When it comes to subjects revolving around gender and sexuality, a lot of parents find it challenging to establish an open line of communication with their kids.
But here’s the thing:
Whether the little ones are asking questions about their bodies or want to learn more about diverse families, teaching them about tolerance and acceptance from a young age is crucial if you want them to grow into kind and well-informed adults.
Unfortunately, people who identify as LGBTQIA+ still face daily discrimination, from bullying to being denied jobs. As a result, it’s natural to hope that your child won’t have to deal with hostility on a regular basis.
Crossing your fingers isn’t enough.
In fact, it can do more harm than good.
Young people who are questioning their sexual orientation or gender identity are almost five times more likely to attempt suicide compared to heterosexual and cisgender youth – and that number almost doubles when they come from rejecting families.
If parents aren’t willing to provide accurate information about sexuality, the little ones might start to fear familial rejection if they realize that they identify as LGBTQIA+.
If you’re open with them from a young age, they’ll grow up to understand that they can rely on you for honest answers to their inquiries. Even if they eventually identify as heterosexual and cis, they will have all the tools required to be accepting of those who don’t, which means that the world will instantly become a better place for everyone.
Isn’t that kind of the dream?
Of course, this means that you also need to figure out how to talk about the different kinds of families and teach your child that their sexuality or gender doesn’t limit them in any way.
Luckily, books can go a long way towards opening an honest dialogue between parents and kids, especially when they feature LGBTQIA+ themes and characters. We’ve come a long way since Heather Has Two Mommies first came out in 1989, when children’s books with visible LGBTQIA+ representation were basically non-existent.
Now, there’s plenty of choice on the market, from picture books aimed at toddlers to chapter books suitable for pre-teens.
Picking the right books for your little one is the first step towards openly talking about anything sexuality-related that might concern them, from gender identity to gender expression to sexual orientation. As always, finding that sweet zone of age-appropriate accuracy for talks surrounding sexuality and gender is an ongoing process of trial and error.
It’s important to listen to your child carefully for when they first begin to make observations or ask questions surrounding these subjects. That being said, the books listed below allow you to get a head start when it comes to educating your kids about exactly how diverse the world is.
Picture Books Suitable for Toddlers (Ages 3+)
At this stage, your toddler is likely interested in learning as much about the world as possible, so the books you read to them should be diverse, multicultural, engaging, and informative.
Fun illustrations are a must since you want the little one to pay attention and hopefully ask some follow-up questions once the reading session is done. If you’re looking to start a conversation about gender and family, you can’t go wrong with any of these gems.
Annie’s Plaid Shirt by Stacy B. Davids
This charming little book centers on Annie, who loves her plaid shirt and wears it every chance she gets. One day though, despite the child’s protests, her mother buys her a fancy dress she has to wear to a wedding. Annie doesn’t like dresses, so she comes up with an idea. All that’s left is to make mom agree to it.
The book follows Annie over only a couple of days, but it’s a wonderful tale of how important it is to be yourself.
Something we should teach kids as early as possible!
It also features themes related to gender norms, tolerance, self-esteem, and identity. Plus, the watercolor illustrations are sure to catch your toddler’s eye.
Baby’s First Words by Stella Blackstone, Sunny Scribens
Featuring vibrant colors and cute illustrations, Baby’s First Words is a great pick for when you’re looking to expand your child’s vocabulary.
The story revolves around the daily activities of a city baby who just happens to have two daddies, which can be an excellent starting point for a conversation on how not every family looks the same.
As a fun game, there’s also a woolly mammoth on every pair of pages – your little one will be delighted to look for it and point it out every chance they get.
Are You a Boy or Are You a Girl? by Sarah Savage
A great read that helps children start to ask the big questions about identity and gender, Are You a Boy or Are You a Girl? follows Tiny, a sensitive soul who loves to dress up in costumes – butterfly, doctor, you name it. They also don’t like to identify as either boy or girl, which is fine by their friends. But when Tiny starts at a new school, the kids there can’t help but inquire about their gender.
Featuring a gender-neutral protagonist, this picture book sends an important message about identity and being who you know to be, regardless of what society, in general, may expect of you.
As for the illustrations, they’re intended to look childish, which will likely appeal to toddlers.
The Family Book by Todd Parr
The Family Book is a bright and joyful celebration of family in general, regardless of its size or shape.
Some families are small, others are big. Some feature a mom and a dad, others two daddies or two mommies. Some families are messy, others clean. Whichever type your toddler has, it’s important for them to understand from an early age that each family is special in its own way.
Meant to strengthen familial relationships and highlight the fact that families may be different, but that doesn’t make them any less full of love, the book teaches acceptance and diversity appreciation. All in all, it’s a useful and fun addition to any family’s library.
A House for Everyone: A Story to Help Children Learn about Gender Identity and Gender Expression by Jo Hirst
This book centers on a group of friends who gather together at lunchtime to build their houses. Everyone has a job to do and everyone has a unique way of expressing themselves. Jackson, for instance, likes to wear dresses, Alex is gender-neutral, Ivy is a girl who likes to wear her hair very short.
Despite being different, they’re all good friends.
If you’re keen on teaching your child about gender identity and expression, this book is a solid start. An upbeat story about human differences and acceptance, A House for Everyone is more than an educational tool.
It’s meant to help young kids understand the full spectrum of gender diversity and encourage them to be more tolerant of their peers. This can be a tough topic to convey, but the story does a great job at explaining things as plain as possible, making complex notions easier to grasp.
Perfectly Norman by Tom Percival
Perfectly Norman is a delightful book that emphasizes the fact that when you’re vulnerable enough to be yourself you can encourage others to show their true colors as well.
