Queer Eye on Parenthood

Many (many) summers ago, I was camping with friends at Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park when a group of astronomy buffs showed up at the Visitor Center and invited visitors to view the stars through their assortment of high-powered telescopes. I’ll never forget the amazement I felt as I peered through one particularly impressive scope and focused in on Saturn, its rings clearly visible. I wasn’t looking at a photo or video or otherwise mediated image of the iconic planet. No, I was LOOKING AT SATURN.

Photo of Saturn

SATURN!!

That long ago weekend stands out for other reasons, too: a particularly beautiful, remote hike that required a tense drive along a one-lane logging road edged by miles of 2,000-foot drops; nights spent camping under massive Douglas Firs and Western Red Cedars with the scent of evergreen needles on the breeze; and an early morning ferry ride back to Seattle that featured a pod of Orcas trailing us across Puget Sound. So many lovely things happened that it felt afterward like I had spent a long weekend inside a Mary Oliver poem. But Saturn’s rings? Wow. Just, wow.

Fast forward to earlier this month when a Facebook invitation popped up from a local organization to come to a park not far from our house and stargaze through our regional astronomy club’s scopes. I told Kris and the girls about it immediately, envisioning a memorable few hours when the far reaches of our solar system would be revealed. The event started at 6:30 p.m. on the Saturday of Mother’s Day weekend, which to my mind meant it might be the perfect family outing. The girls were up for the adventure, especially when they learned we might be able to see planets as well as stars.

As the day in question drew near, I grew increasingly excited. In high school, I took astronomy as an elective senior year and spent every Wednesday afternoon at the Kalamazoo Planetarium, watching the constellations shift slowly overhead. Now I would get a chance to share the joy of stargazing with my kids. I couldn’t wait.

Twins at a recent soccer game

The twins at a recent soccer game

And then, reality struck in the form of four soccer games in twenty-four hours, plus a birthday party scheduled smack dab between the final two games on Saturday afternoon. By the time we headed home, it was 5pm and the littles were practically limp with exhaustion and the usual post-birthday sugar crash. Stargazing at a park twenty minutes from home would be too much for our worn-out kids, Kris and I agreed. Probably it would be better if we all just stayed home and cuddled up for our weekly movie, which we’d missed the previous night due to the first soccer game of the weekend.

Alex, the oldest at eight, said, “But you were so excited, Mimi! You could always go to the park without us.”

“But then I would miss movie night,” I pointed out.

“It’s okay, Mimi. Really. You should go if you want to.”

I did want to. I wanted to stare through high-powered telescopes at the night sky over Puget Sound on an unseasonably warm, perfectly clear spring night. But as I pictured the night and its possibilities, I realized that what I wanted most was to share the experience with my family. I imagined leaving the house to spend the evening with strangers while Kris and the girls snuggled up on the couch with the dogs for family movie night on Mother’s Day weekend… and, yeah. I really didn’t want to miss out on that experience, either.

“I have a better idea,” I said. “Why don’t we take movie night outdoors?”

“What do you mean?” the girls asked.

“I mean, maybe we could watch a movie on our front porch.”

The light in our second growth forest

Everyone readily agreed to this idea, and within ten minutes we’d gathered together couch cushions, sleeping bags, and blankets and headed outdoors to transform our porch furniture into a soft, comfy viewing platform. There on our covered front deck we watched Happy Feet on the laptop, the five of us—and the two dogs—snuggling and laughing together while the sun set and the half-moon rose over the second growth forest that borders our property, yellow light angling low through the moss-bedecked branches of the fir and cedar trees who, after a decade and a half, feel a lot like friends.

As I sat on the deck with my family around me, I couldn’t help thinking of the evening as a metaphor for parenthood. Earlier in the day, I had felt pulled in two directions and had been certain I would have to choose between self and family. But when it came time to make that choice, I’d discovered that in this case, self and family were inextricably intertwined.

What’s in a Name?

The next morning, Mother’s Day, the kids piled into our bed as usual and we snuggled some more, alternately whispering (the kids), reading (the moms), giggling (the kids), and wincing (the moms) at overly loud, out-of-tune singing.

“I can’t wait to give you your present, Mimi,” Alex said when we finally decided it was time to start the day.

“Me too!” Ellie called, with Sydney soon following suit.

“You three are so sweet,” I said, ruffling Alex’s hair and smiling at the twins as I slid out of bed.

This was the first year that Mother’s Day would be my day and not Kris’s. At least, the first year that the kids would remember it as such. For the first couple of years after we had Alex, Kris and I shared Mother’s Day. But once Alex was old enough to start preschool and be directed by an adult outside the family to make cards and other gifts, we decided to split up Mother’s and Father’s Day so that each of us could have a special day of our own. Otherwise, neither of us would get to be truly pampered by the rest of the family. Kris, at my urging, would have Mother’s Day. I, in turn, was happy to have Father’s Day—or Mimi’s Day, as the kids immediately christened it.

The day of happy mothers…

That worked until a couple of years ago when Mother’s Day fell on Kris’s birthday. Maybe in the future, we could swap, she suggested. This year, we did.

As soon as Mother’s Day began, however, I realized why I had avoided claiming it: Turns out I don’t completely identify as a traditional mother. Father’s (Mimi’s) Day has always felt like a better fit, but even it isn’t quite right. My long-term ambivalence over squeezing myself into ill-fitting, heteronormative gender roles is why I struggled to find a word that adequately reflected my role in my children’s lives before and even after they were born. Kris carried our girls in her body and went through the painful, incredible, beautiful process of bringing them into the world. While I am absolutely their parent, I don’t feel like a mother like she is. Not in the traditional sense of the word.

Let me pause here for a moment and state definitively that I don’t believe that biology conveys legitimacy when it comes to parenting. I’m only saying that for me, as the non-gestational female-ish parent of children that my wife conceived with donor sperm that I helped choose, the cultural terminology around parenting is more difficult to navigate.

Part of my lack of personal connection to the word mother also arises from being nonbinary, or genderqueer. This part of the puzzle crystallized recently when my sister-in-law G. and I were discussing the various legal protections that parents like me have access to in 21st century America and, specifically, Washington State. When I told G. that my parental rights were firmly established under state and federal law but that a bigoted judge could still rule against me, she said, “But you’re their mother!”

“Eh,” I said, tilting my head sideways even though she couldn’t see me through the phone line.

“Seriously, Kate? You have to know you’re their mother!”

“That’s not what I meant,” I said. “I’m obviously their parent, and not just because the courts say I am. But mother is such a loaded term. If I don’t identify fully as a woman, then how can I identify fully as a ‘mother’ when that identity is so closely tied to biological womanhood?”

“Oh,” she said, understanding in her tone. “Got it. Well, in that case, you’re their parent, no matter what any judge says.”

Homodramatica book coverUnfortunately, I’m not sure the fact that I am one of the only two parents our daughters have ever known would help were I ever to come under the purview of a homophobic judge. Fortunately, as I explained to G. (and as I detail in my book Homodramatica), I have the law on my side. In the wake of a 2009 expansion of domestic partnership rights, Washington State began operating on a policy of “legal presumption of parenthood” that holds that both parties in a domestic partnership or same-sex marriage are presumed to be the legal parents of children conceived during the relationship. A related 2017 federal Supreme Court ruling requires all 50 states to extend the presumption of parenthood to legally married same-sex couples. This means any discriminatory ruling against my parental rights would likely be reversed on appeal, even outside our home state of Washington.

