Welcome to Banned Books Week, 2019. I’ve made it something of a tradition to participate, and this year is no different! I invite you to join me this year, share your blog posts and check out what others have to say. The link will be open the entire week!
Topping the list this year is George, by Alex Gino. This is not the first year that George is on the list. Some of this years challenges particularly caught my attention because they came out of my state. Oregon had George on its list of books for the Oregon Battle of the Books (a great event that encourages reading at all levels), so, of course, there were various locations that decided this was an issue, some districts deciding to ultimately retain it on their list, and some deciding to not participate in the program at ALL because of it.
In Kansas some parents wanted the book (along with others featuring transgender characters) to be moved to a different section.
Alex Gino, the author of George, wrote a reflection on What It’s Like to Author the #1 Most Banned Book.
Today Hannah, who has been a contributor here before (and done many posts about banned and challenged books), if she’d be interested in writing something about George for me, and she did not disappoint – living into her specialty of creating a great list of books!
Ironically, Banned Book status tends to bring publicity to challenged books, especially in libraries where Banned Books Week displays are common, and books only tend to be challenged if they’re talked about enough that concerned parents become alarmed.
I volunteered to write a post on the book George by Alex Gino for Alli’s Banned Books Week celebration — it’s a darling little book somewhere in the “advanced children’s” to “middle grade” category, about a trans girl using a school play as her debut — but Alli’s already posted about this book several times over the past few years, so I thought what I’d do today is share some other similar books that may not have gotten the same buzz. These are all suitable for middle-grade or below and feature great LGBTQ+ characters!
Star-Crossed by Barbara Dee (2017)
Star-Crossed is my absolute favorite queer kids’ book, and I thought about it a lot while reading George, because it also centers on a school play. (As does Drama by Raina Telgemeier, which is also on the banned books list this year). This one is about a production of Romeo and Juliet, and Mattie is thrilled to play Romeo opposite her crush, Gemma. Mattie is bisexual or queer, and the book is about her gently figuring out her own identity and defending her ability to not choose if she doesn’t want to or isn’t ready. Plus the book models behavior for allies and shows positive coming-out moments, and is just generally well-written and heartwarming and delightful.
Hurricane Child by Kheryn Callender (2018)
Hurricane Child is about Caroline, a queer island girl who was born during a hurricane and is “unlucky.” I loved the magical-realism parts of this book, the heavy island descriptions, and the character of Caroline. (This was recommended to me as a book with a bisexual lead, but there don’t seem to be any boys in the book at all and Caroline doesn’t mention anything about it, but “queer or lesbian girl of color” is still unique as far as I know in the middle-grade genre.) The emotional moments in the book tended to fall flat for me, the narrative just declares things like “and then I realized I understood and felt okay about it now” (not in exact words to avoid spoilers), and the moments lose their power for me. I don’t think that would be too much of an obstacle for the target age group, though. (CN: severe bullying.)
The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang (2018)
The Prince and the Dressmaker is a gorgeous graphic novel set in a near-modern monarchy, a not-quite-fantasy setting that I’ve rarely seen. It features Prince Sebastian, who hires Frances to be his secret dressmaker — unknown to anyone else, he likes to wear beautiful dresses, and Frances helps him create an alter ego. She wants to be a fashion designer, though, and no one can know she’s designed Lady Crystallia’s dresses. This book is totally unique, super sweet, and very satisfying, and it fills a representation gap: boys who aren’t (necessarily) trans or gay, but are playing with their gender presentation.
The Manny Files by Christian Burch (2006)
The Manny Files is a little older than the other books on this list, but is lovely and underappreciated. It has casual, gentle queerness, and most importantly a little boy who’s implied to be queer and has a positive relationship with an older role model. So many books shy away from that, but here it’s perfectly natural: it’s about how the boy feels safe and happy with the manny, about who he likes to be around and what he wants to be like, without him having to have a crush on anyone. It’s sweet and joyful, but also includes some of the real frustration children experience when so much of life is out of their control. Keats is more coherent than the average 8-year-old, most of them aren’t writing novels, but he still feels like a real kid. There’s not much plot, but I actually love that — there’s just enough to keep you into it, but not enough to be stressful. Just warm happy goodness!
Hannah is a queer historian library-school student in Georgia, and she loves making book lists.