Back-to-school time is here, so why not get your kids in the mood with some LGBTQ-inclusive picture books set in schools? There are now many such books, but here are a few of my favorites, across a variety of identities, that focus on first days of school and other moments of being welcoming, supportive and inclusive.
“Calvin,” by JR and Vanessa Ford, illustrated by Kayla Harren (G.P. Putnam's Sons)
Calvin has always known he’s a boy. In this gentle first-person story, he transitions with the support of his parents, brother, grandparents, friends and teacher. Although Calvin worries about what will happen at school, he feels “safe and happy” when on the first day, the principal calls him “Calvin.” He then finds the name “Calvin” already on his classroom cubby and “everywhere it should be.” He introduces himself to the whole class and spells his name with pride.
The Max and Friends series, by Kyle Lukoff, illustrated by Luciano Lozano (Reycraft)
In the first book of this series, “Call Me Max,” transgender boy Max shares his realization that he is trans and navigates his first day of school. He tells the teacher the name he wants to use, makes friends, and even learns from them about his own gender assumptions. Max encounters some obstacles around bathroom access, but this tale is not entirely about his challenges; much of the book centers on Max playing with his friends and being supported by his parents. In “Max and the Talent Show,” Max helps his friend Stephen, who likes to wear dresses but identifies as a boy, prepare for the school talent show. In “Max on the Farm,” Max and his friend Teresa get into (minor) mischief during a class trip to a farm. While Max’s trans identity is not a focus for the second two, nor is it ignored completely, it sometimes impacts Max’s responses to certain situations.
“If You’re a Kid Like Gavin: The True Story of a Young Trans Activist,” by Gavin Grimm and Kyle Lukoff, illustrated by J Yang (Katherine Tegan Books)
Grimm, a transgender boy, successfully fought his high school in federal court for the right to use the boy’s bathroom. Lukoff, a two-time Stonewall Award winner, Newbery honoree and trans man, was the perfect partner for this story of Grimm’s experience, a powerful true tale of choices and resilience.
“A Princess of Great Daring,” by Tobi Hill-Meyer, illustrated by Eleanor Toczynski (Flamingo Rampant)
A transgender girl (who happens to have two moms) spends her first day at school after transitioning. While her friends are unfailingly supportive and happy to have her play the princess in a game, they then assume that she wants to be rescued — an assumption she challenges, defying those who assume a trans girl (or any girl) will necessarily adhere to traditional feminine stereotypes.
“What Riley Wore,” by Elana K. Arnold, illustrated by Linda Davick (Simon & Schuster)
On the first day of school, Riley wears a bunny outfit. Rather than making Riley an object of ridicule, Riley’s soft bunny ears comfort a classmate who was crying. We then see Riley, who is never gendered, wearing various outfits that elicit praise from students and teacher. When another child asks, “Are you a girl or a boy?” Riley simply answers, “Today I’m a firefighter. And a dancer,” and several other fanciful things. The other child responds, “Want to play?” A refreshing message of acceptance.
“The Little Library,” by Margaret McNamara, illustrated by G. Brian Karas (Schwartz & Wade)
Part of the creators’ popular Mr. Tiffin’s Classroom series, this is the tale of a boy who “is a slow and careful reader” and a librarian (who uses they/them pronouns) helping him find just the right book for his interests and the way he reads.
“Timid,” written and illustrated by Harry Woodgate (Little Bee Books)
Timmy, who uses they/them pronouns, loves to dress up in sparkly costumes and perform — in their room. In front of an audience, however, a giant lion appears to "ROAR their confidence away." Timmy fears the upcoming school play until he partners with a shy classmate and they help each other overcome their fears. Woodgate’s prose is lovely, but it is their expressive and colorful illustrations that make the book really shine.
“Aaron Slater, Illustrator,” by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts (Abrams)
A boy who struggles with reading (and happens to have two moms) learns how to use art to express the stories he wants to tell. Part of the bestselling “The Questioneers” series that includes “Ada Twist, Scientist,” this volume’s lyrical rhyming text; colorful, sketch-like illustrations, and dyslexia-friendly font give it wide appeal.
“All Are Welcome,” by Alexandra Penfold, illustrated by Suzanne Kaufman (Alfred A. Knopf)
A group of children, diverse in many ways, interact and play during their day at school as they hear the affirming message “All are welcome here.” We see their different kinds of parents, including ones with two moms and two dads, at the beginning and end of the day.
For more school-themed, LGBTQ-inclusive picture books, early chapter books, and middle-grade titles with a range of storylines, visit mombian.com/database and filter by the tag “School.”
Dana Rudolph is the founder and publisher of Mombian (mombian.com), a GLAAD Media Award-winning blog and resource directory, with a searchable database of 1000+ LGBTQ family books, music, and more.