Picture Book Roundup, Part 1

In the eight years the Stonewall has been given to children’s and YA literature, only one picture book has ever won the medal: This Day in June (2015). Two picture books have been honored: 10,000 Dresses (2010) and Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress (2015). This is partly due to the relative scarcity of picture books with queer content but I’m happy to report that there are so many titles this season—15 by our count—that we will have two posts!  

All of the books here focus on queer families and relationships. Notably, almost all of them highlight MLM relationships. Even the two biographies I previously wrote about (Pride and Sewing the Rainbow) hone in on gay male figures. While having representation is certainly something to celebrate, I’d like to see more varied content in future publishing cycles.

prince & knight

Prince & Knight by Daniel Haack, illus. Stevie Lewis
Little Bee, May 2018

This fairy tale in rhyme concerns a prince’s quest for a partner. As it turns out, he’s looking more for a groom than a bride. While defending the kingdom from a dragon, the prince finally meets his Prince Charming on the battlefield. One prince catches the other in his arms in a romantic sequence… and the rest is happily ever after!

There are lots of fairytale stories. There’s even one like this one (King & King). But Prince & Knight stands apart because of its diversity and affirming presentation of queer romance. In multiple scenes, the two princes are holding hands or looking into each other’s eyes. And no one in the entire kingdom objects! The royals’ romance even takes up half of the final double-page spread, which may be the largest-scale image of a queer couple I have ever seen in a picture book.

true adventures of esther the wonder pig

The True Adventures of Esther the Wonder Pig by Steve Jenkins, Derek Walter & Caprice Crane, illus. Cori Doerrfeld
Little, Brown, March 2018

A two-dad family adopts a piglet. When the piglet turns out not to be as mini as her dads initially thought, hilarious growing-pains hijinks ensue. Throughout the book, the refrain “But Esther looked up at her dads with those eyes and that smile… and it was love” firmly establishes a message of familial love.

Even though their child is a pig, it’s really fantastic to see queer parents represented in such a loving, normalizing way. Doerrfeld’s illustrations are cheerful and inviting, employing cartoon hearts not only to accentuate the characters’ feelings but also in a way that incidentally offers visual approval of the family structure. That it’s based on a true story—backmatter includes photos and further information—adds an element of being a window into the lives of real queer people.

a church for all

A Church for All by Gayle E. Pitman, illus. Laurie Fournier
Albert Whitman, April 2018

On Sunday morning, people of all types can gather in this church (inspired by the Gilde Memorial Church in San Francisco). One dad in an interracial two-dad family takes his children to the service, where the churchgoers range in skin tones, body types, sexualities, and abilities. Concise, rhythmic, and poetic text reaffirms the message of acceptance.

In Representing the Rainbow in Young Adult Literature, Jenkins & Cart write about the lack of texts that focus on queer community. Depending on how much you read into the illustrations, A Church For All has a queer character count that rivals This Day in June. Moreover, the fact that this sense of queer community is situated in a religious space fills a huge gap in both books about religion and books about religious queer people. There really is no other book quite like this one.

Love is LoveLove is Love by Michael Genhart, illus. Ken Min
Little Pickle Press, May 2018

A child with two dads shares their problem: others have been making fun of their rainbow-striped heart shirt for being “gay.” The child explains the term and its hurtful intentions to their friend. Their dads really do love each other—and they love their child. That’s not so different, is it? Various community members (including the mayor) are outed and, in the end, everyone bands together to show solidarity.

The first-person narrator is never identified as a single child; rather, the characters switch every few pages as if to say that the experience is not and isolated one. The heart serves as a visual unifier, building community even further to include adults as well as children. The heart also paves the way for the final double-page spreads where multiple shirt wearers are seen together. That’s a beautiful image, and the book’s message is beautiful, too—if a tad didactically presented.

