Ann Jacobus and Nancy Bo Flood, authors and educators, developed this list of books for middle grade readers with mental health and LGBTQ characters as a focus. They are maintaining it, so if you have suggestions, please let us know in the comments. Ann and Nancy are available for workshops on this important topic for librarians, educators, and mental health organizations. Ann Jacobus. Nancy Bo Flood.
written by Alex Gino
Scholastic Press, 2015
(transgender character, fourth grade)
When people look at Melissa, they think they see a boy named George. But she knows she’s not a boy. She knows she’s a girl.
Melissa thinks she’ll have to keep this a secret forever. Then her teacher announces that their class play is going to be Charlotte’s Web. Melissa really, really, REALLY wants to play Charlotte. But the teacher says she can’t even try out for the part … because she’s a boy.
With the help of her best friend, Kelly, Melissa comes up with a plan. Not just so she can be Charlotte — but so everyone can know who she is, once and for all.
written by Amy Polonsky
Little , Brown, 2014
(transgender character, sixth grade)
What if who you are on the outside doesn’t match who you are on the inside?
Grayson Sender has been holding onto a secret for what seems like forever: “he” is a girl on the inside, stuck in the wrong gender’s body. The weight of this secret is crushing, but sharing it would mean facing ridicule, scorn, rejection, or worse. Despite the risks, Grayson’s true self itches to break free. Will new strength from an unexpected friendship and a caring teacher’s wisdom be enough to help Grayson step into the spotlight she was born to inhabit?
Lily and Dunkin
written by Donna Gephart
Delacorte Press, 2016
(transgender character, bipolar disorder)
Author Donna Gephart crafts a compelling story about two remarkable young people: Lily, a transgender girl, and Dunkin, a boy dealing with bipolar disorder. Their powerful journey will shred your heart, then stitch it back together with kindness, humor, bravery, and love.
Lily Jo McGrother, born Timothy McGrother, is a girl. But being a girl is not so easy when you look like a boy. Especially when you’re in the eighth grade.
Dunkin Dorfman, birth name Norbert Dorfman, is dealing with bipolar disorder and has just moved from the New Jersey town he’s called home for the past thirteen years. This would be hard enough, but the fact that he is also hiding from a painful secret makes it even worse.
One summer morning, Lily Jo McGrother meets Dunkin Dorfman, and their lives forever change.
King and the Dragonflies
written by Kacen Callender
Scholastic Press, 2020
(12-year-old queer character, grief, racism, domestic violence)
Twelve-year-old Kingston James is sure his brother Khalid has turned into a dragonfly. When Khalid unexpectedly passed away, he shed what was his first skin for another to live down by the bayou in their small Louisiana town. Khalid still visits in dreams, and King must keep these secrets to himself as he watches grief transform his family.
It would be easier if King could talk with his best friend, Sandy Sanders. But just days before he died, Khalid told King to end their friendship, after overhearing a secret about Sandy-that he thinks he might be gay. “You don’t want anyone to think you’re gay too, do you?”
But when Sandy goes missing, sparking a town-wide search, and King finds his former best friend hiding in a tent in his backyard, he agrees to help Sandy escape from his abusive father, and the two begin an adventure as they build their own private paradise down by the bayou and among the dragonflies. As King’s friendship with Sandy is reignited, he’s forced to confront questions about himself and the reality of his brother’s death.