Inclusive Storytimes

Create a space that welcomes all families

June 1, 2017

Megan Roberts

When kids in LGBTQ families read stories that reflect their experiences, it helps them create connections with literature and develop positive self-esteem. In addition, children who hear stories about people who are different from them—those who have two mommies or are from another part of the world, for example—develop empathy and an understanding about themselves and others.

The month of June, which is both Pride Month and the American Library Association’s (ALA) GLBT Book Month, is a perfect time to celebrate the voices and experiences of the LGBTQ community.

I founded Family Storytime at the LGBT Center of Raleigh (N.C.) Library with Director Erin Iannacchione in 2012, after noticing there were few opportunities for LGBTQ families and allies in our community to get together in a safe and supportive environment. While offering a program at an LGBT center is a unique experience, many things we do can be replicated in any library, whether the only LGBTQ picture book in your collection is Todd Parr’s The Family Book or your library hosts drag queen storytimes.

Using inclusive language is an easy way to make a library program more welcoming to everyone. Changing out names in rhymes, puppet shows, or flannel stories for gender-neutral names and replacing pronouns with proper names are examples of little things that can make a big difference for a parent or child in the audience. Think about Mo Willems’s Elephant and Piggie series: There are almost no pronouns in these books, and you can continue to omit them if you are putting on a puppet show with these two characters.

Suggested books for storytime can be found on ALA’s Rainbow Book List, but don’t overlook other books in your collection. For instance, books with ambiguous animal families, like Emma Dodd’s Love You Books series, are a great way to include stories about how much a child is loved without excluding same-sex parents, single parents, or grandparents raising grandchildren.

Changing out names in rhymes, puppet shows, or flannel stories for gender-neutral names and replacing pronouns with proper names are examples of little things that can make a big difference for a parent or child in the audience.

If you are ready to host an LGBTQ family storytime this month, you could read the pride-parade picture book This Day in June by Gayle E. Pitman and Kristyna Litten, or invite a drag queen to come read stories. If you are unsure how to book a drag queen for your event, ask for suggestions from an LGBTQ organization in your community or a local nightclub.

Some of our most popular events at the LGBT Center are visits from local authors who have written about their LGBTQ families, growing up as a transgender kid, and being adopted. Author-themed programs have also been well attended at our center, like the storytime where we read a few of Parr’s books and then had kids create brightly colored family portraits to take home. An added bonus is that you might attract people who are fans of the featured author but don’t regularly use your library.

If planning an event for June seems too immediate, Banned Books Week (September 24–30) is another fitting opportunity to host an LGBTQ storytime, as many of the picture books that make the Office for Intellectual Freedom’s annual list of top 10 most challenged books contain LGBTQ characters or themes. If Banned Books Week is already a big program at your library, adding storytimes for titles such as And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell can build on the success of something your library already does.

If you are able to offer an LGBTQ storytime or to have a presence at your local pride parade, by all means do. But if that is not a reality for your library, don’t assume you can’t do anything. Pick one inclusive measure to incorporate at your library. We all start somewhere, and we can all be welcoming to all families.