Pride Month Feature: Reading & Writing Queer Novels

By Mark Oshiro

Pride season is upon us, and I have never been more proud to be a part of children’s publishing as a queer person. Whether you’re celebrating your own identity or supporting those you love, it’s important for us to reflect on why Pride is such a vital time for LGBT and Queer youth and how we can best reach LGBTQ readers.

Why Pride?

Pride celebrations around the world have evolved since Christopher Street Liberation Day, which most people in our community consider to be the “first” Pride celebration. It’s important to remember that Pride was born out of necessity; LGBTQ people have been and continue to be targeted because of who we are, both on a personal level and a systemic level. Until true equity and liberation is achieved, Pride holds a meaningful place for many people in our community! We get to be out, loud, and proud during this time of year, and that kind of affirmation often fuels us for months to come, long after the season is over.

Why LGBTQ Children’s Literature?

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Growing up, I had virtually no positive role models who were out. I still remember when Ellen came out; I felt seen and validated by Rickie Vasquez from My So-Called Life. But I didn’t have the sort of queer and LGBT-themed literature that is now available to readers today. Anything I found as a closeted teenager was usually: a) geared towards adults and pretty much inappropriate to me OR b) featured gay or queer characters who died, were villains, or only existed as a witty sidekick without their own stories. It wasn’t until I got to college that I discovered books geared at teens that contained meaningful depictions of LGBTQ characters. It made for a lonely experience in the library. I read voraciously, but I often had to force myself to identify with stories that were not my own.

We know that books have the power to change lives, and it’s important that children’s literature reflect the world around us. I think of books as exercises in empathy, as a chance to view the world through someone else’s eyes. The books that meant the most to me as a teenager weren’t just those that reflected my own experiences; they were also those that allowed me to expand my understanding of what it meant to be human.

What does LGBTQ YA look like today?

I set out to write an openly queer YA novel nearly six years ago, but at that time, I still worried about getting published. I had come to love the work of Malinda Lo, of David Levithan, of Benjamin Alire Sáenz; I had read Annie On My Mind perhaps a hundred times; the same fate awaited Ruby by Rosa Guy, which I was lucky to be handed after escaping to college after being outed. So, I knew young adult literature could have openly gay or queer characters within it. But I had also heard and seen so many horror stories. Would it be too much to write multiple queer characters in the same book?

It might seem presumptuous to say so, but there are days where I feel like we are in the midst of an LGBTQ renaissance within children’s literature. In 2018 alone, I’ve devoured so many books in which characters across the broad spectrum of our community were center stage. I started 2018 with the powerful and hopeful Let’s Talk About Love (Claire Kann), the first novel I had ever read with a main character who is biromantic asexual. I wept over Kheryn Callendar’s Hurricane Child, and I recommended They Both Die At The End (Adam Silvera) to every person who would listen to my shrieking. (Surprisingly, a large number of people.) I’ve recently finished books by Caleb Roehrig (Last Seen Leaving & White Rabbit), who writes incredibly gay murder mysteries, and Amy Spalding, whose The Summer of Jordi Perez (And The Best Burger In Los Angeles) is the exact sort of romantic book I desperately needed when I was living in Los Angeles myself.

Of course, it certainly helps that we’re living in the age where Simon vs. the Homosapiens Agenda became the cinematic sensation that was Love, Simon. And while Becky Albertalli’s moving and touching writing is part of the reason for its success, it’s also clear that readers want more stories with LGBTQ characters. There is a whole generation of kids that are learning to come out, to wrestle with their identities, to discover the right word for what they feel. We should be there for them. We should be able to provide stories that help them explore a confusing but ultimately rewarding part of their lives. This Pride month is the perfect time to reflect on this!

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Mark Oshiro is the Hugo finalist (in the Fan Writer category) creator of the online Mark Does Stuff universe (Mark Reads and Mark Watches), where he analyzes book and television series unspoiled. He was the nonfiction editor of Queers Destroy Science Fiction! and the co-editor of Speculative Fiction 2015 with Foz Meadows. He is the President of the Con or Bust Board of Directors. His first novel, Anger is a Gift, is a YA contemporary about queer friendship, love, and fighting police brutality. It will be released on 5/22/2018 with Tor Teen. When he is not writing, crying on camera about fictional characters, or ruining lives at conventions, he is busy trying to fulfill his lifelong goal: to pet every dog in the world.

Fighting Homogenization

Contributed by Ned Rust, Author

They want me to try to write for what?

They want a graduate of the 99%, non-minority, public schools of last-century Briarcliff Manor (the B.M. we call it, much like residents of the O.C., only without a validating TV show) to write for a diversity blog?

Roaring Brook has just published a book I’ve written called Patrick Griffin’s Last Breakfast on Earth,about a kid who undertakes a kitchen-sink chemistry experiment and ends up in a parallel world dominated by a hyper-modern efficiency state that finds human cultural heritages to be inconvenient and even anathema.

