Tag: Books

2020 Holiday Gift Guide to LGBTQ-Inclusive Kids’ Books and Music

2020 Holiday Gift Guide to LGBTQ-Inclusive Kids' Books and Music

One of the few bright spots of 2020 was the number of new, LGBTQ-inclusive children’s books. Here’s my annual list of picture books and a few select middle grade ones that caught my eye, plus queer-inclusive kids’ music albums—and a few titles for and about us LGBTQ parents.

Most of the LGBTQ-inclusive kids’ books published this year were great—and I’m happy to see a (slowly) growing increase in protagonists of color and in books that aren’t “about” LGBTQ families per se. There has also been a relative surge in books about transgender, nonbinary, and gender creative characters. A few of this year’s books I didn’t love, but have included below in case you come across them or if they happen to fit a particular need. For the most part, though, this was a terrific year—and I can’t wait to see what 2021 brings!

Board Books

Pride 1 2 3, by Michael Joosten and illustrated by Wednesday Holmes (Little Simon), is a simple counting book set at a Pride celebration. Full review.

Who Is Making a Mess? by Maria D’Haene and illustrated by Charlie Eve Ryan (Amicus), is full of surprises and diverse families as it celebrates the messiness of life. Full review.

Kevin Keller’s Favorite Colors, from Little Bee Books, stars the Archie comics’ first gay character explaining the meaning of each of the colors in the Pride flag (including the recent additions of black and brown), as other characters from the comic demonstrate. Aside from the use of Archie characters, this book adds little that is different from existing books (Pride Colors, by Robin Stevenson; Rainbow: A First Book of Pride, by Michael Genhard; and Our Rainbow, by Little Bee Books)—and one might wonder whether Archie’s high schoolers really appeal to very young children. Best for adult fans who want it for their children.

Harvey Milk, Ellen DeGeneres, and RuPaul Charles from Little Bee Books (2020) with no stated author,  illustrated by Victoria Grace Elliott, each offer simple takes on these figures’ lives, though not as simple as the board book format might imply. Full review.

Picture Books: Families

Wonderful You, by Lisa Graff and illustrated by Ramona Kaulitski (Philomel), takes us along with a diverse group of expecting families, including ones with two moms and two dads, as their babies-to-be grow and are born as their own delightful selves. Full review.

I Looked Into Your EyesI Looked Into Your Eyes: A Poem for New Families, by Aviva Brown and Rivka Badik-Schultz, celebrates diverse families in the Jewish spiritual tradition, including ones with same-sex and gender non-conforming parents and Jewish families of color. Use the code MOMBIAN when buying the book at Brown’s website to get 10 percent off your purchase. Additionally, 15 percent of the proceeds from sales until Dec. 31, 2020 will be donated to Be’chol Lashon, an organization dedicated to celebrating Jewish diversity and raising awareness about multicultural Jews of all races, languages, and ethnicities. Full review.

Picture Books: Transgender Characters

Sylvia and Marsha Start a Revolution, by Joy Michael Ellison and Teshika Silver (Jessica Kingsley), focuses on the close friendship of Stonewall icons Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson and how they cared for their community. Full review.

Max on the Farm, by Kyle Lukoff and illustrated by Luciano Lozano (Reycraft), is the third in the series about Max, a White transgender boy. Here, Max goes on a trip to a farm with his class, including his friend Teresa, a darker-skinned girl, and the two get into gentle mischief. Full review.

She’s My Dad!, by Sarah Savage and illustrated by Joules Garcia (Jessica Kingsley Publishers) is the first-person story of Mini, a White six-year-old who speaks with pride about their dad, a transgender woman. Full review.

My Rainbow, by DeShanna Neal and Trinity Neal and illustrated by Art Twink (Kokila), based on Trinity’s own life as a Black transgender girl with autism, tells of her mom and nonbinary sibling helping her get the long hair she wants to express her true self.

I’m Not a Girl, by Maddox Lyons and Jessica Verdi, with illustrations by Dana Simpson (Roaring Brook), is a first-person story based on Lyons’ own life as a White transgender boy. Full review.

The Fighting Infantryman, by Rob Sanders and illustrated by Nabi H. Ali (Little Bee), is the true story of Albert D. J. Cashier, an Irish immigrant, a Union soldier in the U.S. Civil War, and a transgender man. Full review.

Raven Wild, by Caitlin Spice, Adam Reynolds, and Chaz Harris, with illustrations by Christine Luiten and Bo Moore, is the third in the Promised Land fantasy series (after Promised Land and Maiden Voyage), but can be read as a standalone tale. In it, Raven, a transgender young woman, has various daring adventures and eventually finds love. Wordy for a picture book, but notable for being simply a fun adventure and romance and not simply “about” being trans per se. Full review.

Love Remains: A Rosh Hashanah Story of Transformation, shows changes in the life of a Jewish mother, father, and child as they go year after year to the grandparents’ house for Rosh Hashanah. One year, their favorite flower shop is closed and they must find another; the next year, the grandfather has died; the year after that, a cousin has a new baby. The child similarly transforms and comes into his identity as a transgender boy, which the family wholeheartedly accepts. Full review.

Picture Books: Nonbinary Characters

My Maddy, by Gayle Pitman and illustrated by Violet Tobacco (Magination), is a gentle story told as a series of reflections by a White child about her nonbinary parent. Full review.

Peanut Goes for the Gold, by “Queer Eye” star Jonathan Van Ness and illustrated by Gillian Reid (HarperCollins), tells of a nonbinary guinea pig finding the power and joy of being themselves. Full review.

A More Graceful Shaboom, by Jacinta Bunnell and illustrated by Crystal Vielula (PM Press), is a surreal romp of a book that follows a nonbinary child with “an extravagant collection of belongings” that they find hard to keep organized until they encounter a magical purse. Full review.

Picture Books: Gender Expression

Carlos, the Fairy Boy/Carlos, El Niño Hada, by Juan A. Ríos Vega (Reflection Press), is the bilingual story of a boy learning about his cultural traditions in Panama while he gets support from his abuela and a queer elder to follow his fairy boy dreams. Full review.

Julián at the Wedding, by Jessica Love (Candlewick), the sequel to Julián Is a Mermaid, shows Julián and his abuela attending a wedding, where Julián meets a new friend and proves that he’s still full of imagination and style. Full review.

Glad Glad Bear, by Kimberly Gee (Beach Lane), explores the gender creative Bear’s emotions during his first day at dance class, wearing both a tutu and leggings. Full review.

The Hips on the Drag Queen Go Swish, Swish, Swish, by Lil Miss Hot Mess, a founding member of Drag Queen Story Hour, and illustrated by Olga de Dios (Running Press), is a fun and flamboyant take on the classic children’s song “The Wheels on the Bus.” Full review.

Auntie Uncle: Drag Queen Hero, by Ellie Royce and illustrated by Hannah Chambers (POW!) stars a young White boy loves his Uncle Leo, an accountant, and his Auntie Lotta, a drag queen—who are both the same person. When Leo/Lotta ends up in a situation that would reveal both identities to people who don’t yet know both, the boy helps find a solution that incorporates both aspects of his “Auntie Uncle’s” personality. Full review.

Tabitha and Magoo Dress Up Too, by Drag Queen Story Hour founder Michelle Tea and illustrated by Ellis van der Does (Feminist Press), shows us a brother-sister pair who love playing dress-up in gender creative ways, though they’re hesitant to go outside in these outfits. The drag queen Morgana then magically appears and helps them learn to celebrate being themselves. Morgana then takes them in a flying car to a nearby library for a diverse and fun-filled story time. Full review.

Bling Blaine: Throw Glitter, Not Shade, by Rob Sanders (Sterling Publishing), centers on a young Black boy who loves to sparkle. When he is bullied by some classmates, however, others come to his aid in this book showing the importance of allyship. Full review.

The One and Only Dylan St. Claire, by Kamen Edwards and illustrated by Jeffrey Ebbeler (Doubleday/Random House) features a White protagonist who shows he’s a bit of a drama queen when he doesn’t get cast as the star of the school play, but he ultimately finds his own way to shine in this fun and funny tale. Although Dylan isn’t identified as queer in the text, Edwards’ bio at Amazon explains that the book is “a nostalgic re-imagining of an out and proud childhood.” Full review.

In It’s Okay to Be a Unicorn, by Jason Tharp (Imprint/Macmillan), Cornelius J. Sparklesteed is known and loved throughout the town of Hoofington for his incredible handmade hats. Hoofington is a friendly place … unless you’re a unicorn. And Cornelius is hiding a secret, in a book that isn’t explicitly queer-inclusive—but that offers an obvious analogy. Full review.

Hooray What a DayHooray, What A Day!/¡Viva, Qué Día! by Molly Allis, takes us on a day-long adventure as two gender creative children (one with two dads) explore their queer and colorful community. Full review.

Jamie and Bubbie: A Book About People’s Pronouns, written by Afsaneh Moradian and illustrated by Maria Bogade (Free Spirit Publishing) is a sequel to the duo’s Jamie Is Jamie (my review here), but either can be read independently. Here, Jamie’s Bubbie comes for a visit, but mistakenly misgenders several of the people they meet on their neighborhood walk. Jamie, a White child whose gender is never specified, knows everyone’s correct genders and pronouns, though, and gently informs Bubbie, who is receptive to the feedback. Full review.

