Tag: Picture

Queer Elders and Grandparents Star in New Picture Books

Queer Elders and Grandparents Star in New Picture Books

There have been very few picture books featuring queer elders and grandparents, but several new ones are adding to the list!

Roger and Matthew

Roger and Matthew, by Canadian singer/songwriter Michel Theriault (Fitzhenry & Whiteside), is a poetic, gentle story about the lives of a retired, White, two-man couple. “Everyone in the village knows them. They are part of the neighborhood,” we read. They have known each other since elementary school and “don’t need words to understand each other.” They live in a home with sunlight, flowers, and “sleepy cats.”

They are “two kind gentlemen,” but “because they were different people were often mean to them and sometimes hurt them”—nevertheless, “they weathered these storms with pride and courage.” Now, they are happy and their home is full of love. They are kind, we read again, and the book concludes, “Roger and Matthew are in love.” The story was originally a song called “Roger et Mathieu,” from Thériault’s album Drôle d’oiseau. It then became a picture book in French, Ils sont…, which was translated by Pamela Doll to create this version.

Although bias against the couple is mentioned, the focus is on the happiness they found together and on their quiet strength. Magali Ben’s limited-palette watercolor illustrations are simply gorgeous, perfectly capturing the quiet tone of the words and the everyday details of the couple’s life together. This is a beautiful story with a vision of growing old as a same-sex couple that we rarely see. There’s no indication of the men ever raising children, but nevertheless, children with same-sex grandparents as well as queer children wondering what their future might look like may particularly appreciate it. Having said that, this tender story should be enjoyed by all.

Katy Has Two Grampas

Katy Has Two Grampas, by Julie Schanke Lyford and Robert A. Schanke, with illustrations by Mariia Luzina (Wise Ink), takes its title fairly obviously from Lesléa Newman’s classic Heather Has Two Mommies, but is based on an incident that happened to Lyford’s own daughter (and Schanke’s granddaugher) Katy. Katy, a White first-grader who has a lisp, is often misunderstood by her classmates and teacher, but is excited about inviting her grampas to school on Grandparents’ Day. When Katy draws a picture and tells her teacher that it is of her grampa and grampa, however, her teacher tries to convince her that she meant to say “grandpa and grandMA.” Katy becomes upset and decides she doesn’t want them to come to class with her after all, since she doesn’t want to introduce them in front of the class and be misunderstood. Her big sister explains to the teacher that their grampas are “married to EACH OTHER,” and the teacher apologizes and says that both men are welcome.

On the day of the event, Katy summons her courage and announces, “These are my grampas and know what? They’re married … TO EACH OTHER.” At the end, her grampas praise her and say they’ll take her out for ice cream. The narrative could use a little tightening—it feels a little wordy for a book with a first-grade protagonist—but this is an earnest and heartfelt story that many should like for its depiction of a two-grandfather couple.

Like so many other picture books with same-sex relatives, though, it emphasizes a child getting upset when someone misunderstands about her family (in this case compounded by the teacher’s assumption that Katy’s lisp is the problem), even if the situation later resolves happily. For children who really encounter such questioning of their family structures, such books can offer comfort—but when so many picture books with queer characters have similar storylines, one may long for more stories in which the characters’ queerness is only incidental and doesn’t have to be explained. Nevertheless, it’s great to see one more story among the very few with queer grandparents.

On the promotional site for Katy Has Two Grampas, in fact, the authors say it is “The first children’s book featuring married gay grampas.” It is not, however, the first children’s book to feature a two-grandfather couple. Heather Smith’s A Plan for Pops (Orca, 2019) includes two grandfathers who are obviously a couple, settled into a routine indicative of a long relationship—and the publisher’s website clearly tags the book as having LGBTQ content. True, A Plan for Pops never uses the term “married” to refer to the men—but to see their relationship as anything less than a marriage seems disingenuous. (My full review here.) Additionally, David Hyde Costello’s Little Pig Saves the Ship (Charlesbridge, 2017), also includes a two-grandfather couple; their coupledom is less obvious here (so count it or not as you wish), but Costello confirmed it in a 2017 radio interview. There is power in words, though, and some readers may prefer the explicit ALL CAPS reference in Katy that the grandfathers are married to each other; those looking for a story in which the same-sex relationship doesn’t lead to a misunderstanding may favor the other titles. (Or try them all and see which resonate with you.)

