Tag: QueerInclusive

Queer-Inclusive Kids’ Books for Passover (and an Idea for One About Easter)

Queer-Inclusive Kids' Books for Passover (and an Idea for One

Passover, the Jewish holiday celebrating freedom from slavery, starts this weekend—and yes, there are a few (very few) queer-inclusive picture books about the holiday. There are none that I know of about Easter, alas (but I’ll share an idea for one)!

Matzo Pride

The Last Place You Look, written by j wallace skelton and illustrated by Justin Alves (2017: Flamingo Rampant), is the story of a large multiracial family (some of whom are nonbinary and one of whom has a guide dog) gathered for a Passover seder at the home of two bubbies (grandmothers) who are a couple. All must think creatively when the afikomen (a special piece of matzo) cannot be found. This is a delightful book about the joys of a family gathering, centered around a fun mystery, with a few gentle, non-pedantic nods to the social justice messages underlying the holiday.

Welcoming Elijah: A Passover Tale with a Tail (2020: Amazon and Bookshop), by Lesléa Newman (best known to readers here as the author of Heather Has Two Mommies), won the Sydney Taylor Book Award and the National Jewish Book Award. In it, a multigenerational and multiracial family gathers for a Passover seder, as a kitten wanders outside, cold and lonely. In gentle, alternating lines, we see the contrast between the warmth and food that the boy is experiencing and the hunger and loneliness of the kitten outside. At the end of the meal, the boy opens the door as part of the ritual to welcome the prophet Elijah. To his surprise, the kitten is there to greet him. The boy welcomes his new furry friend and names him Elijah. It’s a perfect tale for the holiday, which asks us Jews to remember our journey as strangers in the wilderness and to welcome strangers in our turn. Susan Gal’s blue-and-gold toned illustrations are warm and lovely. The queer content is slight, but in one scene, two dads can be seen with their arms around each other, their child in their laps. They’re not the protagonist’s dads, but they seem to be part of his extended family.

Newman also has several other books about Passover. A Sweet Passover (2012: Amazon and Bookshop) tells of a girl who is tired of matzo (the unleavened cracker eaten in lieu of bread during the week-long holiday). Her wise grandfather convinces her to try his matzo brei, or fried matzo—think french toast made with softened matzo—and stirs in some lessons about the meaning of the holiday. Matzo Ball Moon (2006: Amazon) stars a girl whose Bubbe’s matzo ball soup is so good, everyone in the family sneaks a bite before the meal, leaving no matzo balls for Bubbe. The girl must use her creativity to find one for her. And Here Is the World: A Year of Jewish Holidays (2014; Amazon and Bookshop) takes us on a year-long journey through all the Jewish holidays. There’s no queer content in these books, but they’re nevertheless fun and sweet tales by a queer, Jewish creator.

Unfortunately, I don’t know of any LGBTQ-inclusive picture books revolving around Easter. A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo (2018: Amazon and Bookshop) stars rabbits, but isn’t about Easter (and its inclusion of a homophobic character may not appeal to some).

It strikes me, though, that the history of LGBTQ families visibly attending the White House Easter Egg Roll dates back to 2006, when the Family Pride Coalition (now Family Equality) arranged for many LGBTQ families to attend the event during George W. Bush’s presidency, as a way of showing that our families are as much a part of our country’s traditions as any others. In 2009, President Barack Obama’s administration reached out to Family Equality directly to invite them to the event. LGBTQ families have been proudly attending ever since (although that waned under the Trump administration). I would love it if someone wrote a picture book about a queer family (or families) attending the event—consider that a free idea! Alas, the Egg Roll has been canceled this year because of the pandemic, but I hope it will be rolling again in 2022.

As I wrote last year in a post about Hanukkah and Christmas, 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 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. This offers representation for the former and can help build bridges across difference for the latter.

Regardless of what you’re celebrating this spring, may it be a season of hope and renewal!


