Friday, September 30, 2016

Your #BannedBooksWeek Reading List

So, taking at look at the ALA's report of the top 10 most challenged books in 2015, I see a pattern.

For your convenience, I've highlighted it:

Looking for Alaska, by John Green
Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group.

Fifty Shades of Grey, by E. L. James
Reasons: Sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, and other (“poorly written,” “concerns that a group of teenagers will want to try it”).

I Am Jazz, by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings
Reasons: Inaccurate, homosexuality, sex education, religious viewpoint, and unsuited for age group.

Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out, by Susan Kuklin
Reasons: Anti-family, offensive language, homosexuality, sex education, political viewpoint,
religious viewpoint, unsuited for age group, and other (“wants to remove from collection to ward off complaints”).

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, by Mark Haddon
Reasons: Offensive language, religious viewpoint, unsuited for age group, and other (“profanity and atheism”).

The Holy Bible
Reasons: Religious viewpoint.

Fun Home, by Alison Bechdel
Reasons: Violence and other (“graphic images”).

Habibi, by Craig Thompson
Reasons: Nudity, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group.

Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story from Afghanistan, by Jeanette Winter
Reasons: Religious viewpoint, unsuited to age group, and violence.

Two Boys Kissing, by David Levithan
Reasons: Homosexuality and other (“condones public displays of affection”).

Note that "Homosexuality" is used to cover the two books, I am Jazz and Beyond Magenta, which are both about being Transgender. Gender identity is different than affective orientation, so they could work on their complaint. And it's super-insulting to say a book about real Trans teens in real families is "anti-family."

Fun Home's pivot is the LGBTQ-ness of two main characters, so "other" and "graphic images" seems like a cipher for the real issue. And citing it for 'violence' is ridiculous - I'm not even sure what they're referring to. At least the complaint for Two Boys Kissing is on the money, and they didn't even have to read the book to figure that out. Yes, it's gay. And yes, it condones public displays of affection.

Read all four. In fact, read all ten. (Well, maybe not the Bible. But if it's your cup of tea... Funny how that's on the list this year! And note that Fifty Shades of Gray is a very popular adult erotic novel.)

The point is, we should all have the freedom to read, and parents and caring adults should be able to have these conversations with the young people in their lives without external forces keeping options from them.

Books can be a light in the world, and in our lives. We should let them shine.

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

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Changing Hats

I'm excited to share that I'm stepping up to a more major position at Authors and Illustrators for Children, and I'll be working through to election day (Nov 8 - don't forget to vote!) as their Advisory Board Member in Charge of Communications and Social Media as well as their Spokesperson.

I'm really excited because we need to make sure our next president is Hillary Clinton!

Of course, this new hat means I'm wearing too many hats... so tomorrow, Thursday September 29, 2016 will be my last day working for Little Pickle Press. It's been a full year, and I've learned so much, and done some projects I'm really proud of.

And now, on to elect President Hillary Clinton!

Thanks for letting me share,

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

Monday, September 26, 2016

2016's Banned Books Week (Sept 25 - Oct 1) Celebrates Diversity and the Freedom To Read!

In this article, "Why Diverse Books Are Commonly Banned," Maggie Jacoby writes,
The University of Wisconsin’s Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC) and publisher Lee & Low have provided statistics from 1994 to 2012 that illustrate that while 37% of the U.S. population are people of color, only 10% of books published focus on multicultural content. In addition, ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, has determined that 52% of the books challenged, or banned, over the past decade are from titles that are considered diverse content. These statistics are troubling and create more questions than answers.

52% of the banned books are diverse? When diverse books are only 10% of the books published? That a call for change!

So this week, read a diverse book, and know that by doing that, you're celebrating our freedom to read.

You can find out lots more about Banned Books Week here.

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

Friday, September 23, 2016

And... It's my new Author Photo!

Thanks, Michele Baron!

You'll be seeing this new image of me across social media. After all, it's my new, fun author photo! Yay!

Oh, and did I mention it's going to be on my book? Yup, this is the official author photo for THE QUEER HISTORY PROJECT: NO WAY, THEY WERE GAY?

How cool is that? Very!

