Nine LGBTQ+ books for 8–12 year olds
Published on: 05 February 2024
Author Sarah Hagger-Holt recommends some brilliant reads with LGBTQ+ characters.
When I was growing up, there were very few children’s books with positive representation of LGBTQ+ people. When a moral panic over a little-known picture book, about a little girl living with her two dads, hit the headlines in the 1980s, it was used as an excuse to prevent such stories being shared in schools.
All children deserve to see themselves and their families reflected in the books they read. And to have the chance to see the world through someone else’s eyes – to care about and identify with characters who might be different from them.
That’s why all the books I write include many different LGBTQ+ characters and I’m delighted that there are so many books available now which do the same. Here are some of my favourite reads for 8–12 year olds.
1. The Accidental Diary of B.U.G by Jen Carney
Billie Upton Green loves biscuits, struggles with spelling, and is always getting up to something. This the first of her three accidental diaries; each one is brimming with character, packed with cheeky illustrations and full of lines to make you laugh out loud. And, almost without you noticing it, Billie educates her classmates (and readers too) about her experience of having two mums and of being adopted. Fans of Tom Gates will love this.
2. Glitter Boy by Ian Eagleton
There is so much I love about this book! James’ passion for dancing, singing and Mariah Carey makes him stand out and bullies at school mockingly call him gay. Glitter Boy painfully and realistically captures the impact of bullying – how it shrinks James’ self-confidence and makes him retreat into himself. You long for James to find a way through and eventually friends, teachers and those around James all help him to face new challenges and to rediscover his sparkle.
Isla and her family live on a remote Scottish island. When Isla’s big sister Flora dies, the family join a secret trial where Flora returns home, ‘recreated’ as an AI robot. Our Sister Again beautifully explores the way in which grief impacts people differently, and how secrets can divide communities and friends. It’s also super exciting, especially as the action draws to its final conclusion. All the while, quietly in the background, the friendship between Isla and her football teammate Holly grows into something more.
4. Jamie by LD Lapinski
Jamie is a happy and chilled enby kid, until they reach Year 6 and discover that their only secondary school choice is between a boys school or a girls school. There’s no place that feels right for them, so they decide to do something about it. Jamie and their friends have power and agency, find their allies and make change. In between chapters, Jamie introduces you to terms that you might have heard, but not really understood, about gender identity with lightness and clarity. Invaluable for teachers and parents as well as young readers.
5. The Secret Sunshine Project by Benjamin Dean
A group of kids bring the sunshine and sparkle of Pride to their gran’s village. Initially sparked by central character Bea’s desire to make her sister happy, putting on their own Pride becomes a way to include everyone, and introduces a diverse range of LGBTQ+ characters in the process. As a child, I used to love reading books about kids putting on a show or creating their own summer holiday adventures, and The Secret Sunshine Project has just this kind of vibe.
6. Melissa by Alex Gino
This book truly broke new ground when it first came out nearly a decade ago. It’s one of the first representations I can think of of a trans character of primary school age in a children’s book. Melissa is a trans girl and, at the start of this book, her friends and family think of her as a boy, George. Melissa uses the school play, Charlotte’s Web, to start her coming out journey. Beautiful.
7. The Secrets of Sam and Sam by Susie Day
Reading The Secrets of Sam and Sam helped inspire me to start writing about families with LGBTQ+ parents. The characters of twins Sam and Sam and their two mums are so funny and so well-drawn, and who can resist a story about secrets? By the end of the book, both Sams have faced different fears as they come to the end of their time at primary school, and have discovered a secret at the heart of their family.
8. The List of Things That Will Not Change by Rebecca Stead
Stories are such a powerful tool for helping us to approach and to process real-life changes. The List of Things That Will Not Change explores Bea’s anxieties as she faces changes in her family after her parents’ divorce. While one change that Bea is delighted about is her dad’s plan to marry his boyfriend Jesse, not everyone is as accepting as she is. This feels so real and absolutely made me cry.
9. Witch Week by Diana Wynne-Jones
So, what’s this one doing in here? Published in 1982, Witch Week has no LGBTQ+ characters! The book is set in a world where witchcraft is illegal, in a boarding school for witch orphans, many of whom are hiding or only just discovering their witchcraft. Once they are able to claim their magic, it becomes their greatest strength. This is a superb magical adventure and, while I have no idea what the author’s intentions were, I believe it can definitely be read as a queer story!
The Fights that Make Us by Sarah Hagger-Holt is out now.
Bookbuzz is a reading programme from BookTrust that aims to help schools inspire a love of reading in 11 to 13-year-olds. Participating schools give their students the opportunity to choose their own book to take home and keep from a list of 16 titles.