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Librarians Recommend 10 Books That Deal With Gender Identity Or Sexuality

Jan 4, 2019

We asked a few librarian experts from across Canada to tell us their favourite books for kids aged eight to 13 that touch on, or explore directly, themes of personal identity related to gender or sexuality.

For some kids, checking out these titles can allow them to see themselves or familiar people represented on the page. This might mean a way to understand or process their own feelings or thoughts, or just give them a main character in whom they can recognize themselves. In other cases, kids reading about characters who have perspectives other than their own can help them empathize with others in the real world, and reassure them it’s completely normal for there to be different types of kids and people who are all equal.

And beyond that, we have it on good authority that these books are all great reads with dramatic tension, well-developed characters and smart dialogue.

So take a look at this list and consider finding your kid a book you think they’d like. Better still, consider reading it with them (parent-child book clubs are great!) and discussing some of the questions that might come up.

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Princess Princess: Ever After (Katie O’Neill)

Recommended by Anthea Bailie, collections strategist, Markham Public Library

Book cover: Princess Princess: Ever After

It’s important to have stories where the source of conflict isn’t just about the sexual identity of one of the characters. Instead, this story — by the author of the popular Tea Dragon Society — has a relatively traditional narrative where the characters just happen to be LGBTQ.

When their father died, Sadie and her sister were supposed to rule the kingdom together. But Sadie’s sister uses her magic to lock her away in the tower so she could rule the kingdom herself. Another princess, Amira, doesn’t want to be a typical princess who does what she’s told and is married off to some prince for the good of her kingdom, so she runs away from home to do some good in the world. When Sadie and Amira meet, their adventures take them across the kingdom.

In many ways, this is a typical fairy tale with princesses (and princes) to rescue, evil witches and unicorns. It even has a traditional ending with the protagonists of the story getting married and living happily ever after. (The only difference is the happily ever after is shared by two princesses.) Ages 8 to 12.

The Witch Boy and The Hidden Witch (Molly Knox Ostertag)

Recommended by Ann Foster, selection librarian, Saskatoon Public Library

Book covers: The Witch Boy and The Hidden Witch

These graphic novels explore concepts of gender norms and roles using magic as an allegory. Aster is a 13-year-old boy raised in a world where girls become witches and boys become shapeshifters. His lack of talent for shifting and interest in witchcraft sets him apart, and he faces pressure from his family to fit in. But when several boys go missing, he is able to use his unconventional powers to save the day.

Parallels between Aster’s situation and that of genderqueer and non-conforming people are clear. The story also includes secondary LGBTQ characters, such as the gay parents of another character. The artwork and design are charming, and stylistically similar to Raina Telgemeier’s workAges 8 to 12.

Hurricane Child (Kheryn Callender)

Recommended by Suzy Arbor, children’s librarian, Vancouver Public Library

Book cover: Hurricane Child

Set in the Virgin Islands, Hurricane Child tells the story of 12-year-old Caroline who is marked with bad luck because she was born during a hurricane. Caroline is dealing with bullying at school, a spirit who won’t leave her alone and the fact that her mother has been gone for over a year. Her luck begins to change when a new girl named Kalinda comes to Caroline’s school. Their friendship is a lifeline for Caroline and brings newfound hope into her life. When Caroline starts to realize that her feelings for Kalinda are more than just friendship, she has to balance the fear of losing her friendship with her need to be honest about how she feels. Caroline’s life isn’t easy and she is dealing with an array of complex issues. The story tackles them beautifully in a way that is age-appropriate and full of heart. Ages 8 to 12.

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Alan Cole Is Not a Coward (Eric Bell)

Recommended by Scott Robins, children’s services specialist, Toronto Public Library

Book cover: Alan Cole Is Not A Coward

Alan Cole’s volatile family life and struggles with his sexual identity collide when his bullying older brother forces him into a series of challenges to prove his bravery or be outed to the entire school. In one of the few middle-grade books with a self-aware gay main character, Bell has crafted a story that is a roller-coaster of emotions and will leave readers rooting for Alan while learning about empathy, standing up for one’s self and the importance of friendships. Ages 8 to 13.

George (Alex Gino)

Recommended by Erin Morice, youth collection development librarian, Halifax Public Libraries

Book cover: George

When George looks in the mirror, she sees her true self: Melissa. But when friends, family and peers look at Melissa, they see a boy named George — the boy they expect her to be. But Melissa knows with all her heart and soul that she is a girl, and keeping her true self a secret is making her miserable. With the support and love of her best friend Kelly, Melissa begins to show the world who she really is. And it is scary for her, but it is wonderful.

