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. There’s so much more work I need to do - so much I need to learn.

Over the course of my podcast project - I was excited to see that 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. I spent some more time examining diversity and LGBT representation in kidlit to see what else I could discover and to broaden my own understanding.

In March I presented my findings to the LGBT employee resource group at Hallmark and I shared with them the 3 categories for types of representation that I pinpointed. 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. (Books like, for example, Heather Has Two Mommies; In Our Mothers’ House; I Am Jazz; Daddy, Papa, and Me; Mommy, Mama, and Me; and PRIDE: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag.)

My second category is what I call SUBTLE where there is a sense of fluidity - or perhaps shifting gender norms - or struggling with identity and integrity. (For example: Red: A Crayon’s Story, Oliver Button is a Sissy, The She He Me: Free to Be!, Jerome By Heart, Neither, Julián is a Mermaid.)

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, which I think is valuable for its normalizing effect. (Books like Harriet Gets Carried Away, Donovan’s Big Day, The Different Dragon, Eve’s New Brother).

But besides these categories, 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. So that my kids can see more than one way to be gay or straight. So they can see more than one way to be a boy or girl or neither.

So they can see more than one way to be. Period.

Emily AkinsComment