School Is In: LGBTQ Picture Books

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November 15, 2015

By Elizabeth Gartley

November is Picture Book Month, an international literacy initiative which celebrates print picture books, and picture books are worth celebrating. Picture books are a powerful medium, and they are often the first form of literature that young children enjoy. Even as a middle school librarian who works with young teens, I keep a small collection of picture books in my library. Teachers use picture books to teach about such complex themes as identity, bullying, the immigrant experience, even war. Somehow, the simple combination of story and pictures allows readers to experience and empathize with the lives and feelings of others unlike other forms of storytelling.

Considering the powerful and important role that picture books play in the lives of young readers, it’s no surprise that picture books are also often at the center of controversy. In the late 1950s, The Rabbit’s Wedding by Garth Williams, which features a white rabbit marrying a black rabbit, caused outrage because of the perceived message in support of racial integration and interracial marriage. These days, we most often hear uproar over picture books which focus on gender roles and gender identity or same-sex relationships and families.

Since the early 2000s, as the number of LGBTQ-themed picture books has steadily grown, so have the challenges. And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, the true story of two male zoo penguins who raise an adopted chick, was the third most challenged book in the U.S. last year, and was the most challenged book from 2006 to 2008, in 2009 Tango got bumped to second place (by thettyl series by Lauren Myracle), but was back in the top spot again in 2010. In 2012, Todd Parr’s The Family Book, which celebrates different family structures, was banned in an Illinois school district for the line “some families have two moms or two dads.”

King & King by Linda de Haan and Stern Nijland, a picture book about two princes who fall in love, made the ALA most challenged book list back in 2003 and 2004 and has continued to be at the center of controversies. In Stuart Biegel’s 2010 book, The Right to Be Out: Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in America’s Public Schools, King & King appears in a couple of cases. In one such case in 2006, parents filed lawsuit against a school in Massachusetts after a teacher read the book aloud as part of a unit on weddings (same-sex marriage was legalized in Massachusetts in 2004). After the judge dismissed the lawsuit, the parents appealed the case, the First Circuit Court of Appeals ruled unanimously in favor of the school.

But even now, after the Supreme Court’s 2014 ruling that same-sex marriage cannot be denied by the states, earlier this year in North Carolina, a third-grade teacher, Omar Currie, and vice-principal, Meg Goodhand, ended up resigning in the wake of the controversy that arose after Currie read King & King in his classroom.

While I’m often disappointed that most elementary school libraries are completely lacking in any LGBTQ or gender-nonconforming picture books, I’m not surprised. No one wants to be at the center of such a dispute. But fear of challenges isn’t the only factor which precludes the inclusion of LGBTQ picture books in elementary school libraries. Often, even those who otherwise support LGBTQ inclusion in (high) schools balk at the idea of LGBTQ inclusion in elementary schools or even middle schools, assuming that LGBTQ themes are inherently sexual and therefore inappropriate for young readers. However, there are children who have LGBTQ parents or family members, and there are those students who will grow up to identify as LGBTQ themselves. Educators also see that homophobic bullying and bullying based on gender stereotypes begins in primary school. Omar Currie read King & King in his classroom after seeing that one of his male students had become a target for teasing and bullying when other students viewed the child’s behavior as too feminine for a boy.

Teachers and librarians regularly use picture books to teach about differences and to teach kindness toward others, and our efforts to instill such values cannot preclude a specific group of people or certain types of families. If librarians and teachers can read a picture book to children which features mom and dad characters or a princess falling in love with a prince, without sex coming into the discussion, then the same is true of books with two moms or a prince falling in love with another prince.

Picture books with LGBTQ themes can help challenge gender stereotypes and combat homophobic bullying, and they can provide opportunities to teach about relationships and respecting the differences of others. One of the concerns that seems to pop up around LGBTQ picture books is children having questions about such topics, as though children asking questions is something to be feared. Children may indeed have questions, and in that case, a teaching moment arises that people have differences and all people deserve the same kindness and respect.

LGBTQ picture books also benefit LGBTQ youth themselves. Although most LGBTQ people come out in adolescence or adulthood, many LGBTQ adults recall feeling “different” or separate from their gender group as a child. For those children who feel different or who may grow up to identify as LGBTQ, silence sends a very clear message. If children are only exposed to heteronormative stories and characters, they will learn that anything different is “inappropriate” and bad, and that they themselves are bad.

So OK, LGBTQ picture books are important, but what can librarians do to protect themselves against challenges or even lawsuits? The first step is to ensure that your school district has an up-to-date selection policy for library and classroom materials, this policy should include statements in support of intellectual freedom (such as the Library Bill of Rights), an enumerated non-discrimination clause, and specific protocols for reconsideration.

But well-written policies are only effective if they’re followed. In some cases (such as Currie’s case), school administrators are all too eager to ignore school policy if it helps them avoid controversy. Sometimes even school boards themselves will approve policy, but when a challenge comes, ignore their own policies. Creating and approving the policies is the first step, educating administrators and the school community on the purpose and meaning of such policies is just as important.