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Industry Q & A with Author Leopoldo Gout

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

My new book is titled Genius – The Game. It is the first in a series of books about child prodigies from diverse backgrounds who come together to change their stars and the world. The launch pad for their revolution is a competition called the Game. There, they will compete with 200 other prodigies in a contest that will not only test their brains but also challenge their ideals.

Genius – The Game explores the outer reaches of technology, the explosive power of young minds, and the bonds of family. It is filled with big ideas and even bigger emotions. But more than just a book, the Genius series is a movement – it is my call to the youth of the world: liberate your minds and you can liberate the planet.

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Industry Q&A with editor Liz Szabla

Interview by Mark von Bargen

Please tell us about the most recent diverse book you published.

Mixed Me! by Taye Diggs, illustrated by Shane W. Evans is coming out this fall. It’s the story of a mixed-race boy— a subject both Taye and Shane know well. I like Mixed Me! as a companion to Taye and Shane’s first book together, Chocolate Me! (which we just published in paperback on the Square Fish list), but the two books are meant to stand alone.

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A book can achieve success in many different ways – earning out its advance, garnering lots of engagement, launching the author into a new age category, reaching the market it was intended for, and more.
Each panelist (one marketing/publicity... High-res

A book can achieve success in many different ways – earning out its advance, garnering lots of engagement, launching the author into a new age category, reaching the market it was intended for, and more.  

Each panelist (one marketing/publicity director, one editorial director, and one sales director) will discuss the success of a single title and how it might be applied to others. 

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The Diversity of Success panel is open to anyone with a BEA conference badge, so come and join us on May 29th for this informative Children’s Book Council event at BookExpo America in New York!

ALA Announces 2015 Youth Media Award Winners

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The American Library Association (ALA) concluded its Midwinter Meeting in Chicago by announcing the top books for children and young adults – including the Caldecott, Coretta Scott King, Newbery and Printz awards.

Kwame Alexander received the 2015 Newbery Medal and the Coretta Scott King (Author) Honor for his novel ‘The Crossover’ (HMH). The Caldecott Medal went to illustrator Dan Santat for ‘The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend’ (Little, Brown). Download the ALA press release for the complete list of winners and honorees.

Industry Q&A with editor Grace Kendall

Please tell us about the most recent diverse book you published.

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While I was at Scholastic, I had the great pleasure of editing Edwidge Danticat’s first picture book, Eight Days: A Story of Haiti. It explored a young Haitian boy’s experience in the eight days following the devastating earthquake.

I also published the Jewel Society series, which features four best friends of varying backgrounds and academic interests. By working together and using their individual strengths, the girls solve a series of jewel heists in and around the Washington, DC area. A smart and sassy series for girls!

And here at FSG, I’ve just acquired a young middle-grade series starring two best friends, one of which is Latina. They live in a quirky neighborhood, inspired by The Mission District of San Francisco, where the townspeople are as diverse as the girls’ adventures, and where Spanish is spoken widely.

What is one factor holding you back from publishing more diverse books OR what’s the biggest challenge for publishing companies who want to feature more diverse titles?

There is nothing at Macmillan holding me back from publishing diverse books. As an editor committed to publishing more authors and illustrators of color, I’m always on the look-out for new talent. The Brown Bookshelf is a great place to go to learn about diversity in children’s literature and to get ideas about people I’d like to work with! In fact I wish there were more resources like it (websites or associations) that collected and featured diverse children’s book creators, especially those who are not yet published. And of course I rely on agents who are representing new talent with an eye toward diversity.

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Diversity Stories Seem to Be Welcomed in the Science-Fiction & Fantasy Genre

Within publishing, editors who focus on the science-fiction and fantasy genres seem to be highly receptive to diversity stories and writers of color. Some recent examples include The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson, American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang, and Proxy by Alex London.

Gene Luen Yang's Chat with GalleyCat

Industry Q&A with publisher Christy Ottaviano

Please tell us about the most recent diverse book you published.

imageI recently published Jumped In by Patrick Flores-Scott.  This novel is about Sam, a teen who’s in a depressed state due to the breakdown of his family.  He’s pretty much getting by in life by being a slacker, always remaining under the radar so he can fade into the background.  But then he’s paired in English class with the much feared Luis, a Latino who is said to be in a hardcore gang.  Together the two team up in a poetry slam contest and emerge, after much introspection and hard work, as very capable, talented students.  It’s a book about breaking boundaries and stereotypes, as well as friendship, tragedy, and the power of words.

What is one factor holding you back from publishing more diverse books?

Nothing is holding me back from publishing diverse books – it’s very much something that I feel passionate about doing.  I don’t feel I see enough submissions about diverse characters just living in the world and experiencing life through strong storytelling.  In other words, submissions where the story is the story and the characters just happen to be Latino or African American rather than their diversity driving the storyline.  I tend to see more agenda-oriented books on the topic and these can be harder to position and market, and are often less appealing to young readers. 

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