June is Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Pride Month, and with rainbows and flag-raisings, it seems that support for LGBTQ+ residents is ubiquitous. However, it’s important to ensure that the language we use and the choices we make in media consumption also show that support all year long. It is literally a matter of life and death; 42% of LGBTQ youth, including more than half of transgender and nonbinary youth, seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year. Just one reason includes that only 1 in 3 LGBTQ youth found their homes to be LGBTQ-affirming.
If you or someone who know needs help addressing suicidal ideation, The Trevor Project has a helpline open 24 hours a day through chat, text, or over the phone.
With new organizations like OUT Montclair and working on a more inclusive human sexuality curriculum, it seems we are heading in a positive direction. However, for some of us, getting used to new-to-us pronouns and acronyms can be a challenge, but it’s deeply important. In addition, becoming comfortable with stories and films that depict authentic, not token, LGBTQ+ characters and relationships is essential as a support for our loved ones and neighbors, and perhaps ourselves.
We have collected books for pre-school through young adult readers, but each one is also strongly recommended for anyone who wants to familiarize themselves with topics and characters represented by different pronouns, sexual orientations, gender identities, and an ever-growing language.
Pre-school and Elementary Readers
THEY, SHE, HE EASY AS ABC is a dancing, colorful journey through the alphabet during which each letter introduces us to a child and that child’s chosen pronouns. For both young children and their caregivers, this picture book shares many different pronouns and preferred names for children representing many backgrounds and abilities. The illustrations are joyful, and each child is given full attention and respect based on how they wish to be addressed. Perfect for anyone working to get comfortable with pronoun use.
LLAMA GLAMARAMA is a glorious, flamboyant, rainbow-bright picture book about learning to share who you are and realizing that everyone also has something different and special about themselves. Larry the llama loves to dance, but llamas are well-behaved and calm, so he hides his passion from even his closest llama friends. After leaving home and discovering a Llama Glamarama where everyone dances and loves bright colors, Larry returns and lets his friends know that he loves to dance. To his surprise, each of his friends has a secret of their own — and everyone is happy to finally fully be who they are! Of course, they celebrate with a rollicking dance party.
I AM JAZZ is the co-written autobiographical story of a child who knew she had a girl’s brain in a boy’s body. With simple, clear, and joyful text, this historical book shares Jazz and her family’s journey from a doctor’s explanation of Jazz being transgender to discovery and acceptance. (For older children and teens, Being Jazz is a memoir that delves into some of the more difficult aspects in her life including bullying, dating, and finding supportive friends.)
JULIÁN IS A MERMAID is perfect in its color and detail and self-affirming expression. On the subway, Julián sees three women he thinks are mermaids and it inspires him to find objects around his house that will help him become a mermaid, too. He and his grandmother eventually join a mermaid parade with scores of other “mermaids.” The story could be told simply through the gorgeous illustrations, but the minimal text ensures that readers understand the message of being seen and supported without conditions and how important that is for a child.
PRINCE & KNIGHT and MAIDEN & PRINCESS have a similar fairytale pattern; they each end with a love connection, they each feature dragons, they have balls and fancy outfits, and kings and queens. But as the titles suggest, they focus on two men falling in love and two women falling in love. Happily, one additional piece the stories both exhibit is authentic and total support and acceptance from family and community.
Middle Grade Readers
THE MIDWINTER WITCH is the third and final graphic novel of the graphic novel series that includes The Witch Boy and The Hidden Witch. A twist on traditional middle grade themes of identity, conflicts with family and friends, and solidifying values and a path forward, Ostertag wraps up the story of Aster and his family and friends by staying true to her focus of gender non-conformity and belonging. The friendships and torn loyalties will ring true for most middle grade readers.
Another novel from the same author, THE GIRL FROM THE SEA, brings together both fantastical and very real emotions and events in a graphic novel that addresses first love, hiding one’s true self from friends and family, and coming-of-age. The fantastical arrives in the form of Keltie, a selkie without inhibitions — but with a secret. The very real involves Morgan Kwon’s parents who are recently divorced, her friends who don’t “get” her, and her abrasive little brother. Morgan’s life brings this all together as she falls in love with Keltie, but refuses to share her new relationship with anyone around her. Heartstrings are pulled, and readers will root for the girls as their relationship develops and grows.
