Out on the Shelves: Connecting rainbow young people with the stories that represent them

I love reading books about characters like me. And I know I'm not the only one like that. Books, stories, movies - we all want to see ourselves in these. Because we're all different, we're all awesome, and we all have interesting tales to share.

When you're reading about people, whether they're fiction or non-fiction stories, books will fall into two categories: windows, or mirrors. And although one reader might see themself reflected in a particular story, their friend might not. That book is a mirror for the reader, and a window for their friend.

Books act like windows when they let us into different worlds. We do not see ourself in the character, because we are not like them. We read about a way of life that's different from our own, and find out about other people's beliefs, worries, hopes, and daily life. These stories help us learn more about this way of life, and might make things seem a bit less scary, if there are beliefs and customs we don't know much about. 'Window books' help us develop empathy towards others.

"Mirror books' let you see yourself represented in literature. You read about someone that lives the same way as you, that has the same interests, background, goals, and difficulties. It is like looking in a mirror. You see yourself reflected in the book, and feel pretty good that someone's taken the time to write a book about a character like you ... especially if that book has a positive outcome, and shows you that can have a fun life and overcome those those things that are a bit tricky for you! When you see someone like you in a book, you feel like you can do what that character can do.

But what happens when you don't see yourself represented in the books you read?

If you are a member of a minority group (for example, you're somewhere along the  LGBTQ* spectrum, or a person of colour, or you have a disability), you're less likely to read books about people like you. It's basic maths - people generally write what they know, and because there aren't as many minority authors, there aren't as many minority books.  Sure, there are lots of great stories and books out there, but sometimes you just want to read about someone like you. For lack of a better word, you want to be 'normal', rather than always being 'other'.

Which brings us to 'Out on the Shelves' - an online reading resource connecting rainbow young people with the stories that represent them. This is the brainchild of the fantastic folks at InsideOUT, a group who work to make the country a safer and more welcoming place for young people of all different gender identities and sexualities.

Their goal with Out on the Shelves is to create a place where rainbow youth can find books by rainbow authors, and/or showing rainbow characters. The resource is just getting started, and so they are hoping to get people to review and suggest other titles in the future, but there are already a couple of really cool booklists to look at, and downloadable resources with even more specific characteristics (eg children's books with rainbow characters, books with non-binary characters, and books with asexual characters).  I am really looking forward to seeing this resource grow into the future, and seeing what other great books there are that people recommend.

So if you, or someone you know, is looking to read a book about a rainbow character, check this resource out, then pop along to your local library and see which of the titles they've got on offer.

In the meantime, why not check out some of these other rainbow titles held at Christchurch City Libraries. And don't forget, we love getting suggestions for new titles, so if there's a great rainbow title you'd like us to add to our collection, let us know.

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  • The Pants Project by Cat Clarke: a  young transgender boy fights for his right to wear the right school uniform.
  • Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli: the book that inspired the movie 'Love, Simon', this is the story about the highs and lows of being gay at high school.
  • If I was your Girl by Meredith Russo: a book about a transgirl settling in to a new school, written by a transgender author, and with a trans model on the cover.
  • If you Could be Mine by Sara Farizan: Two girls in love in Iran, where homosexuality is forbidden.
  • They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera: how would you spend your last day, if you knew it was your last?
  • Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit by Jaye Robin Browne: Joanna's been an out lesbian for ages, but when her family moves to a church-going town, she also has to move back into the closet.
  • They, She, He, Me: Free to be! by Maya Christina Gonzalez: a book for little people and their big people, about why pronouns matter.

Library Booklists

Recently published LGBTQIA YA books -- Christchurch City Libraries

List created by ChristchurchTeens

Recently published (in the last year) or upcoming books in lots of different genres that have gay, lesbian, bi, transsexual, transgender, gender fluid, asexual or any other characters who do not fit the 'straight and cisgender' mould. Updated March 2018. A Christchurch City Libraries list for teens.

