Tag: Book

Alphabet Book Tries, But Doesn’t Quite Succeed, at Queer Inclusivity

Alphabet Book Tries, But Doesn't Quite Succeed, at Queer Inclusivity

The promotional blurb for a new board book says that it “celebrates families in every single shape and size, no matter what they look like or whom they include!” Unfortunately, a few definitions will likely be showstoppers for many queer families, and many will not find themselves included, despite the promotional text.

An ABC of Families

I had hoped that An ABC of Families, by Abbey Williams and illustrated by Paulina Morgan (Frances Lincoln/Quarto), would be as good as the publisher’s 2019 title by Chana Ginelle Ewing, An ABC of Equality, an LGBTQ-inclusive alphabet book with simple explanations of various concepts related to social justice. Unfortunately, the new book falls rather short. I’ve offered some suggestions for changes below, since I want to show that a more fully inclusive approach is possible—but I welcome other people’s ideas, too, as there may be angles I’m not considering, either.

Let’s start with the letters D and M, for “Dad” and “Mom.” Each page tells us that some families have one dad/mom, some have two; others have stepdads/moms, and some have none. It’s great that they mention two-mom and two-dad families. Same-sex parents and single parents, not different-sex parents, are even shown in the images for these letters. Same-sex couples, male and female, are also shown under W for “Wedding.” So far so good.

And yet: The book also defines “Dads” as “the male parent” and “Moms” as “the female parent,” before telling us how each is there to support their children.  In an age of lesbian dads, gay dads who say “Just call me Mom,” transgender parents who may (or may not) stick with their original parental titles after transitioning, and various other permutations of parental titles and gender, tying a parental title to gender feels less than inclusive. I probably would have simply left out “the male [female] parent” on each page and perhaps said something like “Call them mom, mama, mother [“dad, papa, father”] or anything else, they love and support you….”

The definition of “Co-parenting” may not work for many queer families, either. It says: “Two people who live apart but parent their child together…. This might happen after parents decide to separate.” That’s one definition—but there are also families where, say, a two-mom couple and a child’s biological father (or the father and the father’s partner/spouse) are all parenting together. That’s three or four people, not two, who may or may not live together. Better might have been: “When adults who are not in a relationship with each other are parenting their child together.”

The page for “Pregnancy” tells us, “Some babies come from a mom and a dad. Sometimes a special helper called a surrogate grows the baby for the parents. Other babies are made with help from a doctor…. There are many ways to make a baby, but they all include pregnancy.” We see both a mom-dad and a two-mom couple in the image here, the former standing next to a pregnant woman who is presumably their surrogate. The page never tells us exactly what pregnancy is, however, or what the relevance of coming from a mom and a dad is. (Not to mention that some babies may come from two dads or two moms, without necessarily needing a doctor or surrogate, if one of them is transgender.) Perhaps better would have been simply: “All babies grow inside someone’s tummy. Sometimes this is their parent, sometimes it is a birth parent who gives them to other parents to adopt and raise, and sometimes it is a special helper called a surrogate.”

“Quadruplets” tells us that sometimes siblings “all grow inside their mom’s tummy together.” More inclusive of surrogates and pregnant transgender parents would have been “all grow inside a tummy together.”

“Siblings” is defined as “brothers and sisters.” We’re told, “You may have the same parents as your siblings, or they may be stepsiblings.” That’s not wrong, but to be more inclusive of nonbinary siblings, however, I might have combined those sentences and said that siblings are “brothers, sisters, or other people who share the same parents or stepparents.” We don’t need to leave out the terms “brothers” and “sisters,” since those are valid terms for some siblings—we just need to make room for others.

A few other definitions, while not specific to LGBTQ identities, also fall short. The definition of “Adoption” says, “When children are born to parents who aren’t able to care for them, they are given to adoptive parents.” The passive “they are given” takes away all agency from the adoptive parent and makes it sound like they never have any choice in the matter. While that is unfortunately sometimes true (and has often been tied to systemic racism and classism), many birth parents also spend much time thinking about whether to place their child with other parents, and when they do, it is a conscious act. “They may choose to give them to adoptive parents” feels better to me.

“Nuclear family” is defined as “Two parents and their children.” This may fit the technical definition of the term, but one has to wonder, when the American Psychological Association tells us “single parent families have become even more common than the so-called ‘nuclear family’ consisting of a mother, father and children” why nuclear families get a letter to themselves but single-parent families (though mentioned in passing on other pages) don’t. I might have used this letter instead for “Nonbinary parent,” in order to offset the binary nature of including only “Dad” and “Mom.”