In the fall issue of AASL’s Knowledge Quest on intellectual freedom, DaNae Leu, an elementary school librarian wrote about her experience standing up for In Our Mothers’ House by Patricia Polacco. During the challenge process, she collaborated with other librarians, and as a result of the challenge, she wrote that she has increased the justification for her acquisitions and regularly refers to the Library Bill of Rights, the Code of Ethics, the Intellectual Freedom Manual, and other resources.

On Wednesday of this week (November 18) ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom is hosting a webinar “Picture Books and Challenges: Dealing with Controversial Topics in Children’s Collections.” The webinar is at 2:00p.m. Eastern and will be hosted by Carolyn Caywood and Peter Coyl and is sponsored by ALA’s Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Roundtable and Intellectual Freedom Roundtable. This webinar is free to members of GLBTRT and IFRT. $20 for ALA members and $25 for non ALA members. More information at http://www.ala.org/advocacy/picturebookswebinar.

Books Inclusive of LGBT Family Members and Characters

All Kinds of Families

All Families Are Special, Norma Simon. (2 – 3). Goes beyond other books in portraying different kinds of families and shows both what can be hard in a family, as well as what is good and special. Includes two-mom, blended, adoptive, and international families.

Dear Child, John Farrell, (Pre-K – K). Features three families, a two-mom adoptive family, a single father and a mom and dad family expressing their wonder and joy of having a young child.

Families, Susan Kuklin. (4 – 5). Combining interviews and engaging color photos, this shows the diversity of families in America. Includes mixed-race, immigrant, two-dad, two-mom and single-parent families and families for whom religion is a focal point.

The Family Book, Todd Parr. (Pre-K – K). All kinds of families are celebrated in a funny, silly and reassuring way. Includes adoptive families, stepfamilies, single-parent families, two-mom and two-dad families and families with a mom and a dad. Quirky humor and bright, childlike illustrations.

The Great Big Book of Families, Mary Hoffman. (Pre-K  – 3). Features all kinds of families and their lives together. Each spread showcases one aspect of home life – from houses and holidays, to schools and pets, to feelings and family trees.

Picture Books with LGBT Family Members

The Adventures of Tulip, Birthday Wish Fairy, S. Bear Bergman. (Pre-K – 3) Follow Tulip as he helps out with the birthday wishes of all the nine-year-olds in North America. Tulip receives a wish from a child known as David who wishes to live as Daniela. He doesn’t understand how to help, so he seeks the wise counsel of the Wish Fairy Captain.

And Tango Makes Three, Justin Richardson & Peter Parnell. (1-3). Penguins Roy and Silo at New York’s Central Park Zoo, keep putting a rock in their nest and try to hatch it. The zookeeper gives them a real egg that needs care. The penguins take turns sitting on ituntil it hatches, and Tango is born.

Confessions of a Former Bully, Trudy Ludwig. (2 – 5)  Told from the unusual point of view of someone who bullied rather than the target. Highlights bullying with words. Provides kids with real life tools they can use to identify and stop relational aggression. Mentions taunting for being perceived as gay.

The Different Dragon, Jennifer Bryan. (K – 1). Shows how the wonderful curiosity and care of a little boy, with some help from his two moms, can lead to magical places with a dragon who is tired of being tough.

Donovan’s Big Day, Lesléa Newman, (Pre-K – 2). Captures the excitement of  a young boy as he and his extended family prepare for the boy’s two moms’ wedding. A picture book about love, family, and marriage.

Heather Has Two Mommies, Lesléa Newman. (Pre-K – K). 25th Anniversary Edition. Heather’s favorite number is two. She has two arms, two legs, and two pets. And she also has two mommies. As school begins, Heather sees that, “the most important thing about a family is that all the people in it love one another.”

I am Jazz, Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings. (K – 5)   From the time she was two years old, Jazz knew that she had a girl’s brain in a boy’s body. She loved pink and dressing up as a mermaid and didn’t feel like herself in boys’ clothing. Based on the real-life experience of Jazz Jennings.

Jacob’s New Dress, Sarah and Ian Hoffman. (Pre-K – 2)  Jacob loves playing dress-up, when he can be anything he wants to be. Some kids at school say he can’t wear “girl” clothes, but Jacob wants to wear a dress. Can he convince his parents to let him wear what he wants?

Keesha and Her Two Moms Go Swimming, Monica Bey-Clarke and Cheril N. Clarke. (K – 2) While having fun splashing with other friends, Keesha meets a little boy who has no friends and no toys, until Keesha does the right thing and makes a new friend.

The Purim Superhero, Elisabeth Kushner. (PreK – 2)  Nate loves aliens and he really wants to wear an alien costume for Purim, but his friends are all dressing as superheroes and he wants to fit in. What will he do? With the help of his two dads he makes a surprising decision.

Stella Brings the Family. Miriam B. Schiffer. (Pre-K – 1)  Stella’s class is having a Mother’s Day celebration, but what’s a girl with two daddies to do? Fortunately, Stella finds a unique solution to her party problem in this sweet story about love, acceptance, and the true meaning of family.