An anthology of stories featuring queer teens throughout history.

Evan Panos's strict immigrant Greek mother sees him as a disappointment. His workaholic father is a staunch believer in avoiding any kind of conflict. And his best friend, Henry, has somehow become distractingly attractive over the summer. His only escape is drawing, in an abandoned monastery that feels as lonely as he is.

Sixteen-year-old Elena Mendoza is the product of a virgin birth. This can be scientifically explained (it’s called parthenogenesis), but what can’t be explained is how Elena is able to heal Freddie, the girl she’s had a crush on for years, from a gunshot wound in a Starbucks parking lot. Or why the boy who shot Freddie, David Combs, disappeared from the same parking lot minutes later after getting sucked up into the clouds.

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Diverse Books: Ability - Christchurch City Libraries

List created by ChristchurchTeens

A collection of young adult books with characters who have some form of disability, including chronic illness. A Christchurch City Libraries list for teens.

Nessa had polio when she was young, and now her legs are twisted and weak. In an isolated, cursed version of Ireland, where all teenagers are 'Called' into a brutal, violent fairyland to fight for their lives, does Nessa have any hope of surviving?

In his first novel, Paralympian and YouTuber Josh Sundquist introduces 16-year-old Will, who's proving his independence by transferring from his school for the blind to a mainstream high school. The transition is rough, but it improves after he makes friends, including shy, artistic Cecily. As Will's feelings for Cecily grow, he makes the tough decision to have experimental surgery, giving him eyesight for the first time…and showing him that his new friends have been lying to him about Cecily. (From Teen Scene newsletter, Feb 2017)


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Diverse Books: Gender Identity - Christchurch City Libraries

List created by ChristchurchTeens

Gender isn't just male and female, but a broad spectrum of different identities. Here's a list of books where the characters don't fall into the gender binary, including true stories. A Christchurch City Libraries list for teens.


A story about working out who you are, especially in terms of gender identity and relationships. Told from two different points of view, this is the story of Toni, who identities as genderqueer (although their labels change several times over the course of the book as Toni tries to figure out where Toni falls on the gender spectrum) and Toni's girlfriend Gretchen (who is cisgender and a lesbian). They're spending their first year at University apart, and figuring themselves out has never been harder.

When people look at George, they think they see a boy. But she knows she's not a boy. She knows she's a girl. George 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. George 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, George comes up with a plan. Not just so she can be Charlotte but so everyone can know who she is, once and for all.

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Diverse Books: Sexuality - Christchurch City Libraries

List created by ChristchurchTeens

A list of young adult books with characters who identify across a range of different sexualities. A Christchurch City Libraries list for teens.


Auditioning for a New York City performing arts high school could help Etta escape from her Nebraska all-girl school, where she's not gay enough for her former friends, not sick enough for her eating disorders group, and not thin enough for ballet but it may also mean real friendships.

Megan doesn't speak. She hasn't spoken in months. Things are locked inside her head, things that are screaming to be heard that she cannot let out. Then beautiful, talkative Jasmine starts at school, and for reasons Megan can't quite understand, life starts to look a bit brighter. But if Megan finds her voice, will she lose everything else?

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Diverse books: Race - Christchurch City Libraries

List created by ChristchurchTeens

Some new and old young adult fiction addressing or involving social/racial conflict. A Christchurch City Libraries list for teens.

Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, this is a story about police violence and racism, and a sixteen year old girl caught between two worlds.

When Xiomara is invited to join her school’s slam poetry club, she doesn’t know how she could ever attend without her restrictive mother finding out, much less speak her words out loud. But still, she can’t stop thinking about performing her poems.

When Marvin Johnson's twin, Tyler, goes to a party, Marvin decides to tag along to keep an eye on his brother. But what starts as harmless fun turns into a shooting, followed by a police raid.

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Literary Prizes

InsideOut

Out on the shelves display photos

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