Out on the Shelves: Connecting rainbow young people with the stories that represent them

I love reading books about characters like me. And I know I’m not the only one like that. Books, stories, movies – we all want to see ourselves in these. Because we’re all different, we’re all awesome, and we all have interesting tales to share.

When you’re reading about people, whether they’re fiction or non-fiction stories, books will fall into two categories: windows, or mirrors. And although one reader might see themself reflected in a particular story, their friend might not. That book is a mirror for the reader, and a window for their friend.

Books act like windows when they let us into different worlds. We do not see ourself in the character, because we are not like them. We read about a way of life that’s different from our own, and find out about other people’s beliefs, worries, hopes, and daily life. These stories help us learn more about this way of life, and might make things seem a bit less scary, if there are beliefs and customs we don’t know much about. ‘Window books’ help us develop empathy towards others.

“Mirror books’ let you see yourself represented in literature. You read about someone that lives the same way as you, that has the same interests, background, goals, and difficulties. It is like looking in a mirror. You see yourself reflected in the book, and feel pretty good that someone’s taken the time to write a book about a character like you … especially if that book has a positive outcome, and shows you that can have a fun life and overcome those those things that are a bit tricky for you! When you see someone like you in a book, you feel like you can do what that character can do.

But what happens when you don’t see yourself represented in the books you read?

If you are a member of a minority group (for example, you’re somewhere along the  LGBTQ* spectrum, or a person of colour, or you have a disability), you’re less likely to read books about people like you. It’s basic maths – people generally write what they know, and because there aren’t as many minority authors, there aren’t as many minority books.  Sure, there are lots of great stories and books out there, but sometimes you just want to read about someone like you. For lack of a better word, you want to be ‘normal’, rather than always being ‘other’.

Which brings us to ‘Out on the Shelves’ – an online reading resource connecting rainbow young people with the stories that represent them. This is the brainchild of the fantastic folks at InsideOUT, a group who work to make the country a safer and more welcoming place for young people of all different gender identities and sexualities.

Their goal with Out on the Shelves is to create a place where rainbow youth can find books by rainbow authors, and/or showing rainbow characters. The resource is just getting started, and so they are hoping to get people to review and suggest other titles in the future, but there are already a couple of really cool booklists to look at, and downloadable resources with even more specific characteristics (eg children’s books with rainbow characters, books with non-binary characters, and books with asexual characters).  I am really looking forward to seeing this resource grow into the future, and seeing what other great books there are that people recommend.

So if you, or someone you know, is looking to read a book about a rainbow character, check this resource out, then pop along to your local library and see which of the titles they’ve got on offer.

In the meantime, why not check out some of these other rainbow titles held at Christchurch City Libraries. And don’t forget, we love getting suggestions for new titles, so if there’s a great rainbow title you’d like us to add to our collection, let us know.

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  • The Pants Project by Cat Clarke: a  young transgender boy fights for his right to wear the right school uniform.
  • Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli: the book that inspired the movie ‘Love, Simon’, this is the story about the highs and lows of being gay at high school.
  • If I was your Girl by Meredith Russo: a book about a transgirl settling in to a new school, written by a transgender author, and with a trans model on the cover.
  • If you Could be Mine by Sara Farizan: Two girls in love in Iran, where homosexuality is forbidden.
  • They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera: how would you spend your last day, if you knew it was your last?
  • Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit by Jaye Robin Browne: Joanna’s been an out lesbian for ages, but when her family moves to a church-going town, she also has to move back into the closet.
  • They, She, He, Me: Free to be! by Maya Christina Gonzalez: a book for little people and their big people, about why pronouns matter.

Booklists

Literary Prizes

InsideOut