As a writer, I’m drawn to analyzing terminology, of course. Non-biological mother, non-gestational parent, nonbinary gender identity—these are all terms whose definitions literally rely on absence rather than celebrating what is present. That’s why I prefer genderqueer to nonbinary. Why I prefer Mimi to non-bio mom. When Alex was learning to talk, she came up with what she and her sisters call me, almost as if she understood even then that I wasn’t like other mothers. It’s just a bonus that the word Mimi actually means something else in a foreign language: Beloved. To me, my child-chosen parent name is perfect.

In the middle of Mother’s Day, which was lovely—my parents came over for brunch and Kris made blueberry waffles for the whole family; I got to take a walk with the girls and a good friend; another dear friend dropped by for a visit; and I fixed a broken fence panel in our backyard without injuring myself or others (BOO-YAH)—I mentioned to Kris that I felt a little uncomfortable taking ownership of Mother’s Day.

“Maybe we should declare a non-bio mom’s day,” I joked. “Or genderqueer parent day, maybe?”

“Isn’t there already a non-bio mom’s day?” Kris asked, entirely serious.

“Oh, right.” I nodded slowly. “February first.”

For those who haven’t followed this blog long (or who understandably don’t remember a post I wrote eight years ago!), February 1, 2011, was the day that Washington State began to allow non-gestational mothers to be on the birth certificate as a legally recognized parent. Twenty-two days later, Alex was born. Good timing, we’ve always thought.

“We celebrated that first one,” Kris pointed out. “Maybe we could keep the tradition going.”

And maybe, in the future, we will. Or maybe I’ll keep Father’s/Mimi’s Day. Mimi’s Day works in a way nothing else does, and honestly, I don’t mind modifying an existing holiday. As long as the kids don’t mind, either, we’ll probably keep doing what has worked in the past.

Me & the girls, Mother’s Day 2019

These types of questions usually come up for Kris and me around Hallmark Holidays, as we refer to them—culturally determined (and named) days that would otherwise remain unremarkable. Like most people, I generally wonder less about the terminology around parenting and more about how I’m actually doing as a parent. As someone with a parental role that has long been contested in courtrooms and in public opinion, I may or may not question my adequacy more than the average cis heterosexual parent. My guess? I probably do. When so many people question your fundamental rights, it’s difficult not to internalize at least some of the hate speech and underlying assumptions.

That cultural criticism is why something that happened a few months ago made me especially happy. We were trapped inside by winter weather one weekend day when the kids overheard Kris and me discussing a Facebook post making the rounds. I don’t remember the post exactly, but I do recall one of the questions: What would your kids report is something you say a lot? Kris and I were sitting on either end of the couch riffing on the possibilities—Turn off your bedroom light! No talking about farts at the dinner table! Is everybody buckled?

“Mimi says I love you a lot,” Ellie announced from the other couch, not even looking up from the picture book she was leafing through. Alex and Sydney, who were drawing at a nearby table, both nodded in agreement.

I share this story not for the knee-jerk need to prove that a non-biological parent is a valid parent, too, but because… Well. Huh. That actually might be precisely why I’m sharing this story: as a reminder both to myself and to all the countless other people like me that parenting is NOT determined by biology; that love, as the saying goes, truly is what makes a family.

Lucky for me, my daughters agree.

Posted in LGBTQ+, Non-Biological Motherhood, Parenting | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

A Little Disguised: Queering the Canon, One Classic at a Time

Note: This post discusses my upcoming series “Queering the Canon” from Second Growth Books. If you’re interested in helping crowdfund the series, please visit my Patreon profile. For a limited time, those who sign up at any level ($1/month minimum) will receive a free electronic copy of the first book in the series, Gay Pride and Prejudice. Those who sign up at $3/month or above will receive free electronic copies of all #QueeringTheCanon titles released.

_______________

Recently, a reader who has become a friend and regular correspondent about books, ideas, and life mentioned that as a Jane Austen fan, he had been somewhat worried about my P&P adaptation, Gay Pride and Prejudice, in which I added roughly 10,000 words to Austen’s novel in order to shift the classic love story from supposedly heteronormative to distinctly homo. Not everyone in Gay P&P is queer, you understand, but enough characters are switch hitters (or, as it was apparently known in the eighteenth century, practitioners of “the game of flats”) to tilt the novel’s central romance off-center—a revisionist choice that more than one reader has disliked. Intensely.

This wasn’t the first time someone who generally likes my writing confessed their doubts about my goal of queering Austen’s best-known novel. Prior to writing and publishing Gay P&P, in fact, I very much shared those concerns. I hesitated for more than a year to attempt an LGBT rewrite of P&P because, well, JANE AUSTEN. But at last I grew tired of waiting for the novel I’d always longed to read, and went ahead and adapted the mother of all romance novels to make it queer.

GPP-3dbookTo my surprise, doing so wasn’t all that difficult. Austen’s text is rife with hidden commentary, queer and otherwise. Those who take her writing at face value as unequivocally reifying heterosexism and the patriarchal marriage tradition strike me as people who are likely content with the status quo and unaware of the many cultural and societal systems exerting power over their own lives. Mostly, I suspect, these folks are straight and therefore accustomed to seeing themselves in every story ever written. For LGBTQ+ people, on the other hand, reading ourselves back into stories and history is almost second nature.

Even as a self-published title with next to no promotion, Gay Pride and Prejudice has sold consistently well since I published it in 2012, and even garnered a shout-out on NPR recently in a review of Unmarriageable, a new P&P adaptation set in Pakistan. Gay P&P’s modest success over the years has convinced me that there is an established fandom eager to read “queerified” classics. So in the next year or so, I’m hoping to finally launch a project I’ve long wanted to pursue: queering additional classics of the Western literary canon. Once Book Five of my soccer series, Girls of Summer, is out in a few months, I will turn my attention to converting more straight peopl—er, literary characters to the queer side of the spectrum. And because I’m going to actually try to promote the series, I’ll be using #QueeringTheCanon. Ad nauseum, probably.

The next classic novel in my sights is another Austen title, one I’m sure many people could guess due to its obvious lesbian tendencies: Emma. In preparation for tackling more LGBTQ+ adaptations, I’ve been downloading assorted scholarly articles from JSTOR and other digital clearinghouses that discuss relevant issues. Thanks to a few historians and graduate students who are fighting the good fight, finding queer takes on Austen and others is easier now than it was twenty years ago—or even seven years ago. If you’re interested in reading more about my research, I recently penned a Patreon post for subscribers called “’I Saw You’ Antiquity Edition: Adding Queer Folks back into the Western Literary Canon.” The Patreon essay picks up where this post ends, and includes additional details on my approach, discusses more canonical titles I’m planning to adapt, and links to some of the academic texts I’ve stumbled across in my research process.

