Shirley Recommends is a Monthly Review of an LGBTQ+ Book for K-12 Youth

Shirley Delta Blow is rated number sixteen on the list of 100 Colorado Creatives. In addition to her marvelous stage presence and amazing costuming, Shirley has roots in teaching, storytelling, and history. She has been a powerful presence in the community with both her support within the LGBTQ+ Community and her Drag Queen Storytime performances. She has read for Drag Queen Storytime at the Lafayette, Boulder, Louisville, Park Hill, and Broomfield Public Libraries. She regularly hosts Drag Queen Bingo and Fundraising Events throughout the Denver Metro Area and has her own regular program called “I Love That Story!”

To find out more about Shirley Delta Blow:

Shirley hosts a weekly Drag Bingo Brunch at the Denver Milk Market
Click Here for Information and Tickets

Fred Gets Dressed by Peter Brown
Poodles, I have to start by saying, I just adore Peter Brown. This multi-talented author/illustrator writes picture books and novels for young readers. He tackles topics with humor, sensitivity and compassion. Check out a young boy who discovers and creates A Curious Garden or The Wild Robot about the mysterious appearance of a robot on an island. But enough of Shirley fan-girling, let’s get to today’s recommendation.

Peter Brown just released a wonderful new book. Fred Gets Dressed is a charming story about a boy called Fred who is discovered trying on his mother’s clothes, jewelry and makeup. Told in spare text with delightful pictures using only pink, green, black and white the story is a powerful reminder of a parent’s love.

I think many of us (if not all) have a memory from our childhood when we explored what it might be like to be grown up. We innocently put on our adult’s shoes and tried to walk around, to hilarious effect. We discovered makeup or jewelry and imagined going out on the town: our imaginations running wild. Our desire to connect and be like is one of our greatest assets. As people we have a fundamental need to relate to each other, especially family. Sadly, I think we also have a memory of being shamed for that same desire. We can still hear. “Take that off. You look ridiculous.” even years later. We were shamed for our admiration and creativity, even by those we set out to be like. 

But, dear reader, don’t worry. The story doesn’t end that way. The parents “join in on the fun.” There is no shame for this innocent exploration. Fred Gets Dressed is based on one of the author’s favorite memories from childhood. 

It is my hope all parents learn the lesson presented in this book to love your children well. After all, isn’t that the job of a parent? 

Not Quite Narwhal by Jessie Sima
This delightful tale centers around Kelp, an unusual narwhal. (He is actually a unicorn but shhh, don’t tell him that yet.) He lives contentedly with his friends deep in the ocean. He knows he is different in many ways but his friends don’t mind so Kelp decides he won’t worry about it either. One day, just like in every good story, everything changes. Kelp is swept away by a strong current and finds himself on land for the very first time. There he meets some unicorns who teach him about himself. Changed by his experience he returns home and he must make a choice: do I live as I did before or do I swim into my new identity? 

This time of year, I always reflect about the history and meaning of Pride. I think about the young people who are coming out today. Just like Kelp, it can be scary to open up to new ideas about ourselves. It might be easier to forget our “time on the land” when we met people like us for the first time. But then again, now we know there is more out there than we thought before. Our view of ourselves is expanding. Can we really go back to the way life was? Will that be life?

Do I stay the way I was or do I allow myself to become something new? That is the question everyone one of us faces. There is no one right answer and there are many colors in the rainbow. But with the help and support, we can navigate the course together. Maybe a friend sees something in you that you can’t see yourself. Maybe a teacher recognizes a talent and encourages you to pursue it. Maybe a parent, sibling or relative gives you the support you need to live authentically. 

And that’s exactly what Kelp experiences. FInd a copy of Not Quite Narwhal for yourself and enjoy this wonderful and colorful story.

Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender
This month I’d like to recommend a book for our teen readers. Casey McQuinston’s quote on the front cover touts this novel as “a firecracker of a book”, and I totally agree. Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender, starts off with a bang and never slows down. This book is both a page-turning whodunnit, and a sweet, messy coming of age story. Crafted beautifully by the skillful author, this gritty and unflinching story centers on a young trans man named Felix. Who is exploring all of his identities; Black, queer, and trans, while simultaneously navigating the social circles of his art school. 

Felix becomes a classic detective in the digital age, when someone posts pictures of him before he transitioned in the school lobby, along with his deadname. With the help of his friends and classmates, he is driven to solve the mystery. He uses questionable techniques in order to get information. It’s a gray area that all detectives must negotiate. This vicious attack also sends him emotionally reeling. Felix starts to re-examine his identities, his feelings, and his place in his community. Sometimes our own identity is in a gray area as well. 

Identity is always complex. Discovering our true selves is a life-long process. Words have power. Meanings can change and have shades of nuance. It is the Catch-22 of being self-aware. We want to claim an identity and start finding our place in the world. But getting there takes time. Before we fly, we fall, make mistakes, and feel the sting of loss. Then, many times without realizing it, we wake up into the becoming and there we are. 

This powerful story has an important message. Becoming is an active word in the present tense. Whether we are discovering ourselves for the first time or after many years, we are always living into the person we want to become. 

So, Poodles, I hope you will pick up a copy of Felix Ever After and enjoy the ride. 

Perfectly Norman by Tom Percival
I thought I would start my first column with one of my absolute favorite picture books. I’m proud to recommend Perfectly Norman by Tom Percival. It is the story of a young boy who suddenly and without explanation grows a pair of beautiful rainbow-colored wings. He tries them out and has an amazing first flight soaring with the birds. What a thrill! The story follows his attempts to cover up the wings and hide them from his family and friends. You see, he is uncertain of their reaction. In doing so, however, he becomes miserable.

How many times have we as queer people hidden our true identities out of fear, uncertain of the reaction we will receive from family and friends, neighbors and co-workers, classmates or teammtes? These are the people closest to us; the ones we think will have our backs. The ones who should. In hiding, we become miserable too. When we choose to come out, sometimes we are surprised by who accepts or rejects us. Sometimes we are not. There is both joy and pain in this experience. But hope springs eternal. It does for us and it does for Norman.

Fear not, poodles. I have good news to report. This story has a happy ending. Norman realizes his wings are nothing to be ashamed of. He reveals them to his parents and takes off into the sky on another glorious flight. This wonderful story is accompanied with beautiful illustrations that make it a favorite at Story Time. Pick up a copy at a local bookstore or check it out from your library. I know you will read it and say, “I love that story.”