Whether you celebrate a holiday this time of year or not. Whether one of your family’s love languages is buying each other presents, or you’d rather just avoid this consumeristic season. In these political times, stories of resistance, messages of anti-oppression, and the spirit of anti-fascism are necessary to the children in your life; whether you’re buying them books or helping them find great ones to check out at your local library.

This is a list I have wanted to write for a while. In the age of Trump, we are all reeling from the hatred, ignorance, and constant attacks on our freedoms and civil rights. There is so much wrong with what is being said and legislated, and so many disgusting fringe ideas being mainstreamed right now- I had no idea where to start with a list like this. With so many communities under attack, it felt like going in any one direction would leave out an important group, idea, or cause.

So, to make myself write this list, I have to acknowledge that I cannot write one list that will encompass every community experiencing oppression. I’d have to write an encyclopedia to do that, and while that’s pretty much what I actually want to do, I do not have the time or resources to make that happen. Further, this is not going to be a book list. It’s going to be a list of book lists, or a list of resources I turn to, to find great diverse, defiant youth literature. Many of these are resources I always have listed on my blog’s Resources page, and all of these are great places to find incredible books, media, and information for young people.

One thing, very quickly before we dive in. When we live in a world where books published for children and young adults are still mostly about white, straight, cisgender Christian people, part of the purpose of lists such as these is to help children and families of diverse cultures, ethnicities, religions, and identities find books that reflect themselves and their communities back to them. But also in a world where white supremacy and fascism are on the rise, it is very important that we give privileged children windows into other people’s experiences. It is vitally important that adults show the children in their lives the normalcy, brilliance, and beauty of people from marginalized experiences that are not their own.

Catch all resources to help you find diverse books

The most logical place to start is We Need Diverse Books. #WeNeedDiverseBooks started as an activist movement. Aware of the great lack of diversity in book publishing, authors and readers came together and posted about why they need diverse books, to prove to publishers that there was not only a need but a market for diverse stories. It was a big turning of the tide in the conversations publishers were having, and books that were being put out there. Book publishing still isn’t diverse enough, and We Need Diverse Books is still doing great work! They do mentorship programs for all you undiscovered authors out there, they put out anthologies of diverse work, and they put together great book suggestions most easily found on their Tumblr. They’ve also created the app Our Story, where you can program in the age of your child and the type of diverse stories you’re looking for and it will generate a list of books at the right reading level for you!

Diverse Book Finder is a new resource, it is a database of books aimed at helping you find books that reflect your diverse experience. Their search capabilities are a bit basic, there’s just one search bar. But in the search results there are a number of categories that allow you to filter the search to find the books you’re looking for.

Books for Littles is a website featuring diverse reads that I found out about because of their fantastic list Captivating Kids Stories to Recognize Privilege. It begins by talking about privilege and why it is so crucial to discuss with young people. The list goes on to talk about picture books that address all kinds of privilege, economic, male, white, non-disabled, straight, body size, freedom from religious persecution, colonialist, documented citizen, language and cultural fluency. Truly incredible and one of a kind.

M is for Movement is another great newer resources online. It is edited and maintained by children’s book authors and illustrators who are all also long-time activists. They give great write-ups on activist books, and insight into their process and goals. There are also some great lists for kids about activism: this one from geekdad.com, this one from Popsugar, and this one from All the Wonders.

 

Christian Zabriskie put together a really great list “Children’s Books Featuring Social Justice Themes A Practical Bibliography Prepared for the Rita Gold Community.” It’s a lovely list of picture books he prepared for his daughter’s school.

 

 

 

One of my long-time, go-to resources is Diversity in YA. It’s a great blog that updates regularly about new great diverse YA titles. It was founded by Malinda Lo, herself an amazing writer of diverse YA books. Rich In Color is another fantastic resource for for finding diverse YA titles, with a diverse staff of writers there’s always a new book to discover.

 

 

And even though this list is aiming not to be an encyclopedia, it is too long to be held in one article! Please check out the other two articles in the Give the Gift of Resistance series: Resources to find books, media, and information about specific communities and identities, and Necessary Histories.

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So, the first thing I need to say about this list is that it is going to be incomplete. There are so many communities and identities in the US, that there is no way I could do a round up of for every one. If I am missing you, your family, your community, I am sorry; please let me know in the comments and I’ll do my best to do a round up for y’all soon!

Latinx In Kid Lit is a great resource that focuses on Latinx representation in youth literature. Remezcla is another good website to keep an eye on, as an online newspaper focuses on Latinx culture and issues, they regularly include book reviews; I really loved this list of 8 YA Books With Latino Protagonists We Wish We Had As Teenagers. Along with some fantastic book lists about latinx experiences– like this one on Book Riot, this one on Social Justice Books, this incredible YA list on Bustle, Stanford University’s Children’s books by or about Latinx and Hispanic Americans list, also one of the best books that came this year is called The First Rule of Punk for middle schoolers, and this super sweet one time webcomic by Terry Blas— it’s also a good idea to connect with local immigrant’s rights organizations and engage your kids with local activism. In the Seattle area: Washington Immigrant Solidarity Network does some amazing work you and your kiddo can help out with. Burien Represent does some vital work to amplify the knowledge and experiences of those who have been historically marginalized and disenfranchised. AID NW has a trailer and offers aid to folks released from the for profit immigrant detention center in Tacoma, and they could certainly use community support.

There are a number of great resources about Muslim people and communities, Isra Hashmi wrote this great 10 must Have Books, Simply Islam has a very long list of Islamic Children’s Books, Stanford University’s Library has a Children’s books with an Islamic theme list,  BrightMuslim.com has its own 10 Muslim Children’s books list. Book Riot has quite a few lists of YA books featuring Muslim characters (and written by Muslim authors), Diversity in YA has many book reviews featuring Muslim main characters. A great online resource for teenagers is MuslimGirl.com, an online magazine written by and made for young Muslim women. There are independent Muslim kids book publishers like Muslim Children’s Books, or the subscription service Noor Kids. And also I just wanted to point out one book I’m particularly excited about, 1001 Inventions and Awesome Facts from Muslim Civilization! A vitally important look at the incredible achievements Muslim people and culture have brought to our world.

There are quite a few places to find quality youth literature about Black people and communities. One resource I’ve used for a long time is The Brown Bookshelf, written and maintained by Black authors the Brown Bookshelf regularly updates with great picture book recommendations. 1000 Black Girl Books Resource Guide is a guide put together by a Black girl named Marley Dias (her excellence and magic are beyond impressive). The Sweet Peas @thesweetpeagirls on Instagram includes photo post recommendations and video submissions of Black girls talking about their favorite books- it’s informative and delightful! We Read Too is an app with loads of recommendations of books by people of color about people of color. Stanford University has a list of Children’s books by or about African Americans, Huffington Post has a list of 21 must read, Essence has a list of 17, you’d think Book Riot would have the most with their list of 100, but the African American Literature Book Club beats them all with their list of 120+. A great local group to be aware of is Seattle Urban Book Expo, they do an annual Book Expo featuring independent Black authors, and their Facebook features local Black authors year round.

The internet is filled with good options if you’re looking for books about Jewish people and their faith. Jewish Books for Kids is cute and delightful, PJ Library offers free books to Jewish Families, and I very much enjoyed their Awesome Multicultural Jewish Children’s Books list. Book Browse has a list of YA books for readers who are done reading about the Holocaust and a list of Jewish Themed books not about the Holocaust. I was also a very big fan of these two short lists, Jewish Journal’s Shavuot inspires children’s books and Interfaith Family’s Little Critics’ Picks for Jewish Children’s Books. Also this “holiday season” perhaps your family would like to learn more about Hanukkah. Tablet did a best list of 2015 and 2016, and My Jewish Learning has a great Jewish Children’s Literature list that explores the classics, and of course Stanford University’s library made a list Children’s books with a Jewish theme.