A Tale of Two Daddies, Vanita Oelschlager. (Pre-K – 1). A young girl answers a friend’s questions about what it is like to have two fathers. The boy asks straightforward questions. The story ends with simply, “Who is your dad when you’re sad and need some love?” Both, of course.

Uncle Bobby’s Wedding, Sarah S. Brannen (Pre-K – 2). Looks at the fears that a young girl has of losing her favorite uncle when he plans to get married. Everyone in the family is happy, but her. Finally, she sees that she is not losing an uncle but gaining another uncle. The characters are depicted with animals.

Chapter Books with LGBT Family Members or Characters

After Tupac & D Foster, Jacqueline Woodson. (5 – 8) The day D Foster enters Neeka and her best friend’s lives, the world opens up for them. D comes from a world vastly different from their safe Queens neighborhood, and through her, the girls see another side of life. They share a passion for the rap music of Tupac Shakur. They also deal with discrimination directed toward the gay brother of one of the girls.

Also Known as Elvis. James Howe. (4 – 7)  Skeezie’s got the leather jacket of a tough guy, but a heart of gold. While stuck at home for the summer taking care of his sisters and working five days a week to help out his mom, he navigates first crushes and tough choices about family and friends. Final book in The Misfits series.

Better Nate Than Ever, Tim Federle. (5 – 9) Nate plans a daring overnight escape to New York for an open casting call for E.T.: The Musical, knowing this could be the difference between small-town blues and big-time

stardom. In the sequel, Five, Six, Seven, Nate!, Nate finds out that Broadway rehearsals are nothing like he expects: full of intimidating child stars, cut-throat understudies, and a secret admirer!

Drama, Raina Telgemeier. (5 – 8). Graphic novel through drama – a play – and drama between characters explores middle school feelings with boyfriends and girlfriends, and boyfriends and boyfriends.

Gracefully Grayson. Ami Polonsky. (5 – 7)  Grayson has been holding onto a secret for what seems like forever: “he” is a girl on the inside. Will new strength from an unexpected friendship and a caring teacher’s wisdom be enough to help Grayson step into the spotlight she was born to inhabit?

Keeper, Kathi Appelt. (4 – 7). To ten-year-old Keeper, this moon is her chance to fix all that has gone wrong. Her mermaid mother swam away when she was three. When the riptide pulls at her boat, panic sets in, and the fairy tales that lured her out there go tumbling into the waves. Includes a tender romance between two teenaged boys years earlier. One turns out to be a merboy.

Luv Ya Bunches, Lauren Myracle, (4 – 6). A funny, honest depiction of the shifting alliances and rivalries between girls that shape school days. Written with a mix of instant messages, blog posts, and straight narrative. Four diverse 5th grade girls come together in friendship. One of the girls has two moms. First in a series of Flower Power books.

The Manny Files, Christian Burch. (3 – 6). Shy Keats Dalinger learns from his unconventional male “nanny” to be more self-confident and out-going while the “manny” becomes more and more a part of the family. Sequel: Hit the Road, Manny. Mom, Dad, four kids and Manny take a road trip. Looks directly at gay put-downs, parental acceptance, celebrating commitment and pride.

The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher, Dana Alison Levy. (3 – 5)  From camping trips to scary tales told in the dark, from new schools to old friends, from imaginary cheetahs to very real skunks, the Fletchers’ school year—as always—is anything but boring. Meet the Fletchers: four boys, two dads, and one new neighbor who just might ruin everything.

The Misfits, James Howe. (6 – 9)  Four best friends try to survive seventh grade in the face of all-too-frequent taunts based on their weight, height, intelligence and sexual orientation/gender expression. The characters, including an open and unapologetically gay boy, are not cast as victims, but as self-empowered agents of change who will stand as solid role models. With a focus on individual characters from The Misfits check out Totally Joe, Addie on the Inside, and Also Known as Elvis.

The Mysterious Edge of the Heroic World, E. L. Konigsburg. ( 5 – 7). Two boys find themselves caught up in a story that links a sketch, a young boy’s life, an old man’s reminiscence, and a painful secret dating back to the outrages of Nazi Germany. Includes revelations about the victimization of artists and gays during the Holocaust.

No Castles Here, A.C.E. Bauer. (5 – 7).  Augie knows how to get by – be invisible. Then, a book of fairy tales, participation in a school chorus, and a gay Big Brother combine to give 11-year-old Augie the confidence he needs to handle bullies and become an activist.

Playground: A Mostly True Story of a Former Bully, Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, Laura Moser. (6 – 9). A realistic look at bullying from the perspective of an urban young teen boy in middle school. Looks at the boys feelings as both a target and perpetrator of bullying. Also deals with divorce and gay parenting. Some explicit language.

The Popularity Papers: Research for the Social Improvement and General Betterment of Lydia Goldblatt and Julie Graham-Chang, Amy Ignatow. (4 – 6). Two fifth-grade best friends are determined to uncover the secrets of popularity by observing, recording, discussing, and replicating the behaviors of the “cool” girls. Notebook format with a lot of illustrations. Julie has two dads. There are seven books in the series. The second book specifically looks at bullying.

