Nonfiction Wednesday: What Makes a Baby?

Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge 2016 is a weekly celebration of imaginative children’s nonfiction materials hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy.

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What Makes a Baby?

Oh, the million-dollar question that can give adults everywhere anxiety attacks – “where do babies come from?” Many picture books on the subject of reproduction talk about sex, which is a very important topic to discuss with children, but which isn’t always a factor in the baby-making process. Babies are the result of a collision between sperm and egg, and this miraculous collision can occur with or without sexual intercourse between a male and a female. Some children are born to a biological mother and father with the help of IVF, while other babies are conceived to same-sex families through donor eggs or sperm, IVF and/or or surrogates. Just as families come in a variety of shapes, sizes and forms, babies are created in many different ways.

Brought to you by the same team behind the inclusive, sex-positive sex ed book Sex is a Funny WordWhat Makes a Baby is “a book for every kind of FAMILY and every kind of KID”. It’s a great starting point for discussions on reproduction, sex, and childbirth, providing the basic framework of information, and allowing caregivers to customize their discussions. Just as in Sex is a Funny Word, the characters in What Makes a Baby come in a variety of candy colours, and are largely externally without gender, making for a truly diverse and inclusive text.

This is a particularly helpful picture book for same-sex families, as it gives their conception stories the same weight, worth and importance as those of other families, and doesn’t make their stories feel like exceptions to the any rule, uncommon, or unusual. Conception is the same process, no matter how the egg and sperm end up meeting, or how they are introduced.

What Makes a Baby? is a fantastic starting point for discussions of conception and birth, and is a worthwhile addition to any collection.

Interview with Robin Stevenson

This interview was originally posted on the BC Library Association’s LGBTQ Interest Group website – be sure to check out their blog for great LGBTQ resources, and subscribe so you don’t miss a post.  

Robin Stevenson is a B.C.-based author who has published fiction and nonfiction for kids and teens. Her works have been nominated for a number of awards, including the Governor General’s Award and the Silver Birch Award. She recently sat down with us to talk about her career, her experiences as an LGBTQ writer and parent, and her suggestions to libraries looking to better serve LGBTQ patrons.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your career as a writer?

I worked as a social worker for ten years, mostly providing counselling for sexual assault survivors. I moved to BC from Ontario in 2001, and I began writing four years later, while on maternity leave. I wrote a handful of short stories, one of which unexpectedly turned into a YA novel. It was published in 2007. The following year, I published four books for middle grade kids and teens, one of which- A Thousand Shades of Blue- was a finalist for the Governor General’s Literary Awards and the BC Book Prizes. So I kept on writing and never did go back to social work. I’ve written twenty books for kids and teens, including the 2014 Silver Birch winner Record Breaker. My 2015 middle grade novel, The Summer We Saved the Bees, is currently shortlisted for both the Red Cedar and the Chocolate Lily awards. I live in Victoria with my partner and our 12 year old son.

Pride

You’ve got a new nonfiction book out, “Pride”, which introduces children to the history of the Pride movement. Can you tell us a bit about your experiences researching and writing the book? What are some take-aways that you hope children will leave the book with?

I loved writing Pride. My novels tend to be rather solitary projects, but Pride was all about connecting with people and hearing about what Pride meant to them: trans kids, queer teens, lesbian moms, intersex activists, drag queens, LGBT historians, local people and people from around the world. I was so moved by how generous everyone was, and how willing to be a part of this book—so many people shared stories and thoughts and photographs. Others read various drafts and gave me important critical feedback. They made the book much better and I made some wonderful new friends.

I had three different audiences in mind when I was writing. First, kids and teens who are themselves LGBTQ or questioning, and kids, like my son, from queer families. These kids rarely see their own lives and experiences and families reflected in the books they read. Many of them face bullying at school and rejection by their families, and others lack the safety and support to come out. I wanted to tell them that even if their current reality is a hard one, they are the newest generation of a courageous, resilient and diverse community—a community that they will find their own place in. They have a history that they can be proud of and a future that, despite everything, looks better all the time.

I also wrote Pride for the rest of the kids- the ones who aren’t part of our community and may not know much about it. Because it isn’t just up to the LGBTQ community to dismantle heterosexism and queerphobia- it’s up to everyone. I think awareness and learning are an important part of building empathy and creating allies in the fight for equality.

