Moving Past ‘Queer Misery’

By Sophie Cameron

I can still remember every book with a LGBT main character that I read as a teenager in the 2000s – I was lucky enough to be able to buy some online, and even then I only found a handful or so. With some great exceptions, such as Annie On My Mind by Nancy Garden or Geography Club by Brent Hartinger, a lot of them ticked the “queer misery” box: bullying, outing, murder, suicide… sometimes all of the above. But back then, I was just pleased to see gay characters in a book at all. I didn’t really question the message that books like this (inadvertently) send out: that same-sex relationships are ultimately going to lead to isolation, violence, and death. Fun stuff, eh?!

To be clear, I don’t have anything against those books. They were written at a time when barely any LGBTQ+ stories were being published, at least in YA fiction. And as far as I remember, most were trying to provide a critique of how society treats LGBTQ+ people, rather than of them or their relationships. Perhaps that was misguided, but regardless, it wouldn’t be fair to judge those books by today’s standards.

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A Different Kind of Diversity in Reading

By Janet Tashjian

As a longtime autism advocate, I spend a lot of time thinking about diversity. My son Jake—who’s illustrated two of my series for Macmillan—is on the autism spectrum and also has a language-based learning delay, which has made reading especially difficult. But stories are so important to us that Jake and I found a way to improve his reading—and to help kids around the world be better readers.

When Jake was in fourth grade and books started getting harder (i.e., fewer pictures), he decided to draw his vocabulary words on index cards to learn them. Our garage is filled with boxes and boxes of these index cards with stick figure drawings illustrating words like “royalty,” “embarrassed,” and “military.” Friends would see the cards and laugh at Jake’s cartoons—not only because of his sense of humor but for the spot-on accuracy of how his drawings illuminated his vocabulary words.


As a novelist, I asked myself the quintessential writing question: What if? What if I wrote a novel about a kid who has a difficult time reading but still loves books and stories? What if Jake illustrated the novel with his stick figures? What if we could help other reluctant readers in the process of helping Jake?

My son and I collaborated on what would become My Life As A Book, which is now a series of seven novels in twenty-six languages. (My Life As A Youtuber is the latest.) It’s not the success of this middle-grade series that humbles me, however; it’s the can-do attitude of a kid with special needs taking control of his own learning process.


Over the past seven years, Jake and I have traveled the country doing author-and-illustrator visits to elementary and middle schools, talking to students about the different ways people learn. In our series, our main character is a visual learner, so drawing is the way he processes information. When Derek reads, he imagines the story as a movie in his head, the same way experts teach children with reading disabilities to picture stories. When we visit schools, I’m always amazed at the different ways people learn: kids with auditory processing issues, children with tactile and sensory concerns, or some kids who really need infographics to make sense of data. Diversity of learning is an important topic in education today, one that I’ve studied firsthand to help Jake make sense of and learn to process information in his own way. (My path to learning includes copious amounts of coffee and chocolate.)

Having a series that’s a staple in ESL and Special Ed classes—not to mention enjoyed by neurotypical middle-grade readers who just want a funny story—thrills me to no end. More important, it’s given my son purpose, along with a career doing something he loves. Sometimes working through things that are most difficult for us can lead us to discover not only solutions to our own obstacles but to other people’s as well. Great job, Jake Tashjian. You make me proud.


Janet Tashjian is the author of the popular My Life series including My Life as a Book, My Life as a Stuntboy, My Life as a Cartoonist, My Life as a Joke, My Life as a Gamer, and My Life as a Ninja, as well as the Einstein the Class Hamster series, illustrated by her son, Jake Tashjian. Jake and Janet live in Studio City, California.


By Susan Tan

As a child, I was enthralled by traditions.  

           I loved them, from going to Hebrew school, to my parent’s tradition of letting us eat ice cream for dinner on April Fool’s day, to the way we lined our shoes up in straight, neat rows before going inside my Nai Nai and Ye Ye’s[1] apartment.  

           This love of traditions has lasted into my adult life, and I often wonder if my family and our traditions are the reason that I write.  My mother’s family is Jewish, and came over from Russia several generations ago.  My father’s family is Chinese and Christian, and my Ye Ye was an evangelical Christian minister.  I’ve inherited a rich family history that teems with stories, from my grandparents’ accounts of their close escape from Communist China with my father as an infant, to the stories my mother’s mother tells of Passover Seders all in Hebrew and Yiddish, with linen napkins so big they spilled from your lap to the floor. We’re also a family that continually generates new narratives, because when you ask your evangelical minister grandfather to please come up to say an Aaliyah at your Bat Mitzvah, that simple act is, in itself, a pretty excellent story.

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Author Q&A with Tomi Adeyemi

Tell us about your most recent book and how you came to write/illustrate it.

My debut novel is Children of Blood and Bone and it comes out on March 6th, 2018. From a creative standpoint, I came to write it by discovering the orisha—West African deities—through a stroke of luck while on a fellowship in Brazil. This gave me the idea for CBB after I discovered a digital painting two years later that gave me the inspiration for the characters and events in the story. From a professional standpoint, I came to write CBB after the first book I tried to get published went nowhere, but solidified for me that I would be most happy writing full-time. Additionally, I was heavily influenced by the tragedy of police brutality and felt compelled to say something about it through my work.

Do you think of yourself as a diverse author/illustrator?

Yes because I’m black and Nigerian-American, and my diverse background has a big impact on what I write, why I write, and the way I write.

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