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BACK TO SCHOOL 2019: New kids’ books spotlight LGBTQ life

‘In My Footprints,’ ‘What Riley Wore’ among standouts



(Book covers courtesy of the publishers)

For back-to-school time, here are some new and soon-to-be-published picture books with LGBTQ and gender-creative characters, all involving schools and classmates.

What Riley Wore,” by Elana K. Arnold and illustrated by Linda Davick (Simon & Schuster), is the winsome tale of a child who delights in playing dress up. On the first day of school, Riley (whose gender is never stated) wears a bunny outfit. Rather than making Riley an object of ridicule, Riley’s soft bunny ears comfort a classmate who was crying. We then see Riley around the neighborhood and at school, switching between a ball gown, a hard hat and overalls, a tutu and more — outfits that elicit praise from other children and Riley’s teacher.

At one point, another child asks, “Are you a girl or a boy?” and Riley simply answers “Today I’m a firefighter. And a dancer,” and several other fanciful things. The other child responds, “Want to play?” Arnold refreshingly conveys a message of acceptance without raising issues of teasing or bullying — important issues, but too often the only narrative told about children expressing gender creativity. The completely positive outlook makes this book stand out.

In “Ogilvy,” by Deborah Underwood (Henry Holt), the titular and gender ambiguous bunny is excited about meeting other children in a new town. Ogilvy’s medium-length garment confuses them, however, and they tell Ogilvy, “Bunnies in dresses play ball and knit socks,” but “Bunnies in sweaters make art and climb rocks.” Underwood smartly doesn’t divide the activities here along traditional gender lines, helping readers see the absurdity of such divisions. Ogilvy relabels the outfit at will and plays accordingly, until one day the other bunnies demand a fixed choice.

Ogilvy finds self-confidence, speaks out and convinces the other bunnies that everyone benefits from wearing and doing what they choose. The rhymes have a clear echo of Dr. Seuss and T. L. McBeth’s simple illustrations evoke Mo Willems, but the story blends its influences into an original tale whose combination of message and merriment should find many fans.

More heavy handed is “Dazzling Travis: A Story About Being Confident and Original,” by Hannah Carmona Dias and illustrated by Brenda Figueroa (Cardinal Rule Press). “Dresses and armor: Pink, black or green. I pretend I’m a knight, a king or a queen,” proclaims Travis, a young black boy.

Some of his classmates, however, nastily tell him that boys and girls must each play with different things. A few others, who express gender creativity themselves, remain silent. Travis summons his courage and explains to the bullies, over several pages, why they are wrong. “It’s not weird or strange to express the true you,” he concludes. The message is good, but it’s a bit pedantic, and many of the rhymes feel forced.

At the end there are short bios of several real people who “struggled against the opinions of others,” including 19th-century baseball player Elizabeth Stride, dancer Fernando Bujones, designer Coco Chanel and writer Langston Hughes. More contemporary choices might resonate better with likely readers (and Chanel’s connections with Nazis make her a dubious choice). Still, many may appreciate Travis’ self-confidence in the face of bullying (not to mention his dazzling style).

Sam!,” by Dani Gabriel (Penny Candy Books), with illustrations by Robert Liu-Trujillo, is the tale of a 9-year-old transgender boy “filled with dreams and spirit and laughter.” After he hears another boy in his class say, “Boys are born a certain way and girls are born a certain way,” however, he is sad and scared. He confides in his older sister Maggie that he’s not a girl like people think, but a boy. “Was I born wrong?” he asks.

Maggie assures him otherwise. She supports him at school and encourages him to tell their parents. They immediately accept him, but also acknowledge they all have a lot to learn together. More than anything, though, their pride in him shines through. Some kids tease him, but with Maggie’s support, he continues to play, succeed in school and dream.

Sam and his family could be read as Latino and they live in a racially diverse neighborhood. Robert Liu-Trujillo’s soft watercolor illustrations bring out the characters’ emotions in this warm story of sibling support and family love.

In My Footprints,” by Bao Phi and illustrated by Basia Tran (Capstone), Thuy, a Vietnamese-American girl, finds solace in nature and in her imagination after being teased by classmates about her two moms and her ethnic origins. She imitates a cardinal and envisions flying away like a bird; she growls like a bear.

Momma Arti and Momma Ngoc join her in pretending, “because we’re stronger together.” Momma Ngoc suggests a phoenix, which we learn in an afterward has both Eastern and Western origins, just like Momma Ngoc. Momma Arti suggests the “part lion, part bird” Sarabha from her Hindu heritage. Thuy then makes up her own creature — one that is “both a boy and a girl” and whose skin changes “from black to light brown to lighter and back to black — not to hide, but because it always wants to be different shades of pretty.” One could buy the book for that empowering line alone.

