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Fifty years ago, Jack Baker and Michael McConnell became the first same-sex couple to be legally married in America.
It was a feat managed with a little sleight-of-hand and a name change, amid a court battle with the state of Minnesota. But the couple's marriage was allowed to stand, almost 45 years before the Supreme Court made same-sex marriage legal for all.
Baker and McConnell spoke to TODAY about the new picture book celebrating their union, "Two Grooms on a Cake," out just in time for Pride month. Publisher Little Bee Books is donating proceeds from the book to GLAAD.
We asked "Two Grooms" author Rob Sanders and other bestselling children's authors to suggest their favorite inclusive books for Pride month. Our panelists include "Felix Ever After" author Kacen Callender, K.A. Holt, author of "Ben Y and the Ghost in the Machine," and Alex London, author of the upcoming "Battle Dragons" series.
"Not only is this a great introduction to the flexibility and joy of language, Ari's story is a perfect introduction to gender inclusive pronouns for young readers by two nonbinary creators," London said.
"When Aidan Became a Brother" is about a transgender child "whose gender identity isn't the focus of the story as he reaches a milestone of becoming a first-time big brother and nervously prepares for his new sibling, a story that many young readers will relate with," Callender said. "This is a heartwarming and groundbreaking gem."
"If you want to read an LGBTQ+-themed picture book for Pride, why not start with the first one?" Sanders asked. "When 'Heather Has Two Mommies' was released more than 30 years ago, it was groundbreaking and it continues to be heartwarming to this day. Heather is a girl whose favorite things come in twos — two pets, two gingersnaps, two moms. On the first day of school, Heather tells her classmates about her moms and the class discovers the uniqueness of each other’s families."
"'We are Little Feminists: Families' is one of the few board books I’ve seen that truly celebrates intersectionally diverse families," Holt said. "This sweet book is filled with loving and cheerful photographs of real families. Genders, sexualities, and partnerships that are often underrepresented —particularly in books for small children —are proudly on display. It’s a gorgeous book that should be part of every family’s picture book collection."
"Growing up in the '60s and '70s, I never saw a character like me in a book," Sanders said. "I finally found that character in 'Flamer.' If you ever wondered what it’s like to be queer, closeted, chubby, and bullied—or if you experienced it yourself—then you need to meet Aiden Navarro. If you remember a first crush who broke your heart and crushed your spirit or felt you couldn’t go on until you found out you could, then you might just see yourself in the pages of this book, too."
"The beauty of this graphic novel is in how LGBTQ characters and topics are just... characters and topics," Holt said. "For those of us who identify as LGBTQ, it’s no surprise that our lives are filled with good friends and misunderstandings and bad choices and lessons learned — just like everyone else in the world. To others, though, it might be a revelation to see queer folx fill every nook and cranny of a book that’s not defined by its queerness. It’s really nice to experience a story that’s universally relatable — and told through a non-heteronormative lens."
"This is just a gorgeous story of found family, growing up, the trials of young love, and intergalactic excavation," London said. "Tillie Walden's story is compelling and moving, the world building is unique and astounding, but the art makes the story transcendent."
"'The Prince and the Dressmaker,' written and illustrated by Jen Wang, is a beautifully told story of a prince’s gender expression and the dressmaker he hires to design clothing for his secret life as Lady Crystallia. This romantic tale has one of the most joyful, celebratory endings that still makes me want to cry happy tears," Callender said.
Chapter books and middle grade
"I didn't know the history or professional baseball's first sort-of out gay player, nor did I know he invented the high five, until I read this wonderful middle grade novel about coming out, playing baseball, and doing a report on Glenn Burke," London said. "This book is for kids who love sports books, kids who love history, and anyone who has ever worried about coming into their own as their full self and finding acceptance and community. I can't recommend it highly enough!"
Callender and Sanders both recommended this middle-grade book about a 12-year-old with big plans for the summer. Callender called it "a pinnacle of perfection: a tender, emotional story of a girl whose crush on a new friend allows her to question her own sexuality, and a journey where Sunny gets to discover just how mighty her heart really is." Sanders had three words to describe it: "humor, heart and hope."
