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  • Showing only topics with the tag "young adult". Back to normal view
    1. Queer representation in middle grade and young adult books

      I'm a teacher, and two years ago I had a student come out to me as trans. He recommended the book The Other Boy by M.G. Hennessey to me, saying that it was the first book he'd read that was about...

      I'm a teacher, and two years ago I had a student come out to me as trans. He recommended the book The Other Boy by M.G. Hennessey to me, saying that it was the first book he'd read that was about someone like himself. The same goes for another student with John Green & David Levithan's Will Grayson, Will Grayson. Another student this year shared a similar sentiment about Ivy Aberdeen's Letter to the World by Ashley Herring Blake.

      I don't know how well-known this is outside of educators, but there has been a recent explosion of books for middle grade and young adult audiences that have openly queer characters and themes. When I was growing up we pretty much had only Annie on My Mind, and even then there was a good chance it wasn't stocked in the library. Now there are hundreds of books published each year and available in school libraries across the country.

      This is great for two reasons:

      1. I've had many students who have been able to read about characters that they can directly identify with.

      2. I've had many students who do not identify as queer (to the best of my knowledge) read and empathize with these characters.

      I can't say whether it's because of the books or if the books are simply an indicator of changing social norms, but I've watched acceptance of queer individuals of all types increase over my years in the profession.

      Last week was Banned Books Week, and our librarian gave a small presentation to the students about why books get challenged or banned and gave some prominent examples. When she brought up Drama by Raina Telgemeier and mentioned that one of the reasons it was challenged was for "including LGBT characters," my class's response was audible shock. Ten years ago, the response would have been laughter or derision.

      Students self-select books from the library for free reading, and I'm always checking in with them to see what they've picked. Right now, I have a student reading Alex Gino's George, one reading the aforementioned The Other Boy, and another reading The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater. I have no idea how these students identify, but honestly, it doesn't matter. The fact that they were able to check those books out and read them is pretty powerful to me. The fact that they chose them on their own is also pretty awesome. Nobody is making students read books about queer characters. They're choosing to!

      In fact, one of my favorite things to hear from students about books like those is that they were "boring." Why? Well, because that's pretty much the default adolescent response to any book these days (let's be honest: it's hard for reading to compete with Fortnite), but mostly because it means the student is reading the story free from any prejudice. The book is not seen as inflammatory or controversial or even brave. It's just a story about any regular person--the kind that many kids often find, in this day and age, boring.

      And, for someone who's spent a lot of his life having his identity made by others to be A Significant Issue, it turns out boring is a pretty cool thing to be.

      22 votes