GLBTQ-Positive Books for Children
Compiled by K. T. Horning
While in the past few years we’ve seen a notable increase in the quantity
and quality of gay/lesbian books for teens, the same hasn’t been true in books
for younger children. This list represents the best books I’ve identified
over the years as being of particular interest to the gay and lesbian families
with whom I’ve worked. Some of the themes are blatantly gay; others are more
subtle but represent common values in GLBTQ families – respect for individual
and family differences, cultural diversity, and the importance of community.
Most of the books listed here are available through your local independent
bookstore. A few of them are, unfortunately, out of print, but I’ve kept them
on the list because they’re worth seeking out at your local public library.
The Harvey Milk Story by Kari Krakow, illustrated by David Gardner.
$17.95. Two Lives, 2002. (ISBN 0-9674468-3-X)
An unequivocal picture
book biography strikes a fair balance between Harvey Milk's personal life and
his political activism. Krakow's succinct text portrays Milk as a caring individual
who worked to ensure the rights of all people who lived in the San Francisco
community he represented as supervisor. The shocking assassination of Milk and
San Francisco Mayor George Moscone by fellow supervisor Dan White is neither
glossed over nor over-dramatized, and Krakow ends on an upbeat note by writing
about Harvey Milk's legacy. Illustrated with cartoon-style drawings, the book
is accompanied by excellent author notes and sources for further information.
King & King by Linda DeHaan, illustrated by Stern Nijland.
$14.95. Tricycle Press, 2002. (ISBN 1-582460-61-2)
When the queen decides it’s time for her son to marry, she lines up all the
suitable princesses and tells him to choose a wife. The prince isn’t the least
bit interested in any of them until Princess Madeleine arrives at the castle.
From the moment their eyes first meet, it’s love at first sight - for the
prince and Princess Madeleine’s brother, Prince Lee. The two marry, inherit
a kingdom and, as in all good fairy tales, live happily ever after. Their story
continues with an adoption in King & King & Family ($14.95. Tricycle,
2004. ISBN 1-58246-113-9). (Ages 3-7)
The Boy Who Cried Fabulous by Lesléa Newman, illustrated by Peter
Ferguson. $15.95. Tricycle, 2004. (ISBN 1-58246-101-5)
Roger sees everything a bit differently from his family and his peers. To
him, everything looks fabulous – from the clothes in the window of
a men’s store to the things he notices on a busy city block. Embarrassed by
his exuberance, his parents try to break him of his habit of exclaiming “Fabulous!”
Roger simply replaces it with the word marvelous and then expands
his vocabulary to include adjectives such as glorious, elegant,
splendid, and scrumptious. Ultimately his parents are able to
see the world through his eyes and accept their son for the fabulous person
he is. Newman’s witty rhyming text will make this a pleasure to read aloud.
An Enchanted Hair Tale by Alexis De Veaux, illustrated by Cheryl
Hanna. Out of print. HarperCollins, 1987. (ISBN 0-06-021623-9)
It’s Sudan’s hair – a “fan daggle of lions and locks and lagoons”
– that sets him apart from his peers. Grown-ups fear his hair
neighborhood kids tease him mercilessly: “And wherever Sudan went,/
people saw his head;/ they pointed and said/ ‘He’s strange. He’s
queer. He’s different.’” Upset by their cruelty, he storms away
and, far from home, stumbles upon a whole family of folks with
enchanted hair who admire him and help him celebrate his differences.
De Veaux’s poem deals with the necessity of leaving home to find
a community of kindred spirits, an aspect of reality for most
gays and lesbians that’s rarely addressed, even in gay/lesbian
literature for teens. (Ages 6-9)
Goose by Molly Bang. $10.95. Blue Sky/Scholastic, 1996.
