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Little LGBT lessons: A history and activity book for kids

A new LGBT history from Chicago Review Press is kid-friendly and mom-approved — make that two moms.

Gay & Lesbian History for Kids: The Century-Long Struggle for LGBT Rights is stocked with stories, quotes, photographs and nearly two dozen activities.

LGBT parents will be over-the-rainbow with the book by Jerome Pohlen, a former elementary school science teacher and the author of the well-received Albert Einstein and Relativity for Kids. And so will their kids.

WiG tested the book’s appeal with an informal book club of six: three parents, ages 24–57, and three kids, ages 7–14.

The parents described the book as lively, engaging and informative. The timeline begins in 570 BC, with the death of the Greek poet Sappho and continues through 2015, concluding with the U.S. Supreme Court ruling for marriage equality in all 50 states. The 192 pages contain a condensed but comprehensive narrative about the movement and milestones, legends and the legendary. The story of Harvey Milk is told, but also those of lesser-known historical figures, like Gen. Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, who served as George Washington’s chief of staff in the American Revolution.

Chapters include the early history, the birth of a movement in the early 1900s, life in the shadows of the 1940s and 1950s, coming out in the 1960s, mobilizing in the streets in the 1970s, acting up in the 1980s, setbacks and advances in the 1990s, and the milestone achievements of this new century. The book opens with an introduction about “two moms” and concludes with an afterword about “everyday heroes.”

“I think it has something for everyone,” said Chrissy Williams of Madison, a mother of two children. “I learned a few things. Well, actually, I learned a lot.”

The kids focused more on the activities than the histories.

“It didn’t feel like learning at all,” said Williams’ 12-year-old daughter, Amy.

The book guides children through:

• Writing a free verse poem after reading Walt Whitman’s “Song of the Open Road.”

• Inventing a secret language after learning about Oscar Wilde and an era when green carnations and red neckties signaled “family.”

• Singing the blues, with inspiration from the songs of Bessie Smith, Ethel Waters, Ma Rainey and Gladys Bentley.

• Practicing “The Madison” after reading that same-sex couples would be arrested for touching on the dance floor, so they began line dancing instead.

• Designing a flag, after reading about symbolism and the creation of the rainbow Pride flag.

A favorite activity instructed kids to ask adults about boycotts they joined and the results. The kids in WiG’s book club took the activity to another level and agreed to boycott “bad people like Donald Trump,” “kale” and “homework.”

Perhaps the most unusual activity in the book involves conducting an inkblot test, using five sheets of construction paper, a jar of dark poster paint, a pen and a sheet of notebook paper.

Readers learn that, in the 1950s, sex researcher and psychologist Evelyn Hooker gave her subjects the Rorschach Test, seeking clues about how they think by showing them a series of inkblots. Then the kids make and conduct the test — an activity guaranteed to prompt some laughs and occupy them for at least an hour this summer.

Were they or weren’t they? Jerome Pohlen’s LGBT history for kids explores the sexuality of (below, from left) Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Louisa May Alcott, Herman Melville and Emily Dickinson.

Were they or weren’t they?
Jerome Pohlen’s LGBT history for kids explores the sexuality of (below, from left) Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Louisa May Alcott, Herman Melville and Emily Dickinson.

Finalists for kids

The 28th Annual Lambda Literary Awards, also known as Lammys, will be presented June 6.

Finalists in the category for children’s and young adult books include:

Gay and Lesbian History for Kids: The Century-Long Struggle for LGBT Rights by Jerome Pohlen from Chicago Review Press.

About a Girl: A Novel by Sarah McCarry from St. Martin’s Griffin.

Anything Could Happen by Will Walton from Push.

George by Alex Gino from Scholastic Press.

The Marvels by Brian Selznick from Scholastic Press.

More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera from Soho Teen.

None of the Above by IW Gregorio from Balzer + Bray/ Harper Collins.

Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli from Balzer + Bray/Harper Collins.

— Lisa Neff

Gay & Lesbian History for Kids offers a condensed, 192-page narrative about the LGBT rights movement, from the early 1900s to the new century. — Photos: Chicago Review Press

Gay & Lesbian History for Kids offers a condensed, 192-page narrative about the LGBT rights movement, from the early 1900s to the new century. — Photos: Chicago Review Press

 

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