The Case of the Missing Books/10 years of data

#ownvoices in Children’s Books: A State of Emergency/ Blog Series 1 of 3

The graph below shows the children’s books that were missing by POC and Indigenous people in the children’s book industry over the last 10 years. That is if we were creating an equitable number of books per year to white Americans.

It can be challenging to wrap our minds around the reality of the publishing industry even though most parents, educators and librarians know it’s hard to find books that reflect our communities.

Visuals like this help us understand the extent of silence and invisibility we live with.

Books missing from PoC/Indigenous Authors

We know what’s at the heart of this kind of absence and we know how it impacts our children. The need for inclusive children’s books is not news to many of us, but it is finally in the news. For the thousands of folks who have worked for decades to move this conversation forward this is an important step.

But I want to talk about what’s not in the news. In fact, it may not reach the news. I want to talk about how this silence and invisibility has affected us as adults and the impact it’s had on our #ownvoices in children’s books and our lives.

I estimate with authors, artists, editors, designers and publishers, we need more than 5000 skilled people every year to create these missing children’s books and that’s only the beginning. This a HUGE untapped resource in our communities. But for many of us like me, it’s more than just learning skills, the real work is becoming strong enough within ourselves to be heard in the world. This is the real impact of living in a world of silence and invisibility. Negotiating the inner journey.

Through creating children’s books we have the opportunity to negotiate not only our own silence but change the kind of voice our children and our communities live with. Everyone has a story.

Read PART 2 of this series about what I learned teaching how to create children’s books these last three years.

or check out my Indiegogo campaign for 6 books that push the boundaries of publishing and support POC, indigenous and queer voices rising.

What I Learned from 3 Years of Teaching How to Make Children’s Books

#ownvoices in Children’s Books: A State of Emergency/ Blog Series 2 of 3

I’m no stranger to the inequities that exist for People of Color, Indigenous and Queer authors and artists. I’ve been teaching and lecturing about it and its impact for 20 years in the children’s book industry. I speak from knowing and teach from understanding on a personal level.

So why the element of surprise, or at least something akin to surprise, when after teaching how to make children’s books for the last 3 years, I confirmed what I already knew?

Maybe the heart is always surprised when faced with the reality of inequity. I don’t know. Maybe it just hit too close to home.

What I saw was nothing short of a consistent and persistent pressure in our society to silence and erase marginalized communities, explicitly and implicitly. No surprise, right? Nope.

Still totally shocking? Yes.

I am haunted by what I witnessed. Not once, not twice. But to some degree, constantly. I cannot give one individual example that isn’t echoed nearly verbatim by another and another. Real lives and hearts and bodies.

As I paid attention to what happens when people tell their stories, or try to tell them, I could see clearly the shape and layers of our oppression. I could see more clearly my own as I stood among my people and listened.

What I had initially thought was my own story, what I initially thought were my own limitations and wounds, I confirmed without doubt were shared by all of us in a community.

Some people outside of PoC, Indigenous or Queer communities, may have had some similarities. Sadly I noticed white Americans who experienced strong trauma in their lives carried similar challenges to folks who’s primary trauma was simply being born to a marginalized community. The difference however, is that being a part of a marginalized community permeates all aspects of life, ancestry, past, present and potentially future.

So how does silence and invisibility in children’s books impact our ability to tell our stories and be seen?

I will answer with my own experiences because I know that my story holds the bones of all the stories I heard. To some degree, what I am about to share I saw in all of us. It moved me to understand that it was not isolated, but consistent and persistent for PoC, Indigenous and Queer authors and artists.

  • Before telling my stories my mind would be distracted by doubts.

Even though I am filled with stories I would think that I need to be formally educated to tell them ‘properly.’ I felt that no one will listen and that my story is not important. It is not the kind of story that gets attention. Or that I can’t tell my story, too many people would be hurt or angry if I told what I really want to tell, so safer left unsaid.

  • When I began telling my stories I couldn’t get it right no matter how hard I tried. Everything kept slipping from my hands.

I would feel inspired and excited but once I got going the story would be disjointed and confusing; endings were difficult. I couldn’t naturally hold my voice and flow. And if I ‘tried’ to write I felt all this pressure and seemed to fold up; I couldn’t figure things out or understand how to put things together. After a lifetime of hearing stories in the media, there seemed to be a disconnect between ‘what a story is’ and what my story is.

