Creating a safer space for LGBTQ+ students

The photograph shows an open hand holding a white ceramic heart, with a rainbow above on a dark background.

by Sarah C.

Here at HCLS, we try to make our spaces as welcoming and inclusive as possible, especially for our tweens and teens, as that age range can include a time of many changes, questions, issues, excitement, and experiences both good and bad. Do you remember middle school? Exactly, ugh! I sure do, and at age 42 I’m still slightly traumatized by some of those memories!

As June is LGBTQ+ Pride month, I’d like to touch on some things we do to create a safer space here at HCLS for our wonderful rainbow students.

Something as simple as wearing a rainbow button or bracelet, or having a “safe space” sticker on your office door can make a huge difference, especially if a student does not know you yet. It identifies you as a someone they can approach for LGBTQ+ books, ask about LGBTQ+ events and groups, or just someone who they can talk to who will listen and not judge them.

I am not subtle about my support of LGBTQ+ students. I visually identify myself as such with the above examples and am very vocal with all my students about respecting ALL people. That has been instrumental in our students feeling not just welcome here, but represented and celebrated. Our students of all ages know that some people and/or spaces are not LGBTQ+ friendly and have learned they need to be cautious. It’s not fair, but it is our reality, so please consider identifying yourself as a supportive person for them and help grow their circle of safety.

HCLS also hosts LGBTQ+ author visits, participates in community events such as HOCO Pride, assists with local SAGA/GSA school groups, helps with book clubs like the Rainbow Reads book club, and offers classes such as Make Your Own Pronoun Buttons and Let’s Talk About LGBTQ+ Issues in Education featuring Freestate Justice.

And of course, since we are a library system, we purchase and display many books written and/or illustrated by LGBTQ+ authors that feature LGBTQ+ main characters. We also have Rainbow Reading lists for adults, teens, and a new one for children! Grab a printed copy at your local branch or find other recommendations online. Check out the review of Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe on the library’s blog. The post talks about why books that represent all experiences are so vital.

Sarah is the Teens’ Instructor and Research Specialist at the Savage Branch, where she can be found geeking out over new graphic novels, spotting rainbows and drinking day-old coffee.

Did You Know? The Library Lends Toys

You can see a black puzzle of the solar system that includes brightly colored planets and other objects, as well as the orange toy label.

by Eliana, teen volunteer at HCLS Savage Branch

I have been a volunteer at the Savage Branch for years, and a daily customer of the library since middle school. Howard County Library System offers so many services that I have only just discovered!

Did you know that customers of Howard County Library System can borrow educational toys? That’s right: each branch offers a wide array of toys for customers to borrow for free. Here’s how to access them:

Ask at the children’s desk for their “Flip and Views,” which have a picture of the toy and the toy’s name. They are sorted into five categories: cognitive toys, motor toys, puppets of all kinds, social toys, and a wide variety of puzzles. Pick a slip, any slip, and hand it to a staff member.

After receiving the Flip and View, the staff member retrieves the toy for you. The toys aren’t available on the library floor like books in order to keep things clean and orderly. The toys come in Howard County Library System bags with nifty labels. These labels list the components of the toy – especially if it’s a set – and an age level recommendation. All you need to do is check the tag to make sure everything is included. Once the toy has been checked out, it’s all yours to enjoy at home for three weeks!

When a customer is ready to return a toy, simply return it in its bag along with your books. If a toy gets broken, simply take it to the front desk and explain what happened. The library staff are super understanding about these sorts of things. Your library would rather know when something is broken. The toy may end up in the library’s “toy hospital” where they replace spare parts and mend broken toys.

Once returned, each toy is thoroughly cleaned and sanitized before its corresponding flip and view returns to view for the public. After that, the toy is officially available to borrow once more!

Photo of teenager wearing a jean jacket, glasses and a mask holding rainbow ribboned sticks with bells.

Every Howard County Library Branch offers this free service. If you are interested in a toy, please speak to the staff at your branch and they will be delighted to assist. You can also view the educational toy collection here on the HCLS website. As for me, those ribbon bells look quite appealing. I think I may check those out myself so that I might frolic about the back hills like the majestic creature that I am.

Eliana is a teen volunteer (and frequent visitor) at HCLS Savage Branch.

A Song of Wraiths and Ruin by Roseanne Brown

A regal young Black woman with long braids stands in front of a patterned wallwith swaths of green fabric swirling around her.

by Eliana, teen volunteer at HCLS Savage Branch

In true Eliana fashion, I started to blitz through this title as an audiobook. I had to ask my librarian friend, Sarah, “Is it just me or are these characters just the most emotionally stunted dolts I have ever not actually come across?” I love them so much, they make me want to tear my hair out.

Along with the engaging characters, Roseanne A. Brown does an excellent job incorporating African culture into this novel, described on the book jacket as, “The first in a gripping fantasy duology inspired by West African folklore in which a grieving crown princess and a desperate refugee find themselves on a collision course to murder each other despite their growing attraction.” The setting has quiet elements of West African culture, the furnishings, the clothes, the streets, even the characters’ hair.

My favorite part was the hair routine Karina’s maid does with her. Shea butter and the other oils along with twisting are, in fact, accurate to curly hair. It’s part of why I haven’t been braiding my hair so often. My curls look much lovelier when out of their braids. My family is Puerto Rican, and although Puerto Rico takes a fair amount of influence from African cultures, there are also Taino and Spanish influences there as well.

