Lambda Literary Awards 2021: Children and YA Winners

My friend and fellow librarian extraordinaire, Whitney Davidson-Rhodes had the opportunity to be on the judging panel for the 2021 Lambda Literary Award season. Lambda Literary Award gives recognition and promotion to LGBTQ books and authors and every year they award the best of the best. To see the full list of the 2021 winners, check them out here.

But for this post I asked Whitney, out of all the books she read, to list her favorite ones. And no surprise, these are also my personal favorites. So let’s get the book recommendations going:

I’ve had the honor to be on the Lambda Literary Award panel for Children’s and Young Adult books. I have previously had the pleasure of being on the Lesbian Mystery panel, but wanted a change of pace.

There were well over 100 submissions that needed to be whittled down to just 10 short-listed titles ( 5 for each category and out of that 2 finalists/winners). It was surprisingly difficult, but I’m ultimately happy with the list. It was well-rounded and diverse with diverse voices. I could talk all about the books that made the short list, but I’ll stop at my absolute faves:


Young Adult Titles

Flamer by Mike Curato

I KNOW I’M NOT GAY. Gay boys like other boys. I hate boys. They’re mean, and scary, and they’re always destroying something or saying something dumb or both. I hate that word. Gay. It makes me feel . . . unsafe.

Flamer by Mike Curato

This was a powerful read about Aiden Navarro struggling to accept himself and stand up for himself against bullies while away at summer camp.

What I loved most about this that, regardless of whether or not your gay or struggling with your sexuality, Flamer is highly relatable. Most know what it’s like to be picked on, to have first crush or love, being rejected by that crush, needed your best friend even though they’re far away.

Curato draws mainly in black and white, except to use red and yellow for flames, either those of possible damnation or rebirth as evident with his use of putting himself in the steps of X-Man, Jean Gray.

Flamer is a bit dark (TW: Suicide attempt and ideation), but Aiden, and readers, eventually see the Light. It will stay with you long after you’re done reading. So Happy it was the winner for the YA category.

Please join the Bronx Anti-Prom in conversation is Mike Curato!  Wednesday, July 7th at 2PM. 

Register Here: https://bit.ly/bxapMCurato

The Magic Fish by Trung Le Nguyen

“The space between two shores is the ocean and being caught in between feels like drowning. And, really, what is the point of tears among so much salt water?”

― Trung Le Nguyen, The Magic Fish

Wow wow wow. Not to be hokey, but this book is MAGICAL.

Tien is teen living in the 90s with his immigrant mother in America. Despite some language and cultural barriers, Tien and his mom have an unbreakable, loving bond. She tells him Vietnamese versions of famous fairytales while sew patches on to Tien’s favorite jacket.

Tien loves his mother, but isn’t sure if he can fully be open with her about being gay. He doesn’t want to add her to troubles. Especially when the murder of Matthew Shepherd makes the news.

But what I loved so much about The Magic Fish is that Tien’s mom changed the ending to one of the fairytales to let Tien knows she loves and accepts him for who he is. Instead of the princess running off with the prince in the story, the princess runs off with another woman.

Children’s/Middle Grade

From Archie to Zack by Vincent X. Kirsch

This is another book that stayed with me after reading it. But not for sad or haunting reasons.

From Archie to Zack is cute AF. It’s a story of what happens when everyone can see two people belong together and do the most to make it happen.

It has one of my favorite tropes: friends to something more! Archie loves Zack, Zack love Archie and both are scared to admit their feelings. Preferring to tell each other in unsent letters. It’s just so sweet and cute, I could die! It’s a children’s picture book, but anyone can and should read it! If you’re in a bad mood or just looking for adorable fluff, this will surely brighten your day!

Our Subway Baby by Peter Mercurio and Leo Espinosa

NYC residents are notorious for minding their own business and turning a blind eye to the bizarre things we see on a daily basis. So who knows how many people walked passed a bundled up infant on a subway platform before Pete, the author, and his partner Danny found him.

What would you do if you found an abandoned baby on a subway platform? You take him home and raise him on your own, of course! Our Subway Baby is literally about found-family. Readers follow Danny and Pete as they almost instantly become parents. They were both wary of parenthood, but you couldn’t deny the love they had for their now-son, Kevin. Readers get to see them adjust to being dads while doing their due diligence in find Kevin’s biological family. And you will cheer for them when they legally get to adopt the son they’d been raising for months.

This books is perfect if you’re looking for positive representation of same-sex parents that is “Tango Makes Three” (no shade). Readers will love the real pictures at the end of Danny, Pete, and a grown up Kevin, all three of them loving and thriving!

Lambda is a great opportunity to just read queer books (my favorite hobby) and I hope I get to do it again for the 2022 awards!




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