I Am Brown, written by Ashok Banker and illustrated by Sandhya Prabhat (Latana Publishing), takes us on a journey through the world of a young brown child and friends, celebrating and affirming brown children’s varied cultural and geographic origins, interests, talents, physical appearances, and relationships—and it’s inclusive of creative gender expressions as well. Full review.

Jesse’s Dream Skirt, written by Bruce Mack (under the name “Morning Star”) was first published in 1977, but was republished this year by its illustrator, Marian Buchanan. The tale of a young White boy who wants to wear a skirt to school and is supported by his mother and his Black teacher holds up surprisingly well today. Full review.

Picture Books: Same-Sex Relationships

Plenty of Hugs, by Fran Manushkin (Dial Books/Penguin Young Readers) is a gentle celebration of the loving relationship between a White toddler and parents who happen to be two moms, one of whom has a more masculine gender expression. Full review.

The Bread Pet: A Sourdough Story, by Kate DePalma and illustrated by Nelleke Verhoeff (Barefoot Books), is the whimsical tale of a Black girl and an out-of-control sourdough starter left by her White uncle (who could be read as gay). She happens to have two moms, one Black and one White; the latter has a more masculine gender expression. Full review.

Uncle Bobby’s Wedding, is a revised edition of the 2008 book about a girl worried that her favorite uncle will no longer have time for her after he marries his boyfriend. The original anthropomorphic guinea pigs are replaced by human characters: a White girl and her uncles, one White and one Black. Full review.

A Kid of Their Own, by Megan Dowd Lambert and illustrated by Jessica Lanan (Charlesbridge), is a fun story of adorable animals, gay farmers, clever wordplay, and adoption. Full review.

Who’s Your Real Mom? by Bernadette Green and illustrated by Anna Zobel (Scribble) shows a White girl with two moms answering the question in a clever and empowered way (her real mom is “a pirate in disguise” and “speaks fluent gorilla” she teases) that may better convey its message than a more serious treatment. Full review.

Mighty May Won’t Cry Today, by Kendra and Claire-Voe Ocampo and illustrated by Erica De Chavez (Bunny Patch Press), tells of a White girl’s first day of school as she learns that it’s okay to express her emotions. She happens to have two moms. Full review.

An Ordinary Day, written by Elana K. Arnold and illustrated by Elizabet Vukovic (Beach Lane/Simon & Schuster), shows us nothing less than the circle of life by showing us the parallel stories of two families: one with two moms and their three kids saying goodbye to their beloved but ailing golden retriever, and another with a mom, dad, and child who are welcoming a new baby. It’s poignant, but also gently shows the cycle of life and death. Full review.

My best friend, by Julie Fogliano and Jillian Tamaki (Atheneum/Simon & Schuster), beautifully captures the magical spirit of childhood friendships at an age when children are still figuring out what it means to have—and to be—a friend. It’s not exactly queer inclusive, but the close relationship between the two girls is likely to resonate with a lot of queer women and girls. Full review.

Papa, Daddy, and Riley, by Seamus Kirst and illustrated by Devon Holzwarth (Magination), tells of Riley, a Black girl, whose classmate asks which of her dads is her “real” dad. Riley gets upset thinking she must choose, until her dads (one Black, one White) explain that she doesn’t have to. Full review.

Pickles & Ocho: Our Favorite Place, is the second in a series about two French bulldogs with two human dads. In this one, they’re worried about moving to a new house, but discover that they’re happy wherever their family is. Sweet, but might have offered more effective representation if the human dads had human children.

Freeda the Frog and the Two Mommas Next Door, by Nadine Haruni and illustrated by Tina Modugno (Mascot Books), tries to address kids’ questions about same-sex parents in a rather pedantic book that seems aimed at those who don’t have same-sex parents themselves. If kids haven’t already heard erroneous things about same-sex parents, however (they’re “confusing,” “weird,” and “wrong”), this book might not be the best place to start. (Try another book that simply discusses diverse types of families in a positive way.) Full review.

Mayor Pete: The Story of Pete Buttigieg, by Rob Sanders and illustrated by Levi Hastings (Henry Holt), takes us from Buttigieg’s birth in Indiana to his announcement of a groundbreaking run for president. It may inspire young readers on their own journeys of self-discovery and service. Full review.

For Spacious Skies: Katharine Lee Bates and the Inspiration for “America the Beautiful,” by Nancy Churnin and illustrated by Olga Baumert (Albert Whitman), tells of Bates’ childhood during the Civil War, her dedication to study, and her work to address social injustices, as well as the trip that inspired her most famous poem. It mentions “the home she shared with Katharine Coman”; an afterward calls their relationship “a close companionship,” though as I explain in my full review, it was likely more than that.

Picture Books: Activism and Pride

No Voice Too Small: Fourteen Young Americans Making History, edited by Lindsay H. Metcalf, Keila V. Dawson and Jeanette Bradley, and illustrated by Jeanette Bradley (Charlesbridge), pairs the stories of youth activists with #OwnVoices poems from exceptional adult poets who were inspired by their work. Unsurprisingly, there are queer voices among them. Full review.

V Is for Voting, an alphabet book by Kate Farrell and illustrated by Caitlin Kuhwald (Henry Holt), offers simple phrases and sentences for each letter, all related to voting and democracy. Harvey Milk is the only famous person shown who is clearly queer (though you can count Eleanor Roosevelt if you like), but several of the unnamed cast carry rainbow signs and transgender symbols during protests and marches. (Yes, the November election is past, but there’s a critical runoff in Georgia in January—and there’s always next year.) Full review.

Be Amazing: A History of Pride, by “Drag Kid” Desmond Is Amazing (Farrar Staus Giroux), is less a detailed history than a short overview of the Stonewall Riots and the first March one year later; brief biographies of Stonewall icons Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera; and a description of the influence of Pride on Desmond’s life. What it lacks as a history it makes up for with dazzling illustrations from Dylan Glynn and an enthusiastic message to “Be amazing.” Full review.

Middle Grade Novels and Graphic Novels

I don’t review as many middle grade books as picture books (if I did, I’d have no time to take care of my own family), but here are a few I have reviewed and liked.

The Deep & Dark Blue, by Niki Smith (Little, Brown) is a graphic novel in which two twins must hide with a group of magical women after a coup threatens their noble house. For one, dressing as a woman to blend in with the group is a disguise; for the other, it is the first step towards living as her real gender. The story takes up some familiar fantasy tropes—noble families; an evil relative who takes over from a rightful heir; young people coming of age—but transforms them into something fresh and original. Full review.

Snapdragon, by Kat Leyh, one of the creators of the lauded Lumberjanes comics is a magical realist graphic novel about a town with a witch (maybe), a girl who doesn’t quite act like one, and her transgender best friend. There’s also a queer romance, but I’ll say no more so I don’t spoil it. The protagonist and her family are Black; other characters are White. Full review.

A Home for Goddesses and Dogs, by National Book Award Finalist Leslie Connor (Katherine Tegen/HarperCollins), is a beautiful, lyrical, and insightful story about moving through grief, growing up, and finding family, focusing on a 13-year-old girl who must move in with her aunt and her wife after her mother dies. Full review.

The Only Black Girls in Town, by Brandy Colbert (Little, Brown), is the story of 12-year-old Alberta, who lives with her two dads, the only Black family in their California beach town. When another 12-year-old Black girl and her mom move in across the street, Alberta is excited. When she and the new girl, Edie, discover some old journals in Edie’s attic, they work together to unravel their mysteries, which leads them on a journey back through history and the toxic threads of racism, colorism, passing, and privilege in the U.S., even as they grapple with micro- (and not-so-micro) aggressions in their own community. Full review.

Goldie Vance: The Hotel Whodunit, by Lilliam Rivera (Little, Brown), is an original novel based on the bestselling BOOM! Studios comic series by Hope Larsen and Brittney Williams. Goldie, a biracial, queer 16-year-old, lives at the Crossed Palms Resort Hotel in Florida in the 1960s, where she is the valet and aspiring hotel detective. When a Hollywood studio comes to the resort to shoot a movie, everyone is swept up into the excitement and glamour until a diamond-encrusted swim cap goes missing. Goldie’s mom is implicated, and Goldie must call on all her detective skills to find the real thief. Full review.

You Should See Me in a Crown (Scholastic) by Leah Johnson, ) is the first novel from Leah Johnson,  a 2021 Lambda Literary Emerging Writers Fellow. 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.

Middle Grade Nonfiction

Pride: The Celebration and the Struggleby Robin Stevenson (Orca, 2020), is an updated edition of her 2016 Pride: Celebrating Diversity and Community, which blends a history of the event with a broader look at the struggle for LGBTQ equality, along with a look at what it means to come out, what to expect at Pride events around the world, a glossary, and an explanation of gender identity. The new edition places a greater focus on activism and activists, as the need for such work has grown over the past few years.

Rainbow Revolutionaries: Fifty LGBTQ+ People Who Made History, by Sarah Prager (HarperCollins, 2020), offers short but engaging profiles of LGBTQ+ people who have had an impact on the world in a variety of times and places. The format matches her book for teens, Queer There and Everywhere: 23 People Who Changed the Worldbut the language has been tuned to a slightly younger audience. In both books, Prager writes in an informal, approachable style while also providing substantial facts about each person’s life and motivations. (Full review.)