And finally, I hope that teachers and parents will find Pride useful as a clear, welcoming introduction to LGBTQ history, community and identities. I have met many people who say that they’d like to discuss these issues with their students or their children but aren’t sure where to begin, or don’t know what language to use, or worry about how to handle questions that might come up. I’m so glad they see the importance of having these conversations, and I hope Pride will be an accessible and positive resource for them.

What advice would you give to libraries looking to create a meaningful, inclusive LGBTQ library collection? Are there any titles that you would consider must-haves for any collection?

I think it is important to include the full-spectrum of LGBTQ identities. LGBTQ book lists often focus heavily on books about gay male teens, and while these are awesome and important, so are the books about queer girls, bi teens, trans teens, non-binary teens, queer teens of colour etc. I also think it’s important to emphasize LGBTQ books written by LGBTQ authors who are able to draw on their own lived experience. With both of those points in mind, here are a few recent titles that stand out for me:

George, by Alex Gino. This is a middle-grade novel about a trans girl. It is sweet, realistic and very well-written—a great book for ages 9+. It just won both the Lambda and Stonewall Awards.

If I Was Your Girl, by Meredith Russo. A coming of age YA novel about a trans girl. Beautifully written, with an afterword by the author that made me love the book even more. Here is a really great, thoughtful review from Casey Plett: http://plenitudemagazine.ca/casey-plett-reviews-meredith-russos-if-i-was-your-girl/

Lizard Radio, by Pat Schmatz. Dystopian young adult sci-fi, with a non-binary narrator and gorgeous, lyrical writing. Full disclosure: the author is a good friend of mine… but it’s not just me that loves it. Kirkus and School Library Journal both gave this novel starred reviews and it just won the Tiptree Award, for fiction that expands our understanding of gender.

Otherbound, by Corinne Duyvis. This debut novel got multiple starred reviews and won the Bisexual Book Award. The main characters include a bisexual girl and a teen boy with a physical disability– and it’s a very original, twisty, hard-to-put down fantasy novel that will appeal to lots of teens. It also deals thoughtfully with issues of power and privilege.

More HMore Happy Than Notappy Than Not, by Adam Silvera. A funny-but-dark, geeky, clever novel set in the near-future, about a gay Latino teen boy living in the Bronx. Emotionally gut-wrenching. This one’s also piling up the starred reviews.

( I also have links to some great online lists on my website: http://robinstevenson.com/lgbtq-novels-teens/)

What advice would you give to libraries that are looking for ways to better serve LGBTQ families in their communities?

I think visibility is key: I’ve loved seeing photographs of Pride Month displays at various libraries this month. Queer-positive posters, rainbow flags, anything that sends a message of support and inclusion…I think these seemingly small gestures of welcome are actually quite powerful. Inclusive programming matters too: invite LGBTQ authors to give readings or workshops, host an LGBTQ book club for teens and let the local high schools’ GSAs know about it, check in with local LGBTQ organizations to find what they’d like to see offered.

And of course, having a good selection of LGBTQ books readily available on the shelves that kids and teens browse. I visited a queer youth group recently (not in BC) and the kids told me that their local library had no LGBTQ YA books at all. I asked if they had requested them, because perhaps another branch might have them, or perhaps the library could order some—but none of them had. So the fact that people aren’t asking for the books doesn’t mean they don’t want them. Many young people may not be comfortable asking for an LGBTQ book.

As an LGBTQ writer, have you noticed changes in the publishing industry with regard to LGBTQ authors, stories and subjects? Are there any gaps that stand out to you?

There are an ever-increasing number of YA novels with LGBTQ characters, which is wonderful. In terms of gaps… hmm. I’d like to see more diversity with respect to the LGBTQ identities represented (eg. non-binary, gender queer, pansexual, asexual etc) and I’d like to see more intersectional identities shown. I’ve heard some writers say that they’ve been told that their stories are “too diverse” because they feature characters who are, for example, queer and disabled. Which is absurd: obviously a queer character is just as likely to have a disability as a straight character. It shows that despite the progress, we are still treating straight, white, able etc as default categories and everything else as “other.”

I’d love to see more queer families represented in picture books, including books where it’s not the focus. Just books about kids having adventures and then going home to their two moms. I was desperate for those when my son was younger and there are still so few of them. And I think we need to see way more LGBTQ representation in stories for middle-grade kids. There is still so very little out there for kids aged 8-12. It doesn’t always have to be the focus: I try to include queer characters in all my books, even if they are peripheral. In The Summer We Saved the Bees, for example, Wolf’s family stays with his mom’s friends who are a lesbian couple with two kids. I’d like to see more of that: just more books populated with a diverse cast of characters that actually reflects the world we live in. It doesn’t seem too much to ask.

