Queer History in Middle Grade Books

Queer History in Middle Grade Books
Photo by Jorge Fernández Salas / Unsplash

Earlier this month, a presentation was made to a school board in Manitoba requesting the need to set up a committee to evaluate books in school libraries, particularly focusing on books about transgender youth. Happily, the community came out in force against this idea and the motion was voted down. This move towards censorship has been creeping further into Canada recently and it seeks to erase 2SLGBTQ+ identities from public spaces. However, queer identities are not new, and neither are their stories. Showing students queer stories from the past and present is important.

The novel The Civil War of Amos Abernathy, by Michael Leali, shows the importance of queer stories in history. Amos is a gay teen who volunteers at a Living History Park in Illinois. He starts to question why he has never seen any stories in the park about LGBTQ+ people. After doing some research, he learns about Albert D. J. Cashier, a person who might have identified as a trans man and who fought in the civil war. Albert was a real historical figure, and the novel makes it clear that we need to rethink how history has been told, as stories about queer and racialized people have not received the attention they deserve.

Alice Austen Lived Here, by Alex Gino, offers a complementary story. Sam and TJ, two nonbinary kids from Staten Island, are given a history assignment to write a report about a local historical figure of note. They end up investigating the real historical figure of Alice Austen, a photographer who lived with her female partner for decades. Like The Civil War of Amos Abernathy, the Sam and TJ challenge others to rethink a history that has long prioritized the stories of dead white cis men, and promote stories from the past that show the long history of queer people.

While these fiction books incorporate real historical figures, other non-fiction books are also good options for the classroom. The Stonewall Riots: Coming Out in the Streets, by Gayle E. Pitman, is a fascinating read that tells the story of the Stonewall Riots, a series of demonstrations in New York that were essential in the movement for LGBTQ+ rights. I enjoyed how the book is written like a museum exhibit, offering artifacts and explaining their importance in this multifaceted movement. Another excellent non-fiction book for middle years and beyond is Pride: The Celebration and the Struggle, by Robin Stevenson. This book celebrates the LGTQ+ community from around the world and focuses on the history of pride as a rights movement and a celebration. The author is also Canadian, so the book offers some focus on Canada. Overall, these books show that queer identities have a long and important history, with stories that deserve to be centered in classrooms.