Tag Archives: Picture Book

How Gender Stereotyping Inspired Teddy’s Favorite Toy: a Guest Post by Christian Trimmer

If you’re somehow involved in the kidlit publishing world, you’ve almost definitely heard of Christian Trimmer, Editorial Director of Henry Holt Books for Young Readers. But he’s also an author, most recently of the picture book Teddy’s Favorite Toy, about a little boy whose favorite toy is a doll. He’s here today to talk about the personal experience that inspired the book and the growing conversation about gender nonconformity.

But first, here’s the book, which released in February and is illustrated by Madeline Valentine:

A mom goes to great lengths to rescue her son’s favorite doll in this delightful tribute to treasured toys—and mothers.

Teddy has a lot of cool toys. But his very favorite doll has the best manners, the sickest fighting skills, and a fierce sense of style.

Then one morning, something truly awful happens. And there’s only one woman fierce enough to save the day. Can Teddy’s mom reunite Teddy with his favorite toy?

Buy it: B&N * Amazon * IndieBound

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I have a vivid memory from my childhood. I’m five years old, lying in my parents’ bed alone. It’s close to bedtime; my mother is somewhere in the apartment, and my father has yet to return home from work. I am sucking my thumb, an activity that my mom has strictly forbidden but that I just cannot keep from doing (again, I’m five). Suddenly, my dad is in the doorframe of the room, and I instinctively pop my thumb out of my mouth. I know my dad doesn’t really care about the thumb-sucking, but if he tells my mom, I will be yelled at. He gently walks over and kneels in front of me, and as if he knows what I’m thinking, he says, “Let’s make a deal. I won’t say anything about you sucking your thumb as long as you cut out all the girl stuff.”

The “girl stuff.” He means me putting on my mom’s skirts and lipstick and sticking tennis balls in my shirt. He’s talking about my play preferences, particularly my favorite toy, a Wonder Woman doll inspired by the TV series starring Lynda Carter, a doll I just happen to have tucked in beside me. I instantly feel shame, and I give him a nod of ascent. Yes, Dad, I will try to behave less like a girl. (If I have a cornerstone memory, this might be it.) I remember coming home from kindergarten soon thereafter to find her gone, my mom informing me that she had thrown the doll away because one of its legs had broken off. In my mind, I scream, “But I don’t care about the leg—I still love her!”

Though I try to keep my promise to my dad, I fail. But I learn to keep my preferences hidden. I only play with Wonder Woman when I’m alone. I look forward to playdates away from my home, particularly with Muriel, who is French and has all of the Strawberry Shortcake dolls and is happy to share them with a boy. When I play superheroes with the other kids in the neighborhood, I whisper my chosen character—Wonder Woman, naturally—to my brother and him alone. As I get older, I start to collect more gender-appropriate toys: the Masters of the Universe and Thundercats. Teela and Cheetara are my favorites, but it is easy enough to keep that hidden among their all-dude colleagues.

Still, I’m not behaving the way a boy should. I’m teased at school. I try to be what they want me to be and fail again, and the layers of shame are getting deeper. I’m given mixed messages from my mom: “Don’t let their teasing bother you, they’re just jealous. But you better not be gay.” I am gay, and I don’t talk about it in front of her for years to make sure she feels comfortable. That approach—put others comfort before your own—becomes second nature in most of my relationships, personal and professional. It is exhausting.

I just wanted to play with a doll!

Years later, I write a picture book called Teddy’s Favorite Toy about a kid and his favorite doll and their awesome adventures. His mother doesn’t care that he loves this doll—she celebrates it. As I’m working on the manuscript, Target announces that it will stop labeling toys for boys and girls. On the day we announce the deal, Mattel runs a Barbie commercial featuring a boy for the first time. The outrage that accompanies both events is muted by the overwhelming support.

