For a long time it was rare to see positive LGBTQ+ representation in books for adults, never mind for younger readers, so it is heartening to see stories by and for LGBTQ+ people now filling the shelves.
Claire Hourihane from Children’s Books Ireland said it best: “These books aren’t just a welcome reflection of the many different types of families that children encounter, but an important tool in empowering them to be themselves, whether at home, in school or with their friends…there is such power in seeing yourself in a book.”
Let’s take a look at just a handful of LGBTQ+ creators, see what inspires them, and what messages they have for their younger readers.
Bob Johnston, who will be familiar to patrons of the wonderful Gutter Bookshop, is the writer of Our Big Day, created alongside illustrator Michael Emberly. It’s a celebration of love, family and same-sex weddings.
“Our Big Day is a children’s picturebook aimed at the 3-7 years age group and celebrates a same-sex wedding in a fun and lively story about a little girl, a big black dog called Bear, and some missing wedding rings! It’s illustrated by the wonderful Michael Emberley and was inspired by my own wedding to the artist Leon McAleenan in 2016 following the passing of the Marriage Equality Referendum in May 2015.
“I wanted our story to be full of love, celebration, family, friends and happiness and I hope that’s what we’ve managed to capture in this book. I grew up at a time when there wasn’t any representation in children’s books of different kinds of families and love and I really wish there had been, it would have really helped me to realise that living as an LGBT person can mean a normal life with all the love and stability that brings. It’s great that young people today can see LGBT lives represented in the books that they read and the TV and films that they watch. I hope that kids and adults alike enjoy the story of Our Big Day and laugh along with Bear’s antics as well as seeing that love is love and different kinds of relationships are not only normal, but something to be celebrated.”
Amongst other works, Adiba Jaigirdar is the writer of the YA queer love story, Hani and Ishu’s Guide to Fake Dating, and the Dublin-set charmer, The Henna Wars.
“My inspiration comes from a lot of places. I’ve grown up in a culture that really loves and celebrates storytelling so wanting to create my own stories definitely comes from having grown up in this culture. But I’ve also been motivated by the fact that so many of the stories that I read in books, or watched in TV shows or movies, never really reflected any part of my own identity. In fact, growing up I consumed a lot of media that perpetuated a lot of harm, specifically towards people of colour and LGBTQ+ people, or both at once.
“I’ve always wanted to be able to read a book that speaks to who I am and what my experiences are. Unfortunately, until I wrote that book myself, it didn’t happen.
“I think that being a teenager is difficult in so many ways because it’s when we’re trying to figure out who we are in relation to the world around us. But I know that being a marginalised teen is even more difficult, because oftentimes, we feel like we are so alone in who we are and in the things that we experience. So, to my younger readers I would like to say that even if it feels like we are alone in our experiences, we aren’t. The world is a lot bigger than we think it is when we’re young. When I was young, books were a way for me to feel less alone, but sometimes they made me feel even more alone because what I thought was always reflected back at me: nobody in books looked like me, nobody had a name like mine, nobody was from my cultures (or if they were, it was seen as a bad thing). But I know that things have come a long way since then, and I hope that my books, along with all of the wonderfully diverse books being published right now, can make you feel a little less alone.”
Fatti Burke is a much-celebrated illustrator whose work is instantly recognisable. She teamed with John Burke for the must-have Michael Collins, the People’s Peacemaker.
“I would say I’m an observational person – Ilike to sit back and take things in, so as a result I’m left with a bundle of ideas whirling around in my head at all times: something that made me laugh, a beautiful word I just learned, a colour that I keep seeing everywhere. Without my creative work my head would genuinely be a mess of clutter, so drawing and writing is my way of releasing these stories and pictures and making room for something new.
“I think the most important thing is to listen to your gut. There will be times in your life when you will be steered away from your dreams in order to try please other people, well-intentioned as they may be. It is an act of bravery to be your own cheerleader and to navigate life’s weird wobbles in a way that feels right for you.”
The amazing novel Gut Feelings by CG Moore is filling a very important gap in terms of representation –young LGBTQ+ people navigating life while dealing with a chronic illness.
“As a rule, you’re supposed to write for your reader but I write for myself. I try to be vulnerable and bring my own personal experiences to my writing to show young readers that it’s okay to be who you are. Whether it’s chronic illness, identity or accepting yourself, I am excited in being able to explore these themes from my own lived experiences and challenge myself to write in a way that engages readers.
“I think it’s really important to embrace and accept who you are. It’s not an easy journey but being true to yourself will attract real friends and chosen family.
“Life is paved with setbacks but if we don’t experience the bad, we can never bask in those truly joyous moments. It took me almost ten years to get published. Just because you don’t see someone like you succeeding in life doesn’t mean that you can’t too. You can be a trailblazer if you work hard and believe in yourself.”
Another book that comes highly recommended is the beautiful Why the Moon Travels by Oein Debhairduin - a collection of folk stories from the Minceir community. Illustrated by Leanne McDonagh, the book of contemporary and ancient tales which describes the heart of the Traveller community as “a bonfire of remembrance and connection”, are interspersed with glimpses of a love-soaked childhood.
This gorgeous selection of books are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what talented Irish LGBTQ+ creatives are making for younger readers. Take these recommendations as a starting point to build up your bookshelves for the Pride season and read, read, read!
Happy Pride, dear readers.