Although not specifically about gay identity, this story will
certainly resonate as an allegory with anyone who has ever felt
out of place at home. Three nearly wordless double-page spreads
dramatically set the scene as a goose egg falls out of its nest
during a violent rainstorm and rolls down a hole, into a
den of woodchucks. It hatches soon thereafter and the woodchucks
immediately accept their newest family member. Never cognizant
of the fact that she is not a woodchuck, the gosling grows to
adulthood learning to do all the things woodchucks do: digging
holes, sunning by a stream and, of course, chucking wood. But
she never feels completely at home in her family, and she eventually
realizes that she must set off on her own to see if she can find
what she is missing. The misplaced egg story has been told many
times before but rarely with such gentle understatement. And never
has an egg found a more unlikely foster family! Bang's restrained
use of anthropomorphism adds a great deal of visual humor to the
story, as she playfully depicts the absurdity of a goose living
a woodchuck's life. She puts a bit of a twist on the story's conclusion
as well. The goose's great moment of self-discovery is not that
she is a goose but that she can fly. "She flew and flew and
flew all the way home," we are told, and we see the goose
reunited with a family of very happy woodchucks. (Ages 2-7)
Gay and Lesbian Parents / Alternative
Zack’s Story: Growing Up with Same-Sex Parents by Keith Elliott
Greenberg, photographs by Carol Halebian. $21.27. Lerner, 1996. (ISBN 0-8225-2581-X)
Zack is twelve years old, but this easy photo-essay about his life with two
moms will be accessible to early elementary school-aged children. Color photographs
and a first-person narrative show us that day-to-day life in Zack’s household
is pretty much like life in any middle-class American step-family, except
for the occasional trips to Provincetown and regular participation in Gay
Pride parades. (Ages 6-9)
Celebrating Families by Rosmarie Hausherr. Out of print. Scholastic,
1997. (ISBN 0-590-48937-2)
No two family structures are alike in this engaging portrait of fourteen
American families. Christina lives with her older brother Sherron and their
grandmother. Lindsay and her sister Masha live part of the time with their
mother and part of the time with their father. Joseph lives on a farm with
his parents, aunt and uncle, grandparents and great-grandparents. Justin lives
with his dad. Chris lives with his mom and every Sunday they go visit Chris's
dad who is in prison. Alexandra and Sarah live with their lesbian moms. Each
double-page spread is devoted to an individual child and his or her family,
depicted in a creatively composed family portrait that uses color photographs.
On the facing page a brief text describes the distinguishing characteristics
of the living situation and tells one or two things that the family members
enjoy doing together, using a black-and-white photograph as an illustration.
No single family is presented as the norm here and all are celebrated for
their strength and diversity. (Ages 4-9)
Families: A Celebration of Diversity, Commitment, and Love by Aylette
Jenness. $7.95. Houghton Mifflin, 1990. (ISBN 0-395-66952-9 paperback)
Seventeen young people each briefly comment upon the composition of their
families in a photo-essay which originated as an interactive exhibition at
the Children's Museum in Boston. One strength of this unique book rests in
its organizational pattern, in that no one type of family unit is presented
as standard, or correct, or "other." Blended, adoptive, mixed-racial,
biracial, two parent, one parent, gay and lesbian, collective and extended
families from diverse racial, ethnic and economic backgrounds are pictured.
Child-expressed definitions of "family" and a list of books for
further reading are additional features of this important book. (Ages 5-13)
Some of the books in this section reflect gay and lesbian
family life specifically; others involve family differences in general and
may resonate more deeply with children who live in alternative families.
Heather Has Two Mommies by Lesléa Newman, illustrated by Diana
Souza. $10.95. Revised edition, Alyson Wonderland, 2000. (ISBN 1-55583-543-0
Three-year-old Heather was conceived through alternative insemination so
having two mothers does not seem at all out of the ordinary to her until she
begins attending a children’s play group and meets children with fathers.
The original edition was a bit wordy for its intended audience, but Heather certainly paved the
way for subsequent books about gay and lesbian families. The tenth anniversary edition,
published in 2000, has a much shorter text. It was revised by the author in response
to criticism that the original was too complex for preschoolers. (Ages 3-6)
Daddy’s Roommate by Michael Willhoite. $8.95. Alyson Wonderland,
1990. (ISBN 1-55583-118-4 paperback)
Full-color cartoon illustrations accompany a brief text in which a boy describes
what weekend life is like with his dad and his dad’s lover, Frank. An upbeat,
positive portrayal of a situation familiar to many kids with gay fathers.