There’s a growing conversation about gender nonconformity. (That’s what I was doing back in the early 1980s—gender nonconforming. I much prefer that expression to “sissy.”) Earlier this year, the New York Times published an article called “Breaking Gender Stereotypes in the Toy Box,” which concluded, “Children are actively seeking clues about what their gender identities mean; toys and play should give them space, not narrow their choices.” Last summer, the Times published an article about “How to Raise a Feminist Son,” which included this very valuable lesson: Let him be himself. Though progress has been made in breaking down gender stereotypes for children, the barriers remain strong, particularly for boys. Michael Kimmel, a professor of sociology and gender studies, in a CNN article titled “Why Girls Can Be Boyish but Boys Can’t Be Girlish,” noted, “Women have changed what it means to be a woman and embrace a much larger human canvas. Men are still painting on half the canvas.”

Though I was raised in an era that shunned and shamed its effeminate boys, I found a way to move past traditional ideas of masculinity, to use more of the canvas. Therapy absolutely helped, as did an intelligent, open-minded circle of friends. Living in New York City made everything seem possible—I highly recommend it. Being gay, the ultimate affront to traditional masculinity, revealed to me the limitations put on straight men in terms of the careers they are “allowed” to pursue and the way they approach relationships. I highly recommend it.

I have friends with small children, and it’s amazing to see how gentle and encouraging they are with them. I hope that for every child—that they get to be themselves and experience the world without limits. I wrote Teddy’s Favorite Toy  for all the little kids who maybe like things they’re not supposed to. I wrote it for the parents who allow their kids to explore the world unfettered. Most of all, I wrote it for five-year-old me, who was made to feel ashamed for loving a doll.

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Christian Trimmer is a children’s book editor and writer. He is the author of Simon’s New BedMimi and Shu in I’ll Race You!Teddy’s Favorite Toy, and Snow Pony and the Seven Miniature Ponies. He lives in Brooklyn, New York, with his partner. Learn more about him, his books, and lots of other things at ChristianTrimmer.com.

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Neither Author-Illustrator Airlie Anderson on Creating a Genderfluid Picture Book: a Guest Post

Please welcome author-illustrator Airlie Anderson to the site today to discuss how her picture book, Neither, which has a genderfluid main character, came to be!

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NeitherGrowing up, my sisters and I were lucky enough to have picture books all around us. We each had our own little bookshelf with our favorites stacked inside, and sometimes we got them signed at our local bookshop. (I think I was around eleven when Chris Van Allsburg signed my copies of The Polar Express and Jumanji. I told him I wanted to be an author-illustrator, and he told me I could do it, and to keep at it. I was starstruck.) Our parents never took our picture books away or told us they were “too young” as we got older, and I still haven’t stopped reading or collecting them. I’ve been a picture book reader my whole life, and I’ve been scribbling pictures and stories for just as long.

A few years ago, I had a dream about a multi-hued character with several different animal qualities. When I woke up I thought, “that’s a book idea and it’ll be called Neither.” I don’t usually envision a cover or a title before the book is even written, but that’s what happened with this story. I drew a lot of little Neither doodles and words in my sketchbook in a coffee shop to keep the idea going, then sat down in my studio to really work on it. One day I started scribbling in the early afternoon, and when I looked up again, it was dark outside. It was a “flow” experience, a rare one in which I got totally lost. I love those. They can’t be forced or brought on artificially.

It wasn’t until months later, when I thought back on the dream about the multi-hued character, the sketching that came after, and all the other influences that crossed my path while writing Neither, that I realized something important: around the time I had the initial dream, I had been teaching art classes to an inspiring group of middle schoolers. One of them had been identifying as female, and over the course of the next year, transitioned to identifying as male. The idea of questioning something as ingrained in our society as gender made me think of my characters and story in a new light. My student’s fluidity opened my mind to many different modes of representation and expression.

