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MOMBIAN LGBTQ-inclusive kids' books: Resources, actions
by Dana Rudolph
2018-03-14

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One of the most common questions I see from new LGBTQ parents is "Where can I find LGBTQ-inclusive books for my kids?" Here's one resource you should know—along with some thoughts on the state of LGBTQ-inclusive kids' books.

The American Library Association's latest annual Rainbow Book List, announced last month, is intended "to aid youth and those working with youth in selecting high-quality books" that have "significant and authentic GLBTQ content." It includes nearly 50 fiction and nonfiction titles for infants through young adults, from 18 publishers ( glbtrt.ala.org/rainbowbooks ).

The Rainbow List committee said on its website that this year they "noted an increase in a range of gender and sexual identities across the queer spectrum," including books that explored asexuality, bisexuality, and gender fluidity. A number of books also included stronger treatments of the intersections of race, class and disability. One negative, though, was a decline in novels with explicitly transgender characters.

I also noticed the worrying trend that only two of the books featured families with LGBTQ parents. Last year's list had only three. That's not the list's fault; for the past several years, published books about children with LGBTQ parents have been scarce ( especially for younger ages ), and stories about LGBTQ children and youth ( particularly transgender and genderqueer ones ) have been in the ascendant. Prior to that, it was the other way around, and I am glad publishers have been redressing the imbalance. Going forward, however, I hope more publishers can put out multiple books within a year that cover both ( and more ) aspects of our community.

There are other gaps to address, too. Writer and activist Alli Harper, in a January piece at M Is for Movement, wrote of the need for more "everyday" kids' books featuring same-sex parents—ones that aren't "issue based," i.e., "about or focused on the existence of the same-sex parents."

That's an approach I've also been trying to uplift for years. But as the Rainbow List shows, children's books with same-sex parents ( or any LGBTQ parents, for that matter ), issue-based or not, have been few in recent years, especially from major publishers with marketing and distribution power. Harper rightly calls on the publishing behemoths to step up.

Some progress has been made through a number of books that show families with same-sex parents doing everyday things as part of a celebration of many types of families. These books are critical, both at home and in schools, where "Family" often forms a curriculum unit in younger grades. But we can't confine children's encounters with LGBTQ families to brief glimpses like this, however important it is for them to see us there.

The difficulty with "everyday" books, too, is that even when published, they may not be catalogued as having LGBTQ content, and thus escape the notice of many who want them. ( The upside, though, is that such books may inadvertently be picked up by families who could benefit from the windows they open. ) This speaks to the need for increased communication between publishers, librarians and the wider LGBTQ community.

And although Harper focuses on the need for "everyday books," she also acknowledges "We must increase content across the board." That bears repeating. Children can still benefit from books that address specific situations kids of LGBTQ parents ( and LGBTQ children ) may encounter, and from nonfiction books that explore queer culture and history.

There is still a role, too, for smaller presses and self-published works. The small, feminist Lollipop Power Press, for example, published the very first LGBTQ-inclusive children's book, Jane Severance's When Megan Went Away ( 1979 ). Smaller publishers may feel more able to take a chance on content that is potentially controversial or that may ( at least initially ) speak to a niche audience.

Reflecting on all this, I would offer these actions and ideas:

—If you're a children's author, write books that include LGBTQ people and families—both "everyday" stories and ( if you have the expertise ) ones that thoughtfully cover aspects of LGBTQ families' specific experiences. First, however, read what's already out there so you don't duplicate what exists. Seek advice from other authors and professional organizations if you're new to the field.

—If you're a teacher or librarian, get these books into your collections. Visit welcomingschools.org for advice if you're worried about negative reactions from parents or administrators.

—If you're a parent or anyone with a kid in your life, and have the means, buy these books for them. Ask your local library and/or bookstores to stock them.

—Submit the names of new, LGBTQ-inclusive titles to the Rainbow Book List for consideration. ( Note that they do not accept recommendations from authors, publishers, agents, or anyone who could gain directly from the recommendation. )

—Rate and review these books at your favorite online bookstore( s ).

—If you work at a literary agency or children's publisher, seek stories that feature LGBTQ people and families, and actively market them to LGBTQ families. ( They can and should be read by more than just us, but we'll be a loyal and fervent cheering squad. ) Reach out to national and local LGBTQ parent groups or community centers to connect with families who can act as a sounding board and source of ideas.

For those seeking LGBTQ-inclusive children's books, try:

—Rainbow Book List: As mentioned above.

—My own annotated selections at mombian.com .

—Rainbow Family Collections, by Jamie Campbell Naidoo, an extensive annotated list ( through its 2012 publication date ) for children up to grade five.

—Welcoming Schools book lists: welcomingschools.org .

Let's do what we can to spread and grow the stories.

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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