Grandad's Camper

Grandad’s Camper, by Harry Woodgate, an upcoming book from the partnership between GLAAD and Little Bee Books, also depicts a two-grandfather couple. (It comes out April 6 but is available for preorder). Every summer, a child (with brown skin and dark brown hair) goes to stay with her grandad (who is White) by the sea. Her favorite activity is hearing his stories of the “tall and handsome” Gramps (who has brown skin and black hair) and how they explored the world in their camper. Woodgate’s lush illustrations take us with them through cities and jungles, and show us the loving, fun relationship between the two men and between the girl and Grandad.

The child observes that she can see “how much he loved Gramps.” She asks why Grandad doesn’t go anywhere now, and he replies, “Since Gramps died, I just don’t feel like it.” The girl then convinces him to fix up the camper with her. Grandad suggests they pack some snacks and go camp on the beach, just like he and Gramps used to. And so they do.

I like this sweet story a lot. I do wonder, however, about the entire scope of their family. The girl visits Grandad during the summer, so she presumably lives with her parent or parents the rest of the year. We can assume that one of those parents is the child of Grandad and Gramps. We hear and see nothing about those parents in the story, however. Did Gramps die before Grandad even became a father? If so, it feels a little odd (though not completely out of the question) that the girl would call him Gramps, since her parent on that side of the family would probably not even have called him father. If Gramps and Grandad became parents together, however, and Gramps died after their child(ren) grew up, one might assume they’d have used the camper to take trips with their child(ren). In that case, one might think there would have been at least one mention or image of that in the story. Maybe Gramps died after their child(ren) came into the family but before they were old enough to go traveling with them? Did that mean Grandad raised his child(ren) as a single dad during a time when such things were even less common than they are now? If so, all credit to him for that. In a book of this length, I know one can’t go into too many background details, but I would have loved to see just a hint of the family thread—the “love through the generations” touted on the back cover.

Perhaps I’m wanting too much here. Readers may prefer filling in the gaps of the story with their own imaginations. (Clearly, it sparked mine.) Regardless, this is a lovely story about the relationship between a girl and her grandfather and how people in a family continue to have an impact even after they are gone. Gramps is shown on many pages together with Grandad; this isn’t a case of making their relationship invisible (though there’s a different sort of impact in seeing a child interacting with both grandparents in a same-sex couple, as in some of the stories mentioned above). A rainbow flag waving from the camper (on the cover and one interior page), and a pink triangle on Grandad’s shirt in images from his younger days mark this as a queer-inclusive book without making it “about” being queer, which is terrific.

There are only a few other books I know of that include queer grandparents: George Parker’s Bell’s Knock Knock Birthday (Flamingo Rampant, 2017), in which a child welcomes their nonbinary “Grandmani” to a party, and j wallace skelton’s The Last Place You Look (Flamingo Rampant, 2017), set at a Passover seder hosted by a two-bubbie (grandmother) couple. Clearly the queer grandfathers have a slight numerical edge overall; let’s hope we soon see some more about queer grandmothers and nonbinary grandparents, too. Very often, as Grandad’s Camper makes clear, elders and grandparents are the storytellers of the family (or of the community). Surely there are even more stories they could be telling us.

