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!

what is punk

This book is very cute. Anny Yi’s clay portraits of the bands and punk fans are adorable, it’s written in rhyme feeling like an homage it classic children’s books. It takes the reader through a history of punk starting with protopunk bands in New York like Blondie and the New York Dolls, to the Ramones, to Detroit’s Iggy and the Stooges, on to England with the Sex Pistols and The Clash, and beyond!

I do wish this book was more diverse, while it does have a page devoted to women in punk which does highlight Poly Styrene (along with The Slits, and Siouxsie) she is the only person of color mentioned besides Bad Brains. There’s even a spread on California punk that doesn’t include any Latinx punk. There is no mention of queercore, although to be fair, my favorite looks and iconic images of queercore shows and bands probably aren’t appropriate for an adorable kids book (although I do think a clay model of Martin Sorrondeguy in assless chaps for more mature consumption would be delightful).

I would recommend having some companion pieces: Suzy X’s comic about punk and inclusion would be a great thing to read along with What Is Punk. If that’s not for you, why not have pictures of the brothers in Death and talk about them as you read about NY protopunk bands, or Iggy and the Stooges in Detroit? You could also have photos of your favorite POC punk bands talk about those bands and why you love them. At the end of the book it talks about how there’s still a punk scene and culture in the reader’s town today, if you have local bands or festivals that are POC/queer/femme (and not just music: DIY/activist too) you could show them fliers and talk to them about it. If just showing them photos and talking about bands that you love that too often get left out of punk history seems less exciting then that cute little rhyming book, you could play them music from your fav bands, and teach your favorite kids different mosh pit moves.

I hope the next cute kid’s book about punk will include more (some riot grrrl please…), because punk is such a big part of many people’s lives and it would be great to have a picture book that would allow all punks to share their passion with they kids they love. I’ll accept this as a first step though, and know a lot of punks out there will be excited to read some childish rhymes about The Descendants and The Misfits.

I have moved from the Deep South to Seattle Washington. There are a great many things that I have had to adjust to: weather, a commute without freeways, a library system that is well funded… but the cultural differences are probably the hardest things to adjust to! Did you know that in the Pacific North West pedestrians get right of way? There has been many a time when I have stood there as a driver has slowed to park, not knowing what I’m meant to do at that moment in that intersection…

Wanted_poster_Christopher_Columbus

One of the really exciting things to adjust to is here in Seattle, Monday is not “Columbus Day” the Puget Sound instead celebrates Indigenous People’s Day! However, having just come from Texas I am well aware that far too many places in the US still celebrate the original  conquistador’s day, so I thought I’d direct readers to a few different resources for educational tools with a more honest look at what Columbus’ arrival to these continents meant.

First I’d like to direct people to a couple of online resources maintained by indigenous/First Nation/American Indian people:

American Indiana’s in Children’s Literature is a resource I have had on my links page for years and they have a number for blog posts about useful books and resources to engage young minds with more accurate ideas about Columbus. Such as Picture Books About Christopher Columbus and Bonnie Bader’s WHO WAS CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS, but those two posts are only just scratching the surface. If you have time I highly recommend spending sometime and digging into all the many useful reviews and resources American Indian’s in Children’s Literature has to offer.

The next website I want to refer you to is Indian Country Today Media Network, which is a great website to check if you want to stay current on American Indian issues. They have a great list of 9 Teaching Resources That Teach the Truth About Columbus that is multimedia and very well rounded. They also have a number of news articles, since that’s the #1 thing they do. So with an older child, or while reading along and with discussion questions prepared, you might want to read the article’s they published about passing Indigenous People’s Day in Portland or Seattle to engage young people in your life about these ideas.

Next here are two progressive sources that have teaching resources about Columbus Day:

Teaching Tolerance is a project done by the Southern Poverty law Center. They have created a list Reconsider Columbus Day that has a number of different resources- from reading first hand accounts of colonialism, to putting Columbus on a mock trail-  you could use to engage young people to think critically about Columbus Day.

There’s also the Zinn Project’s collection of resources on critical thinking about Columbus. They have articles about the Indigenous People’s Day movement, social media campaigns, a more formal book list called Columbus Day… Time to Break The Silence, and many online resources.

A blog post made up of instagram photos…

February book display

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Destruction of February book display

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I like that I get to be crafty as part of my job #BookDisplay #UrbanFiction

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Laziest blog post? Yes. Sorry! But I instagram all the time, so feel free to follow me and see constant updates there.

princess banner

The other day I got an email from a good friend asking for help with their goddaughter:

I was wondering if i could tap your brain on children’s media. [My best friend] and i have been increasingly concerned about some of [my goddaughter’s] identity development as a little Black girl – her obsession with elsa from frozen (which worried us from the start) is now becoming internalized into self-hatred around being Black. trying to help her love her hair is an ongoing struggle (of course), but there are also a lot of other worrying elements.

