Rainbow Reads for Children, Part One

The book cover shows a multicultural, multiracial group of adults and children holding up a rainbow sign with the title.

By Laci R.

June is LGBTQ+ Pride month, and it’s a time to celebrate all the beautiful identities and colors of the rainbow. Luckily, many vibrant books and stories can help you do so. Representation is incredibly important. Aside from the sheer joy and pleasure of getting to see yourself in books and stories, it promotes inclusivity and begins vital conversations with the children in your life about the history of the LGBTQ+ community and queer characters. Reading books with queer mention needs to be paired with open, safe, and informative conversation so compassion can flourish and curiosities can be sparked.  
 
I have chosen several books to share with you. It was difficult to narrow my list, but having many more resources available that feature characters in the LGBTQ+ community is such an amazing and liberating phenomenon.
 
I’ll start with some of my favorite non-fiction books:  

Stonewall: A Building, an Uprising, a Revolution by Rob Sanders (picture book) gives us a unique perspective on an essential civil rights story. The building itself narrates the story of how the police raided the Stonewall Inn located in New York City early in the morning on June 28, 1969. This wasn’t the first raid that took place, but things were different this time. A protest occurred full of members of the LGBTQ+ community in and around Stonewall Inn as demands of equal rights and justice filled the air. This movement continues even now, as I type these words.

Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag by Rob Sanders (picture book) tells about social activist Harvey Milk and how the gay pride flag, designed by Gilbert Baker, came to be created. It shows Milk as he is elected as one of the first openly gay people in political office and follows his fight for LGBTQ+ rights and freedom. Together, Milk and Baker create a symbol of hope- the rainbow flag. It’s a symbol you still see today proudly displayed all over the world. 

Pair this story with Sewing the Rainbow by Gayle Pitman to see a different perspective and learn other details about the rainbow flag’s creation. Need a follow up activity? Ask the child in your life to make their own flag! One that represents them and what makes them special. Encourage them to share with you and be sure to do the same. 
 
Please note: These books should be shared with the understanding that they offer an introduction to these major events and should be supplemented with additional information and conversation around the topics.  
 
Be sure to also check out Gay & Lesbian History For Kids: The Century Long Struggle for LGBT Rights by Jerome Pohlen, A Quick & Easy Guide to Queer & Trans Identities by Mady G and They, She, He, Me: Free To Be by Maya Gonzalez. These books contain excellent information and guidance for understanding a wide variety of identities. 
 
When it comes to picture books, I wish I could write about every single one. I decided to share a sampling of those that are well loved and ones that became unforgettable from the moment I read them. Here are a couple for you to look into, with more coming in Part Two of my LGBTQ+ recommendations for children and families.

This Day in June by Gayle E. Pitman became an instant favorite. This rhyming story invites you to attend a Pride parade and meet all the wonderful people. Every page exudes joy and pure love. I absolutely adore the illustrations by Kristyana Litten. They are brimming with color and depict an undeniable energy bursting with flair. A note to parents and caregivers is included that provides information on how to discuss sexual orientation and gender identity with children in age-appropriate ways. You’ll also find a reading guide full of facts about LGBTQ+ history and culture.  

When Aidan Became a Brother by Kyle Lukoff covers a lot of ground and will surely resonate with transgender children. It offers reassurance about becoming an older sibling all while celebrating some of the many transitions experienced by a family. When born, everyone thought Aidan was a girl. He was given a pretty name and his room and clothes looked like that of girls he knew. However, none of this felt right to him and changes were needed. Aidan’s parents offer endless support as he transitions to living in a way that allows him to flourish and thrive. In doing so, Aidan learns what it takes to be the best older brother he can be: the ability to love with your whole self. I also feel the need to mention that I wish I could share a wardrobe with Aidan because that little guy sure is stylin’.  

I hope these titles will make it into your home, classroom, gift list, or anywhere else that needs a bright rainbow. I invite you to continue learning about LGBTQ+ materials for children by joining me for Part Two, where we’ll take a look at more of my favorite picture books. Let’s keep this celebration going!

Laci is a Children’s Instructor and Research Specialist at HCLS. They love a wide variety of music, spending time in the garden, Halloween, cats, and crafting. Their “to read” list is always full of graphic novels and picture books.

Celebrating Pride Month

A photograph of a rainbow flag with red at top and purple at bottom, symbolizing gay pride.

For members of the LGBTQ community and our allies, June is not just the start of summer: it is Pride season, a time of year dedicated to celebrating our authentic selves and affirming our right to exist. In the United States, Pride Month is held in June to honor the anniversary of the 1969 Stonewall Uprising, which catalyzed the Gay Liberation Movement in response to police brutality and social stigma.

The fight for equal rights is ongoing. Discrimination is far too common, especially for our black sisters and brothers and gender-diverse siblings. There is still much work to be done. We must learn about and remember past struggles. We must take action towards further social change. And to maintain strength, we must also find moments of hope and joy.

In my own attempt to share queer hope and joy, I have put together this brief list of book and film recommendations available online via RBdigital, cloudLibrary, OverDrive, and Kanopy. Whether you identify as LGBTQ, I hope the following titles provide a source of entertainment, education, and inspiration.

If you would like advice on how to browse LGBTQ content on these digital platforms, or are interested in more recommendations, you can Ask HCLS or (eventually) visit me at work.

eBooks

Gay Like Me: A Father Writes to His Son by Richie Jackson

The LGBTQ community is unique from many other socially marginalized groups in that most LGBTQ youth do not grow up with community members who share the same marginalized identity. However, this is not the case for Richie Jackson and his son, who are both gay.

