Just 5 Things With Robin Stevenson: Author of “Pride: Celebrating Diversity and Community”

Add it to your ALA schedulers: Friday, June 24, 5:45-6:30 at the PopTop Stage for “It’s Not Just a G Thing: Exploring the LBTQ (and Beyond) in Middle Grade and Young Adult Literature.” I’ll be moderating a panel of can’t miss authors: Alex Gino, E.M. Kokie, e.E. Charlton-Trujillo, and Robin Stevenson, who I’ll be interviewing here. Come for an unscripted discussion about representation in LGBTQ middle grade and YA literature.

I am not going to name all of Robin’s books, because they are plentifulI will talk a bit about her latest book, Pride: Celebrating Diversity and Community, which is an essential-to-your-collection non-fiction title that deals with the origin and the history of the Pride parade. The reviews are glowing: Canadian Materials says, “While many books on sexual minorities fail to recognize non-normative gender identities, Stevenson dives right into the complexities of intersex and transgender individuals and their struggles to fit into gay and lesbian movements.” Pride comes “Highly Recommended” from CM Magazine who calls it, “A fantastic achievement, a book that gives serious attention to often ignored groups within LGBT history…This is an incredibly detailed account, considering the short page count, and Pride should be shelved in school libraries and classrooms alike as a more contemporary companion to Ken Setterington’s Branded by the Pink Triangle.” If your library doesn’t own Pride, you need to rectify that quickly. For more info, see the trailer here.

And now, without further ado, here are Just 5 Things With Robin Stevenson:

Ingrid Abrams: In your book Pride: Celebrating Diversity and Communityyou
thoroughly examine a part of our collective history that is often ignored.
What is your favorite piece of queer history or trivia?

Robin Stevenson: It is SO hard to pick just one! I’ve been part of the LGBTQ community for more that 25 years, but when I did the research for this book, I  was amazed at how much of our community’s history I didn’t know. For example, I had never heard of bisexual activist Brenda Howard, who has been called the Mother of Pride. Brenda Howard was there at the Stonewall Riots in 1969, and she was one of the organizers of the first Christopher Street Liberation Day March to mark Stonewall’s anniversary– the event that is generally recognized as the very first Pride parade. Brenda Howard was one of the first people to promote the use of the word Pride. She was a member of the Gay Activists Alliance and the Gay Liberation Front through the 1970s, and she fought for the inclusion of bisexuality at a time when bi people were routinely excluded.

Another piece of history that I loved learning about (see, I really can’t pick just one!) was about the beginnings of LGBTQ high school activism. The first high school group was formed in the early 70s, at NYC’s George Washington High. Called the Gay International Youth Society, this group of mostly queer young people of color is probably the earliest forerunner of today’s high school Gay-Straight Alliances (and Queer Straight Alliances,
Gender-Sexuality Alliances, and Rainbow Clubs, and so on).

IA: Pride required a great deal of painstaking research. What was that
process like for you?

RS: It was incredibly interesting. Pride is my 20th book, but my first work of
non-fiction, and the writing process was completely different. Fiction,
for me, is fairly solitary (me, coffee, computer) but Pride was a very
collaborative effort. I read a lot, of course, but I also had the opportunity to talk to so many people- kids, teens and adults, both local and around the world- about what Pride meant to them. People- from age 10 to 80- shared stories, thoughts, memories and photographs. They offered to read drafts and gave me critical feedback and pointed out things I’d left out. They helped me make the book better, more engaging, and more
inclusive. I found it a very thought-provoking, moving experience and I learned a lot. As a result of writing Pride, I feel more connected with the LGBTQ community- our history, our youth, our victories and ongoing battles for freedom and equality.

IA: Are there any current authors of YA literature you’re excited about?

RS: So many! I am thrilled that there is a new book coming from Benjamin Alire
Saenz– I adored Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets Of The Universe,
and can’t wait to read The Inexplicable Logic of my Life (and the cover is
gorgeous!) Other recent books I have loved include Saving Montgomery Sole
by Mariko Tamaki, Lizard Radio by Pat Schmatz, The Last Falling Leaves by
Fox Benwell (formerly published as Sarah Benwell), and The Scorpion Rules 
by Erin Bow. I am so looking forward to Erin Bow’s next book, Swan Riders,
and the new one from Fox Benwell, Kaleidoscope Song.

IA: What’s your favorite guilty (or not-so-guilty) pleasure?