A major thank-you to Robin for enthusiastically and generously sharing her time and her thoughts with us. Robin has a number of fantastic resources on her website, so do check it out for more LGBTQ information and ideas.

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? 10/05/15

It’s Monday, What Are You Reading? was initiated by Sheila at Book Journey, and adapted by Kellee at Unleashing Readers and Jen at Teach Mentor Texts with a children’s/YA focus – perfect for a children’s librarian like me. This weekly roundup is a great way to discover new blogs and bloggers, share recommended (or not so recommended….) titles, and add to your ever-growing to-read list.

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So many books, so little time! I’m very lucky in that so many amazing children’s books cross my desk every day. I’m trying to shorten my list down to a manageable length, let’s see how well I do…..

Title: Buster the Very Shy Dog
Author/Illustrator: Lisze Bechtold
Publisher: First Green Light Readers Edition
Publication Date: 2015
Genre/Format: Fiction/Early Reader
Publisher’s Summary: Buster, a very shy dog, does not get along with the other pets in Roger’s house, especially bold and popular Phoebe, but soon Buster discovers his own special talent.

My Two Cents: The two short stories in this collection are sure to bring smiles to the faces of shy or self-conscious children, particularly those who think they have more popular or talented siblings or friends. Buster the shy dog wishes he could be outgoing and talented like the other dog in his family, but he eventually realizes that being quiet, shy, and a good listener can be just as important.

Title: Ballet Cat: The Totally Secret Secret
Author/Illustrator: Bob Shea
Publisher: Disney Hyperion
Publication Date: 2015
Genre/Format: Fiction/Early Reader
Publisher’s Summary: Ballet Cat and Sparkles the Pony are trying to decide what to play today. Nothing that Sparkles suggests–making crafts, playing checkers, and selling lemonade–goes well with the leaping, spinning, and twirling that Ballet Cat likes to do. When Sparkles’s leaps, spins, and twirls seem halfhearted, Ballet Cat asks him what’s wrong. Sparkles doesn’t want to say. He has a secret that Ballet Cat won’t want to hear. What Sparkles doesn’t know is that Ballet Cat has a secret of her own, a totally secret secret. Once their secrets are shared, will their friendship end, or be stronger than ever?

My Two Cents: This silly reader is perfect for fans of Mo Willem’s Elephant and Piggie series, and a great option for independent or paired reading. Kids can take turns reading the parts of Ballet Cat and Sparkles the Pony, who face a major challenge in their friendship when Sparkles confesses that he’s tired of playing ballet. There’s nothing earth-shatteringly unique about The Totally Secret Secret, but it’s a nice, fun offering for kids who’ve exhausted the library’s Elephant and Piggie selection and are looking for something similar to read.

Title: George
Author/Illustrator: Alex Gino
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Publication Date: 2015
Genre/Format: Fiction/Novel
Publisher’s Summary: When people look at George, they think they see a boy. But she knows she’s not a boy. She knows she’s a girl. George thinks she’ll have to keep this a secret forever. Then her teacher announces that their class play is going to be Charlotte’s Web. George really, really, REALLY wants to play Charlotte. But the teacher says she can’t even try out for the part– because she’s a boy. With the help of her best friend, Kelly, George comes up with a plan. Not just so she can be Charlotte– but so everyone can know who she is, once and for all.

My Two Cents: Sometimes a book touches you so strongly that you don’t even know how to begin talking about it. More than anything, reading George made angry. Angry that we live in a world in which children have to hide their true identities and live false lives because they’re terrified of how other people will react to them. I just wanted to climb into the pages of the book and hug George and her family, and tell them that they weren’t alone, and that there were people out there who would support them and love them and fight for them. I can only wish that every child finds a best friend like Kelly, who embraces George as she is, and encourages her to be herself. I can only hope that every child has a school principle like George has  and a family who is doing the very best they can for their child. I could write about George for pages and pages, but I’ll just say that this isn’t just a socially important book, it’s also a very good book, and one which takes a potentially unfamiliar topic such as transgenderism, and gives it a very real, very human face. Highly, highly recommended.

Five Finds – LGBTQ YOUNG ADULT FICTION

It’s Pride Month in Vancouver. To celebrate, here are five very different LGBTQ titles for teens, ranging in setting from 1980s Texas to modern day Iran, and in genre from realistic fiction to high fantasy.

