Tag: Families

LGBTQ-Inclusive Kids’ Books Centering Black Families

LGBTQ-Inclusive Kids' Books Centering Black Families

It’s Black History Month, and I’m partnering with Family Equality to share some #OwnVoices LGBTQ-inclusive picture books that focus on Black characters and families, with the acknowledgement that these books are for all year round, not just February.

Black History Month 2021 - LGBTQ Kids Books

These are LGBTQ-inclusive kids’ books with #OwnVoices Black writers and/or illustrators, which center Black characters and Black families. A growing number of other LGBTQ-inclusive picture books also include Black characters as part of multiracial families or ensemble casts. That’s great—but I believe we also need more books where the entire family or cast of characters is Black (and much the same could be said for characters with any non-White identities). Additionally, while all of the below books offer affirming representation, only two are really about Black history per se. There is unfortunately still a real lack of picture book biographies of famous LGBTQ Black people (or other LGBTQ people of color) that also acknowledge their LGBTQ identities (without necessarily focusing on them).

Want more LGBTQ-inclusive books with characters of various LGBTQ, racial/ethnic, and other identities? The new Mombian Database of LGBTQ Family Books, Media, and More includes nearly 600 items, including more than 300 picture books, and can be searched and filtered by various categories and tags to find items with the representation you’re seeking (if they exist).

In alphabetical order by title:

  • I Am Perfectly Designed, by Karamo Brown with Jason Rachel Brown, illustrated by Anoosha Syed (Henry Holt & Company, 2019). A gentle yet affirming conversation between a young Black boy and his father about their life together, as they walk through their vibrant, multicultural, queer-inclusive neighborhood. The book captures universal feelings of parental-child love in simple but elegant phrases.
  • I Promise, by Catherine Hernandez and illustrated by Syrus Marcus Ware (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2019). A parent addresses her child’s curiosity about how different types of families form—not by going into technical details, but by focusing on the parental promise of love and support that underlies them.
  • Keesha’s South African Adventure, by Cheril N. Clarke and Monica Bey-Clarke, illustrated by Julia Selyutina (My Family!/Dodi Press, 2016). When Keesha’s moms surprise her with a trip to South Africa, she learns about the country’s animals, food, and landmarks. The fact that she has two moms is immaterial; the story focuses on the anticipation of the trip, the adventure of exploring a new place, and the excitement of sharing with classmates upon her return. See also Keesha & Her Two Moms Go Swimming, where Keesha and her moms go to the neighborhood pool for a day of fun. Keesha plays with her best friend Trevor, who has two dads, and befriends another boy who has no one to play with.
  • Leaders Like Us: Bayard Rustin, by J. P. Miller and illustrated by Markia Jenai (Discovery Library, 2020). A biography that focuses on Rustin’s work with the Black civil rights movement, but that also notes “Some people treated Bayard unfairly because he was gay, but that did not stop him.” There is no mention of his later work speaking for gay rights or of how standing up for one part of his identity compelled him to speak up for the other, as this History article explains. Still, the fact that the text says he was gay is a step forward in picture book biographies of him.
  • Love Is in the Hair, written and illustrated by Syrus Marcus Ware (Flamingo Rampant, 2015). A child is staying with her two uncles while waiting for the birth of a new sibling, and learns the stories of her family through the objects woven into the dreadlocks of one uncle’s hair. The uncles’ queerness is incidental; this is simply a charming tale of the way we collect, keep, and share family memories.
  • My Name  Is Troy, Christian A’Xavier Lovehall and illustrated by Chamar M. Cooper (Self-published; 2020). “My name is Troy, and I’m a beautiful, Black Trans boy!” this book proudly begins, then takes us through Troy’s day in rhyming couplets as he shares what he likes (playing outdoors, sports, and bugs)  and doesn’t like (the color pink and playing with dolls). We see images from his life and with his supportive parents. Trans boys whose interests go beyond the traditionally “boyish” ones that Troy favors might not see themselves reflected quite as well, but they should still be buoyed by his happiness and the love that surrounds him.
  • My Rainbow, by Deshanna Neal and Trinity Neal, illustrated by Art Twink (Kokila, 2020). Based on Trinity’s real life as a Black transgender girl with autism, this story tells of her mom and nonbinary sibling helping her get the long hair she wants to express her true self. The love of the family for Trinity and their desire to help her shines from every page.
  • Sylvia and Marsha Start a Revolution! The Story of the Trans Women of Color Who Made LGBTQ+ History, by Joy Ellison and illustrated by Teshika Silver (Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 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. Some of the violence during the rebellion has been tempered for the age group and a few historical details could be argued, but as the author notes, this is only one possible retelling. What comes through clearly is the bond between the friends and how they worked to help those in need.

