For far too many years, children’s literature has lacked any kind of breadth in the field of GLBTQ literature. Though the tide is turning, it can still be difficult to find good, appropriate GLBTQ literature for kids. These books generally come in two categories – books for children in gay families and books for children who are themselves gay or questioning. Both types allow children to be comfortable in who they are and who their families are and have their lives represented in the books that they read.
The ALA has helped with The Stonewall Book Award, which has a category for children and young adults. This would be my first stop for new literature, especially for finding stories for and about GLBTQ youth. A couple of great resources for children of gay families, either for the kids themselves or the parents, is the Gay-Themed Picture Books for Children blog and Rainbow Sauce’s Children’s Books for Gay and Lesbian Parents.
For my part, I have read some excellent books lately. Much of what I remember from my childhood is Daddy’s Roommate and Heather Has Two Mommies. While these are good, seminal works, the range has expanded to fantasy literature as well as many other genres of children’s literature. Here are some of the new(er) ones that I’m loving:
- King & King and King & King & Family by Linda de Haan. Both of these express, through the folkloric tradition of kings and queens, how love can be found in different forms and families.
- And Tango Makes Three by Peter Parnell. Based on a true story of two male penguins who adopt an abandoned egg and raise the baby, Tango, together. I love this story of alternative family structures, especially through the easy to understand form of animals.
- My Princess Boy (A Mom’s Story About a Young Boy Who Loves to Dress Up) by Cheryl Kilodavis. One of the most endearing stories I have ever read, the faceless boy loves to dress up and he has been both mocked and accepted. It’s up to the reader to decide how to treat him and all princess boys. This is truly a story of acceptance of those who break gender norms. 10,000 Dresses by Marcus Ewert is in a similar vein.
- Mommy, Mama, and Me by Lesléa Newman. Newman is probably best known for Heather Has Two Mommies. This is a fantastic board book about a lesbian couple raising their baby. It’s wonderful to have books for children so young where they can see their own family structure represented. Newman also has Daddy, Papa, and Me.
The field is expanding and different gender representations and family structures are being represented more and more. The books I listed above should be a part of any library and your children’s literature collection.
When talking about princesses and Cinderellas the other day, I failed to mention a new favorite in the Cinderella variations – The Salmon Princess, which is an Alaskan Cinderella story (you can tell because it’s about salmon fishing and the princess wears Xtratufs). This got me to thinking about Alaskan children’s literature. I am originally from Alaska. I was born and raised in Juneau, the capital city, and because of this I have a fondness for stories about Alaska. Plus, anything you can do to dispel myths that Alaska is constantly covered in snow, that there are 24 hours of sunlight or darkness in all parts of Alaska (it’s a big state!) and that everyone lives in igloos (this ignores so much of Alaskan Native cultures), the better. Alaska is the Last Frontier and there’s a lot of children’s literature about it, ranging from information books to folklore to historical and contemporary fiction.
(Sandy Beach from my last winter trip home, December 2009)
Alaska has a great history of storytelling because of the Native Alaskan traditions as well as the early Russian immigrants and the Filipino, Irish, and other immigrant groups of Alaska. I’m particularly fond of the Tlingit/Haida tales I heard growing up in Southeast Alaska, especially those about Raven. Raven is a trickster and is involved in a number of Tlingit creation stories, like how Raven stole the daylight (included in this volume of Native American creation myths). Check out stories like Totem Tale: A Tall Story from Alaska,The Wave of the Sea-Wolf, and The Frog Princess: A Tlingit Legend From Alaska (retold by my very favorite Eric Kimmel) for good examples of this Alaskan storytelling tradition.
Alaska is a vast wilderness and the people who grow up and live there have a unique view on life and many feel a special connection to nature. There are many subjects about Alaska that children would enjoy reading about, including:
- the Iditarod Sled Dog Race
- amazing animals like all types of bears (especially the fearsome Kodiak Grizzly), caribou and moose, salmon, puffins, and narwhals
- Gold Rush. The stories from Skagway are especially interesting and this book is a good place to start. Another part of Alaskan storytelling comes from the Sourdoughs, the miners that came to find gold in Alaska. One of my favorites growing up, partially because of a particularly good reading by my 8th grade English teacher, was The Cremation of Sam McGee.
- modern stories from Alaskan Native cultures. There is a tendency for many non-Native children (and adults) to view Native cultures as something that exists in the past when these cultures are still very much alive. Learn more about the tribes of the Aleutians, the tundra, the far North, Southeast, and all the varying regions of Alaska.
- nature! From temperate rainforests (my hometown area) to the tallest mountain in North American (Denali) to the tundra, Alaska is filled with beautiful wilderness and exciting things for children to learn about
If subjects are too broad, a couple of great authors to start with are Cherie B. Stihler (she did a great adaptation of the Gingerbread Man called the Sourdough Man) and Susi Gregg Fowler. Both of these authors have a number of different types of books based in Alaska that will get you started on your journey into the Last Frontier.
For one of the projects I am working on as a part of my internship, I am developing saved searches and a read alike list for common questions at the children’s reference desk. The idea came about when my site supervisors realized the difficulty they were having with certain questions, like about princess books.
So what’s so hard about princess books? As it turns out, the question is far more complicated than you might imagine. Do they want fairy tale princesses as might be found in the 398s? Or does princess mean Disney princess? Or could Fancy Nancy fit in as a princess? Of course a good reference interview is key, but there is no way to search for “fluffy princesses” in most OPACs.
For my part, I have decided that the princess question is too complex to save as a single search. So far my breakdown includes a separate category for Disney princesses, which includes a keyword search and a list of possible titles. I am also including a list of Cinderella stories from around the world as well as a subject search for Cinderella, in case that catches interest. Cinderella exists in nearly every culture in the world, from Native American, like the Ojibwan story of Sootface to the Korean Pigling. Each of my searches so far are flexible to make sure they fit the searching style of the librarians that will use it as well as the needs of their patrons.
After all that, how do you decide what’s the right princess? That depends on your reader. As Ranganathan’s Second and Third Laws state:
- Every reader his or her book
- Every book its reader
A story about Belle, Ariel, Aurora and the rest might be right for one reader, but another might want a fractured fairy tale like Cindy Ellen: A Wild Western Cinderella. What can be learned from this process is that sometimes something you think is simple, like a subject search for princesses — juvenile fiction, may not be. Princess stories hold something that still fascinates young readers today, so take the time to find some good ones, just make sure it’s the right princess for the right princess reader.