The summer equinox is here folks, and that’s pretty much the adult-version of throwing textbooks in the air and sprinting out of 7th period with “School's out for the Summer” by Alice Cooper blasting out of the school’s PA. In addition to being known as the beginning of summer, the time when dreams of pools and working AC machines flood our minds, June also importantly marks LGBTQ+ Pride Month and the anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion.
During Pride, we take to the streets to honor our sisters and brothers of the not-so-far-away past who fought fiercely for the queer and trans community as well as those who continue to pave the way for a more inclusive future. When all the dust (and glitter) from Pride parades across the nation has settled, we remember June as a celebration of inclusion, diversity and love. With this short reading list, we hope to commemorate exemplary releases of kids' literature that embody the inclusion of Pride Month. The books featured were chosen for their representation of gender-nonconforming and/or queer characters as well as LGBTQ+ civil rights leaders.
Here at Illustoria, we’re still dreaming of an even more diverse children’s book world, where overlooked or ignored voices are embraced (anyone up for writing a picture book on Audre Lorde or Martha P Washington?). But in the meantime, we’re jumping for joy about these incredible releases. We hope you enjoy our list, and have a happy Pride Month!
George by Alex Gino
In a forward-thinking addition to the middle-grade genre, Alex Gino has penned a tender story of a fourth grader named George whose male body doesn’t fit her true identity. George longs to star as the female spider Charlotte in the school production of “Charlotte’s Web” rather than Wilbur, the male pig, but worries whether her family and community will understand. With a main character that is as eloquent as she is strong, George soars beyond the typical story of the challenges of being young and queer. Better yet, George offers much needed visibility to gender-nonconforming and transgender communities in children’s literature, and is a story of bravery that every middle grade student should read and re-read.
Reading Level: 3rd grade +
Lumberjanes 50 by Shannon Watters & Kat Leyh, illustrated by Dozerdraws & Brooklyn Allen
Lumberjanes is a graphic novel series that is bursting at the seams with feminist joy. The story takes place at Miss Qiunzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet's Camp for Hardcore Lady Types, and is attended by campers known as Lumberjane Scouts. Each book in the series brings readers on the adventures of a rough and tumble group of five best friends, each unique in their own right. The playful, beautifully colored illustrations are to die for, and the pop culture references couldn’t be cooler (catchy phrases used by the Lumberjane crew include, “What the Joan Jett?” and “Oh My Bessie Coleman”). Plus, each issue features a music playlist by one of the characters, inspiring fan art, and a rotating lineup of illustrators that keep the comic fresh and exciting. We love this series for its diverse representation of young queer characters and storylines, slapdash sense of humor and heartening stories of friendship. Lumberjanes is celebrating its 50th issue with an oversized anniversary edition which features the incredible editor Shannon Watters (co-creator of the series), acclaimed writer Kat Leyh (who has also written for Adventure Time, Bravest Warrior and Steven Universe), illustrator Dozerdraws and long time series illustrator Brooklyn Allen. Lumberjanes 50 is an absolute dream come true for seasoned fans of the series, but if you're a newbie we suggest beginning with the very first issue Lumberjanes Vol. 1: Beware The Kitten Holy.
Reading Level: 4th grade +
A Family is A Family is A Family by Sara O'Leary, illustrated by Qin Leng
This sweet-as-a-peach tale demonstrates just how diverse and beautiful a family can be. In it, a teacher asks a classroom to think of what makes their family special. The young narrator becomes worried, thinking “My family is not like everyone else’s.” But to her surprise, each student who shares a story about their family is more unique than the next. There are mix race families, adoptive families, gay and lesbian families, families led by grandparents and everything in-between. Soon, the narrator realizes that families comes in all shapes and sizes; what they have in common is the love that brings them together. With cheerful writing by Sara O’Leary and adorable (yet modern) watercolor illustrations by Qin Leng, A Family is A Family is A Family strikes the perfect match of showing appreciation for inclusion without being pedantic or corny.
Reading Audience: Preschool +
Julian is a Mermaid by Jessica Love
Two rounds of applause are deserved for the outstanding picture book Julian is a Mermaid. One is for Jessica Love, who has created what so many authors and illustrators aspire to: a book with a setting so vivid the reader becomes entranced, and a groundbreaking, socially conscious storyline that sets it apart from the rest. Another round of applause for the main character Julian, whose confidence and ingenuity will leave them starstruck.
In Love’s story, a little boy named Julian is riding the bus home with his abuela one day when he becomes captivated by three utterly gorgeous mermaids who step on board. They appear like something out of a dream, with long flowy hair and turquoise dresses. As soon as he gets home, Julian balls out in mermaid attire, fashioning for himself a plant headdress, billowing skirt made from a curtain and bright red lipstick. When his abuela finds him, there is a brief moment of fear --will Julian be reprimanded for breaking gender norms he doesn’t yet know exist? Readers hold their breath as the grandmother takes his hand and leads him on a mysterious route. Soon Julian, still in full princess garb, is surrounded by beautiful beings that look just like him. In the book's joyous ending, it becomes clear that his loving grandmother has brought him to the Coney Island Mermaid Parade, to be among the underwater gods and goddesses just like him.
Julian is a Mermaid’s morale is as touching as it is richly layered. Readers may interpret the story as one of a young boy’s self discovery, a tale of the abundance of beauty and character found in brown and black communities (the book takes place in Brooklyn, New York), or a narrative about the loving bond between an abuela and her grandson. No matter how the story is interpreted, there is no doubt readers will pour over the details Love works into every nook and cranny of the book (check out the cool-as-can-be lemonade sippers or hip man walking his wiener dog). It’s this thoughtfulness towards character, setting and storyline that has us over the moon for this treasure, that we have our bets on becoming an award-winning picture book very soon.
Reading Audience: Preschool +
Wave a Flag for Harvey Milk Sing-along Coloring Book by Mr. Greg
At long last, a coloring book for a hero of San Francisco and the LGBTQ+ community at large, Harvey Milk. The artist behind this rad creation is Mr. Greg, a SF-based teacher and indie record label owner.
"Each year, my preschool class in San Francisco leads an assembly in honor of Harvey Milk. After searching fruitlessly for an age-appropriate book or song about Harvey Milk to share with my preschoolers, I decided to write and illustrate one myself. I wrote Wave a Flag for Harvey Milk as a way to introduce the preschoolers to the positive things that Harvey Milk did for San Franciscans in particular, and the LGBT community at large. The words of the book are the lyrics to an accompanying song that I sing with my students." Mr. Greg explains.
The coloring book features quirky illustrations as well as narration that doubles as an interactive sing-along. Click here (link provided in the coloring book) to hear the original song, which features indie musician legend Cass McCombs. The wholesome, catchy song is a work of art in its own right, and can be likened to the greatness of the School House Rock hits of the late genius Bob Dorough (known for writing and singing Three is the Magic Number and Conjunction Junction among many others).
The coloring book can be purchased here. If you’re a fan of the coloring book and music, be sure to check out the rest of the goodies put out by Mr. Greg’s record label Secret Seven Records. For another great children’s book read on Harvey Milk, read Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag.
Audience: Preschool +
We hope you greatly enjoyed our Pride Month Book Review! At ILLUSTORIA, it is our mission to publish stories that champion inclusion with a diverse lineup of illustrators and writers. Check out Issue 5: Motion for our interview with the dream team behind Rad Women A-Z, Rad Women Worldwide and Rad Girls Can author Kate Schatz and artist Miriam Klein Stahl who talk about their goals of prioritizing stories about women of color, becoming a part of the Bay Area's feminist punk scene, and the importance of getting readers of all ages and genders excited about social justice.