Because Reading’s Fundamental
It’s amazing to realize it’s once again time for Sundance. It brings up so many happy emotions and a few sad facts.
First sad fact, it’s the end of summer. And although Autumn is my very personal favorite season, I am always sad to see summer end.
Second sad fact, it’s back-to-school time. Now for RB retirees, that’s often a “happy dance” moment, September being the month of reclaiming the beach with suddenly easy, available parking. But for many others, with or without their own children to send toddling down to the bus stop, it signifies an end to both casual Fridays and starting your weekend early Fridays, leaving in its wake the rebooting of the triple-the-traffic commuting extravaganza.
And while I don’t have a cure, I do have a thought. We should take back-to-school back and make it anticipatory, just like it was so many years ago.
Stay with me here for just a moment.
Many of us have traveled our path in a similar manner, growing up not knowing where or how exactly we fit in, until we stumbled upon a bookstore (or a bar) and began our discovery that we were not alone and we are proud and powerful together.
And as we raised up, supported by our bookstores (and our bars), and each other, walls we never thought we would scale in our lifetime, toppled.
But victory always has a price.
And now even gay Rehoboth Beach has no gay bookstore left standing.
So here’s my take-back-the-first-day-of-school idea.
Whatever your personal allowance allows, get a book or a book bag filled with books and bring them to our schools, our libraries, our PFLAGs, our Gay and Lesbian Centers and anywhere else our youth might have the opportunity to read and discover just like we once did. And it’s vital and necessary, because they’re not waiting to “graduate and get out of Dodge” to find their answers, and we must make those answers real and affirming.
So yes, I would love for you to be reading this, get energized and say “hey, that Stefani Deoul, she has that new young adult novel, On A LARP. Let’s go pick that one up.” That would be pretty sweet (not to mention slightly self-serving).
But out there, astonishingly, joyously there is a huge world of LGBTQ+ young adult books beyond mine for your exploration.
Author David-Matthew Barnes has written five young adult novels, two of which were American Library Award winners for diversity. And personally, I cannot think of a novel which lovingly, quietly, gently took my breath away more than Benjamin Alire Sáenz’ Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe. From winning the Stonewall Award to the Lambda Literary Award, its safe to say I am not his only fan.
And it’s not just fiction. There’s also a world of historic books. Those of us living in Rehoboth all know that any five-box set of the Fay Jacobs collection will provide an enormous history of gay rights, not to mention a few laughs. The Meaning of Matthew by Judy Shepard—should also be required reading. So, you’re not positive either of those will work in the grade school of your choice? Fair enough. Try Gay & Lesbian History for Kids: The Century-Long Struggle for LGBT Rights, with 21 Activities by Jerome Pohlen.
How can you not love a book which begins, “Who transformed George Washington’s demoralized troops at Valley Forge into a fighting force that defeated an empire? Who cracked Germany’s Enigma code and shortened World War II? Who successfully lobbied the US Congress to outlaw child labor? And who organized the 1963 March on Washington? (Our) Ls, Gs, Bs, and Ts, that’s who.”
And yes, you may read it before you give it away.
So maybe you feel history is somehow not exciting enough. Try a little historic fiction. Cheryl Head’s Long Way Home: A WW II Novel might be in your wheelhouse. Science fiction? Try anything by Malinda Lo!
And in that same vein, I’m thinking we definitely need a bit of James Baldwin for this basket…
Too deep you think? Your target is younger?
How about the Will Eisner winning graphic novel series Lumberjanes, set at a diverse girl’s sleep away camp. Their motto, “Friendship to the Max.” Or George, a 2016 Lambda Literary Winner, by Alex Gino, “…even if readers are neither children nor gender-curious, the undeniable joy in the pages of Gino’s debut middle-grade novel lends a lasting message of comfort and support.”
You have a reluctant reader? Hmmm…might I suggest Sports Biographies. Yes, Sports and Biographies in the same section! We actually have some now. Starting with Greg Loughanis and up to and including Abby Wambach, there’s actually a host of pretty big names now “out” there (definitely a pun intended moment).
And if you need or want even more suggestions, go check out Lee Wind’s amazing blog, I’m Here, I’m Queer What the hell do I read? (leewind.org), or gayya.org or WeNeedDiverseBooks.org. And if you’d rather someone else pick, there’s a wonderful organization, donorschoose.org where teachers list what they need and how much it will cost them. Find a teacher in Arkansas or Alabama trying to put diverse books into the hands of kids that need them and donate what you can. I did. It felt kind of subversive, supporting diverse books in unusual places—in a good way.
So this year, I am asking you to join me and start this new back-to-school tradition. Put on your best outfit, pick up your stack of books, go stand on your front steps, and take your picture. Then jump in the car, hop on the bus, step on your pedals and get those books into the hands of people who need them. There’s a whole generation out there counting on you to remember...
Knowledge is power and reading is fundamental.
Stefani Deoul is the author of the YA mystery novel On a Larp from Bywater Books. Contact Stefani