I’m also not fond of the “Blended Family” image, which shows a white-skinned dad, brown-skinned mom, and two white- and two brown-skinned children. Obviously, there’s nothing wrong with being an interracial family. I just worry that some children could mistakenly think that “blendedmeans “interracial,” even though the text tries to explain that a blended family is “when two parents make a new family with their children.” I would have made the members of this family be of similar skin tones, in order to avoid that possible misconception, and made one on another page an interracial family instead (though there are happily already many other interracial families in the book). Perhaps I’m just sensitive on this point because at least one other picture book, Kathryn Cole’s My Family, Your Family, also shows an interracial family for “Blended Family” (though in Cole’s case, there is no text definition whatsoever, making confusion even more likely). When multiple recent books depict blended families as being interracial, the chance that children will misunderstand the meaning of the term goes up further. (Again, though: I’m all for showing interracial families in other places, just not where children could learn erroneous terms to refer to them.)

Finally, the definition of “Lineage” is just wrong. It’s not “the different places your family comes from.” It’s the line of descent from an ancestor. (Or, in kid-friendly terms, maybe, “The connections linking you to your parent(s) and their parent(s), and all your other relatives, all the way back in time.”) The book is confusing “lineage” and “heritage.” (The latter term isn’t in the book.)

An ABC of Families tries to be inclusive of a wide variety of families, and it’s commendable that they include same-sex families in not just one, but several places. There are also lovely thoughts under entries for “Joy,” “Traditions,” “Unconditional Love,” and other sentiments. It just comes up short as a book for the full spectrum of LGBTQ families.

New Megan Rapinoe Picture Book Bio Shows Her Rise to Soccer Stardom and Coming Out

New Megan Rapinoe Picture Book Bio Shows Her Rise to

Some picture-book biographies of gay and lesbian people mention their queerness in passing (if at all) and move on. But a new picture-book biography of Megan Rapinoe shows the evolution of her realization that she is gay while she also rises to soccer superstardom.

Megan Rapinoe (LIttle People, Big Dreams)

Megan and her twin sister Rachael grew up playing sports with their brother Brian, we learn in Megan Rapinoe, by Maria Isabel Sanchez Vegara, part of the “Little People, Big Dreams” series from Frances Lincoln Children’s Books. When Megan started sixth grade, however, “everything changed” and her friends were “too busy having boyfriends and girlfriends! Megan wasn’t sure she was interested in boys,” we read. Given that the book doesn’t indicate which of her friends were interested in boyfriends versus girlfriends, it may be unclear to young readers how different this really made her—but on the next page, we also read that Megan “felt different from most of the other girls,” preferring short hair and sweatpants to skirts and ponytails. “But she knew there were lots of ways to be a girl. She just wanted to be herself,” we learn—a great message for all.

Megan Rapinoe: Little People, Big DreamsThe book takes us on through her growth as a soccer player. A few points could have used more context or explanation for the target age group (4 to 7 years). What exactly is the Women’s Premier Soccer League that she and her sister played in? What does it mean that Megan “turned pro”? And will readers in the target age range (4 to 7 years) even know what the Olympics or World Cup are? A little adult guidance, however, may help young readers through these issues.

Some other places could also use a little polish. We learn that Megan and Rachael “both received … a college scholarship”—but since there were two of them, this should have been “…college scholarships” (or “both” should have been “each”). And one page says that Megan defended causes like equal pay and equal rights, and that she and Rachael ran a summer camp for kids; it’s unclear if these two activities are related.

By being truly herself on and off the field, little Megan became one of the most beloved soccer players in the world—and the best possible Megan she ever dreamt to be.

Rapinoe’s dedication to her sport comes through clearly, though. Combine that with the empowering treatment of her coming out, and the overall impact more than makes up for any minor stylistic flaws. We read that, “While Megan was at college, she realized she was attracted to women. Before she went to the London Olympics, she told the world that she was gay.” Adults may just want to clarify to young readers that being gay means being attracted to someone of the same sex, not just being attracted to women (otherwise straight men would be “gay”). Vegara deserves full credit,  however, for showing Rapinoe’s coming out arc from childhood onward, and for emphasizing to young readers that “Being honest about who she was helped Megan to play her best.” The main premise of the book, that “by being truly herself on and off the field, little Megan became one of the most beloved soccer players in the world—and the best possible Megan she ever dreamt to be,” is a necessary message that resonates loud and clear.

The illustrations by Paulina Morgan are bright, cartoon-y, and cheery. Her round-faced depiction of Rapinoe might not look too much like the real Rapinoe’s angular visage, but the caricature has Rapinoe’s signature hair swoop (first blonde, then pink) and energy. At the end of the book are four photos of the real Rapinoe, along with further details about her life.

This is a positive addition to the small but growing collection of picture book biographies that show LGBTQ people as LGBTQ people. Pair it, perhaps, with Brad Meltzer’s similarly cartoon-y but also meaningful I am Billie Jean King, and inspire the young people in your life.