Short in length but full of heart, Gay Like Me is an engaging, intimate work of nonfiction that addresses the joys and the challenges of being a gay man in America. Jackson connects the past, present, and future as he recounts his life experiences and offers advice to his college-bound son. I found this book to be a quick, engrossing read. I was deeply moved by Jackson’s fierce celebration of being a proud, openly queer person in a society that doesn’t always recognize or support our truest selves. This message is even more inspiring within the context of a father addressing his son. That’s the core of this book: a father’s love.

With broad themes of love, parenting, and self-discovery as well as specific experiences of gay culture, history, and sexuality, Gay Like Me resonates with both LGBTQ people and allies.

Available on OverDrive.

Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo

This title appeals to readers interested in highly lauded, nonconventional literary fiction. Written with a lack of standard punctuation or capitalization, the style blends poetry and prose in a way that Evaristo refers to as “fusion fiction.”

Girl, Woman, Other portrays the interconnected lives of a dozen black, British characters—all female or nonbinary—with a diversity of ages, sexual orientations, occupations, and so on. With its exploration of intersecting identities, told from the varying perspectives of characters that share a racial identity, I am fondly reminded of There, There by Tommy Orange. Where Orange challenges the idea of a singular Native American experience, Evaristo also makes clear that there are many narratives for black British women.

This novel requires one’s full attention. The poetic structure gives weight to each line, beckoning the reader to focus and truly listen to each character. With its celebration of underrepresented voices, the characters of Girl, Woman, Other deserve to be heard.

Available on OverDrive.

eAudiobooks

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe 

Written by Benjamin Alire Saenz, narrated by Lin-Manuel Miranda 

I can confidently say this is my favorite YA novel of all time, as well as one of my favorite novels, period. I own the audiobook on Audible, and I have two treasured physical copies on my bookshelf. 

The simple yet poignant writing style tenderly captures the voice of a lonely Mexican American teen named Aristotle, or “Ari” for short. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s narration beautifully brings this story to life. Set in El Paso, TX in the 1980s, the center of the story centers on the development of Ari’s relationship with Dante, a boy his age who is his opposite in so many ways—and yet, they complement each other. Through joy and tragedy, the two boys grow to understand deeper truths themselves, each other, and who they want to be. 

If you enjoy a “slow burn, friends-to-lovers” storyline with a wonderfully satisfying ending, this one is a must! A beautiful celebration of love in all forms, I cannot recommend this book enough.  

Available on cloudLibrary and OverDrive.

Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women, and the Rest of Us (Revised and Updated) 

Written and narrated by Kate Bornstein 

One of the first gender-focused books I read when I was coming to terms with being trans, it has a very special place in my heart.

Originally published in 1994, Gender Outlaw has been described as, “ahead of its time,” but I would argue that it is the rest of the world that has been lagging behind. Bornstein, now aged 72, is living proof that nonbinary gender identities – those that do not fit the male/female, man/woman binaries – are not new. However, the language used to describe gender identity has significantly evolved since 1994, which is why Bornstein updated this book in 2016 to reflect those changes.  

While our cultural and communal understandings of gender still continue to shift and grow, the core ideas expressed here are forever revolutionary, and listening to Kate Bornstein’s narration feels like wisdom from a loving, quirky, genderqueer grandmother. 

Available on RBdigital.

Films

Hearts Beat Loud (2018)

This comedy-drama is quite possibly my favorite queer-inclusive movie that I’ve watched with my parents. The central storyline tells of a daughter and father bonding over music, struggling with the decline of business at their record shop, and adapting to change as the daughter prepares to move across the country for college. The father-daughter bonding over music is beautiful, especially given that a source of musical inspiration for the daughter is her relationship with another girl. I love how her queerness is a non-issue; she simply gets to exist and love as her authentic self.

Stories that highlight LGBTQ+ struggles are certainly important, but it’s also important to have stories in which queerness is not a source of conflict. There is no grappling with internalized homophobia, experiencing harassment, or even “coming out,” and that makes Hearts Beat Loud so refreshing. The film celebrates this story of two girls falling in love, which is naturally intertwined with a story of growing up and moving forward while still remaining connected to one’s roots.

Available on Kanopy.

Vito (2011)

To all lovers of history and activism—this documentary is for you. The film follows Vito Russo, a gay activist, film historian, and author. Russo took a leading and long-lasting role in creating social change, as a founding member in organizations such as GLAAD and ACT UP. His research regarding representation of gay themes in film was groundbreaking, bringing awareness to the power that media images have, and remaining relevant to this day.

My own interest in studying LGBTQ media representation was ignited when I first watched The Celluloid Closet, an adaptation of Russo’s landmark book. My appreciation and respect for Russo only increased when I watched Vito. It is a moving portrayal of him, his accomplishments, his struggles, and the social context in which he lived and died. This story is inspiring, heartbreaking, and so important to LGBTQ history.

Available on Kanopy.

The Way He Looks (2014)

Are you a hopeless romantic interested in foreign films with satisfyingly cute endings? Look no further than The Way He Looks, a tender Brazilian film about Leonardo, a blind teenager who grows increasingly fond of Gabriel, the new boy at school. Frustrated with the taunts of his peers and the concerns of his overprotective mother, Leo strives to gain independence and live his life on his own terms.

This inadvertently strains his relationship with his best friend Giovana; fortunately, their friendship grows stronger. The friendship that develops between Leo and Gabriel has its drama too, full of romantic uncertainty, burgeoning sexuality, and mutual pining. Fortunately, their feelings for each other are brought to light in the most tender way possible, and my heart is flooded with warmth whenever I watch their final scenes.

Available on Kanopy.

Ash Baker is an Instructor and Research Specialist at the HCLS Central Branch. They have been working at HCLS since graduating May 2019 with a bachelor’s degree in Sociology and LGBT Studies. Their favorite TV shows with LGBTQ representation include Steven Universe, Pose, and The Bold Type.