Rainbow Revolutions: Power, Pride, and Protest in the Fight for Queer Rights, by Jamie Lawson (Crocodile Books/Interlink), takes a more event-based approach to history, rather than Prager’s people-based one, offering brief snapshots of significant moments and movements in LGBTQ history from the Victorian age to our current era. The choices about what to focus on feel somewhat uneven, but this is a beautiful volume that will likely engage tween (and even teen) readers. Full review.

The Every Body Book: The LGBTQ+ Inclusive Guide for Kids about Sex, Gender, Bodies, and Families, written by Rachel Simon and illustrated by Noah Grigni (Jessica Kingsley), offers tweens information on sex, gender, bodies, and relationships—and assumes an audience of all sexual orientations and gender identities. Full review.

On the Field with … Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan, Carli Lloyd, and Mallory Pugh, by Matt Christopher (Little, Brown), follows Megan Rapinoe and three of her 2019 U.S. Women’s National Soccer teammates from their starts in the sport through their rise to global fame—and which also discusses Rapinoe’s coming out and its positive impact on her life. Full review.

Noisemakers (Alfred A. Knopf), a new book from Kazoo Media, has brought together 25 of today’s best women and nonbinary comic artists to offer engaging graphic biographies of “25 women who raised their voices and changed the world.” When the promotional blurbs on the covers are from Jacqueline Woodson and Alison Bechdel, you know it’s going to be good. (Full review.)

Kids’ Music (that Won’t Annoy Grown-Ups)

Trans and Nonbinary Kids MixThe Trans and Nonbinary Kids Mix is a multi-artist, multi-genre music album offering transgender and nonbinary children and youth songs that reflect and support who they are. It’s the brainchild of Julie Lipson, one half of children’s music duo Ants on a Log, and contains 21 songs from musicians representing hip-hop, pop, folk, country, and other genres. Download it free at the link; if you choose to make a donation, it will go to Camp Aranu’tiq, a summer camp for transgender and nonbinary youth. Full review.

Be a Pain: An Album for Young (& Old) Leaders, by Alastair Moock, which just received a Grammy nomination, seeks to inspire young listeners to become leaders for positive change. It includes a song for his nonbinary child, one that praises Harvey Milk, and another that invites young listeners to imagine leaders who are LGBTQ, among other identities. Full review.

For LGBTQ Parents

If These Ovaries Could Talk: The Things We’ve Learned About Making an LGBTQ Family, by Jaimie Kelton and Robin Hopkins,, the hosts of a popular podcast, captures the lively spirit of the show and the insights of their many guests as it explores LGBTQ family making. Full review.

What’s in a Name: Perspectives from Nonbiological and Nongestational Queer Mothers, edited by Sherri Martin-Baron, Raechel Johns, and Emily Regan Wills (Demeter Press), is a must-read anthology about queer women and nonbinary people who are nonbiological and nongestational parents looks at their paths to parenthood, their experiences as parents, and the evolving meanings of what it is to be a mother. Full review.

I’m Still Here, by Martina Reaves (She Writes Press) interweaves the strands of her life from San Francisco in the 1960s through teaching, law school, coming out, starting a family, and surviving two types of cancer. Full review.

Want even more? Check out my Gift Guide from last year or see my longer lists.


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A Roundup of Recent Children’s Books with Transgender Characters

A Roundup of Recent Children's Books with Transgender Characters

There’s been a veritable explosion of children’s books with transgender characters in 2020, so here’s a roundup of them (and one music album!) for Transgender Awareness Month. They’re great at any time of the year!

I’m including here only books published this year that have clearly transgender characters; there are a few others that show gender creative characters who aren’t necessarily transgender, which I’ll round up in a separate post in the future. (Stay tuned, too, for my annual roundup of LGBTQ-inclusive kids’ books as a whole.) I’m also sticking with picture books and a couple of graphic novels that cross somewhat into middle grade territory; young adult books form a separate genre that I unfortunately don’t have the bandwidth to cover in depth. (Check out Lee Wind’s blog if you’re looking for YA.) I’ve linked to my full reviews of the books I’ve written about previously—but there are a couple of new ones below, too!

Let’s also take a moment to celebrate that just a few years ago, having this many books with any LGBTQ characters would seem like an abundance. Now, we have this many with trans characters!

Transgender Women and Girls

Sylvia and Marsha Start a Revolution, by Joy Michael Ellison and Teshika Silver (Jessica Kingsley, 2020), tells the story of Stonewall icons Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson by focusing on their close friendship and how they cared for their community in the face of harassment by police and others. Full review.

She’s My Dad!, written by Sarah Savage and illustrated by Joules Garcia (Jessica Kingsley Publishers) is the first-person story of Mini, a six-year-old whose dad is a transgender woman. Mini’s explanation of their dad’s gender identity comes from a place of pride, confidence, and love. Full review.

Jamie and Bubbie: A Book About People’s Pronouns, written by Afsaneh Moradian and illustrated by Maria Bogade (Free Spirit Publishing) is a sequel to the duo’s Jamie Is Jamie: A Book About Being Yourself and Playing Your Way (my review here), but either can be read independently of the other. Both books star Jamie, a White child whose gender is never specified. In the latest book, Jamie’s Bubbie comes for a visit. As she and Jamie do things together in the neighborhood, Bubbie mistakenly misgenders several of the people they meet—a woman as a man, a man as a woman, and a transgender girl whom Bubbie had previously met when the girl was still using her male birth name. Jamie knows everyone’s correct genders and pronouns, though, and gently informs Bubbie, who is receptive to the feedback. Full review.

My Rainbow, written by DeShanna Neal and Trinity Neal and illustrated by Art Twink (Kokila), is based on Trinity’s own life as a Black transgender girl. In the book, Trinity wants long hair to express her true self. She explains to her mother, who has short hair, that “It’s different for transgender girls.” Growing her hair has always been difficult for Trinity, however, since she doesn’t like the feeling of the hair scratching her neck as it gets longer. (We learn that “like many kids with autism,” Trinity “loved soft things.) Her mom takes her to a wig store, but nothing is a perfect fit. Her mom therefore decides to create a colorful wig with help from Trinity’s nonbinary sibling, even while acknowledging that Trinity’s natural hair is “already perfect.” A joyful and personal story. [Thanks to Jen Rivka Schultz-Badik, who just wrote a great LGBTQ-inclusive picture book herself, for alerting me to this one.]

Raven Wild, written by Caitlin Spice, Adam Reynolds, and Chaz Harris, with illustrations by Christine Luiten and Bo Moore, is the third fantasy book in the crowdfunded Promised Land series (after Promised Land and Maiden Voyage), but can be read as a standalone tale. This one is the story of Raven, a transgender young woman who has various daring adventures and eventually finds love. I am thrilled to see a story about a trans protagonist, by a real transgender woman (Spice), that is simply a fun adventure and romance and isn’t simply “about” being trans per se. (Those stories are important, too, but we have far fewer of the former.) I love that Raven is a spear-wielding badass while also embracing her female identity. At the same time, the wordiness and number of plot lines strain the picture book format and age range. I think that it would have worked better as a graphic novel aimed at middle grade readers.

I also worry that the explanation of the character’s transition from Hawk (her birth name) to Raven is potentially confusing. The story tells us, “Hawk’s thoughts … soon turned inwards to questioning his own identity. Although Hawk had grown up as a boy, he realised he needed to be a girl.” Readers (especially cisgender ones) who are new to thinking about trans identities might not understand why he “needed” to be so. Was it because of external forces, such as girls being treated better in the society or the opportunities open to them? No—but that’s unclear. A better phrasing might have been, “he realised he was in fact a girl.” Raven also then seeks out a potion master who provides “medicine that could help.” Some young readers might mistakenly think that being trans requires medicines or a doctor’s assistance, which is not the case—but young trans readers who are likely the main audience may simply relish the idea that they could take a potion to have their bodies match their gender. Cisgender folks who may need a little more background information on what it means to be trans may be better served by other books, but that’s fine. It’s about time transgender people had a fairy tale romance of their own. Decide for yourself if this one works for you and the young people with whom you may be reading it.

Another fantasy story that is a graphic novel is The Deep & Dark Blue, by Niki Smith (Little, Brown). In it, two twins must hide with a group of magical women after a coup threatens their noble house. For one, dressing as a woman to blend in with the group is a disguise; for the other, it is the first step towards living as her real gender. The story takes up some familiar fantasy tropes—noble families; an evil relative who takes over from a rightful heir; young people coming of age—but transforms them into something fresh and original. The publisher’s suggested grade level of 3 to 7 slides it towards middle grade territory, but I think it would also appeal to the top of the elementary school age range. Full review.

Worth a mention, too, is Snapdragon, by Kat Leyh, one of the creators of the lauded Lumberjanes comics. The protagonist of this magical realist graphic novel isn’t transgender, but her best friend is, and the latter’s transition forms a secondary but clear storyline. There’s also queerness aplenty among other characters. Aimed at children in grades 5 to 9. Full review.

