Earlier this year the blog post, Anti-Gay Books and Your Library, caused quite a stir among the ALSC community resulting in over 40 responses. The ALSC Intellectual Freedom Committee posed the question of whether anti-gay books belong on library shelves. As librarians we are charged with the responsibility to provide our communities with a variety of quality information resources from different viewpoints. We must offer services and programs that welcome diverse family compositions including teen parents, single parents, minority and immigrant families, and yes, LGBTQ families. We also are charged with serving our whole community which will likely mean providing materials that don’t jibe with our personal beliefs. Comments from the anti-gay books discussion illustrate how challenging this can be.
This month some libraries, like Pima County Public Library, are celebrating Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Month (LGBT Month). To get some perspective on how libraries are serving LGBTQ children and families, I interviewed Jamie Campbell Naidoo. Jamie, author of Rainbow Family Collections: Selecting and Using Children’s Books with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Content, shares his current research, programming tips, his favorite books for storytime, and insights on how librarians can provide a welcoming space for LGBTQ families.
Are LGBT families are requesting storytimes representative of their families? I recently conducted a survey of public libraries in communities with large populations of same-sex families with children to determine how they were serving LGBTQ families. The responses I received from the librarians were candid and quite illuminating. For the most part, the librarians did not want to plan exclusive LGBTQ-themed storytimes but chose to plan programs inclusive of multiple family types. Librarians did note that when they planned inclusive programs they might have a LGBTQ caregiver come up after the program to thank them. It does seem that more and more librarians are becoming aware of serving LGBT families but the families are not necessarily demanding to be included. Rather, it is a nice surprise if they see representations of their families in the storytime.
What has been your experience with doing LGBTQ-themed storytimes? I have planned and assisted librarians in planning storytimes that are friendly to LGBTQ children and children with LGBTQ caregivers or family members. In my experiences as a school and public librarian, I planned general, inclusive storytimes that subverted the traditional notions of gender and nuclear families. I have noted that typically LGBTQ families do not want to be singled-out in a library program. Rather, they just want to feel included.
What suggestions do you have for integrating storytimes to include more LGBTQ materials? My first suggestion is to select materials that depict LGBTQ children and children in LGBTQ families in everyday situations. Materials that try to convince children that it is okay to have two moms, a trans dad, etc. can be problematic as they suggest to children that some people take issue with LGBTQ families. I believe that normalizing the lives of LGBTQ families to all children and families from the start is most effective.
My second suggestion is to know your audience and be prepared to answer questions from both children and adults. Children are most likely going to ask questions or make remarks during storytime when they know one of the other children comes from an LGBTQ family or when books with LGBTQ content are shared. Librarians must be ready to respond by determining their comfort level talking about LGBTQ families with children during a library program. It would also be good to start out a program with something like the following, “Today, we’ll be reading stories about all types of families. Can anyone give me an example of what a family looks like?” This accomplishes two things: it sets the stage for caregivers and children that you’ll be talking about ALL types of families including LGBTQ families, and it provides an opportunity for children to open the discussion by suggesting a family could have two dads, one mom, etc.
Librarians should also determine how to respond to the remarks and questions of caregivers and other adults. Determine whether you will answer questions or address comments during the program or afterward. Think about how you will respond to criticism for including LGBTQ family content in programming for children.
*How do you respond to parents who do not want LGBTQ content included in general programming?
*What do you say to gay fathers who ask you not to read stories about mothers during your programs?
*If your immediate supervisor or library director is not comfortable with the inclusion of LGBTQ families in children’s programming, what do you say?
It may be helpful to practice your answers to various scenarios before they arise.
What are your favorite books for young children in LGBT families? My current favorite subversive book is Daniel Kirk’s Ten Things I Love About You, which describes how two male friends (a pig and a rabbit) share the many things they love about each other. While the book may not be intended to show a gay relationship, it does open a window for children and caregivers to see a positive example of a same-sex friendship and helps to normalize the idea of same-sex relationships based upon love. Books such as this are not “gay-themed” but are “gay-friendly” and useful for subverting the traditional notion of relationships.
The opposite of a gay-friendly book is not an anti-gay book; it is a heterosexual-friendly book. Library collections already have plenty of high-quality books about heterosexual families that librarians can suggest to patrons.
