Tag: Authors

Authors Collaborate Across Identities on Picture Book Celebrating Jewish Families of All Types

Authors Collaborate Across Identities on Picture Book Celebrating Jewish Families

Very often, faith and LGBTQ identities are seen in opposition. A new picture book, however, celebrates both the Jewish spiritual tradition and families of all types, including ones with same-sex and gender non-conforming parents and Jewish families of color. The two Jewish authors—one Black, in a different-sex relationship, and one White, in a same-sex one—shared with me a little about their motivation for writing it.

I Looked Into Your Eyes: A Poem for New Families

When Aviva Brown went looking for a book to give to friends who had just had babies, she discovered that her favorite, one she herself had been given, was out of print. She had already written and self-published a children’s book, Ezra’s Big Shabbat Question, to reflect her own Black Jewish family, “so I decided that if I couldn’t find what I wanted, I’d just write a book myself,” she told me via e-mail. “I thought about all the hope, joy, fear, and humility that raising children inspires and I wanted to put it into a book with a decidedly Jewish point of view.” She shared her idea with her friend Rivka Badik-Schultz, who relates that Brown told her, “We need an inclusive, Jewish baby book.”

“I agreed and she sent me her first rough draft,” Badik-Schultz said. “Several reimaginings and revisions later we had a draft we both loved.”

Brown added, “I’m a huge advocate for diversity in Jewish kidlit, and I knew that I wanted to show the many, many variations of Jewish families. My family has a mom, a dad, and four kids, but that isn’t every family.  The modern Jewish family may have two parents of the same gender, or one parent, or gender non-conforming parents, and so many other variations. Rivka and I wanted to try to show at least some of those families on the page.”

“When it came to the illustrations, we were both completely on the same page,” Badik-Schultz affirmed. “We wanted to represent different family structures and the diversity of Jewish families. We wanted to show families with single parents, adopted children, and raising grandchildren. We wanted to show gender non-conforming parents, same-sex couples and interracial families. We wanted to show a spectrum of what it means to have a ‘new family.’” They succeeded—and the gender non-conforming parent even became the cover image.

She added, “I am a  white, cis woman in a lesbian relationship. Our daughter is 9. As she has grown up we have strived to provide her with a diverse literary cast of characters. But—when she was a baby there were so few options. Mama, Mommy, and Me was really the only baby book we had that remotely represented our family. But at least we had one!  I have many friends in the LGBTQ community and one of the complaints that I often hear is that baby books—even those aimed at our community—tend to assume that at least one parent is cis-female. Minority racial populations see even less of themselves represented in baby books. Getting to work with Aviva on ensuring that there was racial diversity as well as gender diversity was a special treat.”

Their book, I Looked Into Your Eyes: A Poem for New Families, is a loving poem from parent to child told as a series of comparisons between the parent and various figures from the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament). “The first time I looked into your eyes, I laughed like Sarah,” it begins. The parent then wept like Hannah and sang like Miriam. “As I looked into your eyes,” it continues, “I wished for Abraham’s generosity, Moses’ humility, and Joshua’s courage while the city walls crumbled.” The poem then speaks of the peace, oneness, and love that the parent feels while looking into their child’s eyes.

On one page, a parent talks of feeling “the Divine Spirit,” but there is no mention of “G-d” per se (and thus no gendering of G-d), a light touch that feels like it leaves room for Jews with varying conceptions of the divine. While the text and biblical references would work for families of any Abrahamic tradition, a few pages include Jewish symbols, like Stars of David and a tzedakah box for charitable giving, that mark it as intended for (though not necessarily limited to) Jewish families.

The illustrations, by Catherine Sipoy, depict modern families doing family things—having a meal, reading a bedtime story, going to the doctor, looking at the stars—with insets showing the relevant biblical figures. The parents and children have a wide variety of skin and hair tones. One family is Black, another East Asian; others could be read as White or Latinx. Two parents wear turquoise jewelry and look to be Native American (and yes, there are Native American Jews). Another wears a sari and a bindi—and while the latter is best known as a Hindu symbol, Brown said that she “asked in many multicultural Jewish groups and was told that the bindi is as much a cultural symbol as a religious one, and that many Indian Jewish women wear them.” Badik-Schultz added that a friend of hers who is Jewish and married to an Indian man wears a bindi “when they are doing ceremonial activities” and encouraged the bindi in the picture. They’ve clearly done their homework to be both inclusive and accurate.

