Book sparklingThe 2018 Rainbow Book List of librarian-recommended, LGBTQ-inclusive books for children and young adults is now out, with almost 50 titles from 18 publishers. At the same time, the list highlights gaps in specific areas of LGBTQ content and the ongoing problem of getting the word out about queer-inclusive kids’ titles.

The list, announced yesterday, includes dozens of fiction and non-fiction books from board and picture books through young adult titles, including 10 picks “of exceptional merit,” selected by the Rainbow Book List Committee of the American Library Association’s (ALA’s) GLBT Round Table. The goal of the list is to help young people find “quality books with significant and authentic GLBTQ content.” Additionally, it is meant to assist librarians in developing their collections and advising readers—and is a great resource for parents and teachers.

This year, the Committee said:

The committee members noted an increase in a range of gender and sexual identities across the queer spectrum, with a number of books challenging assumptions around asexuality, bisexuality, and gender fluidity. We did notice a decline in quality novels with explicitly trans characters, however. A number of novels included stronger representation of intersectional identities, particularly the intersections of race, class, and disability.

Most of that is great news, though it would be great, of course, to see more explicitly trans characters. I encourage you all to go check out the list and find some great new reading material for the kids in your life (or even for yourselves).

I see another worrying trend in the Rainbow Book List, however. Only two of the books on the entire list (unless I miscounted) are about families with LGBTQ parents (Stella Blackstone and Sunny Scribens’ board book Baby’s First Words and Natasha Friend’s young adult novel, The Other F-WordLast year’s list had only three. Most of the titles are about LGBTQ youth. Topics about LGBTQ kids are vital, to be sure—and indeed, we have long needed more kid’s books that feature LGBTQ children themselves—but as I discussed at more length recently (inspired by Alli Harper’s piece on the dearth of recent children’s books featuring same-sex parents), it feels as if publishers have taken a too-narrow view of what it means to publish children’s books that speak to the LGBTQ spectrum, and are only giving us a very small portion of that spectrum at any given time. For the past several years, stories about children with LGBTQ parents have been scarce and stories about LGBTQ children and youth have been in the ascendant; prior to that, it was the other way around. Let’s hope that next year, we get a better balance, with more books speaking to the many different ways to be LGBTQ and/or part of an LGBTQ family.

Additionally, if one looks at the nominees for the list (as opposed to the final selections), several books are missing that were published between July 2016 and December 2017, the cutoff dates for this year’s list. They include:

Picture Books

  • When You Look Out the Window: How Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin Built a Community, by Gayle Pitman. Tells of the transformation that the real-life Lyon and Martin helped bring to San Francisco and its LGBTQ community. An included Reading Guide gives more detail on what they did to effect the changes.
  • The Adventures of Honey & Leon, by Alan Cumming. Two dogs who are tired of being left at home follow their two (human) dads on an overseas trip.
  • Sparkle Boy, by Lesléa Newman. The grande dame of LGBTQ-inclusive kids’ books, Lesléa Newman (author of Heather Has Two Mommies) writes here about a gender creative boy who loves glittery things. His parents and abuelita are encouraging, but his sister is hesitant, until she sees her sibling being teased and learns to support him.

Middle Grade Books

  • This Would Make a Good Story Someday, by Dana Allison Levy. From the author of the Family Fletcher series, this funny novel follows the Fletchers neighbors, a two-mom family, on a train trip across the country.
  • The Stars Beneath Our Feet, by David Barclay Moore. A 12-year-old boy in Harlem is dealing with the aftermath of his older brother’s death in a gang-related shooting when one of his moms brings him a gift of Legos, which serve as a metaphor for what he will build with his life and how he will do so.

Young Adult Books

—not to mention a slew of other LGBTQ-inclusive kids’ books published last year. Whether they have sufficient LGBTQ content and quality for the final Rainbow List I will leave to librarians to argue, but I feel that many, especially the ones above, could at least have been nominated. Honey & Leon and The Stars Beneath Our Feet, because of their September 2017 publication, probably escaped the notice of the Round Table before their September 30 nomination deadline, but in a perfect world, publishers would figure out how to get copies into reviewers’ hands ahead of time, and reviewers would know to nominate books before the deadline.

It’s up to us readers to make sure that we nominate any new, quality, LGBTQ-inclusive children’s and young adult books books that we encounter.

The problem is not with the Rainbow List Committee, however. Librarians are by definition superheroes, and these have done a masterful job compiling, comparing, and annotating the books on the list. Even superheros are going to miss some books, however, especially in a topic area that, as I explained in my piece a few weeks ago, does not always get cataloged in a way that makes LGBTQ content easy to find. (To that point, see this tweet from a librarian attending the ALA’s Midwinter Meeting.) Additionally, the rules for nominations to the Rainbow List specifically say: “Recommendations for books to consider will not be accepted from the publisher of a proposed book, agents or representatives of the author, or anyone else who may stand to gain directly from the recommendation of the book.” That means it’s up to us readers to make sure that we nominate any new, quality, LGBTQ-inclusive children’s and young adult books books that we encounter.

I’m making a commitment, therefore, to make sure I nominate every great LGBTQ-inclusive kids’ and young adult book that I review this year. Perhaps I was too complacent last year in thinking that if I knew about a book, the Rainbow List Committee, with their vast and mysterious librarian resources, must as well. (But see my point above about cataloging, not to mention, as I said, that children’s book publishers still need help tapping into LGBTQ family networks to get the word out.) I’ve just nominated Honey & Leon and The Stars Beneath Our Feet, which will still be eligible next year because of the List’s 18-month timeframe. I’m only one person, though, so please also make sure to nominate any relevant books that you encounter. I’ll commit to posting reminders to you all throughout the year as well.

I had the honor of interviewing Nel Ward, the librarian who headed the first-ever Rainbow Book List Committee, way back in 2008 when the Rainbow List first launched. It’s been a pleasure following it every year since, and watching the number of titles grow and address gaps (such as titles about gender identity). We have more work to do, to be sure (and I outlined several tasks in my longer piece a couple of weeks ago), but the Rainbow List is a thoughtful, authoritative guide that can help us get there.

[Updated, 11:00 a.m. In addition to the Rainbow Book List, the ALA also this morning announced its Youth Media Awards, which included several LGBTQ-inclusive titles and authors among the winners.]

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