2021 Rainbow Book List Shows Record Increase in LGBTQ Kids’ Books

2021 Rainbow Book List Shows Record Increase in LGBTQ Kids'

The American Library Association has just announced its 2021 Rainbow Book List—with a record-setting number of 129 librarian-approved LGBTQ-inclusive children’s and young adult books! There are so many, in fact, that for the first time, there are two Top 10 sub-lists of books with “exceptional merit,” one for younger children and one for older youth readers. Learn more and see some charts that illustrate just how the genre has grown.

Rainbow Book List Young Readers Top 10 - 2021

Unlike the recently announced Stonewall Awards for children’s and young adult books, which recognize only a very few titles at the peak of excellence, the Rainbow Book List is a larger selection, intended to help young people find “quality books with significant and authentic GLBTQ content” and assist librarians in developing their collections and advising readers. Its value is not only in recommending quality titles, but also in offering the imprimatur of the oldest and largest library association in the world, which can help convince communities to keep these books on the shelves. It’s a great resource for parents and teachers, too.

This year, the Rainbow Book List Committee of the American Library Association’s (ALA’s) Rainbow Round Table nearly 600 books (a record number!) and selected 129 titles of fiction and non-fiction books for toddlers through young adults. The committee noted: “This year’s offerings give us everything from precious board books, touching picture books, astonishing true stories and biographies of remarkable people. We provide you with titles that incorporate the wide and varied lives of young people, non-fiction titles that challenge the status quo, and fiction that will break your heart and mend it together again.”

Also, “As a result of the sheer number of eligible titles and those ultimately chosen,” the committee also for the first time ever offered a whopping 20 picks “of exceptional merit,” 10 in each of two age categories. The Top 10 Titles for birth through middle grade are:

  1. Burgess, Matthew and Josh Cochran (Illustrator). Drawing on Walls: A Story of Keith Haring.
  2. Mercurio, Peter and Leo Espinosa (Illustrator). Our Subway Baby. 2020.
  3. Neal, DeShanna, Trinity Neal, and Art Twink (Illustrator). My Rainbow.
  4. Pitman, Gayle E. and Violet Tobacco (Illustrator). My Maddy.
  5. Simon, Rachel E. and Noah Grigni (Illustrator). The Every Body Book: LGBTQ+ Inclusive Guide for Kids about Sex, Gender, Bodies, and Families.
  6. Callender, Kacen. King and the Dragonflies.
  7. Sass, A.J. Ana on the Edge.
  8. Leyh, Kat. Snapdragon.
  9. Nguyen, Trung Le. The Magic Fish.
  10. Smith, Niki. The Deep & Dark Blue.

I hope you’ll go check out the Top 10 list for Young Adults and the full list of books for all ages. Many of the books are also ones in my own Mombian Database of LGBTQ Family Books, Media, and More (which can be filtered to show just the books from 2020 or any year), though my focus is on picture books and books for parents, with some select middle grade titles, since I’m only one person and can’t do everything. On the other hand, I’m probably a little more willing to include some titles simply to show the range of LGBTQ-inclusive children’s books today, even if they don’t all rise to quite the level of quality needed to make them library recommendations (though I do try to give an indication of quality in my reviews). With slightly different goals, we’ll end up with slightly different lists—but all with the aim of getting these books into readers’ hands. (Also, note that the Rainbow Book List includes books published in 2020 and between July 1 and December 31 of 2019, so it’s a little more than just one year—and may have omitted a few books published towards the end of 2020 that will be caught in next year’s list.)

I also want to share two charts to show visually just how much the number of LGBTQ-inclusive kids’ books has accelerated in the past few years. The first chart shows the number of Rainbow Book List titles since the List’s founding in 2008. I’ve hand counted the number of titles from the Rainbow Book List website; all errors in tabulation and charting are my own. Even this doesn’t fully show the sweeping change in LGBTQ-inclusive titles, though; several of the committee’s picture book picks in the earlier years, for example, had rather vague or highly allegorical queer content. Today’s books, on the whole, are more likely to show clearly queer characters. You’ll see the big leap starting with 2019’s list, which covers books published between July 2017 and December 2018. (Notes on method: In 2021, the Rainbow List broke out “Juvenile Fiction” into its own category for the first time; I’ve kept it with Middle Grade for the purpose of this chart. I’ve also counted Board Books as Picture Books, since they haven’t always been broken out. Graphic/Manga includes both middle grade and YA titles; since the Rainbow List has never broken them out, though, neither did I.)

Rainbow Book List Count by Year

The second chart shows the number of books the Committee evaluated each year before coming up with their final selections. This chart starts in 2013, when the Committee began regularly reporting this data. Again, the past few years have seen a significant jump. As I said last year as well, the fact that the committee evaluated so many titles and selected a much smaller percentage (roughly 17 to 32 percent) speaks both to the growing number of LGBTQ-inclusive books that are being published and the fact that many of them still have a ways to go in terms of quality and “significant and authentic” LGBTQ content. Let’s hope that budding authors find ways of improving their skills and getting feedback on their drafts. I’ll also suggest that prospective authors read widely among existing LGBTQ-inclusive kids’ books and other diverse, top-rated children’s titles before embarking on efforts of their own.

