Ten Middle Grades Books with LGBTQ+ Characters by Dr. Donna Bulatowicz
When children read literature that reflects their own identities and/or those of their families, they can feel as though they have a place in the world. The written word is powerful; seeing oneself reflected on the pages of a book sends a message of value and belonging. Unfortunately, some children may not find texts that represent themselves and/or their families due to publication statistics, the choices of adults around them, or other reasons.
Although representation of LGBTQ+ people in children’s books has increased recently, there are still relatively few published each year with LGBTQ+ characters. This list encompasses a about half of the middle grades books published in the past two years with LGBTQ+ characters that I have read. The books are listed in alphabetical order by title, and include LGBTQ+ main characters as well as those who have LGBTQ+ parents.
Drum Roll, Please by Lisa Jean Bigelow (2018)
Right before Melly leaves for music camp with her best friend, Olivia, she finds out that her parents are divorcing. If that wasn’t enough to deal with, tensions arise between Melly and Olivia at camp. Olivia has a crush on a boy at camp, and often ditches Melly to spend time with him. Melly understandably feels hurt. During camp, Melly realizes she has a crush on a girl after only crushing on boys. Music provides an outlet for her feelings, and she learns to speak her truth.
Felix Yz by Lisa Bunker (2017)
Felix has accidentally been fused with an alien for years and needs to have a very risky procedure to separate himself and the alien. Felix is understandably scared, and types a blog with the alien in order to process his feelings and his life prior to the surgery. This book has a cast of LGBTQ+ characters in addition to the main character; this is rare in middle grades books.
Hurricane Child by Kheryn Callender (2018)
Caroline was born on a Caribbean island during a hurricane. The other islanders believe she is bad luck because of that, and her mom suddenly abandons her and her father. Other children—and adults—bully Caroline, especially at school. One day, Kalinda arrives. Kalinda and Caroline have much in common, and soon develop a strong friendship that blossoms into something more.
Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World by Ashely Herring Blake (2018)
Ivy and her family are homeless after a natural disaster. In addition to navigating all of the changes that come along with the loss of a home, Ivy has additional stressors: she feels as though she doesn’t fit in with her family, and she develops a crush on another girl. She realizes that someone knows her secret, and eventually finds the courage to be herself.
Nate Expectations by Tim Federle (2018)
Nate returns home from New York and starts high school. He feels disconcerted the first day of school when he finds out that he’s famous in his hometown; he is still subjected to anti-gay bullying as well. He misses theater and decides to put on a musical, modern version of Great Expectations. He falls for another boy, who stages a beautiful homecoming invitation. This is a beautiful conclusion to this trilogy.
The Pants Project by Cat Clarke (2017)
Liv has been dreading his first day of middle school all summer. Now that he is in sixth grade, he has to attend a school that has a dress code. All those who were assigned girl at birth are required to wear skirts, which is deeply uncomfortable for Liv. Although Liv knows he’s a boy, he hasn’t shared that with anyone yet. He decides to try to persuade the principal to change the dress code so that it is not based on gender. The principal is reluctant to listen at first, and Liv and his friends devise more public means of being heard about the dress code.
The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson (2018)
Candice’s parents have recently divorced, and her dad has a boyfriend. While her dad and his construction company are remodeling their home, Candice and her mom move to South Carolina for the summer, staying in her grandma’s former home. Candice discovers a letter addressed to her grandma that hints at an old mystery; a cash prize is tied to solving the mystery.
The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang (2018)
Some days, Sebastian feels like a prince, while other days Sebastian feels more like a princess. Sebastian secretly hires a dressmaker to help them transform into Lady Crystallia, who becomes a fashion sensation and the talk of the town. Meanwhile, the king and queen trying to find Sebastian a wife, though Sebastian is mostly uninterested. This beautiful graphic novel explores embracing oneself.
Star-Crossed by Barbara Dee (2017)
Mattie loves Shakespeare and is excited to try out for the eighth grade play, Romeo and Juliet. Although Mattie is shy, she loves being part of the play. However, she becomes nervous when she is asked to play Romeo, opposite her crush. She realizes through the course of the play that it’s okay for her to have crushes on boys and crushes on girls. Her friends and family are supportive of her.
The Stars Beneath our Feet by David Barclay Moore (2017)
Lolly’s brother was recently killed, and now he is being pressured to join a gang, though he does not want to do so. His mom’s girlfriend brings him bags full of Legos for Christmas; Lolly finds solace in designing new Lego creations, though previously he had always built following the directions in the Lego kits he owned. Lolly finds someone else who loves building with Legos, and they develop a friendship.
Dr. Donna Bulatowicz has over a decade of experience teaching in elementary schools, and is in her second year as an assistant professor. She teaches pre-service elementary teachers and loves to read. One of her main research interests is diversity in children’s literature.