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Everything Leads to You / Nina LaCour

A sweet, fairy tale romance in which the two lovers just happen to be girls. Everything Leads to You is a refreshingly positive coming-of-age story which subtly suggests that books about lesbian relationships don’t always have to be angst-filled, coming-out “problem novels”, but can be just as happy and mushy and fluffy as any other teen romance novel. One of the most positive aspects of this book is that fact that Emi, the lead character, is totally comfortable with her sexuality – it’s a non-issue to her and the people around her, which is really as it should be. This isn’t so much a lesbian love story as it is a story about two lovers who just happen to be lesbians, which is hopefully something we’ll see more of in the future.

Huntress / Malinda Lo

LGBTQ teen novels tend fall into the “contemporary fiction” genre. For fantasy fans, there’s Huntress, a sweeping novel of world building, adventure and destiny. Two 17-year-old girls, Kaede and Taisin, must embark on a perilous mission to save their land, and as they face mounting dangers with only each other to lean on, the girls begin to explore their feelings for each other. Lo’s characters are beautifully developed and complex, and her world-building is expansive and intricate. The slowly developing relationship between the two female leads is natural and sensitive, and is written seamlessly into the story. This is another excellent example of the ways in which homosexual or bisexual characters can be written into novels in which their sexuality is an aspect of their character, rather than their only defining quality.

Moon at Nine / Deborah Ellis

Imagine if something as natural and beautiful as falling in love could be punishable by death. 15-year-old Farrin attends an Iranian school for gifted girls where she meets a vivacious new girl, Sabira, who encourages Farrin to express herself through her writing. As Farrin and Sabira grow closer, the two girls must keep their burgeoning relationship a secret at all costs, because if anyone were to find out, they could lose their very lives. While the subject matter is upsetting, Moon at Nine does help underscore the fact that LGBTQ youth live and love in cultures and countries all around the world, and that while it may feel isolating and lonely to be “different”, LGBTQ youth are not in this alone.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe / Benjamin Alire Saenz

15-year-old Ari is an angry loner who has never had a real friend, and who carries a burning secret. His closely guarded world is turned upside down when he meets Dante, a boy from another school, who helps Ari learn to trust again, and encourages him to question his own deep-seated fears, desires and hopes. This beautiful, honest, authentic account of a relationship between two damaged souls is also notable in that it features Mexican-American characters, who strive to reconcile both their cultural and sexual identities and discover who they are really meant to be.

If You Could Be Mine / Sara Farizan

Another novel of lesbian love in Iran, If you could be mine tackles a number of complex issues, including religion, homosexuality, arranged marriages, and gender reassignment. 17-year-olds Sahar and Nasrin have been in love since they were children, but they have had to keep their love secret, because homosexuality is punishable by death in their country. When Nasrin’s parents arrange a marriage for her with a wealthy doctor, she encourages Sahar to continue their relationship in secret, but Sahar longs to love Nasrin openly and without fear. While homosexuality is illegal in Iran, being transgendered is not, and gender-reassignment surgery is openly available. Sahar is willing to do whatever it takes to be with Nasrin, even if it means risking everything she has and everything she is. If you could be mine is an eye-opening look at the brutal realities of life for LGBTQ teens in Iran, who face losing their very lives for the crime of being in love.

What are some of your favourite LGBTQ novels for teens?

Five Finds – Same-sex families

This week an ECE student came to the desk looking for picture books featuring families with same-sex parents, and here are a few of the titles we found.

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 A Tale of Two Daddies / Oelschlager, Vanita

A little girl and her classmate, a little boy, talk about the girl’s life with her two daddies. Like any child, the boy is curious, and asks all sorts of practical questions, which the little girl answers with simplicity and honesty. Sweet, gentle, and respectful, this poetic text is a loving look at life in a same-sex family

 And Tango Makes Three / Richardson, Justin

At New York City’s Central Park Zoo, two male penguins fall in love and start a family by incubating an abandoned egg and raising the chick as their own.

Donovan’s Big Day / Leslea Newman

Donovan prepares for a very special day – the wedding day of his two mothers.

In Our Mothers’ House / Patricia Polacco

This picture book by beloved author/illustrator Polacco celebrates the joys and challenges of living in a family with two mothers.

 Daddy, Papa, and Me / Leslea Newman

This rhythmic picture book follows a loving same-sex family through their very ordinary day, as they take part in the same family activities and routines that families all around the world take part in every day.

Are there any titles you would recommend? I’d love to hear about them in the comments!