The news of my debut picture book was shared on Publishers Weekly this week, and I could not be more excited! LIKE A MOTHER BEAR is a picture book biography of Jeanne Manford, an amazing advocate and mother who founded PFLAG, an advocacy group for parents and loved ones of LGBTQ folks. Back in the early 70s, she stood up for her gay son in a very public way, and became an advocate and mother figure for so many. To be illustrated by the amazing J Yang, this story about family, queer advocacy, standing up for loved ones, and the power of letter writing will be published byAtheneum/Simon & Schuster.
There are a lot of people to thank for reaching this milestone. Thank you to my editor Feather Flores and the team at Atheneum for your beautiful vision, and to my dedicated agent Lori Steel atRed Fox Literary for championing this story from the very beginning.
This op-ed, reflecting on my 30+ years as an out queer teacher, was cathartic to write. It was equally rewarding to see it shared and reflected upon by friends, colleagues, and family. I’m grateful!
This comment from a former student warmed my heart and made me proud of being an out teacher for all these years, even when it was not easy:
“Please read this vital article by my kindergarten teacher, Mary E. Cronin. I was one of the unbelievably lucky kids whose tears she mopped, who she taught to read, and who she guided into “readiness — readiness for learning, for life in our vibrant and complex society.”
I’m heartened by all of the friends and allies who know the harm these false and harmful stereotypes can create. Thank you for standing with LGBTQ+ educators and parents!
Today is the publication day for RHYME & RHYTHM: POEMS FOR STUDENT ATHLETES! This anthology of poems is about all aspects of sports… from the joy, the sweat, and precision… to the emotional, family, and social aspects.
I’m proud to have a poem in this collection. “A Slice of Time” is about intramural floor hockey played in a high school gym after school… but it’s really about how socio-economics affects young athletes, with a girl-crush thrown in for good measure.
Congratulations to editor Sarah J. Donovan PhD… as well as the many poets whose work appears in this stellar collection: Nikki Grimes, Zetta Elliott, Padma Ventrakaman, Laura Shovan, Bryan Ripley Crandall, Heidi Mordhurst, Beth Brody, Krista Surprenant, and more!
It’s the perfect gift for the athlete in your life! Available in all the usual places and here.
What a dynamic conversation touching on race, LGBTQ+ people, native stories, and windows and mirrors. I was able to share rich conversations I’ve had with my students at Cape Cod Community College. We received great comments and suggestions from listeners, too. Thank you, WCAI, for hosting this important conversation!
Being part of an anthology is an honor—being part of an LGBTQ+ anthology is a party! My poem, “Studying Rachel Maddow in Provincetown” is included in the new anthology Hashtag Queer vol. 2, published by Qommunity Press.
“Studying Rachel Maddow in Provincetown” was inspired by an incredible portrait of Rachel, displayed last year in Jo Hay Open Studio, a Provincetown gallery.
When I saw the vivid portrait by artist Jo Hay, I began imagining the impact this work would have on LGBTQ+ kids… seeing a role model like Rachel in a larger than life scale.
“Studying Rachel Maddow in Provincetown” is a tribute to the striking portrait, to out role models like Rachel, and to parents who do the right thing for their queer kids. I’m so delighted that it’s part of Hashtag Queer vol. 2! The anthology features short stories, poetry, and essays, and you can order it online or ask for it in local bookshops like WomenCrafts and East End Books.
Gay Straight Alliances (GSAs) are becoming more and more common in high schools; they’re less frequently seen in middle schools. Yesterday I had the chance to visit a local middle school as a visitor to the GSA. The students (mostly ages 12 and 13) were articulate, lively, and engaging.
Moving at lightning speed, the conversation jumped all over the place after the kids made their introductions, saying their names and pronouns. Within the first five minutes of the meeting, they brought up this week’s Supreme Court ruling, the “This is America” video by Childish Gambino, trans activist Marsha P. Johnson, and Stonewall. Then we got down to talking about books!
I asked them what books they would like to see, or see more of. Here is a good sampling of their responses:
Stories where being queer is not the central problem.
Stories where kids cross social groupings: a jock falls for an artist, two kids from very different points in the social order join together in some kind of venture.
Stories about younger kids coming out…. in elementary school, middle school.
They are looking for stories that defy stereotypes; ie not all gay kids are artists or theater kids, for example. Gay guys do not necessarily have to be very feminine, or queer girls very masculine.
They criticized stories where the overly defining characteristic of the kid is that they are gay; give them other strong interests and characteristics.