RS: Binge-watching Netflix shows while baking cookies and muffins. Currently hooked on The Fosters– queer moms and teen angst!

IA: What’s your favorite question a reader has ever asked you?

RS: At a writing workshop a few weeks ago, an eleven year old asked me “How do
you feel when you are writing?” No one had ever asked me that before and it is a pretty awesome question. I’ve thought about it a lot, since then. I think it’s a good thing to pay attention to.

Robin, like Alex and Emily, is not safe from getting lovingly glitter-bombed. Sorry about it:

She really has great hair.

Because we’ll be in Orlando and talking Queer books, it’s important to remember how privileged we are to be doing so. Let’s be aware of each other, check in with each other, and take care of ourselves.

In that vein, please consider donating to the following:

I did so myself and encourage you to do the same. They take donations of any size. In addition, you can donate directly to The Center in Orlando (you can find their donation button on the top right-hand corner).

I hope to see you at our panel in Orlando! Come say hi!

~Love and Libraries, Ingrid

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Just 5 Things with E.M. Kokie: Author of “Personal Effects” and more

Welcome to my second in a series of mini-interviews with authors I’ll be paneling with at the ALA Annual Conference in Orlando. The panel is called It’s Not Just a G Thing: Exploring the LBTQ (and Beyond) in Middle Grade and Young Adult Literature, and I really hope you can make it for what I am 100% sure is going to be brimming with some compelling discussion about representation in YA and middle grade titles.

To get you totally hyped up about this all-star panel, I’m conducting mini-interviews with the participants. I’ve already interviewed the lovely Alex Gino and am now super pumped to share this talk with E.M. Kokie.

Hopefully you know E.M. (or Emily, as I’ll be sometimes calling her in this interview), from her novel Personal Effects, which is a YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults and Amazing Audiobooks for Young Adults Top Ten, a Lambda Literary Award Finalist, and a 2013 IRA Young Adult Honor Book. It received a starred review from Publishers Weekly. School Library Journal said that, “Kokie beautifully crafts a story about the troubled relationships between an emotionally stunted father and his two sons,” and that it’s “a strong choice for reluctant readers and lovers of realistic fiction alike.” In addition, Emily is passionate about social justice issues, especially in the context of y0uth literature, and blogs about it over at The Pirate Tree. In fact you can read about fellow panelists e.E. Charlton-Trujillo and Alex Gino over there. Check it out. It’s a great resource.

Oh, and did you know that she’s also a lawyer?

Now, if you please, here are Just 5 Things with E.M. Kokie:

Ingrid Abrams:  How has your background as a lawyer helped you as a writer?

Emily Kokie: I suppose my training as a lawyer helps with my writing, at least in terms of training the way I think and forcing me to become disciplined about writing and revision.  But I think it is more that I have natural tendencies that have helped me become both a lawyer and a writer. I think there is a reason we see so many writers for kids and teens who are also lawyers.  Effective lawyers are very good at putting themselves in other people’s shoes, figuring out what that other person thinks, wants, needs, and will compromise. Effective lawyers are natural storytellers — whether that story is persuading a client to imagine a future scenario, advocating for a client’s goals, examining the what-ifs of the application of laws, or, perhaps the height of storytelling, persuading a jury or court to accept your client’s version of events.  We are often called on to look at competing explanations, look at documents, and figure out what really happened. And so much of that is also what goes into making a good novel — being able to effectively tell someone else’s story, to know how they would feel and what they would want. To understand that people don’t always say what they mean or show who they really are, and so often the greatest truths of a story are hidden between bits of dialogue and action.

IA: Is there a current YA novel that you wish you had when you were a teen?

EK: Oh, there are many. I was a voracious reader, but I didn’t really find books about queer kids — few about queer adults, either — when I was an adolescent. And I didn’t know any out queer people, and the ones I suspected were queer were also people for whom the suspicion meant they were made fun of or ridiculed behind their backs. I didn’t want to be laughed at or worse. And I’d never even heard the term bisexual. So, I spent my teens and a good chunk of my twenties totally confused about my sexuality and worried something was wrong with me, or that I wouldn’t be able to have a good life if I was queer. If I had had books with queer teens then I might have understood myself sooner, and might have felt more able to be who I was. Books like Empress of the World by Sara Ryan, Ask The Passengers by A.S. King, Sister Mischief by Laura Goode, Hard Love by Ellen Wittlinger, Ash by Malinda Lo — books that explored friendship and love and showed me queer girls living, loving, questioning, growing, etc. And books that would have expanded my world view beyond the heart of middle-class, predominantly-white suburbia, like How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon, The Boy In The Black Suit by Jason Reynolds, Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai, Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, and Boxers and Saints by Gene Luen Yang.

