The June meeting, via Zoom, featured LGBTQ+ topics relating to kidlit. A panel of speakers discussed their experiences writing and illustrating, including Jason June, Leslea Newman, Emma Virjan, and Rivkah LaFille, who also moderated. Originally also scheduled to appear, Kari Anne Nolt was unable to participate.
Author Jason June said that in publishing today, one difference from the past is how publishers embrace queer inclusivity; so, now there is a plethora of queer subject matter across all genres, races, and cultures. One goal in his writing books for children is for kids to to feel celebrated instead of feeling labeled as “different.”
In order to foster celebrating all kids, author Leslea Newman said that in books, kids need to see role models who are like them. As a child, Leslea thought she was destined to be miserable; therefore, as an adult, she writes the books she wishes she could have had. Leslea thinks about what kids need and want, even though parents are the buyers. For straight writers to write about LGBTQ+ characters, writers need to question why a certain character needs to be in the story. How are they serving the story? What is true for the character? What is true for the writer? Writers can consult sensitivity readers and the LGBTQ+ community. Moreover, Leslea posed this question as food for thought: “If you had nothing to rebel against and nothing to conform to, who would you be?”
Emma Virjan, who is both author and illustrator, said she usually does not talk about any LGBTQ+ topics at her school visits, or in her books. She noted how it is usually not the kids who have any issues with gender or LGBTQ+ themes, rather, it is typically the adults that do. She looks for teachable moments and says change is out there. And while picture book-aged children are not yet exploring their sexuality, they are thinking about different sorts of families and what sorts of clothes to wear, so these are the types of topics in Emma’s books.
Illustrator and graphic novelist Rivkah LaFille spoke about her goals of inclusivity, acceptance, and exposure to all types of people. She said librarians are a nexus in pushing forward LGBTQ+ themes. Rivkah feels a duty to normalize people of all genders, and zap stereotypes. She expresses her own confusion growing up and gender fluidity through her works. She remarked that people are people; and since every person wants compassion and acceptance, Rivkah advocates for learning to be open to understanding and discovery. She believes it is possible for any writer to write any character as long as they do their homework, write with open eyes, and challenge their assumptions.