Monday, August 20, 2018

Jim Averbeck on his new picture book, "TREVOR" - In which a canary befriends a lemon, and how that friendship changes everything.

Trevor by Jim Averbeck, Illustrated by Amy Hevron

Trevor is a lonely yellow canary looking for a friend.

He stretches his wings the width of his boring cage and notices the tree outside stretching its branch. And on the end of that branch? Another canary! But he’s so shy and quiet.

Trevor knows just how to make him feel comfortable.

Reading Trevor I found myself really moved. Goosebumps, people. Goosebumps. I reached out to my friend Jim, the author, to find out more about this remarkably resonant combination of his words, Amy's pictures, and every reader's emotions.

Here's our interview:

Lee: One thing I found very moving was that Trevor has the power to open his cage all along, and when he decides to leave his cage he just pecks and the gate pops open. Reading that, as a Gay man, it felt like a powerful coming out metaphor. Was it?

Jim: That’s very insightful, Lee. I teach a class at Storyteller Academy on writing picture books. One of the things I emphasize above all others is making sure your work has an emotional core. I suggest that there are two components to this core. One is a connection to the emotional world of children. The other is a connection to your own adult feelings. You connect to the child’s world because the story is about and for them. You connect to your adult feelings because they are more immediately memorable and accessible to you and can infuse the story with the authenticity and drive you want it to have. It’s like childhood emotion is the engine and adult emotion is the fuel.

That’s what happened in the case of TREVOR. I set out to write a story about a lonely canary who makes overtures of friendship to a lemon he believes is another bird. I connected it to the child’s world by thinking of Trevor as that socially isolated child on the playground who takes a chance at making a friend. When I went to connect to my adult emotions to fuel the story, I realized the most analogous and recent experience I had to this little bird’s was when I was in the Peace Corps in Cameroon and knew it was time I "came out". I was thousands of miles from my home and my support network, among people I hadn’t known for long, in an environment that was foreign to me. I was desperate to find someone to talk to about what I was feeling. Fortunately, I found many new friends with willing ears and open hearts. So as I developed the story of Trevor, I realized that my experience of coming out was metaphorically showing up in the story.

When I discussed the emotional underpinning of the story with the book's editor, Neal Porter, I think he was genuinely moved by it and saw the connection immediately. I think the resulting editorial direction made a book that is deeper and more poignant for it. We wondered if the underlying experience that fueled the story should be brought more to the forefront. It was an interesting question because, in the end, the gay experience is both unique and universal. We opted to focus on the universal emotions - loneliness, friendship, trust - but I gave a nod to the unique experience in the wording of the dedication.

Lee: That duality, of a child’s and adult’s emotions, brings up another lovely piece of the story: how even the child reader knows that Trevor’s first, very quiet friend isn’t another canary, but actually a lemon. I imagine it’s one of the things children having the story read to them love best, especially as Trevor is so sweet about it. Their duet, where “"the lemon sang the silences.” is such a lovingly told, charming, and poignant note. Tell us about the decision to have children know more than Trevor.

Jim: I do a lot of school visits and in one of them I teach how to write a suspenseful scene. I put an emphasis on dramatic irony, where the reader knows something that the characters in the scene do not. So I guess it is just one of the tools in my writing toolkit. I never really made an active decision to have the reader know that Trevor’s friend is a lemon when Trevor does not. All the comedy in the story stems from that fact though. I guess the tragedy does too, since the relationship is doomed from the start. I think maybe the one-sided nature of the relationship is what some people identify with and find so moving. We’ve all been there.

Lee: You've packed a lot of emotion into a modest word count. Can you tell us about your writing/revision process for this picture book text?