Riding Freedom, Pam Muñoz Ryan. (4 – 6).  A fictionalized account of the true story of Charley (Charlotte) Parkhurst who ran away from an orphanage, posed as a boy, moved to California, drove stagecoaches and continued to pass as a man her whole life.

The Trouble with Babies, Martha Freeman. (2 – 4). Holly has just moved to San Francisco. Her new friend Xavier, who lives with his two dads, has a crush on Annie, who is Jewish and Chinese. Xavier hopes to win Annie over by putting her “yucky” baby sister in his de-yuckification machine.

The Year of Billy Miller, Kevin Henkes. (1 – 2)  Follow along as Billy learns to navigate 2nd grade with his stay-at-home dad, his busy working mom and his cute (but annoying) little sister. From the complications of a diorama to a poetry slam on family, Billy makes it through the year. A classmate has two moms.

 

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The Secrets of Sam and Sam

The Secrets of Sam and SamSam likes being a twin. He likes having two mums. He likes cheese sandwiches and his dog and drawing comics with his friend Pea. He does not like humous – or heights…

His twin sister Sammie likes being a twin too. She knows that she’s perfect best friend material for somebody – the girls in her class just haven’t realised yet. And she knows that she’s the best Sam – Sam A.

Both Sam and Sammie – and everybody in their lives seems to be keeping secrets – which ones will come out?

Meet the very different twins and their very different problems in this funny, heart-warming story of modern family life for boys and girls.

Warwick Rowers Not Giving Ifs or Ands—Just Lots of Butts—to Fight Homophobia

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The clothing-challenged altruistic lads of the Warwick Rowers Club are back with another nude calendar to help fight homophobia.

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“We started our calendar to raise funds for our club,” begins the gorgeous voiceover in the behind-the-scenes video of the 2016 Warwick Rowers Calendar. “Then we started hearing from a lot of gay men. They found our calendar and they really liked it. ‘Did we mind having gay fans?’ some of them asked. We didn’t even understand the question. Why would we mind?”

Related | The Warwick Rowers 2015 Nude Calendar

Realizing that some guys did mind where homophobia is prevalent, particularly in team sports, they decided to start a charity, Sport Allies, to support youth who are victims of bullying and homophobia.

According to the velvet-voiced narrator, the naked calendar has given the Warwick Rowers a chance to make a point:

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These kids are all about embracing everyone regardless of their gender and sexuality, as well as embracing each other sans clothing. And that’s something we can all get on board with. Meanwhile, we should also get on board with 2016: The Return of the Fuzzy Bum.

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You heard it hear first. You can learn more about the naked rowers, Sport Allies and order calendars and other merch here. And check out a preview of the calendar below:

Les Fabian Brathwaite—putting the “wick” in Warwick since 1985.

EXCLUSIVE: X-Men's Iceman Confronts Himself: 'You Are Gay'

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A significant chapter in the history of Marvel’s X-Men comes to a close with the release ofUncanny X-Men #600 Wednesday. The issue marks the end of writer Brian Michael Bedis’s epic saga which features young versions of the original five X-Men (Iceman, Cyclops, Beast, Angel, and Jean Grey) displaced in time and fighting the never-ending battle in present day. In an interesting twist on the history of Marvel’s mutants, young Iceman (a.k.a. Bobby Drake) came out as gay in April’s All-New X-Men #40, raising questions about his older self who presents as heterosexual in the “current” timeline.

In the three-page exclusive preview of Uncanny X-Men #600 below, young Drake confronts his older self about his sexuality, and the truth behind which way the original Iceman swings is finally revealed.

A new era for the X-Men kicks off here and takes flight in the pages of Extraordinary X-Men #1, also available Wednesday.

‘Worlds Apart’ by David Plante

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Review by Kevin Brannon
September 30, 2015

David Plante has always been driven by intimations of wholeness. His novels aspire to remind us of our spiritual yearning for unity, for what is universal and beyond the self. It is an ambition he returns to in his new memoir, Worlds Apart, which he has culled from his diaries spanning the 1980s and early 1990s. This most personal form of writing, with its tendency over time to “accumulate itself into an entity that is outside myself. . .by making connections, masses and masses of connections ” turns out to provide the perfect raw material for what Plante has in mind. The diaries (at least the bits he shares) are all but free of introspection, his pen trained only to what was said and done, and by whom. What results is an account of human connection, spanning out across the globe, of a world that would go right on spinning regardless of the writer’s fevered attempts to keep up. For readers who yearn more for good dish than spiritual pondering, it does not hurt that Plante’s “connections” are of the very best kind: Germaine Greer, Phillip Roth, David Hockney, to name a few. And they meet in wonderful places like London and New York. Even Tulsa, Oklahoma, with its gaudy Christian temples and gun-toting denizens, is not too far afield as to escape incorporation.

Worlds ApartOf  course, part of the wonder of the world Plante has created is its susceptibility to ruin. He opens with a note on the death of his partner, Nikos Stangos, with whom he shared the greater part of his life, including the years covered here. Then, passages written in London in which Plante ruminates on the news from back home in the States that his mother has lost her breasts to cancer. Cut to New York and he is on his way to the St. Mark’s Baths with Öçi, his dearest friend. It’s the early 1980s and the reader knows what Plante does not: that the men who go there will soon begin to die. Another of Plante’s intimates, the English poet and novelist Stephen Spender, begins his descent into old age. The void is everywhere, not least of all within Plante himself. As a child, he remembers telling his mother, “I never asked to be born.” She responds by slapping his face.