He also happened to be a creative sketcher, freely scribbling beautiful creatures and characters that made the rest of the class say “how did you do that!” with smiles on their faces (and sometimes their heads on desks, playfully flabbergasted). His ability with art was another inspiring piece of the puzzle—self-expression seemed to flow from him in a way that we should all hope to achieve. Even though I didn’t realize it at the time, this student has a remarkable effect on the creation of Neither, who seemed to almost spontaneously generate in my mind. All I had to do was stand aside and let the character hatch.

It wasn’t the only thing that hatched during the making of this book, though. Right when my editor, designer, and I were getting into the heart of Neither, I gave birth to my first baby. I’d known the timing of these things would align, and we could have delayed the book process a bit, but I figured I would just power through. Art school had prepared me for everything, right? And when my husband and I first started to settle in at home with the baby, I thought, “Hey! I still feel like myself!” But in retrospect, I was swirling into a mysterious new world. A terrifyingly cute (there needs to be a word for this) being had come into our lives, and his newborn expressions and proportions somehow worked their way into the book. The new parent sleep deprivation haze removed a lot of my inhibitions, especially concerning the weirdness of the characters. There’s one spread that features the creatures of The Land of All, including a skateboarding narwhal wearing a scarf. I can tell you with confidence that this creature would never have popped into my head if I hadn’t been in a hallucinatory state of mind.

Once I finalized the pencil sketches for all the spreads, it was time for my favorite part of the process, the icing on the cake: painting! By that time, the baby was starting to have a regular(ish) sleeping pattern, so I knew I had a certain chunk of time to work on Neither each night. My chef husband would make snacks for me if I was still working when he got home from the restaurant. Much tea was consumed. (Tip: you’re not in the zone until you almost dip your brush in your tea.) I would set up my paints and palette, turn on NPR or my music, and enjoy the feeling of the paint gliding over the paper. The backgrounds of this book are simple but contain a lot of doodly details, which gave me a meditative feeling as I worked to create a world for the characters and for our readers. As author-illustrator James Marshall once said: “A picture book becomes a whole world if it’s done properly.”

In Neither, the world is “The Land of This and That,” a place where every creature fits squarely into one of two distinct teams: Yellow or blue. Bird or bunny. One or the other. But Neither is a green bird-bunny, or bunny-bird. A birdunny? A bunnird? It’s both. It’s neither. This book is about being in between, about not fitting into a typical category. When I wrote it, I hoped that it wouldn’t end up being tied to any single metaphor, but that each reader would interpret it in their own unique way. People have told me they think the story is about race, gender, social weirdness, or being an outsider. The thing they all agree on, however, is that it’s about inclusion and acceptance.

I try to make books for everyone, but particularly for very young readers, children who need a jumping-off place to start talking about being different, feeling awkward, finding a special spot in the world. Someday my son may experience exclusion or pressure to make a choice one way or the other, when it’s his in-betweenness that should be celebrated. My hope is that a little green bird-bunny’s in-betweenness will resonate with him and with others, and that they will each take comfort in knowing that The Land of All is out there.

Neither is available now!

Buy it: B&N * Amazon * IndieBound 

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Airlie Anderson_Author PhotoAirlie Anderson is the author and illustrator of Cat’s Colors, Momo and Snap Are Not Friends, and numerous other books for children. She is also the recipient of the Moonbeam Children’s Book Award, the Independent Publishers Book Award, and the Practical Preschool Award. She grew up in California, graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design, and now lives in New Jersey.

New Releases: May 2018

Little Fish by Casey Plett (1st)

In this extraordinary debut novel by the author of the Lambda Literary Award-winning story collection A Safe Girl to Love, Wendy Reimer is a thirty-year-old trans woman who comes across evidence that her late grandfather–a devout Mennonite farmer–might have been transgender himself. At first she dismisses this revelation, having other problems at hand, but as she and her friends struggle to cope with the challenges of their increasingly volatile lives–from alcoholism, to sex work, to suicide–Wendy is drawn to the lost pieces of her grandfather’s life, becoming determined to unravel the mystery of his truth. Alternately warm-hearted and dark-spirited, desperate and mirthful, Little Fish explores the winter of discontent in the life of one transgender woman as her past and future become irrevocably entwined.

