The LGBTQ+ community has served as the inspiration for literature for hundreds of years. From the Greek poet Sappho and her proto-lesbian poetry, to the not-so-subtle gay themes of Oscar Wilde’s The Portrait of Dorian Gray, we have been surrounded by LGBTQ+ voices and stories for millennia. On World Book Day 2021, we celebrate just a handful of the best and brightest LGBTQ+ themed books that should be in everyone’s personal library.
And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell
Remember those gay penguins at the Central Park Zoo? The story of penguins Roy and Silo went viral in 1999 when the couple attempted to incubate a rock as if it were an egg of their own. Zookeepers, sympathetic to the penguins desire to become parents, gave the couple a spare egg from another nest. Roy and Silo took turns sitting on the egg until it hatched and baby penguin Tango was born!
And Tango Makes Three tells the real life story of Roy and Silo. First published in 2005, Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell’s story of love and acceptance, was one of the first LGBTQ+ books available to parents and teachers to introduce the idea of a non-traditional family structure at home or in school – a must-add to your shelf this World Book Day.
King and King by Linda De Haan and Stern Nijland
King and King, co-written and illustrated by Linda De Haan and Stern Nijand, turns your classic fairytale love story on its head. When Prince Bertie’s mother, the Queen, decides that it is time for him to take the throne, she scours the world to find him a suitable bride. When Princess Madeleine pays a visit to the palace, the Queen believes she has found a match at last! But it is not the Princess that draws Prince Ernie’s eye, it’s her brother, Prince Lee, instead.
Originally written in Dutch, this 2000 book quickly became a children’s classic the world over. Beautifully written and illustrated, King and King is sure to become an LGBTQ+ staple in your child’s World Book Day library.
Julián is a Mermaid by Jessica Love
In this Stonewall Award-winning picture book, Julián dreams of becoming a mermaid upon encountering three women dressed as mermaids on the subway. After glimpsing their glittery tails, all Julián can think about is dressing up in a tail of his own.
Julián is a Mermaid is a story about a child coming to understand their gender identity through self-expression and dressing-up. As Julián lives out his fantasy, he wonders what his Abuela would make of his mermaid tail.
Drawing on the imagery of the transgender children’s charity Mermaids, Jessica Love’s Julián is a Mermaid was published in 2018 by Candlewick Press.
Auntie Uncle: Drag Queen Hero by Ellie Royce
This moving picture book is narrated by a young boy who idolises his auntie uncle, who goes to work as Uncle Leo, but performs as drag queen, Auntie Lotta. When the Pride Parade comes to town, Lotta’s family is excited to see her perform, until a run-away dog threatens to ruin the whole day! It is up to Lotta to save the dog and the Parade before it is too late.
When the Mayor wants to give Lotta an award and throw her a party for her heroic performance at the parade, Lotta is nervous. Some of their friends only know them as “Leo”. Lotta worries that they won’t get along with her drag performer friends and she struggles to decide if she should attend the party as “Leo” or as “Lotta”. With help from their nephew, they put together a look that expresses the best parts of Leo and Lotta, the perfect ensemble for an Auntie Uncle.
A beautiful story of pride, family, and learning to love yourself at all ages, Auntie Uncle: Drag Queen Hero was published in 2020 by PowerHouse Books.
Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag by Rob Sanders
With Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag on their shelves, young readers can trace the history of the Gay Pride Flag from its beginnings in 1978 with social activist Harvey Milk and designer Gilbert Baker, through to its role in the world today as a symbol of pride and solidarity, equality and inclusion.
Written by award-winning author Rob Sanders, and illustrated by the acclaimed illustrator Steven Salemo, Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag has been described by Out.com as “an essential LGBTQ children’s book.”
Heartstopper series by Alice Oseman
Alice Oseman’s Heartstopper series began as a serialized web comic in 2016, but has since evolved into a growing four-book graphic novel series. It follows Charlie, a high-strung, openly gay student at Truham Grammar School for Boys. Despite his awkward demeanor, Charlie becomes quick friends with Nick, a soft-hearted rugby player. Nick knows that Charlie was outed last year, and that he’s been bullied ever since, but after they become friends, they both quickly learn that there is more to their friendship than meets the eye.
This boy-meets-boy love story is stunningly illustrated by Alice Oseman. Perfect for young adult readers, Heartstopper is a perfect LGBTQ+ themed graphic novel to pick up this World Book Day!
Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas
Yadriel is the trans lead of Aiden Thomas’s New York Times-bestselling paranormal YA debut novel, Cemetery Boys. Yadriel is struggling to prove the validity of his gender identity to his traditional Latinx family when he accidentally summons a ghost who refuses to be dismissed.
