As a child I found solace in books. I loved going to the local library bus and taking part in reading challenges. Fictional adventures accompanied me through the school hallways and on the playgrounds of my youth.
But there was one day I looked forward to all year: World Book Day. World Book Day meant costumes and games and reading. It meant talking, all day, about my favourite thing: books. For a day, my classmates and I became witches, wizards, kings, and queens. We could become someone else.
But as I grew, the more I began to question myself. I didn’t understand why my friends thought boys were cool, or why the adults around me said I’d marry a man one day. Confused and frustrated, I turned to books for answers. But all I could find were stories about princes chasing after princesses, and queens being saved by knights. As each World Book Day passed, I never felt quite content with my costumes. Because for that one day, I wanted to dress as a character who was like me.
Thankfully, since my own childhood, there has been an explosion of LGBTQ+ representation in children’s fiction. LGBTQ+ literature is being discovered, recovered and celebrated, by readers of all ages, and children can finally enjoy stories that they can recognise themselves in.
The following three books are positive stories that also don’t shy away from hard and anxious truths. As children we crave escapism and comfort from the fictional worlds we chose to inhabit. If I’d had access to books like these as a child, I believe that my teenage years would not have been as confusing and isolating, and I would have had the reassurance that I was not alone and hope that I have a bright future ahead of me.
As an adult, I have found comfort in reading these stories which now have the answers, the representation and validation that I craved so much as a child.
The Deepest Breath – Meg Greham (2019)
The blurb on the book reads as follows: “It’s in my chest, And sometimes my tummy, And always my head, It’s a fizzy feeling, Warm and squishy, And it makes me blush, And it only happens, When I look at my friend Chloe.” This quote not only describes how I felt when I read this book, but beautifully illustrates the feelings I had as a child in primary school. The Deepest Breath follows eleven-year-old Stevie, a girl who is starting to explore her feelings for another girl in her class.
Using verse rather than prose, the book follows Stevie’s thoughts and inner monologue, not only focussing on her feelings but also on her parental relationships, anxiety, friendships, and love of reading. And it is Stevie’s love of reading, especially about sea-creatures, that leads her to research in a library.
With the help of a librarian and her mother, Stevie works out her emotions, and learns to let go of the expectations placed upon her. For the first time in my life, I found a book that encapsulated what it was like to be young and not understand what is happening to you, or why you feel different from everyone else.
The Amazing Edie Eckhart – Rosie Jones (2021)
Each generation has a series of children’s books that is guaranteed to spark nostalgia in the decades to come. They grew alongside the characters that they love. For my parents, it was The Famous Five by Enid Blyton. For me, it was Rainbow Magic and Goosebumps. Now, Rosie Jones is bringing this joy to another generation.
The Amazing Edie Eckhart follows Edie, a pre-teen with cerebral palsy, as she starts senior school and discovers her love of the performing arts. After her best friend is put into a different class and gets a girlfriend, Edie begins searching for friendship and a boyfriend. But after getting cast in the school play, Edie discovers a lot about herself. Through realistic dialogue and pop culture references, Rosie Jones builds a very natural, empathic world. Edie explores her feelings towards a girl friend, providing the reader with an emotional and humorous experience. Not only does this book normalise LGBTQ+ relationships, it also explores wider social issues. The continuation of the story in the sequel is a welcome delight, and I am excited to see what is in store for Edie next.
The Secret Sunshine Project: – Benjamin Dean (2022)
This summer I attended my first ever London Pride. I got to experience the uncontrollable joy and complex sadness of this truly sublime experience. I felt seen and heard, like there was a metaphysical place I belonged to.
The Secret Sunshine Project follows a young girl called Bea. When Bea attended London Pride with her family , she had one of the best days ever. But after her father dies, Bea and her family move to the countryside to live with her Gran.
This is the first book I have read where an entire family is shown to be accepting of LGBTQ+ people from the beginning of the story. A lot of books centre around self-discovery and coming out, but this story explores family and community relationships. Bea’s older sister is especially unhappy with the move, so in the hope of cheering her up, Bea desires to bring Pride to their new home. Without a support network, life can be extremely isolating, especially in a remote community. As a child of the countryside, I welcomed the exploration of LGBTQ+ identities outside of an urban setting.
Meghzie is an ambassador for Just Like Us, the LGBT+ young people’s charity – sign up for their newsletter.