Today I gave a workshop at the 2012 Michigan Library Association Annual Conference called “Literature OUT Loud: A Guide to Young Adult Literature for Trans Teens.” The workshop went spectacularly and I plan on writing about it in greater depth soon, but I had some requests that I share the book list I gave out and discussed during the workshop so I thought I would make a quick post sharing it. It says this on the book list, but I’d like to just reiterate that this list is not meant to be a list of the best young adult literature for trans youth, it is a list on the existing young adult literature for trans youth and there are some titles on there that I cannot or would not endorse. This is derived from a list I created on GoodReads which I have added to over time and which has also grown via crowd-sourcing over the year+ since I created it. Some titles are omitted from this list but I tried to omit titles on the basis of them either being a) not teen/ya books or b) not featuring trans characters, rather than based on quality, but the list on GoodReads is ever expanding so I would recommend checking that out too.
I encourage readers to please feel free to use this list however you would like (I would prefer that you use it for good), but I ask that you please try to credit me if you use it when possible/appropriate.
(original source: Jack Does Library School)
It all started with my son, Will, stamping his feet and saying he didn’t want any girls invited to his sixth birthday party. Girls, he declared, are boring. At the same time I noticed my daughter, Vera, who is three, carrying a handbag and lip gloss. Will was demanding his first football kit, Vera was swooning over princess paraphernalia, and I suddenly realised that it was time for a gender stereotyping intervention.
Children know what they are supposed to like from an early age. For girls, it’s princesses, ballet, fairies, parties. For boys, it’s adventure, space travel, fire engines, pirates. Until now, my two have been young enough to do their own thing – Will has enjoyed baking cakes, Vera has pretended to be Luke Skywalker. But the older they get, the harder it is to resist the pink-and-blue divide.
Can books redress the balance? We often read Captain Pugwash and Asterix – but there are no girls in those stories. I was happy with Babar until Celeste became pregnant with triplets and never came out of the nursery again. In Peepo the mother is always ironing. Of course, there are some successes for both boys and girls. Ludwig Bemelmans’ Madeline is a wonderful tale of convent girl derring-do, with lots of boy characters, too. Julia Donaldson’s books (The Gruffalo, The Smartest Giant in Town) are great fun, but not exactly politically inspiring. I wanted to find something feminist, subversive. The Female Eunuch for five-year-olds.
Bring on Jacinta Bunnell’s colouring book Girls Are Not Chicks, published in the UK this week. The New York-based author first had the idea for feminist books for children when reading bedtime stories as a nanny. “I found myself editing the words so as not to pass on a sexist message,” she says. “In most children’s books the girls have pretty frocks and bows in their hair, so I would turn it around – call the boys by girls’ names and vice versa.”
In the US “anti-princess reading lists” have appeared, pioneered by the websites Mommytracked.com and Bitchmagazine.org. There are now books for three- to eight-year-olds with a specifically feminist agenda: Call me Madame President, Girls Think of Everything, Girls Will Be Boys Will Be Girls.
Feminist author Natasha Walter is intrigued but cautious. “My mother wouldn’t buy me Enid Blyton because she said her books were too racist and sexist,” she says. “But I don’t think you need to read in a feminist way to become a feminist.” With her own daughter she reads Catherine Storr’s Clever Polly and the Stupid Wolf and Roald Dahl’s Matilda. Both Walter and fellow feminist writer Susie Orbach pick Pippi Longstocking as one of the best reads for children.
So Pippi seems a good place to start. But can a three-year-old girl who wants to marry her daddy, and a six-year-old boy who hates pink, really be radicalised in just five easy reads? Time to find out …
Pippi Longstocking By Astrid Lindgren, illustrated by Lauren Child (£14.99, OUP)
Pippi’s mother dies on the first page and her father is lost at sea. Oh dear. But left to her own devices Pippi goes on adventures, tells tall stories and is superhumanly strong. Utterly magical – but a bit too sophisticated for my two. The story is long and there are very few pictures, although the children loved the Lauren Child illustrations.
Will: “It was rubbish. It’s stupid. I like Mr Nilsson [Pippi’s pet monkey] and the father who was washed overboard and the mother who is up in heaven. Actually, no, it’s not rubbish. It’s really funny.”
Vera: “I think I loved it. It was beautiful. Pippi is beautiful.”
Girls Are Not Chicks By Jacinta Bunnell and Julie Novak (£7.99, PM Press)
Some of the pictures and captions in this colouring book are funny. A woman riding a tractor: “Who says girls don’t like to play in the dirt?” Two ballerinas dancing: “No one wants to fight the patriarchy alone. Make friends.” But I’m not sure whether the messages are really for the amusement of children, or adults. One caption reads: “When she stopped chasing the dangling carrot of conventional femininity, she was finally able to savour being a woman.” Try explaining that to a three-year-old.
