Tag: Picture

New Picture Book Celebrates Friendship of Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera

New Picture Book Celebrates Friendship of Marsha P. Johnson and

It’s Transgender Awareness Week, and hot off the presses today is a new picture book about transgender icons Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera!

Sylvia and Marsha Start a Revolution

Sylvia and Marsha Start a Revolution, by Joy Michael Ellison and Teshika Silver (Jessica Kingsley, 2020), tells the story of Sylvia and Marsha by focusing on their close friendship and how they cared for their community in the face of harassment by police and others. We see them at the heart of the Stonewall Rebellion, then opening a home for homeless trans girls and continuing to fight “for the survival and rights of transgender people.”

Some of the violence during the rebellion has been tempered for the age group and a few historical details could be argued, but as the authors note, this is only one retelling of what happened. What comes through clearly, though—and is probably most important for young readers—is the bond between Sylvia and Marsha and the overall sense of how they worked to help those in need. To read that they “strode with pride, like two lionesses” down the street after the rebellion, and to see Silver’s image of them smiling confidently, arm in arm, is to know that trans women can be strong and powerful. A few of the narrative transitions are a little jumpy, but the thread of Sylvia and Marsha’s friendship helps hold things together.

One point that may require a little adult explanation is when members of the community call out “Here comes Alice in the blue dress!” to indicate the police are on the way. We’ve learned earlier in the book that the police can arrest trans women for wearing dresses—and the police (all male) are not wearing dresses themselves. Young readers may think the call means the police are chasing someone named Alice until they understand the ironic slang. (Having said that, I’m betting that once young readers catch on, parents may be hard pressed to stop them from shouting this phrase themselves when they see a real officer on the street. Fair warning….)

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


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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. 

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“Carlos, the Fairy Boy” Finds His Wings in New Picture Book

"Carlos, the Fairy Boy" Finds His Wings in New Picture

I think we could all use some joy right now, so here’s a look at a brand-new, bilingual, #OwnVoices picture book about a boy learning about his cultural traditions in Panama while he gets support from his abuela to follow his fairy boy dreams.

Carlos the Fairy Boy - Carlos, El Niño Hada

Carlos, the Fairy Boy/Carlos, El Niño Hada, written and illustrated by Juan A. Ríos Vega (Reflection Press), at first glance has a similar story arc to many other picture books about gender creative boys: a boy wants to wear something gender creative, is told he can’t, but ultimately finds support to do so. Where Carlos rises above many others, though, is in the cultural specificity and the #OwnVoices perspective of Ríos, “a queer Latino educator and researcher from Panama,” as his bio tells us. The story begins as Carlos is flying to Panama with his parents to spend time with cousins during carnival. His parents tell him about the traditional parades and the two carnival queens who are the stars.

When Carlos learns that his two female cousins will be on a queen’s float dressed as fairies, he wants to join them, but they and his Papá say only girls can do that. His abuelita (grandmother), however, takes his side, saying, “During carnival, we need to celebrate who we really are.” She takes him to visit Luis, a famous carnival costume maker, and tells Luis, “He is very special like you.” I love that Carlos’ abuelita, while an ally, knows enough to take him to a member of the LGBTQ community for further support. The message that there are other gender creative people in the world, grown up and successful, is an important one that many other picture books overlook.

Luis makes Carlos a dazzling costume and admits that he himself wanted to be a fairy boy when he was younger, but was bullied about it. Carlos assures him he could still be a fairy. I like that Ríos has a self-confident child offering support to someone from an older generation, rather than the child being bullied and needing to learn lessons from an adult. (Obviously, both things happen in real life; I just think children may respond more positively to books where the child is the knowing one.)

At the end of the book (spoiler alert), Carlos proudly joins the parade—where he sees Luis in the crowd also wearing a fairy costume.

Ríos’ bright collage illustrations capture the festive spirit of the carnival. Carlos and his family have medium-brown skin and dark hair; Luis is a fair-skinned redhead; and the other people of Panama have a variety of skin tones, from dark to light.

In an afterward, Ríos notes that like Luis, he was bullied as a child, but his abuelita “recognized that I was different and did small things to show me that I was important and special.” And the character of Luis “is based on stories I gathered from the talented friends and men who work on the queens’ gowns all year.”

