June is LGBTQ Pride Month: a time celebrate and recognize the impact that LGBTQ people have in the world. June was chosen for Pride Month as a way to commemorate the 1969 Stonewall riots that have been seen as the landmark event that propelled the movement for LGBTQ civil rights.
Each year, the school where I work provides in-house professional development for its faculty and staff, and last year the focus was on microaggressions and implicit bias. I was lucky to be a part of the team who helped lead the PD sessions, which focused mostly on teaching the adults in our community how to recognize and deal with microaggressions at school.
One of the most valuable resources I used during this process was the graphic novel As the Crow Flies by Mellanie Gilman (2018 Stonewall Book Award Honor, 2019 Amelia Bloomer Book List Selection). In an instance of true serendipity, we added the book to our library collection just as I was starting to work with the professional development team. When I read it, I realized how perfectly it illustrated microaggressions and their negative impacts (literally and figuratively).
As we embrace more inclusion in our media, strides are being made for more diverse representations in literature. The result is that we are starting to see where there are major gaps. When it comes to books featuring queer characters, those that are not exclusively heterosexual or cisgender, we are slowly building the canon of books that feature prime or side LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer) characters. When we continue the acronym to be inclusive of sexualities to LGBTQIAP, we see where we are lagging, and it is in those IAP (Intersex, Asexual, and Pansexual) representations. In young adult fiction we had the groundbreaking 2015 teen novel, None of the Above by I.W. Gregario featuring an intersexed teen, as well as the 2014 Alex Award winner Golden Boy by Abigail Tarttelin, but there have been few to use the word asexual or pansexual to describe characters.
Asexuality can be very isolating, especially as a teen when your peers are experiencing crushes, talking about love interests, and/or sex. You can feel like something is wrong with you, especially if you don’t know what an asexual is. It can be very validating when you meet a character on the page that experiences the world similarly to you, yet it is rarely called out in text, so it is often more of a kinship than a chance to understand one’s sexuality.
Asexuality or “Ace” is a spectrum. One can be asexual and/or aromantic, demisexual or a gray ace. Society as whole seems to make assumptions and misjudgements about Aces and asexuality, which can be invalidating to others experiences, another reason why it never hurts to have more representation in media forms so there can be both “mirrors and windows.”
Below are book titles that have characters that identify as asexual. It usually isn’t the story, but just a part of who they are.
Young Adult Fiction with Asexual Characters
Quicksilver by R. J. Anderson
The second in the sci-fi thriller Ultraviolet Series, follows the character of Tori. In a new home and with a new identities, Tori and her family are on the run to hide a secret about her unusual DNA. Just when she thinks they might be able to pull it off, someone from her past shows up showing she is not as safe as she thinks.
Tori, the main character, is explicitly asexual, and her asexuality is integrated throughout the story. Tori’s sexuality is only one facet of this multidimensional, strong, female character, who is dealing with high stakes situations.
The Movement Volume 1: Class Warfare by Gail Simone
A group of young super-heroes rise up to take back the streets of their corrupt city sparking a revolution that goes viral world-wide. The corruption leads to one of their own being kidnapped by police, those that are supposed to protect, and issues between the “haves” and the “have-nots” rise up.
This is a full cast of characters all unique from one another. Tremor, aka Roshanna Chatterji (previous from comic series Secret Six), comes into this new series where she identifies herself as asexual. Her story arc isn’t focused on sexuality, but rather her path to redemption for previous grievances. Continue reading Booklist: Asexuality in Young Adult Fiction
With dozens of new YA books released each week, it’s easy to get focused on the new and exciting books soon to hit shelves. That doesn’t mean that we want to forget about old favorites or older titles that may be easily overlooked yet could still be a hit with the right reader. Our Throwback Thursday posts will highlight backlist titles, prolific authors, and classics of YA.
My discovery of Weetzie Bat was a bit of a fluke. This past summer, I recall looking up popular and cult books in the 1990s and cross-referencing those titles with my library’s collection. I came across Weetzie Bat and the synopsis intrigued me. I vaguely recalled the title from my teen years, but I had not read it yet. When I placed a request for the title and it arrived at my library, it was surprisingly small and had acid colors on the cover.
Weetzie is a quirky girl with a platinum blonde flat top and her best friend is Dirk. Both are searching for love in dream-filled Los Angeles. Weetzie describes her perfect man as My Secret Agent Lover Man and she finds him when Dirk finds Duck, a blond surfer dude. They all live happily ever after in their shared home. Well, sort of.
