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Oft banned gay author’s new kids’ book a fun treat

‘Monster Mac and Cheese Party’ brimming with humor, color



(Book cover courtesy Little, Brown Books)

It’s the hottest party ever! A green, one-eyed, three-toothed fuzzy monster has invited a sea monster, a bat, a witch, and other guests to bring and eat mac and cheese. The witch favors “glow-in-the-dark mac with snakes and furballs.” The bat enjoys “mac ‘n’ bugs.” 

Whether you’re eight or 80, wouldn’t you like to crash this gathering?

Thanks to bestselling, award-winning, gay children’s book author and artist Todd Parr, we can all join in the fun.

“The Monster Mac and Cheese Party” (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers), Todd’s newest book, replete with his signature, eye-catching art, is a celebration of hanging out and scarfing down your fave food with your friends (monsters and human). The picture book written for 4-8 year-olds, is a fun-read for mac-and-cheese-and-monster-aficionados of any age. Except, perhaps, for those who’ve called for Parr’s books to be banned.

Parr, author of “It’s Okay to Be Different,” “The Family Book” and other much-loved as well as often-banned children’s books, is known for fostering values of kindness and inclusivity in his work. Not through preaching or boring messaging. But through bold images — art brimming with humor and bright colors. There are few words. But the words Parr uses are just what kids would say.

Take “The Family Book” which features Parr’s bright-hued illustrations. “Some families are big, some families are small,” Parr, who was born in 1962, writes in “The Family Book,” published in 2003, “… some families have two moms and two dads.”

You might think this message of inclusivity wouldn’t have caused a ruckus. But you’d be wrong. “The Family Book” was one of the most banned picture books of the 2021-2022 school year, according to Pen America.

“Every time a book is banned, we’re denied our right to learn freely,” the American Civil Liberties Union said in a statement accompanying a video of actor Randall Park reading “The Family Book” on Father’s Day on You Tube.

“My goal in the book was to make every kid feel that no matter what kind of family they have, that their family is special,” Parr, who lives in Southern California with his adopted pit bulls, said in an interview with the Blade.

Parr knew some people might not like “The Family Book” and that it might be banned. “It didn’t matter to me,” he said, “One page [that mentions two moms or two dads being parents] generates a lot of hate.”

“Like drag queens reading stories to kids,” Parr added, “it’s a free-for-all on social media.”

Parr wrote the mac-and-cheese book because after the pandemic, kids “needed a break,” he said.    

After COVID, “we didn’t want to think about the feelings we’ve experienced,” Parr said, “we just wanted to feel good again.”

His publisher had asked him to do a Halloween book, and mac and cheese is one of Parr’s favorite things. The book contains kid-friendly recipes for “Todd Mac” and “Vegan Mac”.

“Thick black lines and neon colors make for a zany tale,” “Kirkus” said of “The Monster Mac and Cheese Party, ” “perfect for group read-alouds. Parr keeps the laughs coming fast and furious.”

Parr has written and illustrated more than 60 children’s books. His work has been translated into 20 languages. More than 6.3 million copies of his books have been sold.

Parr is the co-creator with Gerry Renert of SupperTime Entertainment of the Daytime Emmy-nominated animated TV series “ToddWorld.” Several short films for “Sesame Street” were based on Parr’s work.

Parr gets what it’s like to feel different, hurt or sad, Juanita Giles wrote in “When In Doubt Pretend To Be Todd Parr,” an essay for NPR. “Todd Parr knows my son’s long hair makes him different,” Giles wrote, “Todd Parr knows our best friends moved away and our dog died.”

Growing up gay in  a small town in Wyoming, Parr had no inkling that he’d be so successful,  acclaimed and loved.

“I never had a moment where I told everybody ‘I’m gay,’” Parr said, “It was a matter of fact and no one really questioned it.”

But things weren’t easy. Parr wasn’t sure himself. “I had girlfriends,” he said, “I felt guilty that I had feelings [of liking boys] but I did.”

In school, people called Parr a “faggot” before he knew what it meant. “I felt very different like I was on another planet,” he said.

Growing up, being gay wasn’t Parr’s only challenge. “I had to repeat second grade,” he said, “because I couldn’t read.”

“They thought I was lazy,” Parr added.

Years later, Parr learned that he had dyslexia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). People didn’t know what these disabilities were when he was in school.

“My grandpa on my Dad’s side was talented,” Parr said, “and my grandma on my Mom’s side was talented and creative.”

In the second grade, Parr focused on drawing. He won an art contest but his parents didn’t believe that he’d drawn the picture. “They thought I traced it,” Parr said.