George is a beautiful story about bravery, compassion, respect and acceptance. It is hopeful and inspiring, and helps build understanding and empathy in its readers. The author does an excellent job bringing Melissa’s character to life. When she is hurt, the reader feels her pain; when she is happy, the reader feels her happiness; and when she feels hopeless, the reader is cheering her on and supporting her. Throughout the book, we are reminded about the weight our words carry when we make assumptions about other people, and how accepting people for who they are (and not who we think they are) is one of the most respectful things we can do for each other. Ages 8 to 13.

Lumberjanes novels (Mariko Tamaki and Brooklyn Allen)

Recommended by Ann Foster, selection librarian, Saskatoon Public Library

Book cover: Lumberjanes

These novels are based on the characters from the popular graphic novels (which are also recommended on this topic). The main characters are five bunkmates at Miss Qiunzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet’s Camp for Hardcore Lady Types. Similar to Scooby Doo, their daily lives are frequently interrupted by monsters to vanquish and paranormal mysteries to solve. The storylines of these books are mostly based around the campers’ goofy adventures, while including same-sex crushes and relationships, diverse gender identities including one trans character and a plethora of LGBTQ characters. Ages 8 to 13.

The Pants Project (Cat Clarke)

Recommended by Suzy Arbor, children’s librarian, Vancouver Public Library

Book cover: The Pants Project

Liv is starting middle school and is forced to wear a skirt because of a strict uniform policy. This is unbearable for Liv because he’s transgender, but he hasn’t come out yet so everyone still thinks he’s a girl. Ever resourceful, Liv comes up with a variety of ways to fight and subvert the uniform policy, and so begins “The Pants Project.” With a fair dose of humour and a spectacular happy ending, this book is a thoroughly enjoyable read. Ages 9 to 12.

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Star-Crossed (Barbara Dee)

Recommended by Ann Foster, selection librarian, Saskatoon Public Library

Book cover: Star-Crossed

This is a sweet romantic comedy for the middle-school age group. Mattie, a girl, is chosen to play Romeo in her eighth-grade production of Romeo and Juliet. Her Juliet is a girl named Gemma, on whom Mattie has a crush. Mattie also has a crush on a boy... Is it possible to have a crush on both boys AND girls? On top of Mattie’s love life, the play is in trouble with backstage drama to rival any Shakespeare play! Ages 9 to 13.

Pride: Celebrating Diversity & Community (Robin Stevenson)

Recommended by Erin Morice, youth collection development librarian, Halifax Public Libraries

Book cover: Pride: Celebrating Diversity & Community

What is Pride? Who celebrates and why? Robin Stevenson’s Canadian non-fiction book answers these questions (and many more) in a format and language accessible to children. Readers get a history lesson that goes beyond rainbow-coloured clothing and an annual parade. Pride is about the past, about how far we’ve come in North America and about where we still need to go. It is about celebrating diversity and community, and having the freedom to be who we are and love who we love.

This is a wonderful resource for children to explore, whether they are looking for more information for themselves or searching for guidance to support a friend or family member. The book includes a glossary of terms that may be unfamiliar to children, empowering the reader to explore the book independently. It is also a great resource for parents to share with their kids, as it can open the doorway for bigger discussions about injustices still faced by LGBTQ people, how to be an ally and how we can support each other. A list of resources (books and websites) is also included for further reading. Ages 9 to 13.

Recommended Reading For Kids: How To Support Your LGBTQ Friends And Family from

Gracefully Grayson (Ami Polomsky)

Recommended by Anthea Bailie, collections strategist, Markham Public Library

Book cover: Gracefully Grayson

This is a stunningly moving novel about a sixth-grade boy who wants to be a girl. Grayson hasn’t discussed these feelings with anyone and the secret is taking its toll. Things start to change, however, when Grayson makes an unexpected friend and starts to find an outlet for his feelings.

While the story captures the emotional turmoil and loneliness of Grayson’s experience, it is hopeful and sensitively written. This book is not always easy, but it is uplifting, compelling and suitable for a middle-school audience. I cried quite a lot while reading it, and I was cheering for Grayson through to the end. Ages 10 and up.

Article Author Erik Missio
Erik Missio

Read more from Erik here.

Erik Missio used to live in Toronto, have longish hair and write about rock ‘n’ roll. He now lives in the suburbs, has no hair and works in communications. He and his wife are the proud parents of a nine-year-old girl and a five-year-old boy, both of whom are pretty great. He received his MA in journalism from the University of Western Ontario.

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