Review: Stella Brings the Family by Miriam B. Schiffer

stella brings the family

Stella Brings the Family by Miriam B. Schiffer, illustrated by Holly Clifton-Brown

Stella’s class is going to be celebrating Mother’s Day and all of the kids know who they will bring as their special guest.  But Stella has two dads and no mother, so who can she invite? Stella worries and worries about who to bring, and the other kids in her class start to ask her how she manages without a mother to do so much. Stella’s dads take great care of her along with a big extended family who give lots of love and kisses. When Stella talks to her dads about who to bring, they come up with a perfect solution and soon Stella has the largest group at the Mother’s Day party even though none of them are her mother.

Perfect for families of all sorts who may not fit the traditional stereotypical family, this picture book shows how a loving family can create their own unique solutions and fill them with their own joy. Schiffer clearly conveys the worry and stress that a child can feel in this sort of situation, not minimizing the emotional impact. At the same time, she also demonstrates how that can be so easily eliminated by a family that listens to concerns and solves problems in positive ways. This is one empowering story that many families will relate to.

The illustrations are filled with children of all races and the story also includes a family with two mothers. On the day of the party, there are also grandmothers there, speaking to that issue of working parents who may not be able to be there either. The inclusive art has a warmth to it that is conveyed by the caring adults and the brightly hued illustrations.

All public libraries need more picture book that embrace gay families, so this is a great pick for strengthening those collections. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.

Lambda Literary Award Finalists

The finalists for the 2015 Lammys have been announced. There are many categories to this award, and one of them is LGBT Children’s/Young Adult books.  Here are the finalists in that category:

Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out Double Exposure

Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kuklin

Double Exposure by Bridget Birdsall

Five, Six, Seven, Nate! Forgive Me If I've Told You This Before

Five, Six, Seven, Nate! by Tim Federle

Forgive Me If I’ve Told You This Before by Karelia Stetz-Waters

Lies We Tell Ourselves Pukawiss The Outcast

Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley

Pukawiss the Outcast by Jay Jordan Hawke

This is Not a Love Story (Love Story Universe) When Everything Feels like the Movies

This Is Not a Love Story by Suki Fleet

When Everything Feels Like the Movies by Raziel Reid

2015 Rainbow List

The Rainbow Project is a joint project of the ALA Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Round Table and Social Responsibilities Round Table.  Each year they select The Rainbow List, books with “significant gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender content, and which are aimed at youth, birth through age 18.” 

Here is their Top Ten list:

Cinnamon Toast and the End of the World Far From You

Cinnamon Toast and the End of the World by Janet E. Cameron

Far from You by Tess Sharpe

Grasshopper Jungle I'll Give You the Sun

Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith

I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

Not Every Princess Secret City

Not Every Princess by Jeffrey Bone and Lisa Bone

Secret City by Julia Watts

Sweet Tooth Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel

Sweet Tooth by Tim Anderson

Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan

This Day in June We Are The Youth

This Day in June by Gayle E. Pitman, illustrated by Kristyna Litten

We Are the Youth: Sharing the Stories of LGBT Youth in the United States by Laurel Golio and Diana Scholl

Review: Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky

gracefully grayson

Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky

Grayson lives with his aunt, uncle and cousins after his parents died when he was much younger.  Middle school is hard.  Grayson doesn’t have friends, eating his lunch in the library rather than the cafeteria.  He rarely does anything more than go to school and return home again.  After school, Grayson has time on his own before the others get home and he spends his time in front of the mirror dreaming of wearing a dress and being a princess.  It’s a fantasy he quickly puts away when the others come home, returning once again to being a boy in a long t-shirt and jeans.  Then one day, Grayson decides to go out for the school play.  And when he auditions, he tries out for the role of Persephone.  What will happen if he gets cast as the female lead and is no longer invisible?

Polonsky has created a critical book for middle-graders about the experience of being transgender in middle school.  She hits just the right tone of lightness and seriousness, allowing the story of Grayson to unfold naturally and beautifully on the page.  The reader learns along with Grayson what he is really feeling inside, how he wishes to express it, and also how incredibly brave he is.  He’s an incredible character, one that is relatable and inspiring.