Transgender Men and Boys

Max on the Farm, by Kyle Lukoff and illustrated by Luciano Lozano (Reycraft),  is the third in a series by a Stonewall Award-winning author about a transgender boy and his friends, and shows it’s possible to create picture books about LGBTQ characters that neither dwell on nor ignore their LGBTQ identities. Max, a White transgender boy, going on an overnight trip to a farm with his class, including his friend Teresa, a darker-skinned girl. Teresa, though cisgender, bends gender stereotypes—she likes to get “really dirty” while playing outdoors and tends to be the leader in their adventures. Max is more hesitant, but ultimately has fun during their gentle mischief. Full review.

The Fighting Infantryman, by Rob Sanders and illustrated by Nabi H. Ali (Little Bee), is the true story of Albert D. J. Cashier, an immigrant, a Union soldier in the U.S. Civil War, and a transgender man. Sanders paints a sympathetic portrait of a young immigrant finding his way in America and putting his life on the line to keep his new country united, even while trying to remain true to himself. Full review.

Love Remains: A Rosh Hashanah Story of Transformation, shows changes in the life of a Jewish mother, father, and child as they go year after year to the grandparents’ house for Rosh Hashanah. One year, their favorite flower shop is closed and they must find another; the next year, the grandfather has died; the year after that, a cousin has a new baby. The child similarly transforms and comes into his identity as a transgender boy, which the family wholeheartedly accepts. Full review.

I’m Not a Girl, written by Maddox Lyons, a 12-year-old transgender boy, and Jessica Verdi, with illustrations by Dana Simpson (Roaring Brook Press), is a first-person story based loosely on Lyons’ own life. The protagonist struggles against his well-meaning mom’s attempts to have her dress like a girl on many occasions. “I’m not a girl,” he insists. On one page, in a nice touch, he admires a poster of famous women and says, “I know girls are really cool. I’m just not one.” That’s a welcome acknowledgment that girls may read this book, too, and shouldn’t come away with the message that there’s anything wrong with being one, if that’s who they really are.

The protagonist, however, isn’t. Eventually, his frustrated mom lets him pick out any swimsuit he likes, and he chooses boy’s shorts and a swim shirt. At the pool, he meets two new friends, who assume he’s a boy but are confused when his father calls him by a girl’s name. He insists he’s a boy, and the friends say he’s like their transgender cousin, who’s actually a girl, although the family had thought otherwise. This gives the protagonist the courage and the language to talk with his parents about his identity. The book closes with him happily getting a boy’s short haircut.

The protagonist and his family are White; his new friends are Black. An afterward by Lyons’ mother, Verdi, and Simpson (a transgender woman herself) offers additional insight, as does a list of famous transgender people and additional resources. This is a sympathetic and personal account of transition that should find many fans.

Nonbinary People

My Maddy, written by Gayle Pitman and illustrated by Violet Tobacco (Magination Press), is a gentle story told as a series of reflections by a child about her nonbinary parent. A Note to Readers at the end, by clinical psychologist Randall Ehrbar, explains that “Maddy” is used by some families “to describe a parent who is transgender or gender diverse.” He also notes that while some trans people have nonbinary identities, others may identify in a more binary way as men or women. It’s unclear from the book whether this Maddy is trans, but since they could be and there are very few books about nonbinary trans parents, I’m going to include it here for those seeking such a story. Full review.

Music

Detail from cover of "Trans and Nonbinary Kids Mix." Art by Wriply M. Bennet

Detail from cover of “Trans and Nonbinary Kids Mix.” Art by Wriply M. Bennet

The Trans and Nonbinary Kids Mix is a multi-artist, multi-genre music album offering transgender and nonbinary children and youth songs that reflect and support who they are. It’s  is the brainchild of Julie Lipson, one half of children’s music duo Ants on a Log, and contains 21 songs from musicians representing hip-hop, pop, folk, country, and other genres. Full review.

 

 


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Flamingo Rampant Kickstarts New Season of Feminist, Culturally-Diverse, and LGBTQ-Positive Kids’ Books

Flamingo Rampant Kickstarts New Season of Feminist, Culturally-Diverse, and LGBTQ-Positive

Flamingo Rampant micropress is back with a new Kickstarter for its fourth season of feminist, racially diverse, and LGBTQ-positive children’s books! This new set of #OwnVoices books includes their first middle grade titles as well as picture books. As always, they depict an array of intersectional identities that few (if any!) other publishers have matched—all with fun, joyous storylines that include Afro-futurism, seahorse dads, baseball, magic, body hair, pancakes, and more!

Flamingo Rampant Adventure

The theme for the new season of books is “Adventure.” Here are the book descriptions from the project’s Kickstarter page (though they caution that it’s possible some things could change):

  • Noodin’s Perfect Day (PB), written by Ansley Simpson and illustrated by Rhael McGregor. Noodin, a nonbinary urban Indigenous kid, doesn’t have the day they planned with a book and Ninaatig (a maple tree)—but they have a lot of fun anyway!
  • The Magic Shell (PB), written by Jillian Christmas and illustrated by Diana G. A. Mungaray. When Pigeon Pea asks one question too many, her auntie gives her a magic cowrie shell that lets her time travel back and meet her ancestors, including some pre-colonial gender transcenders.
  • The Light Of You (PB), written by Trystan Reese and Biff Chaplow, illustrated by Van Binfa. A family-building story featuring adoption and a seahorse papa (a trans man birth parent), told through a poem—with space for you to add your own family stanzas! [Mombian’s note: This is not just what I believe is the first picture book about a pregnant trans dad and one of few about trans parents overall, but also one of very few with LGBTQ parents of any identity that shows a child getting a sibling. (I can think of only one other, an older self-published work.)]
  • It’s A Hit! (MG), written by Arin Cole Barth and Marika Barth. A story of baseball and friendship, where a nerdy, newly-out trans boy and the super-jock son of two queer parents form a lasting friendship.
  • Metatron’s Children (MG), written by Chy Ryan Spain and illustrator TBD. An Afro-Futurist tale set in a dystopian future, in which two Black, nonbinary children unlock a secret that might just save the world.
  • Puberty: Pick Your Path! (MG) written by Dr. Sydney Tam, MD, CCFP and Rakiyah Jones, DNP, FNP-BC, illustrated by Bishakh Som and kd diamond. This groundbreaking book introduces young people to the process of puberty, allowing any kid to learn about the changes that may come. The book describes many options for trans and nonbinary kids to explore—for the first time ever—possible routes and options through puberty and into adulthood, with age-appropriate illustrations and diagrams throughout. Kids can feel a sense of agency about their puberty experience, learn about their friends’ experiences, and explore differences as well as commonalities—everyone  makes a stop at Body Hair Station.

It will take money, though, to bring these books to our shelves. If your financial situation allows, I hope you’ll consider supporting the project. Note that you can choose to receive all six books, just the picture books, or just the middle grade ones. (Pro tip: If your kids are still in the picture book age range, get the full set. They’ll be ready for the middle grade ones before you know it. Or if they’re older, get the full set and offer the picture books to a friend, library, or school.) The books are estimated to ship in September 2021.

Want to know more? Check out the promotional video, in which the authors and Flamingo Rampant Chief Flamingo S. Bear Bergman tell you more about these stories:

Imagination and Community in Two New Picture Books with Nonbinary and Gender Creative Characters

Imagination and Community in Two New Picture Books with Nonbinary

Two new picture books show us nonbinary and gender creative kids having imaginative adventures in their fun, welcoming, queer, and sometimes magical communities.

Imagination and Community in Two New Picture Books with Nonbinary and Gender Creative Characters Creative fun! Posted on October 26, 2020 Two new picture books show us nonbinary and gender creative kids having adventures in their fun, welcoming, queer and sometimes magical communities. Hooray, What a Day - A More Graceful Shaboom A More Graceful Shaboom - Jacinta Bunnell

A More Graceful Shaboom, written by Jacinta Bunnell and illustrated by Crystal Vielula (PM Press), is a surreal romp of a book that follows Harmon Jitney, a nonbinary child with “an extravagant collection of belongings” that they find hard to keep organized. They decide a purse is the answer, but their two mothers and sister are too busy with their own projects to help. Mama Millie Mapletush, for example, is “building an XJ-6350 Millennium Bipedal Astro Welding Robot from scratch,” whose components include a dishwasher and a movie theater popcorn machine.

Finally, a gender creative neighbor says he has a collection of purses, though he can’t quite remember where he put them. He and Harmon look behind a series of doors that reveal things as varied as a giant Muffin Monster, polar ice caps, and 66,500 Brussels sprouts. Ultimately, they find the purses. Harmon selects the purse of their dreams and proceeds to collect all of their treasured things into it, from belongings to friends, town, and, well, the entire universe. The magical ending is a celebration of community and love.

There’s an inspired silliness about the whole tale. It’s unclear exactly what age group the book is targeting, though, as the wordiness and level of vocabulary seem geared far above the usual picture-book range. Not that I’m against books that stretch young readers in this regard; adults should just be aware that they may need to do some explaining as they read through the book with kids, as least the first few times. What I appreciate most about it, though, is that the book isn’t “about” gender or identity, but rather about gender diverse characters simply having joyous adventures. We need more books like this.

