(I posted briefly about this a few weeks ago, but wanted to wait until it ran in a few more places as my newspaper column before posting the whole thing. Since today is Read Across America Day, it seemed a good time to do so.)
Rainbow Bibliography Helps Librarians Help LGBTQ Youth
With all the recent media attention about the need to support LGBTQ youth, it is notable that the American Library Association (ALA) is in its fourth year of giving librarians the tools to do just that.
The ALA on January 15 published its fourth annual Rainbow Bibliography, a selective but wide-ranging list of recommended LGBTQ-inclusive books for readers under 18. Five days earlier, it bestowed the first-ever Stonewall Children’s and Young Adult Literature Awards to honor the very top titles in the field.
Wisconsin high school librarian Lynn Evarts, who chairs the committee that chooses the Bibliography, says the list is especially important for librarians who may be challenged if they put LGBTQ-inclusive books on their shelves. If that happens, she said, “you can whip this list out and say, ‘Look, this ALA committee said this was a recommended title. Back off, buddy.’ As a librarian in the school, I like to have that to support me.”
The 31 titles on the list are a mix of styles and genres, including graphic novels, a photo essay, and celebrity biographies, as well as more traditional fiction and non-fiction works.
Evarts observed that LGBTQ content is often only part of the stories, indicating that such content is “becoming more normalized.” It is still important to have books where being LGBTQ is the central character’s focus, she noted, but added that “Some students won’t pick up a book if it’s identified as a “gay book.” Having kids simply meet LGBTQ characters in books that are not defined by their gay content, “gets those characters in more kids’ hands.”
The big gap this year is in books for younger readers. The only two on the list are Dogs Don’t Do Ballet, by Anna Kemp, one of the Bibliography’s Top Ten Titles, and Tutus Aren’t My Style, by Linda Skeers. Evarts said both are what she calls “subversive gay picture books” without any overt LGBTQ content. It was a struggle to find books with clear LGBTQ content for younger readers this year, she noted. The committee considered a few others, but decided they fell short in the quality of the writing or illustrations.
Of the Top Ten books, Evarts said, “what made them stand out in almost every instance was the characterization.” Ones that she especially liked included Geraldine McCaughrean’s The Death-Defying Pepper Roux, a high-seas adventure about a young teen befriended by a cross-dressing steward named Duchesse.
She also said middle grade girls in particular will like Amy Ignatow’s humorous graphic novel The Popularity Papers. It tells the tale of two girls (one of whom has two dads) via the notebook pages they pass back and forth. “Once again,” she said, “this is a book kids are going to pick up, not really knowing that there’s gay content, but loving it regardless.”
For older readers, she says the committee “went absolutely crazy” for Wildthorn, by Jane Eagland, a historical novel about a 19th-century girl who wants to be a doctor and loves her cousin Grace, but is tricked into an insane asylum.
Another standout was Will Grayson, Will Grayson, by John Green and David Levithan, about two teens—one gay, one straight—with the same name, whose lives cross paths and whose tale ends with a high school musical.
On the nonfiction side, Evarts commended the scope and accessibility of the 15-title series The Gallup’s Modern Guide to Gay, Lesbian & Transgender Lifestyle by Mason Crest Publishers (available through the publisher), which covers topics like LGBTQ health and mental health, politics, coming out, LGBTQ characters in the media, LGBTQ people of color, LGBTQ people of faith, and LGBTQ culture around the world.
And not in the Top Ten, but worth a mention, she said, is Vivek Shrya’s self-published God Loves Hair, about an Indian-Canadian boy who loves to wear his mother’s sari and lipstick. What impressed her most, she said, was the role of religion in the book. “He goes through all week long being taunted and teased, saying to himself, ‘My god loves me the way he made me,’ and that’s what saves him.”
The ALA this year also bestowed its inaugural Stonewall Children’s and Young Adult Literature Awards as part of its famed Youth Media Awards, which include the prestigious Newbery and Caldecott medals. The winner was Brian Katcher’s Almost Perfect, about a teen boy who falls for the new girl in his small town, only to discover she was born a biological male. Also honored were Will Grayson, Will Grayson; Love Drugged, by James Klise; Freaks and Revelations, by Davida Willis Hurwin; and The Boy in the Dress, by David Walliams.
The awards and Bibliography point to the increasingly important role librarians can play in directing young people towards appropriate LGBTQ resources and support. Evarts, who has been a school librarian for 25 years, said, “I think that of all the people in the school, school librarians in particular can support any youth who seems to be struggling.” She feels that because they are not teachers or administrators, they can sometimes be “less intimidating.”
“I’ve had actual situations,” she recalled, “where I dealt with young people who didn’t know where else to go.”
She advised, “You need to have this stuff on your shelves, be you a public library, be it a school library, and you have to have it where kids can find it.”
“Kids do use them, they do look at them,” she asserted. “I think that that’s why this list is so important.”
View the full Rainbow Bibliography at rainbowlist.wordpress.com.
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