The Transformative Potential of LGBTQ+ Children’s Picture Books
A foundational look at the way children’s books shaped views of the LGBTQ+ world
In The Transformative Potential of LGBTQ+ Children’s Picture Books, Jennifer Miller identifies an archive of over 150 English-language children’s picture books that explicitly represent LGBTQ+ identities, expressions, and issues. This archive is then analyzed to explore the evolution of LGBTQ+ characters and content from the 1970s to the present. Miller describes dominant tropes that emerge in the field to analyze historical shifts in representational practices, which she suggests parallel larger sociocultural shifts in the visibility of LGBTQ+ identities. Additionally, Miller considers material constraints and possibilities affecting the production, distribution, and consumption of LGBTQ+ children’s picture books from the 1970s to the present. This foundational work defines the field of LGBTQ+ children’s picture books thoroughly, yet accessibly.
In addition to laying the groundwork for further research, The Transformative Potential of LGBTQ+ Children’s Picture Books presents a reading lens, critical optimism, used to analyze the transformative potential of LGBTQ+ children’s picture books. Many texts remain attached to heteronormative family forms and raced and classed models of success. However, by considering what these books put into the world, as well as problematic aspects of the world reproduced within them, Miller argues that LGBTQ+ children’s picture books are an essential world-making project and seek to usher in a transformed world as well as a significant historical archive that reflects material and representational shifts in dominant and subcultural understandings of gender and sexuality.
"Jennifer Miller combines deft, close reading with a kind of macroanalysis, identifying shifting trends and persistent tropes across the corpus. Miller also thinks about the networks of production, circulation, and consumption. Because hers is the most comprehensive treatment yet, it is also the most nuanced and persuasive. Practicing what she calls ‘critical optimism,’ Miller holds that too often we underappreciate or dismiss as ‘homonormative’ earlier materials that did important work in their moment. I learned so much reading this book—about early queer picture book publishing initiatives, for instance, and about the depiction of families and communities, tomboys and sissies/pink boys, and trans and nonbinary kids. Picture book nonfiction is also part of Miller’s story. Especially moving is Miller’s insistence that LGBTQ+ picture books are, at heart, acts of queer love and worldmaking. A vital (even urgent) book for the field and beyond."- Kenneth Kidd, professor of English at University of Florida