Category: We Need Diverse Books

Writing about characters with GLBT parents

“Who’s your real mom?”

“What do you mean you don’t have a dad/mom?”

“Please bring these permission slips home to your moms and dads.”

Life is just different for kids of GLBT parents. They navigate awkward questions, tricky social situations, and heteronormative language on a daily basis.

That’s just some of the territory we’ll be covering in our presentation at the New England SCBWI conference at the end of the month in Springfield, MA. My wife Bonnie Jackman and I will be discussing sparks for inspiration as well as seeds of conflict in Re-imagining Families: Writing about characters with GLBT parents – a morning workshop on Sunday, May 1.

Bonnie and I presenting at the 2015 NESCBWI conference
Bonnie and I presenting at the 2015 NESCBWI conference

We’ll offer insights and strategies for writing about families with same-sex and single parents, focusing on gay and lesbian-led families as well as those with bisexual and transgender parents. How can writers realistically portray characters with parents who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender? How will these various family structures affect our characters (from early childhood to middle grade through adolescence)?

Our flag rainbow

Bonnie is a seasoned therapist and school counselor, with lots of anecdotes, developmental info, and insights to share. I’ll bring the craft perspective to the conversation. It should be a fun and lively session. Hope to see you there!

Read more about the conference here.

How it’s done: author James Howe presenting to Middle Schoolers

I had the privilege of watching author James Howe present to Nauset Regional Middle School today– the whole school. (I have an inside advantage: my wife Bonnie is a guidance counselor there!) He spoke at two different schools today, and will give an evening presentation, too.

THE MISFITS by James Howe
THE MISFITS by James Howe

I was taking in Jim’s presentation on three levels:

  1. Enjoying the ethnographic research of being in a middle school– the drastic differences between 6th, 7th, and 8th graders… the ways of dressing, the height differentials, the hair.
  2. As a writer, it was delightful to hear Jim Howe talking about his writing process, the way he develops character, and his motivations to write.
  3. As someone who does school presentations and writing workshops, watching the ease and charm with which Jim presented was inspiring.

Some observations:

**Jim read a few pages from THE MISFITS first, to set the scene for his conversation. Many of the students had read the book and were familiar with the others in the series.

**Jim showed slides– but not too many. His commentary was relaxed, conversational. He showed some pictures of his own childhood, pet pictures (a big hit), photos of his process (spreading out his manuscript pages on a large table, the three-ring binder approach, and more). He shared a picture of himself and his daughter when she was at middle school age, and said that her struggles in middle school inspired THE MISFITS. He demonstrated a real empathy for how difficult middle school is– something that must be so powerful for his young audience to hear!

Jim Howe and his daughter. "A seed for a book is very often a question."
Jim Howe and his daughter. “A seed for a book is very often a question.”

**Jim talked openly and easily about being gay, about being married to a woman earlier in his life, and why it took him so long to come out. It was disarming, simple, direct, and related to his books. His books are responsible for the creation of No Name Calling Day across the country, and he spoke about being very proud of that. I kept thinking about the kids in the audience who were out, or coming out– how powerful to have this author and role model up there, being himself in such a natural and comfortable way!

Howe GLSEN

**Jim spoke about “interviewing” one of the characters in his books in order to get to know to the character more deeply. He showed pages of his interview notes and how they ended up as backstory in the novel TOTALLY JOE. He finished with a Q&A.

Totally Joe

Finally some kid notes:

**The middle schoolers weren’t playing it too cool. “There he is!” a boy stage-whispered as he entered the auditorium. Another boy literally jumped up and down with excitement as he had his books signed by Jim.

**Blue hair. Purple hair. Green hair.

**Wedge high-top sneakers are apparently a thing.

**Best middle-schooler’s shirt, in my estimation: hand-lettered with a Sharpie, “May the Odds Be Ever in Your Favor.”

Meeting Jim Howe was delightful!
Meeting Jim Howe was delightful!

All in all, a perfect experience of a great author visit!

 

 

 

 

 

Raising a Reader: my class for parents/early educators!

Raising a Reader! I’m offering this community education class in May 2016 at the Cape Cod Campus of Bridgewater State University.

