Author Visit: Alex Gino Discusses Melissa
Thursday, June 29th at 7:00 p.m.
For Grades 4-12, Families, Adults
Register here for in-person in Galaxy Hall or here for Virtual on Zoom
To both celebrate LGBTQIA+ Pride Month in June and to call attention to the ever-increasing crisis of censorship and book banning in the country, we are excited to announce that award-winning author Alex Gino will be speaking about their book, Melissa.
This author visit program will also be June’s Tweens Talk Banned Books meeting. Tweens Talk Banned Books is a book club program for grades 4-6 to discuss challenged books! The Tweens Talk Banned Books series has been highlighting renowned children’s titles that have been banned recently. Our book discussion series seeks to engage in open and honest conversations about diverse books and sometimes difficult material as an alternative to book banning. We will provide a free copy of the book to the first eight youth in grades 4-6 to register, and those who attend in person will be provided a snack at the program. When the books are available, we will email you to arrange a pickup; please list an email address when registering.
When people look at Melissa, they think they see a boy named George. But she knows she's not a boy. She knows she's a girl. Melissa thinks she'll have to keep this a secret forever. Then her teacher announces that their class play is going to be Charlotte's Web. Melissa really, really, REALLY wants to play Charlotte. But the teacher says she can't even try out for the part… because she's a boy. With the help of her best friend, Kelly, Melissa comes up with a plan. Not just so she can be Charlotte — but so everyone can know who she is, once and for all. Alex Gino eloquently said of their book, “I wrote Melissa because it’s a book I wish I had growing up, and a book I’m happy for kids to have now, so that they can grow up a little differently than I did.”
Melissa has won the Lambda Literary Award, the Stonewall Award (American Library Association), the Children’s Choice Book Awards Debut Author, and the Juvenile California Book Award and the book has also received 4-starred reviews from Booklist, Kirkus Reviews, Publisher’s Weekly and School Library Journal.
Melissa has made the American Library Association’s top ten list of most banned and challenged books every year through 2020. Sadly, the book has been a target of severe censure since its first publishing. Last year, St. Marys City Commission (Kansas) threatened the existence of a public library for simply having Alex Gino’s book, Melissa, in its collection.
In the summer of 2022, Melissa was removed from Pottawatomie Wabaunsee Regional Library in St. Marys, Kansas following one parent’s complaint. Not long after, the St. Marys city commissioners demanded that the library sign a renewed lease with a clause that would remove all books that dealt with sexuality, race, or LGBTQ themes. According to Rachel Mipro in her November 2022 article for the Kansas Reflector, “The lease stipulated that the library not ‘supply, distribute, loan, encourage, or coerce acceptance of or approval of explicit sexual or racially or socially divisive material, or events (such as ‘drag queen story hours’) that support the LGBTQ+ or critical theory ideology or practice.” The library refused to sign the newly-worded lease – and as a result was threatened with closure by the St. Marys city commissioners. Following public outcry, the city commissioners did finally agree to renew the library's lease without the added clause in December of 2022, but only for one year. For more information, you can read Rachel Mipro’s article linked above, or Jason Tidd’s article for CJ Online: The Topeka Capital-Journal about the events.
Alex Gino spoke out about the unjust situation in Kansas, pointing out how much harm banning LGBTQIA+ kids’ books does to all children, but especially those who are LGBTQIA+. “It hurts my heart,” Gino said. “The implication is that my existence is so monstrous that it should be withheld from children. And what happens is, you end up with adults like me, who didn’t have good role models or good reflections of people like them growing up, and the road does not change who you are, but it makes the road much more painful. And it makes the road a lot more dangerous.”
Alex Gino has been an activist and advocate for LGBTQIAP+ communities since 1997, and they are currently a member of We Need Diverse Books and PEN America. Gino “loves glitter, ice cream, gardening, awe-ful puns, and stories that reflect the complexity of being alive.”
To find out more about Alex Gino and their great books visit their website.
Find out more here about how you can help fight against censorship and book bannings.
Alice Austen Lived Here
“Sam, a proud nonbinary seventh grader, has to research a figure of local significance for history class, and they are determined not to write about another DSCWM (‘Dead Straight Cisgender White Man’). They choose Alice Austen: prolific photographer, lifelong fellow Staten Islander, and lesbian. Along with best friend TJ, Sam dives into research, delighting at the love between women that Austen showcased in her photographs. Their teacher plans to enter the best report in a borough-wide competition, with a chance to have the subject made into a statue. Sam and TJ think it should be Alice — but with centuries of queer erasure against them, it might take a whole community to bring her story to light. Sam's confidence in their identity as a fat, nonbinary kid makes for a lovable protagonist, and their narration is funny and enthusiastic. Elements of queer theory and oft-overlooked historical facts are sprinkled into the first-person narration without feeling too preachy. The heart of this book is found in its intergenerational relationships — Sam's friendships with LGBTQIA+ elders help them learn about fat liberation, queer history, and the value of chosen family. An author's note provides more information about Austen and includes five black-and-white photos, three of which are Austen's.” –Horn Book Magazine
“As he explores his identity and finds his footing in middle school, a sixth grader stands up to his bully best friend. White, cisgender boys Rick and Jeff have been best friends since the third grade. When they're alone, Jeff shares his video games, but at school Jeff picks on other kids and talks about girls with ostentatious lasciviousness. Despite their connection, Rick knows he can't tell Jeff that he wants to join their school's Rainbow Spectrum, a safe space for LGBTQIAP+ students, or that he's questioning his own sexuality. The more Rick learns about himself, the more he realizes he needs to hold Jeff accountable for his behavior. An honest relationship develops between Rick and his cosplay-loving grandfather. Grandpa Ray reassures and supports Rick when he comes out as asexual. Adults in the story model moments of vulnerability and admit mistakes. Gino seamlessly introduces language to describe a variety of sexualities and gender identities through the perspective of Rick, who is learning many of the words for the first time. Although the book shares characters with Gino's Stonewall Award-winning George [Now Melissa] (2015), it stands alone. The cast (including students of color) represents a spectrum of genders and sexualities with an emphasis on self-identification and encouragement of exploration. A game-changing ace.” –Kirkus Reviews
“Gino's second middle-grade novel shows a well-meaning white girl stumbling through difficult issues with compassion. Twelve-year-old Jilly has a lot going on. She's crushing on Profound, a Deaf black boy she meets in a chat room dedicated to her favorite fantasy series. Her newborn sister might be deaf. Her white parents gloss over news reports of unarmed black youth killed by police, but her aunt Alicia, a black woman married to Jilly's mom's sister, encourages Jilly to not ignore racism. Jilly wants to do the right thing, but that's harder than she realizes. She's excited to talk to Profound about her sister, but he doesn't like being reduced to only one of his identities. She learns to confront microaggressions at family holidays. She wants her parents to embrace having a deaf child but doesn't realize that Deaf culture and identity are more than just learning a few signs. Gino tackles all this and much more with grace, clarity, and thoughtfulness. There are occasional hiccups in the flow and awkward moments, but readers learn a lot along with Jilly and her mistakes in this engrossing and satisfying read. Gino describes their intention in an author's note: ‘this book is consciously written for white people as a catalyst to talk about modern racism and police violence in the United States’ and to teach them ‘about their privilege and how to support marginalized people in their lives.’ A necessary and rewarding addition to any middle-grade collection.” –Kirkus Reviews
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