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

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Crashing America - A homeless queer teen escapes San Francisco for the American heartland, longing for a sense of home

Crashing America by Katia Noyes

For 17-year-old queer street-punk Girl, the gutters of San Francisco are home. But when her best friend dies, she escapes the city for the heartland, in search of a place where she can breathe again.

Torn between her restlessness, a longing for home, and a desperate fear of impending death, Girl seeks to link herself with almost anyone who crosses her path: a bored housewife in Salt Lake City casting a net for illicit thrills, a born-again Christian punk rocker and his girlfriend, a teenage waitress living in a small town with a horizon so endless Girl is terrified to leave her motel room.

On a farm in Nebraska with her old friend Randa, Randa’s boyfriend Bill, and Bill’s extended family, Girl finds something that seems close to what she is seeking. But as the corn harvest progresses, what at first looked like salvation becomes something darker, and Girl hits the road in a stolen car headed for Memphis and one last chance for survival.

This book was included in the American Library Association's 2008 Rainbow List. Add your review of "Crashing America" in comments.

Monday, September 19, 2016

The Namaste Dilemma

This has been on my mind for over a year, now.

See, I used to end my blog posts here with 'Namaste,' a term I really liked from my time doing yoga. When a yoga class would end, the teacher - no matter who it was - would usually put their palms together over their heart, and say, "Namaste," and those of us in the class would mirror that, hands in front of our hearts, and say, "Namaste" in response.

As it was explained to me, "Namaste" means the light in me recognizes and acknowledges the light in you.

I loved that meaning, and that ritual, and the expression became my way of saying good-bye. I used it everywhere. Freely. Because I do believe that it would be a better world if we all knew we had light inside us, and acknowledged that everyone else had light inside them, too.

But then, it came up (on twitter, actually) that using 'Namaste' as a cultural outsider, I was actually appropriating a sacred term. That I was offending people to whom that expression was a sacred part of their culture.

I questioned: wait, if I'm doing it with respect, with the understanding that what their culture offers in that expression is of value for everyone, is it still appropriation, or is it adoption? Isn't it a sign of my respect in our global world?

No, I was told empathically by two different people, there was no wiggle room. If you're not of the culture (and I'm not) using their term no matter my intent is appropriation, and offensive. And I should stop.

So I stopped. That day.

And yet, it bothered me. Was I so blinded by my white american privilege that I just couldn't get their point of view?

I tried to fold into my processing the context of the larger conversation they were having that I sort of stumbled into - they were voicing their discontent with the commercialization of 'Namaste,' to the point where sweatpants and other work-out gear were being sold with the word emblazoned across the wearer's butt.

That was definitely offensive, and I could see that.

But was there no room for how I had been using the term?

I guess I have to bring up the lighthouse, now.

Anne Lamott, in her brilliant "Bird By Bird," talks about how lighthouses don't run all over an island looking for boats to save. They just stand there, shining.

I love that metaphor, and think a lot about how that's what I'm trying to do. Be a light. With this blog. With my books. With everything I do. Not convince people I'm right if we disagree. But just, be my light. Be authentic, and trust in that. Some people will see my light, and that's great. Others will go in a different direction, and that's okay, too. I can't control them. All I can do is shine my light.

So that circles me back to how I might be able to get that sense of light back into my vocabulary, in a fashion that is respectful. And I think I've found a way. And for the first time, I'll try it in closing this essay. Thanks for reading, and know

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

Friday, September 16, 2016

This Blog Is NINE!

Thank you!


The cool rainbow-flame birthday candle image ("with metal salts from our rocket propellants") is from wikimedia, photo by Steve Jurvetson

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Wanted - A Closeted Lesbian Bounty Hunter dealing with a bounty on her own head... and a nosy kid sister

Wanted by T I Alvarado

Life's dangerous enough when you work as a bounty hunter. But when you're a closeted lesbian and your nosy sister has just arrived for a visit, well, some days it might just be easier to take a bullet. That's exactly how Ladybird "Bird" Blacker is feeling, especially when her kid sister, Ruby, insists on riding along on the job. Bird's latest successful capture turns out to be the son of a powerful crime boss, and he's less than pleased at the notoriety. So, a hit has been put on Bird, and wouldn't you know it, she's familiar with the hired assassin. Intimately.

