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Find more Middle-Grade Pride
As Pride Month draws to a close, you can keep its spirit going with this list of (mostly) recent middle-grade novels featuring characters exploring their genders or burgeoning sexual identities.
As the Crow Flies. By Melanie Gillman. Illus. by the author. 2017. Iron Circus, $30 (9781945820069). Gr. 8–11.
In this graphic novel, appropriate for young teens, 13-year-old Charlie—a Black, queer girl—embarks on a feminist Christian backpacking trip, which brings challenges in the form of outdated and racist beliefs held by some group members; joy from a new friendship with Sydney, a trans girl; and the rush of a new crush.
Beetle and the Hollowbones. By Aliza Layne. Illus. by the author. 2020. Atheneum, $21.99 (9781534441538). Gr. 3–7.
Preteen goblin Beetle’s potions studies can wait: she’d much rather hang out at the ’Allows Town mall with her best pal, Blob Ghost, a non-binary, jellylike shape-shifter. The vibrant, comical art propels Beetle’s spirited journey of magic, ability, and friendship.
The Best at It. By Maulik Pancholy. 2019. HarperCollins/Balzer+Bray, $16.99 (9780062866417). Gr. 5–7.
In this heartening first novel, an Indian American seventh-grader deals with his insecurities as well as a bully, while finding the courage to come out as gay to his family.
The Deep & Dark Blue. By Niki Smith. Illus. by the author. 2020. Little, Brown, $24.99 (9780316485982); paper, $12.99 (978031648601). Gr. 4–7.
When a coup threatens the lives of royal twins Hawke and Grayson, the two go into hiding, disguising themselves as girls named Hanna and Grayce. During this time, Grayce embraces the change, eventually coming out as trans. Recalling classic manga, this graphic novel richly delivers clearly choreographed action and characters’ emotions.
George. By Alex Gino. 2015. Scholastic, $16.99 (9780545812542). Gr. 4–6.
Ten-year-old George has a secret. Everyone thinks she is a boy, but inside, she knows that she is really a girl named Melissa. When her class prepares to mount a production of Charlotte’s Web, George goes after the role of her heart, that of Charlotte. Gino offers a sensitive, insightful portrayal of a transgender child coming to terms with gender identity in this appealing story.
Gracefully Grayson. By Ami Polonsky. 2014. Disney/Hyperion, $16.99 (9781423185277). Gr. 5–8.
Sixth-grader Grayson dreams of wearing twirly skirts and shiny gowns instead of limp, lifeless track pants. Despite knowing that she’s a girl deep down inside, Grayson has learned to look and act like the boy she is not. But now, cast as Persephone in the spring play, Grayson finds acceptance among the cast members and the courage to become who she really is.
A High Five for Glenn Burke. By Phil Bildner. 2020. Farrar, $16.99 (9780374312732). Gr. 5–8.
When sixth-grader Silas gives a presentation on Glenn Burke, the baseball center fielder credited with inventing the high five, there’s one thing he doesn’t share with his class: Burke was pushed out of baseball because, like Silas, he was gay. Bildner sensitively portrays Silas’ worries and thoughts of coming out to create an essential book about friendship, acceptance, and self-confidence.
Hurricane Child. By Kacen Callender. 2018. Scholastic, $17.99 (9781338129304). Gr. 4–7.
Abandoned by her mother on Water Island, Caroline wonders if her mother deserted her because she doesn’t love her, or if this act was caused by the strange spirit Caroline keeps seeing around the island. Caroline finds a true friend in Kalinda, for whom she soon harbors an all-consuming crush . . . or could it be love?
In the Role of Brie Hutchens . . . By Nicole Melleby. 2020. Algonquin, $16.95 (9781616209070). Gr. 5–8.
Eighth-grader Brie’s life is getting as complicated as a soap opera. Tight finances at home have her parents working long hours, and the family’s Catholic faith is making it hard for Brie to confide that she might be interested in dating girls instead of boys. The story honestly conveys Brie’s confusion about her sexuality while at the same time moving plotlines to the next level by also delving into the way the family’s religion affects events.
Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World. By Ashley Herring Blake. 2018. Little, Brown, $16.99 (9780316515467). Gr. 4–7.
In the aftermath of a tornado, Ivy Aberdeen must stay with a new family until her family’s house can be rebuilt. But when she begins to develop romantic feelings for a girl in her class and her private notebook of sketches goes missing, everything starts to unravel. This emotionally complex novel offers readers a positive, courageous portrayal of burgeoning sexuality and relationships within the world of junior high.
King and the Dragonflies. By Kacen Callender. 2020. Scholastic, $17.99 (9781338129335). Gr. 4–7.
This incredible follow-up to Callender’s Hurricane Child (2018) delves into one boy’s journey to self-acceptance while wading through the profound grief that has engulfed his family. King, a Black child living by the bayous of Louisiana, is dealt the double blow of losing his beloved older brother while trying to contain an identity he is sure will cause his father to stop loving him.
Martin McLean, Middle School Queen. By Alyssa Zaczek. 2020. Sterling, $16.95 (9781454935704). Gr. 5–8.
Twelve-year-old Martin is in a dither: is he gay or not? Nelson, the class bully, has no doubt and teases Martin mercilessly. Clarity comes in the charming form of his gay uncle, Tío Billy, who takes Martin to a drag show where it’s revealed that Billy is a drag queen. Martin is blown away by the show and instantly decides he wants to be a drag queen too.
Middle School’s a Drag, You Better Werk! By Greg Howard. 2020. Putnam, $16.99 (9780525517528). Gr. 4–7.
