Interviews with Authors on Their LGBTQ+ Picture Books

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Interviews with Authors on Their LGBTQ+ Picture Books
Interviews with Authors on Their LGBTQ+ Picture Books

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In honor of Pride Month, we asked the creators of five picture books about centering queer youth in their stories, visibility in literature, and their hopes for the future of queer children’s books.

Mark Ceilley

What inspired you to center queer youth in your book?

Ceilley: In July 2018, I read Prince and Knight by Daniel Haack. It’s the story of a prince and knight who meet, fall in love, and get married. A few months later I wondered what it might be like to write a gay version of “Cinderella.” I wrote the first few drafts, then I sent it to my friend Rachel Smoka-Richardson for feedback. Soon after, she asked if I might be interested in collaborating on the story. I said yes, and then we kept revising it until we felt it was polished enough to send to her agent.

How did you approach representing the spectrum of LGBTQ+ identities and experiences through your characters and story?

Ceilley: With a gay fractured fairy tale of “Cinderella,” the representation of LGBTQ+ identities came naturally as we knew right away that Cinderelliot and the Prince would be gay. We discussed with our editor the idea of the prince having two moms. Our illustrator agreed and added them in two illustrated spreads.

When was the first time you felt seen as a queer person in literature?

Ceilley: In my late 20s, I was given the Tales of the City books by Armistead Maupin. The series revolved around Michael, a gay man, and his friends living in San Francisco in the 1970s.

What changes do you hope to see in LGBTQ+ representation in children’s and YA literature in the future?

Ceilley: I hope to see more LGBTQ+ representation in children’s books by making characters natural, authentic, and without being negative or showing stereotypes.

Cinderelliot by Mark Ceilley and Rachel Smoka-Richardson, illus. by Stephanie Laberis. Running Press Kids, $17.99 May 3 ISBN 978-0-7624-9959-5

Elise Gravel and Mykell Blais

What inspired you to center queer youth in your book?

Gravel: I wanted to create a book for children who are affected by gender norms, stereotypes, or various constraints—which is, essentially, every child. With Pink, Blue, and You, I hope to provide a resource for parents and educators looking for ways to introduce children to a world that is not binary or restrictive.

How did you approach representing the spectrum of LGBTQ+ identities and experiences through your characters and story?

Gravel: Because my experience as a cis, straight woman limits my perceptions and deeper understanding of LGBTQ+ issues, I asked for help and guidance from many in the LGBTQ+ community, especially my co-writer, Mykaell Blais, who has loads of experience with gender education.

Blais: As mentioned by Elise, the book aims to raise awareness of gender stereotypes, and every child should be able to identify with it. It is written in simple language with concrete and even some historical examples, in which the binarity of genders and what defines being masculine or feminine is questioned and explored.

Mykaell, when was the first time you felt seen as a queer person in literature?

Blais: The first time I recognized myself in a book was while reading Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe. I saw myself in the questioning of the character, his journey, and his vision of gender identity.

What changes do you hope to see in LGBTQ+ representation in children’s and YA literature in the future?

Gravel: I hope that soon books for young readers that represent children from minority groups will feature more marginalized characters who are not simply there as a gesture of inclusion. LGBTQ+ kids deserve to be represented as everyday characters whose experiences and adventures are not necessarily centered on their gender identity or sexual orientation.

Blais: I hope that in children’s literature, queer characters will no longer be taboo—that they will be an integral part of the story without the focus being on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Pink, Blue, and You: Questions for Kids About Gender Stereotypes by Elise Gravel with Mykaell Blais. Random House/Schwartz, $17.99 Mar. 7 ISBN 978-0-593-17863-8

Blue Jaryn

What inspired you to center queer youth in your book?

Jaryn: Payden’s Pronoun Party centers trans characters, and specifically a nonbinary main character, as part of a celebratory journey of exploring gender identity and pronouns. I was inspired by the profound importance of young trans people having access to this kind of positive representation that acknowledges and respects them for who they are. I was also inspired by my hope that cisgender people read books like these to better understand gender diversity and how they can be supportive. It is upsetting that many trans kids all around the world do not receive such support, from their families, communities, and societies, so we need to see significant change in this area. Payden’s Pronoun Party consciously represents an idealized world wherein all trans people are given the freedom to understand and express our identities.

How did you approach representing the spectrum of LGBTQ+ identities and experiences through your characters and story?

I wanted Payden’s Pronoun Party to feature more than one kind of trans identity. Therefore, while I drew on my own experiences as a nonbinary person, I also sought feedback from other trans writers and did research. For example, I read blogs and watched vlogs of trans people with a range of identities discussing the experience of gender euphoria—the feeling of joy in getting to express our gender identities—and how they decided on their pronouns, which were the two main things I wanted to center in this picture book.

When was the first time you felt seen as a queer person in literature?

I can’t think of a specific time, but I do remember some of the media with queer representation that I engaged with as a teenager was especially meaningful to me, even before I had a good understanding of myself as queer/trans. I was drawn to anything that had even a hint of this representation. It’s unfortunate that much of that representation was focused on negative aspects, was stereotypical rather than genuine, and was mainly created by cisgender straight people. I believe LGBTIQ+ representation is getting better, but we still have a long way to go!

What changes do you hope to see in LGBTQ+ representation in children’s and YA literature in the future?

I hope to see a better range of representation. For gender diversity, that includes more books like Payden’s Pronoun Party, which is specifically about the experience of being trans/nonbinary, but also books where trans people are represented as main characters without the focus being on identity. LGBTQ+ young people deserve to see themselves in all kinds of stories just like any other [readers]: adventurous, humorous, scary, and so on. I know [these books] are being created (by me and others!), so my appeal is specifically to editors/publishers to consider if they are procuring such books, and if not, why not?