This is the second book from Reflection Press mentored by co-founder (and queer parent) Maya Gonzalez. The first, When We Love Someone We Sing to Them/Cuando Amamos Cantamoswritten by Ernesto Javier Martí­nez and illustrated by Gonzalez (my review here), is similarly steeped in family support and cultural tradition (in this case, that of the Mexican serenata) as it shows a boy getting his father’s help in crafting a song for the boy he loves. Both books are wonderful examples of how to thoughtfully portray LGBTQ people in our intersectional identities.

Also check out the award-winning Gonzalez’s own

Call Me Tree/Llamame arbol, about a child of unspecified gender who finds resonance with the natural world; her books with partner Matthew SG about pronouns, They She He Me: Free to Be! and They, She, He easy as ABC; and their Playing with Pronouns Card Deck.


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Kelly Ripa just posted a picture of Mark Consuelos in a cop uniform. We need to talk about his baton. / Queerty

Kelly Ripa just posted a picture of Mark Consuelos in

Actress and talk show host Kelly Ripa just loves posting pictures of her family, especially as Halloween approaches. This year however, she may have her Instagram followers fainting from lust rather than fright: one image of her husband, actor Mark Consuelos, shows off the actor’s massive bulge.

“Halloween is a family business,” Ripa posted to Instagram, along with a roll of photos featuring her family. Followers that scroll all the way to the end get a glimpse–actually, more like an eyeful–of Conseulos’ package as he channels 1970s-era Erik Estrada from C.H.I.P.S.

We wonder how he is with body cavity searches.

Related: Who Knew Kelly Ripa Was A Total Size Queen?

Ripa’s made a habit of posting some very thirsty pictures of Consuelos, 49. The pair met on the set of the soap opera All My Children back in 1995 when he was cast as the love interest of Ripa’s character. The pair married in secret a year later, and continued to appear on the show together as series regulars until 2002. Today, they have three children together.

Have a look back at some of Ripa’s most classic shots. Have some water on hand…you’ll be thirsty.

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

Imagination and Community in Two New Picture Books with Nonbinary

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

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

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

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

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

Hooray, What a Day - Molly Allis

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

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

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

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


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A Child Teaches Great Grandma About Pronouns in New Picture Book

A Child Teaches Great Grandma About Pronouns in New Picture

A self-assured, gender ambiguous child gets a visit from Great Grandma Bubbie—and teaches her a few things about pronouns and gender in a sequel to a 2019 picture book about gender creative play.

Jamie and Bubbie - Afsaneh Moradian

Jamie and Bubbie: A Book About People’s Pronouns, written by Afsaneh Moradian and illustrated by Maria Bogade (Free Spirit Publishing) is a sequel to the duo’s Jamie Is Jamie: A Book About Being Yourself and Playing Your Way (my review here), but either can be read independently of the other. Both books star Jamie, a child whose gender is never specified. In the latest book, Bubbie comes for a visit (making this, as far as I’m aware, the first LGBTQ-inclusive picture book with a great grandparent in it). As she and Jamie do things together in the neighborhood, Bubbie mistakenly misgenders several of the people they meet—a woman as a man, a man as a woman, and a transgender girl whom Bubbie had previously met when the girl was still using her male birth name. Jamie knows everyone’s correct genders and pronouns, though, and gently informs Bubbie. Bubbie admits she’s been “putting my foot in my mouth all day.”

Jamie reassures her that you can’t always know what pronouns someone uses, and that if they don’t tell you, you can always use their name or “they.” Jamie’s mother offers the example, “We can say that the mail carrier is taking mail out of their mail bag and putting it in the mailbox.” Then Jamie mentions a friend who uses “they.” Grown-ups may need to clarify here that some people choose to use “they” on an ongoing basis; it’s not just for when you don’t know someone’s pronouns. (At the end of the book, some “Tips for Teachers, Parents, and Caregivers” do help explain this.)

Jamie’s mother then tells Bubbie that people sometimes change their names and/or pronouns, and that it’s important to call them by the name and pronouns they want to use, which is good advice. Bubbie says that’s a lot to remember, but she’ll try.

