Pride for Tweens | Great Books

From mysteries to summer adventures to first loves, these 12 titles validate queer youth, and youth in queer families, who are navigating those ever-­confusing years before young adulthood.

This selection of mostly new, mostly #OwnVoices middle grade celebrates the much needed boom in publishing for this reading group. Per Ritch C. Savin-Williams and Lisa Diamond (2000), the age at which kids realize their ­LGBTQIA+ identity tends to fall between eight and 10. More recent reports reveal that kids are coming out sooner and more rainbow families are raising children. Thus, the need for what Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop calls “mirror and window” texts has never been greater. On this 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, many young readers can participate in a Pride celebration in their community. Many also still can’t. But all can take part in the revolution of reading. From mysteries to summer adventures to first loves, these titles validate queer youth, and youth in queer families, who are navigating those ever-­confusing years before young adulthood.

BIGELOW, Lisa Jenn. Drum Roll, Please. 320p. HarperCollins/Harper. Jun. 2018. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780062791146.
Gr 5-8–As much as Camp Rockaway is about rock and roll and goofy music puns, it’s also a place where youth can find themselves. First-time camper Melly, a shy drummer whose parents recently divorced, discovers that she has a crush on another girl. Bigelow expertly captures the awkward, unsteady drumbeat of middle school romance and transforms it into a character-driven tour de force.

BUNKER, Lisa. Zenobia July. 320p. Viking. May 2019. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780451479402.
Gr 5-8–The new girl in a new town, ­Zenobia is starting over after losing both her parents. When a transphobic, anti-Muslim Internet troll posts hate speech on her school’s website, Zenobia uses her computer hacking know-how to help find the culprit. Bunker creates an exquisite model of queer community: ­Zenobia has lesbian aunts, a genderqueer best friend, a fellow trans classmate, and a drag queen uncle.

CALLENDER, Kheryn. Hurricane Child. 224p. Scholastic. Mar. 2018. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781338129304.
Gr 4-6–Caroline is left feeling insecure after her mother’s sudden disappearance. Things look up when she meets Kalinda, her first and only friend at their Catholic school. But when friendship turns toward romance, their religion seeks to keep them apart. Callender complements Caroline’s strong first-person voice with atmospheric writing and a touch of magical realism. The U.S. Virgin Islands setting is beautifully drawn through rich description.

HOWARD, Greg. The Whispers. 256p. Putnam. Jan. 2019. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780525517498.
Gr 5-8–Heartbroken and traumatized from his mother’s mysterious disappearance, 11-year-old Riley leaves offerings to fabled beings known as the Whispers to help get her back. As he ventures into the forest, the Whispers—which may or may not be real—reveal more than just the truth about his mother. This poignant tearjerker is an exquisitely crafted mystery that provides rare, uplifting queer representation set in the religious American South.

MIENTUS, Andy. The Backstagers and the Ghost Light. Bk. 1. Sept. 2018. ISBN 9781419731204.
––––. The Backstagers and the Theater of the Ancients. Bk. 2. Mar. 2019. ISBN 9781419733659.
ea vol: illus. by Rian Sygh. 208p. (Backstagers). Abrams/Amulet. Tr $14.99.
Gr 6-9–The novelization of the hit comic book series continues the adventures of the Backstagers crew. Besides putting on fabulous plays at their all-boys school, the diverse theater tech squad also specialize in the paranormal happenings of the magical backstage. Two-color spot art keeps the original spirit of the series intact; multiple queer characters and detailed character development result in a praiseworthy artistic collaboration.

OSTERTAG, Molly Knox. The Witch Boy. 224p. Oct. 2017. ISBN 9781338089523.
––––. The Hidden Witch. 208p. Oct. 2018. ISBN 9781338253764.
ea vol: illus. by Molly Knox Ostertag. Scholastic/Graphix. Tr $24.99.
Gr 3-6–In this fantastical graphic novel series, girls are witches and boys are shape-shifters. But one young boy, Aster, breaks his family’s traditions by studying witchery in secret. He and his nonmagical friend Charlie fend off the threats of dark magic with their own forbidden skills. Ostertag’s immaculate world-building and expressive artwork are nothing short of bewitching.

PITMAN, Gayle E. The Stonewall Riots: Coming Out in the Streets. 208p. bibliog. chron. notes. Abrams. May 2019. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781419737206.
Gr 5-8–Pitman’s unique, museum exhibit–like structure tells the story of the 1969 Stonewall riots by focusing on “material culture” (photos, leaflets, artifacts, etc.) connected to events surrounding the watershed moment. The conversational tone offers young readers essential context, linking the LBGTQIA+ rights movement with other social movements of the time. The time line, footnotes, and bibliography are excellent.

SALAZAR, Aida. The Moon Within. 240p. Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine Bks. Feb. 2019. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781338283372.
Gr 5-8–This novel in verse, set in present-day Oakland, recounts Celi’s coming of age as her period arrives for the first time. She also gets her first crush on a boy. Celi’s new interest creates a rift between her and her best friend, Marco, who recently came out as genderfluid. Salazar’s exquisite writing interweaves ancestral Mexica rituals, Xicana identity, and complex female characters.

SELL, Chad & others. The Cardboard Kingdom. illus. by Chad Sell. 288p. Knopf. Jun. 2018. Tr $20.99. ISBN 9781524719371.
Gr 3-6–In this vibrant, episodic graphic novel, a group of 16 diverse children use their imaginations and lots of cardboard to create and inhabit a pretend world. Their make-believe facilitates a safe environment for identity exploration (queer or otherwise). Sell’s bright cartoon art unifies the multi-author collection and provides an infectious spirit of fun—even when the plot touches on more serious subjects.

SLOAN, Holly Goldberg & Meg Wolitzer. To Night Owl from Dogfish. 304p. Dial. Feb. 2019. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780525553236.
Gr 4-7–Written entirely in emails and letters, this collaborative effort sends tweens Avery (“Night Owl”) and Bett (“Dogfish”) to summer camp while their gay dads go off on a romantic adventure. Memorable characters combine with hilarity as the girls find that they have more in common than they thought. Sloan and Wolitzer are in top form, creating a steady, authentic road to friendship.


Alec Chunn is a Youth Services Librarian at Eugene Public Library in Oregon and an SLJ reviewer.

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