Emma_title_page_1909

It’s only been in the past year as I’ve thought more deeply about creating an entire revisionist series for queer readers that I realized I should probably investigate some of the relevant scholarly work out there. In 2012, I approached P&P without considering the plot or characters or historical context at all. I simply downloaded the public domain text from an online clearing house, copied it into Word, and started revising it to suit my readerly tastes. My lack of preparation and winging-it approach can be seen in some of the well-deserved criticism of the end result. The famous Darcy and Lizzy scene where he shows up at Mr. Collins’s house and proposes (the first time) doesn’t really work in my version, which is probably why I rewrote that scene more than any other I worked on. I suspect that a more organized approach to other titles will improve the finished result. Plus, reading of any kind is fun and inspirational, even supposedly dry academic tomes. At least, in my opinion.

Several of the essays/graduate theses I have read quote the same line from Emma as evidence that Austen very much knew what she was doing when she intertwined homosocial and homoerotic themes into her works: “Seldom, very seldom, does complete truth belong to any human disclosure; seldom can it happen that something is not a little disguised or a little mistaken.” Of course we’ll never know what she actually intended, especially since her family destroyed the bulk of her personal letters after she died, but as a fan of her work, I have always believed there was more going on beneath the surface in her novels. That’s likely because as a queer person I have been trained since early adulthood to look for subtext both in the media I consume and in real life.

If my #QueeringTheCanon project sounds interesting to you and you have even $1 per month to spare, I hope you will consider helping to crowdfund the series on Patreon. As a subscriber, you’ll get behind-the-scenes glimpses of my research and writing process and early access to excerpts and book blurbs.

SG-logo-2019a

My #QueeringTheCanon imprint

Most subscribers also receive free advance e-book copies of anything I release through my Second Growth Books imprint, including all #QueeringTheCanon titles. Plus, you’ll get the knowledge that you are supporting a radical act of queer revisionism and promoting #OwnVoices literature with a twist. Because why should the literary past be any less twisty and turny than actual human history? Or, as I say in the blurb for Gay Pride and Prejudice, “Because Queer People Deserve Happily Ever After, Too.”

Posted in #QueeringTheCanon, Queer books, Second Growth Books, Writing | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Homophones, Synonyms, and Queer Folk, Oh My

A couple of nights ago at dinner, Kris was telling us about a book she’d just finished: My Squirrel Days, a collection of personal essays written by actor Ellie Kemper from Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. At one point, Kris explained, Kemper envisions herself on her death bed surrounded by her future children and grandchildren. One of her granddaughters is named Cabinet, Kemper writes, and the other Morph, short for Metamorphosis, because “popular girl names don’t get any less weird in the future.”

“Cabinet?” Sydney echoed.

“Metamorphosis?” Alex repeated, her eyes narrowing doubtfully.

I mean, really, how do you explain a concept like metamorphosis to elementary schoolchildren?

Ellie, however, wasn’t hung up on words she didn’t recognize. “I’m not named after anything,” she announced.

We all looked at her, because the story of how she got her name is a family favorite that involves one parent gleefully recognizing the similarity between “Elowyn” and the name of a character from Lord of the Rings (me), and the other parent fortunately not clueing in until after Ellie had been named (Kris).

“Yes, you are,” several of the dinner table’s occupants said in unison.

“I know that,” she said. “I’m named after a tree. An Elm tree.”

“In what language?” I asked, curious to see if she knew the answer.

“Welsh,” she said confidently.

“If someone asked you where your name comes from, would you know?” I asked, continuing with the ever-popular Socratic parenting method.

“No.”

“It’s from Wales,” I told her. “People in Wales speak Welsh.”

“They speak it in Wales?” Ellie repeated, half-smiling like she suspected we were trying to pull a fast one on her.

“Yes,” Kris confirmed.

“Really, people in Wales?” Ellie insisted, her eyes comically wide.

“Yes, really.” I frowned, trying to parse her expression. “Wales is a country in Britain, near England.”

Her face cleared. “Oh. I didn’t know that.”

And all at once, I realized: “You thought I meant people inside whales, the animal, didn’t you?”

She nodded, her smile now more mischievous than confused. “I totally did.”

“So did I,” Alex chimed in, while Sydney nodded beside her, mouth too full of angel hair pasta to speak.

Turns out that when I said people in Wales speak Welsh, my children pictured this:

welsh-whale3

Thanks a lot, Disney Pixar.

Actually, that’s what the twins pictured. Alex, our eight-year-old, wants me to tell you that while she momentarily imagined a whale with humans in its belly, she then moved on to envision a seaside village with whales roaming the shoreline. So there’s that.

Scenes like this one happen all the time in our household. But and Butt are of course favorite sound-alikes (of our children, not of their moms), as are new and gnu, which Kris and I actually pronounce the way it ought to be with a hard “g” up front, obviously. I’m amazed by how many homophones—as opposed to homophobes—are animal names: fowl and foul; hare and hair; lynx and links; mussel and muscle; moose and mousse. The poor kids. They never know if we’re talking about bodies or shellfish, baseball or ducks.

Maybe that’s why they call Kris’s hair product “mousse hair.” Clearly, they think she’s using the hair of the moose.

Then again, they probably don’t know the meaning of most of the words above. At least, not the twins. Three-quarters of the way through kindergarten, they’re starting to read Level One books to us with minimal assistance. Before long they’ll be reading chapter books like Alex does, devouring them so intently that they don’t even hear us when we’re talking to them. Like mothers, like daughters.

Unfortunately, teaching kids new words isn’t always such a fun experience, as any member of a much-maligned minority knows. A few months ago, the girls and I were using the restroom at a convenience store when a less amusing conversation took place. The restroom key had been attached to a giant metal serving spoon so that it couldn’t be misplaced, which the girls thought was hilarious.

“Yeah,” I said, smiling as they giggled, “I guess it is kind of weird.”

“If it’s weird,” Alex helpfully supplied, “then you could call it queer.”

I, a genderqueer lesbian, paused in washing my hands and stared into the innocent eyes of my second grader. “Excuse me?”

She blinked, looking less certain as she took in my expression, which no doubt reflected the creeping horror I felt. “Um, I said you could call it queer?”

I took a calming breath as I dried my hands. “And where did you learn that queer is a synonym for weird?”

“From my teacher.”

Another deep breath, because, really? “Why was your teacher talking about the word queer?”

“It was in a book. She was reading to us from The Boxcar Children.”

I have since learned that chapter six of the original Boxcar Children novel (published in 1924) is titled “A Queer Noise in the Night.” To be fair, weird is indeed a synonym for queer, according to Merriam Webster, my go-to source for most word-related questions. In addition to “worthless, counterfeit, questionable, suspicious, differing from what is usual and normal,” and “not quite well,” Merriam Webster’s definition of the word queer also includes this:

queer-def2

Other synonyms in MW’s thesaurus entry include the following: bizarre, outlandish, crazy, kooky, peculiar, odd, and wacky. The first words MW lists as related to queer? Aberrant and abnormal.

“Your teacher isn’t wrong,” I told Alex, crouching down to her level. “But ‘queer’ has more than one meaning. Have you heard me use it to talk about myself and our family?”

“Yes,” she said, nodding.

“I think I’ve also mentioned before that ‘queer’ is a word that some people call gay people in order to be mean and hateful, right?”

She nodded again, and so did the twins.