Jim: At Christmas time, my critique group The Revisionaries, sets aside all the work we have been doing during the year and does something we call “The Assignment.” Basically we take a short, vague phrase and use it as a story prompt. We have two weeks to write the story. TREVOR was the result of this tradition. If this sounds familiar it’s because I’ve had a lot of luck selling stories created during The Assignment. I think this is the fourth one. In the case of TREVOR, the prompt was “sour fruit.” Part of my method for The Assignment is a process I call Inquiry and Synthesis, where I ask questions and look for connections in the answers. In this way I connected lemons to canaries and had the idea for a canary mistaking a lemon for another canary. The story came out pretty much the same as the published story. However, the first draft had a girl character, Trevor’s owner. When the lemon fell from the nest, Trevor followed. The text read “but the lemon had found a new friend.” That new friend was the girl. So the first draft had an element of betrayal to it. The last scene was Trevor flying away with new friends and the girl opening a lemonade stand. Punishment for the lemon's betrayal, I guess. Fortunately I found the true heart of the story and the lemon now enjoys a finer fate.

Lee: You’ve also created picture books where you’ve done both the words and the illustrations. Are there insights from the illustration side of the creative process that you bring to the table on a project like this where you’re the writer and not the illustrator?

Jim: Probably the biggest insight I apply when someone else is illustrating is “the illustrator brings enormous skills to the visual side of the storytelling, so trust them and give them plenty of space to tell their own story.” I try to just stay out of the illustrator’s way. That said, if there are visual aspects that are essential to the story, I am sure to discuss them with the editor. Working with Amy Hevron (the illustrator) and Neal Porter (the editor) was a dream, in this case. There was one essential aspect of the story that I did talk to Neal about: that Trevor was a canary! It isn’t obvious from the text and the initial art sample was a beautiful cobalt budgie that Amy had created at Neal’s request. The blue bird and yellow lemon were such a beautiful combination that I offered to change the text, which contained onomatopoeic canary song, to align with the blue parakeet in the sample art. Neal suddenly understood that Trevor was a canary and took that back to Amy. Turns out Amy is sort of a bird fan and had thought, based on the birdsong in the text, that Trevor was a canary. So she was happy to create a new, yellow character.

Lee: What advice do you have for other writers who are working on their picture book manuscripts?

Jim: Spend most of your time developing the character’s emotional story, rather than on language or rhyme or, god forbid, “teaching a lesson.” Emotion is what will make people love your book.

Lee: Thanks so much for sharing about this beautiful picture book, Jim! And congratulations.

Jim: Thanks Lee. I am very grateful for this opportunity to talk about an aspect of TREVOR that is likely to be overlooked, but that was so important to me as I wrote it.

Add your review of "Trevor" in comments!

Friday, August 17, 2018

My Seventh Grade Life In Tights - A Boy Wants To Dance (and the real-world fuss is about the openly Gay secondary character on his dance crew.)

My Seventh-Grade Life in Tights by Brooks Benjamin

All Dillon wants is to be a real dancer. And if he wins a summer scholarship at Dance-Splosion, he’s on his way. The problem? His dad wants him to play football. And Dillon’s freestyle crew, the Dizzee Freekz, says that dance studios are for sellouts. His friends want Dillon to kill it at the audition—so he can turn around and tell the studio just how wrong their rules and creativity-strangling ways are.

At first, Dillon’s willing to go along with his crew’s plan, even convincing one of the snobbiest girls at school to work with him on his technique. But as Dillon’s dancing improves, he wonders: what if studios aren’t the enemy? And what if he actually has a shot at winning the scholarship?

Dillon’s life is about to get crazy . . . on and off the dance floor
This is the book that I wrote about on Wednesday, that has "LGBT content," and for that content had a lot of drama at the author's school (Brooks is also a teacher), with "My Seventh Grade Life In Tights" being pulled from the school library and then, subsequently, only provided to students on the down-low.

I reached out to Brooks to find out more about the queer content of this middle grade book. Here's part of our correspondence:

Brooks: Hi, Lee!

This is something--especially with all the junk going on in today's world--that we need to be talking about. Thank you for being willing to share it. I know (as a teacher and as an author) that there are more books out there that have been challenged simply because of the characters (Alan Cole is Not a Coward, George, Star Crossed). In my book, Carson (who dances on the main character's dance crew) is openly gay. Sometimes I wonder if that's what has so many people all in a fix. The fact that he's not "confused or concerned" about his sexuality, but out and proud with friends and parents who love him.