Books Evaluated by Rainbow Book List Committee

For a bit of history, here’s my interview with Nel Ward, chair of the Rainbow Book List Committee when the list first launched in 2008. It’s been a pleasure watching the number of titles grow and diversify over the years.

As always, many thanks to the librarians who put together the Rainbow Book List and to all of the librarians everywhere whose recommendations and support continue to positively impact the lives of so many young people and families.

Gravecleaner, poetry book by Jules Rylan : butchlesbians

Gravecleaner, poetry book by Jules Rylan : butchlesbians

I just finished reading “Gravecleaner” by Jules Rylan (a Jewish nonbinary butch lesbian) and thought I might share it here.

“Gravecleaner” is a poetry” anthology of rebirth through queer identity and trauma recovery” and it navigates topics such as “heartbreak, family conflict, coming out as a lesbian, falling in love, overcoming addiction, trans identity, mental health recovery, and more”.

I truly loved this book❤️. It’s so beautifully written and comforting. If you’re interested in it you can buy it at their Ko-fi starting at 5$: https://ko-fi.com/s/bdbebe25c5

You won’t regret it!✨

Jewish Book Program Sending 14,000 Families with Toddlers a Free Two-Mom Story

Jewish Book Program Sending 14,000 Families with Toddlers a Free

PJ Library, which sends free books to families raising Jewish kids, has included a board book with a two-mom family in this month’s shipment to families with 1-year-olds—marking a striking change from how the organization handled a book with a two-dad family just a few years ago.

Havdalah Sky

PJ Library is a program of the Harold Grinspoon Foundation, and unaffiliated with any Jewish movement, although they partner with organizations around the Jewish world. Subscribers receive free books each month, chosen by PJ Library, based on the age of their children. In 2014, PJ Library offered Elizabeth Kushner’s picture book The Purim Superhero, which stars a boy getting ready for the Jewish holiday of Purim. He happens to have two dads. Unlike their other titles, which they choose and send automatically, they only sent The Purim Superhero to families that specifically requested it. “Like it or not, parents in our community have differing opinions about same-sex marriage and how or when it is discussed with children,” wrote Harold Grinspoon Foundation trustee Winnie Sandler Grinspoon at the time. “… We think many families would love this book. Yet we know that there are some parents who would want to decide for themselves.” Even at the time, however, the Reform, Reconstructionist, and Conservative movements of Judaism all supported marriage equality; only the Orthodox movement didn’t. Many were outraged that the book was treated differently from all others. The good news, though? The demand for the book was overwhelming. PJ Library ran out of copies within 36 hours and had to print additional ones.

Fast forward to this month, when PJ Library simply included Havdalah Sky: A Poem for the End of Shabbat, a board book by Chris Barash and illustrated by Sarita Rich, in its shipments to all subscriber families with one-year-old children in the U.S. and Canada. A publicist working with them told me that over 14,000 families have received the book. On its blog post announcing the pick, PJ Library wrote, “Our committee also loved that this book depicts a family with two moms. PJ Library strives to include books that represent all our families, and Havdalah Sky is an excellent contribution to that mission.”

What a difference a few years (and a little outrage) makes. Additionally, PJ Library now says it is “actively soliciting manuscripts that show and celebrate” a variety of diverse Jewish and interfaith identities, including “LGBTQIA+ people and families.”

Havdalah Sky itself is a gentle rhyming board book, told from a child’s perspective, as she, her two moms, and a pair of grandparents observe Havdalah, the short ceremony that ends Shabbat each week. After the requisite three stars are seen in the sky, a candle is lit; the grandfather (Saba) blesses the wine; Mama holds a container of sweet-smelling spices; the grandmother (Savta) watches the candle flame. The other mother, Ima (Hebrew for “mother”) plays the guitar and the child claps along, then the ceremony ends as the grandparents extinguish the candle in the wine cup, marking the end of the holiest day of the week. To end the evening, the child and her moms watch out the window as the child bids good night to the Havdalah sky. On the cover, one of the moms has very pale skin; the other mom and the child are just a shade darker. In the book’s interior, the dim room in which Havdalah is observed makes everyone’s skin a very light tan.

I love that, as in The Purim Superhero, the fact that this family has same-sex parents is entirely incidental to this soothing tale. I also love that Havdalah Sky shows extended family and the sharing of tradition across the generations, and adds to the small number of LGBTQ-inclusive books that depict families of faith. (Not that I’m particularly observant myself, although I am Jewish; I just don’t like it when LGBTQ and faith identities are always placed in opposition.)

Unfortunately, the book isn’t (yet) available to non-PJ Library subscribers, but PJ Library does tend to offer its books individually through the major online bookstores, so stay tuned. In the meantime, though, you can watch it being read in this Facebook video.