GEORGE is such a complete and loving gift. George (whom we find out sees herself as Melissa) is a 4th grade girl who struggles with figuring out how to let her family and friends know she’s not the boy they all think she is. From the first page, George is introduced as she/her, and it’s only when George’s brother refers to her as “bro,” that the reader realizes where the story is going. This is wholly appropriate and important for upper elementary readers as well as adults who want or need help understanding how a transgender child might feel. The storyline centers on George and how she gathers the courage to live as her true self. Along the way, George contends with bullies, false starts on sharing her truth, and feeling alone at home and at school, and finding support. RICK, a follow-up novel by the same author, follows one of the side characters in George as he discovers his own feelings, or lack thereof, are valid and real. Both books share perspectives and terms in a clear and age-appropriate manner, giving language to emotions that are not commonly addressed.
THE BEST AT IT follows 7th grader Rahul Kapoor as he navigates midwest middle school drama, bullies, racism and internalized racism, anxiety, and coming out as gay. Rahul tries to follow his father’s advice to find something he’s good at and become “the best at it,” which leads him to try football and acting while trying to manage his developing anxiety. Rahul’s relationships with his grandfather and best friend Chelsea support him and help him find comfort in himself. The novel manages to dispel the “model minority” myth while affirming that if something brings you joy, it’s perfectly okay if it’s already what others expect of you. A lovely middle grade novel.
REDWOOD AND PONYTAIL is written in verse with the two main characters given alternating and equal time. Redwood, or Tam, is a tall volleyball player and Ponytail, or Kate, is a cheerleader. After becoming friends, the 7th grade girls “fall in like” with each other, and the poetic first person lines allow readers to hear the thoughts of each girl as she realizes her feelings, questions them, and finally admits them to herself and others. A sweet, gentle book that manages to convey how socially tense middle school can be and how each character has layers of behavior and emotion that middle grade readers can easily relate to. The verse makes it a great read for reluctant readers or for a family to read together out loud.
THE MIGHTY HEART OF SUNNY ST. JAMES is a coming-of-age middle grade novel about Sunny, who has recently had a heart transplant due to cardiomyopathy. In her 12 years, Sunny has faced death, both her own and losing her father to a traffic accident. She’s faced her mother leaving her as a child, to be raised by her mother’s best friend. She’s faced loneliness after losing her best friend. And now, with a “new heart,” Sunny has a 3-step life plan to do amazing things, find a new best friend, and kiss a boy. These three steps converge in unexpected ways when Sunny meets Quinn on the beach. The girls’ feelings for each other develop even as they follow the quest to “kiss a boy.” This novel tackles heavy subjects like homophobic teasing, serious health issues, coming out, and the return of a long-lost parent with grace and affection for the characters. The curiosity and wonder of Sunny’s journey to accepting her sexuality comes across as authentic to a 7th grader, which will be appreciated by readers.
Teen and Young Adult
BLOOM is a lovely, light, realistic graphic novel about the unsettling in-between teenage to adult time of figuring out “What do you want to do?” The main character, Ari, has graduated high school and dreams of moving to Baltimore and performing in a band with his friends. His family, however, is depending on him to work in their bakery. Ari’s uncertainty about these expectations is juxtaposed with new-to-town Hector’s decisive passion in life, as are Ari’s desire to leave his family’s bakery and Hector’s love of baking. What begins as a co-working friendship, “blooms” into flirtation and eventual romance. The interactions and images show a gentle progression in their relationship from friendship to romance, and it is both fun to watch and frustrating as we witness Ari’s more immature actions affect everyone around him.
NOT YOUR SIDEKICK and its two follow-up novels (Not Your Villain and Not Your Backup) are superhero/adventure novels with a bisexual main character and trans representation. 12+ readers who like stories about finding “super powers” and solving earth-shattering mysteries will enjoy the adventures that Jessica Tran – a “normal nobody” at her school – stumbles into as she navigates working at an internship with her crush Abby. Along with her two best friends, Jess experiences typical coming-of-age revelations as well as more dangerous and unusual conflicts. The world-building is detailed, and relationships are well developed. This series straddles the middle-grade/Young Adult line in its plot and difficulty, making it a solid choice for a summer read or reluctant reader.