I found this Young Adult book on the amazing ALA Rainbow List of the best books with LGBTQ content for kids and teens from 2008. Anyone have a link to info on the author? Share that, and/or your review in comments!

Monday, September 12, 2016

Authors and Illustrators for Children... Voting for Hillary Clinton

So in the USA, we've got this presidential election coming up.

It's a big deal. Are we going to go backwards (Donald Trump), or continue to move forwards to a more just future that includes a respect and appreciation for diversity - including people of color, women, muslims, immigrants, and LGBTQ people (Hillary Clinton.)

Okay, so now you know who I'm voting for.

There's an idea out there that authors and illustrators shouldn't be political - that it could hurt their careers, if they alienate any possible customer. That speaking up is dangerous. But that robs us of our rightful voices in an election that's about SO much we care about.

As Michele Obama said in her speech the night Hillary Clinton accepted the democratic nomination for President,

"In this election, and every election, it is about who will have the power to shape our children for the next four or eight years of their lives."

I'm joined by over 1,000 authors and illustrators of books for children and teens in speaking up on social media via Authors and Illustrators for Children. On Twitter. On Facebook. On Instagram. Here's a sample of what's being shared:

Check out the AIforC website here.

Grab the images. Share them widely. Use the Hashtag #AuthorsAndIllustrators4Clinton
And speak up! Your voice deserves to be heard, too.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Pukawiss the Outcast - A Teen Explores Their Previously-Hidden-From-Them Native Heritage, and their Two-Spirit Sense Of Self

Pukawiss the Outcast by Jay Jordan Hawke

The Two-spirit Chronicles: Book One

When family complications take Joshua away from his fundamentalist Christian mother and leave him with his grandfather, he finds himself immersed in a mysterious and magical world. Joshua’s grandfather is a Wisconsin Ojibwe Indian who, along with an array of quirky characters, runs a recreated sixteenth-century village for the tourists who visit the reservation. Joshua’s mother kept him from his Ojibwe heritage, so living on the reservation is liberating for him. The more he learns about Ojibwe traditions, the more he feels at home.

One Ojibwe legend in particular captivates him. Pukawiss was a powerful manitou known for introducing dance to his people, and his nontraditional lifestyle inspires Joshua to embrace both his burgeoning sexuality and his status as an outcast. Ultimately, Joshua summons the courage necessary to reject his strict upbringing and to accept the mysterious path set before him.
I loved this quote from the author:

"Pukawiss the Outcast celebrates a very common Native American tradition that venerates gay people. It may seem like the whole world, and all of history, is against you. But that simply is not true. Imagine living in a world where as a gay person you are considered something extra special—that you are in fact touched by God. That’s a radically different world from the one most gay teens grow up in today. I want people to see what that is like through the eyes of my teen protagonist."

There are two more books in the series,

In the months following the brutal murder of Matthew Shepard, fourteen-year-old Joshua, a half Native American boy, is new to a Boy Scout troop and spending a week camping in northern Wisconsin. The weaker kids in the troop soon realize Joshua is not afraid to stand up to the troop's ruthless bullies. Joshua’s bravery and kindness is infectious, and the bullied Scouts quickly find their own inner strength.

Joshua, however, is plagued by self-doubt as he realizes he has feelings for Cody, the son of the troop’s harsh and puritanical Scoutmaster. The two discover they have more in common than Scouting as they share their deepest secrets and develop a close friendship. That friendship faces its greatest challenge as the homophobic bullies claim a “faggot” has “infected” their troop. As if struggling to come to terms with his sexuality while dealing with hatred and bigotry isn’t enough, Joshua discovers the camp holds another dark mystery, one that will make him summon all his courage and learn for the first time what it truly means to be brave.


Love can mean sacrifice. Joshua Ishkoday must decide if he can abandon the boy he loves in order to save him.

In the expansive and sometimes deadly northwoods of Wisconsin, Joshua must make a heartbreaking choice as he battles his greatest fears. His best friends, Mokwa and Little Deer, accompany him when a nightmare sends him on an adventure of self-discovery. But the three teenagers aren’t alone in the vast forest. Joshua realizes bizarre creatures called Memegwesi have not only been manipulating him through his dreams, but plan to use him in a mysterious plan of their own. Soon he’s fighting three enemies: the lethal storm headed their way, the mysterious beings appearing in his dreams, and most frightening of all, his mother’s hatred and bigotry.

