Linkalicious: more on queer kids’ and YA books

Once again, I come bearing links, continuing on a theme from my last post.

Here’s an interview with Vancouver YA author Carrie Mac on queer characters, harsh realities, and dystopic futures in her books. I really like what I’ve read of her stuff so far. The Beckoners is an unflinchingly harsh look at high school bullying and hazing, Crush was a sweet little book from Orca’s hi-low line, Orca Soundings, and The Droughtlanders is the first of what looks like a trilogy, a dystopic future that, unsurprisingly, pulls no punches. (Now with violence, betrayal, rape, murder, and plot-essential nudity! Also, complex characters, complex plot, and some great worldbuilding. I am very much looking forward to getting my hands on book two.)

Battles Rage Over Children’s Books With Gay Theme  Herein lies an interview with Arthur Levine, one of the editorial director with Scholastic. He’s summed up both why we need gay characters in kids’ books, and the kind of books we now need just about perfectly:

Ten percent of the children’s book readership, at least, will grow up to be gay or lesbian,” he said to AfterElton.com. “Wouldn’t it be nice if their first exposure to the idea that there are gay people in the world isn’t when they’re teenagers — so when little Johnny falls in love with that really cute, brainy boy in his computer class, he’s grown up with the idea that it’s not unusual and there’s nothing wrong with that.

And an even higher percentage of picture book readership will grow up to know and love somebody who’s gay or lesbian. So when you think about it that way, a large percentage of your picture book audience can really benefit from naturalizing the idea that there are gay and lesbian people in the world. When you think about it that way, it’s even more of a mystery why there aren’t more of these books.”

and

Leslea Newman broke huge ground by writing a book in which she declares ‘Heather has two mommies.’ But at this point, 20 years later, we get it. Heather already knows she has two moms. Now we need stories where Heather has lost her teddy bear and we see how her two moms help her. … I think the hardest thing to find is books that are just wonderful real stories that happen to have gay and lesbian characters in them.

Which is why it’s reassuring to see things like this project in the UK: No Outsiders: Researching Approaches to Sexualities Equality in Primary Schools “‘No Outsiders’ is a 28-month research project based in primary schools and funded by The Economic and Social Research Council. During the course of the project, a team of primary teachers from three areas of the UK will develop ideas and resources to address lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality in their own schools and their communities.”

YA author David Levithan talks about much the same kind of thing in the speech he gave at the Australian Reading Matters conference. Specifically, about getting YA books with GLBT themes onto the library shelves and into the hands of the kids that need them. He talked about killing the “vampires,” the little voice in your head that says oh no, we can’t get that book, people will be upset and offended. (But guess what? You have an obligation to represent your whole community, not just the majority, and not just with “safe” books. The suicide rate for gay teens is six to sixteen times higher than their straight counterparts. Anything we can do to decrease the sense of isolation that’s often a contributing factor is a good thing, as far as I’m concerned.)

Which brings me much closer to home, with some supporting material from a presentation the 2006 Canadian Library Association conference, The Last Taboo: Diversity, Equity, Inclusivity, and Law in Canadian Libraries. It looks like the study on GLBT material for teens in Alberta public libraries was done in 2001-2002, which means hopefully all those numbers have gone up exponentially, reflecting current publishing trends. The list of material is more of a representative sample than an exhaustive survey, as far as I can tell, which makes the titles per capita numbers misleading. (Especially since it’s a list of books with a specific target audience of primarily 13-18 years old, and the numbers are for each respective city’s entire population.) It’s such a small set of data that you can’t really draw any definite conclusions, but right now, I’d bet my library has closer to forty or fifty GLBT YA books than the twenty-some of when the research was done. I think that’s some small sort of progress.

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2 responses to “Linkalicious: more on queer kids’ and YA books

  1. Thanks for posting this. A fascinating subject that is near and dear to my heart.

    One facet of all this is the problem that the gay media is not very supportive of gay publishing. These days gay magazines rarely review any queer titles. I have seen youths enter into a gay bookstore, head straight for the magazines and DVDs and walk out without even looking at the books. It seems like queer culture is embracing a mentality that reading (and reading spec fic especially) is bad.

  2. I think a contributing factor to lack of the spec fic in gay culture may be that most queer fangeeks may not necessarily be involved in the mainstream gay community.

    However, maybe the recent upsurge in GLBT YA books will have some sort of impact, longterm. I think it’s much easier to get kids invested in reading when the books bear some sort of resemblance to their own lives. (Which is not to deny the lure of escapist reading, either.)

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