Friday, February 27, 2015

The Purim Superhero: A Jewish-Holiday Themed Picturebook With A Two-Dad Family... And A Nice Story About Being True To Yourself (And Still Being Super!)

The Purim Superhero by Elisabeth Kushner, Illustrated by Mike Byrne

Nate loves aliens and he really wants to wear an alien costume for Purim, but his friends are all dressing as superheroes and he wants to fit in. What will he do? With the help of his two dads (and his big sister) he makes a surprising decision.

With Purim a week away, it's great to add this title to my list of picture books I wish had been read to me when I was a little kid! Especially as it's been touted as "the first LGBT inclusive Jewish children’s book in English!"

Add your review of "The Purim Superhero" in comments!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Grasshopper Jungle - A Bi Teen Accidentally Unleashes The End Of The World

Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith

Austin is in love with his girlfriend, Shann, and his best friend Robby, which is totally confusing -- but his bigger issue is the end of the world, which he and Robbie sort of unleashed... In the form of six-foot tall praying mantise soldiers... who only want to have sex and eat.

Which, when Austin thinks of it, isn't all that different from what human teens want...

Anyway, it's the end of the world, and Austin's decided to record it all for history.

This dark comedy was the Fiction winner of the 2014 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award, as well as a 2015 Printz Honor recipient

Add your review of "Grasshopper Jungle" in comments!

Monday, February 23, 2015

First Gay Hug (A Homophobia Experiment)

I thought this was really cool. Watch. Discuss. Engage...

*** UPDATE SAT FEB 28, 2015 ***

It would have been nice if the makers of "First Gay Hug" had been more upfront about it being a work of fiction. My appreciation to Janice who shared this in comments. And yes, check out the actress speaking out video here.

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Friday, February 20, 2015

When Everything Feels like the Movies - flamboyant Jude likes to raid his mother's closet and wants Luke to be his date to the Valentine's Day dance

When Everything Feels Like The Movies by Raziel Reid

School is just like a film set: there's The Crew, who make things happen, The Extras who fill the empty desks, and The Movie Stars, whom everyone wants tagged in their Facebook photos. But Jude doesn't fit in. He's not part of The Crew because he isn't about to do anything unless it's court-appointed; he's not an Extra because nothing about him is anonymous; and he's not a Movie Star because even though everyone know his name like an A-lister, he isn't invited to the cool parties. As the director calls action, Jude is the flamer that lights the set on fire.
Before everything turns to ashes from the resulting inferno, Jude drags his best friend Angela off the casting couch and into enough melodrama to incite the paparazzi, all while trying to fend off the haters and win the heart of his favourite co-star Luke Morris. It's a total train wreck!
But train wrecks always make the front page.

"When Everything Feels like the Movies" won the the Canadian 2014 Governor General's Literary Award. Add your review in comments!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Sam Smith Shares Some Serious Wisdom in His Grammy Acceptance Speech

Check this out:

Here's the best part:

"...I just want to say that before I made this record, I was doing everything to try to get my music heard, I tried to lose weight, and ... I was making awful music. And it was only until I started to be myself, that the music started to flow and people started to listen, so thank you guys for accepting me to be just me. Thank you!"

- Sam Smith, on winning Best Pop Vocal Album at the 2015 Grammy Awards.

And if you want to see an example of how sometimes hard things create beautiful art, check out how Sam thanks his ex in his speech accepting the Grammy for Record Of The Year:

"I want to thank the man who this record is about, who I fell in love with last year. Thank you so much for breaking my heart - cause you got me four Grammies!"

Thanks to my awesome husband for sharing this with me, so I could share it with all of you.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Be-You-tiful, a music video by Johnathan Celestin

I really liked this video, and its message. Enjoy,

Here's the lyrics:

Written and composed by Johnathan Celestin
Copyrighted 2014

Verse 1:
It don't matter if you're black or blue,
Baby, just be you.
It don't matter if you're thick or thin,
Love the skin you're in.

Cause people always got something to say,
I know it sounds cliche.
But try your best to love them anyway,
Let's change the world today.

Cause you deserve to feel good,
So don't feel bad about it, bad about it.
There's only one you in the world,
So don't feel bad about it, bad about it.

Chorus 1:
If it wasn't said before,
You are your own beautiful,
And in my eyes, you're a star, yes you are.

If it wasn't said before,
You are your own beautiful,
And in my eyes, you'll go far,

Post-Chorus 1:
So tell them you're a star,
Yes, you are,
Yes, you are,
Yes, you are.

