‘Twas the Night Before Pride

'Twas the Night Before Pride

‘Twas the Night Before Pride











Twas the Night Before Pride

Joanna McClintick

Juana Media

Walker Books, 2023

32pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99


 On the night before Pride, families everywhere are preparing to take part in this special parade celebrating gender diversity and honouring those in the LBGTQ+ community who fought against injustice and inequality. As one family packs snacks and makes signs, an older sibling shares the importance of the parade with the newest member of the family. Reflecting on the day, the siblings agree that the best thing about Pride is getting to be yourself.

This book has been sitting on my shelf waiting for the right opportunity to review it, and that seemed to present itself in the last week or two. Firstly, there was a conversation with a number of women of a certain age who still seem to believe that gender diversity is an active choice made by the individual and who not only thought it “disgusting” but believed it to be a result of the child’s upbringing and so condemned all those involved, which in this instance, included me.  Secondly, there was a request to a teacher librarian forum for LGBTQIA+ book suggestions for a primary school including how to deal with anticipated parental backlash.  So clearly there remains a need to continually educate and advocate for those who don’t fit the accepted norm, and the lines from the story

It sometimes happens we’re not given respect. It can take a long time for some to accept

becomes even more poignant and relevant, especially in light of some of the policies in schools in parts of the US and book bannings in libraries which clearly, some would prefer to have here as well.  

It remains my hope that one day soon that family and gender diversity in stories will not be a cause for comment, let alone a label but until then we need to continue to include books that demonstrate that people are people regardless of who they might share their nights with in our collection so that our young people don’t have the prejudices that are clearly still in our community.  This one, written to the rhythm of “Twas the Night Before Christmas”, although written for a US audience with reference to historical events there, is nevertheless, a worthwhile addition to your collection particularly because of the lines I’ve quoted, and to help our young ones understand the message behind the parade at Mardi Gras.

In the meantime, if you’re looking for appropriate titles, search this blog for LGBTQIA+, check out this list from Walker Books, or this one from Readings, and if you need to explain or defend your position, see how it is dealt with in this sample collection policy and this blog post

Grandad’s Pride

Grandad's Pride

Grandad’s Pride











Grandad’s Pride

Harry Woodgate

Andersen Press, 2023

32pp., hbk., RRP $A29.99


Milly and her family, including Gilbert the dog, are back for their annual summer holiday with Grandad, and while she is rummaging in the attic to build a pirate fort, Milly discovers a beautiful rainbow flag.  It sparks a discussion about how Grandad used to march in the Pride parades, celebrating the diversity of the community and sharing the message that regardless of who they love or their gender, everyone should be treated with equality and respect. 

When Milly suggests going to a parade in the old camper van, and Grandad tells her his partying days are over, she has an idea… and Pride comes to Grandad and the village!

Not only is this a joyous celebration of Pride and all that it means, it is also a down-to-earth explanation that young children can understand immediately, and many will delight in seeing children just like them portrayed in the illustrations as the villagers come together to make this a brilliant celebration.  Like its predecessor, while gender diversity is at its core, it is more about relationships and communities and connections regardless of differences like skin colour, beliefs or living arrangements.  After all, we are all humans striving to be loved and treated with dignity and respect.  

Dog Squad: The Race

Dog Squad: The Race

Dog Squad: The Race











Dog Squad: The Race

Clara Vulliamy

HarperCollins, 2024

128pp., pbk., RRP $A11.99


Eva has always wanted to be a journalist, and, together with her friends Simone and Ash, the she produces  the Newshound newspaper for her school readers.  Their first big story came when a whippet followed her home – so thin that she called him Wafer – and Eva set out to discover its owner, and found out more than she bargained on. 

Now she wants to help Wafer makes some doggy friends and so she takes him to the local whippet races,  And again, there is more to the story than meets the eye when she realises that there is some cheating going on.  Along with Simone and Ash, she decides to investigate because this might be their next big story, but can they crack the case and is it safe to do so?