Twelve-year-old Mikey believes he is quite an entrepreneur, which is how he finds himself thrust into the role of talent agent for 13-year-old drag queen Coco Caliente. But he’s also dealing with typical middle-school obstacles, including coming out to friends. Mikey’s privilege (white, cisgender, middle class) allows him to get away with a lot throughout the narrative; however, readers will ultimately find this a funny, life-affirming story.
The Moon Within. By Aida Salazar. 2019. Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine, $17.99 (9781338283372). Gr. 3–6.
Celi’s body is signaling changes, and all signs point to puberty. Her proud mother intends to hold a moon ceremony to honor her first menstruation, which Celi isn’t looking forward to. Creatively told in verse, the story explores Celi’s inner turmoil—including her poor response to her best friend’s coming out as gender fluid—and reveals cultural aspects of Latinx and Caribbean peoples in rich detail.
My Life as a Diamond. By Jenny Manzer. 2018. Orca, paper, $10.95 (9781459818316). Gr. 4–8.
In Redburn, Oregon, no one knows Caspar “Caz” Cadman was raised as a girl—until his baseball team’s playoffs, when Kyle, an opposing smart-mouth player, calls him Cassie. How Caz handles the incident shows his inner strength, as well as athletic ability.
One True Way. By Shannon Hitchcock. 2018. Scholastic, $16.99 (9781338181722). Gr. 4–7.
Reminiscent of Nancy Garden’s Annie on My Mind, Hitchcock’s 1970s-era novel follows Allie and Samantha as they navigate a newfound friendship and slowly budding romance against the backdrop of religious intolerance, family discord, and school drama.
The Other Boy. By M. G. Hennessey. Illus. by Sfe R. Monster. 2016. Harper, $16.99 (9780062427663). Gr. 4–7.When Shane, assigned female at birth, switched schools, things really started to fall into place. Finally, he could be the boy he’s always known he was, and now he’s old enough to begin hormone therapy. When a school bully shows students an old picture of Shane dressed as a girl, however, rumors fly, and Shane worries he’ll lose everything now that his secret is out.
The Prince and the Dressmaker. By Jen Wang. Illus. by the author. 2018. First Second, $24.99 (9781250159854). Gr. 7–12.
Older tweens and young teens with a yen for romance or fairy tales will fall in love with this gorgeous graphic novel about a seamstress whose daring fashion designs catch the eye of Prince Sebastian, who hires her to create glamorous gowns for him to wear as his alter ego, Lady Crystallia.
Princess Princess Ever After. By Katie O’Neill. Illus. by the author. 2016. Oni, $12.99 (9781620103401). Gr. 5–8.
Princess Sadie is tired of princes trying to rescue her from her tower prison, but this new rescuer is different—she’s a princess! Together, Sadie and Amira forge a strong friendship that soon turns to love as they struggle to overcome their pasts and recover Sadie’s lost kingdom. In addition to the sweet romance, there is sword-fighting, magic, and a simply adorable dragon.
Rick. By Alex Gino. 2020. Scholastic, $17.99 (9781338048100). Gr. 3–6.
This companion book to Gino’s George (2015) focuses on Rick, sixth-grade classmate to Melissa, the transgender star of the first novel. The revelation of Melissa’s gender identity spurs Rick to examine his own identity and learn more about the LGBTQ+ community by joining the Rainbow Spectrum club.
Second Dad Summer. By Benjamin Klas. Illus. by Fian Arroyo. 2020. Red Chair/One Elm, $16.99 (9781947159242). Gr. 4–7.
Twelve-year-old Jeremiah is looking forward to spending the summer with his dad—but not so much with his dad’s flamboyant, live-in boyfriend, Michael. Klas sends Jeremiah (and readers) to a Minneapolis Pride festival to learn how wide the rainbow is and involves him in conversations on topics ranging from pronouns to bisexuality.
Ship It. By Britta Lundin. 2018. 384p. Disney/Freeform, $17.99 (9781368003131). Gr. 8–11.
Claire is a popular fanfic writer who ships Smokey and Heart, the enemy male leads of Demon Heart. After a disastrous Comic-Con panel, Claire is brought onto the Demon Heart tour to repair the show’s relationship with the LGBTQ+ community. This charmer, fit for young teens, explores fan culture, internalized prejudices, and the importance of representation.
The Ship We Built. By Lexie Bean. 2020. Dial, $16.99 (9780525554837). Gr. 5–8.
Rowan is used to keeping secrets, but he also feels the need to talk to someone; so, he writes letters and releases them into the sky, tied to balloons. This heartfelt, emotionally raw narrative delicately and respectfully covers incredibly complex issues (homophobia, substance abuse, sexual abuse, racism) that many young people face, compounded by Rowan’s status as a trans boy. A story as difficult as it is hopeful, beautifully captured through a 10-year-old voice.
Wandering Son. By Shimura Takako. Illus. by the author. Tr. by Matt Thorn. 2011. Fantagraphics, $19.99 (9781606994160). Gr. 7–10.
On his first day of fifth grade, Shu’s androgynous cuteness and mild demeanor get him mistaken for a girl. He soon befriends tomboy Yoshino, who recognizes a kindred spirit in Shu and gives him some of her old dresses to wear. Dreamily illustrated, this literary manga is a sensitive portrayal of two trans tweens exploring gender identities.
Zenobia July. By Lisa Bunker. 2019. Viking, $17.50 (9780451479402). Gr. 5–8.
During the first few weeks at her new school, Zenobia, a trans girl, is befriended by Arli—a gender nonconforming youth—and an evangelical Christian girl, Melissa. After a series of anti-Muslim and transphobic memes appear on the school website, Zen and her new friends need some serious introspection about their own personal biases. Though slightly didactic, Zen’s exploration of gender and sexuality will be sure to intrigue and entertain young readers from all walks of life.
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