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5 books to support LGBTQ+ diversity in schools

Reading material in your school library should reflect everyone’s reality, says Ian Eagleton. So, here are some suggestions to rejoice in love in all its forms...

  • 5 books to support LGBTQ+ diversity in schools

As a young gay man, I struggled to find books that I could truly identify with. I wanted to read something that highlighted my experiences and made me feel less alone. This has made me aware of how important it is to have books in school that mirror everyone’s realities.

None of the books chosen here aim to indoctrinate children into the LGBTQ+ community, but simply rejoice in love in all its different forms by recognising, normalising and honouring every relationship.

It is of course vital you read these books before sharing them with your class and ensure they are appropriate and suitable for your children.

But if teachers can sensitively direct children’s reading then they will have the compassion and understanding they need to challenge inequality and replace the ‘what is’ with ‘what ifs’ and ‘what could be’.

1 | Emmett and Caleb

by Karen Hottois and Delphine Renon, translated by Sarah Ardizzone
(Book Island)
Emmett and Caleb explores the relationship between the two main characters as they journey through birthdays, hard times and the beauty of the changing seasons. The two friends share precious moments together such as watching a stunning sunset or waving goodbye to summer as autumnal leaves fall. Their relationship is never defined, leaving it open to interpretation but it’s lovely to share in their quiet, tender friendship. I look forward to Le Grand Voyage, their next adventure.

2 | Julian is a Mermaid

by Jessica Love
(Walker Books)
Julian’s life is changed when he sees three enthralling women dressed as mermaids. Swishes of coral blue and intricately illustrated underwater scenes depict Julian’s daydream of becoming a mermaid. When Nana sees Julian proudly transformed into his version of a mermaid, the empty space surrounding him and Nana’s furious face suggest a devastating reaction. Many children will recognise the notions of rejection and invisibility, but Nana gifts Julian a pearl necklace to complete his glamorous outfit. They join a procession of mermaids “like you, honey” and a riot of colour reflects Julian’s feelings of joy as he finds his true place in the world.

3 | Red: A Crayon’s Story

by Michael Hall
Red crayon is not very good at being red. Every time he tries to draw strawberries, hearts and cherries, everything turns out blue! His teacher thinks he needs more practice, his parents feel he needs to mix with other colours and many berate him for his lack of effort – after all, his label says ‘red’ and that’s the way he came from the factory! Eventually, a new friend offers Red the chance to be himself and Red discovers that he is, of course, Blue! A colourful, charming, witty picture book about the damage of forcing labels onto others and the freedom and delight that being yourself brings.

4 | Heather Has Two Mummies

by Lesléa Newman and Laura Cornell
(Walker Books)
Heather Has Two Mummies was first published in 1989 and while Lesléa Newman has talked about how lesbian mums were thrilled to see themselves in a children’s book, there were a number of people who were disgusted by the inclusion of a different family unit. The book is a colourful, gentle exploration of what it means to be a family. Heather and her two mums picnic, play and bake together. When Ms Molly asks the class to paint a picture of their families, we see, through beautiful, child-like watercolour illustrations, how different every family is – a message that still needs to be acknowledged.

5 | Jerome by Heart

by Thomas Scotto and Oliver Tallec, translated by Claudia Zoe Bedrick and Karin Snelson
(Enchanted Lion Books)
This vivid picture book shows us the beauty of true friendship and the feeling of safety it engenders. Told simply in the first person, young Raphael shares with us his feelings of tender affection for his best friend, Jerome. With echoes of Walt Whitman’s We Two Boys Together Clinging and Josh Gilgun’s The Way They Are, the book sensitively considers how the day-to-day rhythm of life can be enriched by love. Despite his parents’ disapproval, the story ends on a life-affirming note – Raphael’s spirit cannot be vanquished and the boys’ love remains “strong as a fortress”.

Ian Eagleton is a teacher and English consultant, and creator of The Reading Realm iPad app, an educational resource to promote reading for pleasure. Find out more at thereadingrealm.co.uk and follow on Twitter at @reading_realm.

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