Tell them you're a star,
Yes, you are,
Yes, you are,
Yes, you are.

Verse 2:
It don't matter if you're boy or girl,
We all can change the world.
It don't matter to us who you love,
Hold on to your love.

Cause people try to put you in a box,
Afraid the boat will rock.
But one day those folks who made you feel less than,
Will be your biggest fan.

Pre-Chorus 2:
Cause you deserve to feel good,
So don't feel bad about it, bad about it.
There's only one you in the world,
So don't feel bad about it, bad about it.

Chorus 2:
If it wasn't said before
You are your own beautiful
And in my eyes, you're a star, yes you are

If it wasn't said before,
You are your own beautiful,
And in my eyes, you'll go far,

Post-chorus 2:
To tell them you're a star,
Yes, you are,
Yes, you are,
Yes, you are.

Tell them you're a star,
Yes, you are,
Yes, you are,
Yes, you are.

You've gotta
Be your own
Kind of Beautiful
You're beautiful.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Lies We Tell Ourselves - Lesbian High School Romance and Desegregation in 1959 Virginia

Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley

1959 Virginia.

Sarah Dunbar is one of the first black students to attend the previously all-white Jefferson High School. An honors student at her old school, she is put into remedial classes, spit on and tormented daily.

Linda Hairston is the daughter of one of the town’s most vocal opponents of school integration. She has been taught all her life that the races should be kept “separate but equal.”

Forced to work together on a school project, Sarah and Linda must confront harsh truths about race, power and how they really feel about one another.

...And how they feel moves from focusing on the different colors of their skin to feelings of romance!

Add your review of "Lies We Tell Ourselves" in comments!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Far From You - A Murder, A Secret Love, And A Mystery

Far From You by Tess Sharpe

Sophie Winters nearly died. Twice.

The first time, she’s fourteen, and escapes a near-fatal car accident with scars, a bum leg, and an addiction to Oxy that’ll take years to kick.

The second time, she’s seventeen, and it’s no accident. Sophie and her best friend Mina are confronted by a masked man in the woods. Sophie survives, but Mina is not so lucky. When the cops deem Mina’s murder a drug deal gone wrong, casting partial blame on Sophie, no one will believe the truth: Sophie has been clean for months, and it was Mina who led her into the woods that night for a meeting shrouded in mystery.

After a forced stint in rehab, Sophie returns home to a chilly new reality. Mina’s brother won’t speak to her, her parents fear she’ll relapse, old friends have become enemies, and Sophie has to learn how to live without her other half. To make matters worse, no one is looking in the right places, and Sophie must search for Mina’s murderer on her own. But with every step, Sophie comes closer to revealing all: about herself, about Mina, and about the secret they shared.

Add your review of "Far From You" in comments!

Monday, February 9, 2015

Loved This Disability "Don't Be Awkward" Video

This video was great.

And I totally loved the gay moment in it!

Excellent for all...

Friday, February 6, 2015

If you're at #NY15SCBWI, I hope you'll join me (and faculty friends) at the "Find The LGBTQ in SCBWI" Session!

I'm excited to once more host and moderate this great Q&A session at the 2015 SCBWI Winter Conference, where we'll dive into the dos, don'ts, ins and outs of including LGBTQ characters and themes in writing and illustrating for children and teens.

We'll be joined by faculty guests, including Agent Tina Wexler (of ICM) and Simon and Schuster Art Director (and 2016 Debut Author) Laurent Linn.

The LGBTQ session will be on Saturday February 7th from 8pm - 9pm, right after the Gala party!

More about Tina:

Tina Wexler is an agent at ICM Partners, focused on middle grade and young adult fiction and non-fiction. She is particularly interested in modern folklore, non-linear storytelling, magical realism, humor, weepies, and most anything with a feminist slant. Current and forthcoming titles include Teddy Mars, Almost a World Record Breaker by Molly Burnham, Pointe by Brandy Colbert, Poisoned Apples by Christine Heppermann, Nightbird by Alice Hoffman, and Bone Gap by Laura Ruby. She holds an MFA in poetry from Brooklyn College and is the mother of two boys. On Twitter: @tina_wexler.