Stack of bks

Raising a Reader is a non-credit course aimed at parents and caregivers who want to infuse a love of reading and books into their children’s lives. Preschool teachers and home daycare providers may also enjoy this course.

Topics covered in Raising a Reader include: reaching a wide range of learning styles; early literacy skills; book selection; overview of genres and types of children’s books; anatomy of a picture book; putting together a diverse and rich home library; boosting literacy skills during read-aloud; and engaging reluctant readers of all ages.

PBs

Participants will also come away with literacy resources, book lists, and on-line resources. Raising a Reader is open to the community (participants do not need to be registered college students or college graduates).

Poetry

The class will meet on four Wednesday evenings: May 4,11,18 and 25, 2016 from 7-8:30 p.m. at Bridgewater State University/Cape Cod Campus in Yarmouth, MA. Cost: $149.00

Mother Goose

It’s going to be fun!  Register here. GOOD NEWS: Bridgewater-Cape Cod has just announced a “bring a friend” special. Register for the class ($149) and you can bring a friend. You can split the cost!

 

MARY LIB PHOTO

Author and educator Mary E. Cronin teaches Early Childhood Education, Children’s Literature, and Creative Writing at a wide array of institutions including Cape Cod Community College, Bridgewater State University, Barnstable County Correctional Facility, Cape Cod Lighthouse Charter School, and more. Mary is a passionate advocate for children’s literacy and the joy of reading. Read more about her at www.maryecronin.com, or on Twitter at @maryecronin.

 

 

 

 

 

Connecting Through Kids’ Books: A Prison Writing Project

Like a plane coming in for a landing, I am settling back in to work and writing after the excitement of the holidays and a January trip to Ireland. Thanks to local arts funding, I will be teaching a new version of my creative writing class in the women’s unit of the Barnstable County Correctional Facility here on Cape Cod, and I’m very excited!

Here’s the description:

Mary E. Cronin will lead a ten-week writing workshop, “Connecting Through Kids’ Books,” in the women’s unit of Barnstable County Correctional Facility, where 80% of the female inmates are mothers. In each 90-minute session, Mary will bring a children’s book, which will be read aloud and used as a creative writing prompt. As participants appreciate and write about children’s books, they will improve their own literacy, become newly aware of the power of reading aloud, and add to their parenting skills in anticipation of their release and reunion with their children.

**

It’s been well-documented that when parents are incarcerated, it places enormous stress on their children, impacting child development and the parent-child relationship. Connecting Through Kids’ Books: A Prison Writing Project aims to address those needs on several levels.

First, it will boost the literacy skills of the adult participants by sparking appreciation of high-quality children’s books, building vocabulary, and strengthening writing skills through creative writing.

Second, the program will bolster parenting skills by giving  participants a window into the joy and stimulation that children’s books can provide, especially if they themselves were not read to as children. Connecting through Kids’ Books also will give the women an awareness of titles they can read to their children once they are released from prison, and appreciation for the access that the public library can provide.

One of the books we'll be reading and writing about
One of the books we’ll be reading and writing about

I’m thrilled that two Local Cultural Councils from Cape Cod have supported this project, and I’ll keep you posted on how it goes. It starts next week!

 

GLBT Youth- Hiding in Plain Sight

I was shaken recently when a friend relayed a story from a school in my liberal state of Massachusetts: an 8th grader received an anonymous note at school, to the effect of “Faggot- hope you kill yourself.”

lockers

In my writer world, I admit I get lulled into a sense of security– look at the praise heaped on books like Alex Gino’s GEORGE and Tim Federle’s BETTER NATE THAN EVER! Things are better. So much better!

Nate

In my adult world, as an out lesbian, I sometimes forget how hard it is to come out, to BE out, to risk safety and relationships to be who you are.

That story of the 8th grader reminded me. Not so fast. We have more work to do. More books to write. This is what drives me to write my current novel, Tomfoolery, about a boy who is trying to muster the courage to be who he is.

More vigilance. More supportive adults. Let’s keep at it, with organizations like GLSEN and Rainbow Boxes and The Trevor Project and Lee Wind’s blog. We need to keep being visible. We need to be there for our youth!

national coming out day

Back to the homeland: NYC

I’m still buzzing from a dynamic weekend in NYC. I saw family, covered a lot of ground (Bronx to the Battery!), and attended the Rutgers One-on-One Conference.

