Homosexuality was only decriminalised the year before I was born, and the whole time I was teaching in schools Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988 was in place. As a teacher it was illegal for me to "promote homosexuality" or to "promote the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family unit". The viciousness of this wording made it very difficult for teachers to challenge homophobic language, bullying or exclusion of children in schools due to their perceived sexuality or the real or perceived sexuality of parents or family members. I could not, for example, have imagery of successful, happy gay people in my classroom the way I could of people of different religious or cultural backgrounds. I taught children who had gay parents or siblings and children who were quite clear that they were gay (and one boy who was insistent that he was going to grow up to be a girl) and as a young teacher it was very challenging for me that I couldn't reflect their lives in my classroom. As I became more senior and confident as a teacher, I did more to actively challenge gender stereotyping and "heteronormativity" (clumsy and awful word!) by reading stories such as Babette Cole's Prince Cinders and Anne Fine's Bill's New Frock.
Thankfully, Section 28 was repealed in 2003, but sadly some teachers still worry about the legality of challenging homophobic language and bullying in schools- under the 2010 Equalities Act teachers in fact have a duty to do so. Stonewall have some fantastic age appropriate resources (their primary resources are all about different images of families), and they have some brilliant booklists for primary classrooms.
In the iron fortress of the sages, Taisin, a trainee sage, has had a vision. As a result, she and another trainee, Kaede, must travel with a small band to the land of the fairies to ask the Fairy Queen to bring back the Sun. But first they must go through the Forest, where dangers in the shape of strange creatures but also malignant magic lurk. Can Kaede and Taisin fight the feelings that they are developing for each other? and what does Taisin's vision of Kaede travelling alone to face danger mean?
This is a wonderful fantasy book, with Chinese mythological background- as I've said before, I believe that it is vitally important that young people see themselves in the books that they read. I found the relationship between Taisin and Kaede really positive: the difficulty in their relationship is not that they are two girls, but because Kaede's wealthy family want her to marry for political reasons, and Taisin must be celibate to be a sage. It's great that being a lesbian is not remarkable in their world, and I think that this would be a very positive message for any young person reading this book, whether they were gay or not. There is passionate kissing, but no explicit sex in this book. My one criticism is that there's an awful lot of crying. I'd have liked Kaede and Taisin to have had some laughter and happiness! Recommended to young adult readers of 12+.
Here's Rob Bryden reading another great Babette Cole fairy tale, Princess Smartypants.