Agent Tina Wexler

And here's Laurent's debut book announcement:

"David Gale at Simon & Schuster has acquired world rights for Laurent Linn's debut illustrated YA novel, Draw the Line. Obsessed with superheroes and Renaissance art, 16-year-old Adrian creates his own unique but secret comic-book style superhero... who happens to be gay. Thrust into a dangerous spotlight at his Texas high school, Adrian must use his own superpower - art - in a struggle to discover how to become a true hero. Emmy-winning author Linn, an art director at S&S, also creates the illustrations for the novel. Publication is scheduled for summer 2016. Brenda Bowen at Sanford J. Greenburger Associates negotiated the deal.

Art Director and Author Laurent Linn

It promises to be a great discussion!



Additional Confirmed Faculty Guest: Agent Jennifer Laughran, Andrea Brown Literary Agency!

Jennifer's bio:

Jennifer Laughran is a senior agent at the Andrea Brown Literary Agency. She joined ABLA in 2007 after many years as a buyer and event coordinator for an independent bookstore. Jenn is always on the lookout for sparkling YA and middle grade fiction with unusual and unforgettable characters and vivid settings; the common thread in all her favorite stories is an offbeat world-view. She loves funny books, thrilling books, romantic books, books that make her cry, and all-around un-put-downable books.

Agent Jennifer Laughran



Jane Yolen is the author of well over 350 books, including Owl Moon, Devil's Arithmetic, and the How Do Dinosaurs books. A past president of SFWA (Science Fiction/Fantasy Writers of America) she's written books and stories that have won two Nebulas, a World Fantasy Award, a Caldecott, two Golden Kite Awards, three Mythopoeic awards, two Christopher Medals, a nomination for the National Book Award, and the Jewish Book Award, among others.

Best-Selling and Award-Winning Author Jane Yolen

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Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The American Library Association announces their Stonewall Book Award - Mike Morgan & Larry Romans Children's & Young Adult Literature Award

Given annually to English-language children’s and young adult books of exceptional merit relating to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender experience.


The winner of the 2015 Stonewall Children's and Young Adult Literature Award is:

This Day in June,” written by Gayle E. Pitman, Ph.D., illustrated by Kristyna Litten and published by Magination Press, an imprint of the American Psychological Association.

Three Honor Books were selected:

Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out,” by Susan Kuklin, photographed by Susan Kuklin and published by Candlewick Press.

I’ll Give You The Sun,” written by Jandy Nelson, published by Dial Books, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA) LLC.

Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress,” written by Christine Baldacchio, pictures by Isabelle Malenfant, published by Groundwood Books / House of Anansi Press.

Have fun reading them all - I know I will!

Monday, February 2, 2015

Jennifer Laughran (Andrea Brown Literary Agency): Agent Looking For Diversity


That's the brilliant idea. (And I wish it was mine, but full credit to literary agent Adriana Dominguez (Full Circle Literary), who brought this up in discussion with me and my agent, Danielle Smith (Red Fox Literary) at the LGBTQ Chat at SCBWI's 2014 Summer Conference in Los Angeles.

To achieve more diversity in the world of Children's and Teen literature (a goal so many of us believe in - cue the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement), publishing gatekeepers (agents and editors and art directors and publishers) need to do more than just be 'open' to diverse characters and themes, authors and illustrators. They need to get the word out that they are looking for, and want, diverse stories and creators.

This series is an effort to do just that.

For now, we’re focusing on agents, because to get more diverse books published, editors need to get more diverse books submitted to them by agents. And to have more diverse books to submit to editors, agents need to see more diversity in the submissions they get from writers and illustrators.

I'll interview each literary agent about their take on and interest in diversity in children's and teen literature, and they'll get to share what they love, what they're looking for, and why diversity in children's and teen literature is important to them.

Today's post features agent Jennifer Laughran of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency.

Agent Jennifer Laughran

Here's her bio:

Jennifer Laughran is a Senior Agent at Andrea Brown Literary Agency. She began her career as a long-time children's bookseller, event coordinator and buyer for one of the largest independent bookstores in the country, and joined Andrea Brown Literary Agency in 2007. She splits her time between NYC and the Hudson Valley of New York, where she resides in a book-stuffed cottage run by a fiendishly clever corgi.

And our interview:

Lee: Hi Jennifer!

Jennifer: Ahoy, Lee!

Lee: Thanks so much for agreeing to talk about your interest in Diversity in Children's and Teen Literature!

Jennifer: No no thank YOU.

Lee: There's been growing discussion about how the 5,000 or so traditionally published books a year don't reflect the actual diversity of our world, including the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement and the stunningly low numbers of representation revealed in "Children's Books by and about People of Color Published in the United States," put out by the CCBC (The Cooperative Children's Book Center)

To start us off, of the submissions you get, let's say in the past year, how many of those projects included some kind of diversity of characters or theme?