Hooray, What a Day - Molly Allis

Another new book that takes a similar joyous approach is Hooray, What A Day!/¡Viva, Qué Día! by Molly Allis, available through Allis’ website. The bilingual book is an extension of All Together Now, an animated kids’ show that Allis is creating. The show stars a child named Frankie, described as gender non-conforming in the show notes, who uses “they” pronouns and lives with their grandma. Frankie’s best friend is Jesse, who lives with his two dads and uses male pronouns, but likes to wear skirts, jewelry, and sometimes makeup. The book takes us on a day-long adventure as the two friends explore their queer and colorful community. They go to a parade, visit the community garden, stop at the cafe owned by one of Jesse’s dads, and make zines at the local bookstore.

Queerness is everywhere—Grandma makes rainbow pancakes and has Indigo Girls and ACT UP posters in her kitchen; we see rainbow and trans flags in the community; and several characters at the parade are clearly gender creative. More general progressive messages are also strewn throughout: one character wears a “Black Lives Matter” shirt; the parade marchers carry signs saying, “Otro Mundo Es Posible,” and “Be the Change.” At the end of the day, after storytime with Grandma, Frankie reflects on how happy they are to have spent the day in their community with friends and chosen family.

Hooray, What A Day!/¡Viva, Qué Día! doesn’t have the fantastical tone of A More Graceful Shaboom, but Allis’ multi-colored people and richly detailed backgrounds are equally imaginative and fun. Potential readers should know, though, that while queerness abounds in the community, Frankie and Jesse’s identities aren’t clear from the book alone, but only from the show notes on Allis’ website. We don’t learn that Frankie uses “they”; we might assume from the illustrations that Jesse is a cisgender, gender conforming girl; we meet one of Jesse’s dads, but never know he has two. It’s true that the story isn’t “about” Frankie and Jesse’s gender or family structure, and as I’ve explained, we need more stories like that. But is the lack of clarity about their identities a missed opportunity for queer representation or a chance for readers to assume identities for them that the readers can relate to, no matter what the author intended? I leave that to your interpretation. (Now that you’ve read this post, of course, you can inform young readers of the author’s intended identities for the characters as you see fit.)

Regardless, the community that Allis depicts is clearly full of other, if minor, characters who are more obviously queer, and it’s packed full of queer iconography. Frankie and Jesse are at ease with it all, so even if their identities are here unknown, this remains an empowering, queer-inclusive book that will brighten any bookshelf. Let’s hope there are more books (along with the still-pending show) about the diverse people of this cheery and inclusive world.


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LGBTQ History Books for Children and Teens

LGBTQ History Books for Children and Teens

It’s been a couple of years since I’ve done a roundup of kids’ books on LGBTQ history and there have been many new ones in that time! Here’s a fresh list of old and new for LGBTQ History Month—including an upcoming picture book about Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera!

LGBTQ History Books for Kids

I’m focusing here on books that delve into the history of Pride and LGBTQ people more generally; ones that look solely at the experience of a Pride march or the colors of the rainbow flag can be found in my roundup of Pride Books for Kids. Also, as far as I know, all the authors below identify as White; I wish there was much more diversity of authorship among these books that chart our diverse history. (I know there are LGBTQ-inclusive kids’ books by authors of color; I’m speaking just of history books here.) Publishers, you can do better than this.

An Upcoming Picture Book

Let’s start with one book I haven’t reviewed previously. Sylvia and Marsha Start a Revolution, by Joy Michael Ellison and Teshika Silver (Jessica Kingsley, 2020), isn’t out until November 21, but I’d be remiss not to mention it here. It tells the story of Stonewall icons and transgender activists Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera by focusing on their close friendship and how they cared for their community in the face of harassment by police and others. We see them at the heart of the Stonewall Rebellion, then opening a home for homeless trans girls and continuing to fight “for the survival and rights of transgender people.”

Some of the violence during the riots has been tempered for the age group and a few historical details could be argued, but as the authors note, this is only one retelling of what happened. What comes through clearly, though—and is probably most important for this age group—is the bond between Sylvia and Marsha and the overall sense of how they worked to help those in need. A few of the narrative transitions are a little jumpy, but the thread of Sylvia and Marsha’s friendship helps hold things together.

The back matter offers additional details on the two, a glossary, discussion questions, and activities. There are a couple of errors in the two online resources listed, though: “Queer Kids Stuff” should be “Queer Kid Stuff,” and “The Family Equality Council” should be just “Family Equality.” (Also, I would have added PFLAG and Gender Spectrum as key resources, since they do a lot of work with families of trans kids.) Those are minor issues, though. This inspiring story of friendship, community, and revolution rightly gives Sylvia and Marsha their place on our kids’ bookshelves alongside the mostly White and male figures who have dominated LGBTQ picture book biographies.

Other Elementary School Books

Stonewall: A Building. An Uprising. A Revolution, by Rob Sanders (Random House, 2019), uses the perspective of the Stonewall Inn itself to create a simple yet compelling story that focuses on the people in the neighborhood. Jamey Christoph’s evocative illustrations capture their diversity of race, gender identity, and sexual orientation. (Full review.)

Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag, written by Rob Sanders and illustrated by Steven Salerno (Random House: 2018), is an inspiring biography of Milk that stresses his friendship with Gilbert Baker, who designed the rainbow flag as a symbol of hope and inspiration. It does mention Milk’s assassination, although as gently as possible, but parents should still be prepared to address kids’ concerns there. (Full review.)

Sewing the Rainbow: A Story About Gilbert Baker (Magination Press: 2018), written by Gayle Pitman and illustrated by Holly Clifton-Brown, flips the perspective Sanders used, and takes us along with Baker from his childhood, through adversity, to the request by his friend Milk to create a new symbol for their community. A few rough transitions may take adult explanation, but all will be inspired by this story and how Baker regained his lost sparkle. (Full review.)

The Harvey Milk Story, written by Kari Krakow and illustrated by David Gardner (Two Lives Publishing: 2001), conveys Milk’s significance with warmth and appreciation. It is wordier and more detailed that Sanders’ book, and probably best for older elementary students. Unfortunately out of print and only available in used versions; see if you can find a cheap one or seek it in a library.

When You Look Out the Window: How Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin Built a Community, by Gayle Pitman (Magination Press: 2017), tells of the transformation that LGBTQ-rights pioneers Lyon and Martin helped bring to San Francisco and its LGBTQ community.

The Fighting Infantryman, by Rob Sanders and illustrated by Nabi H. Ali (Little Bee, 2020), is the story of Albert D. J. Cashier, an immigrant, Union soldier in the U.S. Civil War, and a transgender man—though as Sanders notes, he probably wouldn’t have used that term. Terminology aside, Sanders reinforces that “His identity fit him as snug as his suspenders.” (Full review.)

Mayor Pete: The Story of Pete Buttigieg, written by Rob Sanders and illustrated by Levi Hastings (Henry Holt, 2020), takes us from Buttigieg’s birth in Indiana to his announcement of a groundbreaking run for president. “Only time will tell” who he will become, it concludes. It’s a smart way to end a book that was finished in May 2019 and fast-tracked for publication, as Sanders confirmed with me—well before Mayor Pete won the Iowa Democratic Caucuses but shortly thereafter dropped out of the race. It may inspire young readers on their own journeys of self-discovery and service. (Full review.)

For Spacious Skies: Katharine Lee Bates and the Inspiration for “America the Beautiful,” by Nancy Churnin and illustrated by Olga Baumert (Albert Whitman), tells of Bates’ childhood during the Civil War, her dedication to study, and her work to address social injustices, as well as the trip that inspired her most famous poem. It mentions “the home she shared with Katharine Coman”; an afterward calls their relationship “a close companionship,” though as I explain in my full review, it was likely more than that.

Be Amazing: A History of Pride, by “Drag Kid” Desmond Is Amazing (Farrar Staus Giroux, 2020), is less a detailed history than a short overview of the Stonewall Riots and the first March one year later; brief biographies of Stonewall icons Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera; and a description of the influence of Pride on Desmond’s life. A mention of President Obama’s 2009 declaration of Pride Month makes it (incorrectly) seem as if that legitimized the observance. What it lacks as a history it makes up for with dazzling illustrations from Dylan Glynn and an enthusiastic message to “Be amazing.”

Harvey Milk, Ellen DeGeneres, and RuPaul Charles from Little Bee Books (2020) with no stated author,  illustrated by Victoria Grace Elliott, each offer simple takes on these figures’ lives, though not as simple as the board book format might imply. (Full review.)

Middle Grade Books

Rainbow Revolutionaries: Fifty LGBTQ+ People Who Made History, by Sarah Prager (HarperCollins, 2020), offers short but engaging profiles of LGBTQ+ people who have had an impact on the world in a variety of times and places. The format matches her book for teens, Queer There and Everywhere: 23 People Who Changed the World (see below)but the language has been tuned to a slightly younger audience. In both books, Prager writes in an informal, approachable style while also providing substantial facts about each person’s life and motivations. (Full review.)

Pride: The Celebration and the Struggle, by Robin Stevenson (Orca, 2020), is an updated edition of her 2016 Pride: Celebrating Diversity and Community, which blends a history of the event with a broader look at the struggle for LGBTQ equality, along with a look at what it means to come out, what to expect at Pride events around the world, a glossary, and an explanation of gender identity. The new edition places a greater focus on activism and activists, as the need for such work has grown over the past few years.