Phi, a poet and author whose awards include a Caldecott Honor and an Ezra Jack Keats Honor, has crafted a lyrical tale about the power of imagination and finding strength in family and cultural heritage. It’s also notable as one of few LGBTQ-inclusive picture books to focus on Asian characters. Consider this a must-have for any LGBTQ kids’ collection.

For more LGBTQ back-to-school resources, see my annual list at

Dana Rudolph is the founder and publisher of Mombian (, a GLAAD Media Award-winning blog and resource directory for LGBTQ parents.



Film fans will love ‘Hollywood Pride’

A celebration of queer representation in Hollywood



(Book cover image courtesy of Running Press)

‘Hollywood Pride: A Celebration of LGBTQ+ Representation and Perseverance in Film
By Alonso Duralde
c.2024, Running Press
$40/322 pages

You plan to buy lots of Jujubes.

They’ll stick to your teeth, but whatever, you’ll be too busy watching to care. You like the director, you know most of the actors as first-rate, and word is that the newcomer couldn’t be more right for the role. Yep, you’ve done your homework. You read Rotten Tomatoes, you’ve looked up IMDB, and you bought your ticket online. Now all you need is “Hollywood Pride” by Alonso Duralde, and your movie night is complete.

William Kennedy Laurie Dickson likely had no idea that what he’d done was monumental.

Sometime in the very late 1800s, he set up a film camera and a wax cylinder to record a short dance between two men, hands around one another’s waists, as Dickson played the violin. It “was one of the very first movies ever shot,” and probably the first film to record men dancing rather intimately alone together.

Back then, and until well into the 20th century, there were laws against most homosexual behavior and cross-dressing, and very rigid standards of activity between men and women. This led to many “intense relationships between people of the same gender.” Still, in World War I-era theaters and though LGBTQ representation “was somewhat slower to get rolling” then, audiences saw films that might include drag (often for comedy’s sake), camp, covert affection, and “bad girls of the era.”

Thankfully, things changed because of people like Marlene Dietrich, Ramon Novarro, Claudette Colbert, George Cukor, Alfred Hitchcock, and others through the years, people who ignored social mores and the Hays Code to give audiences what they wanted. Moviegoers could find LGBTQ actors and themes in most genres by the 1940s; despite politics and a “pink scare” in the 1950s, gay actors and drag (still for comedy’s sake) still appeared on-screen; and by the 1960s, the Hays Code had been dismantled. And the Me Decade of the 1970s, says Duralde, “ended with the promise that something new and exciting was about to happen.”

So have you run out of movies on your TBW list? If so, get ready.

You never want to start a movie at the end, but it’s OK if you do that with “Hollywood Pride.” Flip to the end of the book, and look up your favorite stars or directors. Page to the end of each chapter, and you’ll find “artists of note.” Just before that: “films of note.” Page anywhere, in fact, and you’ll like what you see.

In his introduction, author Alonso Duralde apologizes if he didn’t include your favorites but “Hollywood has been a magnet for LGBTQ+ people” for more than a century, making it hard to capture it completely. That said, movie-loving readers will still be content with what’s inside this well-illustrated, well-curated, highly readable historical overview of LGBTQ films and of the people who made them.

Come to this book with a movie-lover’s sensibility and stay for the wealth of photos and side-bars. If you’re up for binge-reading, binge-watching, or Date Night, dig into “Hollywood Pride.” Popcorn not necessary, but welcome.

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‘On Bette Midler’ is a divine new read

Part charming, part nostalgic, and very affectionate



(Book cover image courtesy of Oxford University Press)

‘On Bette Midler: An Opinionated Guide’
By Kevin Winkler
c.2024, Oxford University Press 
$29.99 232 pages 


That word’s appropriate in this situation. Fantastic, that’s another. Transcendent or celestial, if you’re of that mind, or perhaps anointed. There are many adjectives you can use for a performer who transports you, one who sings to your soul. Sensational, breathtaking, outstanding, or – as in the new book “On Bette Midler” by Kevin Winkler – another, better word may be more suitable.

Born in Hawaii a few months after the end of World War II, Bette Midler was named after film star Bette Davis. It was a perhaps auspicious start: despite a minor disparity (Midler’s mother thought the movie star’s first name was pronounced “Bet”), young Midler seemed at a young age to want to follow in her almost-namesake’s footsteps. By age 11, she’d won accolades and prizes for her performances and she “yearned to be a serious actor.” As soon as she could, she headed for New York to seize her career.