The same characters are featured a few years later in Daddy’s Wedding
(Out of print. Alyson Wonderland, 1996). (Ages 3-6)
Asha’s Mums by Rosamund Elwin and Michele Paulse, illustrated by
Dawn Lee. $7.95. Toronto: Women’s Press, 1990. (ISBN 0-88961-143-2 paperback)
Asha faces a challenge when both her mothers sign a permission slip so that
she can take a class trip to the Science Centre, and her teacher asks her
which one is her real mother. “Both,” Asha answers honestly. Asha and
her mums together find ways to explain their family situation to curious classmates
and a grudgingly accepting teacher. (Ages 4-7)
Saturday Is Pattyday by Lesléa Newman, illustrated by Annette Hegel.
Out of print. New Victoria, 1993. (ISBN 0-93468-52-9)
Young Frankie has trouble adjusting when his two moms, Allie and Patty, separate.
He misses Patty terribly, even though they talk on the phone frequently.
Things get a little better for him when Patty fixes up a room just for him
in her new apartment, and he can look forward to spending every Saturday with
her. A reassuring story for any child facing the separation of his or her
parents. (Ages 4-6)
123: A Family Counting Book by Bobbie Combs, illustrated by Danamarie
Hosler. $8.95. Two Lives, 2001. (ISBN 0-9674468-0-5 paperback)
A variety of families with two dads or two moms illustrate a simple rhyming
text that counts from one to twenty. Everyday events and activities are highlighted: “One
family going for a ride/ two houses with families inside/ three books waiting
to be read/ four puppies waiting to be fed.” (Ages 2-4)
ABC: A Family Alphabet Book by Bobbie Combs, illustrated by Desiree
Keane and Brian Rappa. $8.95. Two Lives, 2001. (ISBN 0-9674468-1-3 paperback)
The same approach that was used in 123: A Family Counting Book is
used, however, here the text makes frequent references to two moms and two dads: “B is for book.
Our moms read our favorite book to us at bedtime. C is for cookies. Both of
my dads know how to make great chocolate chip cookies.” (Ages 3-5)
Felicia’s Favorite Story by Lesléa Newman, illustrated by Adriana
Romo. $9.95. Two Lives, 2002. (ISBN 0-9674468-5-6 paperback)
The story of how she came to be adopted from Guatemala by Mama Nessa and
Mama Linda is a favorite bedtime story of young Felicia. The child’s playful
questions and answers hint at the number of times she has heard the story
before. Newman’s story is filled with gentle humor and pleasing repetition
that will make the story appealing to young children and their parents. (Ages
Molly’s Family by Nancy Garden, illustrated by Sharon Wooding.
$16.00. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2004. (ISBN 0-374-035002-7)
That Molly has two mothers has never been an issue in her life until her
kindergarten classroom is preparing for open school night, and one of her classmates
tells her that her family isn't a real family. Both of Molly's mothers and
her wonderfully understanding teacher help Molly and her classmates appreciate
that there are many kinds of families. (Ages 4-7)
Three Days on a River in a Red Canoe by Vera B. Williams. $5.95.
Greenwillow, 1981. (ISBN 0-688-04072-1 paperback)
Until Molly’s Family was published, this was the closest
that mainstream publishing had ever come to presenting a lesbian family in
a picture book. Here two women and their two children take a weekend canoe
and camping trip. Although one of the women is referred to as “Aunt Rosie,”
lesbian families will feel at home in this story in which the children take
an active role in helping out with pitching the tent, hauling the canoe, and
preparing vegetarian meals. They even remember to bring a fish to their cat
when they ultimately return to a home the four characters share. (Ages 4-8)
Everywhere Babies by Susan Meyers, illustrated by Marla Frazee.
