This is page collects book lists by Erin Wilson, the Sausalito Library Children's & YA Librarian. These lists were originally published in the Library's Children's E-Newsletter. You can signup for the newsletter through the website or by contacting the Library, (415) 289-4121.
If you have questions about these lists, please feel free to contact Erin at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Youth: Resources (June, 2019)
All adults--even those of us who are members of LGBTQ communities or allies--need to realize that the gender and sexuality landscape is radically different for today's youth than it was even ten years ago. We need to trust that youth are the experts in their own lives. We need to listen, and be thoughtful and nimble as we adapt to this new world.
A recent study published in Pediatrics found that almost 3% of teenagers in Minnesota identified as TGNC. In an opinion piece accompanying the study, Daniel Shumer, MD, MPH, a pediatric endocrinologist from the University of Michigan wrote:
This level of prevalence of TGNC youth supports recent findings that reveal that previous estimates of the size of the TGNC population have been underestimated by orders of magnitude and serve to inform school administrators, mental health professionals, and medical professionals [Erin's comment: plus parents, community members, librarians, all adults who interact with and care for youth] that they will see youth with diverse gender identities and expressions in their schools and offices.
...within the TGNC cohort, the plurality of both male-assigned and female-assigned respondents perceived their gender expression as equally feminine and masculine. This is in stark contrast to the way that current medical guidance has focused almost exclusively on the treatment of transgender people with binary views of gender.
Youth are rejecting this binary thinking and are asking adults to keep up.
Pride is a time of celebration, and I encourage everyone to check out some of the amazing books celebrating LGBTQ children, including lists from Drag Queen Story Hour and the American Library Association's Rainbow List, but I feel compelled to point out that members of the TGNC community are still incredibly vulnerable. In many states, it is still legal to fire people for being LGBTQ and there is a case in front of the Supreme Court about whether the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects people from workplace bias based on their LGBTQ status.
In addition, we know from the National Transgender Discrimination Survey that:
A staggering 41% of [adult] respondents reported attempting suicide compared to 1.6% of the general population, with rates rising for those who lost a job due to bias (55%), were harassed/bullied in school (51%), had low household income, or were the victims of physical assault (61%) or sexual assault (64%).
Progress has been made, but the battles haven't been won.
The resources on this list include videos selected by LGBT youth, articles from Teen Vogue, medical journals, and the New York Times, organizations serving TGNC youth and families, and (of course) books. I hope they help you become better allies to TGNC youth!
Books about Bodies and Sex for Young Children
Children are curious about their bodies and sex. Some children ask lots of questions and some don't, but access to developmentally appropriate resources will help make sure children get the information they need.
My hope is that this list can help you locate books that feel right for you to read with your child, or to read before speaking to your child to identify topics to discuss and to prepare answers to questions. I hope these books will help you articulate what you want to say in discussions with your child.
I want to highlight three books on the list.
In Tell Me About Sex, Grandma by Anastasia Higginbotham, a grandson (the gender isn't clear but I'm going to say the child is a boy) asks his grandmother to tell him about sex. He's already searched for information under the bed, in the bedside table, and on an ipad -- all places where kids can find pornography. The boy walks away from those searches looking sick to his stomach and uncomfortable. At that point he does what we all hope children will do: he finds a trustworthy adult and asks for more information.
The grandmother and the child are both lively, believable characters who are easy to identify with. The child is curious but wary, the grandmother is loving and knowledgeable but wary. Their conversation is clear but it takes a long time -- they interrupt it so the boy can paint a picture, so they can eat a snack, and then later so they can go to the playground. In that way the book models the fact that conversations about sex are uncomfortable, there is a lot of information to absorb, and it doesn't have to happen all at once.
The book focuses on consent, choice, and the fact that our relationship to sex changes as we grow. The grandmother says, "Your sexuality is something you discover as you go along -- how you feel, what you like, and who you like. It belongs to no one else but you. No one else is allowed to boss you into sex, or to take it from you without your permission. You get to choose whether to do it. Same goes for everyone. You choose for you. They choose for them."
