Just 5 Things with Alex Gino: Author of “George”

It’s been four months since my last blog post, but I am still here, still librarian-ing, but honestly reeling from a huge career change. Please accept this interview with the tremendous author, Alex Gino, as my sincere apology.

Next week, at ALA in Orlando, I’ll be moderating a panel called It’s Not Just a G Thing: Exploring the LBTQ (and Beyond) in Middle Grade and Young Adult Literature, which features four authors I couldn’t be more super-pumped about: e.E. Charlton-Trujillo, Alex Gino, E.M. Kokie, and Robin Stevenson. I thought it would be nice to use this blog as a platform to drum up some excitement for what I am sure to be is a powerful and fascinating discussion. In the next several days leading up to the conference, I hope you will enjoy a series of micro-interviews with these writers that I am thrilled to share the PopTop stage with. Let’s keep YA Queer, y’all.

I have already talked about introducing George to my new school’s fifth and sixth graders, and how special and privileged we were to have Alex Skype in with us. I’ll never forget how lucky I felt that our students could connect with Alex, who responded to their numerous questions with warmth, joy, honesty, and unending patience. After the Skype visit, a student said that she felt like she and Alex were friends now. Students don’t respond to every speaker in this manner, but that’s simply the impact of Alex’s radiant presence. If you haven’t seen Alex speak, I highly suggest you rectify that soon.

And now, I give to you, Just 5 Things with Alex Gino:

Ingrid Abrams: You were kind enough to Skype into my school to talk to my students about George and I know you’ve made lots of connections with your middle grade readers. Have you found any of your interactions with kids surprising?

Alex Gino: I’ve been surprised by the level of maturity and awareness I’ve experienced from kids. I had an 8th grader in Ann Arbor, MI introduce me to the term “gender-designated bathroom” which I love. Certainly, there’s a range of responses, but by and large, these kids have access to language and conversations I couldn’t have dreamed of as a child. I also find that kids tend to ask more interested questions than more adults do, but that doesn’t surprise me in the least.

IA:  Like me, you’re a glitter fanatic. If you had to survive on one color of glitter for the rest of your life, what would it be? 

AG: Really, you’re going to do this to me? I would have to go with traditional silver glitter. Which is not my favorite kind of glitter.  That would be purple. But silver glitter is more flexible. Also, I would like all glitter to be biodegradable and chemically-safe, please.

IA: You’re currently traveling the country in an RV, going to Chicago, NYC, and Richmond, among other places. What’s been your favorite stop so far?

AG: I’m not into “favorites”, because there are so many variables at stake, but I was surprised with how much I liked the Arkansas/Kentucky/Tennessee area.  Gorgeous rolling hills, stunning water, and I even enjoyed the cities I visited.  Chattanooga writers showed me a great time!

IA: What’s one thing you’d like educators to know about reading George with their students or library patrons?

AG: There is no age before which it is appropriate to learn more about yourself and others. Kids are already in the world, and are ready for the conversations.  You can meet kids at their developmental level without being condescending, and let them guide the conversation. Any fears you may have?  They’re yours.  Please don’t pass them on.

IA: Is there a book that got you hooked on reading?

AG: I was one of those annoying kids who read at 3, so I was hooked on reading the moment I was able to decode the letters on the page. But an early love was The Runaway Road by Stan Mack, about a highway that got bored of going to the mountains all the time, so it took a vacation to the beach, taking a family with it. Other childhood greats were Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein, The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster and The Girl With The Silver Eyes by Willo Davis Roberts.


I thought I’d conclude this interview with a picture that fills my heart with warmth and sparkles. Here’s Alex being totally doused in glitter after winning the Lambda Award for Children’s/Young Adult literature:

13413623_10154929769177586_2645763124596110410_n
I mean, really. This is too much.

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I am Reading this So Hard Right Now: George by Alex Gino

A little late on posting this, but here’s my review of George by Alex Gino in School Library Journal (scroll down to the first entry in the “Middle Grade” section).

If your library works with a Middle Grade population, I highly recommend you read and purchase this title.

~Love and Libraries, Ingrid

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My glitter-heavy displays for GLBT Book Month, complete with images for you to steal

Did you know that June is GLBT Book Month? It’s true! And while I try and knock out LGBTQ displays all the time, I’m extra excited about the GLBTRT’s first GLBT Book Month. Everybody freak out!