IA: On The Pirate Tree, you talk a lot about social justice issues. The term “social justice” can be really loaded. What does it mean to you?

EK: I think of social justice in terms of social conscience. To me it means being aware of and interested in the ways in which societies restrict the rights, opportunities, and lives of people without social or political power — whether those restrictions are issues like systemic racism, sexism, ableism, or homophobia, constructs like toxic masculinity or imbalances of economic power, and even violence and war.

IA: What literary character, of any genre, would you least like to spend time with?

EK: Well, there are many. I read a lot. But probably the one with whom I would least like to spend time would be Randall Flagg from The Stand by Stephen King.

IA: You’re a huge Buffy fan. Who is your favorite Buffy-verse couple? Fanfic pairings totally count.

EK: And here is where I admit that fandom/fanfiction questions make me anxious, like admitting to deepest secrets and desires. But, I digress… None of the cannon pairings were my end-all-be-all pairings. Willow and Tara felt incredibly important and empowering to me at the time that relationship was first developing on the TV, but it also always felt very sweet to me. Not enough heat. I wish we had had longer to see where Giles/Jenny would have gone. Jenny had potential to be interesting. I wanted more  Faith (though I found the Faith/Wood cannon pairing boring and uninspired). I will admit to being intrigued by a lot of the Buffy/Spike dynamic, as highly problematic as it was (and we could talk for hours about that, and some of the later plot moments I wish had been handled differently).  But in fanfic I’ll read almost any pairing if well done. I am incredibly interested in layered stories that explore these characters as full-fledged adults (though not necessarily as portrayed in the post-series comics). Especially well-done Willow and Faith stories. I wish for a post-series Faith exploring her sexuality. And I was always fascinated with Giles, and the layers of that character — straight-laced facade, a lot of darkness, but good intentions, underneath.  And Giles’ practically-cannon pansexuality has made for a lot of interesting Giles-centric fanfiction. When I first found Buffy-verse fanfiction, I read a lot of Giles/Xander post-series stories and I hunted for Faith/Willow. But since I see almost all of the characters as having fluid sexuality, at least in fanfiction, there is almost no one I wouldn’t ship, if written well.

Since Alex’s post ended with a picture of them being lovingly glitter-bombed, I figured it was only fair that I did the same for Emily:

This is how I show people I like them.

Did I mention Emily has a new book coming out in September of this year? Stay tuned for Radical and pre-order it here!

As I mentioned in the previous post, since we’ll be meeting in Orlando, I’d be remiss if I didn’t once again ask you to donate to the following:

I did so myself and encourage you to do the same. They take donations of any size. In addition, you can donate directly to The Center in Orlando (you can find their donation button on the top right-hand corner).

Check back in on Monday, when I’ll be talking with author Robin Stevenson.

~Love and Libraries, Ingrid

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Story Time at the Bureau of General Services—Queer Division!

A poster up at the BGSQD.
A poster up at the BGSQD.

Hopefully I’ve made it clear that the folks at Que(e)ry are some of my favorite librarians.  They recently invited me and some other bookish peeps to read excerpts from queer teen and juvenile lit at The Bureau of General Services–Queer Division, an LGBTQ-centric book store in lower Manhattan. I’m in love with this bookstore, especially since it has a really solid zine selection. I had the best time at this event, partially because I got to hear so many great perspectives on youth literature, but also because I got to discover a new independent bookstore.

Matt Haugen was our host with the most. He really does the whole “dapper man in a cardigan” thing better than most people:


On of my favorite readers of the evening was Tim’s coworker, Michael. I’m somewhat familiar with The Wizard of Ozbut I’ll admit I don’t know so much about the subsequent books in the series. Michael read from The Marvelous Land of Oz. Who knew it was so trans-positive? I really need to take a better look at those Oz books. Here’s Michael:

He's adorable.
He’s adorable.

