Benjamin’s And Baby Makes Four (2009)

And Baby Makes Four, written by Judith Benjamin with photographic images by Judith Freedman, was published in 2009 by Motek Press. Lesbian moms and their young daughter prepare to welcome a new baby into their family.

The story is told in the first-person from the point-of-view of the couple’s young daughter. At the beginning of the short book, the young girl learns her mom is pregnant and that she will be a big sister. Pictures of her pregnant mother as well as ultrasound images show what the story tells.

Once her parents bring the new baby home, she begins to adjust to the cute but loud and attention-hogging new infant. This adjustment isn’t seamless. She has to get used to the good and not-so-good of being a big sister.

By the end of the brief book she has settled into her new life and enjoys her role in the family.

This is a good story to help young children process a new addition to their home! It is well-paced and accessible, helping children as young as three begin to grasp the changes that will occur.

I do not like the use of personal photographs in books. It feels too intimate; a reminder that you are clearly reading someone else’s story. I prefer the abstraction of illustrations because it makes it easier for readers to “step into” a story, so to speak. However, And Baby Makes Four does fill a niche and can be a useful aid to discussing the addition of new siblings.

IF YOU WRITE LGBTQ* CHILDREN’S PICTURE BOOKS, PLEASE READ!

I am working on a book project tentatively titled The Politics and Poetics of “New” LGBTQ Children’s Picture Books. The book is about children’s picture books published in North America that feature LGBTQ themes and characters.

I am historicizing and contextualizing the production, distribution, and consumption of LGBTQ children’s literature by building an archive of news articles, existing research, and original interviews conducted primarily through digital correspondence. I am very interested in how gatekeepers like publishers may influence LGBTQ content in children’s picture books. Additionally, I am interested in how experiences publishing LGBTQ children’s picture books have changed over the last fifty years.

I am seeking the help of authors who have experience publishing LGBTQ children’s picture books. I have prepared a set of questions that will help me obtain information about your experiences self-publishing, publishing with a small press, or publishing with a larger established press.

I’ve been offered an advance contract by a major university press for this book project. I have published about LGBTQ children’s literature in the edited collection Heroes, Heroines, and Everything in Between as well as in The Journal of Homosexuality. I also teach about literature, writing, and gender studies at University of Texas at Arlington.

If you are an author who has written LGBTQ children’s picture books, please contact me at jlmiller1@gmail.com.

I will send you a series of questions as an initial part of our correspondence. At most I will follow up once for clarification. Your help will enable me to create a rich history of North American LGBTQ children’s picture books!

Thank you for your time and consideration!

R.J. Furness’ Orgo Runners: The First Run

Image result for orgo runners

Orgo Runners: The First Run, by R.J. Furness, is a fast-paced short read that still manages to feel epic. Furness brings us post-apocalyptic fiction for younger readers.

The story is set hundreds of years after a new ice age wiped out most of humanity. Now, instead of living spread-out over the globe, the remaining humans live in one of three places: Scorr Tanta, Eklips, and Port Harmony. Food is scarce in Port Harmony, a newly developed harbor town. Because of this, Port Harmony and the more established Scorr Tanta enter into a precarious trade agreement. Three friends (Fayth, Megg, and Ink) are convinced to carry supplies between their home and Scorr Tanta, although they have little choice in the matter. They do this on large and surprisingly intelligent animals called Orgo, which they have trained to race. Several subplots are introduced without being developed, including the existence of a group called elrupe’s who seem to have been exiled as well as the existence of a cruel ruler named Rada. The book prompts a lot of questions without providing answers, likely encouraging eager readers to demand the next installment in the series.

I appreciate that the female characters are strong-willed, confident, and capable. Even more, they center the text saving the day more than once. The existence of elrupe’s and the circumstances surrounding their disappearance hint at the possibility of a well developed subplot about racialization, and the division of humans into three distinct spatial areas with different resources also gestures towards the possibility of social critique as the series develops.

This early chapter book is sure to excite confident readers new to chapter books but ready for a challenge as well as more advanced reluctant readers. Additionally, it makes a fun bedtime story read-aloud for families like mine who do that sort of thing!

Linda de Hann’s King and King (2002)/King and King and Family (2004)

King and KingKing and King and Family

King and King, written by Linda de Hann and illustrated by Stern Nijland, queers the traditional fairy tale.

