Arts & Entertainment
9 min

Queer stories for young readers

Make the most of your summer reading with these picks from the LGBT community

Do you have young queer readers in your household? Keep their minds working this summer with our list of book reccommendations for kids, teens, and young adults!

Summer is almost upon us, which means that soon school will be out. After the initial novelty wears off, the idea of being home every day for two months – even punctuated by camping trips and festivals – can be too much to bear for kids and adults alike. But one advantage of summer downtime is that it can be used to catch up on reading.

Xtra put the call out to the community, and we’ve compiled a list of great LGBT-themed books for young readers from the littlest gaybies to teens and young adults. If your young readers are particularly voracious, check out the other lists we’ve linked to at the bottom of the piece.

Have your own recommendation to add? Leave it for us in the comments online, or send us a tweet @dailyxtra, hashtag #queerkidsread. You can also leave recommendations on our Facebook page.

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Recommended by Michael Deyell, owner of After Stonewall, Ottawa. Book descriptions from publishers.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

by Stephen Chbosky
MTV Books
Audience: teen readers

The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a story about what it’s like to travel that strange course through the uncharted territory of high school. The world of first dates, family dramas, and new friends. Of sex, drugs, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Of those wild and poignant roller-coaster days known as growing up.

Born This Way: Real Life Stories of Growing Up Gay
by Paul Vitagliano
Quirk Books
Audience: teen readers and their parents

Based on the hugely popular blog of the same name, Born This Way shares 100 different memories of growing up LGBTQ. Childhood photographs are accompanied by sweet, funny, and at times heartbreaking personal stories. Collected from around the world and dating from the 1940s to today, these memories speak to the hardships of an unaccepting world and the triumph of pride, self-love, and self-acceptance. This intimate little book is a wonderful gift for all members of the LGBTQ community as well as their friends and families. Like Dan Savage’s It Gets Better Project, Born This Way gives young people everywhere the courage to say, “Yes, I’m gay. And I was born this way. I’ve known it since I was very young, and this is my story.”

The Way You Say My Name
by Sara Bell
P.D. Publishing
Audience: teen or young adult readers

Eighteen year old Dillon Carver made the biggest mistake of his life when he dumped Jamie Walker two years ago over Jamie’s decision to come out of the closet. At the time, he was afraid Jamie’s revelation would out him to the world – and his narrow-minded parents. Jamie Walker’s heart was ripped to shreds when Dillon walked out on him. With help from his best friend Ben, Jamie was able to pick up the pieces and move on. He still hasn’t tried his hand at love again, but for the most part Jamie has been able to put the pain behind him. Now things are different. Dillon wants Jamie back, and he’ll do whatever it takes to make that happen. Only one thing stands in his way: Jamie’s relationship with “bad boy” Ben Lewis. When Dillon begins an open campaign to win Jamie back, Jamie’s life is once again thrown into chaos.

If I Told You So
by Timothy Woodward 
Audience: teen readers

While working at the local ice cream shop, 16-year-old Sean Jackson, while dealing with his overprotective mother, his popular girlfriend and adolescent uncertainties, discovers that the store manager, 18-year-old Jay, ‘’likes’’ Sean the way Sean’s starting to like him.

Who I Am 
by M.L. Rice
Bold Strokes Books
Audience: teen or young adult readers

Devin Kelly—Air Force brat. Band nerd. Bookworm. Loner. After the death of her father, she and her mother move to Los Angeles to start a new life. Devin is “welcomed” to her new school by Jason, an arrogant bully who promises to make the rest of her senior year miserable. Things turn around, however, when beautiful, intelligent Melanie Parker, who happens to be Jason’s sister, comes to her rescue. Devin is inspired by her new friend, and for the first time, begins to excel in school and is able to nurture her inherent musical talent. As Devin’s and Melanie’s relationship grows, Devin finds herself becoming increasingly drawn to her new friend’s vivacious spirit. Devin’s newfound confidence is severely tested, however, when Jason’s bullying takes a violent turn…and she realizes that her feelings for Melanie are more than platonic.