For some middle-grade titles (most, but not all, #OwnVoices), see the results of the “Middle grade fiction” category and “Black protagonist/family” tags my database.

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.

Removal of Transgender Military Ban Is a Victory for Trans People and Their Families and Children

Removal of Transgender Military Ban Is a Victory for Trans

President Biden’s executive order yesterday ending the ban on transgender people serving in the military is not only a victory for the many trans people in uniform, but also for the children and families they support.

Jennifer and Deborah Peace and their children - Credit: TransMilitary

Jennifer and Deborah Peace and their children – Credit: TransMilitary

The premise of the executive order is very simple: “All Americans who are qualified to serve in the Armed Forces of the United States should be able to serve.” Biden added, “The All-Volunteer Force thrives when it is composed of diverse Americans who can meet the rigorous standards for military service, and an inclusive military strengthens our national security.”

For the more than 15,000 transgender people currently serving, that’s an acknowledgment of equality. For those who are parents, it means they do not have to fear losing their jobs and being unable to feed and house their children. The U.S. military is the country’s largest employer of transgender people, according to the 2018 documentary TransMilitary. The unemployment rate for trans people is three times higher than the national average, and over one quarter (27 percent) of trans people who held or applied for a job reported being fired, not hired, or denied a promotion due to their gender identity, per the National Center for Transgender Equality‘s latest U.S. Transgender Survey. (The survey covers 2016-17, but I can’t imagine the number improved during the last four years.)

As Deborah Peace said in Transmilitary about her spouse Jennifer Peace, a captain in the U.S. Army and a trans woman, “She was the breadwinner of the family.” The Peaces have three children.

The removal of the ban will also, I imagine, positively impact service members and their spouses who are not trans themselves, but are raising transgender or gender-creative children. Consider: The Department of Defense Child Development Virtual Lab School (VLS), an online professional development system for the 33,000 child- and youth-care professionals working with children of military families on bases around the world, in 2018 launched a course on “Creating Gender Safe Spaces.” Sarah Lang, associate director of research and professional development at VLS, told me in an interview, “Part of the reason we developed this course was that people working in military childcare saw gender-expansive kids and reached out to us. We want to be supportive of children and families with gender-expansive or LGBT members, and to arm staff with tools to navigate conversations with other families.” Clearly, then, there were enough of these families that such a program was worth creating. Yet children are less likely to thrive in an environment that condemns their identities. Transgender people serving openly (and perhaps occasionally visiting on-base classrooms) may give these children important role models.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III has also clarified that the new policy applies not only to transgender people currently serving, but also to those wishing to enlist. He noted, too:

The United States Armed Forces are in the business of defending our fellow citizens from our enemies, foreign and domestic. I believe we accomplish that mission more effectively when we represent all our fellow citizens. I also believe we should avail ourselves of the best possible talent in our population, regardless of gender identity. We would be rendering ourselves less fit to the task if we excluded from our ranks people who meet our standards and who have the skills and the devotion to serve in uniform.

This is the right thing to do. It is also the smart thing to do.

Darn right.

As we move forward, however, let us not forget how we got here. TransMilitary, which profiles not only the Peace family, but also several other transgender service members, is available on several of the major streaming services. I encourage you to watch. It’s a reminder that not only did transgender service members and their families feel the negative impact of the ban, but that many put their careers on the line by sharing their stories and speaking out against it. It is in large part because of their efforts, along with research (and more research) and the work of many other advocates, that Biden put pen to paper and signed yesterday’s order, affirming transgender people’s right to serve their country on equal terms.

