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The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

Andrew Moffat

My top 5 equality picture books for primary

To prepare children for life in modern Britain, schools need to teach equality, including LGBT equality. Andrew Moffat lists 5 books he’s used to explore differences and sexual orientation with primary school pupils.

As they grow up, children will meet people who identify as LGBT and some will grow to identify as LGBT themselves. Schools need to be absolutely clear in their ethos that every child and every family is welcome inside its walls. The Equality Act 2010 requires public bodies to ‘foster good relations between different people’ so primary schools have a duty to start the ball rolling in the formative years of a child’s education.

Using picture books

I have been using picture books for many years to teach children about difference and to celebrate diversity. In my experience, teachers appreciate having a resource such as a picture book to use as stimulus when tackling potentially tricky subject matter.

The beauty of using familiar story books when you want to talk about challenging homophobia is that the focus of the lesson is put in to context, thereby normalising the issue for the children. In other words, it’s better to use a story where you can make links to the issue and relate it to the audience experience, rather than use an issue based book about being gay in more of a sledgehammer approach.

My top 5 

These are great books to have in your reading corner and I would recommend every school library has copies. If you want to use these in class, lesson plans for each text can be found in my latest publication, ‘No Outsiders in our school: Teaching the Equality Act in Primary Schools’ which includes 35 lesson plans based on similar picture books and a detailed account of how to create an ethos of equality in your setting, including strategies to work with parents and communities.

Red Rockets and Rainbow Jelly by Sue Heap and Nick Sharratt

I love using this book in Early Years classrooms because the narrative is simple and children engage with the bright and colourful illustrations. Furthermore, the message behind the text is perfect for equality work.

Nick and Sue like different things on every page (apples / pears, yellow socks/ yellow ducks) but at the end of the story they like each other. 

We are delivering a very simple message here, but one which is vital to understanding the way the world works and how we fit in it. We don’t live in communities where everyone is the same, we live in communities made up of people with differences. Whether there are differences in ethnicity, faith, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, age or ability, we can get along despite those differences. We can like different things and still like each other, it’s as simple as that.

The Great Big Book of Families by Mary Hoffman and Ros Asquith

The opening of this super book tells us that, ‘In real life, families come in all sorts of shapes and sizes’ which is true, and is the essence of teaching young children about sexual orientation. There can be a misconception among some parents that when we teach about sexual orientation in primary schools we are teaching about sex, when in reality we are simply teaching about people being different, families being different and that difference is all around us and it’s ok.

The great thing about this book is that children will be able to recognise their own family and shared ways of life within the pages. Hoffman goes on to detail different homes, food, clothes, celebrations etc. The message in this book is that the world is full of different people and families and that’s great!

This Is Our House by Michael Rosen

This is our house is a perfect vehicle for introducing the No Outsiders in our school ethos to children, where we recognise difference within our school and celebrate it so that everyone is welcome and no one is left out.

In the story, George discriminates against children and uses their characteristics to do so. Children are not allowed in his play house because they are a girl, because they are a twin, because they wear glasses or because they like tunnels. At the end of the story George himself faces discrimination and changes his mind, allowing everyone in. It’s a great tale which demonstrates to children what discrimination is, how it affects people and also how people can change their minds to become inclusive.

And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell

Children love this story of two male penguins falling in love and adopting a chick. I’ve used the book to teach about sexual orientation and different families, successfully in classes of children ranging from Year 2 to Year 6 and I have colleagues who have used it in years 7 and 8.

The text never uses the term ‘gay’ to describe the penguins Roy and Silo (it simply says, ‘They must be in love’). As I get about halfway through the story I usually ask the question, ‘What word do we use to describe men that are in love or in a relationship?’ just so the children hear the word ‘gay’ being used without fuss (also to be sure children know the meaning of the word).

I often have a discussion at the end about whether animals can be gay, before revealing that the story is a true tale based on penguins in New York City Zoo.

The Whisperer by Nick Butterworth

The Whisperer is a great book to use with older children in KS2 and KS3 to talk about families, expectations and peer pressure. The story also links to Romeo and Juliet. I have used this story to talk about why people sometimes hide their identity, linking this to coming out (or choosing to not come out) and issues around pressure to conform.

In the story the son and daughter of rival cat gangs fall in love and a rat spreads rumours about them that results in a gang meeting where the couple are told they are a disgrace to their families and that they must stop being in love. The couple choose to stay together and are sent away, only to return with kittens and want a big family, so in the end the gangs unite.

Lesson plans using this text focus on the rumours spread by the rat and the consequences of those rumours. Why don’t the couple tell their families they are in love? What does everyone learn at the end?

In 2006 I created a pack of lesson plans that was first published by Hounslow City Council; ‘Challenging homophobia in Primary Schools: an early years resource’. Four of the texts featured in that resource and lesson plans for the books have subsequently appeared in every publication I’ve written since because they remain a cornerstone of this work in primary schools.


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