Will: “This book is for girls.”
Vera: (scribbles intently)
Princess Smartypants By Babette Cole (Puffin, £5.99)
A riotously subversive read. “Princess Smartypants did not want to get married. She enjoyed being a Ms.” Princess Smartypants keeps giant slugs as pets and challenges her geeky prince suitors to roller-disco marathons. When one of them finally wins her over, she kisses him, intentionally turning him into a toad. “When the other princes heard what had happened to Prince Swashbuckle, none of them wanted to marry Smartypants. So she lived happily ever after.” Excellent. Although, interestingly, the children seriously struggled with the idea that anyone might not want to get married.
Will: “I liked it when the prince turned into a toad. It will be my most favourite story ever.”
Vera: “I want Smartypants! I want Smartypants!”
The Pirate Girl By Cornelia Funke (Chicken House, £5.99)
Molly is in her boat, sailing off on holiday to her granny’s, when she is kidnapped by Captain Firebeard and his vicious band of pirates. But they chose the wrong girl. Molly’s mother is Barbarous Bertha and when she comes to rescue her daughter she brings her own ferocious crew. Brilliant – although I worried slightly about the male pirates. At the end they are forced to polish Barbarous Bertha’s boots 14 times a week. Punishing the oppressor is not true feminism, it’s just role reversal. Still, this was the most successful read and I would recommend it to anyone.
Will: “This was even better than Princess Smartypants. It’s the best story in the whole world. Write this: I really like boats.”
Vera: “My favourite [character] is Molly. And her mum.”
Adventure Annie Goes to Work By Toni Buzzeo (Dial Books, £10.31 from Amazon)
Adventure Annie dresses up every Saturday in her superhero costume and has adventures with her mother. But this Saturday her mother is called into work because an important document has gone missing. It’s up to Adventure Annie to save the day and locate the folder under a pot plant. Yep, that really is the entire plot. The children were confused by the strange dearth of incident.
Will: “I hate it. I hate curly hair and Adventure Annie has curly hair. And I don’t like her cape and her shoes because it’s pink.”
Vera: “I’ll have the pink cape and the pink shoes. [Pause] I like Molly the pirate.”
Verdict: You can’t teach gender studies to small children in a day, but you can make a start. They have already demanded Pippi Longstocking and Pirate Girl again – and again. Lessons that they have learned? The existence of the term “Ms”, which prompted a heated discussion. The idea that marriage is not everyone’s idea of a fairytale ending. And that women wielding cutlasses are just as menacing as men – possibly more so. Overall, I think, Professor Greer would be proud.
Do you think feminist books for children are a good idea - and, if so, are there any that you would recommend?
This is for glinda, who is excited about queerlit50 but has expressed frustration because it’s too much to handle alongside the very wonderful 50books_poc (which was the 2nd comm’s inspiration). She asked for recommendations for books by queer people of color.
I thought, I’m sure I can come up with 50 books by LGBT people of color. So I did.
Thus far it’s 32 authors and 66 books. This list is obviously partial—it skews American, Anglophone, African-American, and bisexual, just to start, because of my own experiences, though I haven’t read every book on it myself. I would really love to add to it, and welcome additions. Sadly, at the moment I think it’s only a list of books by LGB people of color, and I’d be particularly interested in works by trans authors. (Also, if any of these books are transphobic, I’d like to flag that, too. Let me know.)
Like queerlit50 this list is about the author’s identity, rather than content, so it includes books in which everyone is white (Giovanni’s Room) and no one is obviously queer (A Raisin in the Sun). If I have inadvertently identified anyone incorrectly (for example, including someone of Cuban descent who doesn’t consider themselves of color, or calling someone queer who doesn’t identify that way), please let me know and I will be happy to amend.
Reinaldo Arenas, Before Night Falls. Autobiography of a gay Cuban man.
James Baldwin, Another Country, Giovanni’s Room, Go Tell It On the Mountain, Tell Me How Long The Train’s Been Gone (novels), The Fire Next Time (essays). Highly recommended.
Octavia E. Butler, Fledgling, Kindred, Bloodchild and Other Stories, Dawn, Adulthood Rites, Imago, many others. Highly recommended.
Staceyann Chin, The Other Side of Paradise. Memoir about growing up poor, half-black and half-Chinese, and lesbian in Jamaica.
Christina Chiu, Troublemaker and Other Stories. Short stories.