While I do adore the official poster for GLBT Book Month (featuring the artwork from one of my favorite picture books, This Day in June, which I talk about in length here), I made my own ’cause mama’s on a budget. I used this for both the children’s and YA displays I made:

GLBT book monthWe have limited display space in the children’s room, so I made an ever-so-tiny display behind our reference desk:

Some of the books have left the display to go circulate, so I’m a happy camper.

My larger display ended up in the YA section, where I just have much more room to set stuff up. Here’s a simple book display:

Over by the YA ref desk, I had even more room to work with, so I created my own images to display on a corkboard. I also laminated the individual images and stuck them up in each YA computer terminal (I can’t promise that every teen will see the corkboard, but most of them use the computers at some point). I used images and quotes of famous LGBTQ folks and allies. I’m still new at creating images. I should have, perhaps, rethought my font choice (some of the commas look like periods. Ugh.). Some of the transparent edits on the images are my own, and that’s why they SUCK. Also, if the person in the picture is wearing a flower crown, it means I accidentally cut the top of their head off. Not cool.

If you want to use any/all these images in your displays, please do. If they go up on your blog, please credit me, your main girl Ingrid.

harvey milk lavernecox jazzjennings

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Upcoming Presentation on LGBTQ Lit!: Why I’ve been kinda quiet lately

I aim to post about once a week on here, but I’ve been busy with a presentation I’m pretty excited/terrified about. It’s for the Ontario Library Association, and it’s called “No Stereotypes Allowed: Building LGBTQ Collections for Kids and Teens“. Here, I’ll be sharing what I’ve learned in my years in the Rainbow List and as a Rainbow List/Stonewall Book Award enthusiast/wannabe. I hope to help you and your library build a better and more inclusive collection. Consider it a crash course in the best that LGBTQ literature has to offer.

There’s still time to register! Click here!

When it’s done, maybe I can blog more often. Maybe.

~Love and Libraries, Ingrid

(ETA 12/4/2014: The presentation has been moved to April 2nd, 2015. More time for me to make it extra awesome. Stay tuned!)

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I AM READING THIS SO HARD RIGHT NOW: Three Picture Books You Need for Your Collection This Very Second

After my first go-round on the Rainbow List, one of my major complaints was that we weren’t receiving many picture book submissions (I believe we only got two last year, and out of those, only one had LGBTQ content. It was a bummer). I was also dissatisfied with the number of books that featured People of Color. It seemed that way too many titles revolved around white, cisgendered men. I was yearning for more protagonists that were black or Asian or Latino or…anything.

Well, someone heard my prayers, because I have been blessed with three offerings that have restored my faith in picture books (for a while, anyway. I’ll be fussy by as soon as next month). If they’re not on your radar, I insist you order them right now. Your collection desperately needs these titles. If you don’t think you have LGBTQ folks in your neighborhood, you’re wrong. Even if that were the case, we owe it to the children and families that frequent our libraries to have rich, diverse collections. Hey, everyone, #weneeddiversebooks.

I have to be honest, I was wary of another “boy in a dress” book. Our library has a few of them with varying quality and appeal. Sometimes I feel that featuring a boy in a dress is talking around homosexuality/queerness/trans-ness instead of about it. But, with weekly stories about kids being kicked out of school (Or reprimanded. Or shamed) due to their manner of dress, apparently books like this are still very much needed, though possibly more for the world’s adults more than the children.

Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dressby Christine Baldacchino, is indeed a “boy in a dress book”, but its dreamy illustrations help it stand out from the others. It’s super lush and beautiful. By the end of the read, you’ll be wanting to live in Morris’ world of cats and elephants and spaceships. Plus, his dress looks like orange cotton candy.

Morris and his tangerine cloud of a gown.
Morris and his tangerine cloud of a gown.
I want to be part of his world.
I want to be part of his world.

Not Every Princess exists in sort of the same vein as Morris Micklewhite, in that it tackles gender identity and gender presentation. While Morris has a plot and dialogue, Not Every Princess simply introduces us to a number of children who see no limits to how they experience life. Gender stereotypes are not talked about explicitly. Instead, the reader is simply told that girls can be tough and boys can be gentle and vice versa. Some princesses are strong. Some knights are kind. Traditional gender roles don’t prevent us from being our fully realized selves.