For all of that, Worlds Apart is not a terribly grim read. Everywhere Plante observes people reaching out for connection, new sources of love and life. Spender embarks upon his final great love affair with a young American named Bryan, fifty years his junior. By this time, he is married to a long suffering concert pianist named Natasha, and the question of how much she knows, what Plante and Stangos can say to comfort her without betraying their friend, is a source of delicious tension. Roth publishes a thinly fictionalized account of an affair he has while living in London with Claire Bloom, to whom he will soon be married. Plante himself enjoys a brief sexual affair with the painter Jennifer Bartlett and nurtures a passion for her that spans the years. Everyone, it seems, is at pains to keep the home fires burning while conquering the next adjacent land in the name of friendship or love. Or, if one happens to encounter Germaine Greer in Tulsa, Oklahoma, a bit of sympathetic company.

Still, the reader might easily forget about Plante’s metaphysical preoccupations if he did not find ways of returning to them. (When his publishers balk at his new novel, he writes them a passionate letter explaining the book’s philosophical underpinnings.) Instead, the real wonder of this diary-as-memoir is Plante’s genius for observation. Visiting Israel with Roth, he captures the famously self-referential author with a precision that makes him instantly recognizable to anyone familiar with his novels. During a teaching stint at the University of Tulsa, Plante ends up sharing a house with Greer, and the overlapping of their lives makes for a strange domestic comedy that shows her in wild variety of moods. One moment she is startlingly open to intimacy–the two share a bed, chastely nude, to make room for out of town guests–and the next sees her peevishly refusing to share her groceries as Plante sits devastated over the news of his mother’s death. Yet, he never resorts to caricature; his mode of detachment allows him the space to work the contradictions into a characterization that feels alive, convincingly complex, and deceptively effortless.

However much Plante may want to inspire us to contemplate what he calls “the undivided spirit,” that ultimate state of wholeness to which all our lonely souls aspire, Worlds Apart may actually do the opposite. The fallen world he offers up, with all of its messy differentiation, is far too seductive to wish away. Desire (and all that is done on its behalf) is always more interesting than its object, earthly or divine. And when Plante and his friends are through with living, we will miss them very much.

World’s Apart: A Memoir
By David Plante
Bloomsbury Publishing
Hardcover, 9781408854808, 359 pp.
August 2015

– See more at: http://www.lambdaliterary.org/reviews/09/30/worlds-apart-by-david-plante/?utm_source=Lambda+Literary+Review+October+2nd%2C+2015&utm_campaign=Newsletters&utm_medium=email#sthash.QMqsj4e6.dpuf

Why Stop at Vengeance? by Richard Stevenson

 

Why Stop at Vengeance

 

Richard Stevenson (Richard Lipez) has tackled a variety of social issues in his mysteries over the years. His new novel, Why Stop at Vengeance? (MLR Press)–fourteenth in the Albany, NY-based Donald Strachey series–takes on an American evangelical missionary’s anti-gay crusade in Uganda.

A young Ugandan man, John Suruma, attempts to hire Strachey to burn down a local evangelical church, International House of Faith (IHOF), that has funded anti-gay bigotry in Uganda, which led to the death of Suruma’s ex-lover and friend. He wants Strachey, who he calls “the gay Dirty Harry” which is a moniker the detective is not comfortable with, to help him exact his revenge. Strachey is sympathetic to the man’s plight, but wants to find a non-violent solution to neutralizing IHOF and its evil trio of villains the smug and hypocritical Pastor Chip Salisbury, the Ugandan political-climber Pastor Isaac Baba, and the phony psychologist Floyd Lapp. The question is: Can Strachey implement his plan before Suruma, who continues to receive news of hate crimes at home, takes action and murders Salisbury and his cronies and, in doing so, sacrifices himself?

Stevenson’s crisp prose and intricate plotting propel the story forward at a quick pace, making Why Stop at Vengeance? a thoroughly engaging and enjoyable read. He throws light on bigotry abroad and, through the fine-tuned machinery of a thriller plot, shows us how evangelical missionaries can harness political backing and propaganda for their hate-mongering in countries with political and economic instability. He reminds us that, as we make significant progress in LGBTQ rights in our country, we need to turn our attention to anti-gay campaigns and laws in other places in the world.

Several times in the novel, Strachey mentions he read Reza Aslan’s Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, a critically acclaimed biography of Jesus. Stevenson has him do this, it seems, to remind the reader that the actual Jesus shouldn’t be confused with the romanticized evangelical Jesus; the evangelical Jesus who, Strachey remarks looks “not at all like an Aramaic-speaking Palestinian Jew but like somebody who knew where to go for a good shampoo and who perhaps spoke Swedish.” It’s true; the iconic Western image of Jesus bears little resemblance to historical truth. Other than mentioning Aslan’s book, however, Strachey seems to have little to say about evangelical Christianity other than its propensity to direct hatred at members of the LGBTQ community. Every Christian character the detective comes across is evil, naive, or a buffoon. I don’t disagree with the overarching message about the duplicity of many Christian evangelicals, but as a reader, I hunger for stereotypes–stereotypes of all kinds–to be challenged. I had hoped to come across a character who straddled the evangelical world and the LGBTQ world in a complicated way, perhaps a Christian character whose faith was authentic, but who was critical of Pastor Chip and IHOF’s evil machinations.

