Thousands of kids in New York City went back to school this week, headed for classrooms and a school library filled with books to stimulate imaginations while teaching diversity among people, places and perspectives. And while teachers and librarians work to instill a love of reading, I want to laud two new books that speak to identity, personal expression and acceptance of differences.
I share them with a sense of urgency today, because yesterday I read an article about the West Chicago Library refusing to remove an LGBTQ picture book about a Pride celebration from its children’s section. According to the story, the host of a conservative Christian podcast complained about the images in the book and wanted it “at the very least” moved to the shelves for parents.
I haven’t read This Day in June, by Gayle E. Pitman, but the images I see on the cover depict people of different ages and colors celebrating all types of families at a Pride festival. And what child can’t relate to rainbows, hearts, dress-up, parades and community? In fact, it was the so-called-Christian complainer’s 3-year-old daughter who pulled the book off the shelf in the first place.
Here’s what I know: Fear is learned. Hatred is learned. Intolerance of differences is learned. Transphobia and homophobia are learned. And none are learned from children’s picture books at the public library.
The uniqueness of others is something to be cheered, not feared.
I’m hopeful you’ll continue to add LGBTQ-themed books to your child’s home library. There are so many colorful stories in print that can help kids in your family — and you — understand that their precious individuality and the uniqueness of others is something to be cheered, not feared. These books celebrating diversity make wonderful gifts for other children, too, or for your local school library.
I wish I’d had Newman’s latest children’s book for my gender-nonconforming kid Harry when he was a toddler in the early ‘90s. The story would have assured him that bedazzled clothes, glittery nail polish and shiny jewelry are simply fun choices of personal expression. And it would have been a good cue for his dad and me to ask, “Why not?” with more confidence. The real lesson in the book comes from Sparkle Boy Casey’s sister Jessie, who thinks boys aren’t supposed to wear skirts, polish or bracelets. But when she defends her little brother against boys who tease him at the library, she realizes they can both like the same things. (Newman, by the way, is also the author of the children’s book, Heather Has Two Mommies.)
Who Are You?: A Kid’s Guide to Gender Identity is the best book I’ve seen to help children 5+ understand the broad, colorful spectrum of gender diversity. And it’s not just for children! Reading these pages would have given me a much better answer than the one I came up with when Harry asked me at two years old how I knew he was a boy. And remembering how I didn’t understand the word cisgender until about five years ago, I have a feeling there are plenty of adults who would appreciate this straightforward primer on bodies, gender identity and personal expression. It also busts the gender stereotypes still so often imposed on kids. There’s a short page-by-page guide for adults in the back, and the inside back cover holds the bonus of an interactive rainbow wheels for kids to explore what they have, what they are and what they like.
I hope you’ll bookmark this page to remember these books and also refer to the lists below of LGBTQ children’s and picture books that were put together by two of the children’s librarians at the Scarsdale Library for a talk I gave there last March. Happy reading and happy celebrating, y’all!
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