I was able to find a number of lists about Asian American youth literature, but I had a hard time finding a website that focused solely on the subject (please point out a resource if I missed it). Stanford of course has a great list Children’s books by or about Asian Americans. Multiracial Asian Families (another very cool online resources) had another great list of Multiracial Asian Children’s Books. Brightly has a cute list of 13 children’s books, and The Color of Us had a list of 30. There’s also quite a few YA lists: Bustle made a list of 11, Diversity in YA did a roundup, and the list Sharanya Sharma put together for Book Riot is the most comprehensive I’ve ever seen! Also the best YA romance I’ve read since Eleanor and Park (Another good romance with an Asian American lead) is When Dimple Met Rishi. When Dimple Met Rishi is a light-hearted and endearing story of two young Indian Americans, who meet without Dimple knowing their parents had arranged for them to be married. After Dimple sets the record straight that she will be married off, the two are awkwardly trapped together as teammates in Insomniacon, then against all odds they find themselves falling in love. Also I want to quickly mention one of my all time favorite authors Gene Luen Yang, he is a prolific graphic novelist who always features Asian main characters, most frequently Chinese and Chinese American. I also tried to find book lists and resources solely dedicated to Pacific Islander stories, and was only able to find Pacific Island Books, whose design looks like it came straight from the 90’s… [edit, suggestion from the comments: Here’s a site that focuses on South Asian children’s books and diverse books: https://kitaabworld.com]

American Indians in Children’s Literature is a resource I have been using for years to get reviews of youth literature featuring Indigenous characters, all run and written by Indigenous people. Indian Country Media Network is an online Indigenous-run newspaper, that is a great way to keep up on current events, culture, and opportunities for Indigenous communities. The Library at The University of Illinois created a fairly comprehensive list of online and print materials. A fantastic book list that just came out is #IndigenousReads by Indigenous Writers: A Children’s Reading List, put together by the Conscious Kid Library. Stanford University has a very strong list of Children’s books by or about Native Americans. Strong Nations has a comprehensive database of Indigenous books for teens, and books for kids. Book Riot put together a list of YA books featuring Indigenous main characters by Indigenous women. YA Interrobang did a great list of  #OwnVoices Representation: Native American Authors. We are also very fortunate in Seattle, because we are neighbors with the highest population of Indigenous Americans in an urban area. You can go visit and support the Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center, or go to one of their amazing events. The Duwamish Tribe has a Longhouse and Cultural Center you can support and visit, as well as a calendar of events to go to. And there’s the Steinbrueck Native Gallery that features Native arts and artists year round.

There are also a number of places you can turn to when looking for queer representation in Youth Literature. Don’t let the title of Gay-Themed Books for children fool you, they feature books for trans and gender nonconforming people, alternative family building, and even gender play via “crossdressing” and “tomboys” (I do wish they had a bi section though…).  LGBTQ Reads is a great Tumblr to follow, they review and recommend books regularly, and have an “ask for a rec section” that they answer all the time! Another great Tumblr to follow is YA Pride, while they are a little more tumblr-y with many reposts of related but not all book-rec posts, they are constantly posting about queer YA and issues surrounding queer representation in literature. Stanford University has a great list of Children’s books with an LGBTQ theme. Book Riot just put together this lovely long list of great 20+ LGBTQ reads for your kids. Book Riot also has a list of 100 YA books. Autostraddle’s book reviews are not purely for young people, but many of them are. The Advocate has a good list of 21 picture books. Bustle has a lovely list of 30. Common Sense Media has a list with books for folks starting at 3 and ending at 17. I also would recommend you check out the independent book Publisher Flamingo Rampant who creates and publishes books for gender-independent kids and families!

Of course we need resources on mixed race protagonists and multiracial families. As I mentioned in the Asian American resources paragraph Multiracial Asian Families is a great online resource. Mixed Remixed is the nation’s premiere cultural arts festival celebrating stories of mixed-race and multiracial families and individuals through films, books and performance, and I love their Top 10 Children’s Books with Mixed Race Families list. Colours of Us is a website all about multicultural Children’s books, and here’s a great list they did of 50 books. I’m NOT the Nanny is Thien-Kim’s blog she writes about her life, which is in large part about her biracial kids, and she put together this list of 9 picture books. What Do We Do All Day has a list of 14 Children’s Books with Multiracial Families. I had a harder time finding YA books, YALSA’s The Hub did a list Mixed but Not Mixed Up, VOYA did a list of Mixed-Race Identity and Power in YA Fiction, and Diversity in YA has a Multiracial Characters tag that will bring you a long list of reviews.

There are also a lot of great resources to help kids engage with feminism. A Mighty Girl offers regular book reviews, and has the most comprehensive book review section I’ve seen on a website not solely dedicated to books. Rejected Princesses is really fun online resource; they tell the stories of incredible women throughout history–warriors, explorers, scientists, spies, etc– as if they were Disney princesses, they are real fun to follow on Facebook too. New York Magazine did a great list of 16 books, and Buzzfeed did a list of 30, Mother mag made their own feminist kids books list. For YA New York Mag made a list of 11, and both Book Riot and Bitch Media made lists of 100. A book I want to Highlight is Rad Women Worldwide: Artists and Athletes, Pirates and Punks, and Other Revolutionaries Who Shaped History. I also want to highlight a few (not at all comprehensive) kids books about Transgender girls and Trans Feminine kids, because what is feminism that’s not trans inclusive? Worthless. Be Who You Are, I am Jazz, My Princess Boy, and 10,000 Dresses. And a great local resource is Geek Girl Con (Twitter) (Facebook) (Tumblr) (Instagram), they always post fun facts, and great recommendations, plus an annual con!

Again, please let me know in the comments if you would like to see a list for a community, identity, or experience not represented here. And please check out the other two articles in the Give the Gift of Resistance series. The series began with Catch all resources to help you find diverse books, and finishes with Necessary Histories.

One resource I was really hoping to find was world history resources for young people. One of the reasons white Supremacy is allowed to thrive is because African, Latin American, Asian, Middle Eastern and Arab histories are not taught in primary school. The great advances that civilizations made outside of Europe and post-colonial US simply are not known to the average American- not because they didn’t happen, but because of our Eurocentric educations. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find a lot. You can of course find kids books about all the countries in the world at your local library. But a single hub where you can learn world history remains out of my grasp (please, please, PLEASE let me know if you know of such a resource). One great list I was able to find, was put together by Kelly L Roll and Kathryn M Kerns, both librarians at Stanford University. Their list Children’s Books About History is one of the most comprehensive and inclusive ones I’ve seen. Roll and Kerns also made great picture books lists on Children’s books with an African theme, Children’s books with an Asian theme, and Children’s books with a Latin American theme.

A good place to look for World History online is Britannica Online, which you can access for free with your library card from (Seattle Area Library’s) KCLS or SPL’s websites. Britannica allows you to search as a child, teen, or adult; you can search for continents, countries, cultures, and ethnic groups that should be covered more in US public education. A great way to learn about the contemporary world is via Culturegrams, which again you can access for free with your library card on KCLS or SPL’s websites. And of course you can always go into your local library, and a librarian or another information professional will be happy to show you print and online materials about any topic you’d like to know more about.

The Zinn Education Project is a really great resource for learning about US histories that far too often get left out of school curriculum. Howard Zinn is famous for being a historian who put together A People’s History of the United States of America, a history book focused on people’s movements–primarily labor– and trying to demystify some of the mythology that leads to our worship of some pretty terrible leaders from our past. The Zinn History Project continues his work, and collects a wide variety of resources from fiction books, to profiles of untold American heroes, to even more great websites.

And while we’re talking about filling in the massive gaps left out of most US history classes, I think it’s vitally important we learn about the cost that European Colonialism had on Indigenous nations and tribes. When searching for children’s books about colonialism what you tend to find are Eurocentric books, with lots of illustrations of white people in settler towns. So to find resource lists about that brutality of European colonizers I had to search for the trail of tears, and even then the pickings were slim. The Best Children’s Books offers this short list, and Tina’s Dynamic Homeschool Plus offered this longer one. I would again refer you to American Indians in Children’s Literature, Indian Country Media Network, and The Library at The University of Illinois’ list to find more materials about how messed up colonization was.

Another topic very much worth discussing with young people in your lives are Indian boarding schools (here in the US) or Indian residential schools (in Canada), and there are quite a few lists and books on this topic. American Indians in Children’s Literature offers a great list, with books for multiple ages, along with nonfiction titles, websites, and videos. Color in Colorado also offers a hefty list, as does Worlds of Words. A movie I watched in high school that introduced me to the realities of Indian Boarding Schools was Rabbit-Proof Fence. Set in Australia– where they had a near identical boarding school program for Aboriginal communities– you see three girls taken from their families, forced into a cruel boarding school, and then break out to start an incredible and dangerous journey home.

Also, it is incredibly important that as we teach young people about the oppression of indigenous people, that we talk about how these are not problems relegated to the United States’ past. Standing Rock only happened last year, Nations and Tribes continue to fight for sovereignty, sacred lands, and that the federal government respect treaties it signed. Teaching For Change has some great resources on teaching about No DAPL, as does the Institute for Humane Education. The Duwamish Tribe–local to us here in Seattle– is currently fighting for Federal Recognition, you can learn about them on their website, join the Real Rent movement to support them— please learn more about real rent at realrentduwamish.org—work with your young activists to support their cause.