When writers address issues of social injustice in their fiction, it’s usually because they have a message to deliver. Stevenson does in this novel–and it’s an incredibly important message: Look beyond the boundaries of our country and to the harsh inequalities in other corners of the world. However, the challenge comes in balancing the desire to make a point with offering the reader characters whose perspectives don’t neatly align on either side of an issue, but perhaps could be valuable to be heard.

Why Stop at Vengeance?
By Richard Stevenson
MLR Press
Paperback, 9781608209774, 248 pp.
April 2015

 

Author Tyler Curry Wants Kids To 'Love The Feathers' They're Born With

Gay Voices Senior Editor,

The Huffington Post

 

“A Peacock Among Pigeons” is for “anyone who has been made to feel different.”

Journalist Tyler Curry is making his first foray into children’s literature with A Peacock Among Pigeons, a charming picture book with a very mature message.

The book, which arrives in stores next month but is already available for purchase here, follows Peter, a peacock who is ostracized from a flock of pigeons in which he was raised because of his bright feathers and seemingly proud strut. It isn’t until Peter ventures beyond the flock and is introduced to other colorful, unique birds — including a canary, a flamingo and a cardinal — that he learns to “love the feathers” he was born with, even if he doesn’t quite fit in.

Curry, who is the senior editor of the online publication HIV Equal and has written for Out magazine, The Advocate and HuffPost Gay Voices, had dreamt of writing a children’s book that drew on his own coming out for years. Collaborating with illustrator Clarione Gutierrez, Curry began developing A Peacock Among Pigeons after reading an interview with actor Russell Tovey, in which the openly gay “Looking” star made controversial remarksabout “effeminate” men, in The Guardian earlier this year.

“If anyone was raised to be masculine, it was me,” the 32-year-old Texas native told The Huffington Post in an interview. Pointing to his family’s passion for hunting, fishing and athletics, he said, “Some of us are just born peacocks, and it won’t matter how you try to ‘raise’ us, because we can never change our feathers.”

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While Peter’s path to avian acceptance echoes that of the titular character in Hans Christian Andersen’s 1843 fairy tale, The Ugly Duckling, Curry says there’s a key difference.

“The ugly duckling goes through a physical transformation and changes into a beautiful [swan]. Peter was always beautiful, he just didn’t know it yet,” Curry said. While his character’s colorful feathers can be interpreted as a metaphor for being gay, the author chose not to include any direct references to sexuality, in hopes that A Peacock Among Pigeons will resonate with “anyone who has been made to feel different.”

“I didn’t want to be literal; I didn’t want to be preachy,” Curry, who is currently at work on a second book, said. “I just wanted to create a new kind of character that could be universally loved and serve as a champion for children who sometimes need it the most.”

A Peacock Among Pigeons hits bookstores Nov. 3. Check out a sneak peek below.

  • CLARIONE GUTIERREZ
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    Amazon Link

 

Unicorn Tracks

Unicorn TracksUnicorn Tracks

by Julia Ember (Goodreads Author)

 

After a savage attack drives her from her home, sixteen-year-old Mnemba finds a place in her cousin Tumelo’s successful safari business, where she quickly excels as a guide. Surrounding herself with nature and the mystical animals inhabiting the savannah not only allows Mnemba’s tracking skills to shine, it helps her to hide from the terrible memories that haunt her.

Mnemba is employed to guide Mr. Harving and his daughter, Kara, through the wilderness as they study Unicorns. The young women are drawn to each other, despite that fact that Kara is betrothed. During their research, they discover a conspiracy by a group of poachers to capture the Unicorns and exploit their supernatural strength to build a railway. Together, they must find a way to protect the creatures Kara adores while resisting the love they know they can never indulge.

 

Paperback
Expected publication: April 21st 2016 by Harmony Ink Press

The Remarkable Journey From Identical Twins To Brother And Sister

 

 

A new book chronicles one family’s extraordinary experience raising a transgender child.

<span class='image-component__caption' itemprop="caption">Identical twins Nicole and Jonas Maines, now 18, were both assigned male at birth. <i></i> <i></i></span>
KELLY CAMPBELLIdentical twins Nicole and Jonas Maines, now 18, were both assigned male at birth.

 

When Wayne and Kelly Maines adopted identical twin baby boys 18 years ago, they had no idea the trajectory their lives would take. Wayne, an Air Force veteran and rugged outdoorsman, was looking forward to fishing, hunting and playing baseball with his boys. Kelly was just excited to have kids of her own after suffering through years of fertility treatments.

