A version of this story originally appeared on the Strategist U.S.
In thinking about how to stack a child’s library, it’s important to consider books that reflect the world around them and the people in it — whether that’s books that talk about race, books that are specially suited to their age group, or, as we discuss here, books that showcase LGBTQ+ people and families. We spoke with three booksellers to find out their favorite books that highlight acceptance and queer characters and lives: Onikah Asamoa-Caesar, owner of Fulton Street Books and founder of The Ally Box, a subscription box that offers books and resources for those seeking to become better allies; Lisa Knowlton, the children’s buyer at 192 Books; and Emily Woods, who runs children’s marketing and school partnerships at McNally Jackson.
“Julián is a Mermaid is one of my favorite read alouds for the little ones right now,” says Asamoa-Caesar. “It is beautiful, simple and unapologetic,” she says. In the book, a young boy named Julián sees women dressed as mermaids on the subway with his abuela, and, mesmerized by them, he decides he wants to dress like them too. Though he’s initially concerned about the mess he makes trying to re-create the look and perhaps even more importantly what his abuela will think about how he looks, Julián is met with acceptance and love. “This is a book that is filled with so much joy, acceptance and pure magic,” says Lisa Knowlton, the children’s buyer at 192 Books. “It should be in every family’s household library,” she says, noting that the sequel, Julián at the Wedding, is due in October and promises to be equally joyful and magnificent.
Two of our experts recommended this book, which tells the story of the Pride flag’s beginnings (with social activist Harvey Milk and designer Gilbert Baker) to its current symbolism. Asamoa-Caesar says it’s a must-read “for obvious reasons” — the book offers an important look at LGBTQ+ rights and the movement in a way that kids can understand.
Knowlton recommends Stella Brings the Family, which is about a young girl named Stella who brings her two fathers to her school’s Mother’s Day celebration. “It’s a big-hearted book with good writing and charming illustrations. And it champions Stella and her family in so many different ways,” says Knowlton. Woods also recommends this title. “It demonstrates children being curious and inclusive of other nontraditional families in their classroom and community,” she says, adding that ultimately Stella “meets other nontraditional families like her own and feels proud and loved.”
Another book recommended by two of our experts that focuses on family is Mommy, Mama, and Me and Daddy, Papa, and Me, board books about a child doing everyday things with their parents, like napping or taking a bath. “These fly out of the store,” says Knowlton. “The illustrations are lovely, the text is just right, and they make everyone very happy.”
Although not about a human family, And Tango Makes Three comes recommended by Knowlton and Woods. It’s an illustrated version of the true story of two male penguins at the Central Park Zoo who, with the help of a zookeeper, are given an egg to hatch. Knowlton calls this book her “all-time favorite,” noting that it’s a perpetual best-seller at 192. “It’s a perfect little story about kindness and love and a lucky little penguin who has two dads,” she says. “Our go-to for all families.”
For books that celebrate a wide variety of family structures, Woods and Knowlton recommend this book by Todd Parr that depicts a wide variety of families — from families with two mums or two dads, to big families, to extremely messy families. “The general message is that all families are not the same but they basically and ultimately all care about similar things like love,” says Knowlton.
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