  • What’s important to me doesn’t seem important to anyone else. I have to constantly stand up for myself.

White editors unconsciously modified a story of mine, erasing the most essential part that had to do with identity and belonging. They were ‘educational experts’ so I didn’t question their frame at the time. It wasn’t until after publication that I found the change. I felt that by not being on my guard I let kids down and was misrepresented.

  • I want to be seen and acknowledged for my work. At the same time, who do I think I am?

Just as my work was about to take off in a significant way, I got sick, very sick and was derailed for years from doing what I have been compelled to do all my life. Survival took all my focus. I realized that being seen felt dangerous in a way I could not put into words and my body responded unconsciously. It was only after I was out of survival mode that I could fully understand what took place and why.

  • When I engage with bigger systems in the world, I feel smaller.

I get overwhelmed, feel heavy, even lose interest. It’s like I can’t speak the language or play some invisible game that everyone else seems to already understand. I am very smart, but end up feeling dumb and ill equipped.

  • Violence in the media against my communities can take me out for hours, days, sometimes weeks. It just depends.

Experiences like Orlando light up the pathways of fear that exist within me, my friends and family. Depending on how close it hits to my own experience as a woman, Chicanx, queer or those I love, I can’t work as well; I don’t want to speak to as many people; my creative flow gets jammed; I have to take a break from projects that bring out my vulnerability and/or power. I hide inside in a million different ways.

Experiences like the ones above may come in waves, or at different times and in an ever changing variety of ways. It can be challenging at first to see the accumulative effect in yourself, especially without placing blame squarely on your own shoulders. But when we see the patterns in context, we begin to understand that we are not alone.

How can we create change when the silencing is so pervasive?

Touching the reality of silence in the world, including our own is an invaluable step.

It’s important to respect silence and how it has kept us alive. And when it is time, and not before, we can begin the walk home, toward #ownvoices.

The healing is real. The power that’s rising matters. As the adults, we must begin with ourselves. If we want to change our representation in children’s books in a profound and lasting way, we can’t leave it to someone else. We must begin with the silence in our own lives, in our own communities. We were once the kids we’re talking about. We are the ones who can make the most difference.

What we need are the stories in all of us. This is what we must call forth. The lasting storytellers will rise and keep telling more stories. But right now, we need everyone’s stories. Your story. Your voice. Your experience. Your life. Your laughter, your way of seeing. You. Are. Filled. With. Stories. The stories of a hundred years, five hundred years! MORE!

I understand the insideousness of silence, the layers and layers. It is a surprisingly powerful act for those of us who aren’t used to seeing ourselves in books or hearing our voices in the world. It can be hard to put into words what happens on a soul, even ancestral level as our voice grows stronger in the face of insistent silence.

What I know.

When our children see us center ourselves as PoC, Indigenous and Queer people in children’s books we break silence and change the world they see everywhere else.

No child should long for their own image.

Join me in the truth that we are not just here, we are gorgeous in our BEing!

Support children’s books as a radical act….support your own gorgeous voice rising.

Read PART 3 of this series and learn how School of the Free Mind, my online school, supports #ownvoices rising in children’s books.

5 Ways SCHOOL OF THE FREE MIND Commits to #OWNVOICES Rising in Children’s Books NOW

#ownvoices in Children’s Books: A State of Emergency/ Blog Series 3 of 3

What I shared in Part One and Part Two of this series contributes to why I felt driven to stronger action with School of the Free Mind, my online school. The children’s book industry feels like a state of emergency for our communities and a powerful place to invest our efforts to make our people stronger.

For me personally, storytelling and art have been invaluable tools to negotiate not only my own silences but renegotiate the kinds of silences our communities live with.

The school is where I share everything I know. I want to seed these courses OUT as far as I can. I want to hear our voices RISE! I want our children to hear!

So here are five ways we’re committing to #ownvoices rising at School of the Free Mind:

ONE.  greater availability

Beginning in 2017 get the whole school for the whole year for a low fee.

Class fees that would have added up to over $1200.00 are now 120.00 (w/ limited scholarships also available).

The school includes all 6 of my courses allowing you to focus your learning on attaining skills, personal healing or both. The school is independent study to support personal and creative responsibility and accommodate your life!

school of the free mind courses


PoC, Indigenous, Queer *centered*

Materials and teaching prioritize PoC, Indigenous and Queer experiences, social justice and own voice through children’s book reviews, community spotlights, themes and conversations about healing.