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Recommended by Agnes Noblet of Venus Envy, Ottawa

And Tango Makes Three 
by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnel
Illustrated by Henry Cole
Simon and Schuster
Audience: young readers

This is the book based on the true story of two male Chinstrap penguins, Roy and Silo, that are a mated pair. In 1998 the care takers at the Central Park Zoo gave them a spare egg to raise on their own (baby Tango), and they’ve been together ever since. This is an important book in terms of LGBT representation because it shows kids that families come in all shapes and sizes while doing away with the idea that only “mommies and daddies” can have kids. It also reinforces the idea that love is love regardless of who makes up the partnership.

The Adventures of Tulip: Birthday Wish Fairy
by S. Bear Bergman
illustrated by Suzy Malik
Flamingo Rampant
Audience: ​ young readers

Tells the story of what happens when Tulip the Birthday Wish Fairy receives a very special request from a child named David who wishes to be a girl. This is a great story for kids because it explains transgender identity in language that is very easy for them to understand. It also explains how to be accepting of transgender people, while explaining that sometimes people need extra bravery, clarity, and have to teach others about their gender identity. It’s an easy way for people to start a conversation with their own children, or to give transgender or gender-independent kids the language to express how they feel. 

Free to Be You and Me
by Marlo Thomas and Friends
Running Press Kids
Audience: ​ young readers

A short story and poem collection that celebrates the many ways we are all different. While the stories don’t explicitly speak about the LGBT community, the overall message is great for kids to learn that they’re okay just as they are. Free to Be You and Me has been in print for 35 years and recently reissued the iconic book with some new stories. The original stories are just as relevant today. The stories cover a wide range, from dealing with divorce to deconstructing the gender binary and the idea of “girl things” and “boy things". This book is great for showing kids that everyone is different and that should be celebrated.

Beautiful Music for Ugly Children
by Kristin Cronn-Mils
Audience: teen or young adult readers

This is a cool book because while Gabe’s trans status is discussed and is part of his story, it’s not his whole story. It’s very common to have stories with transgender characters who are wholly defined within the story by their gender identity. Beautiful Music is different because while Gabe does have issues with his parents and peers after he comes out as trans, and worries about attacks, he also deals with the same issues as any other teenager like what to do after high school and relationships. It’s refreshing to have a story for trans teens portray a trans character as a whole person, instead of boiling their characterization down to their trans identity. And to top it off there is a lengthy author note in the back that discusses transgender identity as an umbrella term and the many ways that people can express their gender.

by Malinda Lo
Little, Brown Books
Audience: young adult readers

A retelling of Cinderella where the prince is fairy royalty from fables, and the main character doesn’t immediately choose the prince. This is one of the few YA fantasy novels that speaks to bi teens, whose voice sometimes gets lost in the sea of books that speak mainly to gay or lesbian teens. And it’s also just nice to have a main character in a fantasy novel that is not presumed and proven to be straight. 

Magic’s Pawn (from the Last Herald Mage Trilogy)
by Mercedes Lackey
Daw Books
Audience: teen or young adult readers

Tells the story of Vanyel, a 16-year-old boy who doesn’t quite fit in with his family and is sent away for school. While the plot is rather detailed and convoluted, the reason why this book (and in fact the entire series) is important for LGBT youth is mainly for the representation. During his story, Vanyel figures out that he is gay, and for a book that was first published in 1989 the treatment of Vanyel as a character is once again quite well rounded. Vanyel’s story does not center around his sexuality, and although the first book would suggest that Vanyel and his lover are given the “tragic homosexual” treatment, the rest of the series proves otherwise. 

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Recommended by Scott Dagostino, owner of Glad Day Books, Toronto. 

A Tale of Two Daddies 

by Vanita Oelschlager
Illustrated by Kristin Blackwood and Mike Blanc
Audience: young readers

A charmingly illustrated book about a little girl and her two very different, very beloved dads.

Kafiya Meets the Moon
by Janet Campbell
Illustrated by Anais Lee
Mascot Books
Audience: young readers

A local Toronto author debuts a lovingly illustrated Jamaican story about an imaginative little girl.

Five, Six, Seven, Nate!
by Tim Federle
Simon and Schuster
Audience: tween readers

The Broadway-bound middle-school hero of BETTER NATE THAN EVER is back, daring to dream bigger than ever before.