Parr felt that he had to get out of his home town. “There was energy calling me,” he said, “there was a bigger world out there. I knew, one day, I would leave Wyoming.”

Parr became a flight attendant for United for 15 years. “That job – traveling around the world – gave me confidence,” Parr said.

Parr traveled to new cities. He went back to art with a new sense of confidence. With role models like Keith Haring, the renowned American gay artist. “Haring showed you that art can be whimsical,” Parr said, “that you could use bright colors.” 

Parr lived in San Francisco. He began to have some success with his art. His work was displayed in one of Wolf Gang Puck’s restaurants.

But Parr was still borrowing money and flying for United. “I was spinning my wheels,” he said.

He decided to perform a magic show (that he did for kids) in Las Vegas. There, he met his agent – a married couple who understood his work. They got him a literary agent. “It freed me up to do creative things,” Parr said.

One day, Parr was showing his work at a show in New York. “I don’t like to read,” Parr said when he was asked if he’d thought about writing children’s books.

Parr signed with Little Brown for Young Readers when he realized he was on to something. He could write books for kids with his arts with messages (but without characters).

For a time, Parr felt apologetic about his dyslexia. “I’m not qualified to be up there [because of his struggles in school],” he said when he was asked to give a keynote speech.

But after talking with his editor about his fears, Parr wondered: why shouldn’t he own his dyslexia? Why not be honest and talk about it?

“It opened a path for me,” Parr said.

Parr’s website is

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New book goes behind the scenes of ‘A League of Their Own’

‘No Crying in Baseball’ offers tears, laughs, and more



(Book cover image courtesy of Hachette Books)

‘No Crying in Baseball: The Inside Story of ‘A League of Their Own’
By Erin Carlson
c.2023, Hachette Books
$29/320 pages

You don’t usually think of Madonna as complaining of being “dirty all day” from playing baseball. But that’s what the legendary diva did during the shooting of “A League of Their Own,” the 1992 movie, beloved by queers.

“No Crying in Baseball,” the fascinating story behind “A League of Their Own,” has arrived in time for the World Series. Nothing could be more welcome after Amazon has cancelled season 2 of its reboot (with the same name) of this classic film.

In this era, people don’t agree on much. Yet, “A League of Their Own” is loved by everyone from eight-year-old kids to 80-year-old grandparents.

The movie has strikes, home runs and outs for sports fans; period ambience for history buffs; and tears, laughs and a washed-up, drunk, but lovable coach for dramady fans.

The same is true for “No Crying in Baseball.” This “making of” story will appeal to history, sports and Hollywood aficionados. Like “All About Eve” and “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” “A League of Their Own” is Holy queer Writ.

Carlson, a culture and entertainment journalist who lives in San Francisco, is skilled at distilling Hollywood history into an informative, compelling narrative. As with her previous books, “I’ll Have What She’s Having: How Nora Ephron’s three Iconic Films Saved the Romantic Comedy” and “Queen Meryl: The Iconic Roles, Heroic Deeds, and Legendary Life of Meryl Streep,” “No Crying in Baseball,” isn’t too “educational.” It’s filled with gossip to enliven coffee dates and cocktail parties.

“A League of Their Own” is based on the true story of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL). From 1943 to 1954, more than 600 women played in the league in the Midwest. The league’s players were all white because the racism of the time prohibited Black women from playing. In the film, the characters are fictional. But the team the main characters play for – the Rockford Peaches – was real.

While many male Major and Minor League Baseball players were fighting in World War II, chewing gum magnate Philip K. Wrigley, who owned the Chicago Cubs, founded the league. He started the AAGPBL, “To keep spectators in the bleachers,” Carlson reports, “and a storied American sport–more important: his business afloat.” 

In 1943, the Office of War Information warned that the baseball season could be “scrapped” “due to a lack of men,” Carlson adds.

“A League of Their Own” was an ensemble of women’s performances (including Rosie O’Donnell as Doris, Megan Cavanagh as Marla, Madonna as Mae, Lori Petty as Kit and Geena Davis as Dottie) that would become legendary.

Girls and women  still dress up as Rockford Peaches on Halloween.

Tom Hanks’s indelible portrayal of coach Jimmy Dugan, Gary Marshall’s depiction of (fictional) league owner Walter Harvey and Jon Lovitz’s portrayal of Ernie have also become part of film history.

Filming “A League of Their Own,” Carlson vividly makes clear, was a gargantuan effort.  There were “actresses who can’t play baseball” and “baseball players who can’t act,” Penny Marshall said.