“The reason gay people use it about ourselves is so that we can reclaim it and make it not as hurtful. I know that probably sounds confusing—” (because let’s face it, I’m 47 and I still can’t entirely wrap my brain around that logic)—“but that’s how the word is used now. Did your teacher mention any of that?”

“No,” Alex said.

“Okay. I just want to make sure you know that your teacher didn’t mean that I’m weird, or that our family is weird.”

“I’m sorry, Mimi,” she said, looking down. “I’m really sorry.”

“You don’t have to be sorry. No one did anything wrong.” Well, except her teacher. I stood up and gave her a hug. “I’m glad we talked about it. You’re still learning lots of new words, and you will be for a long time. I still learn new words regularly too.”

All three kids looked up at me in disbelief. “You do?”

“Yeah. Like, I recently learned that ‘fizzle’ is another word for fart.”

Mission accomplished—all three kids immediately cracked up. Even Alex, who is so quick to tell us she’s sorry, to take on blame, to worry she has somehow disappointed someone somewhere. Kris says she was like that when she was younger, too. Like mother, like daughter.

Kris was just as horrified when I relayed this conversation to her. So was G, my wonderful sister-in-law, and many other friends. A queer Smith alum on Facebook encouraged Kris and me to talk to the teacher, so we did at the very end of our next teacher’s conference. queer-noiseI’d barely gotten out the well-rehearsed sentence, “We’re worried that our daughter may have received the message in your classroom that our family is somehow weird” before the teacher was speaking over me to assure us that she isn’t homophobic and that she has family members who identify as queer.

She didn’t apologize, and she didn’t respond to my suggestion that there might be a use for an inclusive curriculum at the elementary school level to help teachers navigate these kinds of issues. Instead, she flipped the script and asked in a disbelieving tone if we’d actually experienced any homophobia in our school or district. Kris and I floundered, of course, and so did the conversation. We left soon after, legitimately surprised by the reaction we’d received from a lovely woman who had been nothing but welcoming to us and who had a rainbow flag displayed prominently on her desk.

To be clear, Alex adores her teacher and has flourished in her classroom this year. Other than this single incident, Kris and I have really liked and appreciated her, too. Still, in this case, she definitely missed a teaching moment. The Boxcar Children may have been written at a time when queer commonly meant something else (although good ole Merriam Webster assures us that the pejorative use of the word began in 1894, well before the novel was written), but that doesn’t mean the term’s derogatory meaning can be glossed over in a contemporary classroom where at least one student has queer family members. Alex’s teacher absolutely had a responsibility to explain to our daughter and her classmates that they and others shouldn’t use the word queer now because it’s an offensive, disparaging term intended to hurt a minority group. But that would have required her to engage in a classroom conversation about LGBTQ+ people, a conversation our school district has roundly refused to have at the elementary level.

Since Alex entered school two and a half years ago, I’ve written letters and attended school board meetings where I’ve advocated for an inclusive, intersectional elementary curriculum that teaches tolerance and respect toward people of different races, ethnicities, and religions as well as gender identities and sexual orientations. I’ve argued to anyone who would listen (and several who wouldn’t) that HRC’s Welcoming Schools program is well-suited to a district like ours, where there is inclusive programming at the middle schools and high schools but nothing at the lower levels. The Welcoming Schools program actually has a web page that would have helped Alex’s teacher navigate The Boxcar Children incident in a more inclusive way. “Defining LGBTQ Words for Children” recommends sharing the following definition for the word queer: “People use this word as a way to identify with and celebrate people of all gender identities and all the ways people love each other. When used in a mean way, it is a word that hurts.”

HRC-Welcoming-Schools

In fact, Washington State mandates an LGBTQ-inclusive elementary school curriculum. But most districts pick and choose which state requirements to fulfill because, as more than one administrator has explained to me, there are so many mandated by the state that it’s impossible to meet them all. I’ve also been told by these same administrators that the pushback from the Christian members of our local community would be difficult to overcome if the district were to institute an elementary curriculum that presents LGBTQ people and relationships in a positive light.

I don’t doubt that both of these statements are true. However, I also don’t accept either as a legitimate reason to not include anti-bias instruction at the elementary level, which is why I intend to keep trying to push our district toward inclusion.

In the meantime, here’s a lesson for any educators out there to keep in mind: Please don’t use the word queer in class if you’re not prepared to explain its meaning and usage adequately. Chances are most of the kids in your class have already heard the term being used in a disparaging way. Even if they haven’t, odds are that at least one child in your class is related to an actual queer person—or might one day realize they are LGBTQ+ themselves.

Assuming they haven’t already.

___________________________________

Author Announcement: Some of you may have noticed that I’ve added a new page to my blog called My Patreon. As the page explains, a reader suggested I start a creator account on Patreon to crowdfund support for a series I’m planning called Queering the Canon. Please have a read if you’d like to contribute. My lowest tier is $1 per month, and any and all contributions are very much appreciated!

Posted in Education, Family, LGBTQ+, Parenting | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

So about that GoS book #4 cover…

**2/22/19 UPDATE: The pre-order had to be canceled due to a glitch–okay, a GAFFE on my part. Anyway, I reuploaded the book, and the good news is that you can order and read it TODAY (Friday) instead of having to wait until Monday! I am changing links fastly and furiously. Here you go: NEW ORDER PAGE ON AMAZON**

Happy Valentine’s Day from snowy Western Washington, where my children are currently on their sixth snow day! Over the past week, we’ve had a grand total of–trumpets, please16 inches. That’s right, folks, six days of no school because a little more than a foot of snow decided to land on our neck of the woods. Have you seen that meme that compares the local reaction to different snowfall amounts in varying parts of the country? Probably the only thing King County has in common with the south is that with a foot of snow, we declare a state of emergency. The Seattle Snowpocalypse is real, y’all.Road-to-Canada-kindle

Anyway, on to book news. You know how I always say I reserve the right to change the cover before publication? Well, book #4 of the Girls of Summer series now has a new cover–and a new title: The Road to Canada. I’ve said before that Jamie and Emma have minds of their own, so it might not come as a surprise to some of you that they’ve once again hijacked the story. Girls of Summer will now be book #5, though it keeps the (slightly tweaked) cover with the flag. Good thing, too–Kris, my wife, loves that cover.

So why the change? In short, Girls of Summer was either going to have to be considerably longer than the other books in the series or I would have had to limit the story that Jamie and Emma keep insisting they want to tell. Instead of grappling alone with this decision, I created a SurveyMonkey that I shared with a focus group. The survey asked the readers to choose an option: one super-long novel that wouldn’t be available for several months OR two shorter novels, one of which was almost complete. The results: Books #4 and 5 will be published separately, but I will also make them available as a box-set for those who would prefer to read them together as one super-long book.

For now, though, The Road to Canada (book 4) is available for pre-order on Amazon. Publication is set for February 25. I’m still planning to wrap up Jamie and Emma’s current storyline in Girls of Summer (book 5), due out in May, but obviously #Blakewell may have different ideas about that… I (and J & E) will keep you posted. Oh, and I added a box set of Girls of Summer books 1 to 3 on Amazon for anyone who needs to catch up. Pass it on if you get a chance!