Corporal Laila Villanueva, Captain Jennifer Peace, and Senior Airman Logan Ireland - Credit: TransMilitary

Corporal Laila Villanueva, Captain Jennifer Peace, and Senior Airman Logan Ireland – Credit: TransMilitary

If reading’s more your thing, check out the 2019 NPR profile of U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Bree “B” Fram, her spouse Peg, and their two kids; this piece by Alli Alexander, an Army veteran, mother, and now military spouse, about her husband’s transition while in the Army; or this InStyle profile of Capt. Peace.

This executive order is personal for me—I have a friend who is a transgender man, a parent, and a serving member of the Armed Forces. I’m delighted for him and his family, and for all transgender service members. Thanks to them for their service to us all.

9 Highlights for LGBTQ Families from the First 24 Hours of the Biden Presidency

9 Highlights for LGBTQ Families from the First 24 Hours

I slept better last night knowing that the U.S. nuclear codes were in the hands of someone not likely to make ego-driven decisions. I woke up refreshed thinking about the first vice president who is a woman, Black, and of South Asian descent. And I was delighted for LGBTQ families, who have a number of reasons to celebrate today.

American flag with children's silhouettes

  1. President Biden yesterday issued an executive confirming that, according to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling last June in Bostock v. Clayton County, discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity is forbidden under laws that ban gender-based discrimination. All federal agencies should implement this ruling in all their programs, the order states. Lambda Legal explains that this should apply not only in employment, but also “wherever federal law prohibits sex discrimination, including in education, housing, credit and healthcare.” Alphonso David, president of HRC, called the order “the most substantive, wide-ranging executive order concerning sexual orientation and gender identity ever issued by a United States president.” Among many other things, it will nullify the rule that Trump’s Department of Education issued last week saying that schools could discriminate against transgender students. And of course, protections against discrimination should benefit not only LGBTQ individuals, but also their children of any identities.
  2. There are at least five queer parents in the Biden administration: Karine Jean-Pierre, principal deputy press secretary; Pili Tobar, deputy White House communications director; Gautam Raghavan, deputy director of the Office of Presidential Personnel, Stuart Delery, deputy counsel to the President; Rachel Levine (assuming she is confirmed), assistant secretary of health. The first three are also people of color. Additionally, Pete Buttigieg, Biden’s pick for secretary of transportation, has said that he and spouse Chasten want to have kids, although it is unclear when that might happen. (When it does, I’m guessing that, given Buttigieg’s role, the kid will have plenty of toy cars and an epic train set.)
  3. At least three queer parents were part of the interfaith Virtual Presidential Inaugural Prayer Service that was just livestreamed from Washington National Cathedral: Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum, senior rabbi of Congregation Beit Simchat Torah in New York City, who is a lesbian, and two transgender women: Barbara Satin, faith work director at the National LGBTQ Task Force, and Rev. Dr. Paula Stone Williams, author and pastor of the Left Hand Church.
  4. Biden will “imminently” revoke Trump’s ban on transgender people serving in the military, which benefits not only transgender individuals, but also their families.
  5. Many of Biden’s other Day One actions—on immigration, addressing climate change, fighting racism, stopping the pandemic, and more—will of course impact LGBTQ families as they will any others. I won’t cover them in detail here since so many other news outlets are doing so.
  6. Less related to parenting, but a fun trivia fact: During the inauguration ceremony, Jennifer Lopez sang “America the Beautiful.” Its author, Katharine Lee Bates, was in a 25-year “Boston marriage” with another woman, about whom she once wrote, “You are always in my heart and in my longings.”
  7. The White House contact form now has options for people to indicate their pronouns and/or the nonbinary prefix “Mx.” So contact them and tell them what you think of how they’re doing for our families (and what they should do)!
  8. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention poet Amanda Gorman and her powerful inauguration ceremony poem, “The Hill We Climb.” If you haven’t seen it yet, go watch. If you have, it’s worth seeing again. The connection to LGBTQ families (aside from its general inspiration for all people)? In March 2018, at the end of her term as National Youth Poet Laureate, Gorman was part of the celebration for the next year’s finalists. Also speaking at that event was Jacqueline Woodson, who had in January 2018 been named the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature—and is a queer mom. (Yes, “six degrees of queer parents” is a game I play with myself.)
  9. [Updated 1/22/2021 to add: Senator Bernie Sanders’ wooly mittens, which he wore to the inauguration, have been taking the Internet by storm. The woman who made them, second-grade teacher Jen Ellis, lives outside Burlington, Vermont “with her partner, Liz, and their kindergarten-age daughter,” reported Jewish Insider.]