Buy it: B&N * Amazon

Prince & Knight by Daniel Haack and Stevie Lewis (1st)

In this modern fairy tale, a noble prince and a brave knight come together to defeat a terrible monster and in the process find true love in a most unexpected place.

“Thank you,” he told his parents.

“I appreciate that you tried,

but I’m looking for something special

in a partner by my side.”

Once upon a time, in a kingdom far from here, there was a prince in line to take the throne, so his parents set out to find him a kind and worthy bride. The three of them traveled the land far and wide, but the prince didn’t quite find what he was looking for in the princesses they met.

While they were away, a terrible dragon threatened their land, and all the soldiers fled. The prince rushed back to save his kingdom from the perilous beast and was met by a brave knight in a suit of brightly shining armor. Together they fought the dragon and discovered that special something the prince was looking for all along.

Buy it: Amazon

Ship It by Britta Lundin (1st)

Claire is a sixteen-year-old fangirl obsessed with the show Demon Heart. Forest is an actor on Demon Heart who dreams of bigger roles. When the two meet at a local Comic-Con panel, it’s a dream come true for Claire. Until the Q&A, that is, when Forest laughs off Claire’s assertion that his character is gay. Claire is devastated. After all, every last word of her super-popular fanfic revolves around the romance between Forest’s character and his male frenemy. She can’t believe her hero turned out to be a closed-minded jerk. Forest is mostly confused that anyone would think his character is gay. Because he’s not. Definitely not.

Unfortunately for Demon Heart, when the video of the disastrous Q&A goes viral, the producers have a PR nightmare on their hands. In order to help bolster their image within the LGBTQ+ community-as well as with their fans-they hire Claire to join the cast for the rest of their publicity tour. What ensues is a series of colourful Comic-Con clashes between the fans and the show that lead Forest to question his assumptions about sexuality and help Claire come out of her shell. But how far will Claire go to make her ship canon? To what lengths will Forest go to stop her and protect his career? And will Claire ever get the guts to make a move on Tess, the very cute, extremely cool fanartist she keeps running into?

Buy it: Amazon  //  Barnes and Noble  //  IndieBound

Cinnamon Blade: Knife in Shining Armor by Shira Glassman (7th)

Every time Cinnamon Blade, crime fighter making up for a bad past, rescues the sweet and nerdy Soledad Castillo from bad guys, the two women’s chemistry grows stronger. Now that she’s finally asked Soledad out, sparks fly — but is a normal date even possible in a city threatened by aliens and vampires on a regular basis?

Buy it: Amazon

 

 

Girl Made of Stars by Ashley Herring Blake (15th)

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“I need Owen to explain this. Because yes, I do know that Owen would never do that, but I also know Hannah would never lie about something like that.”

Mara and Owen are about as close as twins can get. So when Mara’s friend Hannah accuses Owen of rape, Mara doesn’t know what to think. Can the brother she loves really be guilty of such a violent crime? Torn between the family she loves and her own sense of right and wrong, Mara is feeling lost, and it doesn’t help that things have been strained with her ex-girlfriend, Charlie.

As Mara, Hannah, and Charlie navigate this new terrain, Mara must face a trauma from her own past and decide where Charlie fits in her future. With sensitivity and openness, this timely novel confronts the difficult questions surrounding consent, victim blaming, and sexual assault.

Buy it: B&N * Amazon

Love and Other Carnivorous Plants by Florence Gonsalves (15th)

Freshman year at Harvard was the most anticlimactic year of Danny’s life. She’s failing pre-med and drifting apart from her best friend. One by one, Danny is losing all the underpinnings of her identity. When she finds herself attracted to an older, edgy girl who she met in rehab for an eating disorder, she finally feels like she might be finding a new sense of self. But when tragedy strikes, her self-destructive tendencies come back to haunt her as she struggles to discover who that self really is.

Buy it: B&N * Amazon * IndieBound

Nothing Happened by Molly Booth (15th)

This modern-day retelling of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing takes place at the idyllic Camp Dogberry, where sisters Bee and Hana Leonato have grown up. Their parents own the place, and every summer they look forward to leading little campers in crafts, swimming in the lake, playing games of capture the flag and sproutball, and of course, the legendary counselor parties.

This year, the camp drama isn’t just on the improv stage. Bee and longtime counselor Ben have a will-they-or-won’t-they romance that’s complicated by events that happened—or didn’t happen—last summer. Meanwhile, Hana is falling hard for the kind but insecure Claudia, putting them both in the crosshairs of resident troublemaker John, who spreads a vicious rumor that could tear them apart.

As the counselors juggle their camp responsibilities with simmering drama that comes to a head at the Fourth of July sparkler party, they’ll have to swallow their pride and find the courage to untangle the truth, whether it leads to heartbreak or happily ever after.

Buy it: B&N * Amazon * IndieBound

Anger is a Gift by Mark Oshiro (22nd)

Six years ago, Moss Jefferies’ father was murdered by an Oakland police officer. Along with losing a parent, the media’s vilification of his father and lack of accountability has left Moss with near crippling panic attacks.

Now, in his sophomore year of high school, Moss and his fellow classmates find themselves increasingly treated like criminals their own school. New rules. Random locker searches. Constant intimidation and Oakland Police Department stationed in their halls. Despite their youth, the students decide to organize and push back against the administration.

When tensions hit a fever pitch and tragedy strikes, Moss must face a difficult choice: give in to fear and hate or realize that anger can actually be a gift.

Buy it: B&N * Amazon

The Brightsiders by Jen Wilde (22nd)

A teen rockstar has to navigate family, love, coming out, and life in the spotlight after being labeled the latest celebrity trainwreck in Jen Wilde’s quirky and utterly relatable novel.

As a rock star drummer in the hit band The Brightsiders, Emmy King’s life should be
perfect. But there’s nothing the paparazzi love more than watching a celebrity crash and burn. When a night of partying lands Emmy in hospital and her girlfriend in jail, she’s branded the latest tabloid train wreck.

Luckily, Emmy has her friends and bandmates, including the super-swoonworthy Alfie, to help her pick up the pieces of her life. She knows hooking up with a band member is exactly the kind of trouble she should be avoiding, and yet Emmy and Alfie Just. Keep. Kissing.

Will the inevitable fallout turn her into a clickbait scandal (again)? Or will she find the strength to stand on her own?

Buy it: B&N * Amazon

Guest Post: Jess Walton on Introducing Teddy!

I’m excited to introduce Jess Walton on the site today, to talk about her new picture book, Introducing Teddy, inspired by her transgender dad. You can see more about the book (and buy it!) here. Please welcome Jess!

Today, my book is being released in the United States. As a first time author from Melbourne, Australia, that first sentence is utterly thrilling and still quite hard to take in. I can’t imagine what it will be like for this book to exist in another country, on the shelf of a bookstore somewhere, where people can pick it up and look at it, and maybe even buy it. Over the next few days, it will also be released in the UK and Australia. Eventually, Introducing Teddy will be translated into nine other languages, something I never would have imagined being possible at the beginning of this journey.

I wrote Introducing Teddy a little less than twelve months ago, so it’s been a whirlwind of a year, but this story really started about five years ago when my dad came out as transgender. We were all surprised but accepting, though our family went through a period of adjustment as the family home was sold, Tina transitioned and my parents split up in fairly quick succession. I had come out as gay years before, and we were always a very open-minded, progressive sort of family, so my initial response to Tina’s revelation was just love and a desire to help in any way I could. As Tina’s transition progressed, all of us adult kids experienced feelings of grief, which seems completely irrational to me now. I’m told it’s a common feeling for adult kids with parents who come out as transgender later in life, but now I look back and think, ‘What was I afraid of? What did I think I’d lost? The way my dad dressed? Her old name? The sound of her voice? What on earth does this have to do with our relationship, with who she really is?’ If anything, Tina’s transition has meant I get to see my dad as she really is, and that’s deepened and strengthened our relationship. I’ve gained so much, not that it’s about me. It’s about Tina being her whole and happy self.

