Put a little (kid-friendly) spookiness in your season with these terrific LGBTQ-inclusive picture books and middle grade titles filled with ghosts, spirits, witches, and even queer vampire and werewolf moms!
Click titles or images for details and full reviews!
A Costume for Charly, by C. K. Malone, illustrated by Alejandra Barajas (Beaming Books). Charly is looking for a Halloween costume that shows “they were both a boy and a girl.” It’s an upbeat and welcome tale about a queer kid finding their own solution to a problem—and the problem not being their identity or people’s reaction to it.
Early Chapter Book
Wish Upon a Shark (Mermicorn Island #4), by Jason June, illustrated by Lisa Manuzak Wiley (Scholastic). Lucky is a mermicorn—half mermaid, half unicorn—who lives in an undersea world full of magic. In this volume of the series, he needs a super-scary costume for a contest during his favorite holiday, Scary Splash (think undersea Halloween). He decides to go as the Great Ghost Shark, the biggest, scariest creature in the seven seas. What happens, though, when a real shark crashes the party? And will Lucky finally find his own magic? One friend has two dads and the series’ sparkly aesthetic conveys a definite flamboyant queer vibe.
Middle Grade Books (Younger Age Range)
The Devouring Wolf, by Natalie C. Parker, illustrated by Tyler Champion (Razorbill). Twelve-year-old Riley is excited that on the first full moon of summer, she will finally turn into a wolf like her two moms and the rest of her werewolf community. Something goes wrong, however, and Riley and four friends don’t transform. When the adults are distracted by an outside threat, the five friends must seek answers on their own. But can they master their new-found magics to do so? And will Riley overcome her insecurities and learn to be a leader? There’s additional queer representation, too: Riley’s older sister Darcy is trans, one other kid is nonbinary, and another was raised by two uncles, presumably a couple. Riley herself seems to be developing a crush on another girl. A thoroughly enjoyable read.
Witchlings, by Claribel A. Ortega (Scholastic). Young witches being sorted? A town in our world, but full of magic? Three friends on a quest to fight an evil monster? A protagonist who is a person of color? Queer inclusion? If you want all of the above, and none of the transphobia, this book, starring 12-year-old witchling Seven Salazar, is for you. While some parts of the book evoke the world of another famous trio of magical friends, Ortega also adds in much original worldbuilding and characterization, along with much more diversity.
Cattywampus, by Ash van Otterloo (Scholastic). Magic is banned in the Appalachian town of Howler’s Hollow, but when 12-year-old Delpha finds her family’s secret spellbook, she wants to use it to reverse their family’s fortunes. Katybird comes from a rival witching family, but Katy isn’t sure if her own magic will work, because Katy is intersex and her family’s magic follows the matrilineal line. In seeking to master their magic, the two accidentally unleash a hex and a graveyard full of zombies. Can they work together to stop them and save the town? Fun and full of atmosphere. A secondary character has two moms.
A Touch of Ruckus, by Ash van Otterloo (Scholastic). In this second novel set in Howler’s Hollow, a girl named Tennie can sense memories trapped in objects. She’s kept this power hidden, however, not wanting to add extra stress to her family’s financial struggles and to Mama’s “blues”/depression. When Tennie’s power releases a ghost with a frightening message, however, Tennie and her new friend Fox (who is nonbinary) must unravel the mystery that now encompasses Tennie’s family and the wider community. A budding romance between Tennie and Fox is given a light touch. Spooky, folksy, and occasionally lyrical, the book never lets its magic get in the way of the very real emotions of friendship and family.
The Accursed Vampire, by Madeline McGrane (Quill Tree). A funny and surprisingly touching graphic novel about a nonbinary vampire kid named Dragoslava (“Drago”) who was cursed by a witch centuries ago and is now bound to do her bidding or get turned into a pile of worms. She now wants Drago to rescue a spellbook stolen from her by another witch. Drago attempts to do so with the help of two vampire friends. But the midwestern town where the book resides has secrets of its own, including a two-woman witch-vampire couple who end up taking in the three children. McGrane paints an offbeat world of magic, vampires, and modern conveniences. An absolute delight and highly recommended.
ParaNorthern And the Chaos Bunny A-Hop-Calypse, by Stephanie Cooke, illustrated by Mari Costa (Clarion). Young witch Abby helps in her family’s magical coffee shop, but one day accidentally opens a portal to another dimension, unleashing an invasion of chaos bunnies. Abby and her friends—wolf-girl Gita, ghost Hannah, and pumpkinhead Silas—must work to save the town, even as Abby is still learning to control her magical powers. Abby and Gita also have crushes on each other, although this is not a primary focus. A cozy, funny read, woven with themes about the bonds of friendship and family.