The Rutgers One-on-One conference is a different kind of conference: it feels very focused, very professional. Writers must submit their work and an essay in order to be accepted, and an equal number of industry professionals are invited. I was paired up with an energetic agent named Carrie Pestritto from Prospect Agency, and she had insightful things to say about my novel pages, my query letter, my list of next projects, and more. What a dynamo she is!

I'm here in this crowd, taking it all in at the Rutgers One-on-One.
I’m here in this crowd, taking it all in at the Rutgers One-on-One.

I met several other wonderful writers, editors and agents during the day, and I left feeling very directed, energized, and sure that I am on the right path with my current work, my middle-grade novel Tomfoolery.

With my daughter Rose, I also hit a few spots in NYC that I have been meaning to get to: the Poets House and the Irish Famine Memorial in Battery Park. For a college paper, Rose interviewed author and educator Zetta Elliott about the need for more diversity in children’s literature… and I got to pop in at the end and meet Zetta, too!

IMG_4082

With my cousin, I went up to the borough I was born in, the Bronx. We stopped by the church where her and my parents were married, St. Luke’s in the South Bronx (where I teach a poetry workshop once a year)– now home to a new generation of immigrants from Ghana. We marveled at the way that St. Luke’s has always welcomed and educated immigrants– children of Irish immigrants like our parents, children of immigrants from Africa and Latin America now. We also stopped by the new Bronx Brewery and sampled micro-brews… right in the South Bronx! Who knew!

Bronx Brewery in the South Bronx
Bronx Brewery in the South Bronx

Now I am back on quiet Cape Cod, ready to dive into my novel and polish it up. My heart and head were filled to the brim on my trip… now it’s time to settle in and get this novel ready to send!

Irish Famine Memorial in Battery Park
Irish Famine Memorial in Battery Park

Summer School on Gender

Learning about gender: that was one of my summer reading goals as a children’s writer, a teacher of teachers, and a creative writing instructor. As a lesbian writer and supporter of We Need Diverse Books, I am always on the look-out for new titles to recommend. Two books on my summer reading list have stayed with me.

Middle-grade novel GEORGE by Alex Gino brought me inside the mind and heart of a transgendered child– fourth grader George, who sees herself as Melissa. George yearns to play Charlotte in the school production of “Charlotte’s Web,” and she figures that will be a perfect vehicle for telling her mother and others that she really is a girl, despite being born in a boy’s body. GEORGE is chock full of heart and humor. Within the past few months, I’ve talked to teachers who are figuring out how to best respond to students who identify as transgendered… students ranging in age from preschool to middle school. Teachers, start with GEORGE. Feed your brain with information for allies, statistics and studies… but GEORGE will feed your heart.

Read more wonderful tips from author Alex Gino here: “How to Talk About George.” 

George

Young adult novel NONE OF THE ABOVE, by I. W. Gregorio, taught me so much about the experience of being intersex. Main character Kristin is diagnosed with an intersex condition, and she worries that it means she’s “not exactly a girl.” This book made me think so much about the “either/or” gender dichotomy so prevalent in our world, and how that traps so many kids who feel different or gender variant in some way. There is so much information conveyed gracefully in this book; while I was learning about the intersex experience, I fretted over Kristin’s worries about peer reactions, medical issues, implications for her romantic/sex life, and her future. For teachers wondering about the “I” in LGBTQIA– this is your book!

none of the above

Now I am back in the groove of juggling teaching, tutoring, writing… but I feel enriched and refreshed by my summer reading, and these two titles still resonate long after I read them under my beach umbrella.

beach umbrella

 

 

 

 

Rainbow Boxes- books for LGBTQ+ youth

Have you heard about Rainbow Boxes? It’s a way to get sorely needed books into the hands of LGBTQ+ youth.

rainbow boxes

Flashback to a scene in a middle school library about six years ago: the school counselor, who happens to be my wife, was showing me the section in the library where the books on sexuality could be found. Included in the collection were a few books referencing gay and lesbian youth. Except you could never find them, she said, because kids would covertly take the books, read them furtively in the far corners of the library, and stick them back into a random shelf when they were done.

