9 LGBTQ-Inclusive Kids' Books for National Poetry Month

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9 LGBTQ-Inclusive Kids' Books for  National Poetry Month

April is National Poetry Month, and these recent books in verse for young readers prove that LGBTQ-inclusive titles can be as beautiful and powerful as any today.

The first three are picture books; the rest are middle grade and up.

"Queer and Fearless: Poems Celebrating the Lives of LGBTQ+ Heroes," by Rob Sanders, illustrated by Harry Woodgate (Penguin), offers biographical portraits of 17 historical and contemporary LGBTQ political and social activists. Sanders carefully matches various poetic forms with his subjects, for example, deploying the march-like beat of rhyming couplets for the poem about Bayard Rustin, who organized the 1963 March on Washington. A few paragraphs of prose on each figure add informational substance to the emotional connections that the poems create.

"Jimmy's Rhythm & Blues: The Extraordinary Life of James Baldwin," by Michelle Meadows, illustrated by Jamiel Law (HarperCollins), is a lyrical biography of Baldwin, capturing something of the rhythm of his work in its blank verse and honoring both his Black and gay identities. Law's warm, evocative illustrations are the perfect complement to Meadows' words.

"Can We Please Give the Police Department to the Grandmothers?" by Junauda Petrus, illustrated by Kristen Uroda (Dutton), began as a viral poem that Petrus performed after the 2014 shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. In it, she envisions a world remade, with police salaries given to grandmothers who cruise the streets in "badass" vintage automobiles, blaring "old-school jams" and offering help and hope. Two of the "grandmas" are depicted with beards, though their exact identities are unstated. This is a joyous and empowering imagining of a future that could be.

"The Song of Us," by Kate Fussner (Katherine Tegen Books), is a loose retelling of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, made modern and queer in this novel in verse. Seventh-grader Olivia is a poet, and when new girl and musician Eden shows up to the Poetry Club one day, it's love at first sight. Through alternating poems in each girl's voice, across a variety of poetic forms, we move from love to its broken aftermath, and then to Olivia's plan to win Eden back through the power of poetry. Fussner delves into first love, social pressures, family relationships, and coming of age, giving us poetry as passion, action, and emotion.

"Dear Mothman," by Robin Gow (Amulet Books), is an elegantly crafted novel in verse about an autistic, transgender boy moving through grief to find belonging. Sixth-grader Noah's friend Lewis, the only other trans boy in school, has died in a car accident. Noah begins writing letters to Mothman, Lewis's favorite cryptid, sharing his feelings of grief with a creature who is as misunderstood as Noah himself. Gradually, Noah makes friends with a small group of fellow outsiders, and even develops a first crush. But will this help him as he is pulled towards following where Mothman may lead? Gow plumbs Noah's thoughts with perception, sensitivity, and sometimes brilliant turns of phrase.

"Blood Brothers," by Rob Sanders (Reycraft), is a powerful novel in verse set during the AIDS crisis of the 1980s. Protagonist Calvin and his two brothers have hemophilia, and contract AIDS from transfusions meant to help them. When others in their small Florida community find out, the boys are banned from school, scouts, and their church, while their single mom fights to protect them. None of them appear queer, but there are hints that their teacher is—and the topic is clearly intertwined with the homophobia of the era. Inspired by the real stories of Ryan White and the Ray brothers, but fictionalized to dramatic effect, this is a tale of bias and narrow-mindedness, but also of love, resilience, and the power of allies.

"The Lonely Book," by Meg Grehan (Little Island Books), is the story of a two-mom family, their magical bookshop, and one of their children who comes out as nonbinary, told through the eyes of the child's sibling. The story conveys gentle messages about learning to be comfortable in ourselves and helping others do the same; navigating change; the power of families; and the importance of books where people can both see themselves and learn about others.

"Always Matt," by Lesléa Newman, illustrated by Brian Britigan (Abrams Comicarts), is a moving exploration of the life and legacy of Matthew Shepard, the young man murdered in 1998 because he was gay. Newman, author of "Heather Has Two Mommies" and more than 80 other books, reflected on Shepard's death in her 2012 "October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard," which won a Stonewall Honor. Here, she focuses on his life, painting a poignant portrait in free verse. Despite being fully (and beautifully) illustrated, the subject matter and length (nearly 60 pages, plus an epilogue) gear this towards older children. The publisher's target is ages 14 and up, though I think older middle schoolers may also find value in it. Adults as always should assess based on the specific young people in their lives.

"Becoming Billie Holiday," by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Floyd Cooper (Wordsong), is a series of first-person poems with lightly fictionalized vignettes from the life of Eleanora Fagan, whom the world knew as Billie Holiday. The verses take us from her birth through her performance of "Strange Fruit" at age 25. One poem clearly acknowledges her bisexuality; others show the hardships of her early life, including her rape by a neighbor. While these topics place it at the upper end of the middle-grade range, it is powerful and insightful and won a Coretta Scott King Author Honor.

Dana Rudolph is the founder and publisher of Mombian (mombian.com), a two-time GLAAD Media Award-winning blog and resource directory, plus a searchable database of 1,500+ LGBTQ family books.