$16.00. Harcourt, 2001. (ISBN 0-15-202226-0)
A celebration of babies and families of all kinds features “fat babies, thin
babies, small babies, tall babies, winter and spring babies, summer and fall
babies.” The families those babies are part of prove to be just as diverse
as the babies themselves in illustrations that show babies being loved by
mom-and-dad, mom-and-mom, dad-and-dad, and individual parents. Several of
the couples shown (gay, lesbian, and straight) are mixed race in this playful
picture book. (Ages 1-4)
Else-Marie and Her Seven Little Daddies by Pija Lindenbaum. Out
of print. Henry Holt, 1991. (ISBN 0-8050-1752-6)
Else-Marie's family seems normal to her but when her mom tells her one night
that she won't be able to pick her up after school the next day as usual,
Else-Marie panics to think that her classmates might discover the secret of
her "other parent." While Else-Marie's mother is of average size
and number, not only is her father knee-high, there are seven of him! Of course,
everything Else-Marie imagines her classmates saying and doing turns out to
be much worse than what really happens when her seven little daddies show
up at school. In fact, the other kids barely seem to notice that there's anything
unusual about her dad. A delightfully amusing picture-story from Sweden uses
exaggeration and absurdity to effectively express realistic fears and pressures
children feel when their families don't conform to popular conventions. (Ages
My Mom Is So Unusual by Iris Loewen, illustrated by Alan Pakarnyk.
$4.95. Pemmican, 1986. (ISBN 0-919143-37-7 paperback)
A Métis girl lovingly describes all of the things that make her mom different
from the other mothers she knows: the way she dresses, the way she expresses
herself, and her fondness for turning up the radio really loud so she can
dance to rock music. One of the few picture books featuring a contemporary
American Indian family, this comes from a Native-owned small press. (Ages
Winter Poems by Barbara Rogasky, illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman.
$15.95 hardback, $5.99 paperback. Scholastic, 1994. (ISBN 0-590-42872-1; paper:
Life partners Rogasky and Hyman combine their considerable talents into this
rich anthology of wintery poems. Caldecott-Award-winning illustrator Trina
Schart Hyman uses her own rural New Hampshire family as the models for her
watercolors. Her extended family includes a white mother, African American
father, two young biracial sons, and their lesbian grandmothers (Rogasky and
Hyman). (Ages 5-9)
A Child’s Calendar by John Updike, illustrated by Trina Schart
Hyman. $16.95 hardback, $6.95 paperback. Holiday House, 1999. (ISBN
0-8234-1445-0; paper: 0-8234-1766-2)
The same family that appears in Winter Poems is again featured in
Hyman’s watercolor paintings for John Updike’s collection of twelve calendar
poems, one for each season of the year. Her lovely paintings quietly relate
one year in the active life of this family. They experience the Fourth of
July, an August heat wave at the beach, colorful autumn leaves, and winter
snow. A Caldecott Honor book in 2000. (Ages 5-9)
When Winter Comes by Nancy Van Laan, illustrated by Susan Gaber.
$16.00. Atheneum, 2000. (ISBN 0-689-81778-9)
What happens to leaves and flowers, caterpillars and songbirds, field mice
and fish, and other living things “when winter comes and the cold wind blows”?
In a series of lyrical question-and-response verses, Nancy Van Laan conveys
some of the ways the natural world changes when the cold and snow arrive.
Her text is a gentle song for the season. Gaber's subdued palette captures
the transformation resulting from the first heavy snow. A loving family explores
this changing world. The two adults and their child could be many families:
the child pictured could be a boy or a girl, and the adults are illustrated
so that they can be seen as two women or a woman and a man. (Ages 3-6)
Just Us Women by Jeannette Caines, illustrated by Pat Cummings.
$14.89 hardback, $5.95 paperback. Harper, 1982. (ISBN 0-06-020942-9; paper:
An African American girl and her aunt take a leisurely car trip, moseying
down backroads, stopping at roadside markets, and eating breakfast at night.
