A task force convened by the Santa Cruz County Office of Education has released a booklist called the “Top 40 LGBTQ+ Books that Every School Library Should Have,” a project undertaken as part of a commitment to safety and inclusiveness for LGBTQ+ students
The final list of 40 books includes fiction, nonfiction, graphic novels, anthologies and picture books. Ten titles were selected for each of the gradespans of PreK-2, 3-5, 6-8 and 9-12.
“When students see themselves reflected back in culture, curriculum, and media they are empowered to work harder and dream bigger,” said Santa Cruz County Superintendent of Schools Faris Sabbah. “We hope this list serves as useful resource for schools here in Santa Cruz County and beyond, especially during a moment in which some are actively working to censor LGBTQ+ voices from our classrooms.”
The LGBTQ+ Book Selection Task Force was made up of 16 people including public and school librarians, a student, educators, and representatives from Bookshop Santa Cruz who have regularly met since February. Selection criteria included that the main character must be part of the LGBTQ+ community and positively represented; that the book must be well-written and include a complex storyline, represent different genders, ethnicities and sexual orientations; and that the book was published in the past 10 years.
The decision to convene the selection committee emerged from a local student-led project to highlight LGBTQ+ books as well as requests from educators across the state.
In 2020, transgender student Q Licht created the Purple Sticker Project during his freshman year at Scotts Valley High School after noticing the lack of representation at many libraries and bookstores.
“I didn’t see myself reflected in books,” Licht said. “Any books with LGBTQ+ representation were out of the way – they were way at the top of bookshelves out of reach or at the bottom collecting dust.”
Licht worked with the school librarian at Soquel High School to place square purple stickers on LGBTQ+ books and to create an ongoing list of media.
During a similar time frame, Rob Darrow, LGBTQ+ Support Consultant for the Santa Cruz COE and a member of the Santa Cruz Safe School Project (SSP), was hearing from educators around the state about the need for a recommended LGBTQ+ booklist organized by grade level and aligned to state curriculum standards and frameworks. Following an LGBTQ+ Town Hall webinar in October 2021 sponsored by the Santa Cruz COE, Darrow spoke with Q about the idea of extending the Purple Sticker Project to a countywide effort.
“The next phase will be finding the funding to purchase these books for all of the school libraries throughout Santa Cruz County and to notify the authors about their book selections so hopefully we can have these authors visit our area in the future,” Darrow said. In addition, the COE has allocated funds this summer to support teachers to create curriculum guides to incorporate the books into lessons. The curriculum resources are expected to be ready by October, LGBTQ+ history month.
Organizations that have supported the booklist project include the Santa Cruz COE, the Queer Youth Task Force, the Safe Schools Project, and Bookshop Santa Cruz.