Alas, her “unconventional” looks didn’t help win the roles she wanted but she was undeterred. Unafraid of small venues and smaller gigs, she “just blossomed” in New York City. Eventually, she landed at the Improv on 44th Street; the owner there helped her negotiate some minor work. Another man became her manager and secured a job for her at the Continental, a New York bath house strictly for gay men. She was hired for eight summer nights, Friday and Saturdays only, for $50 a night.

Almost immediately, her authenticity, her raunchy language, and her ability to relate to her audience made her beloved in the gay community. Midler’s tenure at the Continental expanded and, though legend points to a longer time, she worked at the bath house for just over two years before moving on and up, to television, recording studios, movies, and into fans’ hearts. Still, asks Winkler, “Did it really matter what stage she was on? She touched audiences wherever she performed.”

In his earliest words – and, in fact, in his subtitle – author Kevin Winkler reminds readers that “On Bette Midler” is a book that’s “highly opinionated, filled with personal contemplations…” He is, in other words, a super-fan, but that status doesn’t mar this book: Winkler restrains his love of his subject, and he doesn’t gush. Whew.

That will be a relief to readers who wish to relish in their own fervor, although you’ll be glad for Winkler’s comprehensive timeline and his wide look at Midler’s career. Those things come after a long and fascinating biography that starts in 1970, takes us back to 1945, and then pulls us forward through movies, television appearances, stage performances, and songs you might remember – with appearances from Barbara Streisand, Barry Manilow, and Cher. It’s a fun trip, part confidential, part charming, part nostalgic, and very affectionate.

Despite that this is a “personal” book, it’s great for readers who weren’t around during Midler’s earliest career. If you were and you’re a fan, reading it is like communing with someone who appreciates Midler like you do. Find “On Bette Midler.” You’ll find it divine.

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Architecture junkies will love new book on funeral homes

‘Preserved’ explores how death industry evolved after WWII



(Book cover image courtesy of Johns Hopkins University Press)

‘Preserved: A Cultural History of the Funeral Home in America’
By Dean G. Lampros
c.2024, Johns Hopkins University Press 
$34.95/374 pages

Three bedrooms upstairs. That’s a minimum.

You need a big kitchen, a large back room would be a bonus, you want lots of bathrooms, and if you can get a corner lot, that’d be great. The thing you need most is a gigantic all-purpose room or maybe a ballroom because you’re planning on a lot of people. As you’ll see in the new book “Preserved” by Dean G. Lampros, not all living rooms are for the living.

Not too long ago, shortly after he took a class on historic preservation, Dean Lampros’ husband dragged him on a weekend away to explore a small town in Massachusetts. There, Lampros studied the town’s architecture and it “saddened” him to see Victorian mansions surrounded by commercial buildings. And then he had an epiphany: there was once a time when those old mansions housed funeral homes. Early twentieth-century owners of residential funeral homes were, in a way, he says, preservationists.

Prior to roughly World War II, most funerals were held at home or, if there was a need, at a funeral home, the majority of which were located in a downtown area. That changed in 1923 when a Massachusetts funeral home owner bought a large mansion in a residential area and made a “series of interior renovations” to the building. Within a few years, his idea of putting a funeral home inside a former home had spread across the country and thousands of “stately old mansions in aging residential neighborhoods” soon held death-industry businesses.

This, says, Lampros, often didn’t go over well with the neighbors, and that resulted in thousands of people upset and lawsuits filed. Some towns then passed ordinances to prohibit such a thing from happening to their citizens.

Still, funeral home owners persevered. Moving out of town helped “elevate” the trade, and it allowed Black funeral home operators to get a toehold in formerly white neighborhoods. And by having a nice – and nice-sized – facility, the operators were finally able to wrest the end-of-life process away from individuals and home-funerals.

Here’s a promise: “Preserved” is not gruesome or gore-for-the-sake-of-gore. It’s not going to keep you up all night or give you nightmares. Nope, while it might be a little stiff, it’s more of a look at architecture and history than anything else.

From California to New England, author Dean G. Lampros takes readers on a cruise through time and culture to show how “enterprising” business owners revolutionized a category and reached new customers for a once-in-a-deathtime event. Readers who’ve never considered this hidden-in-plain-sight, surprising subject – or, for that matter, the preservation or re-reclamation of those beautiful old homes – are in for a treat here. Despite that the book can lean toward the academic, a good explanatory timeline and information gleaned from historical archives and museums offer a liveliness that you’ll enjoy.

This book will delight fans of little-know history, and architecture junkies will drool over its many photographs. “Preserved” is the book you want because there are other ways to make a house a “home.”

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