Beetle & The Hollowbones, by Aliza Layne (Atheneum). Twelve-year-old goblin-witch Beetle lives in the eerie town of ‘Allows, but fits in neither as a sorceress nor as a ghost whose spirit is trapped in the mall, like her nonbinary best friend Blob Ghost. When Beetle’s old best friend Kat Hollowbone returns to town for a sorcery apprenticeship, Beetle is reminded of her inadequacy. Yet plans are afoot that endanger Blob Ghost and force Beetle to confront her fears and her feelings for Kat. A fun, clever, and surprisingly human story, despite the fantastical characters.
Middle Grade Books (Older Age Range)
Where the Lost Ones Go, by Akemi Dawn Bowman (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). Twelve-year-old Eliot Katayama is grieving for Babung, her grandmother who died recently after struggling with dementia. Eliot wants to find a way to speak with Babung again, even in their new home across the country. Nearby, in the supposedly haunted Honeyfield Hall, she encounters new neighbor Mrs. Delvaux, rumored to be a witch, and her granddaughter, Hazel. The ghosts of Honeyfield Hall, it turns out, are real—but so is a monster dwelling in the Hall. The two girls must help the trapped spirits, even as their feelings for each other deepen. A haunting but ultimately hopeful story about grief and love, history and memory, ghosts and living, with some slow, satisfying revelations and a message about what it means to live our full truths.
The Last Hope in Hopetown, by Maria Tureaud (Little, Brown). Twelve-year-old human Sophie Dawes is happy living with her two adoptive vampire moms. When vampires begin going rogue, though, there are curfews and visits from child protective services. Sophie knows it’s the price to pay to stay with her family. When even Mama turns rogue, however, Sophie decides it’s up to her and her vampire friend Delphine (who has two human parents), to find a cure, even if it means defying a secret vampire council, shady politicians, a powerful government agency, and a questionable corporation. This exciting vampire tale also explores deeper themes of what it means to be a family and to belong—and who the monsters among us really are.
Moonflower, by Kacen Callender (Scholastic). A lyrical, magical-realist novel about 12-year-old Moon, who has been diagnosed with depression. Therapy isn’t helping, and Moon worries that their single mom hates them. On top of that is the stress of the pandemic, plus the worries of being Black and nonbinary in our society. To escape, Moon travels each night to the spirit world. There, they befriend the creature Wolf and find adventures, but only when that world is threatened and Moon must try to save it do they also begin a journey towards healing and acceptance in both that realm and ours.
The Visitors, by Greg Howard (G.P. Putnam’s Sons). The Hollow Pines Plantation in South Carolina seems deserted, but to one 12-year-old boy, now a ghost, it’s home. He doesn’t remember the trauma that bound him there or how long ago it was. He just knows he’s stuck there with other, older souls who were part of the plantation’s legacy of slavery. When three living children (one of whom is a trans girl) visit the site, he sees the possibility of finally escaping. (There’s also another queer character, but it’s a spoiler.) A compelling, atmospheric, and original tale. Please read the full review, though, for a content warning that’s also a spoiler.
Too Bright to See, by Kyle Lukoff (Dial). A Newbery Honor Book, National Book Award finalist, and Stonewall Award winner, this is a coming-of-age story and a mystery rolled into one, interlaced with themes of friendship and family. Lukoff, author of the Stonewall Award-winning When Aidan Became a Brother and the Max and Friends series, shows his skill and lyricism even more on this bigger canvas. The tale is told from the perspective of 11-year-old Bug, dealing with grief over the recent death of a beloved brother and uncle, and living in a house that is haunted—with a ghost who just might be trying to tell Bug something.
DeadEndia: The Watcher’s Test and Deadendia: The Broken Halo, by Hamish Steele (Nobrow). Barney, a trans boy, just wants to keep the janitorial job his best friend Norma Khan helped him get at the Pollywood amusement park—but the haunted house attraction where she works turns out to be an inter-dimensional portal for demons. Together with Barney’s talking dog Pugsley, they set off on time-travelling adventures to battle the demons. In the second volume, angels and demons have decided to use the park as the site of their wrestling league, and Norma in particular must confront them and the literal and figurative ghosts of her past. Silly, fun, and just weird enough to be totally engaging.