “Bronski’s writing displays a considerable level of sensitivity. This content-rich work fills a clear curriculum need for a history that has long been ignored.” (DesHarnais et al, 2019), and Publisher’s Weekly (2019) says “Readers seeking role models from the past will find an edifying resource and invitation for further exploration into untold stories.”

*Pride: Celebrating Diversity & Community. Stevenson, R. (2016). Custer, WA: Orca Book Publishers. ISBN-13: 9781459809932 (Paperback)

This book provides an excellent description of modern day Pride celebrations and their meaning, as well as the history of violence and discrimination against LGTBQ+ individuals that led to them in a very factual, straight-forward, and age-appropriate way. Pride was a 2017 Stonewall honor book and included on the ALA Rainbow List. Kirkus Reviews (2016) praises the attractive photographs showing the diversity within the LGTBQ community and informative backmatter, saying “This attractive work will be welcomed by readers searching for guidance and hope.”

Gay & Lesbian History for Kids: The Century-Long Struggle for LGBT RightsPohlen, J. (2015). Chicago: Chicago Review Press. ISBN-13: 9781613730829 (Paperback)

This book uses personal stories and firsthand accounts of key events to chronicle the history of the fight for LGBT rights, as well as describing the historic contributions and achievements of LGBT individuals. In addition, 21 activities for kids to do to help bring the stories to life. Gay & Lesbian History for Kids was a Lambda award nominee as well as appearing on the ALA Rainbow List. SLJ describes it as “…upbeat, conversational, and often humorous in tone. Smattered with compelling photographs, biographical sidebars, and interactive activities, this vital and inclusive history fleshes out the LGBTQ education readers have long been denied, bringing it to light and giving it the attention it deserves…A necessary purchase for collections that serve middle grade and teenage patrons.” (Abrams, 2015).

*Sex Is A Funny Word. Silverberg, C. (2015). New York: Seven Stories Press. ISBN-13: 9781609806064 (Hardback)

For the younger end of middle-grade, but worth including. In comic book form, this book uses a diverse cast of children and families to help educate children about their bodies, gender, and sexuality. It gives opportunities for parents to discuss their values and beliefs, as well as safety and setting boundaries. The book places emphasis on thinking for yourself and forming one's own opinions, as well as showing respect for yourself and others. It does not specifically talk about sexual intercourse, but provides a strong foundation to build on. Sex Is A Funny Word was a 2016 Stonewall honor book as well as an ALA Rainbow List Top 10. An SLJ reviewer says “There is a heavy emphasis on the importance of thinking for oneself and developing one's own opinions. The language is conversational and accessible, as well as direct, fastidiously accurate, and entirely gender-neutral. Each section ends with conversation-provoking questions, reinforcing the suggestion that the book be read and shared in conversation with a trusted adult…” and calls it “exciting, enlightening, and innovative” (Henricks, 2015).

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