As identical twins, Wyatt and Jonas Maines shared matching DNA. But it was soon clear to their parents that they differed in one monumental way: gender. From a very young age, Wyatt identified as female. When he was two years old, he told his dad he hated his penis. He asked his mom when he would get to be a girl. In fifth grade, Wyatt officially took the name Nicole.

In Becoming Nicole: The Transformation of an American Family, which came out on Tuesday, Pulitzer Prize winner Amy Ellis Nutt follows the Maineses as they learn to understand their transgender child — and to support each other during the process. In Ellis’ telling, the family’s greatest teacher is Nicole. She knows who she is; it is up to her family to listen.Thenarrative, which takes readers from a rural town in Maine all the way to the White House, includes bullying, family strife and a landmark court case on transgender rights.

It’s a culmination of a story that I’ve personally been following since 2010. I first met Nicole when she was 12 years old and a patient at Children’s Hospital Boston, where I worked as a writer at the time. Her doctor was Norman Spack, a pediatric endocrinologist who co-founded the first clinic in the U.S. dedicated to treating transgender children. At Children’s Hospital Boston, Nicole was given puberty-suppressing drugs — an innovative treatment for transgender kids that essentially pauses their puberty, stopping their bodies from developing unwanted physical changes.

In Nicole’s case, taking puberty-suppressing medication meant she wouldn’t develop an Adam’s apple, facial hair and other male features that could cause extreme anxiety and make it more difficult to transition when she became older.

I was assigned to write a feature on her and on Spack’s work with transgender kids. When I interviewed Nicole and her family, they were going through a rough time. They had recently moved from Orono, Maine, to Portland, uprooting themselves after Nicole was bullied at school for using the girls’ bathroom.

Nicole had been using the girls’ facilities without incident until a male student began following her into the bathroom and claiming that if Nicole could use it, he could too. In response, the school banned Nicole from using the girls’ bathroom, and instead made her use a staff bathroom, isolated from other students.

The Maineses pulled their kids from the school and filed a discrimination lawsuit. In 2014, seven years after the first bathroom incident, the family was finally handed a huge victory: Maine’s Supreme Court ruled that the school violated state anti-discrimination law by not allowing Nicole to use the girls’ bathroom. The decision made history, as it was the first time a state court ruled that transgender students must be allowed access to the bathroom of the gender with which they identify.

Nicole underwent gender confirmation surgery this summer. She and her brother are now attending the University of Maine.

I spoke to Nutt about the process of writing Becoming Nicole. An edited, condensed version of our conversation follows.

Why were you drawn to Nicole Maines’ story?

Meeting the Maineses, it’s impossible not to like them. What impressed me is they seemed, on the one hand, like a very ordinary family. And yet their story is quite extraordinary. I think a lot of people can identify with them.

The other part that attracted me is the fact that Jonas and Nicole are identical twins. It presented an opening, as someone who writes about science, to discuss the science of gender.

These are identical twins, they have the exact same DNA, but they are obviously deeply different. What happened to turn some genetic switches on or off in one and not the other one really goes back to what happened in utero.

If we can look at gender identity as something that has to do with the brain, and not with the genitals we were born with, or how we were raised, or how many dolls we were given, I think that is important.

<span class='image-component__caption' itemprop="caption">Nicole and Jonas Maines, photographed when they were 14. </span>
SUZANNE KREITER/THE BOSTON GLOBE VIA GETTY IMAGESNicole and Jonas Maines, photographed when they were 14. 

What was the most surprising thing you learned while writing this story?

The most surprising thing, from the science perspective, is that from what we know, gender identity is a completely separate brain process in prenatal development. By six weeks, our genitals and our reproductive organs have been determined as male or female, but not until six months are our brains either masculinized or feminized by hormones. That was really eye-opening.

From the perspective of the family, the degree to which this was who Nicole was from birth was in some ways surprising. I watched hours of videos [of the twins as children]. It’s impossible to watch all these videos, some of which are very ordinary moments, and not be impressed that this was a child who absolutely, 100 percent knew she was a girl.

At age 2, you barely have a vocabulary to communicate, much less tell someone that the body you are in doesn’t agree with your brain. It’s something so integral to who the child is that it’s impossible to think that this is something that could be influenced by the number of dolls they are given or someone dressing them differently.

What do you want people to take away from this book?

I think that just about anyone who reads this book will find something in it that they can relate to. Even though it’s a book about a transgender child, it speaks to families and how we come to understand each other. It’s a story about four lives, not just one. It’s not a biography of a transgender child — it’s a biography of a family.

I hope that people will read it and get to know this family, and by understanding who they are, they will realize that it is not a terrible fate to have a transgender child.

Nicole isn’t any different from any other young women. She just knew who she was. And she knew her body didn’t agree with that, and her family helped her find an answer

Purchase from Amazon, currently not available on Kindle

Becoming Nicole

Librarian Creates 'Books for Kids in Gay Families' Website

2015-10-02-1443798984-1662825-RumplepimpleGayThemedBooks.png
Patricia Sarles, MA, MLS has put together an extraordinary resource; a virtual library catalog of books for children related to various LGBTQ issues. When I discovered that my book, Rumplepimple, had been included in the Books for Kids in Gay Families list I was first thrilled, and then intrigued. I decided to ask her a few questions about how the whole thing came about. Here are her responses. I think you’ll find her story fascinating.

