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Sunday, March 26, 2023

'Gender Queer: A Memoir' Deluxe Edition by Maia Kobabe


From the BLURB: 

In 2014, Maia Kobabe, who uses e/em/eir pronouns, thought that a comic of reading statistics would be the last autobiographical comic e would ever write. At the time, it was the only thing e felt comfortable with strangers knowing about em. Then e created Gender Queer. Maia’s intensely cathartic autobiography charts eir journey of self-identity, which includes the mortification and confusion of adolescent crushes, grappling with how to come out to family and society, bonding with friends over erotic gay fan fiction, and facing the trauma and fundamental violation of pap smears. Started as a way to explain to eir family what it means to be nonbinary and asexual, Gender Queer is more than a personal story: It is a useful and touching guide on gender identity—what it means and how to think about it—for advocates, friends, and humans everywhere.

'Gender Queer: A Memoir' by American graphic novelist Maia Kobabe came out in 2019, and has been on my radar since then, but I just never got around to getting my hands on it ... until an incident happened at a Queensland (Australian) public library that put the book back in my periphery in a big way; Gender identity memoir removed from Queensland library shelf, referred to classification board

The book is (as of March 26, 2023) still with the Australian Classifications Board (ACB) as far as I know and has been reported by the media here; Clock ticking on 'Gender Queer' censorship decisionAnd now having read the beautiful deluxe hardcover edition, for the first time ... I can only hope with my whole heart that common-sense and common-good prevails; and some of that bending towards justice happens, because this book is glorious and to deny the opportunity of young readers in particular to find the generosity of Kobabe sharing their story within its pages, would be an absolute travesty. 

Maia Kobabe uses e/em/eir pronouns – also referred to as Spivak pronouns - they are nonbinary, and queer and 'Gender Queer' is the memoir of how they fit the pieces of themselves together like a puzzle over the course of their child and young adulthood. 

What is particularly wonderful and connecting in the story, and makes the possible censorship ban in Queensland (and elsewhere, since the novel has been challenged in many schools across the US too) that much more saddening, is the fact that Kobabe really acknowledges the roles that pop-culture and fandom played in them figuring out who they are. 

I mean; 'Gender Queer' is a veritable *feast* of geekery - I myself was delighted to see references made to 'Strangers in Paradise' by Terry Moore, Archive of Our Own FanFiction writing, Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Mont), 'Supernatural,' Tamora Pierce, 'Lord of the Rings,' One Direction, and David Bowie plus many, many more ... and perhaps - ironically, painfully - is the inclusion of how much the 'Harry Potter' fandom meant to Kobabe. It was a desire to finish those novels faster than their mother was reading one-chapter-a-night that pushed them to become a truly independent reader. But a figuring out of themselves via the media they consume plays such a big part in the story. 

Of Bowie's music for instance, Kobabe write; Bowie's music was the first that felt like mine, within a joyous illustration of their teenage-self vibing to the music in the middle of outer-space with the sun blazing as hot as their new passion, a rocket-ship zooming by and planet Earth waiting to welcome them back down with this fundamental new understanding of themselves, that Bowie has just gifted them ... YES! That's exactly what art can do.

Art changes people, and people change the world and I genuinely believe - I know! - that so many kids, parents, guardians, teachers, anyone! would be touched by this novel and have their understanding of gender and the binary lovingly, powerfully expanded through this tender tale. It's Kobabe rifling through their old diaries, fandoms, obsessions, crushes, and painful moments of body-awareness and self-discovery ... so generously gifted to the reader, and I myself was very thankful for the ways that they found to articulate and illustrate the complicated thoughts and feelings they were experiencing. I may not have had them myself, but I feel like I understand them because Kobabe writes with such patience and fortitude, I feel like my sympathy has grown. 

To deny the opportunities this book could bring would be the far greater injustice. It is perfectly aimed at older-teens in the young adult space, and to suggest it is inappropriate would be far more harmful. To all the young people who will see themselves within the pages, and no doubt feel the same sense of galaxy-bursting relief and happiness that Kobabe did upon hearing David Bowie for the first time.

C'mon, ACB - Let the children lose it, Let the children use it, Let all the children boogie ...


Saturday, March 18, 2023

'My Baba's Garden' By Jordan Scott, Illustrated by Sydney Smith


From the BLURB: 

The special relationship between a child and his grandmother is depicted in this sumptuous book by an award-winning team. 

Inspired by memories of his childhood, Jordan Scott’s My Baba’s Garden explores the sights, sounds, and smells experienced by a child spending time with their beloved grandmother (Baba), with special attention to the time they spent helping her tend her garden, searching for worms to keep it healthy. He visits her every day and finds her hidden in the steam of boiling potatoes, a hand holding a beet, a leg opening a cupboard, an elbow closing the fridge, humming like a night full of bugs when she cooks. 

Poet Jordan Scott and illustrator Sydney Smith’s previous collaboration, I Talk Like a River, which received a Boston Globe-Horn Book Award expored a cherished memory shared between a father and son. In their new book, they turn that same wistful appreciation to the bond between a boy and his grandmother. Sydney Smith’s illustrations capture the sensational impressions of a child’s memory with iconic effect.

In 2020 I read author Jordan Scott and illustrator Sydney Smith's debut picture-book together, I Talk Like a River - about a young boy frustrated with his stutter, being taken on a day-trip by his Dad to reconnect with nature and learn to go slow, and take it easy on himself. 

That book - beautiful, gentle and empathetic - ended up winning the Schneider Family Book Award, and it has lived in me ever since. It was a perfect picture-book, and all the more powerful for being based on Scott's childhood which he wrote about in a short letter at the back of the book; about how is Dad would pick him up from school on "bad speech days," and how now as an adult he sees his stutter as a beautiful part of himself and how he communicates. 

I have been waiting for a second book from the duo ever since, and now it's finally here in 'My Baba's Garden' and it's just as stunning and powerful. 

This time in a letter at the start, Scott writes about 'My Baba' - explaining that this tale is also from his own childhood; of a young boy and his Polish grandmother who emigrated to Canada with her husband, the boy's Dziadek, after the terrible World War. The boy would be taken to his Baba's house (a renovated chicken coop beside a freeway) every day and she'd walk him to school; on rainy days being sure to pick up worms the weather scattered on the pavement, to be put to use in her beautiful and lush garden. 

The kicker - and connection to 'River' - is that the boy's Baba does not speak English, and he does not speak Polish. They communicate through touch, laughs, facial expressions and little rituals - like kissing food that's fallen on the floor, and then eating it immediately. 

This is another beautiful and timeless tale of communication and finding grace in ourselves and each other, the natural world, and little sacred rituals in the ever day to ground and connect us. Sydney Smith's darker illustrations with pops of red and yellow to draw the eye serve the story so beautifully, particularly in the rain-soaked pages where even droplets on windows are captured beautifully. 

I hope these two have more books in them, because I absolutely love being floored by the power and art in a story of such big ideas presented so tenderly through a child's lens. These two and their tales are *magical*!


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