Wednesday, March 20, 2019

My School Visit - As An Author - At Pali High

Yesterday was a blast!

Thanks to the generosity of one of my kickstarter backers, I got to do a school visit at Palisades Charter High School here in Los Angeles.








I met with two 9th Grade English Classes, the Genders and Sexualities Alliance club, and students interested in writing and asking an author (me!) questions.

It was an awesome day, and we talked about the story-behind-the-story of Queer as a Five-Dollar Bill, the importance of language (homoLOVEual versus homoSEXual), how the facade of history that we're taught (that history is the story of rich, white, straight, cis-gendered, able-bodied, white men from Europe) is incomplete at best and misleading at worst, and how Abraham Lincoln and Joshua Fry Speed are just the tip of the LGBTQ historical iceberg.

The students read aloud a few of Shakespeare's love-sonnets-to-another-guy, and we unpacked one of Sappho's amazing poems (about her love for Anactoria, and how that poem changed the world.) I told them about crowdfunding the book, about some of the nice things that have happened since publication (including the Publishers Weekly Indie Success Story article and becoming a BookLife Prize semi-finalist).

And I answered questions, about terms (like cis-gendered) and writing (what software do I use - Scrivener or Word?) and being an author (plan for a day job, at least at first.) A good number of students are writers themselves, so we also dug into craft (questions about character and setting and plotting vs. pantsing) and living a creative life (making time to write--even if it's only twelve minutes a day.)

From driving to the school and having a parking spot reserved for me, to the warm welcome and yummy lunch from my host, GSA faculty advisor and Counselor Ms. Barker, to the student escort to the office and then to the library, to the amazing librarians Ms. King and Ms. Magadan who had the space prepped and handouts ready to go and pulled lots and lots of LGBTQ titles from their collection to share with the students, to Ms. Rosenthal and Ms. Moore (the 9th grade English teachers) who had prepped their classes with reading part of the book and an assignment about whether it would make a difference or not if Lincoln had indeed been in love with Joshua Fry Speed, to the supportive administration (including Dr. Magee and Ms. Iannessa), everyone went out of their way to be kind and helpful and were so gracious.

And the students were great - really engaged, really kind, really thoughtful.

I signed books (some donated from the kickstarter, some that the school purchased for the kids), and even signed one student's Rainbow Pride Flag!


And I got a T-shirt! It reads: "LOVE NOT HATE: Pali GSA"

The incredible gracious Pali High team that brought me to their school: (Left to Right): Ms. Barker, Ms. King, Me(!), Ms. Moore, and Ms. Rosenthal


Feeling grateful.

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

Monday, March 18, 2019

Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me - A Lesbian Teen Graphic Novel Wrong-Love Story



Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me by Mariko Tamaki, Illustrated by Rosemary Valero-O'Connell

Laura Dean, the most popular girl in high school, was Frederica Riley's dream girl: charming, confident, and SO cute. There's just one problem: Laura Dean is maybe not the greatest girlfriend.

Reeling from her latest break up, Freddy's best friend, Doodle, introduces her to the Seek-Her, a mysterious medium, who leaves Freddy some cryptic parting words: break up with her. But Laura Dean keeps coming back, and as their relationship spirals further out of her control, Freddy has to wonder if it's really Laura Dean that's the problem. Maybe it's Freddy, who is rapidly losing her friends, including Doodle, who needs her now more than ever. Fortunately for Freddy, there are new friends, and the insight of advice columnists like Anna Vice to help her through being a teenager in love.
Add your review of “Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me” in comments!

Friday, March 15, 2019

The Queer Creators of Some of Children's Literatures Most Enduring Characters - A Fascinating Piece in The New York Times Magazine



The Gay History of America’s Classic Children’s Books:
From “Frog and Toad” to “Where the Wild Things Are,” many of the most enduring 20th-century titles share a secret language of queer compassion.


I love the title, and learning about this not-much-discussed overlap of queer history and children's literature. Two of many highlights from the article published last month:

“Frog and Toad” — a series of four picture books by Arnold Lobel, originally published between 1970 and 1979 — is not gay-themed. But it’s not not gay-themed either. The title characters are best friends, both male, who essentially spend their lives together. Toad, shorter and wartier, is a worrier. Frog, sleeker and greener, is an ameliorator....


But Lobel is careful to make Frog and Toad entirely nonsexual. They sleep apart, and Toad even dons a modest Edwardian bathing suit when he swims. Instead of innate animal passion, they model the elements of love that have to be discovered and cultivated: companionship, compromise, acceptance, good humor. They get into scrapes separately but get out of them together, which is not a bad definition of marriage....