Happy first full day in four years with a president who supports us!

What Queer Parents Can Teach All Families

What Queer Parents Can Teach All Families

In an article for the Boston Globe this past weekend, a queer mom reflects on talking with her daughter about her family structure and donor siblings, as well as the lessons this holds not only for her but for families of all types.

Children in Silhouette

In “A lesson in queer parenting that’s good for any family,” Stephanie Fairyington writes about introducing her 4-year-old daughter to her donor siblings—something she and her spouse were happy to do, but struggled to find the words to explain. “The topic was far too complicated for her language and understanding — and ours…. The way we laid it out was spectacularly idiotic from beginning to end,” she admits.

They sought help by connecting with other queer families and by reading children’s books that included families like theirs. Despite their earlier bumbling, though, their daughter came to take pride in her extended family. The moms ultimately realized the value in discussing their family’s difference and “in the way that her lived reality challenges social norms,” which may help their daughter foster a compassion for other marginalized people. More broadly, too, Fairyington says, queer families challenge traditional conceptions of family, making room for new possibilities that can help make the world kinder and more inclusive. All parents, she says, can learn a lesson here.

For me to say more would be to recreate her piece, which I don’t want to do. Go read it. Then, if you want some further related reading for yourself or your kids, try these books:

  • Random Families: Genetic Strangers, Sperm Donor Siblings, and the Creation of New Kin, by Rosanna Hertz and Margaret K. Nelson, the result of interviews with 212 parents (two-mom couples, different-sex couples, and single parents) and 154 of their donor-conceived children. The authors explore how parents chose donors, how they and/or their children chose to connect with donor siblings, and how the children within a donor network made sense of their donor and each other. Grounded in academic research, Random Families is nevertheless an accessible and informative read for anyone who has or is considering donor conception. Full review.
  • Your Future Family: The Essential Guide to Assisted Reproduction, by Kim Bergman (Conari Press), offers a detailed look at assisted reproductive technology, including assisted insemination, in vitro fertilization, and surrogacy, written in a way that doesn’t take a medical degree to understand. Bergman, a licensed psychologist and senior partner at Growing Generations, the first surrogacy and egg donation agency dedicated to the queer community, devotes a whole chapter, too, to ways of talking about their creation to your child(ren) and to the outside world. Full review.
  •  You Began as a Wish, also by Bergman, is a simple and melodic picture book appropriate for even the very youngest children, based on what she’s been advising parents for 30 years to tell their kids and what she told her own kids about their creation. Full review and author interview.
  • Zak’s Safari: A Story about Donor-Conceived Kids of Two-Mom Families, by Christy Tyner, is told from the perspective of a young child with two moms. Buy it at the link, or read it free online in English, Spanish, or French at the book’s website. Full review.
  • What Makes a Baby? by Cory Silverberg and Fiona Smyth, remains a gem of all-gender-inclusive explanation for young children about reproduction. Full review.
  • Picture books that specifically talk about donor siblings include Your Family: A Donor Kid’s Story, by Wendy Kramer, co-founder and director of the Donor Sibling Registry (also available in Spanish); Jennifer Dukoff’s Meeting My Brother (watch the author read it here), and I’ve Got Dibs!: A Donor Sibling Story, by Amy Dorfman.