Some of our amazing community spotlights in children’s books include:

 Zetta Elliott, Debbie Reese, Innosanto Nagara, Cory Silverberg, Francisco Alarcon, Kwame Alexander, R. Gregory Christie, Janine Macbeth, S. Bear Bergman, Gayle Pitman and many more!


THREE.  holistic teaching style

School of the Free Mind’s learning environment takes into account the whole person. The INSIDE: heart, body, mind, spirit and unknown. The OUTSIDE: family, community, culture, ancestry, society, world, history and the unknown. This helps create a safe space for our full selves where we are free to BE, SEE, LEARN and SPEAK.

FOUR.  acknowledge the impact

course-symbolsEach of our personal experiences is built upon the generations that came before us. Through teaching, I’ve gotten an intimate view of folks who thought they had no story come to understand that they are full of stories. This is such a powerful transition of voice, I call it ancestral healing. It can result in a flood of creative power.

FIVE.  a place to reclaim

School of the Free Mind provides a private online learning environment at an affordable fee with materials that respect and reflect PoC, Indigenous and Queer People. The teaching style promotes the presence of the whole person and experience, as well as the potential for healing and greater power through your own creativity. This creates a shift in power through reclaiming what is and always has been yours, your #ownvoice.


I am compelled not only as a parent but from working with thousands of kids and teachers across the country. Together we must invest in our communities’ creativity to become stronger as PoC, Indigenous and Queer people in our society.

Moving the focus away from a literacy base and toward a storytelling base is a step toward insuring that our #ownvoices and creative power will rise and continue. I believe this is an important next step.

It doesn’t just begin with our kids. It begins with each of us and our #ownvoices. It begins now.

We need your voice. Our children need your voice.

Join the powerful tradition of storytelling to improve our world and the lives of our children.  Let your creative power rise! Make children’s books a radical act!

Read more about School of the Free Mind or to join our classroom.


The Pop-Ups Series-Honoring our gay grandfathers and those who paved the way

A new bilingual children’s book series that celebrates LGBTQ history through the lens of multicultural and multigenerational queer family

The Pop-Ups’ Picnic, the first book in the series, will be published by Reflection Press in 2017

Pop-Ups and SkyThe Pop-Ups are what we call GrandPop and PopPop, Sky’s grandfathers. Like all grandparents, they love spending time with their grandkid.

Sky’s first big plane trip was to the Pop-Ups’ picnic to meet all kinds of family, the relatives she’s related to by birth and the aunties, uncles, queens and fairies she’s also related to by birth. Sky’s family is 2nd generation with queer parents and grandparents! So while there’s always family, there’s also “family!”

Sky at the Pop-Ups Picnic, 2014
Sky at the Pop-Ups Picnic, 2014

The series opens with the Pop-Ups’ annual picnic. It’s tradition to bring the community together once a year ever since the small town’s gay bar closed. Now everyone’s invited! “Family” and family!  A peek into LGBTQ history through the lens of family.

And the Pop-Ups and Sky have just begun. Follow the series as life and history become one! Weddings, Oakland Pride, the Castro, the Sisters, Compton Cafeteria, Philly’s Gayborhood, NYC’s Stonewall.

Pop-Ups reunion picnicThe series will honor our ancestors, share our history toward equality while celebrating courage with a mad dash of fabulousness right down to our very own Pop-Ups who will have been together for 30 years in 2017 when the first book comes OUT!

There’s no better way to convey how great it is to be gay than with the Pop-Ups! Come learn, it’s not just OK to be gay, it’s freakin awesome!

Pre-order The Pop-Ups Picnic through this secret perk in my Indiegogo campaign and get the book (and a set of LGBTQ history stickers with images from the book!)

Thank you for supporting Children’s Books as a Radical Act!

Queer Family

We Are Stronger Together

Aligning with Other Indie Presses

I am fiercely independent and I’m drawn to those who are too. But no one can or should live without others. We are stronger together. And in these days we need our strength. We need each other, even in our independence.

As I walk toward independently publishing my own children’s books for the first time, I feel the power and strength of those who walk with me. By aligning with other indie publishers, artists and authors who use children’s books to push the boundaries of what is possible for our children we create greater movement.

We join a long and powerful tradition of women of color who use storytelling *VOICE* to improve our world and especially the lives of our children. Owning our own presses is the logical extension of owning our own voice and an important step toward RECLAMATION in the industry.