Polonsky also does not duck away from negative reactions to Grayson.  In Grayson’s aunt, readers will see an adult who is struggling to understand someone who is transgender.  She seeks to protect Grayson from bullies by hiding what he truly is and goes after the teacher who is helping Grayson express who he is on the inside.  There are also bullies at Grayson’s school who play a part in his isolation.   Yet there are also heroes among the students as well as Grayson’s uncle who is supportive.  It’s a strong mix of reactions, showing that while there is hate there is also love and support.

An important book for middle-grade children about being transgender and being true to yourself.  Appropriate for ages 10-13.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley

lies we tell ourselves

Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley

In 1959, desegregation of schools had become law and could no longer be delayed but that does not mean that it was welcomed.  Sarah Dunbar and her younger sister are two of the first black students to attend Jefferson High School.  She walks a gauntlet the first day of school just to enter the building where adults and students alike spit on her, scream racist remarks, and throw things.  It doesn’t get much better inside with the abusive language continuing, no one willing to sit near the black students in class, and the teachers doing nothing to stop it.  Linda Hairston is one of the white students that attends Jefferson High.  She is also the daughter of the owner of the local newspaper, a man who is fiercely critical of the attempts at desegregation.  Linda has been taught all of her life to fear her father and to keep separate from black people.  Forced to work together on a school project, Linda and Sarah spend more time together and learn about each other.  To make things more complicated, they are also attracted to one another, something that neither of their communities could understand much less embrace.  This is a powerful story about two girls caught in a city at war about desegregation where their own secrets could get them killed.

Talley has created one of the most powerful fictional books about desegregation I have seen.  Using the worst of racist terms that flow like water across the page, again and again, yet never becoming numbing, the language alone is shocking and jarring for modern readers.  Add in the physical and emotional abuse that the black students suffered and you begin to realize the pressure that they were under not only to survive day to day but to excel and prove that they are worthy to be in the school.  The gradual transformation of the attitudes of both Sarah and Linda are done believably and honestly.  Nicely, Linda is not the only one who grows and changes in the process.

Adding in the LGBT element was a brave choice.  While the book is about desegregation as much of the story, the attraction and relationship of the two girls is an equally powerful part of the book.  Modern readers will understand their need for secrecy and somehow the hatred of gay people allows readers to better understand the hatred of African-Americans depicted on the page.  It is clear by the end that bigotry is bigotry and love is love, no matter the color or the sex.  Talley beautifully ties the two issues together in a way that strengthens them both.

Powerful, wrenching and brutal, this book has heroines of unrivaled strength and principles that readers will fear for and cheer for.  Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Harlequin Teen and Edelweiss.

Review: The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher by Dana Alison Levy

misadventures of the family fletcher

The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher by Dana Alison Levy

The four Fletcher boys could not be more different from one another.  There is the serious ten-year-old Eli who is starting a private school separate from his brothers for the first time and who just may have made a horrible decision changing schools.  There is Sam, aged twelve, who loves sports and is popular at school but who will find himself stretching into new interests this year.  There is Jax, also aged ten, who has a huge homework assignment that will have him talking to their new grumpy neighbor for help but only after he calms down from a number of things.  Finally, there is Frog who is just starting kindergarten along with his imaginary friend and who may have a new imaginary friend named Ladybug.  It all adds up to a wonderful read with lots of humor and one amazing family.

Filled with laughter, an angry neighbor, elaborate Halloween parties, soccer, hockey and plenty of pets, this book is sure to please middle grade readers.  Add in the diverse backgrounds of the four boys in the family and their two dads and you have a book that celebrates diversity without taking itself too seriously.  It’s the ideal mix of completely readable book with its diversity simply part of the story not the main point. 

All of the boys as well as the two fathers are unique individuals with their own personal responses to crises and situations.  Each chapter begins with a note from one character to another, usually funny and always showing their personality.  Perhaps the best part of the book is that this family dynamic is clearly one of love but also filled with normal chaos and the daily strain of work, school, neighbors and friends.  It reads like a modern classic.

I hope we get to read more of their misadventures in future books, because this is one family that I want to see much more of!  Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from copy received from Delacorte Books for Young Readers.