Not Every Princess features one of the most diverse casts of characters I’ve seen in a long time. I adore the sweet faces on all these children:

As a children's librarian, I see a lot of cute every day. I'm practically immune to cute. These kids are next level adorable!
As a children’s librarian, I see a lot of cute every day. I’m practically immune to cute. These kids are next level adorable!

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Rainbow List-ing and it Feels so Good: My first go-round on an ALA book committee

As soon as I became aware that the GLBT Round Table and the Rainbow List existed, I knew I wanted to be involved. I have always wanted to be a good ally and advocate for LBGTQ patrons of the library (and out of the library, naturally, but the library is my home). I have known that LGBTQ kids, teens, and families have been shamefully underrepresented in literature. It’s not as if a multitude of LBGTQ characters in children’s and YA books will fix anyone’s life or experience, but I’ve always believed in the healing power of literature. All children need to see themselves reflected in the books they read. This includes children of a variety of races, ethnicities, financial backgrounds, physical/mental abilities, geographic locations, religious affiliations, sexual and gender identities, and a number of other factors that I’m not clever enough to think of at this point. When a child (or teen, but I think it’s especially important in a person’s early years) reads about a character that speaks to their experiences, it can instill a love of reading and a sense of belonging in the world. We’re all looking for a witness. We all crave someone to validate our experiences and to say, “Yes. You went through this and you are not the only one.” Books can be so life-affirming.

This is why I am a proud Rainbow List member. I want LGBTQ kids and teens (and the children of LGBTQ-identified parents) to have the opportunity to see themselves in the books they read. I want to recognize and promote the authors who make this possible.

I know lots of librarians want to be involved with the Printz, Newbery, Caldecott or Alex Awards and that’s totally valid. The awards committees seem (I say “seem”, I’ve never been on one) very exciting and they’re certainly prestigious and impressive. However, there’s so much to be said for committees like Rainbow List. The Rainbow List is not an award. We’re a list of quality books for kids and young adults (birth to 18 years). The titles must contain authentic and significant LGBTQ content. The Rainbow List can include as many titles as the members would like, but it also includes a Top Ten list that features the best titles of the year. The Rainbow List, and other lists like it, are a tremendous resource for librarians, teachers, parents and readers of all ages. If you’re a youth services librarian, the Rainbow List is a valuable resource for collection development purposes. It’s not always apparent which books are LGBTQ-oriented and it can be difficult to locate them. The good folks of the Rainbow List find these titles for you, read them, and let you know which ones are worth including in your collection. I have cut-and-pasted entire Rainbow Lists into Baker and Taylor for ordering purposes, and this was way before I was involved with the list or the Round Table.

On Sunday, January 26th, the Rainbow List committee members made our final decisions concerning this year’s titles.

Are we not adorable?
Are we not adorable?

Here’s our committee with our Top Ten picks. That’s me on the left with the pink hair. I’m holding Kate Bornstein‘s My New Gender Workbook and The Culling by Steven dos Santos. Christine, right next to me, is holding Pantomime by Laura Lam and Better Nate than Ever by Tim Federle (the latter being one of the few exceptional submissions for young readers. Most of our submissions were YA books). Anna, in the scarf, is holding Sara Farizan’s If You Could Be Mine and Love in the Time of Global Warming by Francesca Lia Block (it pained me to not hold either of these titles. I really love them both. They hit me right in the gut. I should say that I’m honored to being holding Kate Bornstein and Steve dos Santos’s books. No doubt). Erin, who has the gorgeous curly hair, is holding Freak Boy by Kristin Elizabeth Clark (give this one to your hardcore Ellen Hopkins fans) and Leap by Z Egloff. Seated on the floor is my girl Naomi and she’s holding Branded by the Pink Triangle by Ken Setterington and Alaya Dawn Johnson‘s The Summer Prince.

Though they are not Top Ten selections, I’d like to bring some attention to some of my other favorites: Tyler Buckspan, Giraffe People, Rapture Practice, Archenemy (great for your not-so-advanced teen readers), If I Lie, The Waiting Tree, Calling Dr. Laura, and Blue is the Warmest Color, all of which I think would make worthwhile additions to your collection.

