Photo by C. S. Wild 2021 – Nighttime window with a reflection/ silhouette of a figure with hair in a loose bun, lamp and dressers from a living room, looking out on fading sunset, silhouette of trees and a barn. The moon looks like a small jewel or tear on the figure’s face.
Becoming chronically ill with ME/CFS and POTS in 2018-19 radically changed my life and writing. Above all, it has brought isolation. What I’ve noticed from others with various disabilities is that isolation is common, whether from our disability or from prejudice and lack of accessibility. While most of our disabilities are not curable, loneliness is. One cure is to give kids more authentic disability books. Another is to create greater accessibility and inclusion for the disabled artists making those books.
For more, here’s my post for the Society of Children’s Writers and Illustrators:
Rare moment with friends! The author is being wheeled through the woods, over grass, in a reclining manual wheelchair with elevated foot rests, which I affectionately call The Franken-Chair. I have a big, silly, open-mouthed grin on my face. I’ve a blonde bob, blue hoodie, gray pants and rainbow socks. A smiling friend in a baseball cap and beard is pushing the chair; another man walks along side.
Illustrator Charlene Chua and I share our acceptance speeches (slightly edited) in this video, including Charlene’s powerful comics and my voice recording (full text below). You can also watch it here on YouTube, with subtitles.
Illustrator Charlene Chua and FSG editor Trisha de Guzman hold the 2023 Stonewall Book Award Plaque for LOVE, VIOLET at ALA 2023
Two ALA librarians from the Rainbow Roundtable – Stonewall Book Award Committee – holding copies of LOVE, VIOLET
LOVE, VIOLET bling! Librarian proudly wears tiny LOVE, VIOLET ear rings to ALA 2023!
Charlotte Sullivan Wild’s 2023 Stonewall Acceptance Speech for Love, Violet (unedited):
I’m thrilled to be celebrating rainbow books with you! Like many of us, I grew up unable to even talk about queerness. And now, look at all these books! Thank you for honoring Love, Violet!
Warmest thanks to the ALA, Rainbow Round Table, and the Stonewall Award Committee. And especially to Mike Morgan and Larry Romans, and our queer elders, who have opened the way for us.
I’m indebted to my dear, patient writing friends, my faithful agent Minju Chang, who has believed in Love, Violet since 2013 – even when publishers kept telling us – sometimes directly, sometimes in code – that they couldn’t sell stories about queer kids. But editor Trisha de Guzman at Farrar, Straus & Giroux BYR joyfully changed that! Thanks to our amazing MacKids team: Aram Kim, Joy Peskin, life-saver Molly Ellis, Sara Elroubi, and so many others.
Minju and Charlotte at the 2016 Children’s Literature Conference hosted by The Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
And to Charlene Chua, painter of dreams, your luminous, heart-filled images gave this story life!
Charlene Chua discussing an early test watercolor from LOVE, VIOLET in her home studio (from video: MAKING LOVE, VIOLET)
Deepest thanks to my family who have always supported my storytelling (sometimes embarrassingly so!) and who did the work to become allies even when it wasn’t easy.
Last, Love, Violet would not exist without my gal in cowgirl boots: Nobody Expects the Spanish Inquisition, love! (That was our code for “I love you” before we could be out. I think the cat’s out of the bag now!)
Kissing my favorite cowgirl
It’s impossible to sum up how personal Love, Violet is. Stories and histories are always personal. So is the harm of false myths used to demonize. Growing up in a family of Evangelical pastors and missionaries, my only words or images for queerness were the horror stories of male pedophiles pouring from our Christian radio station.
I longed to be good. Loved. Family. How could I be queer?
I couldn’t. So I tried not to be. I suppressed and repressed, until it was choking me. But then, in my 30s—not even divorce, not resigning a faculty position, or facing my Very Religious family could stop me.
I’d never felt more liberated. Joyful! Myself.
But unlike many kids today, when I saw the disgust disfigure my grandmother’s usually loving face, I was grown. Physically safe. Surrounded by other support.
Many kids are not.
So, I wrote Love, Violet directly to them. Around the politics and terms and slurs. I wanted to break the silence with a love story.
I wanted to give kids words for themselves like: MAGNIFICENT. DREAM. ADVENTURE.
(c) Charlene Chua 2022, from Love, Violet. Violet dreams of adventures with Mira
And, the word for how we thrive—TOGETHER.
(c) Charlene Chua 2022, from Love Violet. Mira and Violet run into the sunset – TOGETHER
I wrote the truest story I could about what young love feels like. That awe, being dazzled.
And I wove in the gender expressions of many I love and myself. Growing up, I hadn’t seen gender nonconforming gals portrayed as tender; or feminine ones as sporty or queer. Or queer people of color honored EVER. Yet there we were.
