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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.
The 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.
The 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.
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.**
I 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 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.
I 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.
And 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
More 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
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
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…
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.
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:
Straight up Princesses who are Black kid’s media
- Cinderella (staring Brandy)
- Rapunzel Jackson is an independent film I’m not sure how to get a hold of, here’s their facebook
- Princess Grace
- Princess Cupcake Jones
- My Princess Boy
- Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters
- The Apple-Pip Princess
- Shanna’s Princess Show
Activity and Coloring books:
Sparkly/Glam/Ballerina Black Femme Kid’s media
Movies, TV, and online Videos:
- The Muppet’s Wizard of Oz
- Doc McStuffins
- The endless amounts of online videos of Misty Copeland the ground breaking Black Ballerina
- Sesame Street’s I Love My Hair
- Books about Gabby Douglas
- The Lotti Paris series
- Beautiful Ballerina
- A Dance Like Starlight
- Ballerina Dreams: From Orphan to Dancer
- Summer Jackson
- Penny and the Magic Poof Balls
- Dancing in the Wings
- I’m a Pretty Little Black Girl
- Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker (There was some controversy about this on the forums about whether or not this was an ideal book for someone going through a princess phase, but it’s VERY glamorous)
Black Kid’s Media that isn’t bubblegum Pink/Glittery (not at all comprehensive)
Movies, TV, online videos:
- I Love My Hair
- Nappy Hair
- Happy to Be Nappy
- Please, Baby, Please
- The Lola series
- Shades of Black
- Honey, I Love
- I Like Myself
- I Can Do It Too
- The Colors of Us
- I Got The Rhythm
Lists other folks have made
- The Brown Bookshelf is a blog dedicated to Black kids books, on it opening page it has My Friend Maya Loves to Dance, which looks promising
- Ink & Pen is a great blog dedicated to diversity in kid lit, they also respond to questions like this, so you could totally hit them up
- We Need Diverse Books is a campaign and blog, they also are responsive to questions and would be great minds to tap for kid’s media
- The reflective library a blog by a school librarian that focuses on books with primary characters of color
- Nannarchism is a blog by my favorite ex which is “musings of a radical early childhood educator in Chicago.” The first article she wrote is Beyond Multicultural and Diverse Classrooms which is well worth a read.
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!
I 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.
FINALLY dystopian YA fiction that takes place somewhere besides the united states! The entire story of The Summer Prince takes place in Brazil a few generations from now. In a world that has been ravaged by nuclear fall out, and Palmares Três is one of the last cosmopolitan cities.
The main character of The Summer Prince is June Castro a 17 year old student and artist in one of the more privileged sectors (sector 8). At the beginning of the story she and her best friend Gil, are religiously following the the Summer prince competition as they are desperately in love with the candidate from Verde (the poorest sector) Enki. Despite the fact that Enki toes the line of what is acceptable for Summer princes– by bringing the plight of the Verde into the city’s consciousness– he is elected Summer King of Palmares Três!
Palmares Três is run by a brutal matriarchy, the government is made up of Aunties and a Queen, who follow a doctrine created by the first queen who survived the fall out. The doctrine mixes Catholicism and Indigenous South American religion, and the long and the short of it is: every year a new king is elected by the people and every winter he will be sacrificed to save the city (as the first queen sacrificed her husband during the fall out).
First thing that I love about this book (I already mentioned) is that it takes place in Latin America. Something that should be evident because of that, but often times isn’t: all of the characters in this story are of color. ALL OF THEM. this is a beautiful and complex story about people of color. Sorry to repeat myself, it’s just such a rarity I want to be sure I drive the point home. Enki, who is considered the most beautiful character by June (and all of Palmares Três for that matter), is a black man with dreadlocks. June herself is not particularly beautiful, and also has some of the lightest skin tones the Aunties allow. Which is a pretty dramatic reversal of the racialized construction of beauty, and one I enjoyed quite a lot.
At the celebration of Enki’s kingship June and Gil are dancing together, Gil is such a good dancer that as soon as Enki enters the room Gil is all that he sees, Gil goes to Enki and falls to his knees, and then Enki and Gil kiss. I didn’t have my queer reading glasses on so it took me a second to realize that Enki and Gil were being gay together. And once I realized that was happening other things came into queer focus (I’m just so used to heteronormativity that I was painting everyone as straight), June’s mother is married to an Auntie! Also none of these characters are “gay” or “lesbian,” Gil has been involved with women, June’s mother was in love with June’s father, Enki and June fall in love and have sex later on in the book: sexual orientation is fluid and nameless. And as a queer reader is was really cool to see.
Also June and Enki become romantically involved not after Gil and Enki’s relationship but during, not like Enki is cheating on Gil, like Enki is getting into multiple consensual relationships. Uh huh, that’s right, this book also features polyamorous relationships! Before Enki and June start being intimate they are artistic collaborators and as they become closer Gil tells June that if they become romantic it would be ok with him. When June, still nervous that Gil might be upset, tells him that the she and Enki have kissed it’s not that Gil doesn’t mind, he’s excited! He’s worried about Enik and believes that June can help keep an eye out for him when Gil cannot. And in a similar situation June is comforted that Gil can be with Enik when she cannot. They have joyous overlapping relationships void of jealousy, if only it was that easy in real life…
Another aspect of this book I enjoyed was it’s exploration of defiance and rebellion. June is an artist, she explores many mediums throughout the book, but one of her first artistic expressions (and the one that’s discussed the most) is graffiti. June goes through great lengths to sneak to do graffiti without getting caught. Enki is constantly toeing or straight up pushing the line of is acceptable King behavior to expose inequalities and corruption in Palmares Três. And June struggles with how much she is willing to give up to do that same. I thought it was really honest and interesting to have a character wrestle with the risks of fighting against the government. June is a person of privilege who has the opportunity to rise to a position of influence, and instead of instantly and easily joining the good fight, she wants desperately to succeed within the institutions that exist. I think a lot of young people will relate to June’s journey to resistance, because she’s so attached to the status quo, it’s a lovely story arch for young people to travel.
Also, I couldn’t find a way to seamlessly incorporate this, but June masterbates and it’s not odd or shameful: she just has a good time, topless in the sun, it’s great. All in all I thought this book well written, compelling, exciting, and covered a lot of worth wild ground. I highly recommend it!
I’m doing a Music program next week for our teen/tween time and as I was trying to grab some books to push on them. I discovered that all the music focused YA book lists I could find were about classical, rock, or maybe show tunes and punk rock. And While books like Nick and Norah’s infinite Playlist and So Punk Rock (and Other ways to disapoint your mother) will be at my program, so will the following:
After Tupac & D Foster, By Jacqueline Woodson
Gangsta Rap, By Benjamin Zaphaniah
Harlem Hustle, By Janet McDonald
A Hip Hop Story, By Heru Ptah
Sister Mischief, By Laura Goode
And just for fun some nonfiction:
Can’t Stop Won’t Stop, by Jeff Chang
This blog is a place holder until I can read them all. I would be STOKED for other suggestions! Please comment.