Empathy Through Books

In my last post, I wrote about my invitation to participate in Shenandoah University’s 33rd Children’s Literature Conference. I presented yesterday to a small group of about ten people. But there were about twelve sessions all running concurrently, so I was thrilled to have ten!

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I covered a bit of the history of LGBT literature, from the pulp novels of the 50s and 60s – with their legally mandated tragic endings – to the current wealth of YA/NA books. But there is a gap in books available for middle readers – kids old enough to be aware of their otherness, but not old enough for dating or romance stories.

The theme of the conference (as you can see from the mugs above) was We Are What We Read. In my opening slides, I added that we also long to read what we are. I certainly knew I was gay before I was ten, and I wanted so much to see myself in the pages of the books I read. Kids in that middle age range need to see older LGBT characters modeling what they will grow into, to know those relationships are just as healthy and normal as heterosexual ones. Of course, not all relationships are healthy. Kids also need to read books in which young characters deal with unpleasant, real-life scenarios.

Divisions and divides mostly occur when people have never had any exposure to those who differ from them. Books provide kids (and adults) a safe way to bridge those divides and see the ways in which we’re more alike than different.

I hope I opened a few eyes to what is lacking and what is out there, including some of our smaller lesbian and gay presses that offer so much more than just the offerings from mainstream publishers.

The coolest thing of all was that right after the short sessions, we got to listen keynote speaker, Lois Lowry, who has twice won the Newbery Medal. Her talk was fantastic, but it echoed much of what I said about finding empathy through books. I’m glad I went first!

Oh, and the next best thing is that I’ve been invited to return next year!

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Wowed and Humbled and Terrified

This has been an incredible week for me. Thanks to the efforts of a dear friend who has been an advocate for my books, I’ve been invited to participate in Shenandoah University’s Children’s Literature Conference!

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I’ve participated in panels and sessions at the Golden Crown Literary Conference but, to be honest, most of us in the lesbian fiction genre will never be bestsellers outside of our tiny niche. We have very loyal and wonderful readers, but they are small in number.

This Children’s Lit conference is an entirely different part of the literary universe. This is its 33rd year. The presenters and guests are world renowned. They are major award winners (think Newbery Medal) and have been on the NY Times bestseller list. They are mainstream, major bestsellers in children’s literature. This is rarified air.

The organizer of the conference, Dr. Karen Huff-Stewart, has been so gracious and excited about the addition of an LGBTQ element.

I’ll be speaking about four of my books that feature young protagonists. Like me, the girls in my books knew at a very young age that they were different. There are a lot of books now written for very young children with two moms or two dads, and tons of YA books written for teens in high school (and thank goodness for all of them!), but there are very few written for kids in between – too young to be worried about dating or romance but old enough to know who they’re drawn to or that they identify differently.

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I cannot tell you how excited and how terrified I am about this opportunity. Wish me luck!