A few of my other favorite books for young children in LGBTQ families are:
- Kemp, Anna. Dogs Don’t Do Ballet. Illustrated by Sara Ogilvie. London, UK: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2010.
- Newman, Lesléa. Donovan’s Big Day. Illustrated by Mike Dutton. Berkeley, CA: Tricycle Press, 2011.
- Oelschlager, Vanita. A Tale of Two Mommies. Illustrated by Mike Blanc. Akron, OH: VanitaBooks, 2011.
- Piñán, Berta. Las cosas que le gustan a Fran. Illustrated by Antonia Santolaya Ruiz-Clavijo. Madrid, Spain: Hotelpapel Ediciones, 2007. (This Spanish-language title has a full English translation in the back of the book).
Tell us about your Subversive Family Storytimes presentation. In this presentation, I give ideas and suggestions for librarians who want to serve LGBTQ families but live in socially conservative areas that would not allow them to do a LGBTQ-themed storytime. I describe how to subvert the socially constructed norm of family and gender to include non-nuclear family constructs and representations of gender beyond traditional male and female roles. By doing this, librarians can provide opportunities for children and caregivers in LGBTQ families to see reflections of themselves, and open a window of understanding for children and caregivers in other families to begin thinking about what makes a family and how gender can be expressed.
A few suggestions for planning a subversive family storytime are:
- change character names to become androgynous: Jaime, Rene, Pat, Chris, etc. (this allows transgender or gender nonconforming children to see representations of themselves in literature and in some instances creates LGBTQ relationships in books);
- use books with single parents or ambiguous family constructs (this practice allows caregivers and children to insert their own experiences into the book’s plot, providing reflections of LGBTQ families); and
- share “gender bending” books from all genres (this will provide an opportunity for all children and caregivers to see that it is perfectly okay not to subscribe to socially constructed views of how boys and girls should behave).
What challenges do you see librarians facing when trying to implement a more inclusive storytime? One challenge is not receiving the expected positive feedback and reinforcement from LGBTQ families. Caregivers in LGBTQ families may not be “out” or open about their sexuality or family composition. As a result, they may feel uncomfortable when a librarian reads stories with LGBTQ families or characters because they are worried that other children or caregivers will discover that they represent an LGBTQ family. A similar challenge is identifying LGBTQ families in the community and encouraging them to attend inclusive programming.
Librarians might also face opposition from supervisors, co-workers, or parents that believe the inclusion of LGBTQ families is inappropriate for a children’s program. Similarly, other members of the community might object to the inclusion of LGBTQ topics in storytime. Librarians need to have a plan for how to deal with anti-LGBTQ sentiment before, during, and after the storytime.
What resources are available for keeping up with LGBTQ-friendly children’s books? Fortunately, there are a growing number of resources helpful to librarians seeking programming ideas and suggestions of LGBTQ-friendly books for children:
- Gay-Themed Picture Books for Children. Created by Patricia Sarles. Available: http://booksforkidsingayfamilies.blogspot.com/
- Lambda Literary Awards. Administered by the Lambda Literary Foundation. Available: http://www.lambdaliterary.org/awards/
- Rainbow Books: GLBTQ Books for Children and Teens Created by the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Round Table and the Social Responsibilities Round Table of the American Library Association. Available: http://glbtrt.ala.org/rainbowbooks/
- Rainbow Rumpus. Online literary magazine for children. Available: http://www.rainbowrumpus.org
- “Steps You Can Take as a Librarian.” Created by Welcoming Schools. Available: http://www.welcomingschools.org/pages/steps-you-can-take-as-a-librarian
- Stonewall Book Award: Mike Morgan and Larry Romans Children’s and Young Adult Literature Award. Administered by the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Round Table of the American Library Association. Available: http://www.ala.org/glbtrt/award
Thank you, Jamie Campbell Naidoo, for the questions to consider, resources to consult, and recommended books to get started with an LGBTQ-friendly storytime.
Does your library celebrate LGBT Month or have LGBTQ-friendly programs for children at other times of the year? Share your experiences in the comments.
Posted by Africa Hands, Librarian, Library Services to Special Populations and Their Caregivers Committee Member and Incoming Chair.