The surprising part about this story is its breeziness, not only in plot, but with important topics like sexuality, AIDS, and abortion. While the story touches upon these topics, it never comes off as didactic. The story resembles a punk rock fairy tale, just without any saccharin details. You are not entirely sure, though, if Weetzie is a bit shallow since her outlook on these tough topics is without pithiness.
However, I could easily see how the story became a cult classic and helped define the Young Adult genre. As a teen in the 1990s, there weren’t very many books for teens. Mainly, you would either read classic children’s literature or adult books. At my favorite neighborhood bookstore, I recall that the “teen” section was a shelf situated within the children’s area. It is possible that I would have enjoyed this book as a teenager, but I definitely appreciate it as an adult with its magical realism and mature topics. I spent my early years in southern California (yes, technically I’m a Valley Girl), and something about this story reminds me of the late 1980s and early 1990s of my childhood with the descriptions of palm trees and the very California-ness of the plot.
If your library is anything like mine, your LGBTQ displays and books are among the most popular in your collection. LGBTQ fiction and non-fiction is what we like to call window and mirror books. When teens see themselves in the book, it’s a mirror. When teens see other people in the book, it’s a window. Either way, LGBTQ books serve many purposes. Bullied teens can find inspiration and the will to live in these books. LGBTQ books can be cathartic to the teen who feels alone. Teens with LGBTQ friends or family members seek out these books to understand and/or support their loved ones.
Co-presented by university librarian Amanda Melilli, head of the Curriculum Materials Library at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, and Las Vegas (Clark County) high school English teacher and department chair for English in Clark County Ashley Nebe, this session focused on their collaborative relationship, designed to support and encourage LGBTQIA teens both in their high school years and during the transition to college. We also heard from authors Ann Bausum, Susan Kuklin, David Levithan, and Mariko Tamaki on their thoughts for supporting LGBTQIA youth during the transition from high school to university.
Nebe spoke (inspirationally!) about the incredible growth of the GSA chapter at her high school, and the work that they have done to partner with other LGBTQIA-serving organizations and allies in the community, including Melilli’s library. The high school group now runs a student Talent Showcase in an open-air setting at the high school that has become a large event with strong participation numbers from students (with the larger community invited). They participate in the community-wide Pride Parade each year, which gives them a chance to make personal connections with college-age LGBTQIA students and faculty before arriving on the university campus themselves. Some key take-aways:Continue reading A Series of Fortunate Events: Library Collaborations that Help LGBTQ Young Adults Transition to College Life
Documentaries are sometimes overlooked forms of media for both education and for entertainment. They cover all types of subject matter and can tell intimate, moving stories. This series focuses on documentaries that may appeal to teens, and each installment will focus on a particular theme. To honor LGBTQ history month, this installment spotlights documentaries that portray the LGBTQIA+ experience of today’s teens or historical queer communities.
Middle school (usually 5th through 8th grade) is an incredible time. Kids begin to see themselves as part of a larger world, their minds and bodies go into development overdrive, and their relationships with everyone can shift dramatically. Middle schoolers are heavily invested in figuring out their identities; they push for increased independence from adults while often desperately seeking a sense of belonging among their peers. These experiences can be especially confusing, painful, or frightening for kids who feel different–such as kids whose gender identities or sexual orientations stand out in our still very binary and heteronormative culture.
This spring, Buzzfeed published an article titled “Coming Out As Gay in Elementary School,” which interviewed a few children and their families on their experiences coming out as gay, genderless, and queer at ages ranging from 7 to 13 years old. The article also cites research and interviews with Dr. Caitlyn Ryan of San Francisco State University’s Family Acceptance Project. In a 2009 practice brief, Dr. Ryan notes that their research shows that “both gay and straight children have their first ‘crush’ or attraction to another person at age 10” and on average, adolescents in their studies identified as lesbian, gay, or bisexual at age 13.4 (2). In the same report, she reiterates that children develop and express gender identity at ages 2-3 (2).
As a librarian, I want to be able to provide all of my students with stories that both reflect their lives, experiences, and identities and expand their understanding of our diverse world. Since these studies and testimonies clearly illustrate the relevance of LBGTQ+ stories to middle school students, I wondered: how many middle school age characters who identify on the LGBTQ+ spectrum show up in middle grade and young adult fiction?
