Books that make a difference

A holiday guide to inclusive reads for the kids

By Crystal A. Proxmire

You walk into a major chain bookstore hoping to find a children's book to give as a holiday gift. But what if you're looking for something that's not your mainstream, hetero-cast, run-of-the-mill material? You won't find much at Barnes & Noble.

Julia Music, a bisexual mom with an adopted son, takes care to buy diverse books for her child. Three-year-old Quinn loves Liz Garton Scanlon's "All the World," which follows the day of a little boy and the variety of people he sees.

"It's important for children to see their world reflected in the literature they read," Music said. "I want my son to be exposed to characters that look like him, his friends and people he has never seen before so he recognizes that all people are different and special."

And those books are out there. We recently spoke to Jillean McCommons, head of youth services at the Ferndale Public Library, and Colleen Kammer, co-owner of Book Beat in Oak Park. Here, both give their recommendations for children/young adult books - holiday-themed or otherwise - that are inclusive and empowering.

"Donovan's Big Day" (Leslea Newman): "About a boy who prepares to be the ringbearer at the wedding of his two moms. "Newman does an excellent job building a suspenseful picture book that captures the festivities surrounding a joyous occasion," McCommons said.

"My Princess Boy" (Cheryl Kilodavis): "The story of Dyson, a boy who likes to express himself through what he wears; sometimes it's jeans, sometimes it's a tiara. His family embraces his choices and celebrates his creativity. A great choice for the junior fashionista in the family."

"The Great Big Book of Families" (Mary Hoffman): "A fine gift for parents looking for books that challenge heteronormativity, this book succeeds by including families with same-sex parents as just another possibility."

In the 29 years it's been open, Book Beat has carried LGBT and other inclusive books. Here are some of the titles Kammer recommends for young readers:

"GLBTQ": The Survival Guide for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgendered and Questioning Teens" by Kelly Huegel. 2nd Ed. Free Spirit Publishers. $15.99. An information book that provides answers, insight and support for queer or questioning teens. Ages: 13 and up

"Huntress" (Malinda Lo). Fantasy Fiction. $17.99. Two young women on a quest fall in love. Ages: 14 and up

"Boyfriends with Girlfriends" (Alex Sanchez). $16.99. Four real teens who are trying to find their way in the world and with one another. Ages: 12 and up

"Monday is One Day" (Arthur A. Levine). $16.99. Rhyming countdown of the days of the week with assorted families finding ways to spend cherished moments together. Ages: 3 to 5

"My Princess Boy" (Cheryl Kilodavis). $14.99. A true story of compassion, acceptance and support of someone who expresses themselves differently. Ages: 4 and up

"Addie on the Inside" (James Howe). $16.99. The much-anticipated follow-up to "The Misfits" and "Totally Joe." A strong, smart, sensitive girl is fighting her way out of the box that society wants to put her in, while trying to become the person she wants to be. Ages: 14 and up

"Will Grayson, Will Grayson" (John Green and David Levithan). $17.99. Told in alternating voices, two teens with the same name cross paths and find their lives going in unexpected directions. Honor Winner of the 2011 American Library Association Stonewall Award. Ages: 14 and up

"The Boy With Pink Hair" (Perez Hilton). $17.99. The story of a boy who is not afraid to be who he is with the help of loving and supportive parents, and a friend who appreciates his uniqueness and how his difference makes a difference. Ages: 4 to 8

"A Love Story Starring My Dead Best Friend" (Emily Horner). $16.99. A 17-year-old takes a road trip and sorts out her feelings of love and friendship. A great coming-of-age novel with a lesbian heroine. Ages: 14 and up

"It Gets Better: Coming Out, Overcoming Bullying, and Creating a Life Worth Living" (Dan Savage and Terry Miller). $21.95. A collection of essays to inspire hope for LGBT youth facing harassment. Ages: 14 and up

To purchase these and other LGBT-inclusive titles from a local, independent bookstore, visit Book Beat at 26010 Greenfield in Oak Park or online at http://www.thebookbeat.com.
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