(Originally published as my Mombian newspaper column.)
A new American Library Association (ALA) list of recommended LGBTQ-inclusive books for children and young adults shows that characters who are transgender, bisexual, and of ambiguous identity are taking their place solidly beside more traditional gay and lesbian ones.
Wisconsin high school librarian Lynn Evarts, who chairs the ALA committee that chooses the annual “Rainbow Bibliography,” said she is “very happy” that the fifth annual version of the list, announced January 22, is so diverse.
The Bibliography’s Top 10 books, selected for special recognition out of the full list of 32, include four titles with characters outside “gay” and “lesbian” labels. In Steve Brezenoff’s teen punk romance Brooklyn, Burning, readers never know the genders of the protagonists Kid and Scout. In Patrick Ryan’s Gemini Bites, a girl and her twin brother each fall in love with a young man of ambiguous sexuality—and who may also be a vampire. Libba Bray’s Beauty Queens includes a transgender character. And Cris Beam’s I AM J tells the story of a transgender boy growing up in New York City, informed by Beam’s years of volunteering with transgender youth and her experience as foster mother to a transgender girl.
Not in the top 10, but also reflecting this mix of sexuality and gender are Lili Wilkinson’s Pink and Alex Sanchez’ Boyfriends with Girlfriends, which have bisexual leading characters, and Shimura Takako’s graphic novel Wandering Son, which has a gender variant girl and boy as protagonists.
The Bibliography “makes it a little bit easier to put a book on our shelves, knowing there is something out there that we can wave in people’s faces when they get sassy about it.”
Carr is herself the mother of a gender variant child, and takes us through a fictional but realistic account of what she and other families with gender variant children have experienced, such as seeking support, dealing with schools, and retraining themselves—parents and siblings—to use the child’s preferred name and pronouns. Although it is self-published, Evarts said the book is “quite high quality” and she hopes its presence on the list might get it noticed by a larger publisher.
Other books on the list do have gay and lesbian characters, including the Top 10 titles Sister Mischief, Laura Goode’s tale of an all-girl hip-hop crew in Minnesota; Huntress, Malinda Lo’s fantasy romance; Shine, Lauren Myracle’s wrenching tale of an anti-gay hate crime; She Loves You, She Loves You Not, a romance by the prolific Julie Ann Peters; and Putting Makeup on the Fat Boy, by Bil Wright, which also won the ALA’s Stonewall Book Award for exceptional merit in LGBTQ children’s and young adult literature.
But books for younger children were sadly lacking this year. Aside from Be Who You Are, the only other title for that age group (and a Top 10 pick) is the picture book Donovan’s Big Day, by Lesléa Newman, author of the classic Heather Has Two Mommies. Unlike Heather, Donovan does not preach about acceptance, but simply and joyfully shows a boy preparing for the wedding of his two moms.
For middle readers, beyond picture books but not yet ready for young adult fare, there was “not a darn thing,” Evarts said, except possibly Wandering Son, which shows its protagonists at the end of fifth grade.
On the other end of the age bracket, several books not specifically for youth made the list, including actor Jane Lynch’s biography Happy Accidents and Scott Pasfield’s photographic survey Gay in America: portraits. Evarts called Gay In America “one of the most fabulous books I have seen in years. . . . one of those books kids are going to look at and say, hey, wow, cool.”
Other non-fiction books include It Gets Better, a collection of transcripts and original essays from the online anti-bullying project launched by Dan Savage and Terry Miller; Dear Bully: Seventy Authors Tell Their Stories, edited by Megan Kelly Hall and Carrie Jones; and Queer: The Ultimate Guide for Teens, by Kathy Belge and Marke Bieschke.
Evarts said the Bibliography can be a valuable tool for librarians needing to support their purchases of LGBTQ-inclusive books, especially in schools. “They feel far more comfortable purchasing these books, having them on their shelves, giving them to their students, when they have an ALA-sanctioned list to back them up,” she explained.
Parents or others may still ask for LGBTQ-inclusive books to be removed or restricted in some way, Evarts said, but the Bibliography “makes it a little bit easier to put a book on our shelves, knowing there is something out there that we can wave in people’s faces when they get sassy about it.”
And while the ALA recognizes a few of the very top LGBTQ books through its Stonewall Awards, the longer list provided by the Bibliography can help librarians “purchase several different titles that serve different needs,” she explained.
Finding books with LGBTQ content isn’t easy, however, Evarts said, because they aren’t always identified as such from the title or cataloguing information. And there were also fewer nominations this year because of a general decrease in publishing during the down economy.
Evarts said she would “welcome suggestions” for next year’s list, because “We don’t want to miss anything if we can at all help it.” Send ideas to email@example.com. (Books must have been published after July 2011.)
View the full Rainbow Bibliography for this and previous years at rainbowlist.wordpress.com.
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