I was wondering if you know of any good children’s media (age 4) that might help create a healthier, empowering normative for her around being a Black girl. we’ve got it covered on the front of kids books celebrating little black girls hair, but [my goddaughter’s] generally uninterested in them ’cause they don’t have the glitz and glam that capture her attention like frozen does. she’s also definitely in a princess phase and just overall really femme – this we accept. but even so, princess tiana doesn’t inspire in her the same kind of enthusiasm as she has for elsa, no matter how much we elevate her (because, let’s face it, disney really failed us on that project).

her mom worships beyonce, so it’s inevitable that the girl also has taste, and style, and spunk and wants media that reflects that. but, unfortunately, the creation and marketing of frozen/elsa is invariably sexier than books for little black girls illustrated in elegant watercolors. and cartoon options (at least as we know it) are severely lacking/incomparable as well (reference tiana vs elsa again). we’re wanting to overhaul her media consumption, and we’re looking for more/better options… and hopefully there are some things that are also sexy enough to compete with the marketing machine that constantly pushes frozen/elsa at us. i know you’re pretty up-to-date with what’s constantly evolving and trending in internet world, and for all kinds of youth as well. i was wondering if you might know of what’s out there or where we should go to look. my baby’s identity development is on the line!

any thoughts or ideas you have would be greatly appreciated. thanks, friend.

So… once my heart was done breaking I quickly started working on a list of media, and it was fairly short. Which makes sense I suppose, because if there was fair representation of Black girls in children’s media this girl and her family wouldn’t be in this problem, right? But luckily there are a number of librarian forums I could turn to and expand the list! Here’s what the youth librarian hive mind came up with:

straightupprincess
Straight up Princesses who are Black kid’s media

Movies:

Books:

Activity and Coloring books:

glittery

Sparkly/Glam/Ballerina Black Femme Kid’s media

Movies, TV, and online Videos:

Books:

nonfemme

Black Kid’s Media that isn’t bubblegum Pink/Glittery (not at all comprehensive)

Movies, TV, online videos:

Books:

Lists other folks have made

Further resources

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It all started when I set aside some real time to weed the YA nonfiction section. I’ve neglected it more then I should since it’s such a small part of my collection and doesn’t take up too much shelf space. But I finally had some down time over our mellow holiday hours and stopped neglecting my duties as a librarian. Now as one would suspect there were many foolish books that I was thrilled to discard from our collection (an internet safety book from the 1990’s anyone?). However I also discovered quite a few gems, in particular:

Upon posting the above my dear friend commented: “yes def. the only way I got sex info as a teen was the sex section of Barnes and Noble – they almost exclusively had “how to be good at sex” books, so a frank book on sex geared toward teens seems amazing.” Which totally inspired me to make a whole display around that book. Once I got back from New Years I instantly got started work on my “Questions You’d Never Want to Ask Your Parents” display.

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It’s fairly simple, I made a giant question mark out of construction paper scraps (you’re welcome environment and library budget), die cut some letters and wrote out the message, die cute some question marks tapped them to string and then tapped them to the ceiling.

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For the books I just went through our nonfiction section– again the YA nonfiction section is very small it did not take me a long time– and pulled out things I remembered being curious about as a teen. So queer stuff and sex stuff obviously, but also things about guns, health, bullies, divorce, puberty, siblings with special needs, and depression.

I’m excited about showcasing this part of our collection, but mostly am excited about getting this important information into young folk’s hands. I had to fill in at least four gaps in books that were taken the first day, so I feel like my plan is already working!

So, like my first gender fluid kids books blog post, most of these books explore femme trans identities. I’m not totally sure why femme trans narratives dominate the youth lit– lemme know if you have thoughts– but that seems to be where we’re at right now. I think it’s important to remember that we, right now today, are at the very beginning of trans/gender nonconforming representation in kid’s lit. So while there are some glaring holes–and it’s not just MOC kids getting left out, these books are also mostly about White kids– in what gender independent narratives that are getting told right now, one could be optimistic about the diverse gender representations that are going to be in kid’s books as more and more of them get published.

Which brings me to my first couple of reviews. Flamingo Rampant is an independent kid’s book publishing company, that focuses on stories of gender independent folks. (They are about to launch a book club which will be 6 new picture books over 2015; you can find out all about it on the main page of their website). Currently they have published two books, Backwards Day and The Adventures of Tulip, Birthday Wish Fairy.