Payden’s Pronoun Party by Blue Jaryn, illus. by Xochitl Cornejo Page Street Kids, $18.99 Oct. 4 ISBN 978-1-64567-558-7

Rob Kearny and Eric Rosswood

​​What inspired you to center queer youth in your book?

Kearney: Growing up, I never thought I was possible. LGBTQ+ kids never see people like themselves in media or in sports, so Eric and I felt it was important to showcase that sexual orientation holds absolutely nothing against what you can achieve in life. Once you accept yourself for you who truly are, there are no limitations on what success can be for you.

Rosswood: Strong is about Rob Kearney, the world’s first openly gay professional strongman competitor. I remember reading a news article back in 2019 about Rob breaking an American weightlifting record. There are so many stereotypes revolving around what it means to be gay and what it means to be masculine, and I think Rob’s story just challenges everything there is about those stereotypes. I was inspired by his accomplishments, and I knew queer youth would be, too.

How did you approach representing the spectrum of LGBTQ+ identities and experiences through your characters and story?

Kearney: While I don’t feel this story necessarily represents the spectrum of LGBTQ+ identities—because we are only talking about an openly gay athlete, and my experience is very different from trans athletes, lesbian athletes, or other members of the LGBTQ+ family—I do, however, feel that the message of the story relates to all members of the LGBTQ+ family. The underlying message of the story is based around finding a supportive person in your life who wants what is best for you, and once you are able to accept yourself for who you are, you are able to achieve greatness without fear.

Rosswood: We didn’t want Strong to be a coming-out story because we didn’t want Rob’s orientation to be a problem. Instead, we wanted to show a real-life, openly gay person succeeding and thriving because that’s not something that’s often seen in picture books. And while there are many themes in Strong, like being your authentic self, embracing who you are, finding your inner strength, etc., that queer people will be able to connect with, we think these are universal themes that should resonate with everyone.

When was the first time you felt seen as a queer person in literature?

Rosswood: I was openly gay in high school in the late ’90s, but it was hard for me to find LGBTQ+ books where I grew up. I had friends who had access to magazines like the Advocate, Out, and Genre, so I read those, and that was really the first time I saw people like me in the literature I read.

What changes do you hope to see in LGBTQ+ representation in children’s and YA literature in the future?

Kearney: I hope to see more openness about LBGTQ+ identities and normalizing non-heterosexual relationships. Having two dads or two moms should be just as regular as seeing a mom and dad in children’s and YA stories, and making these relationships a bigger part of everyday conversation is the best way to do so.

Rosswood: There are very few picture books that focus on real-life LGBTQ+ role models and I really hope that changes. We need to highlight those in our community who have done amazing things. For so many people, they don’t know they can do something unless they’ve seen other people like themselves do it first. I want kids to see real-life people in the community who are open about their orientation and identity, and who are thriving. That’s why Strong is so important to me. I hope after kids read it and see an openly gay person breaking records and thriving in life, they say to themselves, “Hey, maybe I can do that, too.”

Strong by Rob Kearny and Eric Rosswood, illus. by Nidhi Chanani .Little, Brown, $17.99 May 10 ISBN 978-0-316-29290-0

Rosiee Thor

What inspired you to center queer youth in your book?

Thor: In writing The Meaning of Pride, I wanted to share the many forms pride can take—as both an event commemorating our history and an emotion. I think it is doubly vital for queer youth to see that they are loved and respected by a community waiting to welcome them with open arms. As a child growing up in the ’90s and early ’00s, queerness was only ever presented to me as a subject for political debate. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I was introduced to the depth of our history and the joy of queer community. I hope that in sharing this book with queer youth, they will feel invited to engage with our collective story of perseverance, hope, and love.

How did you approach representing the spectrum of LGBTQ+ identities and experiences through your characters and story?

Thor: As someone who uses a lot of microlabels myself, it was important to me to represent and celebrate the vastness of the LGBTQ+ community and the many identities that fall under that umbrella. The illustrator, Sam Kirk, and I agreed that we wanted to include as many different pride flags in the art as possible, from the progress flag to the non-binary flag to the asexual flag to the bear pride flag, etc. We also collaborated extensively on which public and historical figures to include in the book who would best represent the variety of identities and intersectionality of our community.

When was the first time you felt seen as a queer person in literature?

Thor: It took me until I was about 13 years old to find a book that represented me and my queer identity, and it took me even longer to truly understand that what I was reading was queer and that I was too. The books were Tamora Pierce’s Circle of Magic series, which includes a group cast of largely queer teens discovering their unique forms of magic. One of the main characters was asexual and another was a lesbian. I remember feeling an immediate sense of relief and belonging in those pages, like I knew the story was somehow for me.

What changes do you hope to see in LGBTQ+ representation in children’s and YA literature in the future?

Thor: There are so many identities and intersections that fall under the LGBTQ+ umbrella, and I will never tire of seeing them celebrated. Aside from simply saying “more of it,” I also hope to see a shift in how publishers interact with anti-queer book bannings. As we’re seeing a rise in this type of legislation, the silence of publishers is palpable. I hope to see more publishers speaking out against these laws and lobbying to protect queer kid-lit and the queer kids who desperately need it.

The Meaning of Pride by Rosiee Thor, illus. by Sam Kirk. Versify, $17.99 Apr. 19 ISBN 978-0-358-40151-3

Be sure to read our accompanying articles highlighting more authors of queer children’s literature.



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