The stadium in Evansville, Ind., was rebuilt to look like it was in the 1940s “when the players and extras were in costume,” Carlson writes, “it was easy to lose track of what year it was.”

“No Crying in Baseball” isn’t written for a queer audience. But, Carlson doesn’t pull any punches. 

Many of the real-life AAGPBL players who O’Donnell met had same-sex partners, O’Donnell told Carlson.

“When Penny, angling for a broad box-office hit chose to ignore the AAGPGL’s queer history,” Carlson writes, “she perpetuated a cycle of silence that muzzled athletes and actresses alike from coming out on the wider stage.”

“It was, as they say, a different time,” she adds.

Fortunately, Carlson’s book isn’t preachy. Marshall nicknames O’Donnell and Madonna (who become buddies) “Ro” and “Mo.” Kodak is so grateful for the one million feet of film that Marshall shot that it brings in a high school marching band. Along with a lobster lunch. One day, an assistant director “streaked the set to lighten the mood,” Carlson writes.

“No Crying in Baseball,” is slow-going at first. Marshall, who died in 2018, became famous as Laverne in “Laverne & Shirley.” It’s interesting to read about her. But Carlson devotes so much time to Marshall’s bio that you wonder when she’ll get to “A League of Their Own.”

Thankfully, after a couple of innings, the intriguing story of one of the best movies ever is told.

You’ll turn the pages of “No Crying in Baseball” even if you don’t know a center fielder from a short stop.

The Blade may receive commissions from qualifying purchases made via this post.

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Season’s best new books offer something for every taste

History, YA, horror and more on tap



(Book covers courtesy of the publishers)

Shorter days, cooler temps, and longer nights can send you skittering inside, right? Don’t forget to bring one of these great books with you when you settle in for the fall.

Releasing in September, look for “Between the Head and the Hands” by James Chaarani, a novel about a young Muslim man whose family turns him away for being gay, and the teacher who takes him in (ECW Press, Sept. 10). Also reach for “Cleat Cute: A Novel,” by Meryl Wilsner (St. Martin’s Griffin, Sept. 19), a fun YA novel of soccer, competition, and playing hard (to get).

You may want something light and fun for now, so find “The Out Side: Trans and Nonbinary Comics,” compiled by The Kao, Min Christiansen, and Daniel Daneman (Andrews McMeel Publishing). It’s a collection of comics by nonbinary and trans artists, and you can find it Sept. 26.

The serious romantic will want to find “Daddies of a Different Kind: Sex and Romance Between Older and Younger Gay Men” by Tony Silva (NYU Press), a book about new possibilities in love; it’s available Sept. 12. Historians will want “Glitter and Concrete: A Cultural History of Drag in New York City” by Elyssa Maxx Goodman (Hanover Square Press, Sept. 12); and “Queer Blues: The Hidden Figures of Early Blues Music” by Darryl W. Bullock (Omnibus Press, Sept. 14).

In October, you’ll want to find “Blackouts: A Novel” by Justin Torres (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), a somewhat-fantasy novel about a dying man who passes a powerful book on to his caretaker. Look for it Oct. 10. Also on Oct. 10, grab “Love at 350º” by Lisa Peers (Dial Press Trade Paperback), a novel about love at a chance meeting at a baking-show contest and “The Christmas Swap: A Novel” by Talia Samuels (Alcove Press), a holiday rom-com.

You’re just warming up for the fall. Look for “Iris Kelly Doesn’t Date” by Ashley Herring Blake (Berkley, Oct. 24) and “Let Me Out,” a queer horror novel by Emmett Nahil and George Williams (Oni Press, Oct. 3).

Nonfiction lovers will want to find “Dis… Miss Gender?” by Anne Bray (MIT Press, Oct. 24), a wide, long look at gender and fluidity; “Friends of Dorothy: A Celebration of LGBTQ+ Icons” by Anthony Uzarowski and Alejandro Mogollo Diez (Imagine, Oct. 10); and “300,000 Kisses: Tales of Queer Love from the Ancient World” by Sean Hewitt and Luke Edward Hall (Clarkson Potter, Oct. 10).

For November, look for “Underburn: A Novel” by Bill Gaythwaite (Delphinium), a layered novel about Hollywood, family, and second chances. It comes out Nov. 14. For something you can really sink your teeth into, find “The Bars are Ours: Histories and Cultures of Gay Bars in America, 1960 and After” by Lucas Hilderbrand (Duke University Press, Nov 21). It’s a huge look at the spaces that played strong roles in LGBTQ history.

