I was one of those Harry Potter kids: the kind that lined up for midnight releases of the best-selling books, that devoured instalments within hours of getting my grubby hands on them, and who could recite their Hogwarts house traits verbatim. And yes, I still read Harry Potter fanfiction. You’re allowed to judge me.
Speculative fiction ― a category that spans fantasy, sci-fi, and horror ― like the Harry Potter franchise, presents a unique allure for young readers. Young Adult (YA) speculative lit can whisk kids and teens away into worlds where having magical powers is a glimmering possibility.
There’s a lot to unpack about separating authors from their works, but there’s thankfully a bounty of remarkable work by trans authors who deserve to be read, as well as stories with nuanced representation of gender-marginalized characters.
If a trans-affirming adventure is something a young reader in your life can get behind, here are our book recommendations for magical reads trans and gender-non-conforming kids can get lost in (and they’re great picks for kids across the gender spectrum). Many are by trans authors themselves.
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Little readers (ages six and under)
From The Stars In The Sky To The Fish In The Sea, by Kai Cheng Thom
Buy it here for $18.76.
Julian Is A Mermaid, by Jessica Love
I used to work in a social justice-oriented bookstore and would spend a lot of time crying in the kid’s lit aisles over books like this. In Julian Is A Mermaid, the titular character meets a gaggle of drag queens and is utterly enchanted. This story with fantastical elements presents the mermaids in a very ethereal manner.
Buy it here for $22.76.
Kid readers (ages 12 and under)
Felix YZ, by Alice Bunker
When a boy fuses with an alien, you can bet that identity looms large in Felix YZ. His genderfluid grandparent and a queer mother are sources of important lessons for the hero.
Buy it here for $22.99.
Pet, by Akwaeke Emezi
Rarely do YA novels make waves among adult contemporaries like Akwaeke Emezi’s Pet has. The main character is told there are no monsters in her community by grown-ups, but quickly learns otherwise. Emezi, who also wrote the acclaimed adult novel Freshwater, told Teen Vogue she wanted to use the backdrop of YA fantasy to show a better world.
“Some people might have difficulty imagining a world where black trans kids are safe, where there are no police, where there are no prisons. So books kind of help you. Or Pet, in this case, can help create that window of possibility,” she said.
Buy it here for $23.99.
Maiden, Mother, Crone: Fantastical Trans Femmes, edited by Gwen Benaway
Considered the first fantasy anthology by trans femme and trans women authors, Maiden, Mother, Crone collects stories where trans femme characters are literally magical: they cast spells and fight villians with the best of them. There’s a potential reprint in the works: its original publisher Bedside Press shuttered following its founder’s admission of crossing sexual boundaries and assault. The anthology’s editor Gwen Benaway said over Twitter that the book is looking for “next steps” going forward.
Buy it here for $20.00.
All Out: The No-Longer-Secret Stories Of Queer Teens Throughout The Ages, edited by Saundra Mitchell
Trans heroes populate this collection of LGBTQ+ historical fiction, with one reader commending its depiction of a trans Robin Hood.
Buy it here for $18.56.
The Dreadnought series by April Daniels
This gritty, superhero series pulls no punches when showing what real trans teens may face, with a flair for all the crime-fighting tropes capes fans love.
Buy it here for $19.31.
The Nameless series, by Matthew Rossi
Bisexual author Matthew Rossi started the action-packed Nameless series because he wanted to depict bisexual and genderfluid characters in a nuanced way. Come for the monsters and mythology, stay for the romances that unfurl between characters.
Buy it here for $13.75.
Advanced readers: books for teens who read at adult levels
The Tensorate series by JY Yang
Singaporean non-binary writer JY Yang created a sprawling “silkpunk” adventure in their Tensorate series, a hybrid genre that blends sci-fi, fantasy and East Asian culture. In Yang’s series, people are born without assigned genders. They can choose a gender identity later in life, or abstain from choosing entirely.
Buy it here for $16.34.
The Shadow series by Lila Bowen
The monster-battling runaway protagonist of Lila Bowen’s The Shadow series comes into his own over the course of this four-book high fantasy series; readers will watch the Black and Indigenous hero Rhett shed pronouns and a name that doesn’t serve him anymore as he gains independence.
Buy it here for $13.79.
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