Unlikely Companions

One of the literary formats that seems to be introducing more and more diversity to children’s and young adult literature is graphic novels. Two recently published graphic novels for teens are Kiss Number 8 by Colleen AF Venable and Ellen T. Crenshaw and On a Sunbeam by Tillie Walden. Both of these works address the experiences of young lesbian women, but they do this in very different ways.

Mads is the central character in Kiss Number 8 and the book focuses on her relationships with friends and family as she comes to terms with her sexual orientation. While the book takes place in 2004, her coming out process is directly impacted by the experience of a transgender man who chose to live his truth many years ago. Mads’ coming out process is not at all easy or entirely her choice. She learns that sometimes those we love the most and who we count on to be unconditionally accepting, are not willing to alter their own perspectives for important people in their lives. Sometimes unlikely people turn out to be advocates, as well. Mads is lucky that her coming out does not result in homelessness or abandonment which happens for many LGBTQ teens.

In contrast, there is no coming out process in On a Sunbeam. This book takes place in a future in which there appear to be no men, though this is never mentioned in the text. Coming out would not be an event here because all relationships, friendly/familial/romantic, are between women. However, relationships and acceptance are still at the center of this story. The protagonist, Mia, is followed across two timelines. In the first, Mia is a student in boarding school who starts to open herself up to new experiences when she meets Grace and falls in love. In the second, Mia is serving on a crew that travels to different planets to repair old buildings. Over the course of the book, we discover how the two timelines are connected.

Sometimes seeing characters that resemble oneself in literature can be affirming, even if those characters spend most of their time on spaceships in an alternate universe. These two graphic novels would be worthwhile to include on shelves in any high school library or classroom.

Teaching Tolerance Social Justice Standards:

Identity 1: I have a positive view of myself, including an awareness of an comfort with my membership in multiple groups in society.

Identity 4: I express pride and confidence in my identity without perceiving or treating anyone else as inferior.

Common Core Standards:

RL.3- Analyze how complex characters (e.g., those with multiple or conflicting motivations) develop over the course of a text, interact with other characters, and advance the plot or develop the theme.

RL.5- Analyze how an author’s choices concerning how to structure a text, order events within it (e.g., parallel plots), and manipulate time (e.g., pacing, flashbacks) create such effects as mystery, tension, or surprise.

Published by socialjusticeinchildrenslit

My name is Leah Cole and I was a teacher in Iowa for nine years. My passions for education, social justice, and children's literature led me to create this blog. Students are faced with issues of justice and fairness from the time they are very young. The Social Justice Standards developed by Teaching Tolerance help teachers to support the development of students who recognize and embrace their own identities while respecting and valuing those who are different. In this blog, I will attempt to identify and review books that support the social justice standards.

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