They want books in which the main character is a “regular person who’s not in love with anyone”—not in a romance at all. (We discussed the challenge this may face if editors want to see a “romance” to validate that it’s a queer character.) They are looking for stories that are not romance-centered.
A book for parents about kids coming out. This was poignant, as it was clear that a lot of kids are facing this issue. It was a reminder that “coming out stories” are still relevant, necessary, and desired by this age group!
One idea offered: two different people, coming out in two different time periods, providing a contrast about coming out, being out.
One kid said, “Give me ‘Earl and the Dying Girl’ and ‘Heathers’ in middle school, but it’s gay.”
A trans boy talked about what it feels like to inspire others to be themselves; a girl told him that “you being free to be yourself” helped in her coming out process. He would love to see that dynamic represented in stories, placing the trans kid as a leader.
Stories with parental friction… a kid who is not out yet. Several kids nodded their heads in agreement. Stories of kids who are scared to come out; family dynamics or cultural context adds complications and layers to the coming out process.
Stories where a kid is living in a tolerant, liberal community and then moves to one that is not so accepting.
They want more middle school stories, not all high school stories… not all romance.
Stories that show that “you’re never too old to change,” ie coming out later, changing one’s identity.
A friendship based on contrast…. one queer kid has lived in a very accepting family and community, and one has not. How do they reach each other?
Friends who keep being told they would be a good couple… awkward!! (There was lots of laughter on that one!)
I left the meeting brimming with inspiration and blown away by the intelligence, depth, and clarity of their comments. I’m happy to share this with my fellow writers and educators during Pride Month. These articulate students give us both hope for the future as well as a challenge: how do we make sure they get the stories they are seeking?
Take risks: that was the most powerful message I took away from the New England SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators) regional conference, I’ve been home a week, and I’m still reflecting on moments and messages from the conference.
It’s a powerful feeling to be in a conference room full of people who all care about kids, from toddlers to teens. Because that’s why we write, isn’t it? I reveled in that. In this current moment in our history, there were over 700 people gathered together who want to make the world a better place for kids. With their words.
I took my own risks during the weekend. I gave two workshop presentations, filled with enthusiastic writers who want to write stories about LGBTQ+ kids and families.
I took part in a panel (my first!) in which we discussed the state of children’s publishing and LGBTQ+ books for kids. It was well received and many people told me it was a highlight of their conference!
Jane Yolen cheered on our efforts. Nova Ren Suma urged us to be our true selves. Melissa Sweet inspired us with her artistry. Mr. Schu illuminated the room with his enthusiasm for children and their books.
All of it lit a fire that warmed the room, that connected us, that dared us to keep going, to do better.
No matter what stage of my career I’m in, I find a home in the SCBWI community. The conference inspired me and emboldened me, and I know there were seeds planted during that conference that will indeed make the world a better place for our readers. I’m sure of that.
Next up: I’ll be presenting at the New Jersey SCBWI Conference in early June about writing about characters with LGBTQ parents, and writing about gay and questioning middle graders. More info here.
If you write middle grade fiction, it can be difficult to keep track of the ebbs and flows of a middle schooler’s daily life if you are not the parent or teacher of kids this age.
I interviewed a middle school guidance counselor (I’ll call her Ms. Counselor) for insights—some granular details ranging from school day schedules to substance use to gender, sexual orientation, and the beginnings of romance.
I am thrilled that my poem “We Know How to Do This” is included in the voices of dissent in the anthology If You Can Hear This: Poems in Protest of an American Inauguration. Published by Sibling Rivalry Press, the anthology is available through Amazon, or you can download a pdf of the anthology through the publisher’s website.
Searching for My Sidekick: I wrote that essay three years ago, as I remembered my childhood friend Wilfredo on his October 12 birthday. I’d recently learned that he had died, and I had an unsettled feeling, wondering about the circumstances of his death at age 34.
Many friends and readers responded to my essay, so I have to share this update. This past year I found Wilfredo’s sister, Jeannine. She is ten years younger than Wilfredo and I; she is an educator and a mom. She filled in a lot of missing pieces, about what a great brother Wilfredo was to her, about his career, his partner, his humor, his life in the Village, his battle with AIDS. We’ve shared stories and photographs.
I felt a sense of both sadness and peace, knowing how Wilfredo was loved, cherished, held by his family. Jeannine is now a friend and I’ve had the chance to talk on the phone to her and to their mother—the woman who pierced my ears in her Bronx kitchen so long ago! Oh, and Wilfredo has a handsome young basketball-playing nephew–named Will.
You can read my original essay published at she.com, Searching for My Sidekick, here.