Another part of history young people need to have a very honest understanding of is slavery. First let’s address this absolute foolishness that the confederacy was about anything besides maintaining slavery. There are a great number of books for children and teenagers about The Civil War, and I hope that they all will tell the truth that confederate leaders rallied their support around the cause of supporting slavery. In fact the Vice President of the confederacy gave a speech calling slavery the ‘cornerstone’ of the confederacy. There are many booklists about slavery, and all young people need to learn how horrible and disgusting that part of our history was. The Huffington Post has a list of honest books about slavery for varying ages, Carol Hurst’s Children’s Literature Site has a number of teaching tools along with a book list, School Library Journal has a list of Slightly more recent books about Slavery, Social Justice Books has a great long list for all ages. Also, as we try and position ourselves in these times I think it’s important that we show young people heros who stood for freedom. Horn book has a great list of books about Harriet Tubman, who, let’s be real, was the actual GOAT. And I want to highlight a book John Brown: His Fight For Freedom. John Brown is the person Malcolm X said white allies should try and emulate if they wanted to be allies to Black Liberation; and this book has beautiful and dynamic pictures, well-written verses, and tells Brown’s story in a compelling way for children.

There are also a number of great resources on the Civil Rights movement. A Mighty Girl has a fantastic list featuring women and girls who were instrumental to the Civil Rights movement, Common Sense Media has a long list starting for kids 4 years old and going up to 13, The Best Children’s Books has a hefty list for younger and older kids, and YALSA has a list of books for teen readers. I also want to highlight a few books, first and foremost the March graphic novel series by John Lewis. March tells John Lewis’ story of the Civil Rights Movement in an incredibly moving and compelling way. The illustrations are beautiful, and the story action packed and suspenseful, amazing enough to get the most reluctant readers into history. Lewis highlights all the great activists and change makers he worked with, highlighting some lesser known and incredibly important leaders in the Civil Right Movement. I think the March series is important to activists of any age, because it grounds you in the work it takes to create change. John Lewis was involved in many actions and campaigns, he put his comfort, safety, and life on the line over and over again. These times have us all overwhelmed and overloaded, but reading about the incredible work Lewis and his peers did is an important reminder that we have to continue to show up, continue to keep fighting. Now, because this is Lewis’ story it’s from his point of view, and takes his side on infighting within the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. I would suggest that in tandem with reading March young readers also check out The Black Power Movement and Black Power, both of which look at folks like Stokely Carmichael–the man who coined the phrase “black power”– and Black Liberation Politics in a more positive light.

And again, it is important to ground these histories in the contemporary civil rights struggles of the Black Lives Matter movement. Kiera Parrott made this excellent Black Lives Matter reading list for teens, that I am going to add onto mostly because a few amazing books came out after she wrote this list. Hush by Jacqueline Woodson tells the story of 12 year old Toswiah, who goes from always having had a positive relationship to the police–her father is a cop– to having to hide from them in witness protection when her dad speaks out about fellow officers shooting an unarmed Black teen. The Hate U Give is one of the most talked about books this year, and for good reason. Angie Thomas is a beautiful writer, you feel so deeply for Starr as she has to deal with the pain of her childhood best friend being gunned down by police in front of her eyes, and then deciding how to respond and be involved in the aftermath. Dear Martin just came out in October, and tells the story of a young man who experiences brutality, told in real time and in his letters to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I am Alfonso Jones, which is so new it’s still on order at the King County Library System, is a graphic novel about the ghost of Alfonso Jones as he follows friends and family in a subway car on their way to fight for justice for him.

A part of American history so shameful many of us are not taught about it at all in US history is Japanese Internment Camps. The Best Children’s Books has a list for students grades 1-8, Pragmatic Mom’s list is beautiful as she weaves her own family history into it, YALSA has a list for teen readers. But to be honest I see far more overlap in the books mentioned in the lists then in others I have pulled together. I would like to highlight a couple of books, keeping in step with the need to show young people heroes I would strongly recommend Fred Korematsu Speaks up. Fred Korematsu, a Japanese American man, fought the internment camps all the way to the Supreme Court. Also Dear Miss Breed which chronicles the real life correspondence between children in internment camps and their friend and Children’s Librarian Miss Breed; I am so deeply honored to share a profession with her.

Anti-Asian racism is also not a thing of the past and often times written off as not a problem. Talk to your kids about the lack of Asian representation in movies and TV shows. Learn about Asian American history and contemporary culture! Splinter News just did a great article on America’s radical Asian Activists. American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs is a fantastic documentary about a bad-ass woman who fought for change until she died. No area libraries have it but you can watch it on Netflix. A+J did a great series on contemporary Chinese culture. A great local resource is the Wing Luc Museum, which always offer great exhibits and insight into Asian American and Pacific Islander experiences and histories.

I was very depressed by the greater lack of queer history books for young audiences then I was expecting. I could find one book for teens that looked contemporary Stonewall: Breaking Out in the Fight for Gay Rights and I was fairly disappointed that I didn’t find Sylvia Rivera or Marsha P Johnson listed in the index for it… And I was able to find one book for Children Gay & Lesbian History for Kids The Century-long Struggle for LGBT Rights, With 21 Activities. The supreme lack of youth literature in queer history alone shows how contemporary homophobia and transphobia are. An upcoming book I am very excited about, All Out edited by Saundra Mitchell, is a collection of short stories where amazing contemporary YA authors write historical fiction of queer youth throughout time. Also if you know any teens who want to start a queer history project, hit me up, that’s my dream library program.

And to finish off this list I think it’s necessary we teach all young people about the evils of Nazis and facism, and the great heroes who resisted and fought them. Teach with Picture Books has a short list on their website, and a very long annotated list in pdf form, many of which are about resisters. Carol Hurst’s Children’s Literature Site has a comprehensive list, Pragmatic Mom has a good list of books for kids, and the Jewish Book Council offers a long list of books for teens. One book I adored and very much want to recommend is We Will Not Be Silent: The White Rose Student Resistance Movement That Defied Adolf Hitler. We Will Not Be Silent tells the true story of young people brave enough to write and distribute anti-fascist literature in Nazi Germany. Their words are beautiful, their story compelling, and the price they paid harrowing. It is heartbreaking and inspiring, and while it cannot offer its readers a happy ending it reminds us how powerful young change makers can be.

These are not even close to all the histories that need to be told, and I hope if you see stories and communities I left out you will let me know in the comments! I hope you have enjoyed the Give the Gift of Resistance series, and in case you missed it this article has two predecessors: Catch all resources to help you find diverse books and Resources to find books, media, and information about specific communities and identities.

Ok, I need to take a second to talk about the two videos Sexplanations and Ash Hardell made in collaboration.

The first on the Sexplanations’ channel is called  “Biosex” vs “Assigned Sex” with Ash Hardell. Where Lindsay Doe(Sexplantion’s host) and Ash Hardell talk about how Lindsay Doe had been using “biosex” to talk about folk’s assigned sex and physical anatomy, and how that was problematic. It’s one of the most beautifully modeled “call-ins” I’ve ever seen. While Lindsay Doe does talk about why she used the term “biosex,” and what her intent was; she does so in the context of explaining that language has evolved since she began using “biosex,” and how her impact was very different from her intentions. Ash Hardell explains how the term “biosex” can be harmful to trans and gender queer folks, and all the positive reasons there are to say “Assigned Sex” instead.

We need more conversations like this, we need to see more conversations like this. We all are imperfect and problematic, and we are all going through the process of trying to learn how to do and be better- we are going to need to be gracious as we learn how to become better. And if it’s not triggering or hurtful to us in the moment, we need to be patient and inclusive in education each other on how we’re problematic.

The Second Video on Ash Hardell’s channel and it is called Trans Sex Ed (Dealing with Dysphoria). I have never seen anything like it! It is a great resource for how to talk about yourself, or your body, or your desires if you are trans and/or gender conforming person. Or if you have a partner or want to hook up with someone who is trans or gender nonconforming. It goes from figuring out how to have a conversation about your wants and desires, to how to talk about your body in the moment, to different toys and techniques you can use to make sex the best ever!

Instructional sex ed informed by a trans experience?! Thank God! Hella fucking necessary!

I’ve been wanting to share YA book recommendations that deal with rape culture for a long time. And in light of the popular resurgence of #MeToo I feel that now is probably the time. But– and forgive me, this is going to take a while– I think we need to start by talking about rape culture. It’s a term that has been around since the 1970’s. Created by the second wave feminist movement, rape culture refers to the many ways in which our society normalizes a great number of big ideas, and individuals’ behaviors so that rape (& sexual assault, & sexual harassment) are a regular part of living.

