Queer Kid Lit

There were a lot of things that happened that I didn’t expect to happen when I embarked on this project exploring the magic of picture books. I set out mainly to create a podcast which I did do. But in the process I also toppled some of my assumptions; learned about race, class, and privilege; and, I hope, learned how to be a better ally.

I signed up for the LGBT ALLY group at work years ago. And I always look for what more I can do to be an effective ally. What more besides just sticking an ally sticker on my badge at work or flying the rainbow flag at my desk.

Queer representation came up a lot as I began to observe the ways that children’s literature absorbs and reflects the world we live in today. Now, thanks to great conversations that I’ve had through the ally group plus the important things I’ve learned about diversity and representation in kidlit, I’ve learned a lot.

Last month I presented my findings to the LGBT employee resource group and I shared with them the 3 categories for types of representation that I discovered.

My first category is OVERT; these are books that are clearly and specifically about LGBT experience - books that address what it is like to be gay or to have gay parents or to be trans. My second category is what I’m calling SUBTLE where there is a sense of fluidity - or perhaps shifting gender norms - or struggling with identity and integrity. My third category of books is INCIDENTAL which is where LGBT* experience isn’t the primary plot. It’s simply, naturally, part of the story. I think these are valuable for their normalizing effect.

But even besides these categories I began to isolate, I realized something even more important - which is that this range of representation is just as important as a whole. As I think back on my interview with Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop (who originated the Mirrors and Windows metaphor), I am remembering that she stressed the important of understanding range and nuance within one group. And this makes me realize how much I need diversity within my diversity. That it’s not enough to have just one or two books on my shelf that are “windows” for me or my family. But to have a full range of windows so that I can see and understand a diverse range of experiences.

Emily AkinsComment