At some point during Tina’s transition, my siblings and I asked her about alternative names to “Dad.” We talked about “Mum” but it didn’t feel right. I looked up the word “mum” in other languages and we tried one of them for a few weeks, but that didn’t feel right either. We’d all called her Dad for our entire lives, and while the switch to the name “Tina” and the pronouns “she/her” felt right, we all agreed on keeping “dad.” It feels like a term of endearment instead of a gendered word meaning ‘male parent’. When people refer to my dad as my “father,” I correct them. She’s not my father, she’s my dad. If there’s a gendered word for parent that fits, it’s mother. I have two mothers: one I call mum, the other I call dad. Got it? Good.

Anyway, it’s not confusing to me. It’s just my family. We have mum and dad (nanna and grandma to the kids), then the four of us adult children and our partners. There are two grandkids, and one more on the way (my wife is due in August). We are a very happy rainbow family. I wanted to read my children books that reflect my family, including transgender characters. It was really hard to find anything, especially for a very young age group. I started to think the only way to get the books I wanted on to my son’s bookshelf would be to write them. I had three months off work to look after my son, and I thought, it’s now or never.

I had an idea for a picture book about a transgender teddy. My son was obsessed with a book called Teddy Took the Train by Nicki Greenberg, so I knew he’d love a book with a teddy bear as the main character. I also thought it was interesting, the way we all have teddies we love as children and give them a name and a gender even though many teddies look totally gender neutral. What if one of our beloved teddies spoke to us and said, “actually, you thought I was this gender and you gave me this name, but deep down I know I’m a girl teddy not a boy teddy, and I wish you’d call me Wendy instead of Peter.” I imagined the way that young children would react to news like that. I think they’d say, “sure, no worries! Let’s keep playing!” This story idea would allow me to focus on identity, on what we know to be true in our hearts, instead of thinking too much about gender presentation.

Once I had an illustrator on board, we decided to put the book on Kickstarter. I figured there were other families out there like mine – families with transgender grandmas and grandpas, aunts and uncles, mums and dads, kids – who needed picture books with transgender characters. What was genuinely surprising and delightful was how many of our backers did not have a trans family member, but wanted this book for their kids anyway. They could see the diversity in the world, and wanted it reflected and celebrated in the books they read their children.

The Kickstarter really took off when Neil Gaiman tweeted about it. Suddenly backers started pouring in, and international media began getting in touch. In the end it took six days for us to hit our funding target, and by the end of the campaign we had doubled it. An amazing agent from Writers House in New York contacted us via Kickstarter. We signed up and before we knew it, our book had been picked up by Bloomsbury Publishing. I still remember the moment I got the news. It was the middle of the night when the email came from our agent. I was so happy and excited, I woke my wife up. (“BLOOMSBURY are publishing Introducing Teddy, Charlotte! Is this real?! Can this really be real?!”) There wasn’t a lot of sleep in our household that night.

So now, a year after I wrote a little story for my son Errol and my dad Tina, my book is about to be released into the world. I couldn’t be happier, and I couldn’t be more determined to keep writing into the gaps, and celebrating others who write into the gaps. I hope that Introducing Teddy will eventually be one of many picture books for young kids with transgender and gender diverse characters, and that kids will know right from the very beginning that there is nothing wrong with being yourself, and that there is everything right with being open minded, kind, and accepting of our friends and family.

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Jessica Walton lives with her wife, son, and cats in Melbourne. A former secondary teacher, Jess is passionate about literature, board games, the ukulele, and funky prosthetic legs (her current one features green dragon scales). Introducing Teddy is her first book. To find out more visit http://www.jessicawalton.com.au.