Bonus fun fact: Families with 3-year-olds received Here is the World, by Lesléa Newman and illustrated by Susan Gal (Abrams), in their January PJ Library shipments. It’s a lovely book about the yearly cycle of Jewish holidays. While there’s no LGBTQ content in it, Newman is of course the author of several LGBTQ-inclusive picture books, including the famed Heather Has Two Mommies.

Second bonus fun fact: Havdalah Sky isn’t the first book to show a two-mom family celebrating Havdalah. The 1986 book Chag Sameach! (Happy Holiday!), by Patricia Schaffer, about the Jewish holidays, did so as well. The text doesn’t specify them as a couple, but professor and librarian Jamie Campbell Naidoo includes the title in his authoritative Rainbow Family Collections reference book—and they sure look like a couple to me. (Chag Sameach! feels dated now, though; I mention it only as a historic note.)

Want to sign up to receive PJ Library free books monthly? Do so here. Children 8 and under receive PJ Library’s picks; those 9 to 12 may select their own (from a few options) through the sister service PJ Our Way.

Extra bonus note: Today also marks the Jewish holiday of Tu Bishvat, the “New Year of the Trees” that is today often celebrated as a Jewish Arbor Day or Earth Day. For the holiday, PJ Library has launched a “Plant for Tomorrow” matching donation campaign to help plant tens of thousands of trees for future generations and help with critical reforest efforts. All proceeds will go to the National Forest Foundation (NFF). Each dollar contributed through PJ Library’s campaign through the end of January will help plant one native tree. PJ Library will match donations up to a total of $50,000, and NFF will plant trees where they are most needed.

Stonewall Book Award Winners for LGBTQ Kids’ and Young Adult Books

Stonewall Book Award Winners for LGBTQ Kids’ and Young Adult

The American Library Association (ALA) today announced its 2021 Stonewall Book Awards for LGBTQ-inclusive children’s and young adult books, part of the Youth Media Awards that also include the prestigious Newbery and Caldecott Medals.

We Are Little Feminists: Families

The Stonewall Book Awards — Mike Morgan & Larry Romans Children’s & Young Adult Literature Award (to distinguish them from the Stonewall Book Awards for adult books) are chosen by a committee of the ALA’s Rainbow Round Table, “the oldest professional association for LGBTQIA+ people in the United States.” This year’s winner is:

  • We Are Little Feminists: Families, by Archaa Shrivastav (Little Feminist), a board book that uses simply rhymes to celebrate many types of families as it shows photos of real families around the world engaged in everyday activities. While other books may have similar themes, this one is notable for the photos of real families and the broad LGBTQ inclusion. Several of the families include two moms and two dads; there are also children who seem nonbinary or gender creative, and one image of a transgender man who is pregnant. (Readers may recognize him as trans advocate Trystan Reese, who posts about his family on Instagram at @biffandi.) Some images are below; note the publisher has not made the one with Reese available to the media, but it’s very similar to this one on his Instagram.

Four honor books were also selected:

  • Beetle & The Hollowbones, written and illustrated by Aliza Layne (Atheneum Books for Young Readers): In this middle grade graphic novel, 12-year-old goblin-witch Beetle, who lives in the eerie town of ‘Allows, 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 with her Aunt Hollowbone, Beetle is reminded of her inadequacy. Yet plans are afoot that endanger Blob Ghost and force Beetle to act, confronting her fears and her feelings for Kat. A fun and clever story that is surprisingly human despite the fantastical characters.
  • You Should See Me in a Crown, by Leah Johnson (Scholastic): In this middle grade novel, Liz Lighty is a Black, nerdy, poor, wallflower, which sets her apart in her small, rich, Midwestern town. But when a scholarship to an elite college falls through, she unexpectedly finds herself in the social spotlight, running for prom queen and the prize money that brings. As if that’s not hard enough, she may also be falling for one of her competitors. Full review.
  • Darius the Great Deserves Better, by Adib Khorram (Dial Books): This sequel to Khorram’s young adult novel Darius the Great Is Not Okay, continues the story of Darius, an out gay Iranian American teen navigating romantic relationships and family as well as bullying, racism, and his family’s financial struggles. He also has queer grandmothers.
  • Felix Ever After, by Kacen Callender (Balzer + Bray): A young adult novel about a Black, transgender teen whose plan to foil transphobic harassment lands him in an unexpected love triangle—but also leads him to redefine how he feels about himself.

In addition to the above, Welcoming Elijah: A Passover Tale with a Tail, by Lesléa Newman and illustrated by Susan Gal (Charlesbridge) won the Sydney Taylor Book Award, presented annually to “outstanding books for children and teens that authentically portray the Jewish experience.” While the LGBTQ content is slight (one pair of visiting relatives to the Passover seder is a two-dad couple), I’m still going to mention it. Newman, author of Heather Has Two Mommies and many other LGBTQ-inclusive works, arguably brought LGBTQ picture books into mainstream awareness, so I’m happy to celebrate any recognition of her work. Full review.