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

New Megan Rapinoe Picture Book Bio Shows Her Rise to

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

Megan Rapinoe (LIttle People, Big Dreams)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nonbinary, Gender Creative Children Summon Courage in New Picture Books

Nonbinary, Gender Creative Children Summon Courage in New Picture Books

Two new picture books, including one in English and Spanish, show nonbinary and gender creative children being proud and confident even as they face bias. This post is also my contribution to Multicultural Children’s Book Day today! #ReadYourWorld

Toby Wears a Tutu

Toby Wears a Tutu, by Lori Starling and illustrated by Anita DuFalia (Brandylane), is told from the first-person perspective of the titular character, a young, Black child who is ready for the first day of school with a “freshly shaved head, purple glasses, button-down blouse, dapper blue bow tie, and frilly pink tutu.” Toby confidently asserts, “The world is mine to discover.” In class, Toby sits with a group of diverse children and their Black, male teacher (which hearkens back, intentionally or not, to the 1979 picture book about a gender creative boy, Jesse’s Dream Skirt, and the supportive Black, male teacher there). All is well until recess time, when a boy tells Toby not to play kickball because it’s only for boys. Another child asks, “Wait, what are you?” while others giggle and laugh as they variously identify him as a boy or a girl. “Confused” and “nervous” from the questions, Toby goes off to sit alone.

At home, Toby and Toby’s mother (who reads as White) talk. She “lets me be my own person” and offers the reminder that some people will think “boy” and “girl” labels are important, but they don’t really matter. Toby also relates her advice that “it’s important that I talk to my friends about my thoughts and feelings. If I need to, Mom tells me, I can always talk with them in front of an adult I trust, like her or my teacher.” The slight pedantry is offset by Toby’s first-person narration, which makes this feel a little less like an adult lecture.

They decorate cookies together and Toby’s mother advises Toby to grab the courage to speak with friends just like grabbing the bag of icing, and to “put love and kindness into your words.” Toby promises “to always grab hold of my courage and speak words of love about myself,” which feels like a bit of a cognitive leap for a young child. On the surface, the mother was talking about speaking to others with love and kindness; for Toby to take away the message about loving oneself feels like an unbelievable amount of self-awareness. While this passage doesn’t quite ring true, though, the sentiment about loving oneself is certainly an important one.

The next day at school, the children again confront Toby, asking “What are you?” Toby summons courage and says, “I’m Toby,” and then proceeds to share the things that Toby likes to eat, wear, do, and be. Toby tells them “Sometimes I feel like a boy” and sometimes a girl; most days, though, Toby is somewhere in between. Another child asks, “So… you’re just a Toby?” Toby nods, and gets invited to go play kickball. “It’s amazing to just be a me,” Toby concludes.

There are now a number of picture books about nonbinary or gender creative children being teased or told they can’t do certain things at school. While the storyline here is very similar in particular to that of Sarah Savage’s Are You a Boy or Are You a Girl?, the bullying children are harsher in Savage’s book. Adults not wanting to scare young children might prefer Toby—though Toby still gets teased and laughed at. Those seeking a book about gender creative and nonbinary identities that doesn’t include teasing or bullying might want to try Laurin Mayeno’s One of a Kind, Like Me/ Único Como Yo (where some kids are initially surprised by the protagonist’s gender creativity, but don’t tease), or Elana K. Arnold’s What Riley Wore (where there is no teasing or questioning whatsoever).

At the same time, Savage’s book is a little clearer in affirming that there are no such things as “boy” activities and “girl” activities. Other books that also handle this point well are Afsaneh Moradian’s Jamie Is Jamie and Deborah Underwood’s Ogilvy, where it’s clearer that the nonbinary protagonist has caused the other kids to rethink their gender stereotypes. In Toby, while “all” the kids go play kickball at the end and we see at least one girl in the illustration, it’s unclear what motivated the boys not only to let the nonbinary Toby, but also the girls, play what they’d previously seen as a “boy” thing. Adults may want to bring that up as a point of discussion.

Toby’s self-confidence is inspiring, though, reminding me of the similarly confident protagonists in What Riley Wore (nonbinary) and Dazzling Travis (gender creative boy). While Toby doesn’t step too far from the storylines in many of these other books, it nevertheless holds its own with them. Readers’ preferences may depend on whether they are dealing with real children whose identities or situations are closer to one particular book.