Lee: wow - a happy, out and proud secondary character? Is his being Gay an issue in the book?

Brooks: He gets teased by some kids and made fun of a couple of times (it is set in east TN after all) and he acknowledges how it never doesn’t hurt to hear it, but his story isn’t about him crushing on another boy. His story is about his desire to compete because he wants to dance professionally one day.

So there you have it. A secondary gay character in a middle grade book is too scary for some adults to handle. What can we do? Help get the word out about this title!

Oh, I'm going to share one more tweet from Brooks' twitter account, from Aug 11, 2018, because it sums it up perfectly:

There are times we need to be silent. Times when we need to stop talking and listen. But silence when we’re seeing the silencing of others? That is always wrong. That’s when we need to find our voices. That’s when we must be our loudest. —Brooks Benjamin

Add your review of "My Seventh-Grade Life in Tights" in comments!

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Teacher and Author Brooks Benjamin Opens Up About His Book for Kids Being Pulled From His School's Library Because of it Having "LGBTQ Content"

Read this thread, and then the very powerful responses.

This ongoing issue of adults trying to "protect" children from knowing that LGBTQ people exist doesn't actually help kids. At all.

It just makes queer kids feel more isolated than ever. (It doesn't prevent us from being LGBTQ. It just ensures we don't feel safe being our authentic selves.)

And it reinforces, for straight kids, that there's something bad about their peers being LGBTQ, that those human beings are "othered" in a way that their school agrees should be seen as less than.

I'm so glad the librarian at Brooks' school came around (two years later), and that now they're working together with other allies to help empower students by giving them access to books that really can help.

And I'm grateful Brooks shared this story. The more we know this sort of thing still happens, the more we can fight it.

Follow Brooks online (his twitter handle is @brooksbenjamin), and check out his book, "MY SEVENTH-GRADE LIFE IN TIGHTS." I'll post about it on Friday.

The light in me recognizes and acknowledges the light in you,

Monday, August 13, 2018

Does every rainbow say pride? Maybe not. And then again...

So recently my teenage daughter and I were at a party supply store and we came upon this "Pride" display:

The wonky "rainbow" piñata
Check out how it was topped with a piñata—a rainbow piñata.

And I just couldn't get past the idea of people at some party to celebrate Gay Pride smashing the rainbow to get it to "rain" down candy. Destroying the symbol of something you love seems like an odd way to celebrate.

And then, my teen pointed out that they'd gotten the color order of the rainbow wrong, completely wrong. Red is supposed to be on top. Then orange, then yellow, then green, then blue, then purple on the bottom. She was right. This piñata was a mess.

Everything even remotely rainbow-ish was included in this store's "Pride" display, and we looked at it all: ridiculous hand-held pride flags that had the full rainbow twice—twelve stripes in all, one on top of the other; a sequined rainbow dress for $16 (a good deal?);  a hideous rainbow romper outfit (and hideous is being kind); packs of rainbow striped napkins with 10 different colors, and on and on.... Until my daughter pointed out that at least they had a Pride section in the store.

And that, I had to admit, was true. It was cool.

They even had a single hand-held transgender pride flag where they'd gotten the colors right, and we both cheered!

And despite the silly mix of rainbow colors and stripes, in that moment, seeing what an Ally my daughter has become was the real moment of Pride for me. And for that, I'm so grateful.

The light in me recognizes and acknowledges the light in you,

Friday, August 10, 2018

An Act of Creative Defiance and LGBTQ Pride in Russia

check out this very cool Pride visibility action:


The text reads:

"in Russia, the act of displaying the LGBT flag in public can get you arrested, so these 6 activists from latin america resorted to creativity: wearing uniforms from their countries' football teams, they turned themselves into the flag and walked around Moscow with pride."

My thanks to the activists who put themselves out there to stand up for what's right, to Gabi (@harleivy) for sharing this, and to everyone for helping get the word out.