And queer mom Jacqueline Woodson won the Coretta Scott King (Author) Book Award for her middle grade novel Before the Ever After (Nancy Paulsen Books) about a 12-year-old whose father, a retired football player, is grappling with traumatic brain injury.

The full list of ALA Youth Media Award winners is here.

Congratulations to them all!


(As an Amazon Associate and as a Bookshop Affiliate I earn from qualifying purchases.)

Board Book with Same-Sex Parents, Gender Creative Kids, and Pregnant Trans Man Wins Prestigious Stonewall Book Award

Stonewall Book Award Winners for LGBTQ Kids’ and Young Adult

The American Library Association (ALA) today announced its 2021 Stonewall Book Awards for LGBTQ-inclusive children’s and young adult books, part of the Youth Media Awards that also include the prestigious Newbery and Caldecott Medals. The winner was a board book that includes not only same-sex parents, but also gender creative kids and a pregnant transgender man.

We Are Little Feminists: Families

The Stonewall Book Awards — Mike Morgan & Larry Romans Children’s & Young Adult Literature Award (to distinguish them from the Stonewall Book Awards for adult books) are chosen by a committee of the ALA’s Rainbow Round Table, “the oldest professional association for LGBTQIA+ people in the United States.” This year’s winner is:

  • We Are Little Feminists: Families, by Archaa Shrivastav (Little Feminist), a board book that uses simply rhymes to celebrate many types of families as it shows photos of real families around the world engaged in everyday activities. While other books may have similar themes, this one is notable for the photos of actual families and the broad LGBTQ inclusion. Several of the families include two moms and two dads; there are also children who seem nonbinary or gender creative, and one image of a transgender man who is pregnant. (Readers may recognize him as trans advocate Trystan Reese, who posts about his family on Instagram at @biffandi.) Some images are below; note the publisher has not made the one with Reese available to the media, but it’s very similar to this one on his Instagram. This is truly a joyous book that belongs in any library or bookshelf for young children.

Four honor books were also selected:

  • Beetle & The Hollowbones, written and illustrated by Aliza Layne (Atheneum Books for Young Readers): In this middle grade graphic novel, 12-year-old goblin-witch Beetle, who lives in the eerie town of ‘Allows, 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 with her Aunt Hollowbone, Beetle is reminded of her inadequacy. Yet plans are afoot that endanger Blob Ghost and force Beetle to act, confronting her fears and her feelings for Kat. A fun and clever story that is surprisingly human despite the fantastical characters.
  • You Should See Me in a Crown, by Leah Johnson (Scholastic): In this middle grade novel, Liz Lighty is a Black, nerdy, poor, wallflower, which sets her apart in her small, rich, Midwestern town. But when a scholarship to an elite college falls through, she unexpectedly finds herself in the social spotlight, running for prom queen and the prize money that brings. As if that’s not hard enough, she may also be falling for one of her competitors. Full review.
  • Darius the Great Deserves Better, by Adib Khorram (Dial Books): This sequel to Khorram’s young adult novel Darius the Great Is Not Okay, continues the story of Darius, an out gay Iranian American teen navigating romantic relationships and family as well as bullying, racism, and his family’s financial struggles. He also has queer grandmothers.
  • Felix Ever After, by Kacen Callender (Balzer + Bray): A young adult novel about a Black, transgender teen whose plan to foil transphobic harassment lands him in an unexpected love triangle—but also leads him to redefine how he feels about himself.

In addition to the above, Welcoming Elijah: A Passover Tale with a Tail, by Lesléa Newman and illustrated by Susan Gal (Charlesbridge) won the Sydney Taylor Book Award, presented annually to “outstanding books for children and teens that authentically portray the Jewish experience.” While the LGBTQ content is slight (one pair of visiting relatives to the Passover seder is a two-dad couple), I’m still going to mention it. Newman, author of Heather Has Two Mommies and many other LGBTQ-inclusive works, arguably brought LGBTQ picture books into mainstream awareness, so I’m happy to celebrate any recognition of her work. Full review.

And queer mom Jacqueline Woodson won the Coretta Scott King (Author) Book Award for her middle grade novel Before the Ever After (Nancy Paulsen Books) about a 12-year-old whose father, a retired football player, is grappling with traumatic brain injury.

The full list of ALA Youth Media Award winners is here.

Congratulations to them all!


(As an Amazon Associate and as a Bookshop Affiliate I earn from qualifying purchases.)

“Over the Shop” Is a Wordless, Joyous Book About Found Family

"Over the Shop" Is a Wordless, Joyous Book About Found

I told you there were going to be some good LGBTQ-inclusive kid’s books coming out this year…. Let’s start with a beautifully illustrated, wordless book about a child and her grandparent who need to find renters for the apartment above their shop—and end up welcoming just the couple they need.