Gay & Lesbian History for Kids: The Century-Long Struggle for LGBT Rights, by Jerome Pohlen (Chicago Review Press, 2015), starts with Sappho, Alexander the Great, and other figures from distant history, but then focuses mostly on U.S. social and political history. A series of activities throughout the book add fun and engagement. Despite the main title, Pohlen is inclusive of the LGBT spectrum.

Stonewall: Our March Continues, by Olivia Higgins, illustrated by Tess Marie Vosevich Keller (self-published, 2019), straddles the picture book/middle grade line as it tells the tale through the eyes of young LGBT people in the 1960s seeking community in New York City. It’s an engaging approach, but the undifferentiated first-person narrative, intended to convey perspectives from different people, may be confusing. Young readers might also need adult guidance so they are not scared by the line, “My parents demand that I change or leave home forever.” (Full review.)

Young Adult Books

Queer There and Everywhere: 23 People Who Changed the World, by Sarah Prager (HarperCollins: 2017), aims for the teen audience, but adults will also learn much from her engaging profiles. Prager offers a thoughtful exploration of historical terms for what we now call “queer” identities, an overview of queerness around the world, and profiles that are both informative and entertaining.

Gayle Pitman’s The Stonewall Riots: Coming Out in the Streets (Abrams, 2019) is organized around 50 representative objects from the era and the event, such as photos, matchbooks, picket signs, and more. Pitman skillfully weaves the stories behind these objects into an accessible and substantial narrative. (Full review.)

What Was Stonewall? by Nico Medina (Penguin, 2019), looks at Stonewall in the context of the broader movement for LGBTQ equality both before 1969 and after, through 2016.

The Stonewall Riots: The Fight for LGBT Rights, by Tristan Poehlmann (Essential Library, 2016) is a solid overview, but only available in a $30 library edition, which may make it a better library pick than one for home bookshelves.

Rainbow Revolutions: Power, Pride, and Protest in the Fight for Queer Rights, by Jamie Lawson (Crocodile Books/Interlink, 2020), takes an more event-based approach to history, in contrast to Prager’s people-based one (see above), offering brief snapshots of significant moments and movements in LGBTQ history from the Victorian age to our current era. There’s a lot of fascinating information in the volume, although Lawson’s choices about what to focus on feels somewhat uneven. (Full review.)

Gay America: Struggle for Equality, by Linus Alsenas (Amulet: 2008), is explicitly limited to gay men and lesbians and a little dated now, but worthwhile within those limits, covering politics, culture, relations between the lesbian and gay rights movement and other civil rights movements, entertainment, the evolution of gay and lesbian identities, and more.


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Queer-Inclusive Kids’ Books Celebrating Indigenous Cultures

Queer-Inclusive Kids' Books Celebrating Indigenous Cultures

For Indigenous People’s Day today, let’s take a look at the few queer-inclusive children’s books that celebrate indigenous people and cultures, and ask why there aren’t more.

Indigenous LGBTQ Children's Books

  • Families, written by Jesse Unaapik Mike and Kerry McCluskey and illustrated by Lenny Lishchenko (Inhabit Media), is the story of Talittuq, a second-grade boy living with his mother in Iqaluit, the capital city of the Canadian territory of Nunavut. One year at the start of school, he realizes the many different family configurations that he, his friends, and his teacher have. While the plot in some ways sticks to well-worn paths trod by many other LGBTQ-inclusive books celebrating families, it stands out for its focus on an indigenous family and its use of Inuktitut terms and names throughout. (There’s a glossary at the end, although much is also understandable from the context.) Mike herself was raised in Iqaluit by a single mother, giving the book grounding and authenticity. Publisher Inhabit Media is an Inuit-owned publishing company with its head office in Iqaluit. And yes, the October Indigenous Peoples’ Day is a U.S. observance, while National Indigenous Peoples Day in Canada is held every June 21st. Still, indigenous stories, authors, and publishers deserve our support, not just today, but any day, and it’s great to see this goodhearted story that is queer inclusive as well. (Full review.)
  • Colors of Aloha, written by Kanoa Kau-Arteaga and illustrated by J.R. Keaolani Bogac-Moore, follows a group of Hawai’ian children, plus one older brother and his boyfriend, as they explore their island and learn their colors, along with tidbits about various native Hawai’ian legends, culture, and foods. The joyous tale is published by queer-focused micro-press Flamingo Rampant, and only available through them.
  • 47,000 Beads, written by Koja and Angel Adeyoha, and illustrated by Holly McGillis, also from Flamingo Rampant, tells of a Lakota child who gets a little help in expressing a two-spirit self and dancing at a pow wow.
  • When We Love Someone We Sing to Them/Cuando Amamos Cantamos, written by Ernesto Javier Martí­nez and illustrated by Maya Gonzalez (Reflection Press) is a gorgeous bilingual book in English and Spanish that honors the Mexican serenata tradition even as reframes it to include one boy creating a love song for another, with the help of his father. While it is a celebration of Mexican culture broadly speaking and the characters are not identified as indigenous, it includes references to Xochipilli, the Mesoamerican Nahua deity of creativity, dance, and song. A note at the end reminds us that “The Nahua people still continue to inhabit Central Mexico to this day.” (Full review.)

These are all great books for reading at any time, whether they reflect your own culture and experiences or offer windows into others. Still, I would love to see even more queer-inclusive children’s books that include indigenous characters and families (and people of color more generally), both from small presses like the above and from the major publishing houses. If Pete Buttigieg can have a picture book biography, why not Sharice Davids, the first openly LGBTQ Native American and one of the first two Native American women elected to the U.S. Congress? An enrolled member of the Ho-Chunk Nation, she was raised by a single mother and worked to put herself through college—then went on to law school, a mixed martial arts career, work in economic and community development on Native American reservations, and a stint as a White House Fellow under President Obama, before running successfully to become a U.S. representative for Kansas. Hers is only one of many, many stories waiting to be told.


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3 Initiatives Offering Teachers Free, LGBTQ-Inclusive Books

3 Initiatives Offering Teachers Free, LGBTQ-Inclusive Books

I wrote yesterday about the many attempts to ban LGBTQ-inclusive children’s books from schools and libraries—so here’s a story to counter that, about three different initiatives that are now offering free (yes, free!) LGBTQ-inclusive books and resources to educators and schools throughout the U.S.

Hope in a Box - Pride and Less Prejudice - The Make It Safe Project

Hope in a Box, which launched a pilot program with 30 schools in September 2019, is now a national nonprofit that focuses on public middle and high schools in rural areas and those receiving Title I federal funding. Founder Joe English, a former consultant for McKinsey & Company, grew up gay in a small rural town, and explained in an interview, “For a lot of kids who still live in rural towns, it’s scary to grow up queer. There isn’t the same type of acceptance that we see now in cities like Boston or New York or San Francisco.”

I think one of the most underreported stories in the mainstream press in the last six months has been how hard COVID has been on LGBTQ kids…. It’s even more important for educators to have the materials and the resources to make these kids feel safe and welcome and included.

By the end of October, Hope in a Box will have sent books to 300 schools across 50 states. The need for these books is greater than ever. “I think one of the most underreported stories in the mainstream press in the last six months has been how hard COVID has been on LGBTQ kids,” English said. This year, whether virtually or in-person, “It’s even more important for educators to have the materials and the resources to make these kids feel safe and welcome and included.”

Before agreeing to a request for books, he noted, Hope in a Box considers whether the situation is “right for potential impact” and if there are educators there who are “passionate” about the program and can put the materials to use. If so, they first sent a “library builder” box of many curated titles, from classics like “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” by Oscar Wilde to just-released works like “Red at the Bone,” by Jacqueline Woodson. After that, “If an educator wants to formally incorporate one of the books into their curriculum, then we will provide a class set.”

But books are only the first step. After the project first began, many teachers asked them for help incorporating the books into the curriculum and responding to concerns from parents. This fall, therefore, the organization is launching a new program, working with experienced English teachers to write a “detailed, Common Core-aligned curriculum” for each book, along with guides that include tips on teaching LGBTQ topics, sample student activities, additional resources, and more, all available free online. They also have two educators running a private Facebook group and monthly, small group Zoom calls for educators to connect, share, and find coaching and support.

Another similar project, Pride and Less Prejudice (PLP), is focusing on much younger children, offering free, LGBTQ-inclusive books for pre-K through third grade classrooms. Founder Lisa Forman has been a music teacher for 25 years and has two grown daughters. When her daughter Rebecca Damante, who is queer, was a teenager, “She started to see some LGBTQ representation on TV and to relate to the queer storylines,” Forman said. “I saw what a huge difference that made for her.” Forman “realized that must have been a big hole not just in her childhood, but in other children’s developmental years.”

After doing her own research and soliciting help from friends who were teachers, Forman launched PLP last November. Rebecca is the outreach coordinator and content editor; her other daughter, Ally Damante, is the creative content editor and videographer. They also have about 10 volunteers working on everything from resource guides for the books to social media, partnerships, and development. They’ve had requests from teachers in 36 states, in both public and private schools, and shipped over 200 books so far. Forty-five percent of the requests are from Title I schools.

They usually send two to three books per request, and Forman noted, “We’re trying to be really personal and customized” if there are particular topics a teacher wants to cover or if they already have certain books.

