June might be Pride Month, but we can celebrate Pride all year long – here are some amazing new books that create a rainbow of reading for kids and teens.
Pride Colors (Orca Books, 2 and under) is Robin Stevenson’s vibrant board-book celebration of the six colours of the Rainbow Flag, one of the key symbols of Pride. A simple text accompanies an array of delightful photographs of kids and their same-sex families and is a great way to introduce Pride to even the youngest readers.
My Mommy, My Mama, My Brother, and Me (Nimbus, 3-7) is Natalie Meisner’s children’s book debut and paints a loving portrait of a warm and diverse same-sex family during a visit to the seaside. Young readers will especially enjoy the repetition of the refrain that frames this poetic picture book. Illustrator Mathilde Cinq-Mars has created soft watercolour pictures that mirror not only the array of wonderful things that the children find, but all the fun of a day at the beach.
Heather Smith creates a poignant portrait of an older same-sex couple and their grandchild in A Plan for Pops (Orca Books, 3-7). Every Saturday, Lou shares the day with Grandad and Pops – Grandad likes boiled eggs for lunch while Pops has spaghetti on a waffle with a zing of hot sauce, and Lou enjoys a little of both. They go to the library, listen to Pops’s favourite music and tinker with an inventive project Grandad creates with help from Lou. Every Saturday is the same, but a little different, too. But when Pops falls, facing a life confined to a wheelchair, he takes to his bed. It’s up to Lou to come up with a plan to get Pops “back on his feet.” Smith’s heartwarming story is complemented by Brooke Kerrigan’s watercolour and collage illustrations. What is especially lovely is that Lou is a gender-neutral child – he/she/they is never defined, and that’s wonderful in this LGBTQ picture book.
Kyo Maclear’s debut middle-grade graphic novel is every bit as witty, charming and deliciously subtle as her award-winning picture books. Operatic (Groundwood Books, 10-14), illustrated by Byron Eggenschwiler, is a riveting story about the power of music, friendship and discovering what makes us all different. For her final project in her Grade 8 music class, Charlotte Noguchi, aka Charlie, has to find a song that represents this moment in her life – will she choose emo, jazz or punk rock? As Charlie digs deep into herself, she’s drawn to opera singer Maria Callas. Maclear seamlessly links Callas’s story with Charlie’s growing passion for Callas’s voice and her need to find her own voice, too. But this isn’t just Charlie’s story. It’s also the story of Emile and Luka and the rough road that many teens face coming out. Maclear tackles difficult subjects – peer pressure, bullying, LGBTQ relationships – in this beautifully understated story, made even more powerful by Eggenschwiler’s evocative pencil drawings.
Mariko Tamaki’s Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me (Groundwood Books, 14+) beautifully chronicles the ups and downs of Frederica (Freddy) Riley’s off and on and off again relationship with Laura Dean. Laura Dean breaks Freddy’s heart and then she comes back again and Freddy doesn’t know what to do. Laura Dean is mesmerizing but she can’t commit. What’s worse is that Doodle, Freddy’s best friend, is tired of the endless details of her breakup-riddled relationship and has problems of her own. Tamaki gets the tone of Freddy’s dilemma just right, but she’s also created a rich and diverse world for Freddy that not only explores LGBTQ relationships but teen friendships and relationships in a bigger, deeply satisfying, way. Rosemary Valero-O’Connell’s black and white pencil illustrations, with just the right touch of pink, make this an excellent addition to Tamaki’s other books for YA readers.
Kings, Queens and In-Betweens, Tanya Boteju’s debut novel (Simon Pulse, 12+) takes readers into a different aspect of LGBTQ life – drag! Nima is struggling with a one-sided passion for her straight friend Ginny when she meets drag king Winnow at her small town’s music festival and finds herself propelled into the exciting world of cross-dressing and the prospect of a possible serious relationship with someone who offers her something much more satisfying than her crush. But as Nima tries to make sense of her new-found feelings, she finds herself also forced to deal with Gordon, a local bully who seems to be struggling with gender issues of his own. This is more than just a queer-teen-problem novel – it’s a poignantly engaging story about coming into your own, no matter who you are.
As part of a high-school English assignment, Jonathan Hopkirk, Walt Whitman wannabe, is partnered with Adam (Kurl) Kurlansky, star football quarterback. First a friendship and then a gut-wrenching, heart-breaking love affair slowly, beautifully, evolves between these very different teens. Readers act as witnesses in the letters these young men exchange in Sarah Henstra’s luminous novel We Contain Multitudes (Penguin, 14+), as together they build a world for themselves and their love, exquisitely rendered by Henstra. It’s moving to watch what seems at first an unlikely friendship develop into something so rare, precious and deeply profound. Whitman and poetry act as the residing spirit of the novel and give it further depths, but this isn’t just a gay love story – it’s a novel about power and passion, secrets and lies and the damage that homophobia can do. This simple, extraordinary novel will break your heart and then put it back together again in completely unexpected ways.
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