In the meantime, Happy V-Day, and happy reading. And if you happen to be in the Pacific Northwest, happy sledding…

snow-day-sm

Me and the girls in our normally snow-free forest

Posted in Lesbian Fiction, Queer books, Soccer, USWNT | Tagged , | 10 Comments

Girls of Summer cover reveal + giveaway

So. Election day is over–sort of, if you don’t count Georgia and Florida. Despite the “Big Win” a certain tweeting madman immediately claimed, the Democrats managed to flip the House of Representatives, which is allowing most of us in the LGBTQ+ community as well as other minority groups to breathe a bit easier. There’s still the looming constitutional crisis that accelerated yesterday with the firing of Sessions, the specter of a conservative Supreme Court for decades to come, and serious questions regarding the hackability of our electronic voting infrastructure, but hey. At least we’ll be able to subpoena the crazy dude’s taxes, am I right?

Sigh… I know, it’s always darkest before the light. I’m just afraid we haven’t gotten truly dark enough yet to qualify.

GoS-kindleAnyway, on to writing news, specifically regarding the upcoming fourth book in my USWNT soccer series, the Girls of Summer. Honestly, submerging myself in fictional 2014-15 America–when Obama was still president and gay marriage was about to be legalized across the entire nation!–has been a wonderful balm to my anxiety-ridden 2016-18 self. I hope my books might offer the same sort of refuge for some of you, as well.

As I mentioned in a message to my mailing list last week, the fourth (and possibly not final) book in my soccer series, Girls of Summer, is due to be released in December or January. The new cover is at right, though of course, I reserve the right to change it (as per usual) before publication. I’ll be giving away 2 copies of Girls of Summer one week before the novel is available for download. To qualify for the drawings, read on!

I’ve released three titles in the past few months:

To be entered in the first drawing for a free, early copy of Girls of Summer, you need only have purchased a copy of one of the three books listed above. To be entered in the second drawing, pen a review on Amazon or Goodreads for one of the three books listed above. Once you’ve purchased one of these books or written a review, send a note to kate (at) katejchristie.com, and I’ll add your email address to the giveaway(s). The deadline to sign up is December 1, so that gives you some time. On December 2, I’ll draw the winners and notify them by email.

I’m relying on the honor system, so no proof of purchase or review is necessary. But please do consider writing a review if you haven’t already done so. Word of mouth helps books find readers, especially in a smaller niche like lesbian fiction.

In the meantime, happy reading and keep resisting. Also, best wishes to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on a speedy recovery! And I mean, speedy…

 

Posted in Giveaways, Lesbian Fiction, LGBTQ+, Queer books, Women's soccer | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

A Theory of Love Available for Pre-Order

A Theory of Love, my new contemporary romance, is now available on Amazon for pre-order. The official release date is October 18, but I’m hoping to get it done a bit sooner. I’ve uploaded the semi-official excerpt–the first three chapters–on my website here.

What is the new novel about? Well, here’s my one-sentence tropey description: Jock meets nerd in this slow-burn lesbian romance where women’s rugby, the sociology of romance fiction, and an occasional appearance by Neil deGrasse Tyson provide the backdrop for an opposites-attract love story.

To be clear, Neil deGrasse Tyson does not actually appear in the story as a character. But he is mentioned once or twice, and I wanted to hint at the meaning behind the cover without being spoilery.

Speaking of covers, below the blurb you’ll find an image of the (probably) final ATOL cover. We are still a few weeks out, though, so you never know.

ATOL Blurb – AKA the Dust Jacket Copy

Here is the mostly final book blurb:

Eva DeMarco isn’t looking for a relationship. Fresh off a year’s family leave, she is hoping for a quiet return to her teaching and research career at Edmonds University, where she is still in search of the holy grail of tenure. Given that she has recently chucked her Serious Research Interest in the visual arts to study romance novels, she’s pretty sure her best bet is to skate under the radar of university higher-ups for the foreseeable future.

Cassidy Trane is only in Washington State for another few months. Soon she’ll be resuming her hipster lifestyle in San Francisco, making good money in the tech industry and cheering for her ex-teammates on the local pro rugby side. She certainly doesn’t intend to fall for an academic, especially not one at the university where her golden-boy twin brother literally teaches rocket science.

But as fate conspires to bring Cass and Eva together, they learn that sometimes plans have to be flexible–that is, if they want a chance at their very own Happily Ever After.

As soon as this book is out, I’ll return my attention to wrapping up Jamie and Emma’s story in book four, Girls of Summer, the last planned book in the series of the same name. I should have a cover and pre-order link to share in October, with publication coming in November or December. I’m writing as fast as I can, so think good thoughts!

As always, thanks for your interest and support, and happy reading!

Theory-Front-Cover-NEW

Posted in Fiction, Lesbian Fiction, Queer books, Second Growth Books, Writing | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Queer Mama Book Recs

Mommy-Mama-MeWhen my wife Kris and I started our family nearly a decade ago, we were given a board book that we proceeded to read to our daughters every night for years, until it literally fell apart: Mommy, Mama, and Me by Lesléa Newman. (Actually, one of our daughters might have chewed off the binding during a particularly fraught teething stage, but I digress.) We supplemented this bedtime routine with a handful of other favorite children’s titles: Time for Bed by Mem Fox; Pajama Time by the wonderful Sandra Boynton; The Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry, and the Big Hungry Bear by Audrey Wood; and, of course, Heather has Two Mommies, the queer mama classic by the amazing Lesléa Newman.

As our daughters have grown, we’ve sought out more books that feature same-sex parents of the female variety because we want our girls to see our family reflected in the stories we read—more of a challenge than it should be, really, in the twenty-first century. We’ve also looked for books that normalize donor conception, since that’s the way our family came to be. The lists I’ve come across at Goodreads and on assorted library sites tend to be either too broad or don’t include enough information on the age group or availability of the titles. Which isn’t to say I’m not grateful those compilations exist. It’s just that in my parenting experience, I’m generally so exhausted from the daily grind that I don’t have the energy to sort through each entry. What I’ve long wanted is a curated list of books that feature two-mom families and, preferably, include a lesbian parent’s personal review.

family-faves

Our family favorites

So, just as I did when I couldn’t find the exact queer retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice that I wanted to read, I’ve decided to create a curated list of queer mom books myself.

Below, you’ll find titles that feature lesbian moms and diverse families as well as a couple of stories about donor conception and a few middle-grade books with queer girl characters. I’ve included brief descriptions and/or reviews of each story, which are completely subjective and potentially inaccurate as are all book recommendations and reviews. I hope our list of family favorites and to-be-reads helps other families like ours. And if not, at least Kris and I now have a curated list to call up in the future when even more of our parenting memories have been lost to the blur of time.

A Quick Note on Other Lists

A year and a half ago, our local librarian recommended taking a look at the Rainbow Book List, compiled each year by the American Library Association’s Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Round Table. These annual bulletins present a “bibliography of quality books with significant and authentic GLBTQ content [that] are recommended for people from birth through eighteen years of age.” I am incredibly happy that the ALA provides such a resource, for obvious reasons. 

reading3

A typical scene at our house

However, I have found in my semi-permanent, sleep-deprived state that the ALA compilation, which is organized by year and contains a broad range of LGBTQ+ topics, offers so many options that I soon become overwhelmed and click away. But check it out if you get a chance. It’s as fabulous as our local librarian, who just happens to sit on the ALA Rainbow Book List committee.