Most of the project’s growth has been through word of mouth, but when Rebecca posted about it last spring at Pantsuit Nation, a Facebook group with over three million members that had been founded to help elect Hillary Clinton, they realized they needed more money to support the flood of requests. Ally came up with the idea of a celebrity video; Rebecca reached out to more than 100 publicists. More than a dozen celebrities, including Adam Rippon, Nicole Maines, Tig Notaro, and Rufus Wainwright then offered their voices in support of the project. PLP used the video to launch their #ReadOutProud campaign in August, which seeks to raise $10,000 to provide 800 books to classrooms across the U.S. and Canada. They’re also offering an online professional development workshop on October 12.

A third initiative, the Make It Safe Project, gives free LGBTQ-inclusive books for teens to schools, youth homeless shelters, and juvenile detention centers. It was founded in 2011 by Amelia Roskin-Frazee, an out lesbian student, when she was 14 years old. She’s now a Ph.D. student in sociology at the University of California Irvine and Make It Safe has given more than 160,000 youth access to books. For three years, they have also offered a writing scholarship to LGBTQ teens, and the best submissions will be published in an upcoming anthology, she told me. They’ll be including it in their free book boxes and selling it online, with all proceeds supporting the project.

English and Forman say that while donations from individuals have been the bulk of their support so far, they are now also seeking grants from foundations and other organizations. If you are an educator interested in receiving books or would simply like to support any of these projects, visit hopeinabox.org, prideandlessprejudice.org, or makeitsafeproject.org.

(Originally published as my Mombian newspaper column.)

LGBTQ Children’s/YA Books Dominate Decade’s Banned Books List

LGBTQ Children's/YA Books Dominate Decade's Banned Books List

Once again, it’s Banned Books Week—and a new list of the Top 100 Most Banned and Challenged Books from the last decade reminds us that LGBTQ-inclusive books for kids remain among the most (needlessly) controversial.

ALA Top 100 Banned and Challenged Books

The American Library Association (ALA) has compiled its annual Top Ten Most Challenged Books lists into a list of the Top 100 Most Banned and Challenged Books: 2010-2019. Many are acclaimed novels, like Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, and even the Bible. As the Banned Books Week Coalition said in its press release, however, many of the books on the list were targeted for LGBTQIA+ content. They include:

Book Challenges 2019

Many more of the books on the list also include LGBTQ characters or ones of other marginalized identities. When the annual list for 2019 came out this past April, the ALA noted “a rising number of coordinated, organized challenges to books, programs, speakers, and other library resources that address LGBTQIA+ issues and themes. A notable feature of these challenges is an effort to frame any material with LGBTQIA+ themes or characters as inherently pornographic or unsuitable for minors, even when the materials are intended for children and families and they are age and developmentally appropriate.” Additionally, they observed:

Organized groups also continued to protest and disrupt Drag Queen Story Hour events held in libraries, claiming that the events advance political, social, and religious agendas that are inconsistent with the groups’ conservative Christian beliefs about gender and sexual identity. In 2019, OIF [the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom] tracked more than 30 challenges to Drag Queen Story Hours and other Pride programs, and identified a new and distressing trend of disinviting authors who had been invited to speak or read from their books, solely on the grounds that the authors identify as LGTBQIA+ or because their books include LGBTQIA+ themes. [Here’s my coverage of a school that disinvited author Phil Bildner from a virtual visit this May, and one that disinvited author Robin Stevenson from a talk last year.]

I don’t think I need to remind readers here of how damaging such censorship can be to LGBTQ children, children of LGBTQ parents, and also their peers, who will grow up never fully learning about the world around them. This is not to say that all books are appropriate for all children; some are clearly geared towards different age ranges. Yet even children of the same age have differing levels of maturity, so it is ultimately up to us parents or guardians to decide what books are appropriate for our own children. I will also add, speaking as the parent of a child who is almost grown, that inevitably our children will learn about some things in life before we think they should. It’s then up to us to help them understand and contextualize this information—and books are often more of a help here than a hinderance. Banning books from schools and libraries is rarely the answer and can even make a parent’s task harder.

The ALA also reminds us that the censorship of books in libraries is a violation of our First Amendment rights, yet 82 to 97 percent of challenges remain unreported. (To confidentially report a challenge, use this handy ALA online form.)

Despite the continuing challenges to LGBTQ books, however, I see several reasons for hope: Although Heather Has Two Mommies has been under fire since 1982, when it was used as an example of “the militant homosexual agenda” by an Oregon group campaigning to allow anti-gay discrimination, it came out in a new edition with revised text and graphics in 2015. And Tango Makes Three saw a 10th anniversary edition in 2015 that brought the tale to the board book format. Uncle Bobby’s Wedding, which has seen challenges since 2008, came out in a new edition this past May. Clearly, the challenges haven’t slowed down the popularity of these books or the commitment of their publishers.

As I wrote in April, too, I believe that the increase in challenges to Drag Queen Story Hours and queer-inclusive children’s books is in part an indicator of their success as they spread to more libraries and communities. I’m also heartened by the many, many LGBTQ-inclusive books I’ve reviewed that haven’t been banned, although I do wonder whether this is because they’re not becoming known and getting into libraries in the first place. I’d like to think that even though queer-inclusive books will undoubtedly face more challenges, it will be harder for them all to be challenged as their numbers grow.  In 2018 and 2019 there was a rise in the number of queer-inclusive children’s books published, and 2020 is continuing the surge. Get them for your own family or recommend them to your local children’s librarian.

Want to hear more about banned books from an author who’s dealt with many challenges? Alex Gino’s George, an award-winning middle grade novel about a transgender girl, has been on the yearly Top 10 list for four years in a row, topping the list in 2018 and 2019. Gino will be joining the Banned Books Week Coalition and OIF for a special Facebook Live event on Wednesday, September 30, to talk about censorship and representation in literature. For even more (mostly virtual) events on various topics related to censorship, inclusion, and more, see the Banned Book Week Events listing. Read proudly this week and every other!


(I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program that provides a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.)

Queer Bookish TikTok, Medieval Lesbian Lit, and Books like “The Half of It” – The Lesbrary

Queer Bookish TikTok, Medieval Lesbian Lit, and Books like “The

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.

Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo  Honey Girl by Morgan Rogers  My Footprints by Bao Phi   It's Been a Pleasure, Noni Blake by Claire Christian  Bruised by Tanya Boteju

If you want to do some good in the world by getting LGBTQ picture books into pre-K to grade classrooms, support Pride and Less Prejudice! They use donations to send free age-appropriate book bundles to teachers who request them.

And for more ways to spend your money supporting queer books, LGBTQ Reads has a list of queer books available at various indie bookstores, complete with buy links! It couldn’t be easier to pick up some new to you authors while giving indie bookstores the support they need right now.

Looking to blow up your TBR pile/preorder list? Check out Sasha and Amber Read’s 2021 – The Year of Sapphic Excellency. There’s also Hsinju’s Lit Log’s 2021 Sapphic Releases from LGBTQ+ Indies for even more. If you can’t preorder all the titles you’re interested in, I recommend putting them in your Google Calendar and sending a reminder the day before. Then you can put it on hold at the library! That’s how I keep my library holds always maxed out.

Bestiary by K-Ming Chang  Burning Roses by S.L Huang  Burning Sugar by Cicely Belle Blain  Love After the End edited by Joshua Whitehead  Polar Vortex by Shani Mootoo

Of course, if you want to be aware of queer books coming even further out, there’s LGBTQ Reads’s August Book Deal Announcements post, which includes books that may not be out for years.

If you’d rather check out new releases that are coming out soon, try Autostraddle’s 65 Queer and Feminist Books Coming Your Way in Fall 2020.

Now that you’ve spent all your money ordering and preordering books, you can get instant gratification with Book Riot’s 12 of the Best Queer Webcomics You Can Read For Free. I used to be a big webcomics fan, so this is reminding me that I should jump back in!

@ellelillylew

#diversebookrecs #queerbookrecs the straights have had that trope forever. It’s our turn now

♬ original sound – ellelillylew

Now I have to share the post that had me clicking the fastest: 15 TikTok Accounts That’ll Help You Dive Into LGBTQ+ Literature. I blame Pop Sugar for me now contemplating getting TikTok. No one told me there were queer book TikTokers!

YA Pride interviewed teenagers about how queer books have affected their lives at Teens Talk About LGBTQIAP+ YA. If you, like me, are over 25, you will feel old reading these. But either way, they are heartwarming, and include how some of these teens explored and discovered their identity through books.

The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister edited by Helena Whitbread  I Kissed Alice by Anna Birch  You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson  The Midnight Lie by Marie Rutkoski  Shatter the Sky by Rebecca Kim Wells

Lambda Literary posted Queer Diaries Are Celebrations of a Secret History, which looks at the history of Lou Sullivan’s, Anne Lister’s, and Mary MacLane’s diaries–as well as a suggested queer diary reading list.

Reads Rainbow has a rapid-fire recommendation post of Sapphic YA Fantasy Recs, with the reasons you should read each pick.

The always-wonderful Casey wrote 8 Queer YA Novels With Coming of Age Hope to Relive Alice Wu’s “The Half of It”–and if you haven’t watched The Half of It on Netflix yet, run and do that first! I loved it. These books include: “falling in love through letter writing, figuring out your queer identity, keeping secrets, new friendships, small towns, and slowly getting to new your new girl crush.” Who can resist?