Samuel R. Delaney, Dhalgren, Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand, many other novels and short stories and The Motion of Light in Water (autobiography). Delaney identified as bisexual for a long time but now calls himself gay.
Farzana Doctor, Stealing Nasreen. Muslim Gujarati lesbians in Canada.
Mayra Lazara Dole, Down to the Bone. YA novel about a Cuban-American lesbian in Miami. Warning for biphobic sentiments voiced by characters and left unchallenged.
Jewel Gomez, The Gilda Stories. Black lesbian vampire lives through much of American history. Fascinating remaking of vampire mythology and a key text of 1970s lesbian lit. Warning for biphobic stereotypes.
Angelina Weld Grimké, Selected Works of Angelina Weld Grimké. Like Nugent below, Grimké wrote about erotic attractions to both women and men during the Harlem Renaissance, but homophobia kept her from publishing during her lifetime.
Lorraine Hansberry, A Raisin in the Sun (play). To Be Young, Gifted, and Black. The very talented Hansberry identified as a lesbian, but after her death her ex-husband/literary executor did a lot to obscure the fact.
E. Lynn Harris, Invisible Life, Just As I Am, And This Too Shall Pass, Any Way the Wind Blows, A Love of My Own. Novels about African-American gay and bisexual men. Often explicitly erotic.
Langston Hughes, The Big Sea (autobiography) and numerous collections of poetry.
June Jordan, Soldier: A Poet’s Memoir. And her poetry too, obviously.
Jackie Kay, Trumpet (a novel about a black trans jazz musician), Other Lovers (poetry) and many collections of poetry. Also Bessie Smith, her biography of the blues singer.
Thi Diem Thúy Lê, The Gangster We Are All Looking For. Author identifies as bisexual. Autobiographical novel about a Vietnamese immigrant family in the US.
Felicia Luna Lemus, Trace Elements of Random Tea Parties, and Like Son. Novels about Chicano genderqueer or trans protagonists. IMO the first one is much better.
Malinda Lo, Ash. YA fantasy involving fairies; a lesbian retelling of the Cinderella fairy tale.
Lani Ka’ahumanu, co-editor (with Loraine Hutchins), Bi Any Other Name: Bisexual People Speak Out. Edited collection.
Yukio Mishima, Confessions of a Mask. Famous novel about a closeted gay man by the giant of 20th-century Japanese literature. He wrote 39 other novels, plus plays, short stories, and essays before his even more famous public suicide.
Mary Anne Mohanraj, Bodies in Motion. Short stories about two linked Sri Lankan families, including gay, lesbian, and bi characters. Also two collections of erotic short stories: Torn Shape of Desire and Silence and the Word. Author identifies as bisexual (and has kindly provided more info in the comments below).
Richard Bruce Nugent, Gay Rebel of the Harlem Renaissance: Selections from the Work of Richard Bruce Nugent. It’s debated whether Nugent was a gay man, or a bisexual one whom later historians have forced into the gay mold. But he bravely wrote openly about male same-sex desire in the black community in the 1920s.
Achy Obejas, Days of Awe and Memory Mambo (novels about Cuban-American lesbians), We Came All the Way from Cuba So You Could Dress Like This? (short stories)
Nina Revoyr, The Necessary Hunger and Southland (novels about Japanese-American and African-American communities in Los Angeles), The Age of Dreaming (novel about a Japanese-American silent film star). Highly recommended.
Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez, The Dirty Girls Social Club and other novels. Author identifies as bisexual, but handled coming-out in public badly.
Sean Steward Ruff, Finlater. Two young boys, one black, one Jewish, fall for each other in racially segregated Columbus. Too sexually explicit to be considered YA. Highly recommended.
Alex Sanchez, Rainbow Boys, Rainbow High, Rainbow Road, The God Box, So Hard to Say, Getting It, Bait. YA fiction about teenager boys, many of whom are gay or bisexual.
Shyam Selvadurai, Funny Boy, Cinnamon Gardens, Swimming in the Monsoon Sea. Novels that feature gay Sri Lankan men; the last is YA.
Linda Villarosa, Passing for Black. Fun, fluffy story about a black middle-class woman coming out. Warning for attempts to be a trans ally that fall short.
Alice Walker, The Color Purple, Anything We Love Can Be Saved, The Way Forward Is with a Broken Heart, many other novels and short stories.
Rebecca Walker, Black White and Jewish and Baby Love. Author identifies as bisexual. Warning for much less talent than her mother.
Kenji Yoshino, Covering: The Hidden Assault on Our Civil Rights. A must-read for anyone who cares about identity. Highly, highly recommended.