Another list I wholeheartedly recommend can be found on the Welcoming Schools pageGreat LGBTQ Inclusive Picture and Middle Grade Books.” This page contains many of our favorite two-mom stories as well as the gay-dad books we either own or check out from our library over and over. And finally, Goodreads has a list calledChildren’s & teen fiction featuring lesbian mothers” that contains 90 (ninety!) titles. Obviously, the number of titles available in the lesbian mom and queer girl genres has grown immensely since our first daughter was born in 2011.

I hope you have as much fun browsing our family favorites as Kris, the girls, and I did compiling this list. Now, we’re off to read some of these nearly forgotten gems…

Picture Books

Children’s Books Featuring Two Moms

Mama, Mommy, and Me by Lesléa Newman
As previously noted, this two-mom board book is a family favorite that we read to our daughters nightly for years. And years, and years… Our oldest daughter was just reading this list over my shoulder, and she crowed in delight when she saw this first title. Then she said, “Isn’t that the one Ellie chewed up?” And yes. Yes, it is.

Heather has Two Mommies by Lesléa NewmanHeather-two-mommies_sm
We initially owned the classic 1990s version of this book that offered more detail on conception than the girls could assimilate when they were super little. Happily, the updated version reads more like Mama, Mommy, and Me, with colorful illustrations that won’t make moms born and raised in the Midwest (ahem) blush.

A Tale of Two Mommies by Vanita Oelschlager
This is a sweet story from the point of view of a young boy with two moms. We don’t own it, but we have checked it out from the library more times than I can count.

In Our Mothers’ House by Patricia Polacco In-Our-Mothers-House
Our daughter’s school librarian recommended this gem about a twentieth-century rainbow family in the Bay Area. Kris and I were a bit doubtful at first—we hadn’t heard of the book or the author—but we both teared up by the end of our first read. What a lovely, lovely book, told from the perspective of a grown child of lesbian moms.

Donovan’s Big Day by Lesléa Newman
I just read this story today about a boy preparing for his moms’ wedding. Donovan has an important job to do in the ceremony, and the narrative follows him as he goes about getting ready for “his” big day. Another gem from the inimitable Lesléa Newman.

Molly’s Family by Nancy Garden
I haven’t actually read this one yet, but I am a huge fan of Nancy Garden and her wonderful books, so I’m putting it on my list!

Children’s Books about Diverse Families and People

The Family Book by Todd ParrThe-Family-Book
I have yet to find a Todd Parr book I don’t like, and this one about all the sizes, shapes, and colors that families come in is no different.

A Family is a Family is a Family by Sara O’Leary
This is another library read that we’ve enjoyed multiple times. Like Heather has Two Mommies and other similar books, the story revolves around a classroom discussion about the broad diversity of family types—including same-sex parented families.

It’s Okay to be Different by Todd Parr
Another winner from Todd Parr, this book seeks to normalize differences and assures kids that no matter who they are, they are special and loved. Yay!

Skin Again by bell hooksSkin-Again
A wonderful, beautifully illustrated poem by one of my favorite writers about opening your heart to who people are on the inside, this picture book has been a grown-up favorite in our household as well as popular among the younger set. Every time I read this book, I feel hopeful about our collective future, which in today’s political and environmental climate is quite an impressive feat.

Red: A Crayons Story by Michael Hall
This emotionally affecting story about identity features a crayon who is red on the outside but feels blue on the inside. At first Red struggles as his family and teacher encourage him to live up to his “red” label, but life improves immensely when he embraces who he really is on the inside.

Annies-plaid-shirt

Annie’s Plaid Shirt by Stacy B. Davids
Another book about identity, this story explores a child’s distress when she is told she has to wear a dress to her uncle’s wedding. I totally was Annie, only I’m pretty sure I wore a blue sweatshirt everywhere instead of a plaid shirt, and I did end up having to wear the detested dress. Happily, this story ends better for Annie.

The Big Book of Girl Power (DC Super Heroes) by Julie Merberg
This board book features strong girls and women who, despite their generally skimpy clothing (ugh), pack a powerful punch of one type or another. The cover features Supergirl, who falls in love with Lois Lane in DC’s Bombshells United; Wonder Woman, who is canonically bisexual; and Batgirl, whose counterpart Batwoman is canonically gay in The CW’s latest addition to its superhero line-up. Boo-yah.

Children’s Books about Conception and Donor Insemination

Zak’s Safari by Christy Tyner Zaks-Safari
An engaging main character (Zak) and lovely images accompany this story of how one two-mom family came to be. For those looking for a simple way to explain donor conception within the frame of same-sex parenting, this book is the mother lode! (Sorry, couldn’t resist the terrible pun.) Visit the author’s website to read the book online and/or watch the vlog of how this book came to be.

It Takes Love (and Some Other Stuff) to Make a Baby by LL Bird
Like Zak’s Safari, this book employs colorful images and age-appropriate language and concepts to explain how kids in many lesbian-parented families are conceived through donor insemination. The author’s original crowd-funding video is still available on Vimeo if you’re curious.

It’s So Amazing: A Book about Eggs, Sperm, Birth, Babies, and Families by Robie H. Harris
Grade Level: 2-5. 88 pages. This book came recommended by my sister-in-law, who is not only an awesome human being but a certified social worker. It offers a detailed look at conception, and while it does focus at first on heterosexual reproduction, the book offers information on alternative conception as well as on how twins form and grow in utero. We’ve read through portions with our kiddos, but I suspect its clinical approach will find a more attentive audience among our daughters when they are a bit older.

Chapter Books & Middle-Grade Titles

Books with Lesbian Moms

best-friend-next-door

Best Friend Next Door by Carolyn Mackler
Grade Level: 3-7. 224 pages. Our seven-year-old read this library book over the summer and thought it was a “fun” read. She says she enjoyed that it was written from the perspective of two girls who live next door to each other, one of whom has two moms. They were born on the same day and their names are palindromes, which she thought was especially interesting. The online reviews say “charming, engaging, and supportive,” so there you go.

The Lotterys Plus One by Emma Donoghue
Grade Level: 3-7. 336 pages. This was a family read for us, and Kris and our kids really enjoyed this book. I wanted to love it too, but alas, I didn’t. Sumac, the POV character, is nine years old when her grandfather with dementia moves to Toronto to live with her large, racially diverse family. Sumac has two moms and two dads, and the two couples co-parent their many children in an enormous Victorian house. As we made our way through the novel, the adult characters began to feel overly eccentric and Sumac too mature for her age. Four parents should offer an excellent safety net, but Sumac is left to parent herself through most of the tale and, as children are wont to do, does so imperfectly. While it’s an interesting and well-written read, I’m too ambivalent about the parenting style(s) to recommend this novel wholeheartedly.