Pepito Has a Doll/Pepito Tiene una Muñeca

Pepito Has a Doll/Pepito Tiene una Muñeca, by Jesús Canchola Sánchez and illustrated by Armando Minjárez Monárrez (BookBaby), is the bilingual story of a boy who takes his favorite doll to school with him every day, but hides her in his backpack so that no one will know. In his case, his family is cautious; he asks his grandmother, “Abuela, why do I have to hide Lola at school?” and she responds, “We have to be careful. Someone can make fun of you or hurt you. If someone does something to you, tell me. I will always protect you.”

At night, the shy Pepito prays that nothing happens to Lola or his abuela and that he finds a friend at school. One day, a new boy, Miguel, arrives at school and the two become friends (or “amigos” even in the English portion of the text, which sprinkles in Spanish words that are easily understood from the context, illustrations, or glossary). Miguel likes Lola, too. Soon we see the boys walking hand-in-hand to school together. When Lola falls out of Pepito’s backpack one day, however, the other kids tease him and call him a “girl.” Pepito cries as Miguel defends him by holding out his hand in a “stop” gesture. Pepito then finds the courage to speak up about how much he loves Lola “and there’s nothing wrong with that.” The other kids leave. Thankful to his friend, Pepito gives Miguel a “besito” (kiss) on the cheek—and then three more.

“Today, Pepito feels the same freedom at school that he does at home. He is fearless,” the book tells us, and then offers a final page reminding us that some boys play with dolls, some girls climb trees, and some do both. “It’s so wonderful to be a child and play freely,” it concludes. I’d add that it’s also wonderful to have a supportive friend or significant other, as Pepito does.

This #OwnVoices book is also one of few LGBTQ-inclusive children’s books that shows the protagonist as a person of faith. Several times we see Pepito praying at his bed; in one image, we see a cross on the wall above it. Those seeking such representation should welcome it here.

Again, though, Pepito is yet another book about a gender creative or nonbinary child in which the child is teased. Such books have their place, especially in settings where such teasing has occurred, but I’m still hoping the future brings us more stories about gender creative and nonbinary children in which their gender is not a focus of the plot.

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

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

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

Were I Not a Girl - Lisa Robinson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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An Everyday Backyard Adventure (and Two Moms) in New Picture Book

An Everyday Backyard Adventure (and Two Moms) in New Picture

Just when I think I’ve already seen all of 2020’s many, many, LGBTQ-inclusive kids’ books, another one pops up—this one was published just last week by an independent LGBTQ+ press, and shows a girl and her two moms reveling in the natural world.

Come Over! Come Up!

Come Over Come Up! by Anna Watson and illustrated by Skye Murie (Laz-E-Femme Press) is told in gentle rhymes as the girl calls her two moms to join her in climbing a tree. “She steps through the branches, curls up in a nest./“Come over! Come up!” she calls to her guests.” From the top of the tree, they observe the clouds, the sun, the moon, and geese flying by, until it is time to go home and go to sleep—making this a nice, soothing bedtime story. (Adults may simply want to explain that when the girl feeds her guests “on pine cones and flowers and berries,” that’s all pretend, and not a recommended practice.) Murie’s illustrations have a childlike feel that may appeal to young readers. The girl is White; one mom is Black and one White.

Watson, the lesbian mom of two grown sons, also collaborated with Murie on the 2017 picture book Don’t Forget the Poop!, which stars another two-mom family exploring the natural world (and remembering to clean up after their dog) as they go on a walk. And Watson’s Girl from the Queendom is a middle-grade chapter book about a girl who must learn to adjust after moving from rural Vermont to Arlington, Massachusetts with her two moms.

LGBTQ-inclusive children’s literature has its roots in independent presses and self-publishing. It’s great to see this tradition continue even as large mainstream publishers produce more inclusive works as well.


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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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Two Dads and the Baby They Found in the Subway Star in New Picture Book

Two Dads and the Baby They Found in the Subway

When a man finds an abandoned baby in a New York City subway station, he and his partner unexpectedly end up adopting the child, in a new picture book based on the true story—and perfect for Christmas.

