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MOMBIAN Children's and YA books on LGBTQ history
by Dana Rudolph
2018-10-31

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LGBTQ History Month offers us a wonderful opportunity each October to look at the growing number of books for children and youth on LGBTQ history—including several that are new this year.

Elementary school

Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag, written by Rob Sanders and illustrated by Steven Salerno ( Random House: 2018 ), is an inspiring biography of Milk that stresses his friendship with Gilbert Baker, who designed the rainbow flag as a symbol of hope and inspiration. It does mention Milk's assassination, although as gently as possible, but parents should still be prepared to address kids' concerns there.

Sewing the Rainbow: A Story About Gilbert Baker ( Magination Press: 2018 ), written by Gayle Pitman and illustrated by Holly Clifton-Brown, flips the perspective Sanders used, and takes us along with Baker from his childhood, through adversity, to the request by his friend Milk to create a new symbol for their community. A few rough transitions may take adult explanation, but all will be inspired by this story and how Baker regained his lost sparkle.

The Harvey Milk Story, written by Kari Krakow and illustrated by David Gardner ( Two Lives Publishing: 2001 ), conveys Milk's significance with warmth and appreciation. It is wordier and more detailed that Sanders' book, and probably best for older elementary students. Unfortunately out of print and only available in very expensive used versions; I include it here in case people wish to seek it in a library.

When You Look Out the Window: How Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin Built a Community, by Gayle Pitman ( Magination Press: 2017 ), tells of the transformation that LGBTQ-rights pioneers Lyon and Martin helped bring to San Francisco and its LGBTQ community. The book begins with them falling in love, buying a house, and observing the lack of rights for women and gay people in their neighborhood. "So we worked to change that," they say. We then see the many welcoming buildings now in the neighborhood, often bedecked with rainbow flags, and the sense of community in the streets. There's little in the main text about what Lyon and Martin actually did to effect these changes, but adults can review the Reading Guide at the end and explain to kids that the pair brought people together to fight for LGBTQ and women's rights and created safe spaces for women who, like themselves, loved other women.

Middle grade

Pride: Celebrating Diversity and Community, by Robin Stevenson ( Orca: 2016 ), blends a history of the event with a broader look at the struggle for LGBTQ equality, along with a look at what it means to come out, what to expect at Pride events around the world, a glossary, and an explanation of gender identity.

Gay & Lesbian History for Kids: The Century-Long Struggle for LGBT Rights, by Jerome Pohlen ( 2015 ), starts with Sappho, Alexander the Great, and other figures from distant history, but then focuses mostly on U.S. social and political history. A series of activities throughout the book add fun and engagement. Despite the main title, Pohlen is inclusive of the LGBT spectrum.

One True Way, by Shannon Hitchcock ( Scholastic: 2018 ), is a rare fictional look at historical LGBTQ identities for this age range. In 1977, protagonist Allie Drake wants to join the newspaper staff at her new middle school in North Carolina, where she and her mother moved following her older brother's death and her parents' separation. On her first day at school, she meets Samantha "Sam" Johnson, a "handsome" basketball star who moves effortlessly among the school's social cliques. The girls fall for each other, but must deal with the prejudice of Sam's conservative Christian parents, Allie's overprotective but ultimately more understanding mother, the bigotry promulgated nationwide by actor Anita Bryant, and the ramifications for two of their teachers who are also a same-sex couple. All this transpires as Allie seeks to find her place at the new school and to understand her parents' pending divorce. There's little in it that couldn't still happen today ( unfortunately, in some cases ), but the spectre of Anita Bryant, even shakier employment protections, and in-passing mentions of pop culture figures of the time help convey the important lesson that girls falling in love with girls is nothing new.

Young adult

Gay America: Struggle for Equality, by Linus Alsenas ( Amulet: 2008 ), is explicitly limited to gay men and lesbians, and a little dated now, but worthwhile within those limits, covering politics, culture, relations between the lesbian and gay rights movement and other civil rights movements, entertainment, the evolution of gay and lesbian identities, and more.

Queer There and Everywhere: 23 People Who Changed the World, by Sarah Prager ( HarperCollins: 2017 ), aims for the teen audience, but adults will also learn much from her engaging profiles. Prager offers a thoughtful exploration of historical terms for what we now call "queer" identities, an overview of queerness in every populated region of the world, and profiles that are both informative and entertaining. The figures run the gamut from the famous Abraham Lincoln to the relatively unknown Union soldier Albert Cashier. Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin are there, as is Harvey Milk, but so are lesser-known figures like the Roman Emperor Elagabalus, erstwhile Queen of Sweden Kristina Vasa, Mexican nun and poet Juana Inés de la Cruz, and more. One might quibble with some of the choices ( did Cashier really change the world? ) and wish for others, but no book this length can encompass all the queer people in history. We can only hope there's a sequel.

Dana Rudolph is the founder and publisher of Mombian ( mombian.com ), a GLAAD Media Award-winning blog and resource directory for LGBTQ parents.


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