This is the second in this new series for young independent readers that has broad appeal for those who love animals, those who love mysteries and those who like to write.  The diversity of characters, their relationships and interests makes for an engaging read, but it is interesting that many reviewers have pointed out that Ash is non binary.  While it is important for kids to see themselves represented in stories, it also demonstrates that we still have some way to go before gender diversity is accepted without comment, in the same way that nationalities are.  As illustrated in As Bright as a Rainbowthere are many ways to be a kid, and my experience is that they accept each other regardless of looks, clothes, gender, religion, language or any other barriers.  It is the adults who impose the labels. But the more there is inclusivity featured in stories the easier it will be for those who may be “outside the norm”. In this interview, the author, herself, speaks about why she includes diverse characters in her stories as she recognises the need for such diversity to be normalised, and, unsurprisingly, it is  adults who feel they have to vilify her.

Regardless, this is an engaging series that is being enjoyed by many and they will look forward to The Show in April.

As Bright as a Rainbow

As Bright as a Rainbow

As Bright as a Rainbow











As Bright as a Rainbow

Romy Ash

Blue Jaryn

Working Title Press, 2024

34pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99


When we think of the colour blue, do we all visualise the exact same shade or do we see hues like cornflower, ultramarine, azure, cerulean? Perhaps even turquoise like the ocean – but is the ocean just turquoise? Or can it be one of the myriad of iterations of green?

Just like there are so many ways to describe the core colours of the rainbow, then so are there many ways to express yourself as a boy or a girl and this book encourages young children to understand that there is no specific, set-in-concrete way to define one or the other.  

Gradually, we are moving away from the stereotype notion of “pink for girls and blue for boys” (so many ask for gender0neutral colours for baby items in the chop where I volunteer), although it was only 10 years ago when there was an enormous fuss in some places with the release of Jacob’s New Dress and people asked if girls can wear trousers, why can’t boys wear dresses? But while schoolboys wearing skirts in protest of school dress codes still get headlines around the world, and others roll their eyes and tut-tut if someone signs their email indicating their preferred pronouns, it is clear there is still a way to travel and this book for young readers not only raises awareness of the issue, particularly for those struggling with their identity, but does it in a way that is so simple to understand = an analogy that could be used to explore any sort of difference or diversity.

Regardless of the progress that has been made, gender diversity remains a struggle for those who are diverse, so perhaps this is a way to change thinking from the very beginning.  It is somewhat ground-breaking, would certainly be banned in some states of the US and perhaps in some schools here, but nevertheless it is an important contribution to the well0being of those who are different.  


Dog Squad: The Newshound

Dog Squad: The News Hound

Dog Squad: The Newshound











Dog Squad: The Newshound

Clara Vulliamy

HarperCollins, 2023

128pp., pbk., RRP $A15.99


Eva has always wanted to be a journalist, and, together with her friends Simone and Ash, the she produces  the Newshound newspaper for her school readers.  While they’ve written a few stories, there hasn’t been anything really significant, so when she finds a stray dog outside her home, Eva thinks she might just have found her first case.

The dog follows her home but living in a block of flats where pets are banned is problematic and although her mum says it can stay overnight, secretly Eva has other ideas.  The dog, which she determines is a whippet, is so thin she calls it Wafer and even though tracing its owner might offer The Newshound its biggest story yet, Eva soon realises that she might not want to get to the bottom of the mystery after all – because won’t that just mean she just has to give Wafer back?

Even with its English setting, this is a story that is going to resonate with a broad audience of young newly-independent readers because if they are not budding writers like Eva and her friends wanting to get to the bottom of these sorts of stories, then they are animal lovers whose hearts reach out to stray, mistreated creatures that so clearly need a home.  They may even be non binary  like Ash and enjoy seeing themselves in a story affirming their identity. As well as being an engaging read, it also provides food for thought as it raises issues about the treatment of animals by humans, from breeding in puppy farms for profit to their disposal when they are no longer wanted, perhaps even inspiring some to delve deeper.

And just to top it off, it is the start of a new series, with The Race scheduled for early 2024, so readers have something to look forward to. While they wait, they might like to meet Dotty Detective, a series in a similar vein of young girls solving mysteries. 


Speak Up!

Speak Up!

Speak Up!











Speak Up!

