Welcome to Top Grade: CanLit for the Classroom, a blog and preview video series that features new releases from Canadian book publishers ideal for use in K-12 classrooms and school library collections. Throughout the year, we dive into new titles, highlighting relevant curriculum links and themes.
Written by secondary school teacher Spencer Miller
We are currently facing an unprecedented amount of book challenges and attempted bans in North America. According to researcher Robert Bittner, growing groups of parents, politicians, and educators are contesting the inclusion of books that discuss gender and sexuality, anti-racism, and anything that may cause “discomfort” in classrooms and libraries.
Book challenges and censorship affect and harm Canadian authors, such as when a picture book about gender identity written by author Elise Gravel became a recent target of complaints. They affect teachers, such as when I was asked to use a permanent marker to black out parts of novel we were reading in class (I did not). Most concerning is the harm done to students when their access to reading materials is removed.
As I’ve written in a previous blog post, “Learning about diverse gender and sexual identities benefits every student and creates more inclusive learning environments, reflective of the actual experiences of today’s learners.” Teachers and librarians can support our student’s freedom to read by making sure they have access to a diversity of books that reflect the full range of the LGBTQ+ spectrum.
How can we use books and reading to create a more LGBTQ+ inclusive classroom? Here are some tips and advice for teachers based on my own experiences.
1. Include LGBTQ+ books in your classroom library
All kids deserve access to books about gender and sexual identity. These are important topics for all learners. You can be a supportive teacher by providing access to LGBTQ+ in your classroom library. Keep in mind some students may feel hesitant to be seen reading or signing out an LGBTQ+ book. For this reason, my policy is that students are welcome to borrow any of my books at any time, no questions asked.
2. Study LGBTQ+ texts
There is power in the texts we choose to study. When we study an LGBTQ+ text, we are signalling to our students that LGBTQ+ voices have a place in our classroom and that the experiences of LGBTQ+ people are worthy of our close attention. I keep lists of my favourite LGBTQ+ novels, comics, poetry, movies, music, and more so I have lots of options ready to bring into my classroom throughout the year.
3. Highlight LGBTQ+ authors
Another way to celebrate LGBTQ+ stories is to recognize the authors who tell them. Consider creating a digital or bulletin board display of LGBTQ+ authors or taking the time to spotlight an author of the week. Introduce your students to inspiring Canadian LGBTQ+ writers. If you find yourself with an extra few minutes at the end of class, why not watch an author interview?
4. Share your love of LGBTQ+ books
What’s your favourite LGBTQ+ book? Let your students know about it! My best and most simple advice is to talk about the books you love. When I see a student reading an LGBTQ+ book from my classroom library I’ll say “I loved that book” or “that author is a favourite of mine.” These small moments of recognition mean a lot to my students.
5. Celebrate Freedom To Read Week (February 19th-25th 2023)
Last year, students and I used the resources available from Freedom To Read to learn about book bans and challenges across North America. My students were shocked to learn about the increasing challenges to books for teens. We had important conversations about censorship and their freedom to read.
As queer Canadian author Robin Stevenson shares, “Freedom to read means freedom to learn. It means freedom to find answers to your questions. It means freedom to discover that there are many people like you in the world, that you aren’t weird or wrong or alone, that your fears and desires and hopes are shared by others.”
Celebrate Freedom to Read Week in your classroom February 19th-25th.
We are lucky to have so many talented and dedicated authors and illustrators sharing their stories with young Canadian readers. Let’s celebrate LGBTQ+ voices and give them space in our classroom.
Here is a list of brand new Canadian books that feature LGBTQ+ characters and themes perfect for your classroom.
My Sister’s Girlfriend (ages 8-12) will help children understand the coming out process and teach young readers how to be an ally to their LGBTQ+ friends and family. In the story, fifth grader Talia is having a hard time adjusting to change after losing her mom to cancer a few years ago. Just when things are starting to feel like a new normal, her big sister Jade starts dating a girl name Emily and everything feels different again. With the help of her therapist, her friend Carmen, and her sister, Talia learns that love has many faces.
In Class: Teacher resources available from Rebel Mountain Press include lesson plans and videos for teaching about LGBTQ+ acceptance in elementary grade levels.
Like A Hurricane (ages 9-12) is a story told in verse that takes a sincere look at the thoughts and feelings of a young teen anxious about telling his friends and family that he is gay. The text is given a unique typographical treatment — the words curve, embolden, or shrink to reflect the narrators emotions creating an engaging visual reading experience.
In Class: What do your students wish they could tell the world about themselves? Invite them to write a poem of their own, using different shapes and sizes of words, to express or share a part of their own identity.
Orca Book Publishers have a pair of upcoming novels that explore the world of drag performance.
I Got You Babe (ages 9-12) is an amusing middle-grade novel that celebrates friendship, music, and self-expression. The story centres around a Pride Carnival and one teen’s determination to perform the perfect drag tribute to music icons Sonny and Cher. Mac will need to let go of the lead and let his friend Amy sparkle to pull it off.
Baby Drag Queen (ages 12-18) is a coming-of-age story about responsibility and acceptance. Ichiro is a transgender teen who dreams of buying a camper van for him and his mother to live off the grid and not have to worry about money anymore. He enters a drag contest with the hopes of winning the prize money. Ichiro has to find the courage to take the stage.
In Class: Watch this video to learn more about the fabulous history of drag culture and performance dating back to Shakespeare’s theatre.
A House Unsettled (ages 14-18) is a young adult novel and haunted house story that explores how past hatred still haunts us in the present. In the story, Asha, a queer biracial teen, is desperate for a fresh start after her dad’s incarceration and escalating fights with her mom. After moving to her late Aunt Aggie’s country home, Asha starts to notice disturbing occurrences in the old house. Her hunt for answers uncovers secrets about Aunt Aggie’s identity and events from the past that give new meaning to her present circumstances.
With the ever-popularity of horror and haunted house stories for teens, this book brings important representation and discussion about race and sexuality to the horror genre.
In Class: Read this interview to learn more about author Trynn Delaney, the inspiration behind A House Unsettled, and the importance of the horror genre.
Spencer Miller graduated from the University of Calgary with degrees in English and Education. He participated in various projects examining the potential of children’s literature in the classroom as an undergraduate researcher. He is currently a secondary school teacher in Montréal/Tiohtià:ke. You can follow more of Spencer’s passion for books on Instagram @YACanadaBooks.