Update 1 (because I hope there will be more)
Craig Laurance Gidney, Sea, Swallow Me. Short story collection, mostly fantasy, some horror, more focused on black gay men. Some explicit sex.
Nalo Hopkinson, Brown Girl in the Ring (post-apocalyptic voudon!Toronto), Midnight Robber (Caribbean-colonized planet and its alternative dimension), Skin Folk (incredible short stories), The Salt Roads (the goddess Ezili connects the lives of a lesbian in pre-Revolutionary Haiti, a bisexual woman in 19thc France, and a prostitute in Roman Egypt), The New Moon’s Arms (Caribbean-set fantasy/sf). Also the editors of So Long Been Dreaming: Postcolonial Science Fiction and Fantasy, Mojo: Conjure Stories, and Whispers from the Cotton Tree Root: Caribbean Fabulist Fiction.
I’m tempted to put Nisi Shawl, author of the sci-fi short story collection Filter House, on this list, but I’m afraid it might be a misrepresentation of her identity. If anyone has info on how she self-identifies, I’d welcome clarification.
ScienceDaily (May 3, 2011) — The most comprehensive study of 20th century children’s books ever undertaken in the United States has found a bias towards tales that feature men and boys as lead characters. Surprisingly, researchers found that even when the characters are animals, they tend to be male.
The findings, published in the April issue of Gender & Society, are based on a study of nearly 6,000 books published from 1900 to 2000. While previous studies have looked at the representation of male and female characters in children’s books, they were often limited in scope. “We looked at a full century of books,” says lead author Prof. Janice McCabe, Assistant Professor of Sociology at Florida State University. “One thing that surprised us is that females’ representations did not consistently improve from 1900 to 2000; in the mid part of the century it was actually more unequal. Books became more male-dominated.”
The study also found that:
- Males are central characters in 57 percent of children’s books published per year, while only 31 percent have female central characters.
- No more than 33 percent of children’s books published in any given year contain central characters that are adult women or female animals, but adult men and male animals appear in up to 100 percent of books.
- Male animals are central characters in more than 23 percent of books per year, while female animals are in only 7.5 percent.
- On average, 36.5 percent of books in each year studied include a male in the title, compared to 17.5 percent that include a female.
- Although books published in the 1990s came close to parity for human characters (with a ratio of 0.9:1 for child characters; 1.2:1 for adult characters), a significant disparity of nearly 2 to 1 remains for male animal characters versus female.
Since children’s books are a “dominant blueprint of shared cultural values, meanings, and expectations,” the authors say the disparity between male and female characters is sending children a message that “women and girls occupy a less important role in society than men or boys.” Books contribute to how children understand what is expected of women and men, and shape the way children will think about their own place in the world.
The authors collected information from the full series of three sources: Caldecott award-winning books, (1938-2000); Little Golden Books, (1942-1993) and the Children’s Catalog, (1900-2000). They found that Golden Books tended to have the most unbalanced representations.
A closer look at the types of characters with the greatest disparity reveals that only one Caldecott winner has a female animal as a central character without any male central characters. The 1985 book Have You Seen My Duckling? follows Mother Duck asking other pond animals this question as she searches for a missing duckling.
In seeking to answer why there is such persistent inequality among animal characters in books for kids, the authors say some publishers — under pressure to release books that are more gender balanced — use “animal characters in an attempt to avoid the problem of gender representation.” However, their findings show that most animal characters are gendered and that inequality among animals is greater — not less — than that among humans.
The tendency of readers to interpret even gender-neutral animal characters as male exaggerates the pattern of female underrepresentation. The authors note that mothers frequently label gender-neutral animal characters as male when reading with their children, and that children assign gender to gender-neutral animal characters. “Together with research on reader interpretations, our findings regarding imbalanced representations among animal characters suggest that these characters could be particularly powerful, and potentially overlooked, conduits for gendered messages…The persistent pattern of disparity among animal characters may reveal a subtle kind of symbolic annihilation of women disguised through animal imagery.”
If you don’t know of the work Vikki Law is doing, you should. If you care about women in prison and their voices being represented in discussions of prison abolition etc., you should check out this zine. If you want to know about the struggles that women go thru in prison, what prison is really like, and how women prisoners resist, you should check out this zine. It includes original artwork, letters, and other writing by women in prison. Often their work has had to be smuggled out. It also includes addresses for these women so that you can write to them.
To get a copy of the latest issue (#19), send $2 in well-concealed cash or a check made out to V. Law, PO Box 20388 New York, NY 10009
Reblogging (thanks strugglingtobeheard!) because I believe this is just THAT important.