"Pukawiss the Outcast" was a finalist for the 2015 Lambda Literary Award for LGBT Children's and YA literature. Add your review of any or all of these three books in the Two Spirit Chronicles in comments!

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

I love this ad - and can only imagine how it would have BLOWN my mind when I was a kid (in the BEST way!)

check out this 30 second commercial: "Your Father"

Star Wars. Two Dads? WOW! Love love love love this.

Thanks to Jerry for sharing!

Monday, September 5, 2016

Ayanna Coleman (Quill Shift Literary Agency): Agent Looking For Diversity

**UPDATE: JULY 2018 - Ayanna has transitioned Quill Shift from an agency to a consultancy, and as such is no longer acting as a literary agent.**


This month's interview is with Ayanna Coleman, Agent and Founder of Quill Shift Literary Agency.

Agent Ayanna Coleman

Ayanna's bio:

Ayanna Coleman founded Quill Shift Literary Agency in 2013. With an educational background in marketing and English, Ayanna has worked within the publishing industry at a publishing house, literary agencies, as a book reviewer, programming and event director, and many years as a children’s librarian. She also earned a Master of Science degree in Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois, currently the top program in the nation.

As a child, and later as a librarian, Ayanna noticed that the books that could capture a child’s imagination and create a lifelong reader were not getting into children’s hands. Children (and their parents, teachers, and librarians) weren’t discovering the right books…or they hadn’t been created yet. With that in mind, Ayanna created Quill Shift Literary Agency to not only help usher books worthy of inspiring a passion for reading in children, but also books that represent all children's realities.

Ayanna is looking for middle grade and young adult fiction in all genres. Bring her stories with plucky, realistic characters that represent our multicultural society who grow throughout an engrossing plot in a setting that sucks the reader in.

And our interview...

Lee: Hi Ayanna!

Ayanna: Hi Lee!

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

Ayanna: Oh, my pleasure. It's one of my favorite things to do.

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?

Ayanna: My agency's entire mission is focused on representing authors who are from under-represented backgrounds or are crafting stories with strong diverse characters. That said, probably about 80% have some kind of inclusive element.

Lee: Let's unpack that a bit: Are you seeing many stories featuring protagonists of color?

Ayanna: Yes, about 50% are protagonists of color.

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

Ayanna: I'd say 20%. I've seen a fair amount of queer, lesbian, and gay characters. Of those, mostly gay and lesbian leaning a little more towards lesbian. Not too many trans at this point, but a few questioning as well.

Lee: How about characters with disabilities?

Ayanna: Probably around 5-10%. There have been a few characters with disabilities, but many of them weren't born with those disabilities, which is what I'd really like to see more of. I have a brother with several disabilities and grew up around lots of kids who were living their lives with capabilities different than mine. I'd love to see more kids' minds opened up.

Lee: Are you seeing other types of diversity in the works submitted? - And please share any specific categories that spring to mind.

Ayanna: I've seen manuscripts showcasing different religions, and a few that focus on socioeconomic and geographic diversity, but mostly the diversity that comes across my desk focuses on race or sexuality.

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

Ayanna: Yes I am, again because of the mission of my agency, but I'd love to see more. I'd say the the submissions I get come from about 40% under-represented writers.

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?

Ayanna: I just did a talk at GrubStreet's Muse and the Marketplace conference in May about this. Basically, I talked about fear, and how as a writer you must work on overcoming your fear so you can tell your best story. That best story, if you're trying to be true to real life, is most likely an inclusive one and you're doing a disservice to your story if you don't recognize that.

I think everyone has the 'right' to tell whatever story they want, but it's a privilege to walk in someone else's shoes and tell their story. If you don't do it with empathy and as much understanding as you can through research (primary and secondary), discussion and feedback, and an open mind, then you don't deserve to write the story.

Lee: When you're submitting projects to editors, do you think stories with under-represented characters take more 'selling' on your part?