Harriet Gets Carried Away

Harriet Gets Carried Away by Jessie Sima
Simon & Schuster BFYR, March 2018

Harriet loves costumes. All. The. Time. As she’s getting ready for her dress-up birthday party with her two dads, they warn her about getting too carried away. But, clad in her “extra-special, errand-running” penguin costume, she winds up on a grand adventure with real, live penguins! A hot air balloon takes her far from home, but other animals chip in to bring her back home in time for the party.

This first thing that stands out about this book is its lovely, lavender shade. Sima’s illustrations in general are quite beautiful and dynamic. The story is less about Harriet’s two dads (one white, the other black) and more about whimsy, imagination, and costumes. But that’s a good thing! The book serves as an example of a great read-aloud with some added representation. (Bonus: look under the dust jacket for a smattering of Harriet’s best looks!)

a day in the life of marlon bundo

A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo by Marlon Bundo & Jill Twiss, illus. EG Keller
Chronicle Books, March 2018

This parody of Marlon Bundo’s A Day in the Life of the Vice President is less about an inside look into vice presidential living and more a queer revisioning of The Rabbits’ Wedding. Vice President Pence’s bow tie-wearing rabbit, Marlon Bundo, falls in love with another “bunny-beautiful” rabbit named Wesley. The two decide to marry, but not all are happy with BOTUS (“Bunny of the United States”) hopping around with another boy. Spoiler alert: love wins.

It is highly unlikely that this book will even be considered for the Stonewall. The book is full of nods to Trump-era politics that are more suited to adult readers. The colorful, textured illustrations are actually quite lovely, but the typography is a mess. All that aside, the book should be celebrated for its rare multiplicity of queer characters. Most often in picture books, queer characters are presented in isolation. Here, readers can actually count six queer couples on the same page.

Stay tuned for Part 2. Let me know what you think about these titles in the comments!

9 thoughts on “Picture Book Roundup, Part 1

  1. I agree with most of what you’ve said about all of these. I’d add: I like that Prince & Knight includes a very positive depiction of a same-sex romance, but also (unlike King & King) throws in the dragon adventure so the story isn’t entirely about romance (which I’ve never thought kids of picture-book age are particularly interested in, whether same- or different-sex). Also, while I generally liked A Church for All, I had some concerns about the page that shows the “weak and healthy” who attend, as I explained here: https://www.mombian.com/2018/05/01/new-picture-book-celebrates-welcoming-churches-also-where-to-find-queer-inclusive-kids-books-about-different-faiths/

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kathy Pillsbury says:

      I agree with Dana that the page in the book, A Church for All, that says the “weak and healthy” is really problematic with the boy in the wheelchair so prominent in the image. This problem popped out immediately when I first read it.


      • Alec says:

        And thanks for your comment, too, Kathy! It really is a problematic page. I wanted to include it in our roundup because it was about religion, but I ought to have made a note of that flaw as well.


    • Alec says:

      Thanks for your comment, Dana (LOVE your blog!). I agree that most picture-book age kids probably don’t care for romance. But, given that there are images of it in media—mostly of heterosexual romance—I found it good way to balance those out.

      I’m glad you pointed out the “weak and healthy” line. I was bothered by it, too, but wondered if I was imposing my own interpretation too much. Sounds like I’m not! Someone also pointed out Pitman’s use of “transgendered” in the author’s note (which you also cite on your blog). What I found strange about that was that just a sentence or two away the word was used correctly…

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Celeste Bocchicchio-Chaudhri says:

    I hadn’t seen Esther the Wonder Pig. I can’t wait to check it out. I think Prince and Prince would have been a better book if it weren’t written in rhyme–the rhythm doesn’t work well for me and the rhyme often feels forced. It is a good story and the illustrations of the romance between the Prince and Knight are fabulous, but it is hard to read aloud which is unfortunate.


    Liked by 1 person

    • Alec says:

      Thanks for your comment! I agree that the read-aloud aspect of PRINCE & KNIGHT isn’t the strongest suit. Rhyming almost always feels forced to me…


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