This looks like a number of different things. Sometimes it might mean telling a child that their classmates picking on them means that “they really like you.” Sometimes it might mean that mothers talk to their daughters about how to avoid being raped, but nobody talks to their sons about getting consent before they engage in sexual activity. Sometimes it might mean dissecting everything the survivor of sexual assault did to “ask for it,” and talking at great lengths about the bright futures the perpetrators had that were put in jeopardy by such accusations. Sometimes it means suggesting that if women do not want to be sexually harassed they should get out of high power workplaces. Sometimes it means reducing a man bragging about sexually assaulting women and dozens of women coming forward and saying that that man sexually assaulted them to “locker room talk” or “boys will be boys.” Sometimes it means that powerful career makers are openly allowed to assault young women, and their buddies will help cover up the story.

And rape culture is so hard to tackle because there’s so many different facets to address. We need to make a huge cultural shift in how we approach sex, and how vital consent is. We need to talk to young people of all genders about how you shouldn’t engage in intimate relations with anyone without consent. We need to stop talking about how getting consent is a mood killer; without going into details I can tell you that someone asking if they can do X Y or Z in bed is extremely sexy. We need to talk to young people about how they are not owed sex, that no matter what expectations they may have are, or why they have them, it’s not ok to coerce anyone else into sex.

We also need to make a huge cultural shift in how we think about rapists. Rapists can be our children, our siblings, and our parents, rapists can be our good friends, or our partners, or a member of our church community. Because we live in rape culture, there are lots of people who think their actions are totally normal and acceptable, even when they commit sexual assault and rape. And we as their community members need to not only teach them better, but we need to hold them accountable. If someone we love, someone who shows us their best self, someone who we know to be a very good person is accused of rape, we must believe the accuser. Just because we love someone does not make them incapable of rape, and if we spend all our time fighting for them, all our passion worrying about how hard it is for the perpetrator- we make it harder for survivors, we further engrain rape culture, and we do nothing to help the perpetrators we love to be better people.

We are, every one of us, both victims of and perpetrators of rape culture. And we all need to do the work necessary to retrain ourselves in how we think about sex, who we think is capable of assault, and who we support when sexual assault does happen. This culture can be better because we can make it better. And here are some books I think can help.

Now I want to be clear who these books are for. They are not for survivors, many of these books talk about, and give details about sexual assault; some survivors could read such accounts and be ok, but many survivors could be hurt or re-traumatized by such stories. These books are for people who think survivors of sexual assault are asking for it. These books are for people who have never thought about how being assaulted could affect the survivor’s life. These books are for people of all genders, but in particular for young men. Because young men need to believe women, and understand how sexual assault affects women.

 

Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson

I read this book when I was 16, and it moved me very deeply. I love the way Anderson writes; her characters are always so smart and funny but not too smart and funny to actually be teenagers. It’s a difficult sweet spot to reach with your writing and Anderson somehow manages to do it every time.

Speak tells the story of Melinda, a freshman who’s having a very hard first year at high school. Not only are all of her best friends from middle school part of different cliques now, and none of them are talking to her, but she’s a pariah of the entire school. Everyone knows that she’s the one who broke up the end of the year party by calling the cops. And as her social isolation intensifies, she just stops talking.

This book can at times be brutal, but Melinda’s biting remarks about school and the social groupings of high school give the reader the necessary comedic reprieves to totally enjoy this story.

So, by including this book in a list about rape culture I am already giving you a major spoiler. Melinda called the cops to the party because she got raped at the party, which in the book is a big reveal. The book explores how deeply devastating surviving sexual assault can be, Melinda’s inability to speak is in large part because she cannot admit what happened to her, and further cannot tell anyone what happened to her.

Speak was published in 2001, and has remained a touchstone of YA literature to this day. And for good reason, it was a groundbreaking book for teen audiences about sexual assault, and somehow manages to make such a story both hard-hitting and incredibly enjoyable to read. It deals with the physiological effects of being assaulted, and the internal struggle to self-advocate and to trust you will be believed. I don’t think this is the end-all, be-all narrative about teens surviving sexual assault, but I think it is gripping and cannot help but build the reader’s empathy towards survivors.

 

All The Rage, by Courtney Summers

Can we just start off by acknowledging how the title of this book is pretty incredible? I love playing with the meaning of the saying, and I love expressing female rage, and survivor’s rage.

If Speak is about the internal struggles and mental tolls that sexual assault takes on survivors, then All The Rage walks the reader through the external and societal struggles far too many survivors of assault experience. This is an unflinching narrative of what happens when communities do not believe survivors, and protect perpetrators.

Romy Grey lives in a tiny town, where everyone knows her as the loose girl who tried to ruin Sheriff Turner’s son’s life. Coming forward about being raped by Kellan ruined her reputation in her community, her social standing in high school, and even cost her her best friend. It is excruciating to read about the cruelty of the bullying she faces, mostly from teenagers who used to be her friends. It is painful to watch Romy meticulously apply her red nail polish and match it with lipstick as her armor against the world, because nobody outside of her home will offer her any protection.

I think everyone who ever talks about the terrible social cost of being accused of rape needs to read this book. Anyone who doesn’t understand why more survivors don’t come forward, and why they don’t come forward sooner needs to read this book. It is brutally painful, incredibly believable, and something real young women deal with far too often.

Romy’s former best friend tries to reconnect, says a girl a few towns over told her to be careful around Kellan, and then goes missing after a party. And the book turns into a bit of a murder mystery suspense novel. Nobody is looking at the folks who would be the most likely to have hurt her best friend, so Romy has to try and go after the truth herself.

A subplot to All The Rage is that Romy is a waitress in a restaurant outside of town, where nobody knows about her and she can exists anonymously. And she starts to build a romantic relationship with a cute coworker. It’s at times cute, and at times excruciating (as she’s still very much traumatized, and doesn’t want to tell him that she’s been assaulted because this is the one place where that doesn’t define her life) and always utterly believable. (And while I oftentimes don’t care for romances as secondary plot lines for YA) I think in one of the most brutal narratives about sexual assault it’s important to show the protagonist making romantic connections. Life goes on after sexual assault, you can give and receive love after sexual assault. This is a very bleak book, and considering the subject matter rightfully so, but this book also offers the reader and Romy hope for the future.

 

Exit, Pursued by a Bear, by E. K. Johnston

So Johnston decided that she wanted to write a book about rape, where after the assault had happened everything and everyone acted the way they ideally should. So, it’s a book about rape, without the rape culture.

What does that look like? Well, when the main character, Hermione Winters, wakes up at the hospital near cheer camp not remembering how her night ended and her best friend, Polly, is there and she carefully and thoughtfully explains how they found her. She is taken care of emotionally before legal and medical options are explored. The police officer who takes her statement is a woman, and believes Hermione. Her coach believes her and supports her, her team believes her and supports, her parents believes her and supports her.

Her boyfriend’s a dick, and is personally hurt she got raped. Which sucks. But she breaks up with him and really doesn’t dwell on that for any period of time.

Her parents help her find a therapist, and she goes through the long process of working on being ok, of getting better, of moving forward with her life. And when her biggest fear is realized–she’s become pregnant–everyone supports her decision to get an abortion, even her coach who had her baby when she was a teenager. And when she tells her mom that the person she wants to have take her to get an abortion is Polly, her mom, while a bit hurt, accepts her decision and supports her doing what she needs to do to be ok.

A lot of the reader reviews of Exit, Pursued by a Bear talk about what makes the book different from other YA narratives about rape is that Hermione is tough, that she has the spirit to move beyond the rape. I don’t necessarily disagree, but I think the reason Hermione is able to exhibit such grit is because of the great love and support she gets from her community. Unlike Melinda and Romy, Hermione is not an outcast after her assault; her friends and team stand by her. And unlike Melinda and Romy, who experience some of the worst bullying by their former female friends, in Exit, Pursued by a Bear, Polly and Hermione’s friendship only gets stronger in the aftermath of the assault. It is a true testament to the power, importance, and beauty that female friendship can have in your life.

 

The Female of the Species, by Mindy McGinnis

The book opens with the line “this is how I kill someone.” And the first chapter of the book takes you through how Alex meticulously plans and then executes the murder of a man who raped and murdered her sister, and who the police couldn’t convict. The first chapter ends with the lines:

“This is how I kill someone.

And I don’t feel bad about it.”

The Female of the Species was my favorite book of 2016, and the book I most needed to read in response to rape culture.

The book isn’t a chronicle of Alex going through her small town and murdering all the rapists in it (although I’d definitely read that book too).  It tells the story of Alex, PeeKay, and Jack. At the beginning of the story they’re all nobody to each other. Alex has chosen to be removed from her peers, and only comes into PeeKay and Jack’s lives when she and PeeKay both start volunteering at the animal shelter, and she and Jack are pulled into the guidance counselor’s office because Alex just overtook Jack’s place to be valedictorian.