Cinderella is Dead by Kalynn Bayron  Zami by Audre Lorde  About Love by Anondra Williams  The Cancer Journals by Audre Lorde  Femme Like Her by Fiona Zedde

YA Pride’s The Path to Publication: Writing the Queer Black Girls of Cinderella Is Dead has Kalynn Bayron describe the obstacles to publishing Cinderella is Dead, including being told in writers’ groups that it wasn’t mainstream enough, while agents insisted the fairy tale retelling was overdone: “It’s not standard practice to reply to an agent at all, much less with the question, ‘How many of those reimaginings center BIPOC? And how many of them are also queer?’”

Fiona Zedde posted on Woman and Words Black LesBiQueer Books, Y’all!, highlighting some recent releases by Black queer women, including lots of romance and erotica recs!

Oprah Magazine has a list of 5 Best Audre Lorde Books to Read Right Now, because there’s never been a better time to read them. Speaking of Audre Lorde, Autostraddle’s Year of Our (Audre) Lorde continues with August’s New Spelling of My Name, which contemplates Zami and how it relates to Jehan’s own relationship with New York City.

The Sky is Blue with a Single Cloud by Kuniko Tsurita  Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe by John Boswell  In the Great Green Room by Amy Gary

The Atlantic’sThe Groundbreaking Female Artist Who Shaped Manga History, about Kuniko Tsurita, whose “Occupants” depicted a lesbian relationship, and who included gender noncomformity and queer coding in her work.

If you are a lesbian literature nerd like me, you will love this story that was posted on twitter: Resurfaced medieval tale has the most incredible queer plot twist. Explicitly queer medieval lit! With no real judgement of them!

Speaking of queer lit crit, did you know that one of the most popular board books of all time has a queer backstory? If you didn’t, you need to read Lambda Literary’s ‘Goodnight Moon’ and the Queer Love Story of the Great Green Room.

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.

Support the Lesbrary on Patreon at $2 or more a month and be entered to win a queer women book every month! $5 and up patrons get guaranteed books throughout the year on top of the giveaways!

10 Queer Roller Derby Books for When You Miss the Track – The Lesbrary

10 Queer Roller Derby Books for When You Miss the

10 Queer Roller Derby Books for When You Miss the Track graphic

It seems ridiculous to try to explain why roller derby appeals to queer women. A woman-centric sport? People with different body types playing a hardcore sport together? Puns? What’s not to love? Unfortunately, there have not been nearly enough books or movies to capitalize on the inherent potential of an amazing F/F roller derby romance. (I’m looking at you, Whip It.) I have been able to put together a list of 10 sapphic books that feature roller derby, but unfortunately, this is a very white list. There is one book on this list out in 2021 by an author of colour, but I hope that publishers seek out more roller derby stories from a variety of authors in the future, offering different points of view, because there’s no reason this list should be so white.

Kenzie Kickstarts a Team by Kit RosewaterKenzie Kickstarts a Team (The Derby Daredevils #1) by Kit Rosewater, illustrated by Sophie Escabasse

One of the most exciting things I’ve seen in queer lit in the last five years or so is the emergence of LGBTQ middle grade novels! For a long time, we had picture books and YA, and nothing in between. The Derby Daredevils is a series about a junior roller derby team started by Kenzie, who is the point of view character in this first volume. Her mother is a derby girl, and she desperately wants her and her best friend to play in the new junior league, which means they have to put together a team, pronto. This is an adorable short chapter book with tons of illustrations, and a diverse cast of characters in terms of race, personality, and body types. Kenzie has a crush on a girl, and she also has a trans dad. This is a perfect pick for kids just starting to get into chapter books. (Or adults, because I loved it.)

Bruised by Tanya BotejuBruised by Tanya Boteju (March 2021)

Okay, I’m a little early on this, because Bruised doesn’t come out until 2021, but I am eagerly awaiting it. From the author of Kings, Queens, and In-Betweens, this follows Daya, who is just beginning in the roller derby world. She and her parents were in an accident, and only she survived; since then, she’s been looking for ways to deal with it, usually by throwing herself into physically painful situations. She hopes that the bruises from roller derby will distract her from the emotional pain, but being part of this community ends up meaning a lot more than an excuse to throw herself into danger. I’m not sure of the exact sapphic content in this yet, but I’ve been assured that it’s there, and given her previous novel, I see no reason to doubt that!

On a Roll (Lumberjanes Volume 9)On a Roll (Lumberjanes Volume 9) by Shannon Watters, Kat Leyh, Carolyn Nowak, Maarta Laiho, Aubrey Aiese, and Brooklyn Allen

There’s never a bad reason to read Lumberjanes, and volume 9 just happens to include a roller derby bout against some yetis. Lumberjanes has been queer from the beginning, with an adorable romance between two of the girls, and it also has trans representation in the later volumes. This volume even has a nonbinary character who starts using gender neutral pronouns and is immediately accepted! As always, this is just a fun, happy read.

Slam! by Pamela Ribon and Veronica FishSlam! by Pamela Ribon and Veronica Fish

Jennifer and Maise meet at “Fresh Meat” orientation and immediately hit it off—unfortunately, they’re put onto different teams. As they go from being rookies to finding their places on their teams, they begin to grow apart. Does this sound like the beginning of a friends-to-rivals romance? It does. Unfortunately, this isn’t that, but we do get a lesbian character in Jennifer (who is on the cover). Part of the appeal of roller derby is the close-knit friendships and community that grow from being part of a team, and that’s what Slam! focuses on—so this is more about the romance of friendship!

Roller Girl by Vanessa NorthRoller Girl by Vanessa North

I might have done a romance bait-and-switch with Slam!, but don’t worry: most of the books on this list are proper romances. Roller Girl is about Tina, who is a recently divorced trans woman looking for a fresh start. When her very attractive butch plumber Joanna recommends roller derby, she jumps at the chance. The only problem is that Joanna is the coach, which means the plumber/derby girl is off limits. Will they be able to resist their mutual attraction? Will the sexual tension ever be resolved? Okay, yes, obviously. But will they be able to keep their secret relationship from the team?

Kat & Mouse by Jacqueline HeatKat & Mouse by Jacqueline Hear

Dot Mauser is the “bad girl” of the roller derby rink. As far as she’s concerned, the referee Kat has it out for her. Little does she know that while Kat is handing Dot plenty of penalties, she has her eye on her for different reasons. During the derby’s Pride event, these two find out that they’re both artists: Dot upcycles “junk” and Kat is a photographer. They form an unlikely alliance, though Dot is sure Kat hates her. There’s plenty of drama, and some darker topics than the premise would suggest, but there’s also a lot of heat between the two characters. Bonus: this is written by a roller derby girl herself, with a preface and appendix with more information.

Crash Into You by Diana MorlandCrash Into You by Diana Morland

Megan’s life revolves around roller derby, and she takes it very seriously. Yes, she’s constantly surrounded by beautiful women, but she’s never let that distract her. That is, until she finds herself falling head over heels (literally) for the opposing team’s blocker Gianna. Megan is determined to keep her focus on the competition, but it’s definitely hard to keep her eyes on the prize when she can’t stop looking at her opponent. This is a quick, fun romance with a fat love interest and some steamy scenes.

The Real Thing by Laney WebberThe Real Thing by Laney Webber

Virginia Harris is the star of a lesbian web series, and it’s gone to her head. She’s used to being recognized, and has no problem finding women. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise when she is told by Allison that she was catfished by someone using her photo. Allison seems like the perfect girl, but she’s disheartened by the whole dating app experience and is ready to jump back into roller derby before she meets Virginia—can she separate the real Virginia from the catfish version she just fell for? This is one for fans of complex and “unlikable” female characters, because Virginia is a divisive love interest.

Troll or Derby by Red TashTroll or Derby by Red Tash

And now for something completely different. Roller Deb is an outcast in her town, but when her popular sister goes missing, it’s up to her to rescue her. In her search, she finds a world of trolls, fairies, gangsters, and a bloodthirsty version of roller derby. This is a dark fantasy and includes sex, drugs, and violence. Roller Deb first is pulled into this world as part of her rescue mission, but her roller derby skills make her powerful and sought-after here, and she will have to resist being pulled under completely if she wants to escape with her sister.

Color Jam Roller Derby Coloring Book by Margot AtwellColor Jam Roller Derby Coloring Book by Margot Atwell

While I may hold roller derby’s appeal to queer women to be self-evident, Margot Atwell wrote a Huffington Post article called Why Is Roller Derby Important To So Many Queer Women? In it, she talked about why she wanted to honour queer women in her kickstarted roller derby colouring book, including how being part of the roller derby community helped her to discover her own sexuality and come out. This includes several portraits of queer roller derby role models.


And that’s it for sapphic roller derby books I could find! Feel free to let me know (@lesbrary) if I missed any! There is also a novella in Hot Ice: 3 Romance Novellas: “Ice on Wheels” by Aurora Rey, so there’s a bonus for you. I hope that in the coming years, we’ll see many more queer roller derby books come out, whether they’re F/F romances, nonbinary YA novels, bisexual comics, or anything else under the rainbow & roller derby umbrella!

This post originally ran on Book Riot.