If you work in a library that serves teens and children, I would like to insist that the above titles are essential for your patrons. If you don’t think you have LGBTQ library users, you are wrong, I assure you. Also, these are great titles for expanding the horizons of all your readers, including those who identify as straight. A book that represents an unfamiliar voice can truly broaden one’s understanding of the world.

I highly recommend serving on the Rainbow List (Or any ALA book committee. I also think that the Amelia Bloomer book list looks like the jam and I can’t wait to work with them in the future). Here are a couple of reasons to get involved:

  • Not to sound like a hipsterbrarian, but I read Better Nate than Ever before most people did. Being on the Rainbow List gets tons of ARCs/galleys delivered right to your door. Receiving all those books and getting that smug “I read it before you did” look on your face is truly priceless.
  • I got so many nice emails, tweets, and Facebook messages from authors thanking me for getting them on this list. Seriously, it makes you feel so good.
  • There’s not a much better feeling than participating in a committee that helps bring underrepresented voices to libraries everywhere.

Not convinced? Non-award committee meetings are open to anyone at ALA. Come on in. See what we do. See if it’s something you’d enjoy. We usually have chocolate.

Want to volunteer to be on the Rainbow List? You need to be a GLBT Round Table member, as well as a member of ALA. Click here to get involved.

I am serving one more year on the Rainbow List until I have to take a break. Here’s what I’d like to see in upcoming Rainbow List submissions:

  • More books including and representing People of Color. Books about middle-class white boys are great and needed, but we’re failing a good deal of the population here.
  • Picture books! Come on now! Todd Parr can’t be the only one knocking out books like this. More! More!
  • More books for young readers. Hopefully Better Nate than Ever has opened the door for more LGBTQ children’s chapter books.
  • More books featuring women.
  • More books with trans* characters.
  • More books that acknowledge that gender is a spectrum.

I hope you read through our list and order some titles for your library. Put these books on hold. Trot over to your local bookstore and purchase these titles. Go on Twitter and tell these authors that you appreciate them.

I love you, Rainbow List.

~Love and Libraries, Ingrid

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I AM READING THIS SO HARD RIGHT NOW: Better Nate than Ever by Tim Federle

Welcome to I AM READING THIS SO HARD RIGHT NOW, where I get all gross and cutesy about a book I am totally crushing on. I won’t summarize the book for you, because that’s boring and I don’t like being bored. Instead, I give you an excerpt that I feel really sums up how rad I think the book is.

Today, I’m going to talk about Better Nate than Ever by Tim Federle. If we’ve met, then I’ve already told you how crazy I am about this book. First of all, it’s OOoooh, on the LGBTQ tip (That’s a TLC reference, kids!), which is unusual when we’re dealing with kid’s middle grade chapter books (not that LGBTQ  kid’s chapter books don’t exist. I’m very grateful for titles like Drama and The Popularity Papers). Our protagonist Nate (I don’t want kids, but I’d adopt Nate in a heartbeat. He’s the best), doesn’t identify as gay (yet). Rather, he calls himself “undecided”. Why does this make Better Nate than Ever an LGBTQ title? It absolutely speaks to the gay experience. Though kids are coming out of the closet earlier than ever these days, many kids end up grappling with labeling their sexual identities (some never end up labeling their sexuality or gender at all, which is absolutely a valid choice). Nate is one of these kids. He gets bullied at school and called anti-gay slurs. He unabashedly loves musicals. He finds solace in knowing that there are out gay men thriving in New York City. Now, none of these characteristics necessarily add up to “gay”, but with Nate, you’ve just got a feeling. I don’t know. You read it. You let me know if it speaks to the LGBTQ experience. It does for me.

As a proud and obnoxious New Yorker, I love Nate’s sense of wonder, fear, and hope when he experiences the city for the first time. Federle’s version of NYC is endearing and lovely and maybe just a little scary. But it’s full of promise. Everything might not be perfect now, but it’s going to get way better for Nate. His future looks pretty bright.

This is my absolute favorite part of this totally hilarious and heart-warming debut novel by Tim Federle. Thirteen year old Nate’s on the way to an oyster bar called Aw Shucks (get it?), when something catches his eye:

nates

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