The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker BradleyThe-War-that-Saved-My-Life
Grade Level: 4-7. 352 pages. We read this book as a family and absolutely loved both it and the sequel (see below). There were some very intense emotional moments, particularly around the main character’s abusive biological mother who appears only briefly (fortunately!), but the emotional upheaval is handled with sensitivity. Ada’s guardian, the central queer character in the book, ably helps her work through her trauma on her way to a happy-ish ending. Our oldest daughter thought the book “had really cool WWII facts,” and all three kids learned a lot about the Battle of Britain. They also learned about poverty, child abuse, class privilege, and found family in 1940s England. I can’t recommend this novel enough, although you might want to read it with/to your kids so that you can skip or explain some of the more intense sections. We omitted a couple of pages that went into detail about soldier injuries during the evacuation of Dunkirk—just a heads-up.

The War I Finally Won by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Grade Level: 4-7. 416 pages. Sequel to The War that Saved My Life. Same as above. We adored this book, but it does have adult elements—descriptions of anti-Semitism and concentration camps, for example—that we discussed with the kids at length. For us, this was another family read, although I expect that our girls will read both books in the series on their own when they’re older.

This-Would-Make-a-Good-Story

This Would Make a Good Story Someday by Dana Alison Levy 
Grade Level: 4-7. 320 pages. The main character has two moms, one of whom is actually named Mimi (like me) and is even a writer! The story, written in epistolary format, details the main character Sara’s cross-country train journey with her family the summer before she starts middle school. The narrative includes journal entries by Sara and assorted written materials—notes, blog posts, postcards—from other characters in the story. Full disclosure: we haven’t finished this book yet, but we definitely will.

Books, Comics, and Graphic Novels with Queer Girls

Princess, Princess Ever After by Katie O’Neill
Princess-PrincessGrade Level: 3 and up. 56 pages. Our girls went through a major princess stage (doh), so I was delighted to discover this alternative fairy tale that, for a while, we read at bedtime every night, over and over. As ComicsVerse writes, “Princess, Princess is basically a queer Disney fantasy, complete with adorable plus-size dragons and a wonderfully cute romance. The comic’s depiction of racially, sexually, and bodily diverse young women demonstrates that… one can be both a princess and a heroine at the same time—and discover love and self-validation along the way.” The book isn’t perfect—the evil older sister is troubling, and the characters call each other cruel names at times. But this queer-themed graphic novel got Kris and me through the princess stage, so we will forever be grateful to its author.

Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson
Grade Level: 4-8. 240 pages. This graphic novel is another favorite family read that we revisit regularly. Astrid, the 12-year-old protagonist and daughter of a single mother in Portland, falls in love with the sport of roller derby the summer before sixth grade. The novel explores her growing interest and proficiency in the sport during a multi-week summer derby camp—and her slow evolution away from her best friend from elementary school. While Astrid isn’t explicitly queer, she is definitely a tomboy who doesn’t understand her best friend’s interest in boys. Plus, you know, the book is about roller derby. Enough said.

The Legend of Korra: Turf Wars Part One by Michael Dante DiMartino and Irene Koh
Turf-Wars-oneGrade Level: 4-7. 80 pages. I bought this comic for myself after bingeing the Legend of Korra TV series from Nickelodeon when I was sick last year. In this follow-up to the series, Korra and Asami, the kick-ass female protagonists—*SPOILER ALERT*—become a couple. I’ve purchased each installment both for the representation and the story-telling, which is as excellent as the artwork. The Legend of Korra Turf Wars Part Two is similarly queer and awesome, and I can’t wait for the upcoming (September 4, people!) series conclusion, The Legend of Korra: Turf Wars Part Three. At this point, my kids have read the comics on their own, but I don’t think they find them as interesting as I do since they don’t understand the larger context. I plan to introduce them to the Korra TV show when they’re a little older.

Star-Crossed by Barbara Dee
Grade Level: 5-8. 304 pages. I enjoyed this middle-grade novel about a twelve-year-old girl with a crush on the new girl at school. The class play—Romeo and Juliet, naturally—provides a backdrop for the narrative, which is lighthearted and easy to read. I would probably plan a reread before my kids start it since I wasn’t thinking in terms of them as the eventual audience, but in my imperfect memory, this was a sweet, enjoyable read. In fact, it has inspired me to consider tackling my own middle-grade queer girl novel someday, once I winnow down my to-be-written list.

As the Crow Flies by Melanie Gillman
As-the-Crow-FliesGrade Level: 6 and up. 250 pages. I recently read this graphic novel based on a popular webcomic series and really enjoyed it. Thirteen-year-old Charlie, the story’s black, queer protagonist, is excited to head out on an all-girls Christian camp’s backpacking trip. But over the course of three days in the wilderness, she comes to realize that many of her fellow campers—and the adult trip leader herself—are racist and homophobic. The artwork, done in colored pencil, beautifully evokes the peace of hiking even as Charlie struggles with feelings of alienation. There was a bit much of the God stuff for an agnostic like me, and some of the dialogue skews a tad stilted and academic. But overall this graphic novel is really well done. I’m hoping an eventual family read will give rise to some good discussions about race, gender, religion, and feminism.

Supergirl: Being Super #1-4 by Mariko Tamaki
Grade Level: 5 and up. 208 pages. This limited four-book comic series is another one I bought for myself. I am a huge Supergirl (the TV series) fan, and this coming-of-age tale is one of the first Supergirl comics I ever read. In this high school story about the Girl of Steel, Kara’s best friend Dolly is an out lesbian who, as one reviewer notes, steals every scene she appears in. My girls haven’t read the series yet, but eventually, when they’re older, I imagine they will.

Our Current To-Read List

Books with Lesbian Moms

Love, Penelope by Joanne Rocklin
Grade Level: 3-7. 240 pages. Ten-year-old Penelope writes letters to her soon-to-be sibling, describing their moms, their city (Oakland), and the winning season of her beloved Golden State Warriors. And because the story is set in 2015, Penny also details the marriage equality decision that irrevocably (I hope) changed life in America for families like ours. I’m excited to get this one from our local library and share it with the girls as a family read.

The Pants Project by Cat ClarkeThe-Pants-Project
Grade Level: 4-9. 272 pages. This story features Liv, a boy born into a girl’s body. Like many of the books on my list, having two moms is more peripheral than central to this particular tale, according to the reviews I’ve read. Instead, the story revolves around Liv’s challenges as a trans kid in middle school, which, I imagine, presents more than enough conflict to propel the narrative. As a non-binary person who often skews more to the masculine end of the gender spectrum, I’m looking forward to reading and discussing this novel with our kiddos, too.

My Mixed-Up Berry Blue Summer by Jennifer Gennari
Grade Level: 5-7. 128 pages. Set in the early 2000s when civil unions were brand new in Vermont, this novel explores homophobia more than any other I’ve included on my list. According to the book’s blurb: “Twelve-year-old June Farrell is sure of one thing—she’s great at making pies—and she plans to prove it by winning a blue ribbon in the Champlain Valley Fair pie competition. But a backlash against Vermont’s civil union law threatens her family’s security and their business.” From the reviews I’ve read, this would be another family read for us. While our kids know homophobia exists, they have mostly faced micro-aggressions rather than blatant bigotry. We would definitely want to talk through June’s experiences with them and offer additional information on the recent historical context.