Rebecca Burgess

HarperCollins, 2022

272pp., graphic novel, RRP $A39.99


Twelve-year-old Mia is just trying to navigate a world that doesn’t understand her true autistic self.  Mia would be happy to just be herself, stims and all, but the other students have trouble understanding her and even bully her, while her mother is full of strategies to help her attempt to mask her autism.  Although she wishes she could stand up to her bullies, she’s always been able to express her feelings through singing and songwriting, even more so with her best friend, Charlie, who is nonbinary, putting together the best beats for her.

Together, they’ve taken the internet by storm; little do Mia’s classmates know that she’s the viral singer Elle-Q! Ironically, one of her biggest fans is also one of her biggest real-life bullies, Laura. But while the chance to perform live for a local talent show has Charlie excited, Mia isn’t so sure.

She’ll have to decide whether she’ll let her worries about what other people think get in the way of not only her friendship with Charlie, but also showing everyone, including the bullies, who she is and what she has to say. Though she may struggle with some of her emotions, Mia does not suffer because of her autism. Rather than  a cure as though there is something about her that needs to be fixed,  she just wants acceptance, understanding and tolerance, just like the other characters who have other issues that drive their behaviour. 

For older, independent readers this is a graphic novel by an autistic author/illustrator offering a sympathetic depiction of one young person’s experience of autism, and because it is by one on the spectrum it is an authentic voice giving an insight into what it is like to be different at a time when peer acceptance is so important to who we are. 

Julian at the Wedding






Julian at the Wedding

Julian at the Wedding








Julian at the Wedding

Jessica Love

Walker, 2020

40pp., hbk., RRP $A27.99


Julian and his grandmother are attending a wedding. In fact, Julian is in the wedding along with his cousin Marisol. When wedding duties are fulfilled and with a new dog friend in tow, the pair takes off to roam the venue, exploring everywhere from underneath tables to enchanting willow trees to muddy puddles!  So when Mariola’s dress gets ruined, Julian has the perfect solution. But how will the grown-ups respond?

We first met Julian and his flamboyant grandmother in Julian is a Mermaid, a brilliant but controversial interpretation of being true to oneself. This sequel is just as good as it subtly shifts the narrative of convention so that the wedding being that of two brides is as normal as any other is almost unremarkable. After all, a wedding is just “a party for love.”

However, its impact may be more profound. 

The story behind Charles M. Schultz introducing a black character into the Peanuts comic strip has been well-documented and there are stories galore of how this impacted young black readers in the US, particularly.  Suddenly they were seeing themselves in literature in a new and positive portrayal. And so it may well be with children like Julian – those who don’t live in a conventional family; those for who two mums and two dads is the norm; those who prefer to be mermaids than superheroes. Here they are in a story that treats their situation as the norm and moves on to the real issues – ruining your bridesmaid’s dress at a wedding where, traditionally, you’re supposed to remain pristine!

Like its predecessor, most of this story is told in the stunning illustrations with the minimum of text, and they hold so many riches that the book demands to be explored again and again. Jessica Love won the Bologna Ragazzi Award and Klaus Flugge Prize for Julian is a Mermaid, her debut picture book and it is quite probable that this will be among the prizewinners too. 

Originally published November 3 2020

Updated February 2023

Jacob’s New Dress






Jacob's New Dress

Jacob’s New Dress










Jacob’s New Dress

Sarah and Ian Hoffman

Chris Case

Albert Whitman, 2014

hbk., 32pp.,  RRP $A24.95


There are many costumes to choose from in the class dress-up corner – firemen, dragons, farmers, knights in shining armour – but Jacob insists on wearing the princess dress complete with crown.  Even when Ms Wilson suggests alternatives to deflect the derision he is receiving, particularly from Christopher, he proudly informs her that he is the princess.  At home that afternoon, his mother reaffirms that boys can wear dresses and even suggests he plays in his Hallowe’en witch’s outfit but when he proposes to wear it to school the next day she is caught in a dilemma of acknowledging her son’s choices and protecting him for the cruelty of his classmates.  When Jacob creates an alternative – a toga-like outfit he makes from towels – she is happier, especially when Jacob agrees to wear shorts and a shirt underneath.

