by Tiffany Coulson, Mattawa Library
During the month of June people come together to celebrate LGBTQIA+ “Pride” month. The purpose of the commemorative month is to recognize the impact that LGBTQ individuals have had on history locally, nationally, and internationally.
It’s important for me to tell stories that reflect the diverse world we live in. Children need to see themselves in books. ~ Christian Robinson
For gay illustrator Christian Robinson, positive messages about identity, family and friendship permeate his work. An award-winning author and illustrator of over a dozen books, he often takes the opportunity to share his creative process with children, welcoming them into the storytelling space.
Maya Christina Gonzalez is a queer Chicana artist and parent who writes and illustrates books for children. So far she has written or illustrated over two dozen books. Also an award-winning author/artist, she describes herself as “an artist, author, educator, activist, peacemaker, publisher, equality lover, obsessive recycler, traveler, river lover, tree talker, sky kisser……”
These fabulous contemporary figures in children’s literature show that being a part of the LGBTQIA+ community is a strong, positive part of their personal and professional lives. They take pride in being who they are while making significant contributions to the world of children’s books.
For many beloved children’s authors however, the world they lived in was not accepting enough for them to be open about their identity. Louise Fitzhugh, author of Harriet the Spy, Margaret Wise Brown, the creator of Goodnight Moon, and Arnold Lobel who introduced families to his wonderful characters Frog and Toad, were all a quiet part of the LGBTQ community when their books were being published. You can read more about their impact and their personal stories in biographies which celebrate their work.
Well known author and illustrator Tomie de Paola was in his 80’s when he came out as gay, just one year before his death in March of 2020. “If it became known you were gay”, he said, “you’d have a big red ‘G’ on your chest, and schools wouldn’t buy your books anymore.” Tomie de Paola wrote over 260 children’s books in his career receiving the Children’s Literature Legacy Award for his lifetime contribution to American children’s literature in 2011. Selected by children’s librarians across the U.S., he was honored for his ““innate understanding of childhood, a distinctive visual style, and a remarkable ability to adapt his voice to perfectly suit the story”.
You’re never gonna escape who you are. So you can have a lifelong battle with who you are, or you can have a wonderful party with who you are. ~ Tomie de Paolo
Maurice Sendak wrote and/or illustrated more than 100 books during his career. Perhaps his best known book is Where the Wild Things Are – a book which made it into millions of homes internationally during his lifetime. He received a National Book Award, a Caldecott Medal, the Hans Christian Andersen Award for children’s book illustration, and the National Medal of Arts. Sendak once expressed that he could not have been openly gay in his 20’s or 30’s as it would have hurt his literary career. It was after the death of his partner of 50 years that he came out as gay in a 2008 New York Times interview. He was 80 years old.
I have adult thoughts in my head — experiences — but I’m never gonna talk about them, never gonna write about them. My needle is stuck in childhood. Why is that? I guess that’s where my heart is. ~ Maurice Sendak
Take the opportunity this month to honor the legacy of beloved children’s authors who had to hide their identity to be accepted for their work in children’s literature. It’s easy to do – just head to the library and check out one of their books!