February is LGBT+ History Month in the UK, an annual moment to reflect on the history of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, intersex, ace, questioning and queer people. (If you’re not sure of what any of those terms mean, why not find out now?). So I thought it would be a good moment to share some LGBT+ children’s poetry suggestions for teachers, parents and curious readers.
Why mark LGBT+ History Month through children’s poetry?
According to Stonewall, half of LGBT+ children are bullied at school. By openly talking and reading about LGBT+ lives, we can normalise a variety of gender identities, families and sexualities, and let those children know that whoever they are is okay. LGBT+ History Month offers the lifelines of community – of knowing they’re not alone – and history. And it’s helpful for us all to remember that, though people haven’t always had the language to describe themselves as such, LGBT+ people have always existed. Some of our greatest poets, from Sappho to Rumi, William Shakespeare to Wilfred Owen, wrote about loving people of the same gender as them.
If you’re not sure where to begin with LGBT+ authors, poetry is a great route in. Poems are short, so you can hear from a diverse range of perspectives in a single lesson. Why not read a poem a day throughout this month, or throughout June for Pride?
NB: these aren’t strictly children’s poems – but they don’t contain strong language or graphic/triggering imagery of any kind and can be shared with anyone of any age.
- ‘Shall I Compare Thee To A Summer’s Day?’ by William Shakespeare is perhaps the most famous love poem in the English language, and about a man loving a man.
- ‘Wild Geese’ by Mary Oliver is one of America’s best-loved poems, counteracting shame and offering comfort in nature.
- ‘One Art’ by Elizabeth Bishop is a classic tragic love poem… and a chance to learn about the villanelle form!
- ‘Poem for My Love’ by June Jordan is a classic joyous love poem, by contrast.
- Scotsman Edwin Morgan is also a great love poet. Try ‘Strawberries’ for starters.
- ‘Untitled’ by James Baldwin is a beautiful, quiet poem about rain and feeling overwhelmed. For older readers, ‘Guilt, Desire and Love’ personify the shame that many queer people have to work to overcome.
- You can also read what Foyle Young Poets recommend here
- Age 5+: Wain by Rachel Plummer re-tells Scottish folklore in a beautifully illustrated book that make the queer subtext the text.
- Age 10+: Rising Stars isa children’s anthology of marginalised voices including work by Victoria Adukwei Bulley, Ruth Awolola, Abigail Cook, Jay Hulme and Amina Jama.
- Aged 13+ PROUD is a YA anthology of short stories, poems and art about pride. Find teaching resources based on it here.
Suggested writing activities
- Using whatever magazines and newspapers you have lying around, create found poems, erasing any gender stereotypes (etc.). Make them into zines and hold an exhibition!
- Gender Swapped Fairy Tales simply swaps the genders in fairy tales. Can you write poems that do the same? What surprises occur when the gender changes but the story stays the same?
- More writing prompts here.
- Find more children’s books on Gay’s The Word’s website, or ask your local queer bookshop.
- Stonewall recommends books by age.
- LGBT+ History Month have a great teaching pack for poetry, prose and plays.
The Poetry Society’s resources
- Poets for LGBT+ History Month and Always (KS4+): reading recommendations and writing prompts from teacher Nazmia Jamal
- Two ‘shelfies’ (KS2+): LGBT+ reading recommendations from our Education Team
- Foyle Young Poet Libby Russell writes about what we can gain from reading queer poets
- Foyle Young Poets share their LGBT+ poet-heroes, from Paul Verlaine to Audre Lorde, and what they mean to them
Happy LGBT+ History Month!
Helen Bowell is one of The Poetry Society’s Education Officers, and runs both Young Poets Network and Poets in Schools. In her spare time, she is a co-director of Dead [Women] Poets Society, resurrecting women writers of the past, and a poet published by Bad Betty Press.