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Book Review: Gay & Lesbian History for Kids: The Century-Long Struggle for LGBT Rights, with 21 Activities by Jerome Pohlen

GL HistoryPublisher’s description:

Who transformed George Washington’s demoralized troops at Valley Forge into a fighting force that defeated an empire? Who cracked Germany’s Enigma code and shortened World War II? Who successfully lobbied the US Congress to outlaw child labor? And who organized the 1963 March on Washington? Ls, Gs, Bs, and Ts, that’s who.

Given today’s news, it would be easy to get the impression that the campaign for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) equality is a recent development, but it is only the final act in a struggle that started more than a century ago. The history is told through personal stories and firsthand accounts of the movement’s key events, like the 1950s “Lavender Scare,” the Stonewall Inn uprising, and the AIDS crisis. Kids will learn about civil rights mavericks, like Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld, founder of the first gay rights organization; Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin, who turned the Daughters of Bilitis from a lesbian social club into a powerhouse for LGBT freedom; Christine Jorgensen, the nation’s first famous transgender; and Harvey Milk, the first out candidate to win a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Also chronicled are the historic contributions of famous LGBT individuals, from General von Steuben and Alan Turing to Jane Addams and Bayard Rustin, among others. This up-to-date history includes the landmark Supreme Court decision making marriage equality the law of the land. Twenty-one activities enliven the history and demonstrate the spirited ways the LGBT community has pushed for positive social change.

Kids can: write a free verse poem like Walt Whitman; learn “The Madison” line dance; remember a loved one with a quilt panel; perform a monologue from The Laramie Project; make up a song parody; and much more.


Amanda thoughts:

Need a crash course in LGBT history? This book has got you covered. A very brief look at pre-1900s history starts us off, looking at historical figures, laws, and persecution through the ages. In depth sections look at Walt Whitman, transgender people and people who “passed” as another gender, and early gay activists, among others. The author covers Emma Goldman’s 1915 lecture, the first public lecture on homosexuality in America, the beginning of the Progressive Era, and life in Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas’s Paris. He moves on to addressing the Harlem Renaissance, the first “sex reassignment” surgery (Einar Wegener/Lili Elbe), and LGBT people in the movies, military, and artistic fields.


While some chapters cover a lot of ground and speak broadly of attitudes or events, some go in to much more detail, such as the coverage of the Lavender Scare, which coincided with the Cold War’s Red Scare, and purged gays and lesbians from federal jobs. As we move through history, we learn about clubs, societies, magazines, and movements. The 1960s brings increased activism as well as many riots, many of which are explained in detail. The 1970s included parades, the Gay Liberation Front and other activist groups, and led up to challenges in same-sex marriage bans and saw the formation of support groups such as PFLAG. The author addresses changes in psychiatric communities regarding the attitudes toward and diagnoses of homosexuality as a mental disorder. Many things are done very well in this book, like the examination of the intersections of the women’s movement and the lesbian movement in the 1970s; Pohlen looks at the many subgroups and the rifts that sprung up, especially the divide between the lesbian and transgender communities. He goes on to look at Anita Bryant’s campaigns to repeal any gay rights and to put bans in place, the idea of “recruitment” and the “gay agenda,” and at the life and death of Harvey Milk. The 1980s brings a focus on AIDS and details the many horrific ways it wasn’t taken seriously or given enough political attention or funding for research. The 80s included marches, the NAMES Quilt, and a focus on helping LGBT youth. From the 1990s on, we learn about Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, international developments, progress in AIDS treatments, gay-straight alliances, DOMA, Matthew Shepard, hate crimes, civil unions, civil rights, marriage equality, and Dan Savage’s It Gets Better movement. Resources and end notes are appended.


I’d recommend this for ages 12 and up, despite it saying “kids” in the title. It’s a thorough and nuanced look at LGBT history. The conversational tone keeps things moving along nicely even as we read fairly dense chapters about history and politics. The 21 activities include things like writing a poem, making a flag, and inventing a secret language. They all relate loosely to events described in the text, but don’t necessarily enhance the book. Overall, a fantastic resource that should be on the shelves of every school and public library. 


Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9781613730829

Publisher: Chicago Review Press, Incorporated

Publication date: 10/01/2015

Series: For Kids Series



Book Review: THIS BOOK IS GAY by James Dawson

this book is gayI always love when a book has a cover or title that just screams PICK ME UP OFF THE SHELF! While we all know better than to (just) judge a book by its cover, a recent conversation with my teenage friends in YA book club was a good reminder that when browsing packed bookstore or library shelves, a lot of us judge books by covers because we have to—how else do you know where to start picking things up and browsing them? James Dawson’s THIS BOOK IS GAY will leap off the shelf at readers.


In David Levithan’s introduction, he calls it a handy guidebook. The book is filled with Dawson’s stories, facts, charts, illustrations, and stories of more than 300 LGBT* (his acronym) people. In July 2013, Dawson conducted a national survey on the issues covered here. This is where the quotes, some statistics, and in-depth interviews came from. Dawson says to think of this book as an instruction manual. He notes that everyone has their own individual experiences, identities, and opinions.


Dawson covers a lot of ground in his book. He writes about sexual thoughts and feelings, wondering about sexuality, labels and how they can change, history, slang, scientific theories, biological differences, stereotypes, subcultures, fear, heteronormative values, institutional homophobia and transphobia, paranoia, the history of HIV/AIDS, bullying, discrimination, dating violence, sexual abuse, bullying, depression, and suicide. WHEW, right? He goes on to look at homophobia around the world, what we can do about it, various views from various religions, coming out, where to meet other LGBT* folks, sex, STIs, relationships, promiscuity, monogamy, marriage, babies, and so much more. The book ends with an A-Z of “gay saints,” has a chapter for guidance for parents and caregivers of LGBT* youth, a cheat sheet of “weird” terms, and helplines and other resources.


In many ways, this is a great resource. The conversational tone and whimsical illustrations make it easily accessible and easy to flip through. It’s both serious and funny, covers a ton of topics, and is a great starting point for anyone looking to know more about being gay or coming out. STARTING POINT is a good word to laser in on. With Dawson writing as a gay cis male, much of the book skews this way. Dawson says he used the acronym LGBT* “to represent the full and infinite spectrum of sexual and gender identities.” But most these identities get little to no coverage throughout the book. The book is exactly what the title tells us, GAY. While I had some issues with the things that got ignored or glossed over (and a few times bristled at terms used or explanations), this book is generally a fine starting point. If we view this as a basic introduction to LGBT* issues and experiences, it (usually) works. Its frank discussions and personal stories are extremely useful, especially if you think of a teen reader coming across this book when he/she/they might most need it. I wish this book were one of a series, with other titles being things like THIS BOOK IS ASEXUAL, THIS BOOK IS NON-BINARY, THIS BOOK IS PANSEXUAL, THIS BOOK IS INTERSECTIONAL (I could keep going, but you get my point). The main message of this book—be you and be proud—is an important one and one that teenagers especially can never hear enough times. For gay cis boys, this is a pretty great resource. For everyone else, start here, but seek out more nuanced and inclusive materials as your next step.



ISBN-13: 9781492617822

Publisher: Sourcebooks

Publication date: 6/16/2015