Our Subway Baby

“Some babies are born into their families. Some are adopted. This is the story of how one baby found his family in the New York City subway,” begins Our Subway Baby by Peter Mercurio (Dial). Told from Mercurio’s first-person perspective, it shows his then-partner (now husband) Danny, finding an abandoned baby in a corner of the subway station. The police are called and Mercurio arrives; the media covers the event and the baby is placed in foster care. Eventually, the judge in charge of deciding what to do with the child wants to meet Danny, and suggests that the two men adopt him. Both men are White; the baby is a light-skinned person of color.

The men have hesitations. “Our apartment was tiny. Our piggy banks were empty. I didn’t know if we had what it took to be your parents,” Mercurio relates. They finally decide, though, that “We were meant to be a family.” The judge says they can bring the child home in only three days, just in time for Christmas! Neighbors and relatives, at least two of whom seem to be people of color, help them prepare. The men take the child to their apartment—via the subway, arms around each other and the baby cradled between them.

Mercurio’s text is straightforward but occasionally lyrical as he speaks of their hopes and dreams as a family. The word count places this book at the upper end of the picture-book age range, but the vocabulary and sentence structure feel well suited for that audience. (Adults may just need to explain that the term “Straphanger,” seen in a newspaper headline about the baby’s rescue, refers to a subway rider.) An Author’s Note at the end tells us that in 2012, the child (now named Kevin) had the idea of asking the same judge to perform his dads’ wedding, which she did.

This is a heartwarming story about building a family, made more impactful by its truthfulness. (Here’s the grown-up version that Mercurio wrote for the New York Times in 2013.) Leo Espinosa’s illustrations deftly capture the characters’ emotions and the details of the city around them. Mercurio also takes the time not only to share his personal story, but also to offer some insight into what it means to foster or adopt a child, noting, for example, “We learned that you were placed in a foster home. Some babies stay in foster care for a short time. Some for a long time. Some live in many different foster homes and grow up without a permanent home or family.”

I also love that this is a story about LGBTQ family building that doesn’t focus on “problematizing” LGBTQ identities. Danny does make one comment to the judge that “I know adopting a baby isn’t always easy for two dads,” but the judge quickly says, “It can be.” A note at the end about why adoption isn’t always easy for two dads might have helped adult readers explain this to kids who have questions, but on balance, I’m glad that the focus is on the positive.

My only (small) critique is that I would have liked a clearer introduction about who Danny is to the narrator. It’s obvious as the story goes on that the men are living together and love one another; several images show them with their arms around each other. Yet saying “Danny, my partner” (or “husband,” or however they referred to each other at the time) might have clarified things from the start.

This joyous book about a unique path to parenthood, full of love and warmth, should find a place on many bookshelves.

A Sweet Same-Sex Crush in New Picture Book

A Sweet Same-Sex Crush in New Picture Book

I’m thrilled that what might be the last LGBTQ-inclusive picture book of 2020, about two young boys in love, is an absolute joy.

From Archie to Zack

“’Archie loves Zack!’ ‘Zack loves Archie!’ Everyone said it was so,” begins From Archie to Zack, by Vincent X. Kirsch (Abrams). Despite everyone’s knowing and accepting, however, neither Archie nor Zack feels like they can say this to each other. Their hesitancy is never explained, though it’s clear that it’s not because of bias, but simply the uncertainty of knowing whether one’s feelings are reciprocated. As the story unfolds, we see the two boys having adventures together as Archie pens note after note telling Zack that he loves him—but then feeling like “something’s missing” and hiding the note before giving it to him.

Three girls in their class find the notes, however, and, knowing who they’re for, give them to Zack as their school prepares for the holidays. It’s clear from the text and illustrations that this was done with good intentions and the girls are trying to help them express their feelings for each other. Nevertheless, on another level it’s rather intrusive, and it’s outing Archie, so adults may want to discuss with children when this sort of sharing isn’t appropriate. Nevertheless, “Reading [the notes] made Zack very happy.”

Zack, in fact, has wanted to share a similar note with Archie for a long time. In the end, the boys express their feelings for each other and are shown smiling in the midst of their classmates at the holiday pageant.