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Two Picture Books Offer Joyous Portrayals of Black Trans Kids and Supportive Families

Two Picture Books Offer Joyous Portrayals of Black Trans Kids

I’m continuing to wrap up the LGBTQ-inclusive kids’ book reviews for the year, so here are two recent titles that share the stories of Black transgender children—one a girl and one a boy—and their supportive families.

My Rainbow

My Rainbow, by DeShanna Neal and Trinity Neal and illustrated by Art Twink (Kokila), is based on Trinity’s own life. The book opens in the Neal’s living room, where Trinity, her two sibings, and her mother and father are sitting together. Trinity is stroking her pet pig, Peter Porker. “She loved soft things, just like many kids with autism, and Peter’s hair was perfect,” we learn. Her father is playing the cello, “enveloping the room in tranquility and making it feel safe.”

That sets the tone for the rest of the book, as the family maintains a safe and supportive place for Trinity and her siblings (including Hyperion, who is nonbinary and uses “they” pronouns). One day, however, Trinity says that she can’t be a girl because she doesn’t have long hair. Her mother notes that she, the mother, has short hair and is a girl.

For Trinity, however, it’s different. “I’m a transgender girl,” she says.

Her mother already knew she was trans. “Trinity’s gender was part of what made her a masterpiece, just like her autism and her Black skin,” she reflects. Yet she senses Trinity is trying to convey something more. She listens, and Trinity explains, “People don’t care if cisgender girls like you have short hair. But it’s different for transgender girls. I need long hair!” Her mom gets it. The problem is, however, that Trinity’s sensitivity to texture means she dislikes how her hair made her itchy when she tried to grow it out before. Her parents confer, but neither has an idea.

Trinity’s older sibling Lucien then suggests going to a beauty shop (where the clerk has a “they/them” tag on her apron), but none of the wigs he and his mom find there seem right. He then has the idea that Trinity needs her very own rainbow wig. The mom works long into the night on the wig, although she has never made one before.

In the morning, Trinity cries tears of joy at the wig her mom made from the colors Lucien chose. The rest of the family comes in as she is dancing joyously and surround her with a loving group hug.

This book is such a pleasure on so many levels. It’s great to see an entire family of color in an LGBTQ-inclusive kids’ book; it’s terrific to see a story with a trans character that doesn’t center around the revelation that they are trans (an important topic, but already done in several books); and it’s so, so, wonderful to see that the whole family is nothing but supportive right from page one. The love of the family for Trinity and their desire to help her shines from every page. Less important, but notable are the antics of Peter Porker, who tries on wigs, paints his hooves with nail polish, and generally provides background amusement on every page—the kind of fun extra details that can make a picture book even more of a delight to read.

Read more about the real Trinity and her family, their fight for transgender rights, and their pet pig, in this 2017 article from DelawareToday.

My Name Is Troy

My Name Is Troy, by Christian A’Xavier Lovehall and illustrated by Chamar M. Cooper, is a self-published title available for sale through the author’s website. “My name is Troy, and I’m a beautiful, Black Trans boy!” it begins, then takes us through Troy’s day in rhyming couplets as he shares what he likes and doesn’t like. “It’s okay that I don’t like dresses, or my hair long in pretty tresses,” we learn. He doesn’t like pink, or playing with dolls, but “it’s okay” that he likes to play outdoors, play sports, camp, explore, and play with bugs. He likes race cars and trucks, vampires, zombies, and collecting rocks. “Like most kids” he also doesn’t like to do his chores. As he goes about his day, we see images from his life and with his parents, who are also Black.

While most of his likes lean towards the rough-and-tumble variety, he’s also “kind and not mean” and tells us, “It’s okay when I cry and need a hug” (as we see the image of his father hugging him). He proudly waves (or wears) the trans flag on several pages, and towards the end, we see a “photo” of him and his extended family as we read, “I love my family and they love me too!”

What the book lacks in a narrative plot, it makes up for with a joyous “slice of life” portrayal that conveys Troy’s self-confidence, enthusiasm, and family support. Trans boys whose activities and interests go beyond the traditionally “boyish” ones that Troy favors might not see themselves reflected quite as well, but they should still be buoyed by his happiness and the love that surrounds him.

