16 books that help kids understand non-traditional families

non-traditional families, same-sex parents, LGBT families, books, kids, children

“You’ve got to be taught
To hate and fear,
You’ve got to be taught
From year to year,
It’s got to be drummed
In your dear little ear
You’ve got to be carefully taught.”
—From “South Pacific,” by Rodgers & Hammerstein, 1949

True in 1949; true in 2016. Children must be taught, most deliberately and cruelly, to hate and fear people who exist outside societal norms, whether it’s others or, most perniciously, themselves.
But, fortunately, the truism cuts both ways. Children can be taught empathy as well, through conversation, modeling and books. Luckily, there are many excellent books that demonstrate tolerance and compassion.

These LGBT-themed board and picture books present familial and educational scenarios in positive, soothing and age-appropriate ways. The middle-grade novels assume more life experience in their readers and, accordingly, delve more deeply into issues facing young people dealing with LGTB-related topics.

“Mommy, Mama and Me” and “Daddy, Papa and Me” by Leslea Newman, illustrated by Carol Thompson. Ages 1 to 3. In each board book, a toddler’s day with both loving parents is described in gentle illustrations and rhymed text.

“Worm Loves Worm” by J.J. Austrian, illustrated by Mike Curato. Ages 4 to 8. This is one of the most adorable picture books I’ve seen in a long time. Worm and Worm are in love and want to marry. How that happens is pure delight.

“Red: A Crayon’s Story” by Michael Hall. Ages 4 to 8. A blue crayon is given a red wrapper. Cognitive dissonance ensues. Reassuring for any child who feels different, for any reason.

“And Tango Makes Three” by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnall, illustrated by Henry Cole. Ages 4 to 8. The true story of male penguins Roy and Silo, who adopt, hatch and raise Tango, a spirited little female.

“The Great Big Book of Families” by Mary Hoffman, illustrated by Ros Asquith. Ages 5 to 8. A funny, heartwarming look at all manner of families imaginable living and celebrating together.

“Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress” by Christine Baldacchino, illustrated by Isabelle Malenfant. Ages 4 to 8. A gentle, gorgeously illustrated story of a gender non-conforming boy who’s sensitive and highly creative and just happens to like wearing the tangerine dress in his school’s costume box.

“Heather Has Two Mommies” by Leslea Newman, (new 2015 edition) illustrated by Laura Cornell. Ages 3 to 7. The book that caused so much controversy in the 1990s is low key and inclusive—a classic.

“In Our Mothers’ House” by Patricia Polacco. Ages 6 to 8. An adopted daughter in a mixed-race, same-sex-parent family joyfully recalls growing up in a warm, loving, different kind of family.

“I Am Jazz” by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings, illustrated by Shelagh McNicholas. Ages 4 to 8. The true story of a transgendered child who recognized her difference at age 2 and was encouraged to be herself by her wise physician and loving parents and friends.

“George” by Alex Gino. Ages 8 to 12. George has a secret. She’s a 4th-grade boy who knows she’s truly a girl and that she must hide it from everyone, until the desire to be Charlotte (the spider) in the school play begins to overwhelm her fear.  This is an amazingly open and honest book.

“The Manny Files” by Christian Burch. Ages 9 to 13. The Keats family’s new male nanny (a manny!) is pretty amazing, except to sister Lulu, who wants him fired. This is a funny, warmhearted story that shows that a gay man can be an excellent role model for straight kids.

“My Mixed-Up Berry Blue Summer” by Jennifer Gennari. Ages 10 to 12. It’s summer 2000 in a small Vermont town. June’s mother and her partner decide to take advantage of the state’s new civil-union law. June, feeling conflicted herself about her mom and any potential stepparent, just wants to bake pies and hang out with friends. Instead, she faces prejudice and bullying. The book is less political and heavy than it sounds.

“Gracefully Grayson” by Ami Polonsky. Ages 10 to 14. It shares plot similarities with “George” but is more nuanced and less emotionally raw, and it offers a wider perspective relevant to slightly older readers. Grayson, a 6th grader who self-identifies as a girl, brings down the wrath of some school parents, former friends and even family members when he tries out and wins the leading female role in the school play.

“Alice on the Outside” by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor (book 11 of the “Alice” series). Ages 11 to 14. This title is more a coming-of-age story and is suitable for more mature middle-grade readers. Alice, almost 14, faces challenges that include discouraging the advances of a lesbian friend while keeping the friendship, and taking a stand against prejudice and bullying.

“Totally Joe” by James Howe (book 2 of “The Misfits” series). Ages 11 to 14. Also for more mature readers. Joe is 12, in 7th grade and gay. He survives his first crush with the support of his friends and successfully confronts sexual-orientation bias and bullying. It’s a funny and very positive story.

Related: Project Jigsaw: A family for everyone