So much has changed since then!

First, my wife wrote a grant and her school library now has a full collection of GLBTQ+ books. Plus, there is a middle school GSA (now called GSE, for Gender, Sexuality and Equality). There is more openness, inclusion, conversation– at the school level and in our country as a whole!

But that’s just one school, with some progressive leadership, on Cape Cod. There are so many schools that don’t have those resources. YA authors Amy Rose Capetta and Cori McCarthy are aiming to fill that need with their genius idea called Rainbow Boxes, which are boxes filled with books about GLBTQ+ characters. These books, funded by an Indiegogo campaign, will be sent to every state in the union (to one school and one shelter)– if the project reaches full funding! This project goes hand-in-hand with the We Need Diverse Books mission.

I’ve made my contribution. Will you kick in a few dollars, for kids who need to see themselves represented realistically and positively in a book? And check out their book list (on the Indiegogo page) for some fantastic summer reading.

rainbow boxes2

Follow Rainbow Boxes on Twitter at @RainbowBoxesYA.

Follow We Need Diverse Books on Twitter at @diversebooks.

 

When Stars Align: diversity, writing & pop culture

As a teacher on summer hiatus, I’m grabbing all of the free hours I can muster, running as far and fast as I can with my middle-grade novel-in-progress, Tomfoolery. And the other day, the stars aligned to tell me, “Yes! Keep going. You are moving in the right direction!”

You see, my main character Tom’s world is being rocked by taking part in an art class in beautiful Provincetown. Suddenly, as a gay/questioning, artsy kid, he doesn’t feel so alone– he has found his people.

 

Provincetown
Provincetown

I wrote a scene the other day in which the art teacher referenced ballerina Misty Copeland. In response to someone using the term “firebird,” the teacher shows an image of Copeland leaping mid-air in flaming red regalia. I wrote some dialog from the teacher:

“Misty Copeland,” Will pointed. “African American soloist  with the American Ballet Theater. Most famous role: Stravinsky’s Firebird.”

Misty Copeland
Misty Copeland

Finished with my writing time, I clicked on over to Facebook for some social interaction, and there on the headlines was Misty Copeland: newly-named as the first African American principal dancer with the American Ballet Theater. I immediately went back to my manuscript and made that change!

In the middle of my novel, where my gay/questioning character feels a bit at sea, a bit too “different,” I had introduced an example of another artist who has also had experiences of feeling at sea, and different. And then, there she was, like a Firebird, soaring. Inspiring my character, inspiring me.

The stars aligned, in a little way– but it was enough for me. To keep me going, when I feel a bit at sea in the writing process.

FIREBIRD, by Misty Copeland. Illustrated by Christopher Myers.
FIREBIRD, by Misty Copeland. Illustrated by Christopher Myers.

I’m going to keep soaring.

 

Up and Coming (Out): song for a budding lesbian

If we stare long enough, there are times when we swear we can see a budding flower actually bloom.

fun home logo 1

That’s the tender window of time portrayed in “Ring of Keys,” the signature song from the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical “Fun Home.”

Based on Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir of the same name, “Fun Home” allows us to witness the moment when young Alison, a tomboyish girl, sees a grown-up lesbian and has a transcendent moment of recognition.

sydney lucas.fun home

Middle-grade writers will want to study the clip of Sydney Lucas singing “Ring of Keys.” It captures an emergence, a turning point, a discovery, that is found in all rich middle-grade novels. That’s why I used the clip in a recent workshop I presented, Developing Gay and Questioning Characters in Middle Grade Fiction.

In an interview in Variety, composer Jeanine Tesori said, “This is a song… that is a turning moment, when you think you’re an alien and you hear someone else say, ‘Oh, me too.’ It’s a game changer for Alison. And that’s just Musical Theater 101.”

In her Tony acceptance speech, Tesori said the song “…is not a song of love, it’s a song of identification, because for girls, you have to see it to be it.”

You have to see it to be it.

Those are words to remember for anyone writing for children and teens (boys and girls!). Let’s continue to give our readers a multitude of moments, of discoveries, of ways of being–
so that they can fully inhabit their world and more clearly see their place in it.

keys