Back to the book: Karina has all the qualities of a good queen, she just needs time to heal and properly grieve her mother (the previous queen). Outside of the eyes of the courtiers, Karina is surrounded by the love of her family and friends, but she’s closed herself off from them. With the way Karina’s trajectory is headed, Karina may completely alienate everyone around her before something happens to shatter her worldview and push her into regaining allies. There is a notable difference between the Karina who does whatever she can to avoid hosting the Solstacia Festival and the Karina who fights tooth and nail to fulfill her duties as a new queen.

Karina is something of a tempest. For much of the novel, she is insecure, grieving, and constantly worried about whether she’s a good enough ruler. She *worries* about her fitness to lead and actively tries to remove the person she deems to be an unfit ruler (herself) from succession. Heck! The whole reason she even gets into reviving her deceased mother is that she believes her kingdom would be better with her mother’s leadership!

Her opposite in the story is Malik, a child who has seen the absolute worst humanity has to offer. His own family and village were horrible to him. The world sees him and his people as awful. And yet he cares. He cares *so much.* He worries about both of his sisters. He pays attention to the servants and even worries for Karina, a person who he is actively trying to kill, when he overhears how the court lambasts her for needing a day to recover from an attempt on her life.

I’m still listening to the book, so I wonder if there is a reason Malik’s people are oppressed like they are. I know that in the real world, oppression often has no tangible reason. In most fantasy media I have interacted with, the oppression is typically caused by some ancient bad-blood event. I appreciate the author’s sensitive and visceral depiction of anxiety and panic attacks, which didn’t trigger one of my own. I like that she included coping strategies. Somewhere out there, a reader will see Malik thinking of his lemon tree and adopt a similar strategy.

One last note to my friend Sarah: I feel like am a parent now. I want to wrap Malik and Karina up in my arms, tell them that everything is okay. I wanna whack them upside the head and ask them, “What were you thinking?!” (affectionately) Are you happy, Sarah? You have ruined me. Everyone should read this book.

Meet the author Roseanne Brown at HCLS Savage Branch (or attend online) on Tuesday, January 25 at 6 pm. Register here. Thirty attendees will be randomly selected to receive a free copy of A Song of Wraiths and Ruins. 

Witch Hat Atelier

Cat lies next to a copy of Witch Hat Atelier and other manga books. Cover shoes a young girl with blonde hair with blue witch robes flying around her, wearing a large conical hat with a tassel.

by Eliana, a teen volunteer at Savage Branch

Witch Hat Atelier by Kamome Shirahama boasts magnificent artwork, a lively world, and a complex cast of characters. It is classified as shounen (for teen boys) but is friendly for all demographics. The adult cast also actively works to protect and care for the child cast, something seldom seen in shounen and young adult media due to the limitations adults can sometimes pose in a story. Shirahama typically frames her arcs across two volumes, so I suggest reading two at a time.

In Volume 1, our main character, Coco, is the daughter of a seamstress out in the countryside. The people of this world use inventions made by witches – such as a spring of water that cleans itself after every use or cobblestone pathways that glow when you step on them – in their day to day lives. Having seen all of these inventions, Coco wishes dearly for magic.

After a series of unfortunate events, Coco is orphaned and initiated as a student of Qifrey’s atelier. Volume 1 follows Coco’s initiation and journey into the magical world.

Coco is the main character. She is also unfamiliar with much of the magical community, its history, and its customs. From a technical standpoint, Coco is a vehicle what allows the mangaka to explain her world. We learn about the setting as Coco does. From a narrative standpoint, Coco’s newness to the world around her means that she brings fresh ideas and solutions to the table. Since she knows only a handful of basic spells, she must use them creatively. One early example is her solution to the first test, retrieving a rare herb from the top of a series of floating mountains.

Aggot is a ambitious student. She practices day in and day out. Aggot shares a workspace with Coco and feels that Coco has not earned her place at the atelier. As a matter of fact, it is Aggot who hurries an unprepared Coco into the first test. Aggot often overexerts herself due to pride. However, Aggot’s technical expertise tempers Coco’s more experimental ideas. Since Aggot has the most understanding of magic she is able to assist Coco in implementing a solution without collateral damage.

Richeh is a taciturn and sleepy young girl. She is aloof and only draws spells she enjoys. Richeh has a favorite hiding place filled with glowing ribbons. I personally relate to Richeh the most, but since she does not take much of an active role in volume one, I will refrain from discussing her in depth.

Tetia is a cheerful young lady with curly twintails. She is the most welcoming to Coco when she first arrives. Tetia believes happiness comes in twos. When she grows up, Tetia hopes to be someone who can bring happiness to many people. This does not mean that Tetia is one-note either. Tetia does get angry, but she is also a genuinely kind and empathetic person. It is Tetia’s wish to provide happiness and comfort that leads to the solution to the conflict in the second arc of volume one.

The story largely takes place in a rural/pastoral community. It is earlier than the typical fantasy story, so it is a refreshing change of scenery. Additionally, the casting method of magic is unique. Spells are not cast by way of incantation or ritual but with drawing sigils in a very specific ink.

Two main factions operate within the setting. The Knights Moralis are the enforcers of the magical community. In the past, when magic was common knowledge, people used it to their own ends and caused grevious harm. Nowadays, magic is kept secret from the public. Any and all magic that changes the human body or the natural world is forbidden. Any member of the community suspected of casting forbidden spells will have their memory erased. It is illegal for witches to cover their faces. The Brimmed Caps are opposed to the Knights Moralis. They believe that the Knights have gone too far in restricting knowledge. Healing spells, after all, are among the forbidden spells.