And now, here we ARE. With all these books.
2023 Winners of the Stonewall Book Awards and Honors – Mike Morgan and Larry Romans Children’s and Young Adult Literature Awards
With Charlene’s evocative, honoring images.
And a story about the most human thing we do: LOVE.
But not everyone wants to acknowledge our shared humanity.
Not surprisingly, Love, Violet and several other rainbow picture books have been named in a lawsuit seeking to “protect” kids. Meanwhile, a trans teen has already left the same district because of death threats.
Protection? No, this is something else.
Unmaking our stories.
It’s strange. I used to be the kid carrying hand-written notes to school, asking to skip activities for religious reasons. I know this earnestness. It’s sincere.
But how can one be excused from our shared humanity?
What of the queer children in these families?
Their peers witnessing themselves described as dangerous monsters?
erasing or defacing any group’s humanity is a genocidal wish.
A task easily outsourced to the playground, school boards and legislators, parents and police, frightened folks with guns. And too often, the instruction to not exist hits home.
These stakes are so high.
That’s why we’re here.
Throwing everything we have into this work, especially for our kids of color, Native and trans kids.
And you know what? In that same Maryland community, members of the Rainbow Defense Coalition have organized to gather at drag story times and pride events. To actually protect kids. While hate groups scream at children, punch the air with fists, these neighbors pop open rainbow parasols, turn up the music LOUD. With their bodies and joy, they shield and surround these kids with safety and Love.
Soak up these stories, darlings. Drink in the pictures.
So, when the stones fly, you’ll already know who you are:
Beautiful. Precious. Family.
That’s what you do every day.
Open umbrellas of love.
Create safe havens for kids, for healthy escape, and discovery,
and maps of how to survive.
Thank you for sharing this mission, our books, your hearts.
Our kids need you. They need you. They need you.
(c) Charlene Chua 2022, from Love, Violet
*Below is the condensed speech actually played at ALA, as there were many beautiful books to honor! (2:46)
Back in 2011 when I began my first draft of Love, Violet, I knew exactly why I was writing it.
I was a kid like Violet. I had young crushes on girls. But I never had a story like this one to show me that I wasn’t a mistake. That I could exist. That I wasn’t alone. So many people I’ve met over the years–friends, students, the young people seeking shelter at Thrive Youth Center in San Antonio, Texas–we all needed stories like this one. And didn’t have them.
So, I wrote Love, Violet thinking of kids like me, and kids who have it worse. I wrote it with hope that world could be better for them today. Like Violet, I committed to sharing my heart–even though it was pounding.
But between that first draft in 2011 and today stretches a decade during which I was dogged by this question: “Why would you write a picture book about THAT?”
I was asked this subtly and directly. Even queer editors questioned me. They asked it, incredulous, even though there were NO picture books portraying queer orientation in kids. Even though every child HAS an orientation, even if nascent or fluid. Even though so many kids HAVE innocent crushes. And why would rainbow kids be any different? We exist. Books for us did not. That’s why I was writing Love, Violet.
But the questioning continued.
Sometimes I started to doubt myself.
Eventually, I would privately ask, am I really going to do this? Perhaps destroy my dream of school visits by outing myself? (Well, that dream would evaporate for other reasons: publishing delays, chronic illness.) But whenever those doubts arose, whenever I questioned my own experiences and memories, whenever feedback was resistant or confusing, or I got lost in the endless revisions for publishers who were afraid of queer kids . . .
I returned to my Reasons Why.
My Reasons are personal.
From pain and joy.
They are social,
from knowing so many kids out there aren’t safe.
Aren’t allowed to be themselves. But could be.
And kids could learn empathy and equality from the start.
And now, as this tender book is about to launch, a firestorm of anti-LGBTQIAP2+ and racist book banning rages. Kids are watching. Learning. Are THEY too controversial to exist? The Reasons Why I wrote Love, Violet shine brighter than ever.
Welcome to my blog about children’s books, creativity, rainbow love, disability, and more (Chickens! Italy! Chocolate!). I’m so glad you’re here!
Since that day in third grade when I discovered a book with my name strung across the front in spider webs, I’ve been a fan of E. B. White’s Charlotte’s Web. How could I not be?!
Now what I love most about this spider’s story is how Charlotte’s words, though few, are spun with love, for someone she cares about. Even though she is tiny and strange, though her world is the size of a barn doorway, her words and love travel far.
My words may never save the life of a pig. And these days, chronically ill with ME/CFS, my world has shrunk to the size of this bed, my front porch.
But I can still spin webs. Still read and reflect and connect.
Here’s to the words and wonderings, the books and conversations, as I swing out into the open air of this little doorway, to weave a message of love.