The mother and Jamie’s explanations to Bubbie border on pedantic but are simple and supportive, and may be useful to those first encountering the idea of chosen pronouns or singular “they.” Jamie’s own gender and pronouns remain unknown. On one level, this book could have been a good time to introduce them—if they’re not what Bubbie would have expected from Jamie’s gender assigned at birth, perhaps she should be clued in as part of her whole education about the subject. On another level, though, perhaps more children will relate if they can imagine that Jamie’s gender is whatever they want it to be. As in the first book, Jamie is just Jamie. Jamie’s gender ambiguity also offers a place for discussion about asking someone what pronouns they use.

A few lines of dialogue could have benefited from indications of who is speaking; adult readers should be able to guess from context, but a little extra clarity might help the younger ones. And a neighbor’s sudden reference to Bubbie as “Mrs. Green,” when there was no previous indication of her last name, may confuse young readers at first (especially because a passing pedestrian on the page is wearing a green jacket).

As with the first book in the series, I like that Jamie, not an adult, is doing most of the instructing (though the mother does chime in a bit). Jamie knows the people in the neighborhood and understands the importance of referring to them the way they want. We can always use more role models of confident kids who move through the world with respect for themselves and others—and aren’t afraid to teach adults a thing or two.

Adults should appreciate the thoughtful tips at the end on talking with children about pronouns. I will note that Moradian here uses the term “gender nonconforming,” which PFLAG said in 2019 was outdated and Gender Spectrum (which Moradian includes as a resource) does not include in its list of gender-related language. I recognize, however, that these terms shift and evolve, perhaps faster than publishing cycles; I just hope this gets updated in a future edition. Mostly, Moradian’s brief explanations and suggestions seem clear and useful. Those who want more ideas for using the book as a jumping-off point for talking about gender and family can also check out the Teacher’s Guide, available under “Free Downloads” at the book’s Web page. Despite a few minor places for improvement, Jamie and Bubbie is a positive addition to the growing number of picture books about gender identity and expression.


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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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Poems, Protest, and Empowerment in New Picture Book About Young Activists

Poems, Protest, and Empowerment in New Picture Book About Young

A new picture book pairs the stories of youth activists with #OwnVoices poems from exceptional adult poets who were inspired by their work. Unsurprisingly, there are queer voices among them.

No Voice Too Small
“No voice is too small/to solve a problem/that’s big,” begins Lindsay H. Metcalf’s poem at the start of No Voice Too Small: Fourteen Young Americans Making History, edited by Metcalf, Keila V. Dawson and Jeanette Bradley, and illustrated by Jeanette Bradley (Charlesbridge). In its pages, we meet Samirah “DJ Annie Red” Horton, who shares anti-bullying messages through rap; Ziah Ahmed, who held face-to-face conversations with everyone in his high school as a way to forestall anti-Muslim hate; Levi Draheim, who became the youngest of 21 kids who sued the U.S. government for failing to act to stop climate change; Jasilyn Charger, who helped launch the Standing Rock Pipeline Resistance Movement, and more. Most are people of color.

Each person profiled gets a two-page spread drawn in Bradley’s digital pastels and charcoals on an earth-toned, textured background. The images feel warm and approachable. On the left page of each spread is a poem about the person’s impact; on the right is a prose paragraph with further details. The poems are by an array of well-known writers, including Carole Boston Weatherford, author of Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom, which won an NAACP Image Award; Nikki Grimes, who won a Coretta Scott King Author Award for Bronx Masquerade and was given the Children’s Literature Legacy Award in 2017; and Guadalupe Garcia McCall, the Pura Belpré Award winner for her novel Under the Mesquite. Each poet shares at least one aspect of their identity with their young subject. Additionally, each poem uses a different poetic form, helpfully explained at the end of the book.

Also profiled is transgender activist Jazz Jennings, with a poem about her by author S. Bear Bergman, founder and publisher of queer micro-press Flamingo Rampant. We also meet Zach Wahls, whose speech about his two moms to an Iowa House committee went viral in 2011, and whose Scouts for Equality organization helped pressure the Boy Scouts of America to allow gay scouts. His poem is by Lesléa Newman, best known as author of Heather Has Two Mommies, but also an award-winning poet. (Side note: Wahls, now an Iowa state senator, pops up in a new book for the second time this week.) If all that wasn’t queerness enough, illustrator Bradley is herself a queer mom.