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New Queer-Inclusive Collective Biographies for Kids

New Queer-Inclusive Collective Biographies for Kids

One new middle grade book aims to help young people learn about the contributions and accomplishments of LGBTQ people across many fields of endeavor, while another includes queer people among innovators of all identities who have made their marks on the world.

People of PrideChase Clemesha, himself a medical doctor, writes in the introduction to his People of Pride: 25 Great LGBTQ Americans (Capstone Editions), “It’s important that young people have role models to look up to—especially people who are like them…. I want to show young people that they can decide who and what they’re going to be. If you are part of the LGBTQ community, it is a beautiful part of who you are, but it is only one part. You get to be proud of who you are—your whole self.”

His book, aimed at middle-graders, offers a series of two-page spreads—a full-page photo and a page of text—about LGBTQ Americans who have excelled in their fields. There are civil right heroes, sports stars, artists and musicians, scientists, politicians, and lawmakers. Many of the figures are contemporary or nearly so, but Clemesha also weaves in earlier figures. It’s a nice balance. In addition to the 25 people highlighted, an additional 14 are listed at the end with short one- to two-sentence blurbs about them. Clemesha conveys each person’s impact simply and clearly, though some of the profiles feel just a little too flimsy.

While I like this volume well enough, I still have a few observations. First, two wishes: I wish that at least one bisexual person had been identified as such. Not every figure in the book is labeled with their LGBTQ identity, which is understandable for the earlier figures who might not have thought in modern terms. We do find out the specific LGBTQ identities of some of the later ones, however—just none of them who are bi, making it unclear if there are even any bisexual people here.

I also wish that in addition to teaching us about its subjects’ external accomplishments, the book could also have given us a little information about their families and relationships. Author Maurice Sendak lived with his partner Eugene Glynn for 50 years before Glynn’s death; several others were or are in relationships decades long; and several are parents—but we learn none of that here, beyond an in-passing comment that Wanda Sykes makes jokes about her family. A truly full vision of what LGBTQ people could be with their “whole selves” would show that LGBTQ people can make their mark in the world and have satisfying relationships and family lives, too—young people need to see that.

Furthermore, the end matter of the book is much less successful than the main text. A glossary offers definitions for “bisexual,” “lesbian,” “transgender,” and “queer,” but not “gay.” “Queer” is defined as a term to express “fluid identities and orientations,” without noting that it may also be used as an umbrella term for LGBTQ people. The glossary term “same-sex adoption” makes me cringe a little; just as the GLAAD Media Reference Guide advises using the term “marriage for same-sex couples” or “marriage equality” instead of “same-sex marriage,” since that “can suggest marriage for same-sex couples is somehow different than other marriages,” one could say the same about adoption. Having said that, the terms “same-sex marriage” and “same-sex adoption” are in fairly common use, so perhaps we should let this slide—but the glossary’s definition of “same-sex adoption” as “adopting children the way opposite-sex couples do” makes me cringe again. As NLGJA: The Association of LGBTQ Journalists notes in their style guide, “opposite sex” “buys into a scientifically obsolete view of sex as binary.” A better phrasing would have been “different-sex.”

Other glossary terms have other problems. “Openly LGBTQ,” an adjectival phrase, is oddly defined as a noun: “a person who shares being LGBTQ with friends, family, and coworkers.” “Share” is ambiguous here, too, and could make it seem like they all “share” the same identity, in the same way that, say, I share being Jewish with my son. A better definition might have been “Not hiding the fact that one is LGBTQ” or “being willing to tell others that one is LGBTQ.” Additionally, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” wasn’t “the military ban against LGBTQ people serving openly,” but only a ban on LGB people. Transgender people were banned under separate statutes and in fact, a 2012 military regulation stated specifically that the ban on transgender people serving was “not a contradiction of the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’”

I also would have liked to see more in the book’s one-page “Timeline of U.S. LGBTQ History” specifically about transgender history. Come to think of it, though, I’d probably argue for scrapping the entire timeline rather than try to cram it onto one page; in that little space, it’s almost impossible to provide a balanced overview of the rich history of LGBTQ people. I would rather have seen the space used for a fuller and more thoughtful glossary, or to offer references to other middle grade books dedicated to LGBTQ history, such as Jerome Pohlen’s Gay & Lesbian History for Kids or Robin Stevenson’s Pride: The Celebration and the Struggle.