Both PeeKay and Jack think Alex is weird, and she is, she talks like she learned English out of a book (she did), she’s unflinchingly honest with everyone, and she doesn’t take any shit. And they are both completely taken by Alex:PeeKay as a friend, Jack as a romantic interest.

It is really fascinating to watch someone actively fight against rape culture, I as a reader, and PeeKay and Jack as people who grow to love Alex, were completely entranced as Alex kneed a classmate in the balls who tried to hug Alex without her consent, and ripped a creeper’s nose ring out when he tried to take an intoxicated PeeKay home from a party.

Now I imagine that a lot of you are reading this, and aren’t stoked on the idea of YA literature advocating for teen vigilantes. And I’m not necessarily advocating that everyone #KillYourRapist, but there’s something incredibly empowering about reading about a teen girl who does. One of the valuable things that literature allows its readers to do is explore things that they wouldn’t want to or be able to do in real life. And for those of us surviving out here in rape culture, being able to read an empowering rape revenge story is what we need.

And whether or not you think violence is an acceptable tactic I think The Female of the Species is a great book for young people to read. Because Alex does not accept rape culture, and her standing up to rape culture inspires others to fight against it, using tactics that work for them. That is a message I want every young person to internalize.

 

Honorable mentions:

Gabi, Girl in Pieces, by Isabel Quintero is about so much more than surviving sexual assault– which is why it isn’t properly on the list and I’m fairly sure I’m going to give it a longer review in the future, so stay tuned– is a truly excellent book about growing up female. A lot of it is about finding your voice, learning to love your imperfect self, learning to find love and have affection for your family (even when you’re 17 and it’s REALLY hard), and how important friendship is. One of the things Gabi and her friends deal with is rape, and how it really doesn’t look like some stranger jumping out of the bushes at you. It’s such a great book about being a Latina teen that I think should be required reading.

Asking For It, by Lousie O’Neill is a book that got a lot of buzz when it came out in 2015. I haven’t read it so cannot vouch for it, but it’s about a girl who cannot remember the night she was assaulted but photos of it have been circulated to everyone in her school. In the age of smartphones and social media this seems an important take on surviving assault.

 

 

What We Saw, by Aaron Hartzler is a book that was recommended to me by a coworker that I haven’t been able to read yet. What We Saw takes a completely different viewpoint, it’s about a girl who was at a party when another girl gets assaulted. Kate can’t remember the night too well, and the book is about her trying to figure out if what the survivor claims is true. It looks at how silence by bystanders is a major form of complacency in rape culture.

 

Ultimately this list is incomplete, because the books published about surviving rape culture leave out so many experiences. We need books that explore how rape culture affects young women of color, queer & trans people, disabled people, immigrants, and how rape culture affects young men- because people of all genders can be sexually assaulted. As a society, and often times as feminist movements, we put far too much import on white, straight, cisgendered, able bodied women. If our feminist movements are really going to dismantle destroy rape culture, they need to do it for everyone. Otherwise our feminist movements are useless.


adapted from South Seattle Emerald

I recently got a question from an adult who was worried about a teenage family member. The teenager had cheated on her boyfriend by engaging in a sex act with another boy, and the adult family member wanted to know what they could do to help the teenager to not hate herself and feel disgusting.

Whoa, was that a big ask.

So first of all, I want to be clear that cheating is not ok. It is a breach of trust that really hurts, and I am in no way advocating an acceptance or blanket forgiveness of cheating. However, I feel like when women and girls make mistakes involving sex– or just make a choice (or perceived choice) that a community member disapproves of– they are made to feel shameful. They are made to feel gross. They are called sluts and whores. And it can make middle and high school a hellish experience for them.

And as a former teenager who made mistakes involving romance and sexuality, I think it’s important that we do as much as we can to normalize sex. Because while we may not want to think about or talk about sex with the young people in our lives, our silence helps create the stigma around sexuality. And there are too many people giving young people lots of negative information about sex for us to leave a void for others to fill. So I would hope that conversations with someone like the young woman who inspired this list could talk about respecting partners, and honoring trust; I would also hope that we could talk to young women about how sex should be awesome. And wanting and desiring sex is not wrong, and the act of pursuing sex isn’t shameful or gross. It’s pretty normal. I think one of the ways we can do this is by making sex positive resources available to teenagers.*

 

Ending slut shaming

The Unslut project, So a quick blurb from the unslut project’s website: “The Unslut Project is a collection of stories of women and girls who have experienced slut shaming and sexual bullying.” Reading the collective stories the reader is struck by how often rumors and stories of girl’s sexual escapades come from nowhere, and her reputation as a “slut” can haunt her for years to come.

 

Sex Education

There are many, many nonfiction books. Both of my local library systems have some pretty comprehensive lists (KCLS) (SPL). Some highlights:

S.E.X: The All-you-need-to-know Progressive Sexuality Guide to Get You Through High School and College This is the first book put together by Scarlet Teen, the go-to online resource for teen sexuality (don’t worry I’m going to talk about Scarlet Teen in just a moment!). It’s incredibly comprehensive and talks about everything from bodies, to sexual orientation, to sex and relationships, consent and assault, to pregnancy, STI’s and safer sex.

Sex: A Book for Teens : An Uncensored Guide to your Body, Sex, and Safety This is book made by the folks who made a pretty ground breaking Midwest Teen Sex Show on Youtube. One of the funniest sex resources I’ve ever seen for teens. While The Midwest Teen Sex Show was more interested in going for a laugh then focusing on all the facts, this book is more traditional educational resource, without losing its teen friendly humor.

100 Questions You’d Never Ask your Parents I was blown away by the premise of this book. On one page is has a question, on the next page(s) there is an easy to understand factually accurate answer. It’s brilliant, at my previous job I made an entire book display around my discovery of this book. All of the questions are answered by an OBGYN and a psychologist, so you know, the people you would want teens getting their information from.

[edit, suggested addition: Girls & Sex, By Peggy Orenstein]

 

Websites

Scarlet TeenAs I mentioned before Scarlet Teen is the predominant online resource for teens on sex and sexuality. However, I HATE the format, take a look at it, you’ll see, it’s just not organized well. It has a search box in the upper right hand corner, so you can find answers- and some of the best most comprehensive nonjudgmental answers at that- to your questions despite the weird design. I think the coolest feature about Scarlet Teen are the “ask for help” options! Toward the upper right corner of the page teens can talk to real live people who will give them good advice about sex and sexuality, via message boards, live chat, and SMS/text!

Planned Parenthood for teens, Planned Parenthood’s website for teens is another very comprehensive resource. It has 10 main topics it covers (such as LGBTQ, Puberty, and Relationships) and each subpage on their topic gives a lot of information and nuance to each subject. I particularly liked the “Ask the Experts” page– which is like an online forum, with hundreds of questions, answered by Planned Parenthood employees– and their “Find Birth Control” app–which helps you figure out a good birth control option for you based on preferences.

Sex, Etc, Another very comprehensive resource. They brag great stats, 5 million visits to their website each year, covering sex, relationships, pregnancy, STIs, birth control, sexual orientation, “and more!” What I find exceptional about Sex, Etc is that with the help of adult editors the website is written entirely by teenagers.

Oh Joy Sex ToyOh Joy Sex Toy is a really fun and playful resource, it’s a webcomic that expertly explores many topics around sexuality. It is a bit of a “deep dive” resource, meaning that is is so comprehensive that it has information that would be good for a young person just starting to think about sex and sexuality, and an adult who’s been engaging in sex for decades. Since it is a webcomic everything is graphically displayed for you. Using its search feature is a good way to know what the comic is about before seeing it. It’s a wonderful resource that presents really useful information in a fun, accessible, and funny way.

 

Sex education YouTubers

Sexplanations, I love Sexplanations! It’s made by Dr. Lindsay Doe who is a sexologist. She has a fun, uncreepy, very excited way of talking about sex, gender, bodies, sexuality, and almost anything else you can imagine that is inviting and almost addictive way. This is another “deep dive” resource, they have made over 200 videos covering a wide range of topics. There’s so much good information on very surface level (just kinda curious about this “sex stuff”), and plenty of information I had never learned as a full grown adult. I would just recommend that folks read the titles of the videos before they watch so they’re getting information they’re ready for.

Hannah Witton, Hannah Witton is a YouTuber who makes videos on all kind of things including sex. She’s just a person giving anecdotal and DIY researched advice, and has lots of conversations with other folks. She young and British and fun to learn from.

Shan BOODY, Shan is a lot more pop culture-y then the previously listed YouTubers. She does more skits and jokes too. She’s a funny woman of color, who’s really trying to make relatable content for contemporary young people.