However, while his friend Emily admires his creation, that is not enough for Christopher and the rest of the boys who cannot deal with Jacob’s nonconformist persona and Jacob goes home miserable and confused, but determined. He asks his mother to make him a real dress but she hesitates, and the longer she hesitates the harder it is for Jacob to breathe.  Will his mum support what for him is a natural expression of who he is, or will she try to protect him from the Christophers of the world? If she allows Jacob to make and then wear his dress to school is she subjecting him to ridicule?  If she denies him, is she protecting the stereotype?

Just ten years ago, there was a “Jacob” at the school where I taught – a young lad who preferred the princess outfits, made long hair from plaited pantyhose, and whose choices made him not only the butt of the playground bullies but also the subject of many teacher-parent and teacher-teacher conferences as we tried to find a way through the minefield that saw him become more and more anxious and isolated as he progressed through the years. Gender identity issues were not common – in fact, our Jacob was the first gender nonconforming child that many of us had taught. In hindsight and with what we know now, his dependence in other areas was just a manifestation of his insecurity and need to be acknowledged like a regular child, that he was more than his gender confusion and we needed to look harder beneath the outer to seek the inner. How welcome a book like Jacob’s New Dress would have been to give us some guidance, for like Jacob’s parents in the story, teachers too are trapped in the dilemma of acknowledgement and protection.  Ms Wilson tells her class that Jacob wears what he’s comfortable in. Just like you do. Not very long ago little girls couldn’t wear pants. Can you imagine that?”  If we don’t make judgements about a girl’s future sexuality because she prefers to wear blue jeans and to play football, why do we react so strongly to a boy making alternative choices?

This story was born of the authors’ own experience with their own child and while there are many unanswered questions about both the cause of and the future for such children, the strong message is that “support and acceptance from family, peers and community make a huge difference in the future health and mental health of these kids”.  Just like any child, really.  Ms Wilson is a role model for teachers – gender nonconformity is just another way of being different and “there are many ways to be boys [and girls].” Just a couple of generations ago people who were left-handed often had the offending hand tied behind their back to compel them to write with their right – perhaps it won’t be too long before “pink boys” are as accepted as lefties are today. Perhaps we could start the conversations with questions such as

  • If Jacob were in our class, are you more likely to be like Emily or Christopher?
  • How would you feel if someone made fun of you wearing your favourite clothes or wouldn’t let you wear them?
  • Has that happened to you?  Do you want to share?
  • Why do you think Christopher reacts the way he does?
  • What did you like/not like about the way Ms Wilson dealt with the issue?
  • If you were Jacob’s mum or dad, what decision would you make?

Apart from anything else, an astute teacher will pick up on any sexism and bullying issues that might be bubbling below the surface.

However, there is another level to this book.  While, on the surface, this appears to be a picture book for the young (the recommended age is 4-7) it would also be a brilliant springboard to a study about what is masculine and what is feminine and the messages portrayed through the media about what is valued about and for each; the relationship between the clothes we wear and our perceived position in society; and whether, despite the feminist movement, whether deep-down core values and beliefs have really changed. Are gender-based stereotypes perpetuated?  In the vein of Tomie dePaola’s Oliver Button is a Sissy this is yet another example of a picture book (usually seen as the reading realm of the very young) actually having an audience of all ages.

A peek inside...

A peek inside…

Originally published May 4, 2014

Updated February 2023

Julian Is a Mermaid





Julian Is a Mermaid

Julian Is a Mermaid









Julian Is a Mermaid

Jessica Love

Walker, 2018

40pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99


Going home on the subway with his grandmother, Julian spots three glamorous women dressed as mermaids and is immediately transported to his imaginary world living under the sea as a mermaid, at one with the creatures there.  He is pulled from his reverie as the train reaches his stop but the memory lingers and once he is home and his grandmother goes to have a bath, he uses the things in her apartment to transform himself – plant fronds for flowing, hair, lacy curtains for a splendid tail, and some lipstick. But then his grandmother comes out – will she scold him for becoming something so feminine or will she embrace his imagination and diversity?

In what is almost a wordless picture book, the reader has to immerse themselves in the pictures to really engage with this story that challenges the stereotype of being a mermaid being a girl’s dream and celebrates diversity, being true to yourself and accepted for that. 

