Saturday, June 16, 2018

A Picture Book Roundup for Pride Month

It's June and that means it's LGTB Pride month, a great time to introduce young readers to picture books about diverse families and varying gender identities within the LGTB community. Books like the ones below will, hopefully, help to foster acceptance and teach readers the importance of embracing difference. For other young readers, they may offer an opportunity to find themselves within their pages, to celebrate who they are, and to see how others have overcome adversity. 

Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag by Rob Sanders, illustrated by Steven Salerno
Random House, 2018, 40 pages

The story of rainbow flag is, ironically, one of hope. Harvey Milk had a dream that one day everyone would have equality, even gay people. Working towards making that dream a reality, Harvey ran for  became the first gay person elected to a political office, city supervisor in San Francisco. Harvey knew that his cause needed something - a visible symbol of hope that would make people feel they were part of a community, something like a flag. Sure enough, Harvey's friend, artist Gilbert Baker, designed a Rainbow Flag, a flag that represents inclusion and diversity. Sadly, in November 27, 1978, Harvey and the mayor of San Francisco were assassinated. In their memory, the Rainbow Flag became a lasting symbol of equality, pride, hope, and love. This is such a well-done picture book, with detailed illustrations every bit as colorful as the Rainbow Flag.

Pink is for Boys by Robb Pearlman, illustrated by Eda Kaban
Running Press, 2018, 40 pages 

Though this book begins with the sentence Pink is for boys the reader soon learns that it is for girls and bows on fancy clothes, as well. In this colorful picture book, Pearlman interrogates the idea of color and gender stereotypes, beginning with the typically gendered blue and pink and  shows young readers that each of the 10 colors used can be for boys, girls, and everything or anything else. Though Pearlman's book is about breaking down gendered ideas, it has been criticized for not going far enough and excluding kids who identify as non-binary.  Ultimately, in its desire to be inclusive and to introduce the idea of diversity to young readers, it ends up being exclusive. The colorful, energetic illustrations feature a diverse cast of characters, reinforcing the idea of diversity, but they are still only boys and girls. In the end, this is a book that parents and/or teachers will have to decide for themselves whether to introduce it to their children or not. My honest opinion is that I wanted to like this book, but I really didn't.

Julián is a Mermaid written and illustrated by Jennifer Love
Candlewick Press, 2018, 40 pages

The first thing I loved about this book was the title - it's not Julián wants to be a mermaid, it's definitive - Julián is a mermaid. The second thing I loved the whole book. Riding on the subway with his Abuela after a day of swimming at the pool, young Julián sees some mermaids. He really loves mermaids and tells his Abuela he's also a mermaid. At home, while Abuela is in the bath, Julián puts together a mermaid costume out of curtains, a plant and some lipstick, but when Abuela sees him, he thinks he in trouble. Instead, Abuela has a surprise - a necklace to add to his mermaid costume. And another surprise - a trip to Coney Island to join the mermaid parade going on down there. This almost wordless picture book is a charming story about identity, gender fluidity, acceptance, and most importantly, unconditional love. The muted watercolor, gouache and ink illustrations add to the idea of fluidity, while truly capturing the nuances of city life.

This is a book that warms my Brooklyn-born heart. The Coney Island Mermaid Parade is a real city event, welcoming in the summer season, and my Kiddo and I love it. But, in case you might think it's a little schlocky parade, this year's King Neptune is Neil Gaiman himself, and Queen Mermaid is his wife, Amanda Palmer.

Prince & Knight by Daniel Haack, illustrated by Stevie Lewis
Little Bee Books, 2018, 40 pages

When a King and Queen decide it's time for their handsome and sincere son to marry, the three of them set off on a quest to find a suitable bride. the Prince meets a lot of suitable girls but has no interest in any of them; he tells his parents he wants someone special to rule with him. While they are traveling and looking for a bride, word comes that a dragon is attacking their kingdom. The Prince immediately hurries home to defend the realm. Luckily, a Knight in shining armor comes along to help just when the Prince needs it most. After tying up the dragon, the Prince loses his balance and begins to fall...right into the arms of the Knight on his horse. And yes, it is love at first sight. The two men marry and live happily ever after. Haack has written a wonderful take on the usual Prince Charming/Knight in Shining Armor trope and the result is a much needed, delightfully endearing alternative. Lewis's bright, animation-style illustrations will no doubt remind readers of all the Prince/Princess Disney movies they've ever seen and books we've become so accustomed to as the defining image of fairy tales nowadays. This, however, is a lovely magical book. Pair Prince & Knight with King & King by Linda de Haan for some real royal fun.