Backwards Day has a really fun concept! On a far away planet called Tenalp a lot of things are different, one of which is that one day every year everything is the reverse of how things usually are. Day is night, upstream runs down, and binary genders switch! While there are a lot of things to enjoy on backwards day– ice cream for breakfast!– one kid named Andrea LOVES backwards day because it’s the one day of the year she [sic] feels like herself [sic]: a boy. The book looks at one particular Backwards Day where Andrea stays a girl – a particularly devastating day- and the following day when Andrea becomes (and ends up staying) a boy [sic]! While it’s confusing to his parents at first when a nice doctor explains that Andrea is actually boy, and sometimes the magic of backwards day lets folks permanently transform into who they really are, everyone ultimately gets on board, and Andy’s totally thrilled!

The Adventures of Tulip, Birthday Wish Fairy felt a little amateurish to me. It’s another super cute concept, but it’s just not executed as well as the other books on this list. My main issue is that it just has too many words jam packed onto every page; it feels too scrunched to be a picture book. I feel like it would have done better as an illustrated chapter book or a kid’s graphic novel. It tells the story of Tulip who, true to the title, is a fairy who grants birthday wishes. One day he gets a special birthday wish from a boy who wants to be a girl [sic]. After receiving guidance from the head wish granting fairy, Tulip gives this child luck and courage, and also gives the kid’s family open minds to see who their child really is. After the child’s birthday has passed, Tulip continues to work with this family giving them strength, resilience and the ability to advocate for their trans child after the rest of his birthday wish duties are done. Tulip is so dedicated to this child that he is given a new job as the fairy who helps gender nonconforming children with their transition wishes.

10322836Be Who You Are, by Jennifer Carr

Be Who you Are is a realistic story about a young trans girl who goes through the process of transitioning. Everything goes the way you would hope it would. Her family is open to her identity and advocates for her at school, which allows her to be who she is. Her brother has a hard time with the concept, then they have a rather sweet conversation about it and he gets on board too. It’s a cute, light hearted book that one would hope could serve as a blueprint on how to handle kids transitioning in your community.

Like the two previous, this book initially uses the main character’s birth name and the gender pronouns she was coercively assigned at birth and  switches to her real name and gender pronouns at the end. This isn’t my favorite; I am a much bigger fan of trans kids books that consistently use the kid’s real pronouns throughout the narration. However I included all three books in this review since, as I’m sure you already know, there isn’t a great variety of gender independent youth lit to choose from. For some kids and families it would make sense to have a more selective collection of picture books that uses the child’s real gender pronoun consistently; but for some kids and families it would make sense to have more books with trans narratives even if some use outdated and/or incorrect language. And I’m just hoping I give folks enough information to make those choices for themselves.

 I am Jazz, by81o59-snvyL Jessica Herthal & Jazz Jennings

This book is really exciting because Jazz Jennings co-wrote it about her own experience being a trans girl! It starts off introducing Jazz, what she does, what she likes, and who her friends are. Then it goes back and talks about what it was like for her to be coercively assigned male as a young child and what transitioning was like for her. Her family is so sweet and supportive, and it’s delightful to read about the joy she experiences when they get it and she gets to start publicly being who she is. Her wider community does find it confusing. For a while they make her play on boy’s soccer teams, and some kids still tease her and use a boy name for her. But she has friends who love her, support her, and know who she is. It ends with Jazz proclaiming she doesn’t care if she’s different; she knows who she is, happy, fun, and proud. She is Jazz!

what-makes-a-baby-cover1What Makes a Baby, by Cory Silverberg

I’m including this book, even though it’s not a trans narrative, because I want trans inclusive kids books to go beyond stories of transition, and What Makes a Baby does that. What Makes a Baby is a really great kids book about how babies get made that is inclusive to all families! When it talks about what you need to make a baby, it talks about sperm, eggs, and uteruses; what’s really exciting is it doesn’t assign any of those pieces to any kind of body or gender. What Makes a Baby also goes beyond trans inclusivity when it asks the reader “Who helped bring together the sperm and the egg that made you?” and “Who was happy that it was YOU who grew?” Making it inclusive to babies who who conceived not only by trans parent(s) but any parents using donor sperm or a surrogate womb, or parents who adopted their babies. And while I think it’s pretty awesome that as the cover says this is “a book for every kind of family and every kind of kid,” it is the first kids book about making babies that is inclusive to trans parents and trans kids which is pretty ground breaking.

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