Tag: Joyous

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

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

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

Over the Shop - JonArno Lawson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Over the Shop - JonArno Lawson

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

Over the Shop - JonArno Lawson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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Julián Is Back in Joyous New Picture Book

Julián Is Back in Joyous New Picture Book

Julián is back! In the sequel to the acclaimed 2019 picture book, Julián Is a Mermaid, Julián and his abuela are attending a wedding, where Julián meets a new friend and shows that he’s still full of imagination and a creative sense of style.

Julian at the Wedding - Jessica Love
Julián at the Wedding, by Jessica Love (Candlewick), is as beautiful as its Stonewall Award-winning predecessor, with Love’s watercolor, gouache, and ink illustrations on warm tan kraft paper driving the story forward, helped by the few well-chosen words. As the story opens, we see Julián and his grandmother, both Afro-Latinx (as Love has stated), preparing to be in a wedding, which is “a party for love.” Today, he is wearing a lavender suit with shorts, along with fuchsia shoes that match his abuela’s dress and a fuchsia ribbon tied at his throat. The tails of his suit flare at the waist, almost skirt-like. His sense of fashion has a distinctly feminine flair—but there are many ways to convey that. There are happily now a growing number of books about gender creative boys who wear dresses or skirts, but gender creativity can take many forms. I like that Love went for something different here, but one that still feels true to what we know of Julián’s self-expression from the first book. He’s not showing up in a trim masculine suit with pants and a tie.

As they arrive at the wedding, they meet Marisol, a young girl whose own abuela is switching out Marisol’s baseball cap for a crown of flowers—another moment in which gender expression shows itself and that we’ll return to later. We meet the two brides, both Black women, one in a white dress with flowers throughout her Afro and the other with locs and a white suit. During the ceremony, they kiss as Julián and Marisol stand by. All-Black same-sex couples are unfortunately rare in picture books, and this expression of their love feels like much-needed representation.

Julian at the Wedding - Jessica Love

At the reception, Julián and Marisol grow as bored as any two young children at a grown-up party, and sneak off to find amusement—but not before Marisol places her crown of flowers on Julián’s head, with a look indicating that she realizes it suits him better than her. They find a willow tree that Julián declares “a fairy house,” but while he is draping himself in its swooping branches, Marisol is running around with the brides’ dog, and dirties her dress beyond redemption. Julián, however, finds a solution. He gives Marisol his dress shirt, which extends past her waist, and ties some fluttering willow boughs around her shoulders to fall down her back. In a joyous moment, he spreads the tails of his suit jacket and the two of them imagine themselves borne aloft as butterflies.

Then the abuelas come over with understanding smiles. Marisol’s places the baseball cap back on Marisol’s head in a moment that parallels when Julián’s abuela gives him a beaded necklace in the first book. In an online Author’s Note (PDF), Love reflects on the two moments and the two books, saying:

I think of the two books as different verses of the same song, and that moment of handing over a talismanic object is the chorus. We ask children to perform their genders in different ways, and just as Julián’s nature is larger than the role society would ask him to play, Marisol’s nature doesn’t fit inside her dress. Because this is an experience Julián understands, he is able to use is empathy and creativity to help his friend move from shame into joy. They are both stories about finding a way of being at home in yourself, then finding the courage to share that self with the world.

When Julián, Marisol, and their abuelas go back to the wedding, everyone is dancing—couples of various genders, mostly people of color—and the flower-wreathed Julián and cap-wearing Marisol join in. At the end, the two children fall asleep with the brides’ dog under a tree, as the brides dance on and the abuelas eat cake.

Love’s art, as always, is exquisite. She once again shows her skill in capturing human emotions, from Julián and Marisol’s initial boredom to their later joy in mischief, to the abuelas’ bemused acceptance of their antics, to the easy rapport among the guests. She also gives us wonderful details throughout—the lacy tablecloth at the reception; Julián and Marisol’s imagined wings; the abuelas walking barefoot, shoes in hand, to find them; the Statue of Liberty in the background to anchor the story in a place and remind us this is as American a tale as any other.

Importantly, too, she depicts not just individuals, but a community—dancing, laughing, welcoming difference, and celebrating the ties of love—just as the original story is both about Julián’s individual desire to dress as a mermaid and also about finding a community of like-minded merpeople.

The best thing about having a second book about Julián is that we can learn more about him and his world in a way that honors his identity but that isn’t “about” it in the same way the first book was. Similarly, Kyle Lukoff’s Max and Friends series, about a transgender boy, starts with a book that is more about Max’s identity, but progresses to two volumes that are more about his friendships (without losing sight of how Max’s identity shapes him). Not that one-off books can’t be meaningful; just that we can sometimes learn more fully about the characters if we live with them for a while. Julián at the Wedding, in this respect, is a lovely continuation of his story.

Worth Considering

While the response to Julián Is a Mermaid was overwhelmingly positive, Dr. Laura M. Jiménez offered some critical thoughts concerning Love’s identity as a cisgender White woman and how that may have impacted her telling of the story. Love herself has written “On being a white, cishet artist creating outside my experience,” in which she acknowledges her limitations and discusses what she did not only to research and speak with people but also to examine herself and her biases. Whether she got it right in either book is something each reader will need to consider for themselves. I, as a White, cisgender, Ashkenazi Jewish woman, think that Julián at the Wedding is a beautiful tale of self-expression, friendship, and love—but I recognize that that is filtered through my own identity and experiences.

I will also mention Jiménez’ citation of librarian Angie Manfredi, who opined about Julián Is a Mermaid that “it would NOT be getting this amount of love and attention if it were written by a gender non-conforming queer IPOC – it might not even have been published.” That feels unfortunately true. Even as many of us praise both it and its sequel, then, let us consider what Love herself wrote at her website:

As a part of my accountability practices I use a portion of my income from Julián is a Mermaid to support Black Lives Matter, Stacey Abrams’ excellent work with FairFight2020The Okra Project and wherever I can I try to help bring authors and illustrators who are far less represented in the publishing industry to the attention of my editors, publishers, agent and the larger reading public.

How can we other White, cisgender folks similarly raise the voices of others who are less represented? How can we push schools, libraries, and publishers to do so? Those are bigger questions than I will tackle in this post, but I think it is vital that, like Love, we each reflect on and act on them in whatever ways we can.


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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.


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