Sacramento author wins prestigious LGBT book award

The cover of the winner of the Stonewall Children’s & Young Adult Book Award, “This Day in June,” by Dr. Gayle Pitman.
The cover of the winner of the Stonewall Children’s & Young Adult Book Award, “This Day in June,” by Dr. Gayle Pitman. Courtesy of Magination Press

A Sacramento author is steadily racking up awards for her picture book depicting an LGBT pride parade, including a prestigious national honor earlier this month.

Dr. Gayle Pitman was awarded the Stonewall Children’s & Young Adult Book Award by the American Library Association on Monday for her picture book “This Day in June.” She will receive a commemorative plaque and $1,000.

The colorful book describes attending a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender pride parade in rhyming couplets as if the reader is standing on the sidelines, watching the procession pass.

The first page reads: “This day in June…/Parade starts soon…/Rainbow arches…/Joyful marches!”

The bright illustrations, by United Kingdom artist Kristyna Litten, bring to life people who walk in the parade. A reader guide in the back of the book advises parents on how to talk to children about sexual orientation in age-appropriate ways.

Pitman, 43, said she was shocked earlier this month when a friend sent her a congratulations email. The Stonewall Award wasn’t even on her radar, she said.

“I am in a state of disbelief, to be perfectly honest,” Pitman said. “This came as huge surprise. I’m still digesting it.”

Pitman has attended pride celebrations in at least six different cities, but she said her inspiration for the book came from the Stockton Pride Festival in August 2012.

“There were just a lot of families, a lot of kids,” she said. “And that got me thinking about how a lot more kids are going to pride celebrations but there weren’t really any books about it for kids.”

The book has won several other awards in recent weeks. It has been named one of 2015’s “25 Notable Books for a Global Society” by the International Reading Association. The book was also named a Top Ten Title of the 2015 Rainbow List by the ALA.

The Stonewall Book Award was created in 1971 as the first award for LGBT literature. There are three award categories: one for adult literature, one for adult nonfiction and Pitman’s award – the Mike Morgan & Larry Romans Children’s & Young Adult Literature Award. This year’s recipients were unanimously chosen by an 11-member committee at the 2015 ALA Midwinter Meeting.

Pitman is a professor of behavioral psychology with a focus on sexual orientation and gender identity at Sacramento City College. This is her first children’s book, but her first foray into commercial literature was a narrative nonfiction book about the people behind psychological studies of sexual orientation.

“This Day in June” is a dramatically different kind of book. Pitman said she found her way to children’s literature when a friend encouraged her to take a class on writing for children.

“It was fascinating, a totally different kind of writing,” she said. “So often adults think writing for children is easy, but it’s not. You really do have to think like a child.”

She said the word count is tough, too – children’s book authors are lucky if they get 800 words to tell a story.

“This Day in June” was published by Magination Press, the children’s literature imprint of the American Psychology Association. It’s Magination’s first book about the LGBT community.

Magination Press Director Kristine Enderle said the book is unique among children’s books about the LGBT community because it doesn’t focus on LGBT issues.

“It’s a way to celebrate this community,” Enderle said. “It doesn’t have a defensive stance.”

Pitman said this was part of her intent in writing such a joyful book.

“When I wrote this, I really wanted a positive and exuberant vision of the LGBT community,” she said. “There are so many books out there that are really amazing and really good, but they focus on the issues. I wanted to show that this is something to be proud of.”

Dr. Norman Lorenz, a colleague of Pitman’s and LGBT parent, said he thinks the book is unique because it describes an event near and dear to the community that was previously neglected in children’s literature.

“It’s a first start, it’s a foundation,” he said. “It also helps dispel some of the stereotypes. Just as there are people of color and various religious faiths in the world, the LGBT community equally has its rainbow.”

The chairwoman of the Stonewall Book Awards committee, Rebecca Hunt, said this is the first year the Mike Morgan & Larry Romans Children’s & Young Adult Literature Award has gone to a picture book rather than a chapter book.

“I can’t speak for my fellow committee members, but I think we were all deeply impressed by the author’s treatment of the subject,” Hunt said. “It just seemed to us like the parade was lifted off the streets of any city and placed in this book.”

Pitman has another nonfiction book for adults on the way – this one about people on the fringes of the mainstream LGBT community. She said she’s also got a few children’s books she’s working on, some about the LGBT community and some on different subjects.

Call The Bee’s Ellen Garrison at (916) 321-1006.