The idea that showing a Gay Pride flag is illegal is ridiculous, and alarming, and we shouldn't stop talking about it and protesting this kind of institutional homophobia whenever and wherever it festers.

You can find out more about The Hidden Flag project here.

The light in me recognizes and acknowledges the light in you,

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Highlights (and some choice photos) from #LA18SCBWI


My pal Tomie DePaola (a.k.a. Laurent Linn)
Margaret Atwood makes an impression on Jim Averbeck (or was Jim doing the impression?)
I've always wanted to meet Chimamanda Adichie (nice to meet you, Nadia Hohn!)
Seeing double - Lin Oliver as Picasso's cubist period, Lin Oliver, and Henry Winkler


One thing you write, one piece of art you create, can enter a young person's heart and change it forever. And then they'll go forth... and change the world, in ways that are impossible for us to imagine. -@brucecoville keynote finale to #LA18SCBWI #Inspiration

"Word of mouth works. So please talk up the books you love." -@brandycolbert at #LA18SCBWI

"Reading is the best and safest place to practice life." -@LindaSuePark at #LA18SCBWI

Best career advice ever: "Write the best, most honest book you can. A book you're proud of. Repeat." -@libbabray at #LA18SBWI #writingtips

"We are facing the sorts of monsters we read about in fiction. So now we have to be the kinds of heroes we read about in books." - @libbabray at #LA18SCBWI

"Votes will help. But stories—it's what will save us." - @djolder opening keynote at #la18scbwi

"The stuff that we are ashamed of can make for very good storytelling..." And learning our vulnerability can help children makes it worth it. -Linda Mullaly Hunt at #LA18SCBWI

"Kids need us to care more about them then about our careers or ourselves." - Linda Mullaly Hunt at #LA18SCBWI

Great suggestion from @LynMullalyHunt Don't call it a "rejection" letter. Call it a "not yet" letter. Yes! #LA18SCBWI

"Whiteness is not a culture. Whiteness is a power structure." -@ArthurALevine1 at #LA18SCBWI

"Miscommunication is a big story tool" that we can use as writers. - Deborah Halverson at #LA18SCBWI

"Write the thing that scares you. The thing that makes you uncomfortable." - @ElanaKArnold at #LA18SCBWI

"Focus on the writing." There's so much noise, but focus on the writing. -@brandycolbert at #LA18SCBWI

Writing nonfiction: how do you know if your idea is going to be a PB, MG, or YA? "We'll figure it out. Just do you." -@AndreaDavisPink at #LA18SCBWI

"Every book is its own universe." -@imaroxburygirl at #LA18SCBWI Wisdom, and such beautiful art!

"Write the story that you were meant to write... the story of your heart." -Erin Entrada Kelly at #LA18SCBWI

Team Blog:

Giant thanks to my fellow SCBWI Team Bloggers for #LA18SCBWI! (from left, me, Jaime Temairik, Jolie Stekly, Martha Brockenbrough, Adria Quiñones, and Don Tate

And overall,

I leave the SCBWI 2018 Summer Conference so grateful to be part of this Children's and Teen literature Community!

Monday, August 6, 2018

One True Way - It's the 1970s in the American South, and Two Middle School Girls Are Falling For Each Other

One True Way by Shannon Hitchcock

Welcome to Daniel Boone Middle School in the 1970s, where teachers and coaches must hide who they are, and girls who like girls are forced to question their own choices.

Allie and Sam are classmates. Allie and Sam are friends. Allie and Sam are girls. Allie and Sam are falling for each other.

Add your review of "One True Way" in comments!

Friday, August 3, 2018

Attending #LA18SCBWI? Join Me (and Faculty Guests) Tonight For The LGBTQ & Allies Social

It's my favorite event at my favorite event...

Some photos from past years:



You can read the roundups and inspiring highlights of previous LGBTQ Q&A events at the SCBWI International Conferences in New York and Los Angeles here.

This year's LGBTQ & Allies social is Friday Aug 3, 2018 from 7:30pm - 9:00pm. If you're attending the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators Summer Conference in Los Angeles, I hope you'll join us!