How did you get started with this effort?

I am a librarian and I became interested in children’s books on the topic of assisted reproductive technology when a social worker colleague, who is a fertility counselor, asked me if I could find her any books on this topic. I thought this would be very easy because of my training in how to find information on basically any subject. My colleague, Patricia Mendell, already had a small library of children’s books on this topic so I started by searching for those titles in the Library of Congress catalog and discovered that very few were available in their catalog. In addition, they had very strange subject headings, like “infertility — juvenile literature” or “test tube babies — juvenile literature” and those subject headings were inaccurate because that’s not what the books were about. They were about children conceived via assisted reproductive technologies and about donor offspring. It became apparent that these books would not be easy to find after all. It was also obvious that there were no appropriate subject headings for books on these topics.

This intrigued me tremendously because I was now on a mission to find books on a topic that had no adequate subject headings. This meant they would be nearly impossible to find. I also knew that there were mothers and fathers out there who needed children’s books like these in order to share with their children how they came into the world. There was a need but no means for a librarian to find these books should a patron walk into a library and ask a librarian to help them. That’s when I started my blog.

How long ago did this take place?

My search began in 2003 when I first met Patricia Mendell, but I did not start my blog until the spring of 2009. I started with Patricia’s small collection and added to it as I unearthed more. What started as a collection of about 15 books in English in 2003 has now turned into a collection of about 240 books in twelve languages so far in 2015! So how did I find these books that were not part of the Library of Congress collection and/or had no appropriate subject headings? I began scouring self-publishing catalogs, and the Web doing Google searches.

I’ve also learned terms in multiple languages, like Spanish, French, Italian, etc. and do regular searches in those languages. And now that my blog has been out there for a while, people who write these books also write to me and I have discovered several this way. Since I have searched for these books in English and in so many other languages, I am safe to say that I am the only person in the world who maintains a collection and since I share these books with Patricia Mendell, together we have the largest private library on these titles in the world. It is my hope one day to donate the books to a university or medical library, catalog them, and add them to WorldCat so that they are findable for librarians around the world. It is also my hope to get the Library of Congress to create adequate and appropriate subject headings.

You obviously find the LOC subjects lacking. What have you done to try to bring about improvements?

In 2009, Patricia Mendell and I started writing an article on these children’s books which in 2010 was published in the journal, Children & Libraries. In it, we talked about the inadequacy of Library of Congress subject headings and the difficulty we had in finding these books. This article was picked up by Sandy Berman, a Library of Congress gadfly who has spent an entire career petitioning the Library of Congress for subject headings on a variety of topics for which there were none. He sent my article to the Library of Congress and petitioned them for a subject heading for “Donor offspring.” I too had written to them asking them for new and more accurate subject headings for children’s books on assisted reproductive technology but they wrote me back that they found their subject headings adequate. But in 2012, the Library of Congress added the new subject heading, “Children of sperm donors.” This was a major accomplishment, which I felt I could take credit for since this was one of the subject headings I suggested they create. It is still not appropriate though because it implies that the books are about the children of people who donated their sperm and not about the resulting offspring of sperm donors. We subsequently published an article about this as well. It is my hope to write and publish more articles on this topic so that the Library of Congress can see that more appropriate terms are needed for donor offspring and other topics related to assisted reproductive technology.

So your work initially focused on assisted reproductive technology, but it branched out to include LGBT issues?

In the fall of 2009, I started my Gay-Themed Picture Books for Kids blog, when my social worker colleague asked for a list of children’s books for her gay clients who used third party reproduction to build their families. Third party reproduction would include the use of sperm donation for lesbian couples and egg donation, surrogacy, and IVF for gay couples. An organization she is involved with, the non-profitPath2Parenthood, formally the American Fertility Association, and an inclusive organization which helps couples, both gay and straight, build their families through third party reproduction, was looking to build a booklist for their gay clients on this topic. I wanted to help, and so I began my gay-themed picture books blog. There I set out to collect a list of gay-themed picture books for children. I started with the lists already in existence, the COLAGE list, the American Library Association GLBT Round Table list, and I began to build my own list. In the case of Library of Congress subject headings, gay-themed books make much more sense:

Children of gay parents
Lesbian mothers
Gay parents
Gay fathers

As with my Books for Donor Offspring blog, I search for books in multiple languages and I believe I have created the most comprehensive list on the Web. I have found over 500 picture books in thirteen languages.

Your websites list your email address as “Tovahsmom”. Do you mind telling us who Tovah is?

In 2003, my partner of 23 years and I went through the process of artificial insemination in order to build our family. This is how we came to visit a fertility counselor and how we met Patricia Mendell. Unfortunately, our attempt did not take and we did not become pregnant so we never had children. Tovah however is the name of one of our dogs who passed away in 2013.

Thanks for sharing this very personal part of your story, Patricia. And thank you for the work you are doing on behalf of all the families who want books for their children which reflect their personal reality. Your donation of time, thought, and effort for the sake of others is inspiring.