Stevie, is a lesbian youtuber who does videos on a variety of topics, from youtuber staples like “girlfriend tag,” to identity and sexuality, to life advice, to her most recent series Lesbian sex 101. She’s funny, informative, and straight forward. Since she is literally giving sex instruction in video form–nothing pornographic, dolls, illustrations, sometimes fully clothed humans– I would also call her videos a “deep dive” resource.

 

Sex positive media

Of course a Rad Books For Rad Kids list is going to have some fiction on it. But to be honest some great lists about sex positive YA books have already been made, so why reinvent the wheel? One created by Clear Eyes Full Shelves, and another from Stacked Books.

I would however like to tell you about one of my favorite new books that’s not included on either list: The Nerdy and The Dirty. Pen Lupo knows she is the dirtiest girl in her high school, maybe even the world. She thinks about sex all the time, and has urges near constantly, and masturbates almost everyday. She loves her boyfriend, and doesn’t know who she would even be if she wasn’t one half of the coolest couple in school. It’s just her urges are never satisfied by him, he’s never asked her want she wants to do in bed, and it’d be too dirty to tell him… All of this get blown wide open when the boy she for some reason cannot stop fantasizing about is also spending the first week of winter break at the lodge in the woods. (TBH this book is just as much about the boy, but for the purposes of this list he’s really a secondary character.) Sex is a huge theme in this book, and sex is described not alluded to (I felt very risqué listening to a sex scene via the audio book as I was parking at the Washington State Homeschool Convention…).

Movies for teens about girl’s sexuality:

The To Do List Watch a comedy about close friends and a special summer project. Valedictorian Brandy Clark, in 1993, wants to shed her uptight image before graduation, so she makes an ‘activities’ list of all the things she missed out on in high school. Well, the list turns out to be more than she bargained for. Full transparency, I haven’t seen this movie. It looks like a boisterous and raunchy film, about a girl who wants to do a lot of unrepeatable things. Which really just sounds like flipping the gender script on movies like American Pie- but in terms of dismantling patriarchal views of girl’s sexuality, this movie seems to me to be pretty useful.

Pleasantville A brother and sister are magically transported through their television set and into the black-and-white world of a 1950s sitcom called Pleasantville. Soon they affect this environment with their worldly sensibilities, and people and things slowly begin to acquire color.” One of the only movies I know of where the teen girl lead is a most knowledgeable about sex, and not demonized for it! There’s also a fairly beautiful storyline with the mother character discovering and exploring her own sexuality, there’s a bathtub masturbation scene that’s genuinely beautiful.

Turn Me On, Dammit! “15-year-old Alma is consumed by her hormones and fantasies that range from sweetly romantic images of Artur, the boyfriend she yearns for, to daydreams about practically everybody she lays eyes on.And I also haven’t watched this movie… I know! I’m the worst! But it’s been on my list for a while now. This is the only movie that I know of centered around a teen girl and her sexual desires and urges. I think it’s so cool that this movie exists. I hope more media can be made like this, so more and more people can see that girls wanting to have sex is totally normal.

I really wanted to have some movies  about people of color, I wonder if Love And Basketball might fit the bill. I haven’t seen it in years (the worst!), and it’s about their relationship changing over the years, and pursuing basketball careers. But I remember their first time having sex as sweet and awkward and endearing. What are some other movies I should have listed?

I also wanted to include some queer movies. But I’m a Cheerleader is a classic, and a funny campy argument against conversion therapy. The Way He Looks is a Brazilian movie about two boys, one of whom is blind, who are put together in a class project and their feelings begin to blossom. I guess I could include Blue is the Warmest Color (which is also a graphic novel), it’s an incredibly sexy movie (10 minute sex scene) but it has been argued that it’s sensational hypersexual depiction of lesbian teens is problematic. I’ll let you make up your own mind.

Movies about how slut shaming is BS:

Easy A “After a little white lie about losing her virginity gets out, a clean cut high school girl sees her life paralleling Hester Prynne’s in ‘The Scarlet Letter, ‘ which she is currently studying in school. Hoping to become popular, she decides to use the rumor mill to advance her social and financial standing. I don’t care what the academy says, this is Emma Stone at her best! A funny and smart teen movie about how a teen girl’s reputation really has nothing to do with her own actions, but everything to do with what’s said about her.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower “A high school freshman, always watching from the sidelines, is taken under the wings of two seniors who welcome him to the real world. This movie is predominantly about finding your tribe, and how one can survive some terrible things that happen to you. Also the love interest is slut shamed and it’s portrayed as BS. It is based on a really beautiful and powerful book.

 

Music

Most of my music options are from the 90’s, besides Queen Bey, please please please give me more suggestions! These would all have “parental advisory” stickers on them. Be advised, these wouldn’t necessarily be fun family listening, unless your family can listen to sexy music together. In which case awesome more power to you!

Oh also here’s a list of songs about ladies who masterbate!

Of course making these resources readily available to teens will not magically take shame and shaming out of teenage sexuality. But starting conversations and treating sex like a totally chill thing we all just need to learn more information about, is a big step in the right direction. Go forth dear readers and be a part of that change!

*So this list started as resources for a specific teenager who was already engaging in sex. This list isn’t really made with children or even tweens in mind. BUT conversations about sexuality and consent can start with kids. This is a subject that is really interesting to me, so please let me know if you’d like resources for a younger group of people. I’d be very interested in pursuing such a list.


adapted from South Seattle Emerald

When I was a kid I loved comics, but I didn’t really buy them or collect them myself – they didn’t really feel like they were for me. And they kinda weren’t – it’s still a male-dominated medium – but during my childhood, it was nearly impossible to find a comic series fronted by women that I could relate to. If there were women they were always too sexy, too femme, too stylish, too one dimensional, too focused on their love interest, too actually-a-man-reincarnated-into-a-woman’s-body (no, for real) for me to find my child self in them.* It’s important to point out that authentic representations of people of color, in particular women of color, were even harder for young readers to find. (After I sent this piece to editing I read about how a variant cover for Marvel’s new Iron Man series, featuring Riri Williams a 15 year old Black Girl as Iron Man, was released. The picture was hyper sexualized, and in no way looked like a 15 year old girl. Which is to say the the comic industry’s over sexualization of women and girls, in particular Black women and girls, is not a thing of the past.)

And it’s been a bit of a bummer as I’ve grown up to see that so many white boys and men have really taken nerdom’s marketing to straight white men to mean that they are the cultural gatekeepers. From video games and comic books to participation in nerd culture women and girls have to fight for their ability to critique and often times even just participate in the fandoms they love (not that white fanboys have taken comic franchises attempting to diversify their flagship characters any better).

So I bet you can imagine how excited I was to learn about Seattle’s GeekGirlCon! A Con that exists to “…create community to foster continued growth of women in geek culture through events”. I kinda feel like GeekGirlCon is what the world needs. I am heartbroken to tell you that I was unable to go this year (it’s not even for a good reason, I had too many errands… adulting is hard, ok?!), but I just had to do something in tribute to GeekGirlCon, and hope this blog post will suffice for this year.

So as this title says I’m going to recommend comics written for young audiences with girl heroes, and as the title further says these books would be great reads for girls, boys, and kids beyond the binary. #BooksHaveNoGender, yes girls need to see female heroes, SO DO BOYS, so do nonbinary kids! Plus these comics are just plain GOOD, all kids should like them, seriously #BooksHaveNoGender.

lunch_lady_and_the_video_game_villain_-_high_res_coverThe Lunch Lady series has a perfect combination of classic comic corniness and absurd concepts to permanently wedge its way into your heart! By day Lunch Lady is, in fact, a lunch lady, serving nutritious meals to Hector, Terrace, Dee (the Brunch Bunch) and their schoolmates; but by night Lunch Lady is a baddass mystery-solving crime-fighting wielder-of-justice! Lunch Lady’s tools? Fish-stick nunchucks! Whisk Whackers! Sloppy Joes on the road, and honey mustard on the windshield! And of course, her sterile yellow rubber gloves! With her sidekick Betty (a fellow lunch lady) and the Brunch Bunch always close on their heels Lunch Lady foils even the most sinister capers, all while using a flawless amount of food puns. You may find yourself gasping “great spaghetti!” for days to come. And if that isn’t enough to sway you, the author Jarrett J. Krosoczka gave a heartwarming TED Talk about how he created the Lunch Lady books to sing the praises of unsung heroes in our school lunchrooms! A working-class superhero your kids will LOVE! I would say this book is well suited for mid-elementary to late-elementary school-aged kids.