Kirsch, who also illustrated the book, keeps the images bright and cheery, and gives the characters big, expressive faces. Archie is White; Zack is Black, and their classmates are a range of racial and ethnic identities. Kirsch could have toned down the slant on the Asian characters’ eyes, however; they feel like an exaggerated stereotype. The holiday pageant includes Christmas, Hanukkah, and general winter themes. On a final spread, we see vignettes of Archie and Zack both carrying a Christmas tree and standing behind a menorah. Zack is holding the shamash (helper) candle to light the menorah; perhaps this is a rare picture book representation of a Jew of color (here are some others), though it’s incidental to this tale.

There’s much to like about this book that gives us such a lovely and positive story of two boys in love. Contrast Thomas Scotto’s Jerome By Heart, where the protagonist Raphael’s parents disapprove of his love for Jerome. Yes, unfortunately Jerome by Heart still has an element of truth in it for many young queer people, and its portrayal of Raphael’s strength in the face of his parents’ opposition offers an important model for young readers. At the same time, I think it’s critical for more LGBTQ-inclusive stories—about LGBTQ kids, kids with LGBTQ parents, or combinations thereof—to be simply fun stories that don’t “problematize” LGBTQ identities. Archie and Zack’s “problem” is that of any two people trying to assess whether the other loves them back. To that end, From Archie to Zack is a terrific addition to the genre of LGBTQ-inclusive children’s books. It reminds me of When We Love Someone We Sing to Them/Cuando Amamos CantamosErnesto Javier Martí­nez’s 2018 book (Reflection Press) with a similar (but far from identical) story of a boy figuring out how to express his feelings for another. Now we just need some picture book stories of two girls and/or nonbinary children in love….

From Archie to Zack will be published December 29, but is available for pre-order. With its holiday-themed ending, I’m guessing it was initially intended to come out a bit earlier (2020 delayed a lot of books), but at least it will be available during the extended holiday season, which arguably runs through early January. And its message is a good one year round.


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The Queer-Inclusive Hanukkah Picture Book You May Have Missed (and Why We Need More LGBTQ Holiday Picture Books)

The Queer-Inclusive Hanukkah Picture Book You May Have Missed (and

Hanukkah starts tonight, but LGBTQ parents will have to look long and hard to find even a glimpse of a family like theirs in a picture book about the holiday. One book slipped under my radar until recently, and while it still only offers a brief glance, it’s just about all we’ve got.

Dreidels

Hanukkah Books

Light the Menorah: A Hanukkah Handbook, written by Jacqueline Jules and illustrated by Kristina Swarner (Kar-Ben, 2018), offers a holiday assortment of history, rituals, activities, songs, and recipes. Different families and historical figures are portrayed on each page. On one page, we see two women, wearing yarmulkes, standing on either side of a small table with a menorah on it. One woman is holding a baby; the other is lighting the menorah, with a small dog at her feet. While the two women could in fact be sisters, the scene is domestic enough that I see them as a couple; Publisher’s Weekly interpreted them that way as well.

To the best of my knowledge, the only other Hanukkah book for young children that includes queer people is My Family! A Multi-Cultural Holiday Coloring Book for Children of Gay and Lesbian Parents, by Cheril N. Clarke and Monica Bey-Clarke (My Family Products, 2010). It includes images of Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa.

My Family Products also published The Wonderful Adventures of Benjamin and Solomon, by Elena Yakubsfeld and illustrated by Wei Guan (2013), about two Jewish students traveling in medieval Europe who hope reach their destination by Hanukkah, but the book isn’t really about the holiday per se. Additionally, although it contains beautiful illustrations, the publisher said in a press release that it’s aimed at young adults, so it doesn’t really count as a book for young children. (It’s far too wordy and the protagonists are too old.)