The story begins and ends with Aunt Martha’s special stipulation for the trip:
“No boys, no men, just us women.” One of two picture books, along with Village
of Round and Square Houses, that deals with the concept of women-only
space, an important issue in many lesbian households. (Ages 4-7)
Sex Education and Gender Identity
Oliver Button Is a Sissy by Tomie DePaola. $14.00
hardback, $6.00 paperback. Harcourt, 1979. (ISBN 0-15-257852-8; paper: 0-15-668140-4)
The boys at school tease Oliver and call him a sissy because
he prefers reading, drawing and jumping rope to sports. Oliver’s parents push
him to participate in sports (just to get some exercise) but Oliver refuses,
opting instead for a tap dancing class. A now-classic portrait of a gentle
boy who refuses to bow to peer pressure. (Ages 3-5)
The Sissy Duckling by Harvey Fierstein, illustrated by Henry Cole.
$16.00. Simon & Schuster, 2002. (ISBN 0-689-83566-3)
The sissy duckling in Fierstein’s picture book faces a slightly harsher reality
than Oliver Button in that his father strongly disapproves of his son’s effeminate
tastes and habits. All ends happily, however, when the duckling gets a chance
to rescue his father and nurse him back to health after he’s shot by a hunter.
This surprisingly moving story is one part fantasy, one part painful reality,
and one part wish fulfillment – and it stars the campiest character in children’s
literature. (Ages 4-8)
Pugdog by Andrea U’Ren. $16.00. Farrar, Straus and Giroux,
Mike assumes his pugdog is male because of his tough exterior
and rough-and-tumble personality. But when a veterinarian informs him his
dog is female, Mike completely changes the way he interacts with his dog,
much to Pugdog’s displeasure. Hilarious illustrations of the slobbering Pugdog
and the prissy poodle named Harry help drive home the point about the importance
of accepting individual differences. (Ages 3-7)
It’s So Amazing! A Book about Eggs, Sperm, Birth, Babies, and Families
by Robie Harris, illustrated by Michael Emberley. $21.99 hardback, $10.99 paperback.
Candlewick, 1999. (0-7636-0051-2; paper: 0763613215)
An extremely gay-friendly book about sex and sexuality, this fact-filled
book comes with its own bird and a bee – cartoon characters whose responses
and questions throughout echo those young readers might have. The book is
organized into 22 sections picturing widely diverse families of children and
adults as illustrated by Emberley's artwork rendered in color pencil and watercolor.
In addition to the predictable topics, other subjects covered include "twins
and more," chromosomes and genes, "lots of kinds of love,"
adoption, "okay and not okay touches," and essential information
about HIV. Harris and Emberley created the book for an age group desperately
in need of such information due to the limited number of books about this
subject for children of elementary school age. In an opening section they
report that science can change, not all scientists agree, there are questions
without answers and there can be more than one answer to some questions. (Ages
©2004 Kathleen T. Horning
An earlier version of this bibliography appeared in Pride03, the official
magazine of Interpride.
More Gift Ideas for Children and Teens
By K. T. Horning
For Younger Children
Big Momma Makes the World by Phyllis Root, illustrated by Helen
Oxenbury. $16.99. Candlewick Press, 2003.
In this reworking of the traditional Genesis story, Big Momma is the Creator.
Even with a small baby on her hip, she manages to summon light and dark and
make the stars and the moon. She even tells the earth to "get over here."
While "Baby liked it all right just the way it was," Big Momma needs
some grass and some animals and people to keep her company. And when she sees
what she has done, she declares, "That's good. Real good." (Ages
Kitten’s First Full Moon by Kevin Henkes. $15.99. Greenwillow /
When Kitten sees her first full moon overhead,
she's sure it's a bowl of milk in the sky, but her attempts to drink the milk
all fail. Licking doesn't work (she only gets a firefly on her tongue), a
leap from the porch yields a bumped nose and pinched tail, and although she
runs and runs, the moon never seems to get any closer. Bold lines and shades
of black, cream and grey are a departure from the familiar style of Henkes'
wildly popular mouse books such as Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse and
Sheila Rae the Brave but his writing is as lyrical and humorous as
always. A perfect choice for the baby or toddler on your gift list. (Birth-age
Mary Smith by Alison U’Ren. $16.00.
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003.