People of Pride is very similar to Sarah Prager’s 2020 Rainbow Revolutionaries: Fifty LGBTQ+ People Who Made History, another middle grade book that compiles short biographies of notable LGBTQ people. Prager showcases figures within and outside the United States and looks much further back in history; Clemesha sticks with U.S. figures whose impact has been primarily in the 20th and 21st centuries. Readers should appreciate both approaches, depending on their interests and moods. Although both are targeted at middle grade readers, Clemesha’s profiles are shorter, making them better for the younger end of that set; Prager dives a little deeper for readers wanting more. Prager’s glossary is much better, however, and she does touch on many of her subject’s relationships and family lives. While some of the figures in both books are the same, many are different, so readers may want to peruse both volumes. If I detailed some criticisms of People of Pride above, that’s only because I feel young readers may still find inspiration here. I’d love to see some of the issues, especially with the back matter, addressed in a future edition of what will likely be a valuable book for many young people.

Kid Innovators

Innovators, Stevenson observes in the introduction to her Kid Innovators: True Tales of Childhood from Inventors and Trailblazers, “need the confidence and strength to go against the crowd. They need to be persistent, and they can’t afford to worry too much about what people think.”

It’s not surprising, therefore, that although this is not a queer-specific book, it includes queer people in its 16 short biographies, just like Stevenson’s earlier Kid Activists volume in Quirk Books’ Kid Legends series. In each profile of roughly eight to 10 pages, we learn about people who have innovated in science, technology, education, business, and the arts, with an emphasis on how their childhoods shaped them. In accessible but never patronizing prose, Stevenson sketches the stories of her subjects’ childhoods, deftly setting the scene for each one and providing informative details, engaging quotes, and sometimes humorous anecdotes. (As a child, computer scientist Grace Hopper was so curious about how alarm clocks worked that she “took apart all seven of the ones in her home.”) The queer people profiled are code breaker and computer scientist Alan Turing and dancer Alvin Ailey. Stevenson, a queer mom herself and author of several great LGBTQ-inclusive kids’ books, not only mentions that they were gay, but explains briefly how each faced homophobia.

Fair warning, though. Stevenson notes that many of the people she profiles began as “strong-willed and independent-minded children—which wasn’t always easy for their parents and teachers!” Share this book with your children at your own risk!

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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Grammy Nomination for Queer-Inclusive Children’s Album

Grammy Nomination for Queer-Inclusive Children's Album

Singer-songwriter Alastair Moock’s queer-inclusive Be a Pain received a Grammy nomination yesterday for “Best Children’s Music Album.” The album, which seeks to inspire young listeners to become leaders for positive change, includes a song for his nonbinary child, one that praises Harvey Milk, and another that invites young listeners to imagine leaders who are LGBTQ, among other identities.

Alistair Moock - Mara Brod 2015

Alistair Moock – Photo credit: Mara Brod 2015

In the title track of Be a Pain: An Album for Young (& Old) Leaders, which I wrote about when it was still being crowdfunded, Moock shares the examples of Rosa Parks, Billie Jean King, the Parkland students, and Harvey Milk:

Harvey Milk, he chose to run
for the council board and won,
even though folks said, ‘You can’t, because you’re gay.’
One brave LGBTQ elected leader ran and knew
You can change things if you choose to be a pain.

In “What Is a Leader?” Moock invites listeners to reflect, “Is a leader a man or a woman? Are they LGBTQ? What color would their skin be? Does a leader look like you?”