Lovehall himself is “a proud Black Trans man with Caribbean roots” he tells us on his website. He founded and organized the annual Philly Trans March in 2011, has worked as a certified peer specialist helping trans people in recovery from alcohol and drug addiction, and is a certified doula, hip-hop artist, and freelance photographer. The back of the book tells us that this story “is a re-envisioning of the love he wished he received from his family.” He adds, “My Name Is Troy is not only a children’s book, but also a tool to help families see the importance of creating support systems and safer homes for Trans youth.” May his words and his book reach the ears that need to hear them.

Both My Name Is Troy and My Rainbow fill a much needed gap in the picture book representation of young Black trans lives. No one book (or even two books) can capture the entirety of those lives, however. And while the images of supportive families are absolutely vital, one further thing that neither book here shows us is Black trans children playing with friends who are supportive of their identities. Kyle Lukoff’s Max and Friends series and Tobi Hill-Meyer’s A Princess of Great Daring are good models for showing how this can be done. Perhaps that’s a subject for Troy and Trinity’s sequels.


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

Authors Collaborate Across Identities on Picture Book Celebrating Jewish Families

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

I Looked Into Your Eyes: A Poem for New Families

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

(As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.)

‘Families don’t want same-sex dancing on Strictly’

Ann Widdecombe has compared coronavirus to AIDS

Ann Widdecombe has previously backed gay cure therapy. (Steve Taylor / Echoes Wire / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)

Ann Widdecombe, the British former lawmaker known for her high-decibel anti-LGBT+ views, drew criticism Sunday (18 October) for saying “families” wouldn’t be interested in watching a same-sex couple dance on Strictly Come Dancing.

Nicola Adams, the lesbian Olympic boxer, joined seasoned professional dancer Katya Jones on the dancefloor Saturday evening (17 October) to become Strictly‘s first same-sex pairing in what was hailed as a huge leap in LGBT+ representation in Britain.

The 73-year-old, who herself appeared on BBC One ballroom show in 2010, rang out in reaction against the landmark moment of television because of course she did.

She told The Sunday Times: “I don’t think it is what viewers of Strictly, especially families, are looking for.

“But that’s up to the audience and the programme.”

‘Society has evolved past the need for asking Ann Widdecombe for her opinions’.

Throughout her decades-long career as a Conservative Party turned Brexit Party politician, Widdecombe has emerged as one of Britain’s most anti-LGBT+ hard-liners.

She has often wielded her megaphone platform to compare the coronavirus to AIDS, brand the acceptance of transgender people “lunacy”, suggest gay people can be “cured” and back businesses who refuse to serve gay customers.

As a result, countless LGBT+ Twitter users took aim at Widdecombe’s comments, with many seeking to stress that the opening episode of the seventeenth season was one of its most-watched launches since 2017.

Nicola Adams seriously doesn’t care what homophobes think.

As Adams takes to the BBC One show’s iconic dancefloor each week, the 37-year-old said she refuses to be stung by homophobic viewers.

Nicola Adams (L) and her Strictly Come Dancing partner, Katya Jones. (Strictly Come Dancing/BBC)
Nicola Adams (L) and her Strictly Come Dancing partner, Katya Jones. (Strictly Come Dancing/BBC)

“I’m expecting the same sort of thing I got with women’s boxing in the beginning – there will always be some resisters, but once they know you’re here to stay, they get used to it,” she told Radio Times.

“Women dance together all the time in nightclubs. Traditionally I guess men and women would dance together when they were courting, so the older generation have that in their heads.”

She added: “So someone’s going to comment on Twitter? It’s nothing, it won’t faze me at all.

“If they don’t like it, they’re going to have to deal with it or switch to another channel.”

Board Book Explores Joyful Messes and Diverse Families

Board Book Explores Joyful Messes and Diverse Families

A fun board book for the youngest children is full of surprises and diverse families as it celebrates the messiness of life.

