LGBTQ books for children aged 8-12
Published on: 13 February 2018 Author: Susie Day
Children's author Susie Day picks her favourite middle grade books that explore LGBT+ issues – perfect for older children who want to know more.
‘Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, "What! You too? I thought I was the only one."' - CS Lewis
You, perhaps, have felt this too. It’s one of the reasons we read: to find ourselves in the pages, either reflected back as we are, or revealed to ourselves unpeeled like fruit. It’s why stories for young people matter so much. When you’re growing up, there’s much unpeeling to do. And when you’re growing up in a world that marks you as "different", because of your own identity or that of your loved ones, you need stories to remind you: you’re not the only one.
Happily, stories for young people are out there to do just that. There are more of them since I last wrote a list like this, in all genres, and representing every letter of that LGBTQ. Just as Bill Potts – with her radiant smile and absolute ease with her sexuality – turned up just in time for Peter Capaldi’s Doctor Who to actually be any good at all, the characters below bring many overdue "you toos".
These are the stories the children you know aged eight to 12 might just need to read right now.
Shannon Watters, Grace Ellis, Brooklyn A Allen, Noelle Stevenson, et al
Lumberjanes is that joyous rarity: a child-friendly, girl-centric comic book series. Five friends spend the summer at Miss Qiunzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet's Camp for Hardcore Lady Types, earning their Lumberjane badges and battling supernatural foes. With queer rep aplenty (same-sex parents, trans and lesbian characters), it’s a must-read.
Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls
Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo
This magical book of non-fiction bedtime stories been an international smash. Originally funded via Kickstarter, and gloriously illustrated, a series of famous and unjustifiably obscure women each receive a mini bio. Included is Coy Mathis, a trans girl. If only they’d called it "about Rebel Girls": this one should be read by everyone.
George knows she’s a girl, even if her mum doesn’t see it. When the school play of Charlotte’s Web offers the chance to play Charlotte onstage, she hopes she might be visible to everyone – but school and family alike throw challenges her way. A classic coming-of-age story touching on injustice, bullying and ignorance – and while the ending is not neat or pat, there’s a satisfying positivity in evidence.
The Pants Project
Liv takes on the establishment, as well as his assigned gender, when he challenges the school’s uniform policy: the one that requires him to wear a skirt. The public battle parallels Liv’s own journey, from childhood questioning to defining his identity to friends and his two mums – all told in a smart, likeable first-person voice.
The OMG Blog
Four very different 12-year-old girls are united in detention by one shared woe: their mums. Rose’s mum Jo and mum Shelley are creative, musical and confident; shy Rose is left with no space to be herself. When she shares her frustration on the girls’ secret blog, trouble ensures. Lovely, heartfelt stuff from the always delightful McCombie and publisher Barrington Stoke, who specialise in "hi-lo" books with engaging age-appropriate stories, clear layouts and accessible language.
Better Nate Than Ever
This exuberant US series follows the theatrical adventures of Nate Foster, determined to make it big on Broadway. Here, charming show-off Nate wonders if the universal assumption that the Theatre Kid is gay is true – and meets a boy who helps him figure that out. The series continues later this year with the third and final book, Nate Expectations.
Two Weeks with the Queen
Achingly funny story about cancer and AIDS. No, really. This short novel sees Colin travel from Australia to London in the hopes of a cure for his little brother’s terminal illness. Instead of Her Royal Highness, he finds Ted, whose partner is dying too. Never mawkish or over-sentimental, this story takes on big life questions with confidence, wit and sincerity.
Gay pre-teen Joe Bunch writes his "alphabiography" for homework, from B is for Boy to G for Going Along. With echoes of Wonder, each chapter ending in a "life lesson", this clever structure allows Joe to unpick not only his own experience of school as a kid outside the mainstream, but life for his peers, and wider questions about society.
Cute proto-romances aren’t just for straight tweens, and not every coming out story need be bittersweet. Kitty realises that her fondness for quirky new-girl-in-town Dylan is more than friendship. Her fears about coming out to family and friends are quickly resolved, and there’s a refreshing warmth, charm and optimism throughout.
The Secrets of Billie Bright
If it's not too cheeky to include one of my own, this one is about 11-year-old Billie, who is thrilled to be chosen as bridesmaid for her brother Gabriel’s wedding to Alexei. But there are family secrets to come to terms with first. The book also features same-sex parents Gen and Kara from the Pea’s Book series and The Secrets of Sam and Sam. Billie’s story takes on big issues with a light touch, and there is a reassuringly happy ending.
Susie Day writes the Pea’s Book and Secrets series for 8-12s, plus contemporary standalone teen/YA fiction.
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