"Jason June’s 'Mermicorn Island' books are pure delight," Holt said. "Technically on the young end of middle grade (well, technically chapter books) these books are enjoyed by kids of any age. With hilarious word play, tons of love, and extra shimmering sparkle, Jason June’s characters and storylines don’t just speak joy to queerness, they speak joy to knowing and loving who you are — and to the joy in helping others find pride in their own sparkle."
"'The Passing Playbook,' Isaac Fitzsimons’ debut novel, is something I wish I’d had when I was a teen. This is a hopeful story of Spencer who fights discrimination against his trans identity on a soccer team, while developing a crush for one of his teammates," Callender said. "This story is courageous and loving. It’s just come out on June 1st, so it could also be the perfect new novel to celebrate Pride with!"
"Much like 'Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me,' 'Everything Leads to You' tells a story starring queer characters, but it doesn’t center their queerness," Holt said. "This charming, heartfelt book is about love and loss and finding your way in the world. The main character is a lesbian, but whatever her coming out story was, it happened before the story begins. To me, the importance of books like this are to show that, just as queer kids have read and loved and related to books about straight kids forever, straight kids now have the chance to read and love and relate to books starring queer kids."
The stakes couldn’t begin any higher—a night in a cemetery, summoning spirits, and the mystery of a dead cousin (and that’s just the first three chapters). The main character of Cemetery Boys is a transgender, gay sixteen-year-old boy who is excluded from the rite of passage that would firmly cement him in his close-knit, diverse, East LA community. There’s romance, suspense, and more than a few spine-chilling moments as well as a main character, Yadriel, who will grab your heart and not let it go.
"This is a great coming of age tale about an out boy trying to figure out who he is beyond the labels that others have for him," London said. "It's deeply insightful about the journeys of becoming we're all on, about the complexities of identity and family and surviving the ebb and flow of first love and first break-ups and the countless firsts that are yet to come."
"Sometimes You Have to Lie: The Life and Times of Louise Fitzhugh, Renegade Author of Harriet the Spy," by Leslie Brody
"Though technically written for adults, 'Sometimes You Have To Lie' is a biography I would have devoured as a teen," Holt said. "Through meticulous research and vibrant first-hand accounts, Leslie Brody introduces us to the real Louise Fitzhugh — a woman who was just as bold and wild and flawed as the most famous character she created. Brody quietly points out the paradoxical duality that gay women in the public eye historically found themselves in (and sometimes still find themselves in today): being out and proud, but in a meticulously private way that allows them to protect the reach and legacy of their public achievements."
Seeing Gender by Iris Gottlieb was a fascinating mixture of personal autobiographical story, important facts about gender, and interesting and funny tidbits and side notes about identity and expression that felt freeing and healing and empowering.
"I don’t know about you, but I didn’t grow up learning LGBTQ+ history. Everything I’ve discovered, I’ve learned on my own as an adult. It’s time for that to change," Sanders said. "This book can help kid readers (and adults) learn that LGBTQ+ history is part of American and world history. Our stories aren’t controversial, but not teaching history sure is. This book will give you an introduction to the LGBTQ community’s heart—our history."
Books by our panelists
In this heart-warming young adult novel, Felix arrives at a competitive summer arts program only to face transphobic attacks. In his campaign to fight back, Felix will explore his identity and might even — finally — find love.
This second book in the "Kids Under the Stairs" series is a novel in verse that follows Ben Y as her family copes with the aftermath of her brother's death and she searches for her own identity amid the challenges of middle school and changing friendships.
London described his forthcoming middle grade novel as "basically 'The Fast the Furious' meets 'How to Train Your Dragon,' and the world it's set in is a queer inclusive a world as I could imagine."
Every cake needs a good recipe and lots of love. This picture book tells the little-known history of the first legally married same-sex couple in America, from the perspective of their cake toppers.