There are any number of queer-inclusive books about young activists, including Kid Activists, by Robin Stevenson (my review here), Peaceful Fights for Equal Rights, by Rob Sanders (my review here), and the very recent V Is for Voting, by Kate Farrell (my review here). No Voice Too Small is an outstanding addition to the genre, offering not just profiles of its subjects, but poems that further inspire and empower.

Watch a trailer for the book below:


(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.)

A Queer-Inclusive Picture Book About the Power of Voting

A Queer-Inclusive Picture Book About the Power of Voting

As we head into the fall and one of the most momentous elections in our nation’s history, voting is more important than ever. A new picture book about voting and civic engagement is both timely and queer-inclusive.

V Is for Voting - Kate Farrell

V Is for Voting, an alphabet book written by Kate Farrell and illustrated by Caitlin Kuhwald (Henry Holt), offers simple phrases and sentences for each letter, all related to voting and democracy. “A is for active participation. B is for building a more equal nation,” it begins. We read about a Free Press, those who Govern, Judges (with a close-up of Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s famous white jabot), and more, while learning the importance of Engagement, Questions, Teachers, Working for change, and other concepts, all depicted with Kuhwald’s bold, bright illustrations.

We meet a variety of activists and leaders, including Thurgood Marshall, Ruby Bridges, Cesar Chavez, O. J. Semans, Patsy Takemoto Mink, and Ida B. Wells, along with Alicia Garza of Black Lives Matter and many more. They’re not named in the text itself, but a page at the end tells us who they are. Along with the famous people, however, a diverse group of young people and their parents march, speak out, help each other, and seek to learn more about our country and its democratic processes. Several pages show peaceful protests and marches; others show community members helping each other or working side-by-side. A few anthropomorphic animals in some of the marches seem odd at first, but perhaps they’re intended to remind us of the need for environmental justice that impacts all creatures.

I particularly appreciated that on the page for Suffrage, the text notes, “This fight is ongoing, not history’s footnote.” A Voting Rights timeline at the end also takes us from 1787, when the U.S. Constitution was written, through 2013, when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down part of the Voting Rights Act, “allowing states with a history of discrimination to pass new voting laws without federal approval.” There’s a lot to unpack there, and this book doesn’t, but perhaps it will inspire readers (and their grown-ups) to dig deeper with other books and resources.

Most of the pages show positive actions towards change and civic participation; the only one that doesn’t is “H is for homelands that we’ve occupied.” Since this occupation is in fact the tragic and awful underpinning of our whole democratic experiment, that page feels appropriate to include—but parents and teachers may need to explain to young people that it is not, like the concepts on the other pages, something to aspire to.

Harvey Milk is the only famous person shown who is clearly queer (though you can count Eleanor Roosevelt if you like), but several of the unnamed cast carry rainbow signs during protests and marches, which we see them making right on the first page. In one scene, a young person of ambiguous gender wears a rainbow button and carries a sign with the transgender symbol on it, marching arm-in-arm with their mother; they both seem to be of South Asian heritage. On another page, the two are again marching together and the mother is carrying a sign with a rainbow heart. I would have liked to have seen Marsha P. Johnson or another trans activist clearly depicted among the famous people in the book—but at least there’s a young trans person carrying the trans symbol, with the support of their mother, which feels equally important.

The book bears obvious similarities to Rob Sanders’ Peaceful Fights for Equal Rights(my review here) and Innosanto Nagara’s A is for Activist, but doesn’t feel redundant. Nagara’s is a board book for much younger children (though the vocabulary is geared to an older crowd); Sanders’ is specific to activism and protest rather than civic engagement more broadly as in V Is for Voting. That’s not a criticism—all of these perspectives are important, and I heartily recommend all of these books.

Farrell wrote the book “to help even the youngest readers understand why voting is important” and to help them “feel invested in and hopeful for the future of our democracy,” she explained in the press materials. “A government that doesn’t reflect the diversity of its people cannot represent the will of its people.” This year, that message is more important than ever.

Want more kids’ books on social justice? Here are a few.


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Transition and Transformation in a Picture Book for Rosh Hashanah

Transition and Transformation in a Picture Book for Rosh Hashanah

A family’s annual celebration of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and the changes that each year brings, form the texture of Love Remains: A Rosh Hashanah Story of Transformation, a new picture book about a Jewish family and their transgender child. One of the authors, Rabbi Ari Moffic, spoke with me about it.

