Nel's New Day

April 24, 2011

Young Reader LGBTQ Books

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 6:55 PM

A recent study of 32,000 young people shows that suicide is less prevalent in communities that value diversity. [More about this in the next few days.] One way that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning youth can begin to believe that they may be accepted is through the books that they find on library shelves. While it is the librarians’ responsibility to select and purchase these books, other adults in the community have an equal responsibility to help locate these books and request their purchase, especially because many school libraries lack professional staffing.

The American Library Association provides recommendations for LGBTQ books through the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Round Table. Two sources of book titles for young readers are The Rainbow Project, which provides an annual list of recommended LGBTQ books, and the Stonewall Book Award Committee, that annually honors up to five LGBTQ titles.

To find more recommended books, check out Carlisle K. Webber’s Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning Teen Literature:  A Guide to Reading Interests (Libraries Unlimited, 2011). This slim, 131-page volume is slim contains information about 300+ books—summaries, suggestions for each book’s audience, and reading levels from middle school through adult/young adult. A list of terms also explains  traditional ones such as intersex and emerging literary forms  such as femslash and new terms for specific manga.

Young children’s books rarely have any overt LGBTQ content, but some picture books have content that showing diversity and gender fluidity. For example, C.K. Williams and Stephen Gammell’s How the Nobble Was Finally Found (Harcourt, 2010)  illustrates how courage can help someone discover a soulmate. When the lonely Nobble, “with huge eyes and dangly ears and long hair and two lovely wings and little claws on his fingers,” sets out into a fantastical world to find company, he follows a magical journey to a scary city. There, a young girl teaches him lcultural necessities like using a telephone and knocking on a door. Playful language and whimsical illustrations will delight all young readers as they learn that they can find someone just like themselves.

Many times,picture books use animals to discuss issues. Biff, a pug dog, in Anna Kemp’s Dogs Don’t Do Ballet  illustrated by Sara Ogilvie (Simon & Schuster, 2010) succeeds in breaking out of his male gender identity. He works on his dance technique until he lightly dances across the stage, saving the ballet after the prima ballerina falls.  Funny brown-lined drawings filled with a variety of colors—pink for Biff’s tutu—trace Biff’s desire to follow his dreams and become a ballerina.

One of the most important young adult novels of the year is Cris Beam’s I Am J (Little, 2011) about a boy born as Jennifer who knows that he is actually male. Thousands of children suffer from gender dysphoria: this book about J illustrates their anguish. Frustrated in the frilly dresses that his Puerto Rican mother forces on him, teenager J finally rebels and confides in his mother. Appalled by his con-fession, she tells him that his father won’t accept him and that he must move from their home. At first J lives with a friend, but after an argument with her, he sets out on his own. Fortunately, he finds support from strangers and attends classes in a school for LGT students. Beam shows the pain that J endures as he tries to get testosterone shots and dates a straight girl who doesn’t know his biological background. J’s journey into the darkness of self-hatred and anger is unrelieved throughout the novel until the end when he finds a solution. The author’s background of working with transgender teens is described in her nonfiction book published for adults, Transparent.

In a novel about a transgender girl, Brian Katcher’s Almost Perfect (Delacorte), tells about a boy who falls for beautiful Sage and breaks down the wall between them before he discovers that she was born biologically male and must cope with his new knowledge.

Bisexuality is a subject little addressed in young adults books. In Lili Wilkinson’s Pink (HarperTeen, 2011) Ava, tired of playing dumb in school and wearing Goth black to please her jaded girlfriend, Chloe, changes schools and considers switching from being a lesbian to going straight at a posh private school. Ava hides her wardrobe of pink cotton-candy cashmere from both her girlfriend and her feminist parents while she wonders that it would be like to kiss a boy. Her struggles are not only about gender but also about her confusion about the problems with conformity as her new friends are the “popular” group until she joins the outcasts on the drama stage crew. The strength of the plot comes from her dishonesty in searching both lesbian and straight identities. And the book is funny—a real bonus—and lacks an easy solution.

What happens when teenagers have gay or lesbian parents? Tina Fakhrid-Deen’s book written in college with with COLAGE, Let’s Get This Straight:  The Ultimate Handbook for Youth with LGBTQ Parents  (Seal Press, 2010) is designed to help the millions of children who have one or more lesbian, gay, bi, or trans parent(d).  This book shows tells these young people that they are not alone, giving them assistance in coping with their lives–how to demonstrate their pride in their families and protest the injustice of homophobia.  With the assistance of Children of Lesbians and Gays Everywhere (COLAGE), the author has brought together the voices of 44 people with LGBTQ parents to discuss how to talk to people about these families and how to communicate with parents through the development of a community that overcomes the feelings of isolation.  Simple and sometimes funny, the book shares experiences and gives advice about overcoming challenges.

At the age of 26, Johnny Weir, the famous ice-skater with a TV series on Sundance, has written Welcome to My World (Gallery, 2011) that shows his wrestling with being gay while he climbs to be a top performer. His personality shines through the writing, and his passion for life and work demonstrates the value of inner strength. Vivid descriptions and detail are combined with humor to show how a gay boy from a smallPennsylvania town can rise to the top. Kids reading this will appreciate the value of going for their personal “gold” without worrying about what people think.

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