51qpuvt9mwlThe first awesome kid’s comic I found focused on around a great heroine was Zita The Spacegirl. I was visiting a friend in Western Massachusetts, I stopped into their radical bookstore and devoured the book in one sitting! Zita blew my mind! It’s the tale of a girl (Zita) and her how her life gets thrown into an adorably whimsical sci-fi adventure when she and her best friend (Joseph) press a red button they find at the bottom of a crater and are sucked into a world many galaxies away! Once in the new world Joseph is abducted by the Screed – a kid-appropriate alien doomsday cult – and Zita must try and find a way to save him. As Zita goes along on her journey she acquires a crew of misfits (probs a bit of a nod to The Wizard of Oz) who are loyal and endearing, and by working together they hope to get Joseph back! This book has just the right amount of complication, Zita is not perfect and in fact, may need to save Joseph for her own redemption as much as anything else to give the book weight and importance – but don’t worry it doesn’t get too heavy. AND if you, or a young person in your life, loves Zita she has a whole series you can read! I would say this book is geared for kids around late-elementary to early-Middle school.

41a92bgtwrdl-_sx342_bo1204203200_Next, I want to recommend a graphic novel author, Raina Telgemeier. She does really fun earnest graphic novels with a bright classic-cartoon style about tween girls. She got her start doing The Baby-Sitters Club graphic novels, a book series she brings to life perfectly as she was a fan of them as a child. She grew to great children’s-graphic-novel-writer’s fame when she wrote Smile. Smile is is a fantastic little book, it’s her memoir of her childhood, dealing with a long-term process of fixing a dental accident, earthquakes, boy interest, and other sixth-grade adventures. She followed up Smile with Sisters, which is another memoir about her relationship with – you guessed it – her sister! It’s told over the course of a multi-day road trip, staggered with flashbacks of their younger childhood, it’s about the difficulty, resentment, competition, and ultimately the love and real tangible need sisters have for each other. Finally I’d like to recommend Drama. The main character, Callie, develops crushes on twin brothers who both are also involved in the school play she is set designing for. It’s lovely and has a very diverse group of characters, and while it focuses on her crushes, Callie ending up with a boy at the end isn’t the point (or even what happens). I recommend Telgemeier’s books for later elementary school through middle school.**

moon-girl-and-devil-dinosaurI want to sing the praises of Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur. Lunella Lafayette is a nine-year-old genius (so smart in fact that Marvel has announced Lunella is the smartest person in the Marvel Universe – step aside Mr. Fantastic), she’s so smart that she has a really hard time fitting in. She’s too smart for her classes, her classmates DO NOT get her, and her parents pressure her to act more like everyone else so that she can blend in, make friends, be happy. But Lunella is not about that. Lunella has a secret lair underneath her school, more baddass inventions then you can shake a stick at, and a mission! You see Lunella has the inhuman gene, and she is terrified that the gene will transform her (as it is apt to do) into something else, so she is on a mission to save herself from the possibility of an inhuman transformation. So she hunts down a Kree Omni-Wave Generator convinced she can harness its power to prevent any inhuman changes, and when the Kree Omni-Wave Generator brings a bright red T-rex and a crew of evil cavemen who proceed to wreak havoc on New York City her mission gets a little sidestepped. Lunella initially is scared of Devil Dinosaur, but when they team up it is delightful, and they’re just a perfectly matched odd couple. Can I also just throw in there that Lunella’s fashion sense makes me LIVE? Her uniform in life is a tee shirt (often with a science graphic on it), khaki shorts, knee high socks, and her natural hair always up in in a pony or pigtails – it is TOO CUTE! I would recommend this book for late-elementary on through high-school-aged readers.

lumberjanes_coverLumberjanes is the comic book series I wish I had when I was a kid. It’s about a cabin of girls at Lumberjanes’ Camp for Hardcore Lady Types. It’s so lighthearted and fun, it’s a fantasy adventure that doesn’t take itself seriously, and packs on awesome punch of girl empowerment (they are constantly exclaiming “holy Joan Jett” or “holy Ida B. Wells” or “holy [insert awesome woman from history here]!”) and the importance of friendship (“FRIENDSHIP TO THE MAX” is a Lumberjanes saying). It shows a number of different girls, who express their girl-ness in different ways and shows great diversity in terms of race and ethnicity, sexual identity, and gender identity. Another thing I love about Lumberjanes is that each girl contributes to the team in different but equally important ways. It’s also a series I have no doubt they will just keep on printing, so if you and/or the kids in your life like it y’all can keep on reading it forever. I’d say middle-school on through high-school students (on through adults!) would enjoy Lumberjanes.

princelssI also am a huge fan of the Princeless series. It’s about a princess (Adrienne) whose father puts her in a high tower guarded by a dragon to wait for a prince to save her, but Adrienne comes up with a better plan! She and her dragon go across the countryside freeing her sisters from the monsters that are guarding them! Making a half-dwarf-blacksmith friend, and running into all kinds of silly adventures on the side, the Princeless books are perfect for any kid who read a fairytale and found themselves wanting more. Princeless is a wonderfully diverse comic series, Adrienne and the entire royal family are Black, and in the second volume they meet up with an equally cool pirate princess (Raven) who is Asian. Raven actually gets her own spin off series, Princeless: Raven the Pirate Princess, which is also deeply wonderful. While Princeless is a goofy parody of fairy tales, Raven is a full an attack of anti-feminists and male cultural gatekeepers. As Raven tries to assemble a crew for her ship – to fight and destroy her brother’s who manipulated their father the pirate king into disinheriting her – the men of the pirate-laden port town she’s in throw every anti-woman insult we’ve heard over and over again at her during their interviews, the most memorable being one screaming “not all men!” Raven ends up putting together an all-women crew, which has great diversity in gender expression, race and ethnicity, and sexual orientation, and I cannot wait to see where this adventure goes! I would say that the Princeless series is good for readers in middle school, and Raven is good for high-school-aged readers.

ms-marvelAnd finally, I would just like to say for the record that Ms. Marvel (Kamala Khan) is EXCELLENT! Ms. Marvel is just a darn good superhero comic. Period. Kamala also is the first Pakistani-American and Muslim-American superhero in the Marvel Universe, and in times like these when Islamophobia doesn’t feel like it could be any worse, Ms. Marvel is the hero we so desperately need. We see her as part of a loving, caring and accepting family that puts no more rules or restrictions on Kamala then one would expect from involved parents of any religion. We see her participating in her mosque, and in one scene she goes to talk with her Imam when her parents are worried about her being out all the time (you know, because of the evil she’s thwarting!), and he doesn’t tell her to change her behavior or that she needs to act a certain way as a young woman, instead he tells her that if what she’s doing is so important to her then she needs to find a mentor to help her be the best at whatever it is she’s doing (then she teams up with Wolverine, it’s great)! And you don’t have to be a superhero fan to get these comics either, Ms. Marvel is also a lovely coming-of-age story about a teen girl trying to navigate high school, complicated friendships, family expectations, and superhero responsibilities. I think middle-school- through high-school students could read and love these comics.

And this isn’t even a comprehensive list. As I am wrapping this article up I am thinking of comics I could have included (I haven’t read Cleopatra in Space yet, but I know it would be a good fit! I ADORE the book Giants Beware, it’s a great fantasy adventure for tweens! Valiant Comics recently started a series about Faith a wonderfully nerdy fat/plus sized super hero! Also, Skim and This One Summer should be required reading for all tween and teen girls!). I remember the first time I rattled off the bulk of this list I came to a big realization. At the end of the year meeting of 2015 for all the Teen Services Librarians in the King County Library System, we were asked to list off any of our favorite books that year. When it was my turn I named many of the titles included in this article, and I realized as I was listing them that all of these comic books were about girls, many of which were girls of color, and how different the world of comics is today. It was then that I realized that if you grew up thinking that comics weren’t for you, you could never find yourself in your favorite superhero stories, but that isn’t the case anymore. You are in comics. And today’s kids can grow up seeing themselves and their friends as the heroes spread across glossy comic pages. And I cannot tell you how much that warms this former-girl’s / current-comic-lover’s heart!

*I feel that my list of things that women in comic books were implies that femme or sexy or stylish, even is a negative. Being femme and sexy is awesome! Any way that someone wants to express themselves is rad. My issue is/was more that the ONLY way women were portrayed in comics was as sexualized and femme.

**I am not recommending Telgemeier’s most recent book Ghosts, in part because I haven’t read it yet. But also because it has received criticism for exploring two Chicana girl’s relationship with the Day of the Dead in a very inauthentic way. I hope to explore this topic further in a future post, it’s a bit off topic for this post, but I wanted to acknowledge this issue and not ignore it.


adapted from South Seattle Emerald

mhtnMore Happy Than Not is the single most underappreciated book of 2015. Silvera invites us into a perfectly described world, with an astoundingly complex and beautiful cast of characters, and a subject so contemporary and familiar that somehow manages to tell a completely unique story. How it didn’t rack up every YA award and prize imaginable, I cannot tell you. 

