Queer Book Corner – Pride Month Edition

By Eti Berland

Happy Pride Month!

Since it’s Pride, I thought I would do something different for Queer Book Corner and share a bunch of Own Voices queer books for young people that I hope you’ll enjoy. Pride is always a fantastic time to gift people books that help them feel seen and loved.

When Aidan Became a Brother by Kyle Lukoff, illustrated by Kaylani Juanita

When Aidan Became A Brother book cover

This gorgeous groundbreaking poetic gem is the perfect picture book about family transitions, but more importantly, it’s a book that joyfully validates and celebrates transgender children.

Unlike many recent books about transgender siblings, ones that center cisgender siblings and their reactions or play up stereotypes about gender presentation, When Aidan Became a Brother is all about Aidan, a biracial transgender boy, preparing to become a big brother, and it focuses on his feelings of anxiety and excitement.

The warm watercolor and ink palette (all rendered digitally by Kaylani Juanita, which seems like magic) infuse the story with effervescent energy and anticipation. The illustrations continually show the deep love that Aidan’s family has for him, as his mom says, “When you were born, we didn’t know you were going to be our son. We made some mistakes, but you helped us fix them” (unpaged).

I love how Aidan corrects the gendered baby name books. There are other subtle ways that challenge the binary from the “It’s a baby” balloons to Aidan’s reaction when a stranger asks his mom the baby’s gender. This book offers subtle ways to help people, especially caregivers, think critically about raising children. Aidan’s shares his experience realizing that he’s a boy: “But as Aidan got bigger, he hated the sound of his name. He felt like his room belonged to someone else. And he always ripped or stained his clothes accidentally on purpose” (unpaged). Once readers understand Aidan’s experience claiming his identity, the narrative quickly returns to planning for the arrival of his new sibling with hopes that he can ensure his younger sibling has a better experience than he did.

My favorite spread is when Aidan is gloriously flying through the air in his dad’s arms as he and his dad paint a blue sky on the walls of the baby’s room, thinking, “He had always felt trapped in his bedroom before they fixed it, but his new sibling wouldn’t have to feel that way” (unpaged). You can feel the freedom and weightlessness that comes from pure joy created by love and support. Love is at the core of this powerful book, as Aidan realizes: “Aidan knew how to love someone, and that was the most important part of being a brother” (unpaged).

This book will change you. It will change children’s lives, telling them how glad we are that they are here, that they are unconditionally loved for who they are. Buy this book & gift this book!

Hurricane Child by Kacen Callender

Hurricane Child book cover

This incredible book just won the Lambda Literary Award for LGBTQ Children’s/Young Adult Literature. It also won the American Library Association’s Stonewall Award for Children’s and Young Adult Literature. I will always remember our shouts of joy during the Youth Media Awards livestream when they announced this news. It is a fan favorite at our library.

Caroline Murphy was born during a hurricane on St. Thomas of the US Virgin Islands, labeled as unlucky and mistreated because of her darker skin color. Her life is made even more challenging by the absence of her mother, who abandoned her. But when a new student called Kalinda arrives, everything changes, and the a deep friendship between them – the only friend she had – turns into a crush.

Together with Kalinda, Caroline seeks out her missing mother. This books is full of authentic, powerful feelings and experiences, with dashes of magic, sensory feasts for your imagination as you’re transported to the Virgin Islands that Callender knows intimately and characters you’ll never forget. We especially need more BIPOC queer middle grade books, so I’m especially happy this debut novel exists.

The Mighty Heart of Sunny St. James by Ashley Herring Blake

The Mighty Heart of Sunny St. James book cover

Everyone should really read everything by Ashley Herring Blake, especially her recent Stonewall Honor book, Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World. I want to recommend her latest book, The Mighty Heart of Sunny St. James which, dare I pun, has even more heart.

Sunny has received a heart transplant and is ready for what she calls a “New Life” with goals to find a boy to kiss and a new best friend (to replace her old one who betrayed her). When she meets a girl named Quinn, her plans shift as she develops feelings for Quinn. Complications ensue when her mother reappears and Sunny struggles with reconnecting with her. It’s a pitch-perfect story of identity, family, healing, and change. My interest in reading it was confirmed after listening to The Yarn Podcast with Ashley Herring Blake as she unravels this story. You should definitely check out the podcast.

Zenobia July by Lisa Bunker

Zenobia July book cover

The tagline for this book basically says it’s about a trans girl, Zenobia, a gamer who solves a cyber mystery, so I was immediately sold and wanted to read it. I don’t think I could do this one justice in summarizing it, so let me share the publisher’s description:

“Zenobia July is starting a new life. She used to live in Arizona with her father; now she’s in Maine with her aunts. She used to spend most of her time behind a computer screen, improving her impressive coding and hacking skills; now she’s coming out of her shell and discovering a community of friends at Monarch Middle School. People used to tell her she was a boy; now she’s able to live openly as the girl she always knew she was. When someone anonymously posts hateful memes on her school’s website, Zenobia knows she’s the one with the abilities to solve the mystery, all while wrestling with the challenges of a new school, a new family, and coming to grips with presenting her true gender for the first time. Timely and touching, Zenobia July is, at its heart, a story about finding home.”

Viking Books for Young Readers

Gender, especially challenging the binary, is a central theme in the book and a powerful catalyst for important conversations. Identity formation is a lifelong process and I truly appreciated the nuanced approach in this novel that respects young people’s humanity and journey. I highly recommend checking out this fantastic interview with Lisa Bunker about writing Zenobia July. I also cannot overstate that this book is fun, engaging, and mysterious.

Ash by Malinda Lo

Ash by Malinda Lo book cover

Ash, a hauntingly beautiful queer Cinderella retelling, is celebrating its 10th anniversary with a special edition that you know you need – “now with an introduction by Holly Black, a letter from the author, a Q&A, and more!” You should definitely check out Malinda Lo’s “A Decade of LGBTQ YA Since Ash” where she analyzes the YA lit world when she published Ash and compiles invaluable statistics to examine trends in LGBTQ representation in publishing.  My frayed, heavily highlighted, signed copy of Ash from the Diversity in YA tour in 2011 definitely needs a twin, a new copy I can read repeatedly. Lo takes the bones of the Cinderella story and like the best fairy godmother, twists the elements for a magical effect, as the tagline says, “it’s not the fairy tale you remember.”

Ash is mourning the death of her father when she meets Kaisa, the King’s Huntress, who teaches her to hunt and shows her another path. One of my favorite highlighted quotes remains the same: “The knowledge of love had changed her. It focused what had once been a blur; it turned her world around and presented her with a new landscape” (Lo, 2009, p. 252). And if your jam is queer fantasy stories, make sure you also check out the prequel, Huntress!

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