CoA Guest Submission: We Need Aro and Ace Kids’ Books

Hey all! This is a Carnival of Aces submission I was asked to post for someone who doesn’t have their own blog and wanted to remain anonymous.

I am a children’s librarian. I am also aromantic asexual. These two facts are deeply connected.

When I was a tween, going through books like they were popcorn, I never quite made the transition between children’s books and teen books, and I never really made the transition to adult books. There’s a very simple reason for that: I was put off by the omnipresent romance. The children’s books I liked that featured characters falling in love did so slowly, as a sideplot, often taking the entire book or multiple books to get into a relationship. Teen books had no such patience, and brought in descriptions of “hot” boys that I just never understood. And what they hinted at, the adult books openly stated: these characters are having sex.

As a baby ace, “the talk” had completedly blindsided me. I didn’t have urges or feelings hinting about the truth. I didn’t have the intellectual anatomical curiosity that had led another ace friend to put everything together. I was completely disgusted, and was told that it would make sense when I’m older, that my feelings would make the gross parts bearable or even appealing.

Spoiler alert: it didn’t, and they didn’t. Since the books available to me offered girls effectively one alloromantic, allosexual narrative arc, I grew deeply alienated from female characters as a whole. I would gravitate towards narratives about boys and robots, leading to an infatuation with sci-fi and fantasy (where I could skip over the gratuitous sex scenes and get back to the adventures I enjoyed). Over a decade later, I’m still working on unraveling my internalized misogyny towards female characters.

I decided I wanted to be a librarian by age 13, and I’m still happiest in children’s spaces and children’s literature, where girls can do anything and not everything is about romance. But the children I work with haven’t gone through what I have. They know what romance is. They know that you can have crushes on the opposite sex, and a growing amount of books and representation is telling them they can have crushes on the same sex. Other authors tackle gender expression, telling children they can be gender-nonconforming, gender-expansive, trans, or nonbinary, and that it’s okay. Children are being offered a narrative for feelings they might not know how to express yet, but where does that leave kids like me? And where does that leave families who want their kids to grow up to be allies? I’ve had children ask me
if I have a boyfriend, if I have a crush, and then accuse me of lying when I say I don’t. Other than a flippant “some people like guys, some people like girls, and some people don’t like anyone” without any representation or narratives other than my own to back me up (I mean, they’ve already accused me of lying), I don’t really have a good answer.

I’ve pondered this for a very long time. There are a couple issues in the way. First, people get squeamish when talking to kids about sex. They’re perfectly happy to conflate sex and romance, because almost everyone experiences these orientations together, and romance is easy to demonstrate without getting genitals involved. Any discussion of an asexual character – probably an adult, but aroaces who have known this about themselves since childhood definitely exist – would therefore have to be framed as an aroace, which does a disservice to alloaro and alloace people alike. I don’t know how to solve this one. Aromanticism, asexuality and the fact that they don’t only exist in lockstep is a tough concept for adults, let
alone small children who need the subject matter to be extremely simplified. Additionally, people might assume that there are tons of children’s book characters who demonstrate friendship without having any romances. Children’s books may feature characters who never demonstrate romance, but none of them ever says the words “aromantic” or “asexual”, rejects romance as an option for themselves, or does anything that resonates on an aspec level other than sometimes living with friends instead of a partner or family.

I want kids to know that friendship and romance are equally valuable. I want kids to know that romance isn’t the only option, or a necessary stop on the road to adulthood. And I want future generations of baby aces to be able to step into teen spaces with the knowledge of a narrative for never developing the feelings almost every book is going to talk about. I know that it’ll take a while before there will be good aspec books for kids, but that while won’t take as long if we start now.

I want to give a shout-out to the four books I know of published for children, all from the middle grade category, that feature aspec characters or narratives:
A-Okay, Jarad Greene, 2021 (bonus points for being a graphic novel!)
Every Bird a Prince, Jenn Reese, 2022
Hazel’s Theory of Evolution, Lisa Jenn Bigelow, 2019
Rick, Alex Gino, 2020

Thanks for proving me wrong, ever-so-slightly. Picture book creators, now’s your chance to make history!

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