Over the Shop - JonArno Lawson

JonArno Lawson, an award-winning Canadian novelist and poet, developed the story concept for Over the Shop, which was then brought to life through the images of Qin Leng, an award-winning designer and illustrator. The first few pages show us a day in the life of a young girl who lives with her gender-ambiguous grandparent in the rooms behind their run-down general store. The grandparent is busy getting food onto their table and running the shop; we sense that the girl is often left to her own devices. The girl is old enough that this doesn’t seem dangerous, but she exudes a certain loneliness.

One day, the grandparent puts up a sign advertising the apartment above the shop. People either aren’t interested or are turned off by the apartment’s shabby appearance. Then one day, a new couple stops by. One person is dark-skinned with long hair, and reads as female; the other is Asian with short hair and could be read as nonbinary, a transgender man, or a butch/masculine woman. Lawson’s dedication in the front of the book is “To trans activists of all ages,” so I’m guessing the character was intended as trans; without any clarification in the story itself, however, I think readers have some leeway in interpretation. Regardless, they’re a queer couple; the Asian person has a rainbow-hued belt that we see subtly in several scenes, and a rainbow hat in another.

The girl senses something positive about them and urges her grandparent to let them take the apartment. The grandparent gives them a critical look—we’re not sure if it’s because they’re a queer couple, a non-White and interracial couple, or because the grandparent is simply crotchety—but finally concedes. The couple soon begins to clean up the apartment, wave hello to a suspicious (and gender-ambiguous) neighbor, and engage the girl in their sprucing up. Their DIY projects spread beyond the apartment to the rest of the building, and eventually, they start helping at the store, too. The grumpy grandparent’s demeanor brightens; even the neighbor begins to freshen up the building next door. The transformations continue and a rainbow flag—the first on the block—is hung outside the store. We then see the girl, grandparent, couple, and neighbor sharing a meal together.

Leng’s watercolor-and-ink drawings are soft but dynamic, and offer many subtle details that will encourage multiple readings. The illustrations pack in more story than words could. She also gives us a secondary storyline involving a neighborhood cat, which I won’t spoil except to say that it’s sweet and adorable (and, you know, has a cat in it, which for me is worth bonus points).

I absolutely love this book on many levels. There are many possibilities for discussion: about acceptance of people who don’t look like us; about socioeconomic differences and struggles; about gender and whether knowing someone’s gender makes a difference; about friendship and helping; about neighborhood, community, and family. At the same time, the storytelling is simply a joy, without a hint of pedantry or preachiness. Add this book to your bookshelves today, or recommend it to your local school or library.

Like Leng’s drawings? Check out A Family Is a Family Is a Family, by Sara O’Leary, which she also illustrated—a story about different kinds of families.

“Over the Shop” Is a Wordless, Joyous Book About Found Family

Over the Shop - JonArno Lawson

I told you there were going to be some good LGBTQ-inclusive kid’s books coming out this year…. Let’s start with a beautifully illustrated, wordless book about a child and her grandparent who need to find renters for the apartment above their shop—and end up welcoming just the couple they need.

Over the Shop - JonArno Lawson

JonArno Lawson, an award-winning Canadian novelist and poet, developed the story concept for Over the Shop, which was then brought to life through the images of Qin Leng, an award-winning designer and illustrator. The first few pages show us a day in the life of a young girl who lives with her gender-ambiguous grandparent in the rooms behind their run-down general store. The grandparent is busy getting food onto their table and running the shop; we sense that the girl is often left to her own devices. The girl is old enough that this doesn’t seem dangerous, but she exudes a certain loneliness.

One day, the grandparent puts up a sign advertising the apartment above the shop. People either aren’t interested or are turned off by the apartment’s shabby appearance. Then one day, a new couple stops by. One person is dark-skinned with long hair, and reads as female; the other is Asian with short hair and could be read as nonbinary, a transgender man, or a butch/masculine woman. Lawson’s dedication in the front of the book is “To trans activists of all ages,” so I’m guessing the character was intended as trans; without any clarification in the story itself, however, I think readers have some leeway in interpretation. Regardless, they’re a queer couple; the Asian person has a rainbow-hued belt that we see subtly in several scenes, and a rainbow hat in another.

The girl senses something positive about them and urges her grandparent to let them take the apartment. The grandparent gives them a critical look—we’re not sure if it’s because they’re a queer couple, a non-White and interracial couple, or because the grandparent is simply crotchety—but finally concedes. The couple soon begins to clean up the apartment, wave hello to a suspicious (and gender-ambiguous) neighbor, and engage the girl in their sprucing up. Their DIY projects spread beyond the apartment to the rest of the building, and eventually, they start helping at the store, too. The grumpy grandparent’s demeanor brightens; even the neighbor begins to freshen up the building next door. The transformations continue and a rainbow flag—the first on the block—is hung outside the store. We then see the girl, grandparent, couple, and neighbor sharing a meal together.