Jennifer: Maybe... 5%? I'm guessing. I can say that since the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign there's been an uptick, but diverse queries still represent a relatively tiny percentage of my queries, and many of the queries that claim "diverse" status are really for stories with only peripheral diversity.

I'm actively looking for diversity in both the stories and authors I read and represent. Writers from marginalized groups are encouraged to query. Diversity is hugely important to me, and I really want to have a list that reflects ALL kinds of perspectives. That means (and I'm gonna go ahead and put this in bold too):

I am MUCH more likely to read further, to spend more time, and really to give a story more of a chance to wow me if it has diverse themes.

Despite that -- I still don't see nearly enough stories that are both diverse (yay!), and also that resonate with me and I feel like I have to make them one of the 3-4 new authors I take on a year. That isn't because those stories aren't out there, btw! I think part of it may be, writers from marginalized groups might be most likely to "self reject" - perhaps they aren't querying agents at all, or they just aren't querying ME. Maybe they'll start?

The other thing, too, is -- just cause I am begging for diverse books, that doesn't mean that I am going to TAKE ON everything diverse I am sent. People get mad at me sometimes, like "Hey, you asked for diversity, and I sent it to you, and you rejected me!"-- but real talk: 8,000+ queries a year vs 3/4 new clients a year? I reject MOST things. I'm going to continue to reject most things. But I'd love a wider, deeper and even more interesting pool to choose from. And my rejecting something doesn't mean it sucks... it just means I don't have the time or energy (or the passion to MAKE the time or energy) to deal with it, or I don't see a clear way that I can be useful to the author.

Err... tl;dr: I don't know, but I'd say approximately 5%

Lee: I loved that answer - passionate and real. I read it all! But let's unpack that a bit: Are you seeing many stories featuring protagonists of color?

Jennifer: Some, but not nearly enough. I am much more likely to get a PoC from the "white friend" perspective -- for example, I have had several recent queries about subjects like school integration from the perspective of a white child witnessing the issue. I definitely don't want to tell people that that is a BAD thing to want to write about, or that their perspective isn't valid... it's just a perspective I've read a lot before.

I also see a lot of what I'd consider surface level explorations of kinda tired tropes, like "high achieving Asian teen with super overbearing mother" -- that isn't to say that those teens (and those moms!) aren't out there - but again, it's a familiar story and doesn't quite stand out if there isn't more to it than that. I'm more likely to be interested if the book has a super-fun or compelling hook that takes reader expectations and flips them, or comes at an already well-explored theme or subject from an entirely fresh angle.

A few of my favorite authors of color: On the realistic side, Kekla Magoon, Coe Booth, Rita Williams-Garcia are great examples; on the fantasy side, Malinda Lo and Nnedi Okorafor, if that gives you the sense of the level of writing I'm talking about wanting to see.

Lee: How about LGBTQ characters, and please break that down - are you seeing lesbian characters? gay? bi? trans*? questioning? queer or gender non-conforming?

Jennifer: Maybe a few LGB a month, though I see VERY little on the "T-Q-I" part of the spectrum - maybe a few a year.

The majority of LGBTQI queries I get are from the perspective of the straight girl best friend with a sassy gay boy sidekick, or are extremely depressing or very brutal coming out/bashing stories, and/or they are set in the late 80's/early 90's, probably reflecting the age of the author. I can sympathize, that's how old I am, too! But I'm sorry to say that many of these narratives feel dated and stale. Whenever I see something that is LGBTQI-but not-any-of-these, I definitely perk right up!

A recently sold book is GEORGE, an absolutely AMAZING middle grade I am so beyond thrilled about, I can't wait to share it with the world. GEORGE is about a girl whom the world identifies as a boy, but who decides she needs to tell the truth about herself when she loses out on the role of Charlotte in her fourth-grade production of Charlottes Web. GEORGE will be coming out (so to speak) in Fall 2015, from Scholastic. The author Alex Gino worked on this for years, and I personally went back and forth with them working on the book for another whole year, but the end result was well worth the time and hard work on their part. I sold the book within 12 hours of sending it out, and the publisher is very excited about it!

Lee: How about characters with disabilities?

Jennifer: Again... not nearly enough! My favorite book that I didn't rep (though my agency colleague Caryn Wiseman did) last year was EL DEAFO -- that's a great example of the kind of book I love, where disability is certainly important (hell, it's in the title) -- but it is never condescending or didactic feeling at all.