This engaging picture book is based on the life
of a real woman, Mary Smith, whose job it was to awaken her fellow townspeople
in an era before alarm clocks were common. Rising before dawn, she went from
home to home and woke people up by shooting dried peas at their windows. Pea
shooter in hand, Mary strides purposefully through the morning in U'ren's
entertaining and informative story that ends with an unexpectedly humorous
twist involving Mary’s daughter and her pea shooter. (Ages 3-7)
The Neighborhood Mother Goose by Nina Crews. $15.99.
Amistad / Greenwillow / HarperCollins, 2004.
The familiar nursery rhymes are given a fresh, new look by Crews’ clever
use of photography. Here we see a racially diverse group of kids in a Brooklyn
neighborhood playfully cast as Jack and Jill, nimble Jack, contrary Mary,
and the little girl with the little curl right in the middle of her forehead,
among many others. (Birth-age 4)
Two Old Potatoes and Me by John Coy, illustrated by Carolyn Fisher.
$15.95. Alfred A. Knopf, 2003.
A father and daughter who only see each other on weekends cut two old potatoes
into nine pieces and plant them in the sunniest spot in their garden in the
spring. Told in the voice of the child, the understated and poetic text skillfully
uses the garden as a metaphor for growth, change, and nurturing. (Ages 4-7)
Uncle Andy’s: A Faabbbulous Visit with Andy Warhol by James Warhola.
$16.99 hardback, $5.99 paperback. Putnam, 2003.
Author/artist James Warhola's very famous uncle, Andy Warhol, was just plain
Uncle Andy to young Jamie and his siblings. In a funny and observant narrative
that never strays from a child's point of view, Warhola describes one of the
many visits he and his family made to visit Uncle Andy and their grandmother,
Bubba, who shared a five-story apartment in New York City with 25 cats, "all
named Sam." (Ages 4-7)
The White Swan Express: A Story about Adoption by Jean Davies Okimoto
and Elaine M. Aoki. Illustrated by Meilo So. $16.00. Clarion, 2002.
Fine storytelling is at the heart of this singular book that follows the
journey of the parents-to-be to China and the lives of the little girls whom
they will adopt. The adoptive parents in this story include a lesbian couple,
a single woman, a middle-aged man and woman, and a young Japanese Canadian
man and woman. The authors have worked in myriad details about the preparations
and journey of the adults that children will find fascinating. At the same
time, they create a sense of each of the four little girls as unique individuals
as the story moves back and forth from the adults traveling east to the children
they will meet. The emotions are always genuine in this heartfelt story in
which the telling never strays to sweetness. The title of the book comes from
the White Swan Hotel, where many adoptive parents stay when they are in China.
For Older Children and Teens
Brundibar by Tony Kushner, illustrated by Maurice Sendak. After
the opera by Hans Krása and Adolf Hoffmeister. $19.95. Michael Di Capua Books
/ Hyperion, 2003.
This picture book adaptation of a satirical Czech opera that was completed
in 1938 makes numerous references to the Holocaust, highly appropriate given
its history and intent. It was performed more than fifty times by children
in the Nazi concentration camp Terezin. Tony Kushner's frantic, frenzied narrative
is matched by Maurice Sendak's unsettling artwork. Sendak's illustrations
are packed with symbols and images both obvious and subtle. The imagery is
just part of what makes this such a highly discussible book for older children
and teens. (Ages 11-16)
Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins. $16.95 hardback, $5.99
paperback. Scholastic Press, 2003.
Ever since his father's abrupt and unexplained departure two years earlier,
Gregor has maintained a personal rule. He doesn't allow himself to think about
his father returning. Imagining a future that includes his father makes his
present reality without him too painful to bear. Abiding by this self-imposed
law, Gregor moves listlessly through an uneventful life with his grandmother,
mother and siblings in New York City as this novel opens. Uneventful, that
is, until the day his two-year-old sister Boots disappears headfirst down
an air duct in the laundry room. Without a second thought Gregor dives after
her, and with this Alice-like plunge, enters the Underland, a subterranean
world where communities of humans and oversize rats, bats, spiders, and cockroaches
exist uneasily together. At first intent only on returning to the Overland,
Gregor soon discovers that an ancient prophecy casts him as the central figure
in a dangerous mission, one that may help him find his missing father. This
well-conceived fantasy combines a traditional prophecy and quest structure
with strikingly memorable characters, both human and otherwise. (Ages 9-14)
A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly. $17.00 hardback, $8.95 paperback.