I’ll also put in a good word for The Lotterys More or Less, by Emma Donoghue, the second in her series about two same-sex couples (one male, one female) jointly raising their seven children. This one revolves around the holidays, and there are characters celebrating both Christmas and Hanukkah in their diverse community. It’s delightful–but it’s a middle grade book, not a picture book.That’s it. That’s all we’ve got. Even though I try to stay very attuned to the world of LGBTQ-inclusive picture books, the fact is that Light the Menorah flew under my radar for several years, since the LGBTQ representation is so incidental. It’s an ongoing problem that I’ve written about before; we need more books that show LGBTQ families simply as part of a wider world, but there’s a catch-22 between treating queerness as an everyday thing and having those books be invisible to those specifically seeking LGBTQ-inclusive titles. And the brief glimpse of a same-sex couple in Light the Menorah, while welcome as one of the various families depicted, is hardly enough. Granted, Hanukkah is really a very minor holiday in the Jewish calendar, but has taken on added meaning in modern times as a sort of counterpart to Christmas (which it isn’t really, but that’s another topic). There are a lot of great Hanukkah picture books available now, and some are even happily showing the racial and ethnic diversity of Jewish families. It’s time for one that shows LGBTQ people and families as well.

What About Christmas and Kwanzaa?

Christmas fares just marginally better, with

The Christmas Truck, by J. B. Blankenship, which stars a child with two dads; Santa’s Husband, by Daniel Kibblesmith; and Rachel’s Christmas Boat, by Sophie Labelle, about a child figuring out what name to put on her transgender parent’s present. Nondenominationally for the winter holidays, we have Over the River & Through the Wood: A Holiday Adventure, by Linda Ashman.

You’ll see quite a lot of gaps here. There are no Christmas picture books about a two-mom family, for example, and no LGBTQ-inclusive picture books about Kwanzaa (except for some pages in the My Family coloring book).

And Other Holidays?

Overall, LGBTQ-inclusive picture books about holidays of any type are in short supply. Just a few other Jewish holidays now have queer-inclusive books related to them: The Purim Superhero

, by Elizabeth Kushner (Kar-Ben); Love Remains: A Rosh Hashanah Story of Transformation, by Rabbi Ari Moffic; and The Last Place You Look, about Passover, by j wallace skelton (Flamingo Rampant).  There’s also the 1985 book Chag Sameach! (Happy Holiday!), by Patricia Schaffer, a book about all the Jewish holidays, which may have shown a two-mom family. (Look on the Havdalah page and decide for yourself.) Lesléa Newman, author of the classic Heather Has Two Mommies (Candlewick), has also written many wonderful picture books about the Jewish holidays, but the only one I know of with LGBTQ characters is  Welcoming Elijah: A Passover Tale with a Tail (Charlesbridge), where two minor male characters have their arms around each other in one scene. The only queer-inclusive book about a Muslim holiday is Moondragon in the Mosque Garden, by El-Farouk Khaki and Troy Jackson (Flamingo Rampant), in which three children encounter a magical creature on Eid al-Fitr. And Christmas aside, there are no LGBTQ-inclusive picture books about other Christian holidays, even Easter or Halloween. (And yes, there are a few other LGBTQ-inclusive picture books, including this very recent one, that show Jewish life, but not holidays per se.)

My suspicion is that there have been so few holiday picture books showing LGBTQ families because so many LGBTQ-inclusive picture books have been focused on the “issue” of LGBTQ identities per se. Pride, as an LGBTQ holiday, has a fair number of picture books devoted to it now, but other holidays get short shrift. I do believe it is important, however, for LGBTQ families and non-LGBTQ families alike to see images of LGBTQ families celebrating holidays from a wide variety of traditions, too. This offers representation for the former and can help build bridges across difference for the latter. And besides, picture books about holidays should simply be fun and joyous reads for anyone.

It’s notable that both Moondragon and Rachel’s Christmas Boat are from micro-press Flamingo Rampant; Love Remains and The Christmas Truck are self-published; the My Family! coloring book is from the My Family micro-press, owned by the authors. This shows the importance of small and self-publishers in addressing content gaps—like holidays—that larger publishers have mostly not touched.