I have been in conversation with a small group that includes two other women of color who own their own presses.

Zetta Elliott and Janine Macbeth

Each of us comes to publishing from different directions and our presses show that. I appreciate those differences because they show how dynamic the process can be and begin to hint at what’s possible! But it’s worthy to note what we each did the same.

We published ourselves first! The revolution always begins with yourself.

On we three dance darlings! I can hear your singing!



Zetta Elliott and

Rosetta Press est. 2008

Black Feminist Perspective

Books for Kids, Teens and Adults

Author-own voice venue!
Does not publish others.

Current books and projects:

Check out Milo’s Museum with Rosetta Press and Melena’s Jubilee with Tilbury House.


janineJanine Macbeth and

Blood Orange Press est. 2011

Recognizes and Affirms First Nations and Communities of Color

Author/Artist own voice venue.

Publishes others.

Current books and projects: One of a Kind, Like Me written by Laurin Mayeno and illustrated by Robert Lui-Trujillo published 2016.

And check out her Indiegogo campaign:

Read In Color: Diverse Books for Every Kid


And me makes three!

maya-profile-16Maya Gonzalez and

Reflection Press est. 2009

People of Color, Indigenous and Queer Centered

Artist, author, educator own voice venue.

Publishes mentored voices.

Current books and projects: my first 6 children’s books through Reflection Press, one is a mentored title written by Ernesto Martinez When We Love Someone We Sing to Them.

Learn about my other titles and check out my Indiegogo campaign: Children’s Books As a Radical Act–6 books that push the boundaries of publishing and support POC, indigenous and queer voices rising

Together we stand. Together we are strong.


COMING OUT for our Kids in the Children’s Book Industry

Making Books that Center LGBTQ Kids

A Book That Shows How Creativity Can Keep You Strong When You’re Courageously Being Yourself

paul-and-drawing-coverThe Boy Who Drew Dresses/the Very True Tale of a Perfectly Gay Little Boy will be published by Reflection Press in 2017

This is a story about my friend Paul Gallo. Today he is a San Francisco based fashion designer, educator and inventor, living his dream. But growing up he was the boy who drew dresses.

I’m so happy that Paul’s creativity helped keep him strong both inside and outside as a child. Our children need stories like these. paul-cover-threeWe need to do more than tell our LGBTQ kids that things will get better, we need to provide tools and role models from real life that show how those of us in the LGBTQ community have stayed strong in this world.


This is a story about allowing your creativity to be your power, your guide and ultimately yourself. The Boy Who Drew Dresses is an opportunity to seed OUT this true story from our community to our LGBTQ children.

Taking my 20+ years in the children’s book industry, stretching my voice, pushing my limits as an author, artist and indie publisher I am committing to creating books that center our LGBTQ life with deep joy and respect.

Join me in making Children’s Books a Radical Act. Support this book through this secret perk in my Indiegogo campaign and get the book (and a set of fashion stickers with images from the book!)

The Boy Who Drew Dress
the Very True Tale of a Perfectly Gay Little Boy
written and illustrated by Maya Gonzalez
(bilingual English/Spanish)

Boy Who Drew Dresses Character Study
study for The Boy Who Drew Dresses/text on frame *remember your creativity can keep you strong when you’re courageously being yourself*

Learn more about Paul and his crazy cool invention too!


Calling OUT Indie-QUEER!

Changing Voice in the Children's Book Industry

Two Books that Honor Mexican Heritage AND LGBTQ Experience

Death In the Family and When We Love Someone We Sing to Them will be published in 2017 by Reflection Press.

Written and illustrated by me, Death In the Family is not a Dia de los Muertos book with cultural references and sugar skulls. I love many of those and get to learn about a holiday I was not formally raised with. But I was raised with Death.

In fact, Death has been a profound and amazing teacher for me and talking about her is an important part of who I am as well as how I was raised. When I first learned about Dia I already knew the shape of the holiday. My father taught me a Mexican sensibility in how he related to death and how death featured in our life.

In Death in the Family I talk about different experiences of death in a family setting. This is a book to open up conversations about death in your own family and bring the ones back into powerful memory who have dropped the body and become one with everything.