Happily, we are beginning to see more and more novels featuring 10-14 year old LGBTQ+ characters. However, I struggled to find representations of girls who like girls or transgender boys, which was disheartening. We’ve got some great titles currently available and several exciting titles set to be published this year. But I’d love to see even more, especially featuring lesbian/bisexual/queer girls and transgender boys!
While her painfully bad singing rules out a future as an actor, theatre fanatic Callie has found her place backstage as a set designer. When talented twins Justin and Jesse join the middle school musical, the drama on and off stage reaches new heights. Callie’s thrilled to have a fun new friend in openly gay Justin and she hopes that quiet Jesse might be the boy to help her get over her crush on her old friend Greg.
So Hard To Say – Alex Sanchez
Thirteen year old Xio is confident, bubbly, and ready for first kisses and romance. When shy Frederick starts at school, Xio is happy to lend him a pen and invite him to join her lunch table. The two quickly become close friends but as Xio’s attempts to transform their relationship into romance escalate, Frederick finds himself increasingly attracted to handsome soccer player Victor.
When thirteen year old Nate hears about open auditions for the lead in the upcoming Broadway production of E.T. : The Musical, he will stop at nothing to get to New York City and claim his rightful space in the spotlight. Along the way, Nate faces merciless competition, perilous public transportation, and growing questions about his sexuality and identity. Nate’s adventures continue in the sequel, Five, Six, Seven, Nate! Continue reading Middle School Pride : LGBTQ+ Tweens in Literature for Youth
Nearly two years ago, I made this graphic guide to LGBTQ titles in order to give an overview of the variety of YA literature that features queer characters, from coming out stories to sci-fi adventures. Campaigns like We Need Diverse Books have brought even more attention to the need for diversity in children’s publishing, as well as called for more books that feature characters with intersecting identities.
I’m happy to say all of this means that the graphic was in need of an update. There have been lots of new titles published, and I wanted to make it more comprehensive (though by all means, still not exhaustive).
These books aren’t necessarily right for every reader, and don’t constitute the best, or the only, LGBTQIA+ fiction for young adults available. But it is a good starting off point for those interested in exploring the way these identities are portrayed in YA fiction. In some, the LGBTQ characters are the narrators, and in others, they are more supporting characters. Continue reading An Updated Graphic Guide to LGBTQ YA Literature for Pride Month
On Friday evening Brian Selznick delivered the 46th Annual Arbuthnot Honor lecture at Martin Luther King Jr. Library in downtown Washington, D.C. to a packed house of hundreds of librarians, educators, and youth literature aficionados. This lecture series was established in 1969 to honor May Hill Arbuthnot, educator, children’s literature critic, professor, and author of both the famous Dick & Jane books and the seminal textbook, Children and Books. In her introduction, Sue McCleaf Nespeca, chair of the 2015 Arbuthnot Honor Lecture Committee, described their reasons for selecting Mr. Selznick as this year’s lecturer, citing both his groundbreaking The Invention of Hugo Cabret and his powerful speeches in the wake of that book’s awards. His lecture, titled “Love Is A Dangerous Angel: Thoughts on Queerness and Family in Children’s Books,” promised to be a thrilling additional contribution to children’s literature–and indeed, it was.
Brian Selznick, dressed in a snappy navy blue paisley suit and black bowtie, stepped on stage and thanked his family (including his mother & husband, both in attendance), friends, co-workers, editors, and, finally, the ASL interpreters for the evening, to whom he spoke and signed his gratitude and advance apologies for speaking quickly. His humor and personalized acknowledgements set the tone for the evening.
He opened his lecture with a quote from the late Maurice Sendak, who gave the Arbuthnot lecture in 2003. Mr. Selznick noted that Sendak is his “great hero” and when Hugo was awarded the Caldecott Medal, he was especially thrilled that the award would forever link his name to Sendak’s–an honor that the Arbuthnot lecture enriches further. To begin, he read out the six sections of the first chapter in May Hill Arbuthnot’s Children & Books. He used these section titles to structure his lecture, artfully intertwining his evolving understanding of his own identity and his career with his thoughts on the shifting visions of queerness and families in children’s books. Continue reading 46th Annual Arbuthnot Honor Lecture: Brian Selznick Explores Queerness & The Family in Children’s Books