Heteronormativity and gender binaries are something that are often imposed on us from a very young age and this is reflected in the literature and visual culture that is produced for and consumed by young children. It is important to break out of these patriarchal trappings, and to teach, from the very beginning, to question gender norms and encourage alternate sexual identities. The following children’s books are trying to achieve this, through their unique storytelling methods and LGBT-positive messages, so, parents—look beyond Disney and fairytales and gift your kids one of these little treasures in order to equip them to smash that patriarchy!
Soma, a young misfit, is surrounded by “Meanies” and “Townies” who bully and torment her for being “strange” and different from other children. They target her for her occasional loudness, and her love for sushi—facts that to a layman may seem small and insignificant, but are actually metaphors for her rejection of traditional gender roles. So, Soma leaves town with a band of misfit pirates to understand why the Meanies have to be like that, and ends up learning that being “strange” is actually a really good thing.
This is the story of Barnaby Brocket, who is born to a strict and conservative family who turn up their noses at anything that’s remotely ‘different’, and who proves to be anything but ordinary, as he defies the laws of gravity and floats in mid-air. Desperate to please his parents, Barnaby does his best to keep both feet on the ground – but he just can’t do it. So one day, his control snaps and he floats away from the grasp of his parents’ suppression of his actual identity. Betrayed, frightened and alone, Barnaby floats into the path of a very special hot air balloon – and so begins a magical journey around the world, with a cast of some extraordinary new friends. The LGBT themes in this are quite obvious—the struggle of knowing that you are ‘different’ and still remaining in the closet due to conservative societal pressure is something that many queer individuals have faced. This book celebrates those struggles, and tells us that there is a magical journey ahead of us, if only we embrace our identities and not be afraid to exhibit them.
This book is based on the real-life story of the two male penguins at the Central Park Zoo who had adopted an egg, and raised the offspring that hatched out of it. The event had attracted quite a bit of international media coverage, including protests from homophobic bigots. This book dramatizes the story of the two penguins and challenges the heteropatriarchal notions of family—showing that love can come in all shapes and sizes, even avian!
This Pakistani children’s comic initially started out as a blog post, but due its popularity, was turned into a book through crowdfunding. The story is about a little boy named Ahmed, his gay uncle, and how Muslim society perceives homosexuality. It challenges a lot of stigmas that are present within Pakistani and Muslim culture surrounding same-sex relationships and portrays that families do not need to always be heterosexual to be happy, healthy and functional. The book has been translated to Italian, Spanish, Urdu, Arabic, Hebrew, Pashto and Russian so far and has received an overwhelmingly positive response from kids and adults alike.
This is the story of Jeremiah Nebula, a black boy who loves pink, and loves adventures. In a surrealist plot twist, he is faced with his scariest adventure yet: a trip to Mars. But will he find the courage to embark on it? As Jeremiah confronts his deepest fears, he will also learn one of life’s most important lessons. ‘Mars’ is an obvious metaphor for the real world, where patriarchal codes of masculinity ruthlessly incarcerate boys like Jeremiah, who do not adhere to traditional gender norms. His journey is that of every queer person’s, as they struggle with coming out of the closet and discover their identities further.
What we teach the next generation about gender and sexuality is extremely important, and how we do it even more so. It is crucial to tell kids that it’s okay to be different, to be queer, and to be gender nonconforming. These books go a long way in doing that, and here’s hoping that more children’s books take a cue from these and involve gender and sexuality positive messages within them. Next time you are confused about what to gift your young child or cousin or niece/nephew, gift them one of these, and help them learn some important lessons!