Donovan's Big Day by Lesléa Newman, illustrated by Mike Dutton
Tricycle Press, 2011, 32 pages

One morning, as Donovan wakes up, he remembers that today is going to be a big day and he has an important roll to play in it. But first, he has a lot to do to get ready. Get up on time, feed the dog, each breakfast, wash, brush his teeth, and carefully put on his new pants, his new shirt, his new jacket, and his new shoes. Then, he must put a very important little box in his pocket for later. Next, a drive with his grandparents to a fancy place, to get in line and wait his turn to walk down the aisle. And just at the right moment, Donovan must open the box and hand his Mommy and his Mama their wedding rings. And after hugs and kisses from his moms, he has one last important job to do - tell them "you may now kiss the brides." Everything in this book is pretty typical wedding stuff, with the one exception not revealed until the end of the story. This surprising big reveal helps show readers the diverse weddings are really not so different than any wedding - they are happy, hopeful family occasions for celebrating love between two people. Dutton's bright gouache illustrations really depict the excitement and pride that Donovan feels about his participation in this very special wedding, and be sure to study the two page spread of wedding guests waiting for the ceremony to begin - I think Dutton has captured the essence of the kinds of guest you find at most wedding, but without caricaturing them. Having had a child who was a ring bearer, a flower girl, and a junior bridesmaid at three different weddings, I'd say that this is a pretty true-to-life picture book.

From the Stars in the Sky to the Fish in the Sea by Kai Cheng Thom, illustrated by Wai-Yant Li and Kai Yun Ching
Arsenal Pulp Press, 2017, 40 pages

Born at a time when both the moon and sun were in the sky, a non-binary,  shapeshifting child named Miu Lan goes by the third person plural pronouns they, them, their. Their mother always sings a lullaby to them about being whatever they dream, that she will always be there and love them until the day she dies. Wrapped in this unconditional maternal love, they, a strange, magical child, can transform at will to be what strikes their fancy. But when Miu Lan starts school, the other kids don't know what to make of this shapeshifting child. The first day, they poked and pulled them, the next day, they whispered and pointed. They went home feeling dejected. The third day, Miu Lan looked like everyone else, and things were good until the children demanded they pick a gender to be. On day four, they wears fur, feathers, scales, leaves and sparkles. At first put off, the other kids finally accept their gender fluid, shapeshifting classmate, playing together and having fun. Though this book has a fairy tale quality to it, it has an important book about acceptance and identity, even as it challenges our stereotyped perceptions of gender. Written completely in lower case letters and using third person pronouns may feel awkward at first, but by the end of the book, it really begins to feel natural - but isn't that the point of this charming story that really is for anyone whose ever felt like an outsider. The  illustrations have an ethereal quality that adds to the magic of the story.

A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo by Marlon Bundo with Jill Twiss,
illustrated by EG Keller
Chronicle Books, 2018, 40 pages

Marlon Bundo lives in a big, lonely house and this is the story of his special day, a day that begins like any other. But on this day, after doing his usual things, and while hopping around the garden, Marlon spots a brown lop-eared bunny named Wesley who makes his heart continue hopping. The two bunnies spend the day just hopping around and having a good time. At the end of the day, Marlon and Wesley decide they never want to hop without each other again and agree to get married. Well, until the Sting Bug, who is in charge and makes the rules, says they can't. He has decreed that only girl bunnies can marry boy bunnies, not two boy bunnies or two girls bunnies, because that is bad. But when all the other animals invited to  the bunny wedding realize they are all different in their own way, they vote the Sting Bug out of office, paving the way for Marlon and Wesley to have a wonderful wedding, eating, drinking, and dancing the hokey pokey. This book drips with political satire, but in the end the message is clear - Stink Bugs are temporary, love is forever. Themes of acceptance and empowerment are strong. Profits from the sale of this book are being donated to LGBT-friendly organizations.  I think it's safe to say this book just isn't for everyone.

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