The story follows Norman, who has been perfectly normal so far. One day, however, he suddenly grows a pair of wings. He’s happy about the development but worried about what his family and friends may think, so he decides to cover up the wings with a coat. But hiding them doesn’t make Norman feel good at all.
Will he eventually find the courage to just be himself?
Captivating and featuring striking illustrations, the book is eye-catching, inclusive, and memorable. It a perfect tool for toddlers to learn about individuality. Never be afraid to be yourself, wings and all.
And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson
Who knew that a book about two penguins that create a nontraditional family could be so engrossing?
The action takes place at the Central Park Zoo, where Roy and Silo are a bit different than the rest of the penguins. However, they would still love to start a family of their own. And thanks to the benevolence of a zookeeper, they finally get the chance to welcome a baby penguin of their own.
Not only is this book touching and educational, but it’s also pretty funny. Moreover, it makes naturally introducing concepts of acceptance and inclusion to your young child considerably easier.
Books for Preschoolers (Ages 5+)
If you’re looking for more complex books to share with your preschooler in order to get them ready for the years to come, but also go deeper when it comes to teaching them about diversity and gender, opt for titles that pride themselves on inclusivity.
Here are a few examples to get you started.
Love Is Love by Michael Genhart
Love Is Love is another book that showcases that love is what makes a family, regardless of how said family may look.
The story revolves around a little boy who confides in a friend that he doesn’t know how to react when other kids tease him about having two dads. As a result, the friend helps him see that a family with two dads isn’t as different as one with a mom and a dad.
It’s just another kind of normal.
Keesha’s South African Adventure by Bey-Clarke
After learning about South Africa in school, the inquisitive Keesha dreams of one day seeing it for herself. Needless to say, she’s beyond happy when her two moms decide to take her there for the birthday.
Over the course of the trip, the family gets to learn more about South African culture, as well as experience some breathtaking landscapes and colorful markets.
Besides showcasing a modern family on the vacation of a lifetime, this book will also appeal to your child’s imagination. It’s an exciting adventure, well-suited for the entire family.
I Am Jazz by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jenning
Based on the real-life experience of Jazz Jennings, the story follows Jazz, who knew from a young age that she had a girl’s brain in a boy’s body, which confused her family to no end. That is until they took her to a doctor who explained that Jazz was transgender and that she was born that way.
The book focuses on individuality and the importance of respecting each other’s differences, which makes it a great tool if you’re looking to explain gender to your young child.
What Makes a Baby by Cory Silverberg
What Makes a Baby is a solid and often quirky picture book that aims to offer multiple answers to the traditional question ‘Where do babies come from?’
Besides covering the basics – conception, gestation, and birth – the book is as inclusive as they get (covering IVF, adoption, surrogacy, and so on), which makes it suitable for every kind of family and every kind of kid.
It also doesn’t gender people or body parts, so each family can educate their child based on their own experiences.
Books for Kids in Elementary and Middle School (Age 8+)
Once your kid is a bit older and knows how to read, help them pick up books that will expand their horizons, showcase different points of view, and fuel their imagination.
The more diverse, the better.
Of course, you should keep your little one’s interests in mind when helping them pick their to-be-read books, but starting with one of the picks below will ensure a great time for everyone.
In Our Mothers’ House by Patricia Polacco
Another heartwarming book aimed to teach kids that different doesn’t necessarily mean wrong, In Our Mothers’ House follows Marmee, Meema, and their adopted kids.
They’re just like any other family. They cook dinner, laugh, and live in a beautiful house. Yet, not everybody accepts them – but that won’t stop the family from living by their own rules.
In short, an excellent story that focuses on warmth and love, a pure celebration of the small joys associated with belonging to a happy household.
Hurricane Child by Kacen Callender
This sweet story follows Caroline, a twelve-year-old who was born during a hurricane. That’s considered unlucky, and Caroline has had her fair set of struggles to think that might be true. She is bullied at school, a spirit only she can see follows her around, and her mother left home one day never to come back.
Things seem to change for the better when new student Kalinda arrives, leading Caroline to make her first friend. Not only that, but she seems to be developing a crush.
The book offers a moving portrayal of a queer young girl and has a lot to say about friendship, grief, and bullying, to only name a few of the story’s main themes.
It also has elements of magical realism, which kids tend to love at this age.
Alan Cole Is Not a Coward by Eric Bell
Alan Cole is having a tough time. His father is a bully who doesn’t have much faith that Alan will succeed in life, while his older brother Nathan is plain cruel.
When Nathan finds out that Alan has a crush on another boy, he threatens to out him unless he will succeed at several seemingly impossible tasks. However, Alan is determined to prove once and for all that he’s not as weak as his family believes.
A touching tale of bullies and crushes, Alan Cole Is Not a Coward is likely to appeal to young kids thanks to its relatable themes. Additionally, following Alan as he grows into a brave hero is very inspirational.
Princess Princess Ever After by Katie O’Neill
Does your little one enjoy fairy tales? Then this book will be right up their alley! The story centers on two princesses – heroic Amira and kind-hearted Sadie. After Amira rescues Sadie from her tower prison, the two adventure across the kingdom, become friends and join forces to defeat a jealous sorceress.
A queer and diverse graphic novel, Princess Princess Ever After is sweet and easy to get through, making it a great choice for kids with a big imagination.
Also, it’s important to mention that the two princesses use ingenuity and kindness to get ahead instead of bloodshed, which makes the novel that much more adorable.
George by Alex Gino
This tender tale follows a transgender fourth-grader who learns to be herself and to open up to others about her secret.
The book does a great job of showing both kids and parents the struggles, confusion, and loneliness transgender youth often experience.
Additionally, it will help start a conversation about what it means to be transgender, but also about bullying, friendship, and having the courage to show the world who you really are.