Matt, in addition to being our host, also read that night. His book of choice was The Borrower, by Rebecca Makkai, which is about a librarian and her relationship with a 10 year old, and most likely gay, patron.

matt reading

My girl Yesha read from the only board book of the evening, Daddy, Poppa, and Me, which drew many “Awwwwwwwwwws” from the audience. Yesha wouldn’t stay still for a picture, so I made her into a GIF:

I absolutely bullied Tim into reading one of my favorite YA books ever, Freak Show by James St. James:


And I wrapped up the night by reading a selection from the king of LGBTQ lit, nay, the emperor of YA lit in general, David Levithan. It’s so hard to narrow it down to just one of his many books, but I discovered a hilarious short story called “Miss Lucy Had a Steamboat”, which can be found in his anthology How They Met and Other Stories.

Not my favorite picture of me ever taken, but here's proof I was there.
Not my favorite picture of me ever taken, but here’s proof I was there.

These aren’t the only people who read at the event, but I didn’t want to be a creeper and take pictures of strangers. I was so impressed with everyone’s book choices, many of them having personal significance to the reader. I have a hard time sitting still for an extended length of time, but I was totally invested in all the speakers and the passages they read. I hope Que(e)ry does something like this again. You should definitely check out future Que(e)ry events and pay a visit to the Bureau of General Services–Queer Division. For a list of everything read at the event and to discover new LGBTQ titles, click here.

~Love and Libraries, Ingrid


Welcome to “I AM READING THIS SO HARD RIGHT NOW”, where I talk about books that I like but refuse to summarize for you. Summarizing is for squares and I’m not a square. I’m a loner, Dottie. A rebel.

A fellow librarian recommended this book to me. As you might imagine, people recommend titles to me all the time. If I read every book everyone ever gushed about, I’d have less of a life than the one I have now. But this woman spoke so passionately about Being Emily that I really had to give it a go. I was not disappointed.

I am constantly amazed about how quickly Young Adult literature is evolving. The diversity of experiences represented in YA literature is so much more abundant than it was just five years ago. It makes me proud to be a Youth Services librarian. I live in a world where I’m surrounded by books like Freak Show and Drama and Debbie Harry Sings in French and Radiant Days and Wildthorn and I feel so lucky to be able to watch YA novels change and grow. It’s not just the subject matter of these aforementioned books and Being Emily, it’s the treatment of LGBTQ characters in an authentic and non-token-y manner.

As a cissexual individual, I will never know what it feels like to be like Emily (who is known to everyone in her life as he/him/Chris). Gold, however, is incredibly adept at making the reader understand what life is like for Emily,who is navigating the world in a body that just doesn’t feel like it’s hers. She’s got some allies, like her girlfriend, but has so many more obstacles preventing her from being comfortable, let alone happy and fulfilled.

Here’s one of my favorite passages in Being Emily. Emily is stuck with a class assignment in which she’s supposed to talk about what it would be like if she were a girl. The thing is, Emily already identifies as female, but her teachers and classmates know her as a boy named Chris:

being emily

After the evening at Claire’s house playing with makeup, I figured it was time to tackle the psych assignment. I sat down at the computer, opened a new file and stared at it. I couldn’t say any of the things that came to mind.

What would I do if I work up tomorrow as a girl? I’d cry for joy, to start. Then I’d run around and show myself off to everyone. I’d make Mom take me shopping for all new clothes, and I’d grow my hair long. I’d probably still swim; it makes me feel good and it would keep me in shape. The girls who swim have really nice bodies. I wonder if I’d still be this tall. If I could pick it, I’d be a few inches shorter with B-cup breasts, nothing too outrageous, and hips like Mom’s, kind of solid-looking…

…I wrote:

“If I woke up as a girl, I’d stay home and play video games. If it didn’t go away, I’d call the doctor. If I had to go out, I’d go to another city where no one would recognize me.”

That was so stupid I had to stop writing. I went down a few lines and tried again, reversing it:

“If I woke up as a boy I’d pretend everything was normal and go to school as usual. No one would know what happened and they’d be afraid to ask me about it, so I could pretty much go through my life as usual. They would wonder what had happened and if I was okay, but they wouldn’t know how to talk about it with me and I’d use that to my advantage. I would pretend it didn’t really matter to me what they thought, even if it did.

“Over time I’d start to get good at pretending, and people would forget that I’d been different. They’d just go by what they saw and treat me like a boy and after a while I’d wonder if I’d really been a girl at all. I’d start to think I was supposed to be a boy, even if I felt like a girl on the inside.”

Slightly better. I went back and changed “boy” to “girl” and vice versa. Then I went to bed.