Coming from a family of brujos, Yadriel must simultaneously defend his gender and his ability to summon and help dead spirits pass to the afterlife. But when, in an attempt to investigate the murder of his cousin, Yadirel accidentally summons the bad-boy spirit of Julian, things get wild fast.
Described as “groundbreaking” by Entertainment Weekly, Cemetery Boys is a moving story of power, family, and being true to yourself, no matter the circumstances.
All Out: The No-Longer Secret Stories of Queer Teens Throughout the Ages edited by Saundra Mitchell
Have you ever wondered what LGBTQ+ folks were up to in the past? Historical fiction has always been lacking when it comes to diverse representation, but All Out: The No-Longer Secret Stories of Queer Teens Throughout the Ages is determined to change that.
All Out is a collection of short stories from 17 of the best LGBTQ+ young adult authors the market has to offer. Together these talented writers have reimagined the lives of queer teens throughout history, from the story of a transgender soldier in war-torn 1870’s Mexico, to the tale of an asexual girls journey of self-discovery at a 1970’s roller-disco. Made up of diverse stories spanning across cultures, time periods, and identities, All Out is determined to highlight the LGBTQ+ lives that have always lived among us and tell their hitherto untold stories. The perfect book for an LGBTQ+ reader looking to get more ‘worldly’ for this World Book Day.
At Swim, Two Boys by Jamie O’Neill
Set in the year leading up to the Easter Rising of 1916 – the event that would eventually lead to the creation of the Irish Republic – At Swim, Two Boys is a story of love between two young boys against the backdrop of social and political upheaval.
The 2001 novel follows Jim Mack, a young and impressionable scholar, and Doyler Doyle, a revolutionary spirit, son of a military man. The two boys are family friends, but when they journey together to the Forty Foot, a popular diving spot on the outskirts of Dublin, they make a pact: Doyler will teach Jim how to swim and the next year, on Easter Sunday of 1916, they will swim together to Muglins Rock and claim the island for themselves. Along the way, the shape of their friendship, and their country, changes more than they could have ever imagined.
One of the most significant LGBTQ+ themed Irish novels of the last 20 years, Jamie O’Neill’s At Swim, Two Boys has been praised as “a work of wild, vaulting ambition and achievement” by Entertainment Weekly.
Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters
Published at the start of 2021, Torrey Peter’s Detransition, Baby has seen great success in just a few short months since hitting the shelves. The novel follows the lives of Reese – a trans woman who, just when she thought she had everything: a loving relationship; a good job, a home; it all falls apart. Ames – formerly Amy, formerly Reese’s girlfriend, Ames has de-transitioned, and thinking himself infertile, starts an affair with his boss, Katrina.
Can these three come together to raise a child and form their own unconventional family? Or will their already complicated relationship become only more complicated.
Peter’s novel is a story about gender, sex, and relationships. It is a story about how messy it can be to become a parent, and how equally messy it can be to become yourself. A perfect contemporary novel to pick up for World Book Day 2021, Detransition, Baby has recently been featured as the February 2021 Book of the Month pick for Roxanne Gay’s Book Club.
Gay Bar: Why We Went Out by Jeremy Atherton Lin
In Gay Bar: Why We Went Out, Jeremy Atherton Lin provides a richly individualised history of the gay bar scenes in London, San Francisco and Los Angeles. In a time when more and more gay bars are closing their doors, Atherton Lin recalls the hangouts that punctuated his life and tells the stories of his experiences there as a mixed-race gay man.
Gay Bar takes you on a tour through the seedy, tragic, and fabulous history of LGBTQ+ spaces from the 1970’s through the HIV and AIDS crisis of the ’80s and ’90s. Moving beyond the mythology of Stonewall, Atherton Lin highlights the lesser-known battles for LGBTQ+ liberation fought at gay bars the world over. Part serious critical inquiry, part love letter to gay bars, Gay Bar has been described by acclaimed LGBTQ+ author Colm Toibin as “brilliantly written and incisive.”
The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
A re-telling of the Trojan War from the perspective of Patroclus, a young prince exiled to the court of King Peleus and his soon to be famous son Achilles, The Song of Achilles is a tour-de-force of romance, sacrifice, and a love for the ages.
Following Achilles on his journey to become a Greek Hero of legend, Patroclus trains alongside him as their bond grows into something beyond friendship. Despite the displeasure of Achilles’ goddess mother, Thetis, the boys travel together to Troy, knowing that the war that rages on there will test everything they have built together.
Profound, moving, and surprisingly original, Madeline Miller’s debut novel is a reclamation of LGBTQ+ love from the annals of history. A tragic love story set amidst a battle between gods and kings, men and heroes, The Song of Achilles, is sure to bring a tear to your eye and a smile to your face this World Book Day.
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