You’re Welcome, Universe by Whitney GardnerYoure-Welcome-Universe
Grade Level: 7-9. 304 pages. Julia, a teenage graffiti artist with two moms, transitions from her deaf school into a mainstream suburban school with mixed results. As School Library Journal says, Julia “inhabits many minority identities (disabled, a person of color, the child of same-sex parents, an English language learner) without any one of them being the engine for the story… [T]his is a well-told, artsy coming-of-age tale that is also an excellent representation of a Deaf protagonist.” Looking forward to this one when the girls are a little bit older.

Books and Graphic Novels with Queer Girls

Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World by Ashley Herring Blake
Grade Level: 3-7. 320 pages. When I was a kid, my hometown, Kalamazoo, was hit by a massive tornado that killed a number of people and left the city without power for a week. Maybe that’s why this book looks particularly interesting to me—it features a destructive tornado, sisterly bonds, a girl with a crush on another girl, and twins. This might just be another good family read for us.drum-roll-please.jpg

Drum Roll, Please by Lisa Jenn Bigelow
Grade Level: 3-7. 336 pages. Speaking of Michigan, I just discovered that this writer is from Kalamazoo, too! Maybe that’s why her recent YA novel, a story of a young queer girl away at a summer music camp located in the wilds of Michigan, resonates with me. Another potential family read, I’m thinking.

Hurricane Child by Kheryn Callender
Grade Level: 3-7. 224 pages. Set in the Caribbean, this story features a queer girl of color in a coming-of-age tale that includes “a dash of magical realism,” according to School Library Journal. Once again, maternal abandonment (à la The War that Saved My Life) and a massive storm serve as plot points. This book would probably be a family read so that we could talk about some of the more serious elements—bullying, ghosts, and racism, to name a few.

Lumberjanes Vol. 1: Beware The Kitten Holy by Noelle Stevenson and Grace Ellis
Grade Level: 4-6. 128 pages. This is the first volume of the highly rated Lumberjanes comic series, which features diverse, bad-ass teenage girls solving assorted mysteries at a summer camp for “Hardcore Lady Types.” According to School Library Journal, “Spunky, lovable characters sparkle with exuberant personality and challenge gender stereotypes.” Add in the developing relationship between two of the campers, and this sounds like a perfect match for our family a few years down the road.

not-your-sidekick.jpg

Not your Sidekick by C. B. Lee
Grade Level:  5-8. 296 pages. I’ve been hearing about this novel ever since it was published in 2016. The queer POC main character, Jessica Tran, has superhero parents, no powers of her own, and, embarrassingly, a crush on her parents’ nemesis. Assorted reviews call the story sweet, engaging, and lighthearted. I’ll probably read it on my own with an idea toward recommending it to the girls when they’re a bit older.

Straight Honorable Mention

There are, of course, countless books without queer content that we adore. I thought I would include some of our favorite pro-girl and pro-women titles. Pro-patriarchy content need not apply, naturally.

Children’s Book Faves

Happy Like Soccer by Maribeth BoeltsHappy-Like-Soccer
This book is nearly perfect in our family’s opinion: beautifully written and drawn; emotionally affecting without being overly sentimental; and, of course, focused on soccer. Sierra loves playing soccer, but her aunt’s work schedule prevents her from cheering Sierra on—until one night when Sierra makes a call and asks for help. Kris and I both cry pretty much every time we read this story, but in a good way. In the best way, really.

Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney
A gorgeous, empowering story that features a woman whose grandfather, an immigrant, extracted a promise from her that whatever else she did with her life, she would try to make the world a more beautiful place. Feminist underpinnings and beautiful imagery make this story one that both moms and kids in our house have happily read again and again. 

I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark by Debbie LevyI-Dissent
A picture book about Ruth Bader Ginsburg and her lifelong commitment to standing up for what’s right? Um, of course we love it. I often walk into the living room to find the girls reading this book on their own, and it makes me happy every time.

She Persisted: 13 American Women Who Changed the World by Chelsea Clinton
Chelsea Clinton has become my Twitter hero of late. I also love her children’s books (as does the rest of our family of five) and, in particular, this one’s fabulous blurb: “Chelsea Clinton introduces tiny feminists, mini activists, and little kids who are ready to take on the world to thirteen inspirational women who never took no for an answer, and who always, inevitably and without fail, persisted.” Heck yeah!

Middle Grade and Chapter Books

Harriet-the-InvincibleHamster Princess: Harriet the Invincible (Book One) by Ursula Vernon
Grade Level: 3-7. 256 pages. This is book one in our favorite ever feminist alternative fairy tale series. Harriet isn’t your usual (rodent) princess. She cliff-dives, defeats monsters, and outwits fairy curses. Not only is Harriet a refreshing take on the prototypical fairytale princess, but Vernon’s snarky humor keeps parents laughing, too. We own the first five books and are about to pre-order book six. While we started the series as family reads, our girls are now reading these novel/comic hybrid books all on their own.

Target Practice (Cleopatra in Space #1) by Mike Maihack
Grade Level: 3-7. 176 pages. Historical sci-fi fantasy—is that a category? If not, it should be. The Cleopatra in Space series is fun and features a kick-ass heroine, but has some mature themes. A side character sacrifices himself to save his friends, and other characters are injured (or worse) as well. I’ve read these with my oldest daughter and skipped over the more violent parts. Probably not for younger or sensitive readers, but a fun concept that is well executed.

Zita the Space Girl (Book One) by Ben Hatke
Grade Level: 3-6. 192 pages. As long as we’re talking sci-fi and fantasy graphic novels that include strong girls, I should mention Ben Hatke’s story of a brave, confident Earth girl who inadvertently becomes an intergalactic heroine when she sets off to save a friend. Interdimensional portals, alien planets, and a variety of otherworldly characters make this a fun, satisfying read that, once again, engages adults as well as kids. I haven’t read books two and three, but their reviews are similarly positive.

All’s Faire in Middle School by Victoria JamiesonAlls-Faire-in-Middle-School.jpg
Grade Level: 4-7. 248 pages. This graphic novel from the author of Roller Girl is another family read (and reread) favorite. Eleven-year-old Imogene (Impy) has practically grown up on the grounds of a Florida Renaissance Fair where her parents are full-time actors in residence. Home-schooled up to now, Impy has made the fateful decision to go to public middle school. As you might imagine, her transition into the world beyond the Renaissance Faire gates does not exactly go smoothly.

Miscellaneous

Reading the Rainbow: LGBTQ-Inclusive Literacy Instruction in the Elementary Classroom by Caitlin L. Ryan and Jill Hermann-Wilmarth
This book was written by friends of my aforementioned fabulous sister-in-law, and explores in depth an issue I am very interested in: the inclusion of LGBTQ-positive books and concepts in the elementary classroom. We need more early elementary curricula that include diverse families and individuals, dang it. That’s the only way (in my not remotely humble opinion) we will wipe out homophobia in our schools and communities. That’s why the books I’ve listed here are so important: They have the power to positively impact life for kids—and families—like ours.

Whew.

I’m sure I’ve missed some fabulous two mom and queer girl books, so please add your favorite related titles in the comments section, should you feel moved to do so. Word of mouth is one of the best marketing channels for authors.

In the meantime, as always, happy reading!

Posted in Book review, children's books, LGBTQ+, Parenting, Queer books | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments