Tag Archives: Picture Books

Authors in Conversation: Vicki Johnson and Harry Woodgate

Today on the site, I’m thrilled to welcome a pair of wonderful picture book authors, Vicki Johnson and Harry Woodgate! They’re here to talk about their books (Molly’s Tuxedo, illustrated by Gillian Reid, and Grandad’s Pride, respectively), approaches, history, the process of working with illustrations, and more!

HW: Firstly, huge congratulations on Molly’s Tuxedo, it’s such a gorgeous book. Your writing is full of warmth and humour and Molly is such a memorable character, and Gillian’s illustrations are wonderfully textured and so expressive. It’s so lovely to be chatting to you for LGBTQReads Authors in Conversation.

VJ: I’m so happy to be here chatting with you. First, I have to say congratulations on all the many accolades you’ve received for Grandad’s Camper – Waterstones Children’s Book Prize for Best Illustrated Book; shortlisted for the British Book Awards Children’s Illustrated Category, and a 2022 ALA Stonewall Book Awards Honor, among others. Incredible, and so well deserved!

Grandad’s Pride is a beautiful and vibrant follow-up story, celebrating the diversity of our community and the fullness it brings to the world. Your art, as always, is layered and so inviting and full of color. I would have loved to read this to my daughter when she was young, to talk about all of the intricate details – the signs and t-shirts and hair colors and storefronts and animals and trees and flowers and families. It’s a perfect read together book.

HW: Thank you so much, that really means a lot and I’m so pleased you enjoyed it! I enjoy adding in those details because that’s what I loved when reading as a kid – looking at the buildings, outfits, characters, all the hidden stories within each book.

On a related note, I’m really interested to hear your thoughts on the intersections between fashion, gender and self-expression in picture books, because I think Molly’s Tuxedo explores these themes in such a playful yet meaningful way. How did you approach this and what do you hope your readers take from the story?

VJ: My goal was to explore my own experiences and feelings on these concepts, but to remember them from a child’s point of view. Young children have a tiny bit of agency over decisions in their lives, and self-expression in the form of what clothes feel right is a major opportunity for them to exercise their decision making. The push to conform is stronger as they get older but really young ones can be free and play and they have such strong feelings at that age. It was big for me as a child, and I observed the same with my own child. I also see it all around me every single day where this sense of play and self-discovery can be squashed by rigid and outdated ideas about gender. I drew on those experiences to write, hopefully, a very child-centered story about self-discovery and burgeoning self-confidence. I hope I’ve created some space for conversation about it for children and caregivers. I hope readers take from Molly’s experience that they can follow their inner compass and be brave if need be and feel just as happy as their classmates about their choices, even if it is a different one.

Regarding Grandad’s Pride, I’ve seen you talk about the need to recognize queer elders and their experiences as you have done in both of these books. I came out as a teen in 1980 and it has been a long and winding journey for this diverse community and there are so many untapped stories to tell! Our history and the rich tapestry of individuals within it will help sustain us, especially now. I have on my bucket list to write a story of historical fiction. How did you connect with these stories initially and are there more to come? And what is on your bucket list to write one day?

HW: In some ways I think my academic interest came first and from that I began to draw connections with my own experiences. In the UK, Section 28 prohibited the ‘promotion’ of LGBTQ+ identities in schools from the late 1980s all the way through to 2003 when it was finally repealed, and although almost all my school years came after that date, I still don’t recall learning a great deal about LGBTQ+ history or seeing many books in the library with openly queer characters and storylines. When I began researching these topics at sixth form and university, it revealed a whole alternate timeline of events and individuals and experiences I simply didn’t know had existed – and although I’m sure I could have sought them out sooner had I been so inclined, the point is that nobody should have to seek them out. They shouldn’t be on a separate shelf; they shouldn’t be consigned to a closing paragraph or a footnote; they should be readily available.

With Grandad’s Pride, I was keen to include key moments in LGBTQ+ history, such as Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners, Act UP, and the eventual legalization of same-sex marriage. I wanted to link up a few of the dots and reiterate that where we are today is simply another step along a path that has been trodden by countless generations of LGBTQ+ individuals, families, activists and campaigners.

In terms of what’s to come, I recently illustrated the cover for ‘Tales From Beyond The Rainbow’ by Pete Jordi Wood, which is a collection of lost or forgotten LGBTQ+ fairy tales from many different cultures, featuring illustrations by artists from around the world. It’s publishing with Puffin Classics this June. I’m also illustrating a non-fiction book of LGBTQ+ historical figures, which is a nice change to some of the projects I’ve worked on before. As for my bucket list, I think a graphic novel is definitely up there.

What I absolutely love about Molly’s Tuxedo is that we experience Molly’s journey at the same pace as her, which really allows us to understand her feelings in each moment and creates a wonderful sense of anticipation for the final reveal. How did you develop the pacing for the story, and were there any ways in which Gillian’s illustrations informed this?

VJ: I wish I had a grand explanation for my pacing of the story. I knew this was going to be an emotional journey for Molly so I had to write it in a way that kept the emotions high from the moment she wakes up on the big day! It was a bit tricky to find a way for Molly to have her tux with her at school, and for her mom to be there, too. Gillian’s illustrations have everything to do with carrying us moment by moment in Molly’s journey. The way she used spot illustrations to depict each and every line in the scenes where Molly expresses disdain for dresses was perfect. I loved her use of Molly’s cat to mirror Molly’s emotions. Her expressions! Picture books are magical for this interaction of words and images. As an author, it’s the most exciting thing. It will keep me writing picture books for sure.

Yes, I love Molly’s cat too! Your point about the interaction between word and image is so true, and I think sometimes the complexity of picture books in this regard is underappreciated. Visual literacy is such an important skill and picture books teach it so well.

What I love about Grandad’s Pride is the setting: this wonderful seaside village full of diverse individuals from all walks of life. It’s idyllic. I particularly love how you use sweeping lines across the spread like the colors of the pride flag or a road or the rolling hills of the landscape, giving your stories a very unique energy of place. How did you decide on the setting and what is your process for creating a story? Do you ever have to change the art to match the words or the words to match the art?

HW: Thank you! The British seaside has such a hold of my imagination and was a key part of my childhood, so I suppose it’s natural that it continues to crop up in my stories. The village in Grandad’s Pride is an amalgam of several places that are important to me. I wanted any child or family to be able to imagine themselves right there on the seafront amongst the celebrations, so I spent a lot of time populating the village with a diverse cast of characters.

As for how I create a story, I usually have to edit both art and text multiple times! Usually, I begin with character or location sketches before writing a first draft, which tends to come in several hundred words too long. Then I’ll cut out all the extra fluff and exposition by translating that into illustration. I’ll repeat that process until I have a set of rough layouts and a manuscript that flow as one – where the illustrations build upon the words, and the words give structure and rhythm to the illustrations.

It’s always fascinating hearing about other writers’ processes. Coming from an illustration background, I find I tend to begin with the visual world of the story, but I’d love to hear what aspect of the story came to you first: theme, character, structure, or something else? How did you transform those initial seeds into a full picture book, and were there any aspects you particularly struggled with or enjoyed along the way?

VJ: With all my writing I start with a character for sure, then I imagine, through a child’s eyes, the simple topic I’m thinking about. As I generate words it’s more like I am writing verses in a poem without an idea where it is going until I get there! Later I work on whether it makes sense and what kind of structure it needs and what may be missing. That usually means I need to dig deeper emotionally or enliven the language, both of which always work to make the story better. I naturally write in a poetry or lyrical picture book style, and then enhance and correct over several drafts.

I tend to be more serious in my writing and have the highest praise for Gillian who was able to inject lightheartedness and humor and color and motion with her artwork. I get the sense that you and I might be similar in that our stories are heartfelt, and I wonder if you’ve ever written a humorous or silly picture book, or if you’ve considered writing a book completely out of the norm for you? Admittedly I have tried and failed at this, ha.

HW: I think you’re probably right about the kinds of stories we’re drawn to write! I absolutely love how Gillian’s illustrations bring a levity to an experience which, for a child, can feel quite overwhelming, but I think your words portray Molly’s feelings in such an honest way and have their own gentle humour, too. There’s absolutely no doubt that kids love hilarious, silly books, but there are also lots of young readers who will cherish the quieter, more reflective stories such as ours, so there’s definitely a space for both.

Funnily enough, whilst I haven’t yet written a silly picture book, I am writing a middle grade series which is about as un-serious as you could possibly get! I’d been working on some other ideas which alongside the pressures of work, news and social media were beginning to weigh me down, so I just started writing to make myself laugh, and it unlocked an enthusiasm I genuinely feared I had lost.

On the topic of humour: are there any funny rituals, routines or ‘little treats’ that form part of your day-to-day writing process that you couldn’t do without? I think mine is that the closer it gets to deadline, the more I bribe myself with coffee shop trips or G&Ts once I’ve finished work for the day!

VJ: I was going to ask you something similar! You seem to be SO busy with multiple projects, all of the time. I rely on daily walks outside to clear my head, and I need so much head clearing that I live in an actual forest, ha. I also live with five rescue pets who amuse me and interrupt me to no end. So those things give me a respite. As to writing, I am an early bird and do my best generative work when it’s still dark outside, with hot coffee next to me and cats sleeping around me.

Big thumbs up for daily walks (and rescue pets!). Excellent stress relievers, both. I wish I was an early bird. I’m lucky if I haul myself into the office before 11am.

My question for you: Gillian Reid, who illustrated our book, is absolutely amazing, and we have met since and she is just as lovely in person and also very funny. She put a few “Easter eggs” or hidden gems in the book. For example, I have a photo of me at age 7 in a suit and clip-on tie in front of our red family car and it appears on Molly’s family wall. Do you ever include secret references in your books or use friends as visual references for your characters?

HW: Oh I love hearing about these little Easter eggs! Yes, I absolutely do this. My illustrations are full of references that probably only a select group of family and friends will recognize. After all, what is it that draws us to writing or illustrating in the first place if not the opportunity to translate and thereby more fully understand our own internal worlds? They’re not just stories, in the end, they’re time capsules. 

Something which is perhaps unique about picture books is how they need to speak to children and their caregivers simultaneously, without patronising either. I wonder if you have any thoughts about this, and if there are any ways it informed your writing, because it’s something I feel Molly’s Tuxedo really succeeds in doing.

VJ: This makes me very happy that you mention this. It was really important to me to write a story where the caregiver had a proper arc, too. I do think even the most present and involved adult can miss something about their child or make mistakes or just be busy and overlook something important. I did as a parent for sure! In this case, Molly’s mom wasn’t tuned in to how important the tux was to Molly until she overheard her talking with her friends at school. I wanted Mom to have an opportunity to have a course correction because this can happen in real life. I didn’t want adults leaving this book feeling bad if they made a mistake or missed something in their own family. I wanted them to feel as empowered as Molly. If you notice in that scene when she ‘sees’ Molly she is hugging Molly but her eyes are open. That’s a moment Gillian made more special with her attention to detail.

HW: It’s so amazing how much difference something small like a character’s eyes being open or closed can make! And that is a lovely point about giving Molly’s mum the space to make mistakes. It’s so important for young readers to know that parents don’t always have the right answers, too, but that you can help each other grow by listening and making space to be open about your feelings. That’s a really powerful message.

VJ: I enjoy photography as another creative outlet, and going to movies and museums, and I’m wondering if you have other things that you do for fun or to fill your creative well?

HW: Me too! I also enjoy music – listening to, playing and writing. It’s so lovely having a creative hobby which you don’t feel obliged to share with anyone. Apart from that, cycling is my favourite way of getting outdoors and making sure I’m not sat in front of a screen for seven hours a day!

A couple of shorter questions to finish! Firstly, are there any other recent or upcoming picture books that you are really excited about or would recommend (or perhaps an older title that you feel didn’t get the recognition and appreciation it deserved)?

And secondly, the various outfits Molly and her friends wear for school picture day are so varied and exciting. If you were back at school, what would you wear for the big day?

VJ: So far this year, I have really loved Out of the Blue by Robert Tregoning and Stef Murphy, and The Wishing Flower by A.J. Irving and Kip Alizadeh, and I look forward to reading Hope for Ryan White by Dano Moreno and Hannah Abbo. As for my time-traveling picture day, in kindergarten I was horse obsessed, and I told my teacher I wanted to be a cowboy when I grew up, so I would probably wear a cowboy hat and boots.

How about you? What would be your dream outfit or what was your favorite picture day memory (Do you have a picture day in the U.K.?)

HW: Yes, I loved Out of the Blue too, and I’m looking forward to the other two as well. And a cowboy outfit sounds iconic! I’m not sure what I’d pick – we had school uniforms in the UK so the only time we got to choose what to wear was on non-uniform day (which usually had a theme, like ‘book characters’ or ‘superheroes’). I think a very swishy, sparkly ball gown would make a fun statement in our imaginary class. 

Finally, are you working on anything new right now that you’re allowed to talk about? I’ve got a few picture books in the works, as well as the (hopefully!) funny middle grade series I mentioned earlier.

VJ: I recently wrote a new picture book I’m really excited about! It came to me very quickly and for me that feels like something really true and good. I’m also in developmental edits with my middle grade novel.

Thanks so much for chatting with me, Harry. I hope we get to meet in person one day.

I love what you bring to the world of children’s literature. As Lesléa Newman told me to remember, love wins. Your stories prove it.

Buy Vicki’s Tuxedo: Bookshop | Amazon

Buy Grandad’s Pride: Bookshop | Amazon

Harry Woodgate (pronouns: they/them) is an award-winning author and illustrator who has worked with clients including National Book Tokens, Google, The Sunday Times Magazine, Harper Collins, Simon & Schuster, Walker Books, Andersen Press, Bloomsbury, The Washington Post and Penguin Random House.

Their books include Grandad’s Camper, Grandad’s Pride, Timid, Little Glow, Shine Like the Stars, My First Baking Book and The Very Merry Murder Club.  Grandad’s Camper, their debut author-illustrator title, won the Waterstones Childrens Book Prize Best Illustrated Book 2022 and a Stonewall Book Award Honor from the American Library Association. It was also shortlisted for the Children’s Illustrated category at the British Book Awards as well as the inaugural Polari Children’s & YA Prize, and was nominated for the CILIP Yoto Kate Greenaway Award.

Harry is passionate about writing and illustrating diverse, inclusive stories that inspire children to be inquisitive, creative, kind and proud of what makes them unique.

Vicki Johnson (she/her) is a children’s book author, and a former band nerd, White House staffer, and nonprofit director, among other life adventures. Her debut picture book is Molly’s Tuxedo, illustrated by Gillian Reid, releasing June 27, 2023 from Little Bee Books in their publishing partnership with GLAAD.

Born and raised in rural GA, Vicki is a lesbian mom, proud first-gen graduate of Smith College and Emory University School of Law, and an MFA candidate in Writing for Children & Young Adults at VCFA. Vicki was a 2022 Lambda Literary Fellow, a 2020 PBChat Mentee, a 2020 WNDB MG mentorship finalist, and a 2018 grant recipient from the WV Div. of Arts, Culture & History and the National Endowment for the Arts. She’s an active member of SCBWI and was a nominee for the Sue Alexander Award for most promising new work. Vicki is currently working on her middle grade novel and texting cat photos to her college kid. Read more: www.vickijohnsonwrites.com

International Pronouns Day Book Spotlight: What Are Your Words? by Katherine Locke and Anne Passchier

Today is International Pronouns Day, and to celebrate, we’re highlighting a new picture book that’s all about them: What Are Your Words?:a Book About Pronouns written by Katherine Locke, illustrated by Anne Passchier, and published by Little, Brown!

Whenever Ari’s Uncle Lior comes to visit, they ask Ari one question: “What are your words?” Some days Ari uses she/her. Other days Ari uses he/him. But on the day of the neighborhood’s big summer bash, Ari doesn’t know what words to use. On the way to the party, Ari and Lior meet lots of neighbors and learn the words each of them use to describe themselves, including pronouns like she/her, he/him, they/them, ey/em, and ze/zir. As Ari tries on different pronouns, they discover that it’s okay to not know your words right away–sometimes you have to wait for your words to find you.

Filled with bright, graphic illustrations, this simple and poignant story about finding yourself is the perfect introduction to gender-inclusive pronouns for readers of all ages.

Buy It: Bookshop | Amazon | Indiebound

For further reading, check out this interview by We Need Diverse Books!

Better Know an Author: Kyle Lukoff

I am truly beyond excited to have Kyle Lukoff on the site today to discuss his work, and if you think I’m exaggerating, please know that this is the first interview I’ve been able to do in like a year because so many questions burst out of my it was like my excitement shook me out of a cursed state. His newest is his debut Middle Grade, Too Bright to See, which has received approximately as many stars as the sky in Montana, and he’s here to talk about that, his other work, and some pretty fascinating current events!

First of all, huge congrats on your first Middle Grade! Too Bright to See is such a beautiful book, and it’s fascinating to see a book for young readers so grounded in death. How did you come to choose that approach to tell Bug’s journey?

Thank you!!

54786049. sy475 The brainstorm that led to this book was the decision that instead of writing two different middle grade novels (a trans boy book and a ghost story using an old writing prompt of my dad’s), I could kill two birds with one stone. So I never intended to write a book about death, loss, and grief, but for there to be a ghost there has to be a dead person, and a relationship between the dead person and the alive person, so that part came about almost as an afterthought. But I have always loved kids books about death–I have really strong memories of The Tenth Good Thing About Barney, and read The Bridge to Terabithia countless times, and as a kid I always felt like the books that dealt with death well were the only books being honest to kids, about how sometimes bad things happen and then you feel bad. I didn’t have any experience with death as a kid (aside from a few pets), but felt bad a lot, and think I channeled a lot of that into Too Bright To See.

Bug finds some wonderful acceptance among friends, which is a really great thing to see on the page, especially for readers who could use the encouragement of knowing it’s possible, but it also reminded me of the first time I was on a queer panel where we got a question about whether we were “making it look too easy” by writing happy stories. What’s your feeling on portraying happier vs. harsher experiences in queer and/or trans lit?

Well! If anyone accuses me of “making it look too easy” I will invite them to look around at a) the world and b) the vast majority of books featuring trans kids and how they also feature transphobia. If they are concerned that showing positive responses to coming out will give kids the wrong idea, they’ll be thrilled to learn that my approach is a distinct aberration.

I do like writing positive experiences of coming out, in some ways fo idealistic reasons–showing kids, parents, siblings, etc. that it is possible, that you can respond with love and acceptance, and that there’s no earthly reason to do anything else. But the real reason I don’t focus on transphobia in my books is because, quite frankly, I don’t find it interesting. I’ve experienced plenty of it in my life. It’s hard, and it’s bad. But it’s also boring, because instead of just getting on with my day, I have to deal with some cis person and their ignorant and/or hateful ideas, none of which are new, or unique, or interesting, or intellectually sound, they’re all just rehashed and reheated talking points from before I was born. I’d rather write books about trans characters getting on with their lives instead of reacting to other people’s banal, unimaginative prejudice or bigotry.

Speaking of both happy and harsh experiences, you’ve had quite a 2021 so far, which is culminating in your traveling to the Utah State Capitol to give a reading and speech at a rally for LGBTQ+ Inclusion in Schools. Can you walk us through the events here and maybe give us a glimpse into what your visit?

“Culminating” is an optimistic word for May! But, yes, it’s been a Lot. Basically, what happened is that a school district outside of Salt Lake City decided to “pause” a program distributing books to kids that focused on progressive themes, mostly racial justice, because a child brought one of my books (which wasn’t even included in that program) to school and asked his teacher to read it. It turned into a tremendous transphobic kerfuffle, and teachers used it as a catalyst to organize a rally calling for more LGBTQ+ inclusion in schools. You can read my speech on my website here. Also, one month later a similar situation erupted outside of Austin, Texas.

I am 37 years old, came out as trans when I was around twenty, and have spent most of my adult life just being some guy doing stuff. It’s strange and upsetting to suddenly have to convince or remind people that we share a common humanity, and that my trans identity is one aspect of my lived experience rather than a rhetorical gotcha or a talking point. It’s also, as I said, boring. But I also feel really grateful that I’m only doing this work now that I’m firmly set into my life as a trans adult, because I can’t imagine what it must be like to have to advocate for yourself when you’re just discovering who that is.

You’ve now published books for three different age groups, but the Max and Friends series in particular is targeted to one that feels extremely left behind in queer literature. Why do you think that is, and do you have any recommendations for other LGBTQ+ titles for the early reader (or “pre-MG”) age group?

51648108. sx318 sy475 Early readers across the board have been in need of diversification for a long time. I can’t speak to why that is, but entrenched conservative opinions in publishing are likely the cause of it! Just, longstanding ideas of what is “right” for kids, and who exactly they think of when they think of “kids.” These are also books that are more likely to be selected by parents and educators, and then disseminated to kids, instead of kids choosing for themselves.

And then, well, it is tricky to organically incorporate LGBTQ themes into books for younger audiences. You can have those identities among parents, siblings, community members, etc., but the stories should be focused on the children. And little kids are still in so many ways forming their identities, that it’s challenging to honestly represent how a queer identity might manifest in someone that age. I would love to see what other authors come up with, because I’m kind of out of ideas!

We of course also must discuss When Aidan Became a Brother, your beautiful and critically acclaimed picture book illustrated by Kaylani Juanita. What was that collaborative process like, especially for a book so close to you personally?

39987021Authors typically have very little, if any, collaboration with their illustrators! When it came to Aidan, Kaylani had free rein to interpret my words in a way that matched her creative vision for the story–the outfits, the setting, the emotional tenor of each scene. She’s Black and Filipina, which is why she depicted Aidan’s family that way, and I love telling kids about how we both put parts of our story into this book.

I did ask for a few small changes–the only one I remember is something hinting at what Aidan’s old name was, but since I never imagined what his name used to be, I asked to replace that detail because I didn’t want to give people permission to speculate. But I largely trusted her, not just because I’m not a visually-minded person, and now I can’t imagine the book any other way.

Also, Aidan is not especially close to me personally. It is close to me politically, in that I have a lot of opinions about transmasculinity and misogyny, parental responsibility, gender reveal parties, etc. etc., but my life story isn’t at all close to Aidan’s–I came out when I was in college, I don’t have a little sibling, etc. etc. I might feel more protective if someone were to make a picture book biography of me! (no one do that ever please and thank you).

You have so much professional experience with children, and prior to COVID, school visits were also a big part of being an author for you. What do you think adult authors of queer literature for kids misunderstand the most about their audiences, and what should they keep in mind when writing for them?

Kids are entire human beings with inner lives and moral compasses all their own, and you cannot mold a person’s sense of self by just telling them what to think. I read a lot of scenes in books (not just queer-themed) where there are moments that are so clearly didactic, imparting important lessons about intersectionality or assimilation or privilege or what-have-you, and I’m not sure if those land as clearly as the authors are hoping they will. When I read middle grade novels aloud to my students, I would often stop to discuss important scenes, and what kids took away from them was often nothing like what the author had intended (in some cases I knew the author and could ask about their intent, in other cases it was just clear to me as an adult). So I wish authors focused more on telling a story and allowing for varied answers to complex questions, instead of trying to tell kids what they should believe. I’m definitely guilty of that too, so I’m also telling this to myself.

Of all the age groups you’ve written for, is there one that’s closest to your heart and/or one you feel is most specifically in need of trans literature written by an actual trans person? Is there one you simply prefer most from a craft perspective?

Fifth grade is very close to my heart, because that’s the year my students graduate from the school I worked at–so, they were generally the kids I knew the longest (the 5th grade class of 2021 includes students I met when they were two!), and it was incredible to watch them develop into sophisticated, mature thinkers. When I write middle grade I think, more than anything, of my fifth grade students, because in one class a kid might be re-reading Wimpy Kid and another might be tackling The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks or The Martian (true story!). I love trying to reach all those kids at once.

I do think that all ages would benefit from trans-themed books by trans writers, because…well, why not? I feel really grateful I’ve been able to build a career in so many different genres (more to come! including a board book! keep an eye out for announcements) and want that for my peers.

From a craft perspective, I will always love the challenge of writing as much as possible in as few words as possible. I’ve been branching out into more creative structures; I have one book coming out that is the simplest story imaginable, told in a complex rhyme scheme that I think I invented, and that is the most fun I’ve putting a book together (well, “fun” in that I pulled out my notebook during an evening of existential despair, and putting words together like jigsaw pieces helped). I have another forthcoming project that’s an epistolary picture book, and I loved the restrictions that puts on the story. Basically the more restrictions on a project the more fun I have with it–someday I might attempt a novel written in blank verse or just (“just”) iambic pentameter, but that might be too ambitious.

I imagine launching your debut novel in a pandemic sucks, even if it’s not your first published work. What do you feel like you missed out on the most as a result, and were there any pleasant surprises that came with it? How did you celebrate?

It does suck! One piece of gratitude I’ve been holding onto, though, is that Aidan came out in 2019, and I took that fall off from my day job (which I’ve since quit) to travel all over the country. If I had had to cancel all that, I don’t know what kind of emotional state I’d be in (not a good one, I think!) so I have so much sympathy for my author friends debuting into this.

So, I know a lot of what I missed out on–baths in hotel rooms that someone else paid for, kid-made signs welcoming me to their school, a significant percentage of my projected income. But on the other hand, I don’t think I would have made my deadline for novel #2 if I hadn’t been just home writing. I also sold a bunch of other projects, for a bunch of different age groups. Too Bright To See still got six starred reviews. I still got to launch with Maulik, which was dreamy. I’m not good at celebrating in the best of times, but right after the virtual launch a neighborhood friend took me out for a beer and some microwaved crinkle fries. It was really nice weather, and I think it’ll be a good memory, everything aside.

Of course there’s already a lot of work under your belt in such a short time, but are there any other categories or genres you’d really like to publish that you haven’t attempted yet?

I love writing short stories (for adults) and have a lot of them that I keep trying to get published and they keep getting rejected! I am also not trying very hard, I suppose, because that whole process is really unpleasant. But in general I would love to branch out into adult fiction, not least of which because I’m worried that all the fun and cool adult trans writers think that I’m the FTM Mr. Rogers and I want them to think that I’m a fun and cool grown-up too.

Are there any queer and/or trans books you’d particularly like to recommend, especially if you don’t think they’ve gotten sufficient airtime?

So, my favorite thing is intra-community conflict and dialogue. As I said earlier, about why I don’t really write about transphobia, I simply don’t think that anything cis/straight people have to say about trans/queer people is interesting, but I am endlessly fascinated with how we treat each other, and how conflict within LGBTQIA+ communities play out, in both deadly serious ways and more frivolous ones. There are quite a few authors doing this, but I especially love Lev Rosen’s YA novels Jack of Hearts (and Other Parts) and Camp.

What’s up next for you?

I’m really excited for my first nonfiction picture book, a biography that I wrote with Gavin Grimm. He’s the trans activist who, as a teenager, worked with the ACLU (and Chase Strangio) to fight his school’s bathroom policy. It’s called If You’re A Kid Like Gavin, and will be out in summer of ’22 from Katherine Tegen Books, illustrated by J Yang. I also have…um…5? or 6? new books that haven’t been announced yet, so keep an eye out for those as well!


(c) Erin Jones-Le
Cat: Jasmine

Kyle Lukoff writes books for kids and other people. Right now you can read his debut middle grade novel TOO BRIGHT TO SEE, A STORYTELLING OF RAVENS, WHEN AIDAN BECAME A BROTHER (which won the 2020 Stonewall Award!), the MAX AND FRIENDS series, and EXPLOSION AT THE POEM FACTORY. You will be able to read more books by him in the next years, including a non-fiction picture book about teenage trans activist Gavin Grimm, and a book for babies.

Kyle spent eight years as an elementary school librarian, but now he writes full time and presents on children’s and youth literature all across the country. He got hired at a bookstore when he was sixteen, which means he’s been working at the intersection of books and people for well over half his life.

Kyle is represented by Saba Sulaiman at Talcott Notch. Find him on Twitter at @KyleLukoff and Facebook at fb.me/kylelukoffwrites. All purchasing links are through his affiliate page at Bookshop.org.