Lobel’s gayness, when I learned of it much later, seemed like something I should have known all along; it lurked everywhere in his words and pictures. I don’t know how any parent, reading the stories aloud, uttering phrases like “Come back, Frog. I will be lonely!” in a heartsick, croaky voice, could avoid being forced into intimate sympathy with the animal and thus the author. Which is not to say Frog and Toad could turn you gay. But in their gentleness, their sensitivity to small gestures and their haze of slowly dispersing sadness, the stories were part of the literature of otherness that had been a central theme of adult fiction forever, if only more recently of children’s.
and
...Among the foxed hardbacks still standing sentry in my sons’ abandoned childhood bedroom are “The Gashlycrumb Tinies” by Edward Gorey (1963), “Strega Nona” by Tomie dePaola (1975), the “George and Martha” series by James Marshall (1972 to 1988) and several by Maurice Sendak, including “Where the Wild Things Are” (1963) and “In the Night Kitchen” (1970). Also still extant is “The Runaway Bunny” (1942) by Margaret Wise Brown; her “Goodnight Moon” (1947) would be there, too, if it hadn’t long since disintegrated, from overuse, into a pile of dark green dust.

These books are connected not merely by having found favor in our family — and probably yours; in various configurations and collections, “Frog and Toad” still sells more than 500,000 copies a year. Nor is it just their hushed contemplation of aloneness and connection that links them. It’s also that all of their authors were gay. (Tomie dePaola, at 84 the only one living, still is.)

The whole article by Jesse Green is well-worth reading!

As a queer children's book creator myself, reading this felt like a song of my tribe-within-a-tribe, and for that I'm grateful.

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

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

DeadEndia: The Watcher's Test: Book 1 - A Middle Grade Graphic Novel with a Transgender Main Character (And Zombie Cowboys! And First Love!)



DeadEndia: The Watcher's Test: Book 1 by Hamish Steele

Barney and his best friend Norma are just trying to get by and keep their jobs, but working at the Dead End theme park also means battling demonic forces, time traveling wizards, and scariest of all--their love lives!

Follow the lives of this diverse group of employees of a haunted house, which may or may not also serve as a portal to hell, in this hilarious and moving graphic novel, complete with talking pugs, vengeful ghosts and LBGTQIA love!

Add your review of "DeadEndia: The Watcher's Test: Book 1" in comments!

Monday, March 11, 2019

7 Inspirations from Writers Day SCBWI Los Angeles - From My Panel, and The Other Conference Faculty


It was a wonderful day, and absolutely the highlight was getting to be the author on the plenary panel, speaking in front of an audience of 230 about "TMI: How Much Is Too Much" with Frances Gilbert (Editor-in-Chief, Doubleday Books for Young Readers), Cathie Chenoweth (School Liaison for the Los Angeles Public Library) and Mona White (Marriage and Family Therapist), moderated by Los Angeles' Assistant Regional Advisor, Kim Wildman.

It felt great to have, quite literally, a place at the table, and I spoke from my heart about gender, intersectionality, how kids are looking for truth (ignorance doesn't protect them) and safe space (and how books can be a safe space to explore), of lines in both publishing and for yourself as a children's book creator, and of how we should write from love (the power of hopeful endings and our thematic messages of agency and empowerment.) I even got to share a brief version of the story behind the story for Queer as a Five-Dollar Bill!

The day also included a last-minute keynote by Steve Mooser (jumping in for an ill Tamora Pierce) , an amazing conversation between Regional Advisor Sally Jones Rogan and Cornelia Funke, and so much more.

Here are seven moments that are still resonating for me:

#1
Steve Mooser quoting Bruce Coville's advice, "Follow your weirdness."

#2
Steve sharing Abigail Simone's reminder that "your main character is there for trouble."

#3
Frances Gilbert's advice that, for picture books, there has to be a "reason for rhyme" and that "every word needs to count."

#4
Alexis O'Neill's suggestion that, to help get school visits, you should "let your local indie bookstore know you do presentations."

#5
Cornelia Funke admitting that, "sometimes a character fools you for pages and pages... and then you see behind the mask."

#6
Frances explaining what the "List Launch" meeting is, what an editor does in it, and how books are prioritized according to feedback in that meeting. "That's how publicity and marketing budgets get made."

And the one I'm still humming...

#7
Cornelia saying, "A storyteller used to be a sacred job, and it still is."

Oh, did I mention that the conference bookstore (Once Upon a Time Bookstore) carried Queer as a Five-Dollar Bill, and that they sold a bunch of copies, and that I got to sign my books during the autograph part of the day?

Awesome!

