Pride Month is the highlight of the LGBTQ calendar, so here are a few children’s books to help our kids better understand what all the fuss is about. I’ve chosen works specifically about Pride, as well as ones that explore other aspects of the LGBTQ rights movement and its history.
Just published last month for high school and older middle-school students is “Stonewall: Breaking Out in the Fight for Gay Rights,” by Ann Bausum. Inspirational and occasionally poetic as she tells of the events in June 1969, Bausam gives us a feel for the era and the locale, as well as for the uprising’s long-term impact. Despite the title, she notes the involvement of transgender individuals, although she never explains the distinction between gay and trans; one sentence even incorrectly blurs the distinctions among the terms queen, transvestite and transgender. Still, this book adds to the very few books for youth on LGBTQ history, and does so with a lively and engaging narrative.
The one other notable volume on the subject for the same age range is Linus Alsenas’ “Gay America,” offering a broader look at the history of gay men and lesbians in the United States. Like all general histories, it is more wide than deep, but covers a lot, taking in politics, culture, relations between the LGBTQ movement and other civil-rights movements, entertainment, the evolution of gay and lesbian identities and more. Alsenas explicitly limits his focus to gay men and lesbians, citing space constraints. I hope that a fuller book of LGBTQ history across the spectrum for teens is on the horizon.
Older elementary-school children interested in LGBTQ history should try Kari Krakow’s “The Harvey Milk Story.” It oversimplifies a bit, as do most history books for that age group, but conveys Milk’s significance with warmth and appreciation. While it’s a picture book, it does mention Milk’s assassination, so parents should be prepared to address kids’ questions and concerns about that.
For even younger children, we turn to fiction. “This Day in June,” by Gayle E. Pitman, takes us on a joyous trip to a Pride parade. In bouncy rhymes and energetic images, it gives us snapshots, rather than a narrative storyline, but perfectly conveys the spirit of the event. We meet a diverse group of dykes on bikes, people in leather, drag queens and others of varying gender expressions, politicians, marching bands and parents with their children. Kristyna Litten’s colorful illustrations jump, dance and swirl.
Out of print, but worth finding used (or borrowing from the Open Library online, openlibrary.org), is the 1991 book “Gloria Goes to Gay Pride,” by Lesléa Newman, author of the classic “Heather Has Two Mommies.” Gloria and her two moms go to a Pride parade, where they meet other families and people from their neighborhood. Most of the spectators smile and cheer, but a few sit by a sign saying, “Gays go away.” When Gloria asks why, one of her moms explains, “Some women love women, some men love men and some women and men love each other. That’s why we march in the parade — so everyone can have a choice.” They move on to the park to dance and have lunch. The story holds up remarkably well, despite somewhat dated illustrations and use of the term “Gay Pride” rather than the more current “LGBT Pride.”
Because the U.S. Supreme Court is set to rule on marriage equality this month, another timely read is Newman’s more recent book, “Donovan’s Big Day,” about a boy getting ready for his mothers’ wedding. The young boy experiences the problems any child might face while attending a wedding: He has to dress up, keep clean, not fidget and hand his moms their rings at the proper moment. There is no sense that marriage for same-sex couples is an “issue,” and I love that approach — although parents might also use the book as a jumping-off point to discuss marriage equality if kids hear it mentioned in the news.
Middle-grade fiction readers should try Jennifer Gennari’s “My Mixed Up Berry Blue Summer,” about a 12-year-old girl, June, living with her mom and soon-to-be stepmom in Vermont just after the state enacted civil unions. She must deal not only with the skepticism and resentment any child with a new stepparent might have, but also with her local community’s sometimes-negative response to the civil-union law and the lesbian family in their midst. Gennari avoids preachiness, however, by making civil unions only one of the many issues that June must grapple with, and by showing the diversity of opinions on the matter. The resilience June shows in the face of bias (and the allies she finds) may give strength to children in states where marriage equality is still being contested.
These books only scratch the surface of possible Pride themes for children’s books. How about a middle-grade mystery involving a stolen parade-float decoration? Or a biography of Brenda Howard, the bisexual woman who was pivotal in creating a parade for Stonewall’s one-year anniversary and laying the foundations of Pride? Our children and their peers need these books and many more, for positive images of LGBTQ history and culture in books will help bolster a sense of pride — as well as Pride.