And if you’re looking for yourself or for a special gift in December, check out “Trans Hirstory in 99 Objects” by David Evans Frantz, Christina Linden, and Chris E. Vargas. It’s an arty coffee table book from Hirmer Publishers of Munich. You can find it Dec. 20. Also look for “Second Chances in New Port Stephen: A Novel” by T.J. Alexander (Atria / Emily Bestler, Dec. 5) and if all else fails, ask for or give a gift certificate.

Season’s readings!

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Intriguing historical novel based on the true story of 1800s lesbian couple

‘Learned by Heart’ by Emma Donoghue a moving read



(Book cover image courtesy of Little Brown)

‘Learned by Heart’
By Emma Donoghue
C. 2023, Little Brown
$28/324 pages

English landowner, diarist and businesswoman Anne Lister (1791-1840) married her last partner Ann Walker in a marriage ceremony at Holy Trinity Church in Goodramgate, York. This is considered by many to be the first lesbian marriage in England, and likely, the world.

Lister, born in a landowning family at Shibden in Calderdale, West Riding of Yorkshire, who’s been called “the first modern lesbian,” is having a moment. In two seasons in 2019 and 2022, “Gentleman Jack,” a riveting series, based on Lister’s diaries, co-produced by the BBC and HBO (streaming on Max), dramatized Lister’s relationship with Walker.

“Learned by Heart,” an intriguing historical novel by Emma Donoghue is based on the true story of the queer relationship of Lister and Eliza Raine. Raine is believed to have been Lister’s first lover.

Much of the novel takes place in 1805-1806, when, at age 14 and 15, Lister and Raine were students at Miss Hargrave’s Manor School, a boarding school for girls in York.

Raine was born in Madras (now Chennai) in India. Her father, who was English, was a surgeon with the East India Company. He and an Indian woman, whom he did not legally marry, had Raine.

In an author’s note, Donoghue writes of a letter of Raine’s that refers to her as having “sprung from an illicit connection.” Another letter calls Raine a “lady of colour.”

Raine is sent to England at age 6. After her father and mother die, she’s left an orphan with a small inheritance.

Through “Gentleman Jack” and her diaries (which are being digitalized), Lister, with her brilliance and charismatic personality, has become a queer culture icon.

Raine is comparatively unknown. Perhaps, for this reason, “Learned by Hand” focuses on Raine’s point of view.

Raine arrives at the Manor School before Lister. Prior to Lister’s arrival, Raine is mousy, rule abiding.

Because Raine’s from India, she sleeps alone in a small room. Aware of unspoken racial bias (against people who are part Indian and part English), she wants to blend in – to stay out of trouble in this school with its many rules. “She’s trained herself to wake at seven,” Donoghue writes, “just before the bell.”

When Lister arrives at the school, Raine’s world and personality are transformed. Lister, known even at this young age for being too smart for her own good, is assigned to room with Raine — isolated from the other girls — in the tiny room they call “the Slope.” Donoghue skillfully illuminates how the girls’ friendship becomes sexual, passionate first love.

One day, Lister and Raine, who call each other by their last names, alone in a church, conduct a marriage ceremony for themselves.

“Learned by Heart” is heartbreaking because its chapters are intertwined with letters that Raine writes to Lister in 1815.

It’s clear from this correspondence that Lister has (and will have) other lovers than Raine. And, that, sadly, Raine is writing from what is then called an “insane asylum.”

As is evident from “The Pull of The Stars,” and her other historical novels, Donoghue has an unerring talent for creating fascinating tales out of true stories.

Unfortunately, as so often happens, Lister, the bad, outrageous girl, is far more interesting than Raine. Raine frequently comes across as loyal, passionate, but too needy and clingy. As Lister’s Barbara Stanwyck to Raine’s June Cleaver.

“There’s nothing noble about Anne Lister…,” Donoghue wrote of Lister in “The Guardian.”
Lister had the sexual ethics of a bonobo, Donoghue continued, “lying to every lover as a matter of policy.”

Yet, Lister is Donoghue’s hero. “Because she looked into her heart and wrote about what she found there with unflinching precision,” Donoghue wrote in her “Guardian” essay.

“I love and only love the fairer sex and thus beloved by them in turn, my heart revolts from any love but theirs,” Lister wrote in a coded entry in her diary on Oct. 29, 1820. (Lister wrote one-sixth of her diaries in code to hide from homophobic eyes.)

“Learned by Heart” is a moving, entertaining read. Raine’s story along with Lister’s should be told. Even the clingy can be unsung heroes.

The Blade may receive commissions from qualifying purchases made via this post.

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