Mattie Gokey is a collector of words and a writer of stories. But she buried
her dream of going to college and becoming a published writer beneath a promise
to her dying mother that she would stay on their small farm in upstate New
York to care for her siblings and father. That promise weighs like a burden
as Mattie graduates from high school in 1906 and earns a scholarship to a
college in New York City. She feels guilty for thinking about leaving and
angry that her father forbids her to go. When Mattie gets a summer job at
one of the nearby resorts that caters to rich New York clientele, she has
a chance encounter that refocuses her determination to set her own future
course. Jennifer Donnelly has created a compelling and thought-provoking literary
work, finely plotted and exquisitely written. Strong dialogue and well-drawn
characters make the details of everyday life for Mattie and others in her
community come alive. Through excellent characterization, Donnelly explores
the limitations of class, race, and especially gender in that earlier era.
Orphea Proud by Sharon Dennis Wyeth. $15.95. Delacorte, 2004.
This entire novel is written as a piece of performance art, created by 17-year-old
Orphea, an African American lesbian, who performs it as a monologue in a Brooklyn
club. While Orphea speaks, 14-year old Ray paints on the backdrop behind her
– art seen only by the audience. Life has not been easy for Orphea. Both of
her parents died when she was young, and her older brother, Rupert, who became
her guardian, is strict, narrow-minded, and abusive. There are two things that
have been a constant for her, however: her love of poetry and her love for Lissa.
How she found and lost Lissa, and then found herself through her art is the
story she tells the community of kindred spirits who manage and frequent the
club, and who have helped her find her voice. (Ages 14-17)
Stitches by Glen Huser. $15.95 hardback, $9.95 paperback. Groundwood/Douglas
& McIntyre, 2003.
Travis is a kid who has been teased since he was in first grade. First, it
was words like "girlie." As he grew older, it was "Sissy. Crybaby.
Fruitfly. Fagface." As he enters junior high school, his interests in
sewing, puppetry and theater are encouraged, first by an English teacher and
then a home economics teacher, but these same interests are part of what mark
him in the eyes of some students as a target for their continued bullying.
This thought-provoking, touching novel never overtly addresses Travis' sexuality,
because Travis himself is barely beginning to consider that aspect of his identity.
Instead, it focuses on the many facets of Travis' personality that make him
the person he is. While the book doesn't shy away from the harsh reality of
bullying and violence, it nonetheless remains an uplifting story full of warmth,
humor, and hope. (Ages 12-15)
The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by Timothy
Basil Ering. $17.99. Candlewick Press, 2003.
This funny, original story brings four different strands into a narrative
whole, with well-developed fairy tale characters. There's Despereaux, the heroic
young mouse, cast out by his family because he would rather read books than
gnaw them; Chiaroscuro, a rat living in a dark dungeon, who aspires to a life
filled with light; Miggery Sow, a serving girl who longs to be a princess;
and, of course, the princess herself, who looks and acts just like the princesses
in Despereaux's beloved book of fairy tales. The ways in which all these characters'
lives intersect is the basis for a multilayered story that deftly draws on
multiple literary traditions. The story is at once sophisticated and wholly
accessible to children, particularly as a read-aloud. Beautiful book design
and numerous black-and-white line drawings add to the old-fashioned feel of
the satisfying story. (Ages 7-11)
©2004 Kathleen T. Horning
K. T. Horning is a librarian and director of
the Cooperative Children's Book Center (CCBC) of the School of Education
at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The CCBC is a noncirculating collection
of children’s and young adult literature for adults, serving UW-Madison
students and faculty, and teachers and school and public librarians across
For nine years, K.T. was also a children's librarian
at Madison Public Library. She is the author of From Cover to Cover:
Evaluating and Reviewing Children's Books (HarperCollins, 1997).