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.
Sustainability is a buzz word these days, but the concepts are important, especially to children. After all, much of what people are trying to do with sustainable practices is make the world a better place (and still exist) for the children of today when they grow up and their children and so on.
While sustainability is big conceptually, if you break it down into categories, you’ll find that there is a lot of great literature out there for kids in areas like recycling, home gardening, and biking and easy sustainable practices. All of these books help children understand that they can be a part of the solution and sometimes, they can take charge too. Check it out!
- Dig, Plant, Grow: A Kid’s Guide to Gardening by Felder Rushing and Growing a Garden by Marie Schuh are both excellent resources as they provide hands on tips for children trying to start either their own garden, or help out with the family’s.
- Yucky Worms by Vivian French. This fun picture book explains the importance of worms to a garden.
- The Garden Project by Margaret McNamara is an easy reader about a class coming together to plan and work a garden.
- In the Garden by Peggy Collins. This picture book shows how much fun gardening can be and is ideal for prereaders to early readers.
Biking and Easy Sustainable Practices
Today is the sad anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire. On March 25, 1911, 146 garment workers were killed because they were locked in at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory during a fire due to labor practices at the time. Though this is a tragic event, it changed the face of labor relations and for children interested in history, particularly women’s history, this flash point event is important. I have already highlighted some parts of women’s history earlier this month, but felt that this particular event needed it’s own post. Here is some reading on the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire:
I just finished reading Heart of a Samurai by Margi Preus and I loved it. It’s a story of a young Japanese boy who is shipwrecked with his friends and goes on a great adventure that finds him traveling the world on a whaling ship. Throughout the story the reader comes across whaling and sailor lingo and it really gives you the feeling of a life at sea. It got me thinking about other books about the ocean. As the weather starts to get warmer, a life at sea, or at least at the beach, starts to sound like great idea. Here are some good ones you should check out:
- Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer L. Holm. This Newbery Honor book takes place in the Florida Keys and you really get the feel of Conch culture, which involves a lot of fishing and a lot of nicknames.
- I Wonder Why the Sea is Salty: and Other Questions About the Ocean by Anita Ganeri. I love this book. It answers so many questions kids have about the world above and below the sea and is in an easy to use format.
- Out of the Ocean by Debra Frasier. A picture book about a mother and daughter walking on the beach, the simple text and bright pictures make the treasures they find just that much more entertaining.
- 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne, retold by Jaqueline Morley. A classic retold in graphic novel format, Verne’s story has never seemed more exciting.
As the weather gets warmer, look to the ocean for reading inspiration.
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.