It is instructive that the child goes to their grandmother with questions: kids may feel safer to ask their most intimate questions of an aunt, uncle or grandparent.
The book is part of the Anastasia Higginbotham's 'ordinary terrible things' series from the Feminist Press. The series includes, Divorce is the Worst and Death is Stupid.
What Makes a Baby by Cory Silverberg describes the process of making and growing a baby in a way that is factually accurate but doesn't rely on words like father, mother or love. It starts with saying that a sperm and an egg are needed to make a baby and a uterus is needed to grow a baby, but not all bodies have sperm, eggs or a uterus. It asks direct questions of the children reading the book, "Who helped bring together the sperm and the egg that made you? Who was happy that it was YOU who grew?"
This book was initially recommended to me by a lesbian couple. It's the book they've used with their children. Some of the language in the book is confusing (the sperm and the egg "dance" and share their "stories"), but for non-traditional families of any type, it is incredibly important to have a book that separates the idea of fathers and mothers from the process of making a baby and a family.
Who Are You: A Kid's Guide to Gender Identity by Brook Pessin-Whedbee begins and ends with information for adults, including websites and books, and a page-by-page guide for the book's content.
The book presents the idea that sex is different than gender and that there are many genders, and it includes a list of different words that people use to express their gender identity. In that way it is a very contemporary book. Living in a community and culture where people have a wide range of gender identities, I think it is important to have a book that introduces those ideas to children.
One of the book's main points is that we are all shaped by gender and we all choose how to inhabit gender, whether it is wearing skirts, playing with trucks, having long hair, choosing a profession, or having children. Whether we're following typical gender norms or moving outside them, we're all still choosing what it means to be our gender.
In some ways the book is a contemporary version of Free to Be - You and Me, Marlo Thomas' groundbreaking album and movie about what it means to be "free" to form ourselves. The album includes a song about William wanting a doll and a retold fairy tale in which Atalanta wins a race and gets to choose who or whether to marry.
I do not have children, so I do not have to face the difficult decision of what and how to share information about Pittsburgh (or Charlottesville or the Pulse shooting in Orlando or Ferguson or...). Pulling this book list and these resources together I was reminded of a couple things:
- Not everyone has the privilege to protect their children from information about the shootings, although the adults in their lives can help them understand and process what has happened.
- Even if you think you can protect your children, you don't know what they will be exposed to outside your home.
I want to highlight two of the online resources in particular:
In the Aftermath of a Shooting: Help Your Kids Manage Distress from the American Psychological Association is focused on the emotional impact of the shooting. It divides its advice into five areas: talk to your children, keep home a safe place, watch for signs of distress, take “news breaks,” and take care of yourself. I particularly like its guidance for how to start and shape the conversations with children, and knowing that the information is based on expert knowledge backed by an extremely reputable organization.
Talking to Children about Events in Pittsburgh from the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism was developed by a team of experts in childhood psychology and trauma. The page’s layout is hard to read, but it is worth struggling through the text. It includes advice for how to talk to different aged children, from preschool through college, and includes how to have a discussion about anti-Semitism and hate crimes in general. I find the text encouraging and reassuring for me in coping with the aftermath!
I’ll say that I was quite personally motivated to collect these resources. Although I'm not Jewish, most of my family is. My mother and step-father, as well as step-siblings and nephews, all regularly attend synagogue. My loved ones gather daily or weekly to celebrate, pray, and study as Jews: it could easily have been any of them.
Children's and YA librarians are often at the center of censorship battles. Childhood and the teen years are highly contested. Society is always panicked that the next generation is doomed. Parents (often but not always) want to protect their children. And children and teens are diverse and complex in ways that can be invisible and hard to acknowledge.
The ALA identifies five kinds of censorship:
- Vandalizing pages
- Hiding resources
- Requiring parental permission to access content
- Removing materials
- Burning books
Should a book with characters sexting be in the J Fiction area?Removing materials and burning books get the most press coverage, but the other forms of censorship are more common and trickier to identify.
- Should a picture book about slavery be on the shelf with the 'normal' picture books?
- Is it OK if a six-year-old checks out Taxi Driver?
