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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

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.

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

Capture2

 

So Mask Magazine is a “Reader Supported, Ad-free, Style + Culture for the Disappointed Generation” online publication. I know the editors, started subscribing and have really enjoyed it. I suggest you check it out as well. I was asked to write a buying guide of youth lit for it, and promptly and excitedly threw this thing together. Check it out, get some books to some kids or something!

9780374351144I read this book because it was one of many books banned from Arizona public school’s when their effective and enthralling ethnic studies classes were prohibited from continuing (please learn more about the ethnic studies ban, read the full list of banned books, and join the librotraficante movement).

My Name is Yoon was the only picture book on the list, and one that I hadn’t heard of, so I had to pick it up. It tells the story of a young girl named Yoon who has recently immigrated to the states from Korea. Before she starts school Yoon’s father teaches her how to write her name in English. In Korean her name means Shining Wisdom, in Korean the characters dance on the page, in Korean it is her name. But writing it in English, YOON no longer seems like her name. At school instead of writing her name she writes CAT, BIRD, and CUPCAKE, because she likes the idea of being any of those things, she is not sure if she’ll ever feel like YOON.

By the end of the book Yoon has made a friend at school, her family is happy and proud of how much she learned, and she starts to feel like this new place could be a good home for her. By the end of the book she writes her name is English, because “Yes, my name is Yoon.”

This book is simple, and poignant. The illustrations are beautiful water colors, exaggerated just beyond realistic to pull you into her child’s understanding of the world. Recorvits’ use of the difference of written language as an example for all the many changes in Yoon’s life is a perfect literary device, especially for a young reader thinking about the immigrant experience. It’s a very compelling and relatable story that would work well for a child who has gone through or is going through an immigration process, or a child who hasn’t but should be thinking about these issues compassionately.

cote castle (1)This book was recommended to me by a fellow rad librarian, and dear hoomie, please check out her blog!

She thought this book would be a good way to have conversations with young readers about colonization. I completely agree!

The story is of Mr. King, who lives on the top of a hill and wants to have a HUGE castle. To build his castle he takes the land from all around his hill to make the building blocks. But you see, the thing is, there were tons of animals living in that forest! And by taking all that he wanted from the land around him he took away everyone else’s home.

Now where this book differs from real life colonization is that the other animals are able to talk to Mr. King about how his stealing their land is bad for them. And how it REALLY differs from real life is Mr. King sees the error in his ways, and together they dismantle Mr. King’s Castle and restore the land back to how it was.

So I think this book would be useful for people who have political leanings towards solidarity, mutual healing, and coalition building. You could have conversations about what colonizers need to know, and dream about ideas of how together we build a new world. This book could be paired very well with a literal and/or historical book about colonization to give the youngsters more tangible ideas of what colonization is and has been; to further a fruitful discussion of how to apply Mr. King’s solution to real life problems.

Bob Graham is a children’s book author and illustrator who writes charming warm and fun stories for younger readers. I want to recommend him because he writes books about working class, punk, alternative families that live in cities (whose walls are quite often covered with graffiti). These are not all of his books, but my favorites so far.

Spirit of Hope tells the story of the Fairweather family, a family with seven children a stay at home mom (who wears over overalls with red high heels) and a father who works at a factory. They are a warm and loving family with minimal resources and maximum awesome playful parents. The conflict of the story arrives when imminent domain over the land where their house is, and their journey to find another place to call home.

 

 

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Let’s Get a Pup is the story of Kate and her mom (who has a tattoo) and dad (who has a fairly punk hairdo), and her decision that they need to get a puppy. So they go to the pound and find a perfect dog (or two…) to take home.

 

 

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Jethro Byrd, Fairy Child: Annebelle’s dad tells her she won’t find any fairies in the cement and weeds in the backyard of their city home, but that doesn’t stop her from searching. One day the Byrds, a fairy family, van break down right where Annebelle is looking for them! Annebelle and he little brother Sam get to spend the whole afternoon with the Byrds, listen to their music, and mom even makes them all a snack (even though she can’t see the Byrds).

 

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Oscar’s half birthday tells the story of a mixed race family who travel across their graffiti covered city to a park to celebrate their youngest member’s sixth month birthday. Millie, the older sister in homemade fiary wings; mom, who has a tattoo, a belly shirt and corn rows; and dad, who wears a loose knit hat, has a scraggly goatee, and converse sneakers just couldn’t wait a whole year to celebrate Oscar!

I had never read this piece of Seuss’ work, which surprised me as I’m a pretty big Seuss fan. My dear friend Skyler (another rad kid’s book fanatic) brought me to his local library, when I came to visit, and sat me down to read it.

It’s fantastic.

It’s the story of a Seuss style creature who runs into troubles (over and over) where he lives, so he decides to run a way and find a place to live where he’ll be troubled no more. He runs into a traveler who’s headed to Solla Sollew and claims that this is a trouble free land.

The entire journey is chalk full of troubles and worries and problems for our protagonist. And when he finally gets to Solla Sollew he finds that it too is full of difficulties.

So he decides that he’s sick of running and to goes back home, and face his problems head on. It’s a pretty simple, fun, Seussian book, with a lovely message: there is no running a way from your problems, however, you can stand your ground and take ’em!

My absolute favorite part of the book is the last line: “But I’ve bought a big bat. I’m all ready, you see. Now my troubles are going/ to have troubles with me!” — so baddass!

programs/displays/book recs