By: Amber Leventry
I am always on the lookout for children’s books that showcase LGBTQ individuals and families. These books reflect my kids’ lives and our family; they let them feel included and just like any other kid with loving parents. When LGBTQ themed books are in libraries and classrooms they educate the community and show my kids they are valued and supported.
However, not all books need to be specifically LGBTQ themed to have an impact on a gay kid or a kid with gay parents. In fact, sometimes if may not be safe or comfortable for a child to read a LGBTQ themed book in front of their peers. But children can still latch onto a relatable storyline that gives them hope about the differences they might not be ready to talk openly about. Even if it isn’t an exact mirror of their lives, a universally accepted book that allows a child to find solace while teaching kindness is a powerful book.
Here are five books that teach compassion and celebrate individuality without putting LGBTQ youth and families in the spotlight.
Pete the Cat and the New Guy
Pete the Cat is very popular in our house. Not only do most of the books, created by James Dean, contain songs, but Pete is so cool that he makes teaching life lessons cool too. James and writing partner and wife, Kimberly, understand the value of being able to engage children in books. Kimberly told an interviewer for Get Georgia Reading, “Children like to use their imagination, and like adults, look for ways to understand each other. They see Pete as a way to figure out those social skills.”
In Pete the Cat and the New Guy the lesson is that our differences are what make us cool. The new guy is Gus the Platypus. He doesn’t look like anyone Pete has met before, and he can’t do many of the things Pete likes to do—jump, climb, juggle—but Pete is determined to make his new friend feel included.
It’s Okay to Be Different
From the colorful and funny illustrations to the overwhelmingly sweet message of empathy and acceptance in each of his books, you can’t go wrong with Todd Parr. His books portray all types of families and individuals and he is not shy to cover topics like adoption, same-sex parents, or the loss of a loved one. In It’s Okay to Be Different, Parr tells kids that it’s okay to be embarrassed or mad. “It’s okay to dance by yourself. It’s okay to wear glasses. It’s okay to have big ears. It’s okay to have different kinds of friends.” Parr reminds kids that they are special and important just by being themselves.
Giraffes Can’t Dance
Written by Giles Andreae, Giraffes Can’t Dance is a heartwarming story about Gerald, the awkward giraffe who is made fun of by the other jungle animals at the annual dance. They tease him for being clumsy and call him weird, so Gerald leaves the dance feeling sad and alone. But on his way home, he meets a cricket who says, “Sometimes when you’re different you just need a different song.” The cricket encourages him to listen to the good things in the world, and as the negativity is silenced, Gerald begins to move with confidence and grace.
Author Lynne Rickards starts Pink! with Patrick waking up having turned completely pink. As he fears, Patrick is teased for being a penguin boy who is pink, so he goes to Africa to live with flamingos because they are pink like him. But he doesn’t fit in with his new friends either; he can’t fly, he can’t sleep on one leg, and he can’t eat upside down. Patrick goes home to be with the family he loves and soon accepts his new color. His friends are happy to have him back and agree that penguins, no matter their color, belong at the South Pole.
Written by Elizabeth Rose Stanton, Henny tells the story of a chicken born with arms instead of wings. Henny’s mother loves her anyway, but Henny does not always like being different. She focuses on all of the things that set her apart from the other chickens and tries to fit in. But when she catches an egg falling out of the farmer’s basket, she realizes there are a lot of other helpful and wonderful things she can do because of her uniqueness.
I would love to see every parent, teacher, and child embrace a LGBTQ themed book, however, the sad reality is that not everyone does—yet. No matter how the book is categorized, it is invaluable if it can speak to the insecurities a child may feel about being different while teaching kindness and acceptance for those differences. Kindness can be beautifully contagious. If we can teach kids to show compassion, then we will slowly grow a world with more kindness. And that will lead to a happier world for our LGBTQ community.