I dreamed that it was Sunday morning again and I woke up with a girl’s body. In the dream, I got up and showered for the longest time. No one treated me any differently, except Claire who said I looked really cute.

~~Being Emily, by Rachel Gold, 85-87

Every time I have a big problem, I have these dreams where everything is magically and seamlessly suddenly OK. In the dream, life is easy and I wonder how things could have ever become so difficult. Then, I wake up and have to face the horrible fact that my problem is still part of my reality and day-to-day life. Dreams like these are so cruel and frustrating. Emily has them all the time.

I highly recommend the Being Emily blog for teens, librarians, and educators. At the top of the page, you’ll read sobering statistics like: “Many transgender students had been physically assaulted (e.g., punched, kicked, or injured with a weapon) in school in the past year because of their sexual orientation (28%) and their gender expression (26%).” You’ll also find helpful posts like this one on using the T-word (don’t). The Being Emily blog is a great resource. While gays, lesbians, and (sometimes) bisexuals are very visible in the media and popular culture, this is not the case for trans individuals. Everyone (including myself) needs some education on the subject. (You know what? I take that back about bisexuals. I can’t think of one damn sitcom with a bisexual character).

I think Being Emily should be assigned in classrooms. It’s a great teen book club selection, as well. I’m glad this book is on our shelves and I can’t wait to see more like it.

~Love and Libraries, Ingrid

I’m Reading This So Hard Right Now: Every Day by David Levithan

I’ve been a bad, bad squirrel. I read this AGES ago, gushed about it to every poor sap who would listen, and then didn’t even bother to review it. Womp womp. Well, good news for you, ’cause you can get all pumped up about it and only wait a month for it to come out.

I typically don’t summarize books, but I don’t mind so much on this one. This joint’s like Quantum Leap and shit, but not boring or on past my bedtime! The character, known as A, wakes up in a different person’s body every morning. And unlike Scott Bakula, this has happened to A since the beginning of A’s existence. A is gender-fluid. A doesn’t identify as a boy or a girl, as gay or straight. It’s not that A is happy with this, but a certain routine and comfort has been established with this kind of life. But of course, one day, A falls in love. Her name is Rhiannon and A must find a way to get to her every day.

Here’s an excerpt:


We return to the library with about a half hour to spare. The librarian catches us walking back in, but doesn’t say a word.

“So,” Rhiannon asks me, “what should I read next?”

I show her Feed. I tell her all about The Book Thief. I drag her to find Destroy All Cars and First Day on Earth. I explain to her that these have been my companions all these years, the constants from day to day, the stories I can always return to even if mine is always changing.

“What about you?” I ask her. “What do you think I should read next?”

She takes my hand and leads me to the children’s section. She looks around for a second, then heads over to a display at the front. I see a certain green book sitting there and panic.

“No! Not that one!” I say.

But she isn’t reaching for the green book. She’s reaching for Harold and the Purple Crayon.

“What could you possibly have against Harold and the Purple Crayon?” she asks.

“I’m sorry. I thought you were heading for The Giving Tree.”

Rhiannon looks at me like I’m an insane duck. “I absolutely HATE The Giving Tree.”

I am so relieved. “Thank goodness. That would’ve been the end of us, had that been your favorite book.”

“Here–take my arms! Take my legs!”

“Take my head! Take my shoulders!”

“Because that’s what love’s about!”

“That kid is, like, the jerk of the century,” I say, relieved that Rhiannon will know what I mean. 

“The biggest jerk in the history of all literature,” Rhiannon ventures. Then she puts down Harold and moves closer to me.

“Love means never having to lose your limbs,” I tell her, moving in for a kiss.

“Exactly,” she murmurs, her lips soon on mine.

~~Every Dayby David Levithan, pgs. 221-222

I just adore that section because I’ve always hated The Giving Tree and it’s nice to know that David Levithan and I are on the same page. I saw David at ALA, just standing around and talking to some peeps, and I wanted to tell him how much I loved Every Day and how I thought it was a shoe-in for one of the Stonewall Book Awards, but I immediately became uncharacteristically shy and just stood there and gawked for awhile.

There’s such palpable heartbreak and longing in Every Day. There’s an overwhelming sense of unfairness, injustice, and helplessness at hand, which I think readers of all ages will relate to. There’s hope for A, though, and I wonder if Levithan will be blessing us with a sequel.

~Love and Libraries, Ingrid