- Should the catalog description of a J Fiction book identify if a character is LGBTQ?
- Does a book with explicit teen sex belong in the YA section? Does it matter if it is a heterosexual or homosexual couple?
Here is my perspective, in keeping with the American Library Association's Library Bill of Rights and the Sausalito Library's Material Selection Policy:
Yes, a book with sexting can be in the J Fiction area. Obviously lots of books about sexting are not written for middle schoolers, but a book written for middle schoolers that includes sexting should be in the J Fiction area. An example is Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead.
Yes, a picture book about slavery should be on the shelf with 'normal' picture books. Slavery is the history of our nation just as much as Colonial Williamsburg or the Great Depression. An example is The Bell Rang by James E. Ransome.
It is OK for a six-year-old to check out whatever they want. Whether it is OK with their parents is a different question, but the Library will not--and should not--enforce rules like that.
Unless it is relevant to the plot, the catalog description shouldn't include whether a book has LGBTQ characters. In the past, this was a common technique for limiting access to materials.
The definition of 'explicit' sex does not change if the sex is between a heterosexual or homosexual couple. Of course some of the actions between heterosexual and homosexual couples are different, but oral sex and penetration is the same level of explicit, regardless of the gender of the characters. As recently as a few years ago, book reviewers included phrases like "mature topics" or "controversial subjects" in reviews for YA books with sex between LGBTQ characters but not for heterosexual characters.
I have never had trouble with a parent or community member, but I did have a tussle with a library employee (who hasn't worked here in many years) about whether a child could check out an R-rated movie, and I have been vocal about what kind of information should be included in the catalog description of books.
As a note, the profession itself struggles with these questions. My thoughts certainly evolve and gain nuance as I participate in more conversations and have more experience.
I would love to talk more about censorship and the role of librarians vs parents vs teachers. If you have thoughts, please send me an email or stop by the Library!
African American History Month
In 1990, Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop wrote the influential essay, “Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors.” The essay proposed that books can be mirrors that reflect the reader, or windows that allow them into someone else's world, or sliding glass doors to enter that other world.
I think about this metaphor a lot as I choose which books to purchase and recommend.
Dr. Bishop wrote, "When children cannot find themselves reflected in the books they read, or when the images are distorted, negative, or laughable, they learn a powerful lesson about how they are devalued in the society of which they are a part."
The San Francisco Chronicle revealed a few weeks ago that Sausalito is 84.9% white and one of the least diverse cities in the Bay Area. For white children, the challenge is not finding books that act as appropriate mirrors, but rather finding books that act as appropriate windows.
In her original essay, Dr. Bishop wrote, "Children from dominant social groups have always found their mirrors in books, but they too have suffered from the lack of availability of books about others. They need the books as windows onto reality, not just on imaginary worlds. They need books that will help them understand the multicultural nature of the world they live in, and their places as a member of just one group, as well as their connections to all other humans."
I buy diverse books for our collection, and all my booklists feature diverse titles, but even here in Sausalito, books about children of color are checked out less frequently than other books -- which means that kids aren’t looking through those ‘windows’ and they’re missing a lot of great books.
Picture Books About Death and Grieving
We have a robust collection of books for young children about death. Some are in the "About Me" section of the picture books and some are in the children's non-fiction section. A rough distinction is that books in non-fiction are more didactic and the picture books are more emotional. The non-fiction books definitely include emotions, but they were written to convey information.
There are lots of reasons for kids to read about death. For example, one Library patron's son is very interested in music and asks, "Is he dead?" about every musician they listen to. And many of them are: Michael Jackson, Prince, and John Lennon (he has sophisticated taste for a four-year-old). So, the mother is looking for books about what happens to bodies and what it means to be dead.
Another patron's mother and step-father are dead, and she's looking for ways to talk about loving someone even once they are gone.
In my own life, my best friend died when I was seven. I had many questions about what caused her death and about the details of her funeral. I missed her and was overwhelmed by my own grief, as well as my mother's grief.