Who Is Making a Mess? - Maria D'Haene

Who Is Making a Mess? written by Maria D’Haene and illustrated by Charlie Eve Ryan (Amicus Publishing), is told in alternating two-page spreads. The first spread asks the titular question and shows a close-up portion of an image—jeans-clad legs sticking out from under a car bumper; the bottom of a frilly apron worn by an adult standing next to a child at a table; or the back of an adult standing at a sink of dirty dishes, for example.

The second page of each spread changes the perspective to show who is really making the mess. “Mama is making a mess,” we read as we zoom back to see that the jeans-clad legs belong to a woman in overalls fixing a car as her presumed husband stands by holding their baby; their other daughter is fixing her scooter, in imitation of Mama. The frilly apron is worn by a grandpa, helping his grandchildren bake. The person at the sink is a mother wearing a baby carrier over her chest as her baby splashes water; she looks slightly harried as she turns to speak with another woman bringing in groceries, presumably her spouse.

The people are racially diverse and come together on the last page for a big, messy picnic. It’s unclear if they’re all part of one big family or just a community, but their joy at being together is obvious.

I love the interactivity generated by the question-and-answer format and the zoomed-in/zoomed-out illustrations. Young readers will delight in guessing at what’s to come (even after the umpteenth reading; trust me, I had a toddler)—and in seeing the characters make their messes. Ryan’s images are full of color, motion, and joyous splatters, and make the whole concept work.

Subtle messages about breaking gender stereotypes may also serve them well in the years ahead. Who Is Making a Mess? is a book worth adding to the mess on your bookshelf.


(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.)

Joyous New Book Celebrates Diverse Expecting Families

Joyous New Book Celebrates Diverse Expecting Families

A sweet and lyrical new picture book takes us along with a diverse group of expecting families—including ones with two moms and two dads—as their babies-to-be grow from the size of a sweet pea to that of a pumpkin and then are born as their own delightful selves.

Wonderful You - Lisa Graff

Wonderful You, written by Lisa Graff and illustrated by Ramona Kaulitski (Philomel Books), uses simple, soothing couplets to bring us on a journey with multiple families waiting for their new arrivals. Graff takes the fruit-and-vegetable comparison familiar from online pregnancy trackers and weaves it into a story of family anticipation and planning. We then see more parents-to-be, along with siblings, grandparents, and other relatives, as they wonder, wait, prepare nurseries, receive baby gifts, and dance in celebration.

One spread shows a two-dad couple and an older child poring over a book and a computer screen. It relates, “When you were a plum and we hadn’t a clue, we read and we researched and waited for you.” It’s an open question whether the family is using surrogacy, adoption, or other means.

In another spread, a two-mom family is viewing their ultrasound as the text tells us, “When you were a lemon, we followed your cue, we watched and we whispered and waited for you.”

The two moms are both Black. The two-dad couple is one of several interracial families in the book; one dad is Black and the other is likely White or Latino; their daughter has the latter’s tan skin tone. Other characters throughout the book have a variety of racial and ethnic identities. One dad-to-be uses a wheelchair as he brings a laundry basket of linens into the nursery. While most of the parents seem coupled, a few of the pregnant ones are positioned with others who could be extended family, not spouses/partners, leaving room for single parents to see themselves.

Kaulitski’s drawings are softly colorful and her people are happy and dynamic. Her inclusion of siblings and extended family remind us that it does often take the proverbial village, even before the child arrives. Each page also includes the relevant fruits and vegetables somewhere in the scene, which young readers should enjoy finding.

The babies eventually make their “debut,” and we see all of them in side-by-side bassinets bundled in brightly colored swaddling, sleeping peacefully or looking in wonder at the world. Gone are the produce analogies—Graff makes it clear now that “you’re utterly you.” The final spread shows them as young children, running and playing together, as the book ends with a message of unconditional love—past, present, and future—from parent to child.

This is a charming book that is bound to become a favorite gift for expecting parents in many types of families. The loving rhymes will likely make it a bedtime story to last for many years.

Wonderful

You

comes out August 18, but is available for preorder.


(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.)