Ayanna: Simple answer? I do. Right now it looks as if editors are very excited to see something "diverse" come through their inbox but I've still found it challenging to place stories that don't focus on issues or historical figures, to find a home with editors who say they want diversity. Those everyday stories that under-represented kids definitely do have, they aren't all in urban settings struggling to survive for example, seem to have a hard place in the market because there are so few of them, which seems to be the perfect reason why we should add more.

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?

Ayanna: I'm African American and growing up as a huge bookworm, I had very few books with protagonists that looked like me or had a life resembling mine--very middle America, solidly middle class. There were no drugs, no missing mothers, I wasn't a slave, I didn't use Ebonics, etc. I played tennis, I danced ballet, I read all the time, I loved to cook. Where were stories with girls who looked like me? Why couldn't I solve mysteries or have adventures? It was like my life/world didn't matter. The fact that these stories--that representation--is still very much missing from children's literature is upsetting to say the least.

I crave for there to be more books celebrating the every day parts of kids' lives and not focusing on the problems--and we very much still are--that come with race, religion, sexual orientation, ability, etc. With my marketing and librarianship background, acting as liaison for the CBC Diversity Committee during its first three years, and my experience not seeing myself in books growing up, I knew that I had the tools to help others create those stories. How could I not put myself in the position to help representative books find their way into the hands of today's kids?

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). What’s a Picture Book favorite?

Ayanna: I loved Wait, Skates! by Mildred Johnson and The Rough-Faced Girl by Rafe Martin. I read both so many times growing up. Wait, Skates! was pure fun and something that I could totally relate to as a child and The Rough-Faced Girl is a take on the Cinderella tale in the most beautiful way. It spoke to my heart and soul; it was a book I saw myself in.

Lee: Middle Grade?

Ayanna: Yolanda's Genius by Carol Fenner was a huge favorite of mine. The main character has a brother who is on the spectrum and is an amazing harmonica player. She started off by resenting having to take care of him and his way of communication but realized what an amazing person he was with his differences and she looked up to him for his ability. I believe reading that book helped me see my brother in a new light and appreciate him more.

Lee: Young Adult?

Ayanna: I was so thrilled to read Bad Kitty by Michele Jaffe in grad school. It was exactly what I would have loved as a teen. The main character is biracial, it's fluffy and fun, but there's wit and adventure and hijinks. I hadn't encountered books with protagonists of color that had all of those things before and I wanted to see more.

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

Ayanna: I'm always looking to support more authors from under-represented backgrounds who have well-crafted stories of their truths that have yet to be told. I'm looking for more books featuring physical disabilities where the kids were born with their ability, not through some tragic accident. I'm looking for fantasy and science fiction where the main character is a kid of color. I'm looking for great horror and thrillers with a diverse cast of characters that doesn't have the African American kid die at the end. I'm looking for stories that take place in other countries, and I'm always looking for more stories that have under-represented kids and teens as the main character where the conflict is not about their skin color, or their religion, or their class, or ability. I want it to be an undeniable part of the story and inform the character's identity, but I want their "problem" to be something else entirely and see how all of the things that make them who they are--which is not just their skin color or socioeconomic status--come together to help them on their journey.

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?

Ayanna: They can submit through the agency website's submission form here.

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

Ayanna: I think we covered quite a bit! One thing that I wish more people would say to under-represented writers is that you don't have to write minority characters if you don't want to. Write what you want to write. Write what feels good and natural and right to you. I hate feeling like I'm "carrying the flag" in a meeting because I'm the only representative voice in the room. It's not fair and I shouldn't feel like I have to do it, but sometimes I do. I'd like to put out there to writers that you don't have to write your background if you don't want to. We definitely need more insider voices uplifted, but we also need more under-represented writers writing everything.

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!

Ayanna: Thanks so much for taking the time to do these interviews and showcase all of those in publishing who really care about representation so that more aspiring authors from all backgrounds know that there is a place for them and their creations.

Thanks, Ayanna!

Look for another Agent or Editor Looking For Diversity interview the first Monday of next month! Until then,

Illustrate and Write On!

Friday, September 2, 2016

Wings' 1927 First On-Screen Same-Sex Kiss

This clip from the 1927 black and white film Wings was moving, and wonderful, and surprising.

Wow. The intimacy of how they held each other... Just, wow.

You can read more about it here at Open Culture

Thanks to my husband for sharing it with me.