Some photos from the day,

Cornelia Funke speaking with Sally Jones Rogan

Frances Gilbert

My late friend, Claudia Harrington, remembered with a Scholarship.





What an amazing experience! Thanks to the whole SCBWI Los Angeles team for including me in the conference faculty. I'm very grateful.

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

Friday, March 8, 2019

In Other Lands - A Bi Boy Goes To School In A Magical Land and Tries To Change The World



In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan, Illustrated by Carolyn Nowak

The Borderlands aren't like anywhere else. Don't try to smuggle a phone or any other piece of technology over the wall that marks the Border -- unless you enjoy a fireworks display in your backpack. (Ballpoint pens are okay.) There are elves, harpies, and -- best of all as far as Elliot is concerned -- mermaids.

"What's your name?"
"Serene."
"Serena?" Elliot asked.
"Serene," said Serene. "My full name is Serene-Heart-in-the-Chaos-of-Battle."
Elliot's mouth fell open. "That is badass."


Elliot? Who's Elliot? Elliot is thirteen years old. He's smart and just a tiny bit obnoxious. Sometimes more than a tiny bit. When his class goes on a field trip and he can see a wall that no one else can see, he is given the chance to go to school in the Borderlands.

It turns out that on the other side of the wall, classes involve a lot more weaponry and fitness training and fewer mermaids than he expected. On the other hand, there's Serene-Heart-in-the-Chaos-of-Battle, an elven warrior who is more beautiful than anyone Elliot has ever seen, and then there's her human friend Luke: sunny, blond, and annoyingly likeable. There are lots of interesting books. There's even the chance Elliot might be able to change the world.

Add your review of "In Other Lands" in comments!

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Nothing Happened - Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing" Gets The YA Treatment When Sisters Bee and Hana Juggle Camp Counselor Duty With Romances (One sister with a boy, the other with another girl)



Nothing Happened by Molly Booth

This modern-day retelling of Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing takes place at the idyllic Camp Dogberry, where sisters Bee and Hana Leonato have lived their whole lives. Their parents own the place, and every summer they look forward to leading little campers in crafts, swimming in the lake, playing capture the flag and Sproutball, and of course, throwing legendary counselor parties.

This year, the camp drama isn't just on the improv stage. Bee and longtime counselor Ben have a will-they-or-won't-they romance that's complicated by events that happened-or didn't happen-last summer. Meanwhile, Hana is falling hard for the kind but insecure Claudia, putting them both in the crosshairs of resident troublemaker John, who spreads a vicious rumor that could tear them apart.

As the counselors juggle their camp responsibilities with simmering drama that comes to a head at the Fourth of July sparkler party, they'll have to swallow their pride and find the courage to untangle the truth, whether it leads to heartbreak or happily ever after.

Add your review of "Nothing Happened" in comments!

Monday, March 4, 2019

Billy Porter's Tuxedo Dress (Designed by Christian Siriano) Inspires!

This.


Lit up.


The Oscar's Red Carpet.



In Vogue, Billy explained how the Tuxedo Dress came about and how,
“My goal is to be a walking piece of political art every time I show up. To challenge expectations. What is masculinity? What does that mean?”

And as for the folks that didn't appreciate it?
"The comments are not my business. What people think about what I’m doing is not my business. I lived that already."

Go, Billy! And Bravo to you and Christian!

Friday, March 1, 2019

Girl Made of Stars - Lesbian teen Mara is navigating a difficult breakup with her ex-girlfriend when her twin brother is accused of rape by her friend



Girl Made of Stars by Ashley Herring Blake

Mara and Owen are as close as twins can get, so when Mara’s friend Hannah accuses Owen of rape, Mara doesn't know what to think. Can her brother really be guilty of such a violent act? Torn between her family and her sense of right and wrong, Mara feels lost, and it doesn’t help that things are strained with her ex-girlfriend, Charlie.

As Mara, Hannah, and Charlie come together in the aftermath of this terrible crime, Mara must face a trauma from her own past and decide where Charlie fits into her future.

This novel deals with consent, victim blaming, and sexual assault, and was included in the ALA's 2019 Rainbow List

Add your review of “Girl Made of Stars” in comments!

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

The Dark Beneath the Ice - A Lesbian Teen Supernatural Thriller



The Dark Beneath the Ice by Amelinda Berube

Something is wrong with Marianne.

It's not just that her parents have finally split up. Or that life hasn't been the same since she quit dancing. Or even that her mother has checked herself into the hospital.

She's losing time. Doing things she would never do. And objects around her seem to break whenever she comes close. Something is after her. And the only one who seems to believe her is the daughter of a local psychic.

