Weekly Feature

2018-01-24 / Lifestyles

LGBTQ children’s book offers ray of light

By BRYAN JACKSON, Cheektowaga Editor

William Mason, an East Amherst native who graduated from Williamsville East and earned a master’s degree from the University at Buffalo, remembered what it was like for his sister growing up.

She was bullied for years for being openly gay, and he wanted to write a gentle children’s story that could offer refuge to any child who might be feeling different, but especially one that could be a positive resource for children who may be LGBTQ themselves.

Now, after the planning, writing and some unexpected partnerships, “The Boy with the Rainbow Heart” is making its way to schools and the rest of the public.

“The Boy with the Rainbow Heart” tells the story of a young boy who, through his kindness and love for all people, turns the town of Gray — and its insular townspeople who “were scared of any heart colored different than theirs” — into the town of Shine.

East Amherst native William Mason penned “The Boy with the Rainbow Heart” in an attempt to create more acceptance for children who might feel different. Mason decided to write the book because his sister was bullied in school for being openly gay. East Amherst native William Mason penned “The Boy with the Rainbow Heart” in an attempt to create more acceptance for children who might feel different. Mason decided to write the book because his sister was bullied in school for being openly gay. So far, several Western New York schools, as well as those outside the region, have been open to the book’s themes of kindness and diversity.

Mason has donated hundreds of “The Boy with the Rainbow Heart” copies to districts, including Cheektowaga Central and Buffalo, Rochester and Cleveland public schools. Moreover, the books are accompanied by kindergarten through third-grade lesson plans that are aligned with Common Core standards, according to Mason.

Mason and his partners, including illustrator Coraline Tran and editor Cody Weiler, launched a Kickstarter campaign last summer with a fundraising goal of $4,000 to make the initial publishing push.

It didn’t take long to fly past that amount.

The campaign raised more than $12,000 and attracted the attention of Raymond Ganoe, William president

Mason, right, and CEO of the walks with family Pride Center of members Western New during a gay York. After pride parade speaking with in Chicago. Mason, Ganoe donated $2,500 to the project and agreed to have the Pride Center sign on as the book’s lead sponsor.

Mason called Ganoe a “rock star” and said he has been an invaluable resource. “As soon as he became a sponsor, things just started opening up. He held the book launch party. There are so many other people that he’s introduced me to,” Mason said, adding that those introductions have led to presentations and speaking engagements for him and his sister. Although it was written with the LGBTQ community at the forefront, there aren’t explicit LGBTQ references in the book. The words “gay,” “lesbian” or “transgender” don’t appear on its pages, for example, but Mason said reaching out to wary school district officials required him to show the story’s gentle tone.

“When you reach out to a district, no matter if you’re the chief academic officer or the librarian or the superintendent, I will say that every single [one] has been skeptical at first. They all want to see the book, and they all want to see the lesson plans,” he said. “But when you show the lesson plans and the book, and when they all read it, they all happily agreed to take the book.” Count Carol Kiripolsky, a member of the Cheektowaga Central Board of Education, as one of those skeptical school representatives.

“Obviously, the subject can be very tender. You know, [I was] thinking, OK, an elementary-level book, what is this going to look like,” she said.

However, after reading the book, Kiripolsky was sold and brought it to Superintendent Mary Morris this past October to discuss bringing in Mason to speak with the board and get the book into students’ hands.

“If you hadn’t told me that that’s what the book was about, I don’t know if I would have even caught on, other than that the boy has a rainbow heart. That’s the big link,” she said. “It really is about everybody. Everybody should be kind to each other. I thought it was a great book.”

Each district is using the book differently, with Cheektowaga Central placing two books in each library and one with each counselor and social worker. Additionally, the district is exploring the possibility of using the remaining donated copies to have high school students read to their elementary school counterparts.

“When your heart really just wants to love, there’s nowhere you can end up but the right end of the story,” Kiripolsky said. “It’s just sometimes we have to put our preconceived notions and maybe the ideals that we’ve grown up hearing on the back burner and open up our minds a little bit.

“Again … it’s not about right, wrong or indifferent. It’s about [that] we’re called to have relationships with one another and love one another, and if we don’t do that, then it’s a sad world.”

Those interested in “The Boy with the Rainbow Heart,” which launched publicly last month, can check it out on Amazon, where it spent several weeks as the No. 1 release in the online marketplace’s “tolerance” category.

email: bjackson@beenews.com

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