Love Remains - Ari Moffic

Moffic, the director of congregational learning at Temple Beth-El in Northbrook, Illinois, is a Reform Jewish rabbi married to another Reform rabbi. They have two children, a cisgender teen and a transgender tween. Parenting a transgender child “is nothing that we were prepared for or really knew anything about until we started raising this child,” Moffic said. “It’s definitely set us off on the course of a new education and having new people in our lives and experiences. It’s been really a blessing.”

The idea for the book took shape years ago when Moffic was at a Jewish conference, speaking with another parent of a transgender child. They realized that although some Jewish publishers were starting to publish children’s books with LGBTQ themes, they hadn’t seen any with Jewish transgender characters. They wanted to change that so that their children “can see themselves in stories” and so “all children could see the range of human experience within a Jewish setting,” Moffic explained.

“I had this story idea in my head but I’d never written a children’s book,” she continued. She eventually connected with Jessica Leving, author of a children’s book about growing up with a sibling who has a disability. In addition to her writing skills, Leving had done LGBTQ advocacy and also knew how to self-publish on Amazon. Self-publishing was important because, while most children’s book authors have their illustrators chosen by the publisher, Moffic already knew the illustrator she wanted to use: Teddi Garson, “an amazingly talented genderqueer Jewish tattoo artist.” Moffic had conducted the wedding of Teddi’s sister.

Although it might seem edgy to have images drawn by a Jewish tattoo artist (according to some interpretations of Jewish law, Jews should not get tattoos), Love Remains is deeply rooted in Jewish values and traditions. Rosh Hashanah is the start of the new year and part of a wider time for self-reflection during the Jewish High Holidays. It offered “just the perfect backdrop to talk about change and renewal and transformation,” Moffic said.

The book starts by quoting Ecclesiastes 1:3-8, which begins, “A season is set for everything, a time for every experience under heaven.” Floyd Kessler, a Jewish transgender artist, contributed an image of the text spiraling inside an apple, a traditional Rosh Hashanah symbol.

Rabbi Ari Moffic

Rabbi Ari Moffic, courtesy of her.

Moffic explained, “I wanted to start with Ecclesiastes because I believe that if we’re going to really live our lives and engage with life, we’re going to have change. We’re going to have big changes and small changes and happy changes and sad changes.”

We see that reflected throughout the story, as year after year a child goes with mother and father to the grandparents’ house for Rosh Hashanah. One year, their favorite flower shop is closed and they must find another; the next year, the grandfather has died; the year after that, a cousin has a new baby.

The child similarly transforms. Initially, she has a ponytail and uses the name Danielle and female pronouns. The next year, she is excited about getting a boy’s part in the school play. The year after that, the child is reluctant to go to the family dinner. The dad gently asks, “Are you nervous because everyone knows you’re Dan now, and they might get your name wrong or have questions?”

That was the concern, but Dan, now with short hair, finally agrees to go. “The family knows this is who I’ve always been anyway,” he says.

Indeed they do. When everyone shares something new that has happened to them since last year, Dan mentions going on a school hike. Everyone laughs good naturedly. Dan’s mom is surprised that’s what he wanted to share. Grandma notes wisely that many things can be important. An aunt observes, “You seem happy and at peace.” Their absolute acceptance—and the idea that a transgender identity is only one part of a person—makes this a story that should delight families with transgender children.

The book is on the wordy side of the picture book range, which means it may be best for a child to read with a grown-up. It also shows rather than tells about Dan’s transition and what it means to be transgender—more reasons to read it in a setting that allows for discussion. That’s not a criticism; this book fills a different need than more explicitly explanatory texts by placing Dan’s transition in a broader story about family, tradition, and change.

Moffic said she imagines parents, grandparents, teachers, or librarians reading the book to a child and asking questions like, “Do you notice anything about how this kid’s appearance changes?” or “Can you tell if someone’s a boy or a girl based on how they look?” They can also talk about “how changes can be hard and exciting” and “becoming who we’re meant to be is just this evolving part of our stories.” Moffic invites those seeking discussion questions to e-mail her at loveremainsbook@gmail.com for a list tailored to their needs.

This year, Rosh Hashanah, which begins the evening of September 18, “is going to feel different for so many reasons,” she said. “But I think we have to embrace change and transformation and growth and renewal and the opportunity to keep living.”

Originally published as my Mombian newspaper column.


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