Totally Joe
by James Howe
Simon and Schuster
Audience: tween readers

12-year-old Joe from THE MISFITS spins off into his own book, coming out and tackling high school with style.

by Carrie Mac
Orca Books
Audience: tween readers

An easy-to-read little story about a big and not-so-simple crush on another girl.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe 
by Benjamin Alire Saens
Simon and Schuster
Audience: teen readers

Winner of numerous youth-fiction awards including the Stonewall Book Award, this is a story of a complicated friendship between two Latino boys that’s equally gritty and lyrical.

When We Were Good
by Suzanne Sutherland
Three O’ Clock Press
Audience: teen readers

A Toronto teen punk lesbian love story(!) from a gifted debut writer.

Sunday You Learn How to Box
by Bil Wright
Simon and Schuster
Audience: teen readers
A boy living in the projects in the 1960s falls in love with the neighbourhood tough-guy and finds that what it means to be a man is more complicated then he thought.

Moon at Nine
by Deborah Ellis
Pyjama Press
Audience: teen readers

One of Canada’s most acclaimed writers for young adults presents the story of two Iranian girls who fall in love but must stay hidden for fear of execution.

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Recommended by Jeffrey Round, author of the Dan Sharp mystery series

A Separate Peace 

by John Knowles
Audience: teen readers
When I was a teenager, there were no overtly LGBT-themed books for young people and very few for older readers. You really had to dig to find them. That said, astute readers like me developed something like a gaydar for literature. Sometimes it was the longing look between two characters drawn on a book cover. At other times, it was the cover copy. The one that caught my attention was John Knowles’s A Separate Peace, which I discovered at the age of 15. The copy described the main character, Gene, as a “lonely, introverted intellectual” and his friend Phineas as a “handsome, taunting daredevil,”merely suggesting that “something” happened between them one summer at school. I knew that book was meant for me. Elegantly written, it affected me profoundly, both as a writer and a young man looking for hope and, just as importantly, for role models. A Separate Peace gave me both.

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Recommended by Morgan Barnes, Board Director, Ten Oaks Project, Ottawa

Families Like Mine: Children of Gay Parents Tell It Like It Is 

by Abigail Garner
Harper Perennial

Audience: teen and young adult readers and their parents

Kids say the darndest things. This probably won’t come as a surprise to parents or parents-to-be, but being the child of a gay parent comes with its own unique challenges (read: it can be really tough). What is a welcoming surprise is how this book will help you navigate your way past numerous parental blunders thanks to the first-hand testimonials that Abigail Garner collects directly from children of gay parents. The author’s own father came out when she was five and Garner gives a powerful perspective on what it’s like to grow up as a child of a gay man, being culturally queer – and identifying as a heterosexual woman. This book was a tremendous resource for me when I came out to my kids, then aged 10 and 7, because it helped highlight some of the big internal and external struggles they would encounter. More importantly, it taught me (once again) that you have to put your feelings and needs aside in order to do whatever it takes to be the parent your kids need. If you want an inside peek on what your kids (or kids-to-be) wish you knew or could understand, this book will surely find a place on your top ten book list. It will also find a place in your heart. 

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Recommended by Ariel Troster and Caitlyn Pascal, parents of Daphne, 2

What Makes a Baby
by Cory Silverberg
Illustrated by Fiona Smyth
Triangle Square
Audience: young readers
This wonderful book was originally published thanks to a community Kickstarter. Written by Toronto sex educator Cory Silverberg, the book is written so as to apply to any type of family. The illustrations are just wonderful, as is the careful and whimsical use of language. The story allows openings for parents to interject with the details of their own child’s conception. Daphne loves it and often requests the story about, “more babies!’’

Mommy, Mama and Me (or Daddy, Papa and Me)
by Lesléa Newman, illustrated by Carol Thompson
Audience: very young readers
Tricycle Press
A board book for really little babies, but a great example of how to integrate same-sex parents into early story telling.

The Family Book
by Todd Parr
Little, Brown Books
Audience: very young readers

Bright and happy illustrations, talking about how all families are different and valued.

The Paper Bag Princess
by Robert Munsch 
Illustrated my Michael Martchenko
Audience: young readers

What’s not to love about this feminist Robert Munsch classic? Princess outsmarts dragon, rescues Prince and then ditches him when he acts like “a bum.’’

We Share Everything!
by Robert Munsch
Illustrated by Michael Martchenko
Audience: young readers

Subtle gender bending message in this book, as two kindergarten kids exchange clothing. The teacher is upset by the chaos, not the cross-dressing.