Mostly poignantly, “Go Shine (Song for Elm),” written for his nonbinary child, begins:

You are who you choose to be
When you choose to be who you are
The world may be confused by you
But you know who you are

and is alone worth the price of the album. The rest of the songs, with folk, bluegrass, and blues influences, include equally inspiring and catchy tunes about other human-rights activists, as well as ones that look ahead to the next generation and that remind parents that we ourselves should abide by the lessons we teach.

Led by Grammy-nominated producer Anand Nayak, the album features guest spots from a diverse group of musicians including Sol y Canto, Alisa Amador, Reggie Harris, Rani Arbo, Sean Staples, Crys Matthews, Mark Erelli, Kris Delmhorst, Melanie DeMore, Heather Mae, and Boston City Singers. Matthews is a lesbian and Mae is queer—and DeMore was a founding member of the Grammy-nominated vocal ensemble Linda Tillery and the Cultural Heritage Choir, long beloved by many queer women and others.

Both Moock and his wife, writer and parenting blogger Jane Roper, have supported the queer community in additional ways. Moock performed last February at First Event in Boston, a long-running conference for “transgender and gender expansive people and those who love and support them.” Roper wrote a piece last year for public radio’s WBUR on they/them pronouns.

Moock’s 2015 All Kinds of You and Mewhich covered concepts like family, gender, ethnicity, and social justice, was also queer-inclusive and gender expansive, with songs about families with two moms or two dads, boys who wear dresses, and girls who climb trees.

Clearly being LGBTQ-inclusive isn’t a detriment to making a lauded children’s album—or two. We knew that already last year, however, when a Grammy nomination went to the Alphabet Rockers’ The LOVE, which includes “We Royal,” a song celebrating trans, gender non-conforming and two-spirit heroes, as well as other tracks about social justice and the spectrum of gender. (Read more about it here.)

Bonus queer fun fact: Moock contributed his “Go Shine (Song for Elm)” to the (not Grammy-nominated but awesome) Trans & Nonbinary Kids Mix album compiled and released earlier this year by Julie Lipson of Ants on a Log. Another of this year’s Grammy nominees for Best Children’s Music Album, the Okee Dokee Brothers (Songs For Singin’), also contributed a song to that project, as did the Alphabet Rockers.

All of the nominees are worth a listen, as they’re a far cry from the insipid and repetitive kids’ music of yesteryear. Aside from Moock’s work, I’m particularly fond of All The Ladies, by Joanie Leeds, a single mother as well as a musician. Her album is a feminist manifesto of songs about girl power, sisterhood, female potential, Mother Earth, and RBG. Dog On Fleas’ I’m An Optimist is simply great fun, and Justin Roberts’ Wild Life offers an exploration of the hopes and fears and excitement of new parenthood. Congratulations to them all!


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Queer-Inclusive Kids’ Books Celebrating Indigenous Cultures

Queer-Inclusive Kids' Books Celebrating Indigenous Cultures

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

Indigenous LGBTQ Children's Books

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

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


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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.


(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.)

Listen: the Rad Child Podcast and I Talk About Queer-Inclusive Picture Books

Listen: the Rad Child Podcast and I Talk About Queer-Inclusive

I recently had the great pleasure of being on the Rad Child Podcast to talk about queer-inclusive children’s books. Have a listen!

Rad Child Podcast

Host Seth Day and co-host Rebecca Hachmyer invited me to speak with them on the topic of picture books about sexual orientation. Rebecca has a master’s degree in children’s literature and currently reviews children’s books for the Horn Book, one of the oldest and most prestigious publications about children’s and young adult literature; Seth’s an educator who has been working in childcare for over 10 years. Needless to say, they have a lot of expertise—and it was great to explore a number of books with them, looking at where we’d say “way to go” or suggest there’s “room to grow.” Thanks to them for having me on the show!

Listen in your browser here, or on Apple Podcasts or Spotify. Here are the show notes, with images of just some of the books we ended up discussing.

After that, check out some more of their great episodes on how to talk with children about topics often considered “taboo” or “too complicated” for them, including race, gender, sexuality, mental health, disability and more!