Queer parents and their children rarely see families like theirs in books for early and pre-readers.
Awards like this have a huge influence on sales, readership, and the books that are taught in schools. The teachers’ notes and classroom activities provided for most shortlisted books are added incentives for early childhood and primary school educators to adopt these books.
This landmark shortlisting inspired us to look for more titles that engage deeply with the diverse communities that make up Australian society, including queer families. We enlisted the help of the State Library of NSW, inviting library staff across NSW to share diverse books from their collections.
We’ve selected five unmissable reads that centre on queer stories from the resulting Diverse Picture Books list, now live online.
Bias learned from an early age
Queer representation in fiction can provide education, validation and affirmation to young people. It also helps to normalise queerness.
Because bias is learned from a very early age, it’s important for early and pre-readers to access the stories and experiences of queer families, and to begin the work of overcoming those biases.
Books about queer families provide a window into that experience for those outside it, promoting wider acceptance, understanding or celebration of such families. They also hold up a mirror for the many children living in such families, giving them the opportunity to see their lives reflected in the literature they read.
So, whether you are looking through a window or holding up a mirror, here are five picture books about family, identity and the queer experience:
1. Who’s Your Real Mum? written by Bernadette Green, illustrated by Anna Zobel
This picture book challenges the stereotypes of what makes a family. It addresses a common question that same-sex parents and their children inevitably face: Who’s your real mum?
Elvi has two mums and her curious friend Nicholas constantly asks which mum is the “real” one. As Nicholas persists, Elvi comes up with increasingly outlandish, imaginative responses. Ultimately, Elvi teaches Nicholas the beautiful lesson that the role of a parent is far more than just biology.
2. Wrestle by Maya Newell, Charlotte Mars, Gus Skattebol-James, illustrated by Tom Jellett
Inspired by the award-winning documentary, Gayby Baby, Wrestle is a story of queer family, identity and challenging stereotypes.
It explores the broad spectrum of “maleness” through main character Gus’s obsession with wrestling. Gus ultimately arrives at the realisation that there is more than one way to be a boy and most definitely more than one way to be a wrestler.
This book is also a must-read for any family wanting to learn more about the Sydney Mardi Gras.
3. My Shadow is Pink by Scott Stuart
My Shadow is Pink draws on the author-illustrator’s life, and his relationship with his son, to challenge gender stereotypes. The book tells the story of a young boy whose pink shadow is different to his dad’s blue shadow. The boy loves ponies, princesses, and putting on dresses, and while he is initially embarrassed about this, his father helps him to overcome this and to just be himself.
Written in verse, this book explores toxic masculinity, gender identity, fatherhood, diversity, childhood bullying and self-expression. Its message is clear: positive parenting through loving and accepting your kids for who they are can make all the difference. My Shadow is Pink is also an animated short film.
4.Love Makes a Family by Sophie Beer
Drawing on everyday activities, from reading and bathing, to finding lost toys, this colourful board book for the very young celebrates family life in all of its diversity. It provides a great opportunity for carers and educators to discuss ideas about family and relationships.
The message is simple: love sits at the centre of every family, regardless of its shapes and forms.
5. Introducing Teddy: A gentle story about gender and friendship by Jessica Walton, illustrated by Dougal MacPherson
Errol and his teddy bear Thomas love playing together, but one day Errol realises that Thomas is very unhappy. After Errol ensures that Thomas feels safe to share his worries with him, Thomas confesses that he is a girl teddy and wants to be called Tilly. And Errol is fine with this.
This picture book about a trans teddy bear is great for introducing young minds to the concepts of gender identity and transition. The book deals with a complex topic sensitively and simply. So, as Tilly the teddy emerges from Thomas the Teddy, she is surrounded by the acceptance and love that every child needs and deserves.