Out in the streets (and all over Facebook) people are wearing purple today. In support of LGBT teens in general, and specifically in memory of the six kids who died this year (that we know of) after experiencing severe anti-LGBT bullying. Which is so sad and difficult even to think about…
Not unrelated, Kirkus has a great link to some notable gay/lesbian books, some great books, and that got me thinking… about my own book, Penny Dreadful, and the decision that I made to include a certain family in it. There’s a character, a small boy named Twent, who has two mommies–Willa and Jenny. Readers don’t get to know Jenny much (she’s mostly at work) but Willa stays home with Twent, and she’s massively pregnant, and she has long hair, and Penny thinks she’s wonderful!
But here’s the thing– Penny Dreadful isn’t, I don’t think, an LGBT book. Though I’m honored to have it included in lists that suggest it is. It isn’t about anyone being gay, or about anyone being straight (I can’t think of many middle grade books that are about hetero identity, really, despite all the randy straight parents who are surely boffing all night long, in the pages that never got written. Naughty Marmie!). Penny Dreadful is just about people who happen to be lots of things. There are characters who are gay and straight, white and black, hearing-impaired and not-so-much, timid and brave, rich and poor, old and young. Simply because I challenge you to find a town that isn’t all of those things. I didn’t write Willa and Jenny into the book to make it a gay book. I wrote them to make it a real book, an honest book. A book about the world, which is full of all kinds of people.
I think we need this–books not about things–as much as we need books about things. I talk about this a lot, with regards to Judaism, that we need to read about Jews in picture books that aren’t clobbering us with a big Jewish educational hammer. Because I think it helps kids, to see themselves and their families, in a book, just being human , living in the world, finding magic or having adventures, or eating spaghetti, or doing chores, or whatever…
This is something I’m learning about right now, a step I’m taking with my writing. I’m trying to engage with reality a little more than I have in the past, and part of that is engaging with diversity. And I want to think that if more books represented diversity this way, simply, without it being a big issue all the time, more kids would understand that it isn‘t always a big issue. I’d like to think that children’s books are a wonderful way to begin the process of educating people about how varied human experience is, and about how all of it, all of it, is normal.
Kids do a lot of things. They struggle with their homework, eat peanut butter, kill dragons, fight with their parents. Some of the parents are Jewish and some of the kids are Asian and some are gay and some are Mormon and so on and so on… that’s not really the story, at least not all the time.
Though the dragons… well, when the dragons are gay Mormons, that changes things a little.
But I can’t tell you about that today. You’ll have to wait for my next book for that tale.