A project to build up book collections for LGBTQ youth inspired these suggestions for your own reading list (and your classroom).
June 11, 2018
As a high school student, Andrew Byrd (Arkansas ’11) searched the books he was reading for gay characters who, like himself, struggled with their identities. He couldn’t find them. Today, with the help of the Teach For America PRISM network supporting LGBTQ corps members, alumni, students, and others, Byrd is making sure other kids can.
As a teacher in a rural, culturally conservative part of Arkansas, Byrd used books to forge strong connections with his queer students. That helped inspire his idea to create PRISM libraries. PRISM boards in the Orlando, Jacksonville, Indianapolis, Southwest Ohio, and D.C. regions are partnering with community organizations to raise money and collect and house the books in places where kids can access them, like community centers or after-school spaces. The hope is that the books will be valuable not only to students, but to teachers looking to build compassion and connections in their classrooms.
Byrd still thinks about the little moments he missed growing up, like getting excited about a crush or going out on dates. It took him years to be “who I was born to be,” he says. “My ultimate hope is that with these libraries, kids will have strong role models so they can accept and love who they are right now.”
Byrd’s Suggested Reading List:
A children’s book about two male penguins in the Central Park Zoo, Roy and Silo, who raise a young penguin together. “It subtly alludes to how families can look different and still be ‘normal.’”
Jared Fox (G.N.O.–LAD ’09)
LGBT Community Liaison for the New York City Department of Education
“As a little kid, one of my favorite stories was Charlotte’s Web, and this story of a fourth grade transgender girl nods to that story.” It’s about Melissa, who wants to play Charlotte in a class play, “but her teacher says she can’t because she’s a boy.”
This story of a blue crayon with a red label, who “tries all sorts of ways to fit in,” can help young children understand and talk about transgender identity and open up a conversation “about the importance of being who you are.”
Paige Umberger (Phoenix ’13)
Manager of Regional Operations, Teach For America–Southwest Ohio
While visiting friends throughout her neighborhood, a girl named Makayla observes how each family is different. “It’s an inclusive and accessible book that highlights different families who are racially and gender diverse, and shows why they are all beloved.”
Shea Martin (Jacksonville ’15)
Ninth Grade English Teacher, Atlantic Coast High School (Jacksonville, Fla.)
In this novel, a gay Nigerian-American teenager explores his intersecting identities as he prepares to leave his affluent parents’ home and go to college. “I am so drawn in by the depictions of Niru’s nuanced existence as a black, gay, Christian, Ivy-League-bound, first-generation immigrant.” (Recommended for high school students.)
Anna McDaniel (Jacksonville ’15)
Teach For America LGBTQ+ Cohort Community Co-Leader (Jacksonville, Fla.)
In this novel, a young black man in the Deep South struggles to reconcile his sexuality with his family’s religion on the final night of his life. “This text will resonate with many young people who struggle to balance their sense of self with the obligations and expectations of their families and communities.” (Recommended for high school students.)
This fantasy novel tells the story of two 17-year-old girls who are picked to go on a dangerous mission and then begin to fall in love. “This is the princess story I wish I had when I was younger!” (Recommended for middle and high school students.)
Blair Mishleau (Twin Cities ’12)
Director of Personalized Learning, Western School of Science and Technology (Phoenix)
This picture book tells the story of a prince who “never cared much for princesses” and fulfills his mother’s desire for him to marry after becoming smitten with one of his female suitors’ brothers.
In this classic picture book from 1979, a young boy embraces his love of paper dolls, dress-up play, and dancing. “It’s the story of a boy who stands up to bullies, not by fighting, but by staying true to himself.”
Joseph Myers (South Dakota ’14)
Manager of Teacher Leadership Development, Teach For America–Indianapolis
This essay collection shares stories from different backgrounds within the queer diaspora, presenting readers the opportunity to engage with an author with whom they may relate in more than one way. (Recommended for high school students.)
In this novel, an out ninth grader struggles to escape being the poster boy for gay pride. “This story might be well suited for students who may already be out of the closet, or for those who aren’t necessarily being bullied about their sexuality or gender… It addresses the need to feel normal.” (Recommended for middle and high school students.)
This article was reported and written by Paula Ann Solis and Calvin Hennick (N.Y. '04)