The light in me recognizes and acknowledges the light in you,

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Fire Song - an Anishinaabe teen is torn between home and dreams of college, and between the girl everyone knows he's dating and the boy no one knows he loves

Fire Song by Adam Garnet Jones

How can Shane reconcile his feelings for David with his desire for a better life? Shane is still reeling from the suicide of his kid sister, Destiny. How could he have missed the fact that she was so sad? He tries to share his grief with his girlfriend, Tara, but she's too concerned with her own needs to offer him much comfort. What he really wants is to be able to turn to the one person on the rez whom he loves--his friend, David. Things go from bad to worse as Shane's dream of going to university is shattered and his grieving mother withdraws from the world. Worst of all, he and David have to hide their relationship from everyone. Shane feels that his only chance of a better life is moving to Toronto, but David refuses to join him. When yet another tragedy strikes, the two boys have to make difficult choices about their future together.

Add your review of "Fire Song" in comments!

Monday, July 30, 2018

99 Days Till We Vote Them All Out

Today's motivation brought to you by the separation of immigrant children from their parents. What's your motivation? 

#VoteOrTheyWin #Resist

If you're not old enough or otherwise can't vote, you can still spread the word. I'll be posting this countdown on:

Twitter: @leewind

Facebook: leewind


Instagram: iamleewind

Join me, and let's get out the vote to stop this selfish and cruel administration in its tracks.


The light in me recognizes and acknowledges the light in you,

Friday, July 27, 2018

"Queer as a Five-Dollar Bill" Gets a Strong Review In Kirkus Reviews!

And, just in case the graphic isn't showing up (and because it's so much fun to share it!), here's that again:

“The novel’s premise is a real hook, lending Wind’s complex story a sense of gravitas beyond the personal narrative. Add to that the thorough research behind Wyatt’s discovery (and the end notes that go along with it), and readers have something with real potential to influence and educate on top of entertaining... Wyatt’s need to feel connected and accepted is palpable and genuine... A tapestry of the gay teenage experience—frayed edges repaired with earnest love and care.” —Kirkus Reviews

You can click here to read the full review of my novel on the Kirkus Reviews website.

Hurray! That's two strong and positive trade reviews!!


Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Over 2.5 Million Page Loads To This Blog!

The counter on the Statistics Page of "I'm Here. I'm Queer. What The Hell Do I Read?"

I know it's challenging to not get caught up in numbers,  and I want to remember and recognize that each and every individual person's experience can be powerful and meaningful. Having said that...

WOW! We're over two and a half million page loads!

Yesterday, over 1,100 page loads alone.

That's a lot of people visiting this blog.

Finding out about books for kids and teens with LGBTQ characters and themes.

Learning about LGBTQ history.

Exploring politics, and gender, and the intersectionality of identity.

Exposing the connections between prejudices and bias like misogyny and homophobia, and between racism and xenophobia.

And being empowered by stories, music videos, LGBTQ news from all over, and a community coming together to support LGBTQ teens and their allies.

So that nice round number stands for a pretty beautiful thing. You. And me. Together.

We did this. And I'm so proud of us.

The light in me recognizes and acknowledges the light in you,

Monday, July 23, 2018

Love, Penelope - a 10 year old girl with two moms writes letters to her on-the-way baby sister

Love, Penelope by Joanne Rocklin, Illustrated by Lucy Knisley

Penny is excited to welcome her new sibling, so throughout her mom's pregnancy she writes letters to it (not it, YOU ). She introduces herself (Penelope, but she prefers "Penny") and their moms (Sammy and Becky). She brags about their home city, Oakland, California (the weather, the Bay, and the Golden State Warriors) and shares the trials and tribulations of being a fifth-grader (which, luckily, YOU won't have to worry about for a long time).

Penny asks little questions about her sibling's development and starts to ask big questions about the world around her (like if and when her moms are ever going to get married "for real").

Add your review of "Love, Penelope" in comments!

