LGBTQIA characters can be hard to find in literature for kids.
And when they do show up, sometimes it comes in the form of an Albus Dumbledore of Harry Potter fame — a character who’s deemed gay by the creator outside the actual book content but who you might never guess is gay if you only ever read the books. Kid-lit recently got a little bit gayer, though, with the revelation that one of two main characters in the long-running Captain Underpants series is gay.
In the 12th installment of the popular series for elementary schoolers, the two main characters, George and Harold, meet the future versions of themselves. While both characters turn out to be married with kids, “Old Harold” just so happens to be married to another dude — and this is actually explained in the narration and depicted in author-illustrator Dav Pilkey’s artwork. No need to guess based on sparse textual clues or vague post-publication statements from the writer: This is a done deal!
Predictably, there are plenty of people coming out of the woodwork to decry depictions of The Gay in a book for kids, as if a cute drawing of two married guys sitting in a beanbag chair with their children is too scandalous for the tender eyes of an 8-year-old. Newflash: Families with non-straight parents exist, and showing them in books for kids is neither shocking nor offensive. It’s reality. Homogeneity is boring, especially when that homogeneity comes at the cost of showing LGBTQIA kids reflections of themselves in books.
And one of the best things about this is that it happened with a lead character who has already appeared in 11 previous novels, with a long-established literary following — and it’s in a book that’s not specifically about queer issues. That means a lot of kids who might not have picked up a book themed around growing up gay will be meeting this character and realizing that maybe it’s not such a big deal for someone to be into the same gender after all. Recognizing — and normalizing — relationships between non-straight couples is a big deal for kids’ literature, and if a straight couple hanging out with their kids isn’t too racy for a middle-grade picture book, neither is a gay couple doing exactly the same thing.
If the potty humor in the Captain Underpants saga isn’t your kid’s thing, then there are other options for positive LGBTQIA inclusion in chapter books. You can check out Bruce Coville’s The Skull of Truth for a story about, among other things, a boy learning he’s OK with his uncle’s relationship with another man, or My Heartbeat by Garret Freymann-Weyr for an interesting take on the typical young adult novel love triangle. There are options out there, even if they might be a little tricky to find. And since representation matters, it’s worth the search.