In this version, the queen, crown prince, and their pet cat live together. The very controlling queen orders her son to get married so he can rule the kingdom. As she barks demands at him, spittle rains from her mouth. After a day of being bullied, he agrees to be wed. His mother quickly arranges to have a group of single ladies paraded in front of him.

Almost all the princesses are physically unattractive: one is overweight, another’s arms are disproportionately long, a third wears glasses and has bad teeth, a fourth is very tall and skinny. The last princess is fairy tale princess-pretty. She has long blond hair and an hour glass figure. This princess arrives with her brother: Prince Lee.

The two princes fall in love at first sight. They quickly marry and become known as king and king. Of course, they live happily ever after.

Two years after its English release, King and King was followed by King and King and Family. The same writer/illustrator team created the book, which depicts king and king’s honeymoon. It is illustrated in the same style, which provides a sense of consistency across texts.

The men travel to the jungle and their pet cat stows away in their suitcase. As the threesome make their way through the jungle, the newlyweds delight in watching animals’ parent their offspring. This makes King Bertie wish he had a child of his own.

When the couple and their cat arrive home a little girl wearing a bright colored tank top and prettily patterned skirt pops out of their suitcase. She has a tan-skin tone and is ambivalently raced. The girl is immediately made a part of the family. She shares her adventures with the couple, although the reader is not privy to her story.

King and king officially adopt her, and it is noted that the process involves a lot of paperwork.

I am not a fan of these books. I don’t appreciate the abject depictions of women in the first book, and I don’t understand the choice to make a little girl magically appear in the two kings’ suitcase once they arrive home in the follow-up.

Lucile De Pesloüan’s What Makes Girls Sick and Tired

What Makes Girls Sick and Tired, written by Lucile De Pesloüan and illustrated by Geneviève Darling, will be published March 19 by Second Story Press. It’s a brief and simple text that pairs minimalist illustrations of diverse girls and women with short descriptions of forms of discrimination, stereotyping, and oppression experienced because of gender and sexual identities.

My Ani DiFranco loving sixteen-year-old self would have enjoyed it, although thirty-eight-year-old me is not so impressed. But since teens are the clear target audience, I’ll let sixteen-year-old me talk first.

De Pesloüan runs through experiences many teens will be familiar with, from gendered expectations for household chores to being bombarded with narrow body ideals, as well as issues they may not immediately connect with, like honor killings and forced marriage.

Twenty years ago, I would have felt understood by the text and it would have excited me. I don’t know that it would have promoted much critical thought or conversation. It certainly wouldn’t have prompted action. It is a text that doesn’t really go anywhere. And, although it features diverse women and girls, difference is flattened by the quick and decontextualized descriptions of social inequalities experienced by women otherwise positioned quite differently.

I guess what I am saying is that I want this book, but I want it to be better. I don’t think it’s worth purchasing.

I received a free copy from NetGalley.

Nikki Barthelmess’s The Quiet You Carry

Nikki Barthelmess’s debut novel The Quiet You Carry is a serious drama that follows teenage protagonist, Victoria Parker, as she negotiates the foster care system.  Victoria is a hardworking student who lost her mother to cancer when she was a young teenager. Her father remarried and she lives with him as well as her step-mother and step-sister. One night her father abruptly throws her out of their home, which is where the book begins.

Once in the foster care system, Victoria ends up struggling to finish her senior year of high school in a small town. She lives with a rule-oriented and emotionally unavailable foster mother, the foster mother’s toddler, and two other children in the foster care system.

For much of the text, Victoria is unable and unwilling to articulate what prompted her father to kick her out, and the story pivots around her ability to process her painful memories and adjust to her new life.

Barthelmess does a wonderful job creating believable personalities and situations. She humanizes even minor characters, refusing to create angels or demons. Well, there are a couple of characters who are pretty angelic, but it works. This is an emotionally mature text, at the same time it is clearly written for and accessible to a teenage audience. There are not nearly enough books for young audiences dealing honestly, and hopefully, with the foster care system, as well as various forms of mental and physical abuse. The Quiet You Carry is a well-paced drama sure to engage teen readers.

Trigger Alert: Sexual Abuse

I received a free EBook via NetGalley.

AVAILABLE MARCH 5, 2019.

