Presumably you know about modern-day gay kidlit classics like And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, illustrated by Henry Cole; The Purim Superhero by Elisabeth Kushner, illustrated by Mike Byrne; and Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli. But hey, just in time for Pride Weekend here in NYC, let’s talk about some brand-new children’s books with gay or transgender characters!
Why are these books important to us as Jews, even if some of ‘em have no Jews in them? Well, teaching tolerance is a Jewish value. And it’s never too early to read to your kids about different kinds of families and different identities, and to model why kindness is important. Everyone is created b’tzelem Elohim, in the image of God. If your kids are independent readers, give them books that reflect the world they live in. Believe me, they already know way more about gender non-conformity and LGBT identity than you do. Show them that your home is a safe space—not just for your kid, but for your kid’s friends—with the gift of books that demonstrate understanding and love for folks who don’t quite fit the dominant paradigm. After all, we’re Jews. We don’t fit the dominant paradigm either.
1. It’s the 25th anniversary edition of the timeless Heather Has Two Mommies by Lesléa Newman!
2. The Flower Girl Wore Celery by Meryl G. Gordon, illustrated by Holly Clifton-Brown, isn’t out till August 1, so it’s technically cheating to put it on this list, but you can pre-order it so shut up and go with it. Most little girls plotz to be flower girls, so this book’s already got a kid-catnip subject, and in this case, it’s a Jewish wedding with two brides! (Bonus: You can download a flower girl paper doll.)
3. Morris Mickelwhite and the Tangerine Dress by Christine Baldacchino, illustrated by Isabelle Malenfant, is a gorgeously illustrated book about a little boy who gets teased for his love of the orange dress in his preschool’s dress-up corner. It’s a great way to introduce the notion of being an ally. In addition to being ravishing to gaze upon, it’s a superb, nuanced, sweet and realistic book.
4. This Day in June by Gayle E. Pitman, illustrated by Kristyna Litten, is a lively depiction of a Pride Parade. It won a Stonewall Book Award last year. “All invited/all excited,” notes the rollicking text, and the lively art, which shows all kinds of Pride parade participants, backs that description up.
5. Worm Loves Worm by J.J. Austrian, illustrated by Mike Curato. Worm marriage! Let love win! Welcome to the vermicultural revolution!
Middle Grade (2nd to 7th) Books
1. George by Alex Gino is a funny, easy-to-read story about George (who knows inside that she’s a girl) and her desire to play Charlotte in her school production of Charlotte’s Web. This is not one of those afterschool-special-y, dreary Important Issue books; it’s a terrific tale with well-drawn characters and a ton of heart. I’d read it to my 7-to-11-year-old at bedtime so we could discuss.
2. The Family Fletcher Takes Rock Island by Dana Alison Levy is an old-fashioned family adventure story featuring a very modern family – two dads (one of whom is Jewish) with four adopted boys of different interests, skills, and racial and ethnic backgrounds. Plus two cats and two dogs. I haven’t read this one yet, but I loved its predecessor, The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher, because it’s action-packed without being stressful. The sequel has only been out a few weeks but has garnered two starred reviews.
3. Lily and Dunkin by Donna Gephart, a Jewish writer who frequently deals with Jewish themes and is very funny, is at the top of my to-read list. Everyone’s raving about this story about the friendship between a transgender girl and a boy with bipolar disorder.
Young Adult Books
1. If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo is on my bedside table right now. It’s a love story featuring a teenage transgender girl; the author is herself a transgender woman.
2. Highly Illogical Behavior by John Corey Whaley: A friendship triangle between a gay Star Trek fan with agoraphobia named Sol, an outgoing girl named Lisa, and Lisa’s funny boyfriend Clark. One of Whaley’s earlier books won the American Library Association’s top honor for Young Adult Literature, and my daughter Josie’s a big fan, so I’m psyched.
3. This Book Is Gay by James Dawson: A very, very, funny and sassy guide for older teenagers, by a British social health educator (it was one of The Guardian’s best books of 2015) about growing up LGBT. A chapter called “Haterz gon’ hate” offers a rundown of the history of homophobia and transphobia; a chapter called “Stereotypes are poo” looks at problematic generalizations (such as “gay women hate men,” to which Dawson responds, “I imagine they’d hate men who said that to them, yes.”). This book is way too hip for a parent to give to a kid, so I’d just leave it on the coffee table and say nothing.
Happy Pride Weekend, happy parenting, and happy reading.
Marjorie Ingall is a former columnist for Tablet, the author of Mamaleh Knows Best, and a frequent contributor to the New York Times Book Review.