Community members of all ages come together to paint a rainbow mural. Above the image is "P is for pride."
Article Type Story Board Behind the Scenes Categories Books

Bringing LGBTQ+ Picture Books into the Spotlight

Chandra Boudreau

I had already worked as a children’s librarian for almost a decade when  I was selected as the Trinkett Clark intern at The Carle six years ago, so my familiarity and appreciation for picture books ran deep. The culminating project of my 2018 internship was to curate an exhibition in reproduction for the museum’s Reading Library. I had just completed a graduate-level class on LGBTQ+ history, and the subject rattled around my brain as I tried to decide on a theme for my show. I spoke with artist Mike Curato and author Megan Dowd Lambert during a museum visit and their enthusiasm and encouragement enabled me to settle on my topic.

The image reproductions from the 2018 version of ALL: A Look into LGBTQ Representation in Picture Books hanging in the Reading Library.

Boudreau’s original exhibition of ALL: A Look into LGBTQ Representation in Picture Books was on display in The Carle’s Reading Library in 2018. It explored images of love, identity, validation, and families.

The exhibition I created was entitled ALL: A Look into LGBTQ Representation in Picture Books. It featured 25 titles, 19 of which had been published in the previous five years. I was fortunate to work with incredible authors and illustrators, getting the rights to display Tomie dePaola’s classic Oliver Button is a Sissy as well as discovering new titles like Daniel Haack and Stevie Lewis’s Prince & Knight. The generosity of the creators deeply touched me. I was also moved to see families exploring the art and books when the library exhibition finally opened. 

Illustration of prince and knight embracing.

Stevie Lewis, Illustration for Prince & Knight by Daniel Haack (Little Bee Books). © 2018 Stevie Lewis.

I am honored that The Carle recently invited me to digitize the  exhibition for their website. I immediately explored books published since 2018, many of which told new stories or highlighted different identities. Again, I met gracious artists who shared their stories and the meaning behind their works, from the friends represented in the pictures to the personal experiences infused into the narratives. I am grateful to these authors and illustrators who have agreed to share their work here.

Two groups of people meet in a park next to a duck pond with three dogs, while a band plays music in the background in a gazebo.

Noah Grigni, Illustration for It Feels Good to Be Yourself by Theresa Thorn (Henry Holt and Company). © 2019 Noah Grigni.

Since 2018, I have learned picture books have moved past using animals and non-human characters to explore identity stories. I could finally create a version of the exhibition (almost) without animal surrogates. Not to say there are issues with the substitution of animals for humans, but in a topic that is so deeply human, its effectiveness can be limited. Worm Loves Worm by J.J. Austrian and illustrated by Mike Curato, and And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell and illustrated by Henry Cole, remain in the exhibition because of their significance in the picture book field, their popularity, and the discussions they spark.

Two adult penguins watch over a baby penguin sitting in a nest.

Henry Cole, Illustration for And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell (Simon and Schuster). © 2005 Henry Cole.

Picture books create opportunities for readers to see themselves, to affirm their existence. They allow readers to learn about people and places unfamiliar to them. They build empathy and help others to become better allies. People have less fear of the unknown if they are introduced to concepts and experiences in low stakes situations, like reading. This is the power of reading diversely. This is why LGBTQ+ picture books are so important in schools, public libraries, and at home. 

A town has gathered on main street at a rainbow crosswalk to begin a pride parade, which is being led by a grandfather and his family. People have signs celebrating and advocating for LGBTQ+ rights.

Harry Woodgate, Illustration for Grandad’s Pride (Little Bee Books). © 2023 Harry Woodgate.

The rise of challenged and banned books concerns me not only as a librarian, but as a member of my community. Books are great connectors between people. They generate conversations and open eyes. They inform on the past and inspire the future. They allow people to learn, no matter where they are in their life or in the world. LGBTQ+ books are being targeted right now out of fear: fear of change and fear of differences. The books here show that differences can be explored and celebrated. Our communities are stronger for it. I hope these books inspire you to learn more about your community and to uplift all.



Chandra Boudreau

Chandra Boudreau (she/her), a librarian for over a decade, supports the Freedom to Read and advocates for the importance of libraries and trained librarians.

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Past Exhibition
August 2, 2018 - July 28, 2019