But their first attempt at an exorcism calls down the full force of the thing's rage. It demands Marianne give back what she stole. Whatever is haunting her, it wants everything she has--everything it's convinced she stole. Marianne must uncover the truth that lies beneath it all before the nightmare can take what it thinks it's owed, leaving Marianne trapped in the darkness of the other side.

Add your review of “The Dark Beneath the Ice” in comments!

Monday, February 25, 2019

Leah on the Offbeat - In this sequel to "Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda" (and the movie "Love, Simon"), Simon's BFF Leah is Bi (and closeted), and falling in love, while their friend group is falling apart



Leah on the Offbeat by Becky Albertalli

When it comes to drumming, Leah Burke is usually on beat—but real life isn’t always so rhythmic.

She’s an anomaly in her friend group: the only child of a young, single mom, and her life is decidedly less privileged. She loves to draw but is too self-conscious to show it. And even though her mom knows she’s bisexual, she hasn’t mustered the courage to tell her friends—not even her openly gay BFF, Simon.

So Leah really doesn’t know what to do when her rock-solid friend group starts to fracture in unexpected ways. With prom and college on the horizon, tensions are running high.

It’s hard for Leah to strike the right note while the people she loves are fighting—especially when she realizes she might love one of them more than she ever intended.

Add your review of "Leah on the Offbeat" in comments!

Friday, February 22, 2019

Elle of the Ball - a middle grade basketball series (written by a basketball star!) starts with seventh-grade Elle, who has to dance with a boy, but wants to dance with another girl.



Elle of the Ball by Elena Delle Donne

Elle Deluca is a seventh grader who is tall—not just sort of tall. She’s six feet tall. And for a twelve-year-old girl, this means that her basketball team has high hopes for her changing positions and becoming their starting center. But a new position is not the only footwork she has to learn. Her class’s dance unit in gym is coming up, and that means she has to learn ballroom dance steps with a boy much shorter than her—and perform publicly for a grade. And who Elle really wants to dance with is the new girl, Amanda.

Add your review of "Elle of the Ball" in comments!

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Hocus Pocus and The All-New Sequel - a middle grade retelling of (and then a sequel to) the Halloween movie. And this time, there's a teen girl-on-girl crush!


Shortly after moving from California to Salem, Massachusetts, Max Dennison finds himself in hot water when he accidentally releases a coven of witches, the Sanderson sisters, from the afterlife. Max, his sister, and his new friends (human and otherwise) must find a way to stop the witches from carrying out their evil plan and remaining on earth to torment Salem for all eternity.

Twenty-five years later, Max and Allison's seventeen-year-old daughter, Poppy, finds herself face-to-face with the Sanderson sisters in all their sinister glory. When Halloween celebrations don't quite go as planned, it's a race against time as Poppy and her friends (including her crush Isabella) fight to save her family and all of Salem from the witches' latest vile scheme.

Add your review of “Hocus Pocus and The All-New Sequel” in comments!

Monday, February 18, 2019

Quiver - teens from opposite worlds (Zo is gender fluid in a liberal family, Libby's family are evangelical Christians) become neighbors and unlikely friends



Quiver by Julia Watts

Libby is the oldest child of six, going on seven, in a family that adheres to the "quiverfull" lifestyle: strict evangelical Christians who believe that they should have as many children as God allows because children are like arrows in the quiver of "God's righteous warriors." Meanwhile, her new neighbor Zo is a gender fluid teen whose feminist, socialist, vegetarian family recently relocated from the city in search of a less stressful life.

Zo and hir family are as far to the left ideologically as Libby's family is to the right, and yet Libby and Zo, who are the same age, feel a connection that leads them to friendship--a friendship that seems doomed from the start because of their families' differences.

Add your review of "Quiver" in comments!

Friday, February 15, 2019

The Last Summer of the Garrett Girls - Four sisters (one with a crush on another girl) and the summer that changes everything




The Last Summer of the Garrett Girls by Jessica Spotswood

As the oldest, Des shoulders a lot of responsibility for her family and their independent bookstore. Except it's hard to dream big when she's so busy taking care of everyone else.

Vi has a crush on the girl next door. It makes her happy and nervous, but Cece has a boyfriend...so it's not like her feelings could ever be reciprocated, right?

Kat lands the lead in the community theater's summer play, but the drama spills offstage when her ex and his new girlfriend are cast too. Can she get revenge by staging a new romance of her own?

Bea and her boyfriend are heading off to college together in the fall, just like they planned when they started dating. But Bea isn't sure she wants the same things as when she was thirteen...

Add your review of "The Last Summer of the Garrett Girls" in comments!