ARISTOTLE AND DANTE DISCOVER THE SECRETS OF THE UNIVERSE by Benjamin Alire Sáenz tells the story of Aristotle Mendoza, called Ari, an insecure 15-year-old with few social connections and Dante Quintana, a confident teen who seems to have it all together. The two become fast friends, starting with swim lessons, and we follow them through two years of joys and trauma, relationship of ups and downs, mutual attraction and rejections, and all the hardships of coming-of-age. This novel has won multiple awards, including the Stonewall Book Award, for good reason. The writing sings, and the short chapters and deeply developed characters make the novel accessible for teenagers (and adults!) of most reading abilities.
IF IT MAKES YOU HAPPY by Claire Kann is a body positive, matter-of-fact novel that centers issues of race and queer culture even as it weaves a tale of typical summertime teenage drama and family conflicts. The protagonist, Winnie, is an 18-year-old living “her best fat-girl life” during the summer before college. In addition to being body positive, Winnie is in a long-term platonic dating relationship with Kara, her ungirlfriend. However, she’s also attracted to Dallas, the popular and handsome boy who seems perfect in all ways. Add all that to drama with her grandmother, balancing attention for her brother and her cousin, and trying to figure out what SHE really wants — and you’ve got a great summer read appropriate for teens (minor cursing and kissing) of all ages. It’s also a great book for parents who are struggling to learn about and support their own children’s assertions about their love lives in all their many nuances. Winnie is an irresistibly likable protagonist, and the supporting cast of characters is engaging as well. Despite the main character being 18, the story is appropriate for younger teens. Strongly recommended. Kann’s LET’S TALK ABOUT LOVE is another great choice.
KISS NUMBER 8 has a lot going on at once, which may remind many teen readers of their own lives. Complicated friendships, a family secret and mystery, and coming-of-age in many ways jumble together in main character Amanda’s (Mads) life. Her best friend Cat parties hard and is a “mean girl” to friends, her other best friend, Laura, is calmer and follows the rules. Soon, Mads finds out that her father may be having an affair, but she discovers his secret is deeper than she knows. In addition, attending a Catholic school and belonging to a cohesive church community affect how Mads responds to her realization that she wants to kiss girls, not boys. The story begins slowly, setting up the avalanche of events the soon take over Mads’ life. Readers should be aware that there is salty language (often when discussing friends and parents) and also that homophobia, transphobia, and underage drinking/drunkenness are part of the plot line. It all comes across as true-to-life responses.
BRAVE FACE is a memoir by Shaun David Hutchinson about depression, being gay, and journeying to the edge of the abyss and discovering that, more than a tag-line, it really does get better. The story Hutchinson shares is supported with emails, snippets from journals, and a willingness to share painful and personal details. At times philosophical, at times raw and gutting, the memoir is hopeful at its core even as it dives deeply into the topics of depression, self-harm, and suicide. All this is wrapped up in his journey towards coming out as gay in the 90’s. Although, as Hutchinson makes clear: “I wasn’t depressed because I was gay. I was depressed and gay.” This is an important, powerful memoir that will be a boon to many young people and their families who deal with the topics in the book.
THIS IS KIND OF AN EPIC LOVE STORY is full of characters readers will immediately recognize, and friendship drama many have experienced. The main character, Nathan Bird, is a Black bi-sexual teen who is conflicted and vulnerable and hopeful and afraid – like many teens. With realistic friendships that show support and conflict, the novel feels authentic and insightful. Written in a journal-like format, it allows readers to get to know Nathan really well, warts and all. Recommended for 14+, mainly for occasional coarse language and sexual activities in one or two scenes. This novel directly addresses consent and prophylactic use in an organic way. Nathan provides readers with a strong example of how to say no to or delay unwanted sexual activity until he is ready. Highly recommended.
Looking for films and television shows to share with the young people in your life? OUT and IN A HEARTBEAT are two short animated films appropriate for all ages. Television shows like Owl House and She-Ra are appropriate for younger viewers. The documentary PRAY AWAY (edited by Montclair resident Carla Gutierrez), award-winning Moonlight, and the series Sex Education are appropriate for 15+ teens. Each includes intense subject matter, which makes them great opportunities to watch together. These in addition to the popular Schitt’s Creek, Modern Family, and many reality shows allow for every family to find lots to watch.