I do see lots of manuscripts with characters on the Autism spectrum or with diagnoses like Bipolar disorder; far fewer with characters that have physical disabilities. Like.... virtually none that I can think of in recent years, actually. (I'm sure there have been some! Just few enough that I can't remember.)

Lee: How about the creators? Are you seeing under-represented writers and illustrators submitting to you?

Jennifer: I couldn't say, of course, I don't make people take a survey or anything when they query me. But based on the query letters alone and what authors choose to disclose to me, and just sort of somewhat-educated guessing, I'd say that probably at least half of the already VERY small number of diverse narratives I see are not written by people who share the diversity of their manuscript, shall we say.

Lee: There's a lot of discussion about who has the 'right' to tell the story of an under-represented type of character. What's your take?

Jennifer: I would hate to tell anyone they don't have the RIGHT to tell a story from a point of view not their own. I mean, hello, we wouldn't have MOST great books if the authors didn't stretch out of their own lives for their subject matter. Authors need to write the stories that compel them. That said, if they are writing outside their own experience, they'd damn sure better do plenty of research, listening, and have their empathy powers on full blast.

Lee: Empathy powers on full blast - I want that on a T-shirt! When you're submitting projects to editors, do you think stories with under-represented characters take more 'selling' on your part?

Jennifer: I think that most editors of my acquaintance are, like myself, very much seeking diverse storylines, especially as the "We Need Diverse Books" movement has really started to take root. I mean... don't get me wrong - ALL books take a fair amount of work to sell. But my list-of-diverse-titles and my list-of books-that-took-a-long-time-to sell don't seem to overlap too much.

Lee: I often feel the sense of ‘otherness’ is transferable. That from my own experiences being marginalized (for being Gay, being ill as a teen, being Jewish, being an Atheist, etc…) I feel tremendous empathy for people who are marginalized for other kinds of ‘otherness’ as well.

Can you share what’s driving your desire to see more diversity in Children’s and Teen books?

Jennifer: I'd like the books on the shelves to more accurately reflect the beauty of the world. We don't live in Leave It To Beaver-land, and I wouldn't want to. Stories are a huge way that kids learn both who THEY are, and how to have empathy for others. As Mitali Perkins talked about in her memorable BEA speech - books can act as both Mirrors and Windows. If we don't have books that both reflect the readers own experience AND allow the reader to experience what the world is like for people who are different then them, we fail.

Lee: Tell us about some books that highlighted or included diversity that you loved and that inspired you (maybe even ones you wish you represented).

Jennifer: OK - I'll stick to ones I DON'T rep:

Lee: What’s a Picture Book favorite?

Jennifer: ALL THE WORLD by Scanlon and Frazee. It's just a beautiful, perfect book.

Lee: Middle Grade?

Jennifer: ONE CRAZY SUMMER by Rita Williams-Garcia.

Lee: Young Adult?

Jennifer: TWO BOYS KISSING by David Levithan.

Lee: Okay, here’s your wish list moment. What are you looking for? Put out the call...

Jennifer: As I kinda mentioned above, I LOVE an outsider perspective. I LOVE a point of view character I haven't heard from before. I LOVE new and unexpected stories. I'm not a fan of cliche.

I'd love a book set in the world of drag balls, like, the Paris is Burning of YA novels. (I'm seriously not even sure how that would be possible, but hey.) I'd love a YA novel that captured the spirit of something like IN THE HEIGHTS. I'd love to see a YA Bollywood story.

I do love a great big sprawling laugh-and-cry-and-re-read love story, and I'd love to see an epic romance featuring a F/F or M/M couple - maybe a huge fantasy or historical, even. Like a YA Sarah Waters (dare to dream!). Or, a contemporary book that really feels contemporary. Or just something... different? Like a weird creepy literary early-Jeannette Winterson style YA?

Mostly... I want to be surprised.

Lee: And for writers and/or illustrators reading this who feel a resonance with what you’ve shared and who want to submit to you, how should they go about that?

Jennifer: Visit our website at and follow the query guidelines.

Lee: Anything I didn’t ask that you’d like to add?

Jennifer: No, I think this was pretty comprehensive.

Lee: Getting the world of Children’s literature to better reflect the diversity of our world -- the world kids today are growing up in -- is so important. Thank you so much for working to make things better!

Jennifer: Thank YOU, Lee!

Thanks, Jennifer! Look for another AGENT LOOKING FOR DIVERSITY interview on the first Monday of next month. Until then,

Illustrate and Write On!