Leng’s watercolor-and-ink drawings are soft but dynamic, and offer many subtle details that will encourage multiple readings. The illustrations pack in more story than words could. She also gives us a secondary storyline involving a neighborhood cat, which I won’t spoil except to say that it’s sweet and adorable (and, you know, has a cat in it, which for me is worth bonus points).

I absolutely love this book on many levels. There are many possibilities for discussion: about acceptance of people who don’t look like us; about socioeconomic differences and struggles; about gender and whether knowing someone’s gender makes a difference; about friendship and helping; about neighborhood, community, and family. At the same time, the storytelling is simply a joy, without a hint of pedantry or preachiness. Add this book to your bookshelves today, or recommend it to your local school or library.

Like Leng’s drawings? Check out A Family Is a Family Is a Family, by Sara O’Leary, which she also illustrated—a story about different kinds of families.

The post “Over the Shop” Is a Wordless, Joyous Book About Found Family appeared first on Mombian and is (c) Dana B. Rudolph LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

A Doctor, a Soldier, and a Transgender Man: Picture Book Tells Story of Dr. James Barry

A Doctor, a Soldier, and a Transgender Man: Picture Book

A picture book biography offers an inspiring portrait of Dr. James Barry, a 19th-century British surgeon and soldier who was assigned female at birth but lived his life as a man.

Were I Not a Girl - Lisa Robinson

Were I Not a Girl, by Lisa Robinson, illustrated by Lauren Simkin Berke (Schwartz & Wade Books), first asks us to “Imagine living at a time when you couldn’t be the person you felt you were inside.” James Barry, we learn, “refused to let that happen.”

Barry was born in Ireland around 1789, and given a girl’s name. Girls at the time were not sent to school and could not own property or hold most jobs. “Were I not a girl, I would be a soldier,” Barry wrote. After Barry’s father abandoned the family, Barry (still living as a young woman) and his mother fled to London, but Barry was too uneducated to find work as a governess. He was eventually was taught by a friend of the family, and developed the desire to become a doctor.

Barry then “took charge,” shedding women’s clothing, cutting his hair, taking the name “James Barry,” and emerging as a man. After becoming a doctor and “quite a dandy,” he enrolled in the army and travelled the world, along the way delivering babies, fighting a duel, falling in love, and demanding proper care for people in prisons and hospitals. Eventually, he rose to be Inspector General of Hospitals in the army. His birth sex was found out when he died in his 70s.

We don’t know exactly how old he was when he died, however. That’s just one of many unanswered questions about Barry’s life, Robinson notes. As with much of history, sometimes “answers remain hidden.” What is clear, however, is that “James was living his truth.”

An afterward offers more details about Barry’s life as well as a discussion of what it means to be transgender. Robinson gives two other examples of early modern people who were assigned female at birth, lived as men to serve in the army, but then returned to living as women. Barry, in contrast, “strived to maintain that identity throughout his life,” making it likely that he was what we would now call transgender. Robinson uses female pronouns for Barry in the part of the book discussing his childhood, but switches to male ones once he transitions.

Berke’s illustrations capture muted 19th-century tones, brightened by the red of Barry’s army uniform. This project was “particularly meaningful,” they say in an Illustrator’s Note, since they identify as nonbinary, and the book “highlights that transgender people have always existed and were able to figure out how to succeed on their own terms.”

One fact seems wrong: In the afterward, Robinson says that in 1826, Barry performed “the first documented caesarean in which both the mother and the baby survived”—yet there was one (not by Barry) in 1794; I think the best we can say is that Barry might have done the first successful, documented one by a European surgeon in the British Empire (but I’m not enough of an expert to know if even that is correct).

That small point aside, I love this story, which blends a knowledge of the limits of history with a respectful desire to try and reflect Barry’s life as he saw it. Contrast this with Rough, Tough Charley, the 2007 book by Verla Kay about 19th-century stagecoach driver Charley Parkhurst, which calls Parkhurst “a woman in disguise” upon the deathbed reveal of his birth sex and uses female pronouns for him on the last page. Were I Not a Girl is much the better book for an LGBTQ-inclusive collection. Kudos, too, to the publisher, Schwartz & Wade (an imprint of Penguin Random House) for noting in its promotional blurb that Barry “would live a rich full life.” That’s a model transgender children today deeply deserve (and one that can benefit their cisgender peers as well).

Were I Not a Girl is in fact the second picture book published in 2020 about a historical figure whom we would today call a transgender man: The Fighting Infantryman, by Rob Sanders, tells the story of Albert D. J. Cashier, who fought in the U.S. Civil War. (Full review.) Let’s hope that these two titles, good as they are, aren’t the last.


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