Another book,  mentored by me and written by Ernesto Martinez, changes reality as it reframes a  cultural tradition to include LGBTQ experience. In When We Love Someone We Sing to Them we learn about the Mexican tradition of singing to family and loved ones through one small boy who naturally assumes the tradition includes him and his experience.

Watch a tradition expand as limitations are lifted to include everyone, all the way to remembering Xochipilli, the Mesoamerican diety of flowers, dance and song, a traditionally gay protector of ancient Mexico.

A perfect book to bring tradition and inclusion into the conversation and support our LGBTQ young ones in knowing that they belong and always have, while providing pride in both our Mexican heritage and our LGBTQ culture and history as families.

I am honored and excited to illustrate this project. But being able to publish it through my indie-press feels truly revolutionary! Thank you so much Ernesto for your courage and BEing. You’re the first, I hope, in a long line of folks in my new Mentorship with Intent to Publish program. Queer eternal darling!

YOU ARE THE REVOLUTION-may our children and families hear your words and know that they are beautiful and belong as Latinx and LGBTQ!

To pre-order these books and/or support my work with Reflection Press and School of the Free Mind, feel free to check out my Indiegogo campaign:   Thank you. xomaya

Is Equality in the Children’s Book Industry Possible?

And Do We Have Time to Wait? (infographic)

When we look at CCBC’s statistics in the framework of how many books we need to make to stand in equity with white Americans, we begin to understand our real position. I estimate that the children’s book industry would have to increase its production level by 45% to accommodate an equitable increase in children’s books by PoC and indigenous voices.

Including LGBTQ and disabled numbers helps flesh out the conversation and continues to illustrate the relationship between power and presence in children’s books.

In order to significantly change these numbers and what they represent, beyond children’s books, we need to take our creativity into our own hands.

With greater accessibility to indie-publishing we NOW have the opportunity to begin not just publishing our own voice, but healing ourselves from generations of ancestral silence and invisibility through our own power.

Children's Books needed to be equitable - infographic

Join Me! Stay Connected:

speaking in circles

everyday a new revolution

morning prayer on voice

i open my root and allow my voice to rise from deep in mamiearth

i open my heart and allow my voice to sing into all the silences that have kept me safe and alive

i open my mouth and i allow my voice to fill me so fully that i flow out into sky

i open my mind and allow a new dream, a new fire, a new world to be planted

and i go back to root. voice is a revolution

our being is our prayer



Why Children’s Books are a Radical Act

I just released Children’s Books as a Radical Act on Indiegogo to support my first 6 independently published children’s books. What makes these books radical? Why is it noteworthy that they’re independently published? Why children’s books of all things?


Any time we center ourselves as POC, indigenous or queer voices, we are shifting the balance of power and expanding beyond the limits of what is laid out before us.

When I began to realize the levels of internalized silence that I was still living with after 20 years in the children’s book industry I was heartbroken, but in noticing, a deeper healing began within me and I began pushing those limits.

Now I find I cannot stop my voice. I want to claim all the stories that I have been denied. Stories about my life and the people I know. We are not a part of our society to be ashamed of, silenced, invisibilized. We are truth. We are beauty. We are rising. From silence into voice.


We tell different stories when we are with our own.

I notice for myself that when I am with other queers and POC I relax parts of myself I did not even know were tense. Deep places where different stories live.

I even have a different voice when I am very relaxed and with my people. More myself. More power. When I publish myself through my own indie-press I can access that voice. My voice. This is what independence affords me. My self.

Why children’s books?

Childhood is the first great trauma for some of us, especially if we don’t fit the box.

In many ways silence and invisibility allowed me to survive. I learned to embody them early on as Chicanx, cis girl and especially queer. Completely by accident I found that making children’s books was like retrieval, reclamation, rejuvenation all at once.

I could speak to the child that I was from the adult that I am and the conversation between us was the book. This not only healed me, I found that it had a positive impact on the children who read them.

It’s a circle that supports completion in our communities. It’s a healing I cannot deny. I have experienced it first hand and seen it repeatedly in others.

I am pushing the boundaries on a personal, community and professional level because of the kind of power and beauty that can exist in children’s books for us.

I want a new world and I’m finally ready to take my next step. I feel like I’ve been waiting my whole life to begin telling my stories. I’m ready to rise. Now.

The campaign is an opportunity to pre-order my books, pre-register for next year at School of the Free Mind and learn more about our free program for kids and families.

Join me in making children’s books a radical act.


Children's Books as a Radical Act - upcoming book list