More Happy Than Not is told from the perspective of Aaron Soto. A teen who was born and raised in the Bronx, on the same block, in the same housing projects his whole life. Silvera himself is from the Bronx and the realness he brings to Aaron’s world is pure perfection. This is the story of a neighborhood, a housing projects community. While so many YA novels tell stories of teens who can just up and leave for a joy ride or a soul searching trip, Aaron Soto lives just a subway ride away from all bright lights of New York City, and the farthest we see him travel is the ten-block walk to his girlfriend’s place.

Aaron’s social world is fairly small, he and his brother barely speak. His mom works two jobs to make ends meet, so he barely gets to see her – awake, anyways. And his relationship with both is pretty strained since his father committed suicide earlier in the year. He has had the same group of friends his whole life: Brendan (his sort-of best friend, who’s been kinda a dick lately), Nolan, Skinny-Dave, and Baby Freddy who are all around when you need someone to play a game with; and Me-Crazy, the kind of kid who you’re better off just avoiding. He also has a girlfriend, Genevieve, a sweet-tempered artist, who would probably fall into the manic-pixie-dream-girl category if this was a more generic story.

And all of that is turned on its head when he meets Thomas. They chance upon each other when Thomas is breaking up with his girlfriend as Aaron hides in the nearby alley (he’s playing “manhunt” with his friends, which is like a high-stakes version of “sardines”), Thomas helps Aaron squeeze through a gate, and they hit it off instantly. Aaron’s relationship with Thomas is totally different from anyone else he spends time with. They talk about their feelings and relationships, their dreams, they even reveal to each other their passions (for Aaron, it’s comic art and for Thomas, it’s film). It was a breath of fresh air for me as a reader that Aaron had such an emotionally honest relationship with Thomas, all the other young men in his life are distant, cold and constantly giving him shit (which, to my basic understanding, is fairly accurate as to how young male friendships work).

Aaron’s relationship with Thomas runs so deep that he begins to question whether he’s straight. When he starts to affirm these questions Aaron decides that he wants to go to the Leteo Institute to get a memory-alteration procedure. Oh, wait, did I forget to mention that there’s a place in this book that can 100% no bullshit erase unwanted memories, and they have a location in Aaron’s hood? Because yeah, that’s totally a thing. Which is to say this book is using science fiction to explore the human experience (why didn’t it win all the awards?! WHY?!).

And now I have to officially stop giving you plot points, because I am literally on the verge of spoiling this entire book for you, dear reader. But I can still talk about all the big picture things this book is about. This book is about relationships, how they’re good, and bad, how sometimes they’re unhealthy patterns, sometimes you don’t read them right, and sometimes they will surprise you by how rich and powerful they can be. This book is about toxic masculinity, and how devastating the costs of that culture can be for a young gay man. This book is about forgiveness, and unlike many YA books it draws the distinction between people who deserve our forgiveness and those who do not. This book uses science fiction as metaphor to condemn conversation therapy, heartbreakingly, and completely. But more than anything this book is about the the immense importance of finding happiness in who you really are, no matter how unideal that person might seem to be to you, and about the impossibility of finding happiness if you cannot accept yourself.

I would recommend this book for mature readers, both in reading level and emotionally. I would like to put a big trigger warning on this book for suicide of a family member, surviving a suicide attempt, description of an act of suicide, and homophobic violence. That said, I think this is a fantastic book for readers who love tender stories of self discovery. Who want to have more intentional friendships in their lives. Who are struggling with who they are, and need assurance that they are enough. Who want to read about a queer person of color growing up in the projects. Who think science fiction is at it’s best when it is a metaphor for real things people go through. Who want to read the best damn book published in 2015!

I think Adam Silvera is a voice we desperately need in YA literature. Obviously because he brought us this authentic story of a queer teen of color in the projects, and we need those stories to be out there, so the real life LGBTQI+ urban kids can find them, and so everyone else will know that they exist. But even beyond that really important achievement, I think Silvera has done something truly astonishing with More Happy Than Not. He is holding up a mirror, just different enough from the real world that we don’t have to see ourselves in it, so that we can see clearly how devastating the problems we create are.


adapted from South Seattle Emerald

Shadowshaper_cover-

I am in love with Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older. This book busts expectations of Afro-Latino representations in YA fiction every possible way. I mean, just look at that cover. It is so refreshing to see a teen novel with a beautiful young woman who has dark skin and natural hair taking up the entire cover! And that’s all before you even glance at the first page.

Shadowshaper tells the story of Sierra Santiago, an artist recently turned muralist who has just started her 16th summer in Brooklyn, NY. Sierra is fantastic: she’s funny, her outfits are always described as amazing street fashion ensembles, and she has the coolest crew of friends. A little throw-away fact from the beginning of the book is that Sierra and her friends all go to Octavia Butler High School, you know, just a fictional high school named after the groundbreaking science fiction writer. I nearly lost it right there (seriously, I want to make tee shirts that say Octavia Butler High on them, please get at me if you want one too!). From her calm and classically-styled best friend Bennie, to their femme freestyling lyricist friend Izzy and her butch and skeptical girlfriend Tee – Sierra’s ensemble of friends are funny, talented, and dynamic. In all the passages where her squad was hanging out it felt authentic, and I honestly just loved spending time with them.

But Shadowshaper is not a realistic coming of age story, it’s an urban fantasy! One day as Sierra works on her mural, she realizes that other murals in the neighborhood are fading, fading really fast, and – crying sometimes…? But she must just be imagining that… When she stops home that night to change for a party her Abuelo won’t stop apologizing to her, but she brushes that off too, he hasn’t really been fully there for a few years now. She is forced to stop ignoring the strange things around her, however, when a zombified man crashes the party to try and find her. With the help of her dreamy classmate Robbie – a boy of Haitian descent who is such a prolific artist that everything from his clothing to the margins of his books are covered in his drawings – Sierra discovers that she is a “Shadowshaper”, a Caribbean mystic who can channel friendly spirits into her artwork.

Sierra may now understand she has magical powers, but now she has to figure out why zombies from her Abuelo’s old crew are after her, why evil spirits are turning her Abuelo’s friends into zombies in the first place, why shadowshaping magic is fading, and who the random white guy in the photo with her Abeulo’s crew back in the day is; and she still has to figure out how her powers actually work. Sierra and Robbie’s experimentation with their Shadowshaping is incredibly fun. They play hide and seek with shadowshaped chalk drawings in central park, and dance with Robbie’s murals inside an all-ages Méringue club.

On top of all the the daring and dangerous work Sierra has to do, it’s happening in a neighborhood that is constantly being taken away from her and her community. As Sierra walks to Bennie’s apartment she gets stared at by white gentrifiers as if she does not belong in this neighborhood, a neighborhood her best friend has lived in her whole life, that Sierra has been visiting just as long. There is a painful moment when Sierra realizes that because of the drastic changes in this neighborhood, that in a way, she doesn’t belong there anymore. There is also a scene where Sierra is being attacked by a spirit regular humans can’t see, and instead of getting help from the white people who live in the Brooklyn Brownstones they see her as a threat and call the police on her. The exploration of white people appropriating/stealing from/recolonizing from Brown and Black communities is a theme explored deeply and brilliantly in Shadowshaper, in more ways than one – I’d tell you more, but that would be a major spoiler.

Shadowshaper is a great read for high school students, or middle schoolers who have a high reading level. It is especially good for readers who love female-driven adventure stories. Or young readers who are interested in social justice themes but want a book to be thrilling at the same time. Or a reader that loves magic, especially if they don’t relate to all the small-town-white-kid fantasy out there. Or a reader who is very close to their family and friends and wants to read exciting books with main characters who also have strong communities. Or, actually music lovers, the author is also a musician and his passages about Méringue and Salsa-Thrash music totally take you there. I loved this book, it was thoroughly current, effortlessly diverse, and too fun and well written to put down; I cannot recommend it enough!


 

adapted from South Seattle Emerald

The idea is so simple it’s perfect!

This is the story of a crayon in a Red wrapper, because he’s in a red wrapper everyone thinks he’s Red. So nobody can understand why he can’t draw strawberries correctly, and why the portrait he drew of himself isn’t red! All the crayons have an opinion about why he can’t be red well, and the other office supplies try and help, but this red crayon just can’t be red for the life of him. Then one day a violet crayon asked if he would draw the sea for the ship she was drawing, and he does it perfectly! Suddenly it all becomes clear to everyone, this Crayon is BLUE! He takes off his wrapper and lives very happily as a blue crayon for the rest of his days!

It’s very sweet, amazingly well written, and like I said: perfect. This metaphor is a great way to introduce trans identities to young children. And most importantly in a way they will really enjoy!

I cannot recommend it enough!

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