I wanted highlight a couple of the books on this list:
What Happened to Daddy's Body is a compassionate and straightforward picture book about what happens to a dead body. The children in the book felt real, their questions felt real, and I highly recommend it. It is in the non-fiction collection.
The Funeral truthfully reflects the experience of going to a funeral for lots of kids: yes, you can see that the grownups are sad, but it's exciting to see your cousins and play. This book is in the About Me section of picture books.
In Badger's Parting Gifts, Badger's friends are sad when he dies but enjoy their memories of him. It is an excellent book about loss and the continuance of love.
The Mister Rogers Forever stamp will be released on March 23. Below is a list of Mister Rogers materials, including books, DVDs, and links to interviews and videos.
A lot is being said right now about Fred Rogers' approach to television, his fearlessness in talking about difficult issues, and the way he spoke directly to the children watching the show.
Mister Rogers is important to me on an emotional level, as well as being someone I admire and try to emulate. He was the person I wanted to invite to my fourth birthday party. I loved the magic of the train to the Neighborhood of Make Believe, and I identified deeply with Daniel Striped Tiger. I'm disappointed King Friday is the puppet on the stamp.
Here is a list of Fred Rogers' books, CDs, and DVDs at the Sausalito Library, as well as links to interviews with Fred Rogers and episodes of the show
Poetry anthologies provide all the joy of poems: the chance to look closely at the world in front of us and what is impossible to see, the chance to experience highly crafted language (including punctuation!), the chance to experience the depth and surprise of being human—both our own humanity and the humanity of others. The excitement of poetry anthologies is that you read many poets and many poems, which increases the likelihood that you'll find ones that resonate with you.
We have some wonderful poetry anthologies. Of particular interest are:
National Geographic Book of Animal Poetry, which combines photography with poems. As the Publisher’s Weekly review said, ‘The imagery and verse delight in equal parts in this engrossing celebration of animals in nature, the backyard, and in the imagination.’
Kindergarde, edited by Marin local Dana Teen Lomax, collects poems by writers who identify as ‘experimental’ or ‘avant-garde.’ The poems are often odd and surprising, as one review said, ‘A collection of original prose and poetry that ranges from thoughtful to provocative and from experimental to really far-out...Adventurous writings for literary risk-takers and thrill-seekers.’
Firefly July, edited by Paul Janeczko and perfectly illustrated by Melissa Sweet, is a collection of delightful and evocative poems that celebrate the changing seasons. School Library Journal said, 'This collection of 36 impeccably chosen short poems demonstrates that significant emotional power can reside in just a few lines.'
Words with Wings: A Treasury of African-American Poetry and Art, edited by Belinda Rochelle, is a collection of twenty poems, each paired with a full-color reproduction of a work of art. As the Booklist review said, ‘For children and older readers, it is a stirring book that will take them up close to private moments and also extend their view of themselves.'
Annie on My Mind by Nancy Garden was a very important book to me as a seventh grader. Published in 1982, it is credited as the first teen lesbian love story with a happy ending. I came across it accidentally in the public library and, too shy to check it out, I read it surreptitiously during library visits.
The main characters were teenagers I could easily identify with: Liza wants to be an architect, her love interest wants to become a singer, and they meet at the Metropolitan Museum of Art—practically the most romantic start to a relationship that I could imagine. Annie on My Mind made me feel hopeful and less lonely.
It is, not surprisingly, a frequently challenged book. It was 44th among the 100 most challenged books between 1990 and 1999 (the 43rd was Flowers for Algernon and the 45th was Beloved). In fact, it has the thankfully rare distinction of actually being burned. A Kansas City minister burned copies in 1993 and afterward it was removed from Olathe, Kansas school libraries by the school board. That ban was challenged in court and in 1995, United States District Court Judge George Thomas Van Bebber ruled that the ban was unconstitutional and the book was returned to the library.
It was also listed by School Library Journal in 2000 as one of the 100 Books that Shaped the Century.
I'm sure that most readers had a similar experience with at least one book (I could really go on and on about Harriet the Spy). I always reread Annie on My Mind at this time of year: it reminds me of the deep complexity of growing up, and the important complexity of my role—shaping the Sausalito Library's children's and YA collection.