One can imagine the eyebrows that would be raised on an Australian metro train should three glamorous women dressed as mermaids get on, each confident in themselves and their dress (reminiscent of the costumes of Priscilla, Queen of the desert)- but this is New York and instead of derision they encourage a young child to dream and then make that dream a reality. 

His grandmother, somewhat overweight but nevertheless flamboyant in her own style, is clearly very comfortable in her own skin, not driven by the expectations of others and definitely not the stereotype grey-hair-and-knitting that is so commonly portrayed in stories, and so it is not surprising that she embraces Julian’s desires and takes him to a place where he can truly belong. 

Because so much of the story is told in the illustrations, they have to be superb and they are. From the stunning undersea creature presenting the mermaid Julian with a coral necklace to the characters that Julian and his grandmother pass in the street, indeed even the women in the pool in the endpages, each with is imbued with personality and confidence and pride in who they are. 

This is a book that demands close reading and reflection so its riches are revealed; it is one that will raise questions and demand explanations; but to those who are like Julian and dream of things that are beyond the traditional stereotype bounded by gender, it will bring comfort and maybe confidence so they too can be themselves. 

Originally published June 28 2018

Updated February 2023

Introducing Teddy: A story about being yourself





Introducing Teddy

Introducing Teddy









Introducing Teddy: A story about being yourself

Jessica Walton

Dougal Macpherson

Bloomsbury, 2016

32pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99



Errol and his teddy, Thomas, are best friends.  They do everything together and go everywhere together.  Riding the bike, planting the veges, eating sandwiches in the treehouse, and having tea parties indoors when it is raining. 

But one day Thomas seems incredibly sad and nothing Errol can do can cheer him up – not even playing on the swings in the park. 

“What’s wrong, Thomas. Talk to me,” said Errol.

“If I tell you,” said Thomas, you might not be my friend any more.”

“I will always be your friend, Thomas.”

Thomas the teddy took a deep breath.  “I need to be myself, Errol.  In my heart. I’ve always known that I’m a girl teddy, not a boy teddy.  I wish my name was Tilly, not Thomas.”

Does this revelation affect Errol’s friendship with his teddy?  Not at all. It’s their friendship that matters.  Neither does it bother their friend Ava, who scoots by and joins in the fun of the park.  And at the very next tea party Errol and Tilly have a lovely time with Ava and her robot.

The publisher’s blurb for this book says it is “a ground-breaking children’s book about gender identity and friendship’ and indeed it is for if you have ever tried to find stories about this topic for young people, you will know they are few and far between.  In fact, anything that touches on gender diversity is scarce and yet it is an area that needs and deserves attention.  Written in response to a personal need, its Australian author has really highlighted that gender orientation should not be that which defines us, and for kids, it isn’t.  Being a friend is much more important.  Having witnessed the transition of a girl to a boy first-hand, what was very evident was that the other students just accepted the child for who he was.  There was no fuss or bother, teasing or bullying.  Perhaps this was because of the way both the parents and the school handled the matter, but it was very apparent, that as with any form of discrimination, it is the adult generation that finds things hard to accept and imposes sanctions.  Just like Errol, the existing friendship was stronger and more important than anything else.

Through a wonderful marriage of text and illustrations, Walton and Macpherson have explored this concept perfectly – the repositioning of the bow tie to hair ribbon is just exquisite.

However, while I believe that this book and others like it have a place in the school library collection, there are those who are likely to object and therefore it would be prudent to make sure that your Collection Policy includes a statement such as “no resource in the general collection will be shelved, labelled or displayed in a way that discriminates or marginalises a user on the grounds of ability, culture, ethnicity, religion sexual orientation, or any other consideration”.  It would also be prudent to talk to your exec so they are in the loop as they are usually the go-to people when parents complain.  (For more information on this go to The Tricky Topics Hat )

“Inclusivity” and “diversity” have to be more than just buzzwords in the current educational jargon, and we need more writers like Jessica Walton to enable us to ensure that all our students are able to read about themselves in the resources we offer them.

Originally published June 1 2016

Updated February 2023