This sweet book shows that faith, tradition, and LGBTQ identities can live in harmony. It also offers a much-needed balm against the “ashkenormativity” of much American Jewish culture, which favors the experiences and traditions of those with Ashkenazi (Eastern European) Jewish ancestry (and I say that as someone of 98 percent Ashkenazi descent myself). It would make a great Hanukkah gift (the holiday starts on December 10) or a baby gift at any time of year.


Looking for another inclusive book for and about new families? Try Wonderful You, by Lisa Graff (my review here) or try some of the growing number of LGBTQ-inclusive board books. 

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Queer Scandinavian Horror, Black Lesbian Authors You Should Know, and Queer Witch Books – The Lesbrary

Queer Scandinavian Horror, Black Lesbian Authors You Should Know, and

Lesbrary Links cover collage

I follow hundreds of queer book blogs to scout out the best sapphic book news and reviews! Many of them get posted on Tumblr and Twitter as I discover them, but my favourites get saved for these link compilations. Here are some of the posts I’ve found interesting in the last few weeks.

The Weight of the Stars by K Ancrum  The Salt Roads by Nalo Hopkinson   Once Ghosted, Twice Shy by Alyssa Cole   Unapologetic: A Black, Queer, and Feminist Mandate for Radical Movements by Charlene A. Carruthers   Cinderella is Dead by Kalynn Bayron

Over at Medium, Elizabeth Andre shared 79 Black Lesbian (and Bi, Queer, Trans, and Non-binary) Fiction Authors You Should Know, so there’s no excuse to not be reading Black queer books! If you’re a non-Black person, we should be reading both books that educate us about anti-Blackness as well as stories about Black joy. This list includes a lot of Romance authors, so that’s a great place to start!

Along the same lines, also check out Book Riot’s 20 Must-Read Black Authors of LGBTQ Books. I always look through these LGBTQ lists to make sure they’re not mostly m/m books, so rest assured there are lots of sapphic books to add to your TBR here.

If you’re looking for something a little more political, Electric Literature posted A Syllabus for the Uprising, which recommends books to get read for the queer Black revolution.

I’ve been mentioning this every round up, but that’s because you should be aware of Autostraddle’s Year of Our (Audre) Lorde, where Jehan reads Audre Lorde poems and connects them to what’s happening in the world right now. Last month was July Is a Black Unicorn.

Speaking of Black sapphic reads, Sometimes Leelynn Reads created The Cinderella is Dead Book Tag, so if you read and loved Cinderella is Dead and have a book blog/bookstagram account/booktuber channel, give this tag a try, and let me know what your answers are!

Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust  Faith: Taking Flight by Julie Murphy  Patsy by Nicole Dennis-Benn  In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado  Each of Us a Desert by Mark Oshiro

The Lesbrary New Releases posts promote sapphic books of all kinds, but sometimes you’re looking for a particular identity. For the bi+ bibliophiles, check out reads rainbow’s Book Releases: July-December 2020 Books With Bi Protagonists.

And for pan page-turners, there’s also Book Riot’s 5 Books With Pansexual Main Characters.

Of course, I’m not forgetting the literary lesbians. Here’s Audible’s Best Lesbian Listens by Queer Authors.

Audiobooks are a great way to squeeze in reading during commutes or chores or just when the world is on fire and you can’t concentrate on the page. For more recs, try Book Riot’s 15 LGBTQ YA Audiobooks to Listen to in the Second Half of 2020.

Fair Play by Tove Jansson  Paradise Rot by Jenny Hval  Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey  Search Results Web results Spellbook of the Lost and Found by Moira Fowley Doyle  Spring Fire by Vin Packer

Casey Stepaniuk is also providing awesome queer book recommendations, and her latest is at Autostraddle: 8 Great Queer Scandinavian Books, from Tender Novels to Supernatural Horror.

If you’re already eagerly anticipating fall, Book Riot’s 12 Queer Witch Books to Bring the Magic to Your TBR would make for excellent books to stock up on before those breezy Autumn nights.

Over at Electric Literature, Jessica Xing wrote about equating her queerness with monstrousness as a young closeted person, and how pulp helped with that, in Lesbian Pulp Novels Made Me Feel Normal.

OZY wrote about Nobuko Yoshiya, the first writer of Yuri, who is an amazing historical figure more people need to know about: The Daring Feminist Writer Who Inspired Manga.

And for another historical exploration, check out ‘Paris-Lesbos’: the Vibrant Lesbian Community Where Women in the 1920s Thrived to learn about the literary lesbian salons of Paris in the 1920s, and how queer authors flourished at that particular point in history.

This post has the covers linked to their Amazon pages. If you click through and buy something, I might get a small referral fee. For even more links, check out the Lesbrary’s Twitter! We’re also on FacebookGoodreadsYoutube and Tumblr.

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