Friday, July 20, 2018

My Letter to the Editor Was Published In Our Local Newspaper

While it was originally titled: “Seven Nice Things Liberals Can Say About Trump,” otherwise every word is mine, and I stand by each of them. Here's the full text of my letter, as printed in the Thursday July 19, 2018 edition of the Palisadian-Post:

Seven Things

Recently, a letter to the editor asked, why can’t liberals say anything nice about our current president? I’ll take that challenge.

1) It’s ironic, but Trump has made us have more empathy. For generations our culture has villainized entire other countries and everyone in them for the terrible actions of their leaders and government. (Think North Korea, Iraq, Russia…) Now, we understand that the people in those countries are probably just like us… good individual people with a callous, cruel, selfish government.

2) Trump has reminded us how vigilant we must be to not repeat the mistakes of Nazi Germany. At the Nuremberg trials, the question was asked, why did regular Germans participate in such inhumanity? The response was they were just following orders. And the world cried out, how could you not just refuse the order? This past month, when ICE agents followed orders to separate children from their parents, alarms should have gone off for all of us.

3) Trump does care about one immigrant. Among all the people who wanted to come to America and become a citizen of this country for a better life, there was one runway and swimsuit model Trump decided to help. Now she’s first lady.

4) Trump took the #MeToo movement to a whole new level. Our current president’s open disdain for women as anything other than objects for his personal physical interest turbo-charged the movement of people speaking up about the mistreatment and sexual harassment they have faced from men in positions of power.

5) Trump has shown us words are important. Calling real news “fake” to discredit any press that criticizes him is just one way our current president uses language to shield himself from being held accountable.

6) Trump has made us see how much more work we need to do as a society to treat others as equals. Our president’s not-so-subtle racism, emboldening the rise of bigotry across the country, reminds us how unfair things are, especially for people of color.

7) Trump is helping get out the vote. Trump’s policies, political maneuverings, and selfishness have energized me and millions of my fellow Americans. Energized those of us who envision an America of the future and not of the past. Energized those of us who want America to be a beacon of justice, equality, and opportunity. Energized those of us who can see beyond our own privilege to care about other human beings to show up on Tuesday November 6, 2018, and vote some sense back into this government.

There you have it. Seven nice things that you (no matter how liberal or conservative you are) and I can say about Trump. You’re welcome.

Lee Wind

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

My first editorial trade review of "Queer as a Five-Dollar Bill" will be in Foreword Reviews!

I'm so excited about this!

The review publishes in the September/October 2018 issue of Foreword Reviews.

Here's the full text of the review, just leaving out the spoilers:

Foreword Review: Young Adult Fiction

Queer as a Five-Dollar Bill
Lee Wind
I'm Here. I'm Queer. What the Hell Do I Read? (Oct 2, 2018) Hardcover $25.99 (290pp)

Lee Wind’s insightful Queer as a Five-Dollar Bill follows fifteen-year-old Wyatt as he comes to terms with his sexual orientation, thanks to the surprising revelations of a class assignment on Abraham Lincoln.

Wyatt is gay, but he does not want anyone to know. He is certain that he will not find acceptance in his small Oregon town. He is assigned to create a blog focused on letters written between Abraham Lincoln and a friend, Joshua Fry Speed. Based on the letters’ content, Wyatt comes to believe that Lincoln and Speed were romantically involved. If he can convince others that Lincoln—a treasured national hero—was gay, then maybe he will not have to hide his own truths.

The level of cruelty, distrust, and abuse aimed at Wyatt throughout the novel is painful; those who have never experienced such prejudice may be surprised by its intensity. He is bullied badly by a classmate. ...

Wyatt’s fear and isolation come across clearly; the book is valuable for that alone. Fascinating information about Lincoln and Speed is also bound to spark curiosity. Though the book is a work of fiction, the documents that Wyatt reads are all real, and the book includes references for continued learning.

Queer as a Five-Dollar Bill is a sympathetic novel that will change the way young readers look at history and the lessons it has to teach.

CATHERINE THURESON (September/October 2018)