Society of
Children's Book Writers
and Illustrators

The Evolution of LGBTQIA+ Representation in Picture Books – Notes 3/4/23

Representatives of the Long Island Library Pride Alliance (LILPA) explored and shared past and present portrayals of the LGBTQIA+ community in picture books.

Queer Coding

  • • Queer coding is the subtextual coding of a character as queer. Authors sometimes used this in the past when queer identities could not be as openly discussed.


  • • Influential LGBTQIA+ authors included Arnold Lobel who wrote the Frog and Toad series, Maurice Sendak who wrote Where the Wild Things Are, Tomie DePaolo who wrote Strega Nona, Margaret Wise Brown who wrote Good Night Moon, and Louise Fitzhugh who wrote Harriet the Spy.
  • • Ursula Nordstrom, editor-in-chief at Harper & Row, was responsible for publishing many books by LGBTQIA+ authors.


  • • Early examples of authors using queer coding include books by Munro Leaf, author of The Story of Ferdinand; 1936, Tomie dePaola, author of Oliver Button Is a Sissy; 1979, and Arnold Lobel, author of the Frog and Toad series; 1970-1979.
  • • Several notable books did not necessarily feature gay or lesbian characters, but still broke barriers. These included William’s Doll by Charlotte Zolotow (1972), X: A Fabulous Child’s Story by Lois Gould (1972; 1978), and Jenny Lives with Eric and Martin by Susanne Bösche (1981; 1983).
  • • First books featuring LGBQIA+ characters included When Megan Went Away by Jane Severance (1979), Heather Has Two Mommies by Lesléa Newman (1989), and Daddy’s Roommate by Michael Willhoite (1990).

Modern Themes

  • • Today there’s more representation of LGBQIA+ books with different races, points of view, and identities. Books Featuring LGBQIA+ families include Mama, Mommy, and Me in the Middle by Nina LaCour, Bathe the Cat by Alice B. McGinty, The Best Bed for Me by Gaia Cornwall, and Zak’s Safari by Christy Tyner (all published in 2022).
  • • Books about pride include ABC Pride by Louie Stowell and Elly Barnes (2022), Pride Puppy by Robin Stevenson (2021), Stonewall by Rob Sanders (2019) and Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag by Rob Sanders (2018).
  • • Books featuring transgender main characters include 10,000 Dresses by Marcus Ewert (2008), It Feels Good to Be Yourself by Theresa Thorn (2019), When Aiden Became a Brother by Kyle Lukoff (2019), My Rainbow by DeShanna Neal and Trinity Neal (2020), Born Ready: The True Story of a Boy Named Penelope by Jodie Patterson (2021), and If You’re a Kid Like Gavin by Gavin Grimm and Kyle Lukoff (2022).
  • • Awards that focus on diversity include the Stonewall Book Award, Lambda Literary Award, and The Walter Dean Myers Award.

Challenges and Bans

  • • One of the first banned books was The Rabbits’ Wedding by Garth Williams (1958) for promoting interracial marriage which was prohibited at that time.
  • • Other early banned books included Daddy’s Roommate by Michael Willhoite, Heather Has Two Mommies by Lesléa Newman, I Am Jazz by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings, Prince & Knight by Daniel Haack, And Tango Makes Three by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson, Jenny Lives with Eric and Martin by Susanne Bösche, The Family Book by Todd Parr, and Uncle Bobby’s Wedding by Sarah S. Brannen.
  • • According to the nonprofit PEN America, a record number of books have been banned from schools and libraries. noted 2,532 instances of banned books from June 2021 to June 2022. The most challenged book in 2022 was Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe, which saw a 130% increase in US print sales.
  • • PEN American identified that the types of books most banned were fiction (75%) and written for young adults (49%). The subject matter of the most banned books were “LGBTQ+ themes, protagonists, or prominent secondary characters” (41%) and “protagonists, or prominent secondary characters of color” (40%).
  • • LGBTQIA+ books represented only 4% of all children’s books in 2021.

How to be an LGBTQIA+ Ally