 

Art Coulson’s Unstoppable: How Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team Defeated Army (2018)

Cover of the book Unstoppable by Art Coulson showing an illustration of Jim Thorpe running with a football

UnStoppable: How Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team Defeated Army

Written by Art Coulson

Illustrated by Nick Hardcastle

Published by Capstone in 2018

 

Capstone, the publisher behind Unstoppable: How Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team Defeated Army, approached its author, Art Coulson (Cherokee), about writing a non-fiction children’s picture book focused on a 1912 college football game between Carlisle Indian School and West Point. In an interview for the blog Cynsations, Coulson notes: “This was a game that the press built up as a rematch of the Battle of Little Big Horn.” Coulson and illustrator Nick Hardcastle do a wonderful job making this snapshot of US history available to young readers in vivid detail that accounts for the difficult circumstances that led Jim Thorpe to the Carlisle Indian School. Coulson maintains a serious tone, at points just shy of celebratory, to bring the unstoppable Jim Thorpe’s story to life.

Coulson takes readers on a journey through Jim Thorpe’s life introducing him as a twelve-year-old football fan excitedly watching a college football game and imagining himself playing. Jim’s challenging childhood is noted but not lingered on, as is the lengthy history of Native American boarding schools which existed to force assimilation, often without the consent of children or their families.

Coulson focuses on Jim’s athleticism, the area of his life in which he truly was unstoppable. For instance, after leading Carlisle to victory against Army, his coach, Pop Warner, helped him train for the Olympics where he won many events, several in a pair of shoes he found in a trash can after his were stolen.

Coulson is generous with his praise, not only of Jim, but other members of the team and coach Warner. He details the creative plays they brought to the field and describes the team’s skill as strategy-based.

I thoroughly enjoyed the story but would have liked to see the historical significance of the game elaborated on. Perhaps I am just a greedy reader!

I appreciated the back matter, including an accessible description of Jim’s post-1912 accomplishments, short biographies of other Carlisle players, and a description of Carlisle Indian Industrial School that details the real horror of boarding schools.

I recommend this book for personal and school libraries. It is a well-researched and descriptive biography of Jim Thorpe that foregrounds the social, political, and familial hardships he negotiated in his remarkable life.

The publisher sent me a copy of the book for review

I reviewed the book for Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2019.

#MCBD2019

#ReadYourWorld

Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2019 (1/25/19) is in its 6th year and was founded by Valarie Budayr from Jump Into A Book and Mia Wenjen from PragmaticMom. Our mission is to raise awareness of the ongoing need to include kids’ books that celebrate diversity in homes and school bookshelves while also working diligently to get more of these types of books into the hands of young readers, parents and educators.

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BRONZE: Charlesbridge Publishing, Judy Dodge Cummings, Author Gwen Jackson, Kitaab World, Language Lizard – Bilingual & Multicultural Resources in 50+ Languages, Lee & Low Books, Miranda Paul and Baptiste Paul, Redfin, Author Gayle H. Swift,  T.A. Debonis-Monkey King’s Daughter, TimTimTom Books, Lin Thomas, Sleeping Bear Press/Dow Phumiruk, Vivian Kirkfield,

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Author Janet Balletta, Author Kathleen Burkinshaw, Author Josh Funk, Chitra Soundar, One Globe Kids – Friendship Stories, Sociosights Press and Almost a Minyan, Karen Leggett, Author Eugenia Chu, CultureGroove Books, Phelicia Lang and Me On The Page, L.L. Walters, Author Sarah Stevenson, Author Kimberly Gordon Biddle, Hayley Barrett, Sonia Panigrah, Author Carolyn Wilhelm, Alva Sachs and Dancing Dreidels, Author Susan Bernardo, Milind Makwana and A Day in the Life of a Hindu Kid, Tara Williams, Veronica Appleton, Author Crystal Bowe, Dr. Claudia May, Author/Illustrator Aram Kim, Author Sandra L. Richards, Erin Dealey, Author Sanya Whittaker Gragg, Author Elsa Takaoka, Evelyn Sanchez-Toledo, Anita Badhwar, Author Sylvia Liu, Feyi Fay Adventures, Author Ann Morris, Author Jacqueline Jules, CeCe & Roxy Books, Sandra Neil Wallace and Rich Wallace, LEUYEN PHAM, Padma Venkatraman, Patricia Newman and Lightswitch Learning, Shoumi Sen, Valerie Williams-Sanchez and Valorena Publishing, Traci Sorell, Shereen Rahming, Blythe Stanfel, Christina Matula, Julie Rubini, Paula Chase, Erin Twamley, Afsaneh Moradian, Lori DeMonia, Claudia Schwam, Terri Birnbaum/ RealGirls Revolution, Soulful Sydney, Queen Girls Publications, LLC

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