Book Bird: Watching from afar

“I do think there has been less representation over the last few years, especially at the younger ages,” said children’s author Lawrence Schimel. (Photo: Betsy Bird)

Recently I had the pleasure of attending the Bologna Children’s Book Fair in Italy. Cited as the largest international rights fair in the world, attending means getting to peruse art for kids from all over the globe, attending great talks (example: In Their Own Words: Storytelling to Protect Vanishing African Languages), and eating great quantities of very delicious gelato and crepes and then spilling Nutella all over your pants (not that I’d, uh, know or anything).

The last time I’d attended the fair was about 11 years ago, which meant that a decade had passed in the interim. I noted the significant rise of publishers from different African nations, the fact that publishers from South America, Japan, and China had stayed home due to COVID, and … a gap in subject matter. To my surprise, I had a great deal of difficulty finding children’s books with LGBTQIA+ content from other nations.

Curious, I turned to translator and children’s author Lawrence Schimel for answers. Lawrence is the author of the board books Early One Morning and Bedtime, Not Playtime, which were attacked by the Hungarian and Russian governments for their depiction of loving gay parents (but may have the last laugh given that there are now 46 editions of the books in 37 languages). His answer from him was interesting:

“I do think there has been less representation over the last few years, especially at the younger ages. Some publishers, like Vydavnytstvo who published the picture book Maya and Her Moms written by Larysa Denysenko and illustrated by Masha Foya, obviously couldn’t attend because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.”

Recent LGBTQIA+ Friendly Picture Books for Kids

  • bath the cat by Alice B. McGinty, ill. David Roberts
  • Bodysuits are Cool by Tyler Feder
  • Mama and Mommy and Me in the Middle by Nina LaCour, ill. Kaylani Juanita
  • Mr. Watson’s Chickens by Jarrett Dapier, ill. Andrea Tsurumi
  • Pink, Blue, and You! Questions for Kids About Gender Stereotypes by Elise Gravel with Mykaell Blais

Lawrence then told me of other publishers that, whether due to the price or COVID, they simply couldn’t make it. He also mentioned that English-speaking countries were probably producing the books with the most gay-friendly content. Sure enough, one of the few book covers I had noticed walking the aisles was a prominent title called The Big Book of Pride Flags by Jem Milton, due out here in the States on June 21. The publisher? British. Returning to America and to my work at Evanston Public Library also meant returning to news reports of Florida Governor Rick DeSantis signing the “Don’t Say Gay Bill” as some have deemed it. During his press conference, DeSantis held up Kyle Lukoff’s lovely Call Me Max about a transgender boy as a title that is typical of the books he doesn’t want kids reading.

America is not the only country that is seeing right-wing pushbacks against loving depictions of LGBTQIA+ themes in children’s literature (as the response to Maya and Her Moms in the Ukraine in 2017 shows). However, there is comfort in knowing that at Evanston Public Library, we have books for every kind of family and every kind of kid. Celebrate this range by checking them out today.

Betsy Bird is the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library.

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