I’d like to see many more holiday books with LGBTQ characters for all the major (and even minor) holidays of all traditions. I want them from small publishers who know the LGBTQ community well; I want them from large publishers who can still find #OwnVoices authors and illustrators and use their marketing clout to push the books out to a wide audience. I want books that are more about the holidays than about LGBTQ identities, so they are more likely to find readers among non-LGBTQ families, too. I want them to be more than just an image of maybe-kinda same-sex parents on one page (though in books about diverse families, we should be there, too). I want representation across the LGBTQ spectrum and across race, ethnicity, family structure, socioeconomic status, ability, and other dimensions of identity.

That’s a lot to ask, yes. But this is a season of rededication and miracles.


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A Hindu Wedding for Two Brides in New Picture Book

A Hindu Wedding for Two Brides in New Picture Book

A gorgeous new picture book brings us along with the celebration as a Hindu girl attends the wedding of her cousin Ritu to another woman and stands up against those who would stop them.

Ritu Weds Chandni

Ritu Weds Chandni, by Ameya Narvankar (Yali Books), begins as young Ayesha shows her excitement about going to her cousin Ritu’s Hindu wedding and dancing at the traditional baraat procession. Ritu is marrying another woman, though, and some family members stay away because they don’t approve. Some neighbors have also said they will try and stop the wedding. “The are not happy to see Ritu marry her girlfriend,” Ayesha’s chachi (aunt) explains, adding that there is nothing wrong with them getting married, “It’s just that some people do not understand their love.”

Ayesha’s happiness over the wedding is evident, however. Ritu, “radiant in a bright red and gold sari,” causes her to exclaim, “You are the most beautiful bride I have ever seen!”

As the procession winds its way through the neighborhood, though, some neighbors shout angry things at them. Several then ride up on horses and spray cold water on the participants, including Ayesha and the brides. Ayesha, seeing how miserable the brides are, shows her courage and spirit and stands up to the neighbors, loudly encouraging everyone to keep dancing. Ritu and Chandni are grateful, and the wedding ends joyously.

I am often skeptical of new LGBTQ-inclusive picture books that focus on LGBTQ identities being a problem in some way (even if the problem is in the minds of those who are biased). There have already been a lot of books like that over the past few decades, and what we generally need today, I believe, are more books that simply show joys of LGBTQ lives (or that show them encountering problems that have nothing to do with their LGBTQ identities). Having said that, I’m not going to make that judgment for this book. I am not Hindu myself and not in a position assess the type of books that will feel authentic to Hindu communities. Perhaps a book that didn’t mention the bias that a same-sex couple would encounter would be seen as too unrealistic. As Narvankar says in the afterward, when he was growing up, “there were no role models for the kind of happy relationship I wanted to have with my partner.” While this was a burden to him as a man, “these societal expectations carry far more weight for women.” Even now in India, he says, Ritu and Chandni’s marriage would not be recognized.

Given that the book does deal with the problem of bias, I do like the way that Narvankar handles it. The story makes the love of Ayesha for her cousin, and the love of Ritu and Chandni, shine through as the power that overcomes the hate. And while Ayesha is advised by the adults around her about the bias, she then takes action herself to address it—a model for young readers. Obviously, adults need to be aware that scenes of verbal and physical harassment may be disturbing to very young readers and should judge their children’s readiness for reading them accordingly—but Narvankar offers them a way to discuss such matters in a thoughtful way with an empowering and celebratory ending.

Narvankar also offers a glossary at the end with definitions of the Hindi words in the book, and a few suggestions for additional children’s and young adult books featuring South Asian LGBTQ experiences.

The real standouts of the book, though, are Narvankar’s richly colored illustrations, heavy on red, gold, and teal. He depicts a diverse and dynamic South Asian community of young and old, traditional and modern, and of various skin tones. There are lots of wonderful details in the decorations at the wedding, the patterns on the guests’ clothing, and the plates of food they hold. The neighbors’ water hoses curl threateningly like snakes, but the supportive family and friends dance and clap and hug. The book is visually stunning and simply a pleasure to look at and read. No matter your religion or heritage, consider this book for your shelves.

(This and a few other picture book titles coming out in December weren’t in time to make the initial publication of my 2020 Holiday Gift Guide. I’m going to review them this week and update the Gift Guide as I go.)


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