Spooky season is upon us, so this month’s Author Spotlight has a Halloween twist! Today, I’m thrilled to be chatting with my friend CK Malone today about their debut picture book A Costume For Charly.
C.K. Malone (they/them) is a bigender award-winning educator and literature coach at the secondary level. When not grading essays or helping students, they’re busy helping design culturally and LGBTQIA+ responsive units for the district and working as a climate and culture coach. When they’re not writing, they’re coaching and advising through alignment with the Genders and Sexualities Alliance Network. C.K. continues this work in the literary world by advocating for all to be given the space to tell their own stories. Though they love the many hats they wear, their favorite is as an advocate for diverse voices.
How did Charly come to be? What inspired you to write this book and how did your experiences with your own identity impact the story?
Charly is much braver than I am, to be honest. I dream of being this strong. Charly came to be because when I was 11 going on 12, I made a mishmash of costumes for myself to show a select group of friends who I was. It didn’t turn out to be as joyous a situation as Charly’s, though. So Charly’s experience is very much how I *wish* it would have been. My own identity is Bigender (technically Intersex but Bigender is the easiest explanation for people) and I wanted to show readers this identity doesn’t have to cause strife when choosing how to express it. Like myself, the easiest way was to choose binary costumes and combine them.
Author: CK Malone
Illustrator: Alejandra Barajas
Published: September 6, 2022
Publisher: Beaming Books
Format: Picture Books
Writing stories so close to our hearts can be both difficult and rewarding. What has been the biggest challenge in writing A Costume For Charly? What has been the biggest reward?
The biggest challenge was having to omit some items from the story because I was told Charly needed their own agency. There was a person near and dear to my heart in the LGBTQIA+ community who helped me along the way. She has since passed. But I keep my original draft in my home office in a frame next to her picture. The biggest reward is hearing how my book is helping people to not only understand the identity a bit more, but also that they are sharing CHARLY with their kiddos.
Speaking of rewarding, how was it seeing Alejandra Barajas’ amazing illustrations for the first time? It must be such a thrill to see your words come to life on the page!
Alejandra is SUCH a talented artist. I loved seeing how she emulated Charly’s moods through the illustrations. The colors start off muted when Charly is experiencing a lot of lows then become vibrant as they realize they can make their own costume and celebrate it. It was amazing seeing the illustrations for the first time. I cried. A lot.
If children only take one thing away from reading A Costume For Charly, what message would you hope they get?
I hope they receive the message that they are not wrong in how they feel or how they identify. Find a trusted adult to speak to about feelings. So often, kids are told by the wrong people “this is just a phase” and other such nonsense. One of my middle school GSAs is 36 children strong with over 60 who identify who cannot attend meetings due to transportation, so now we hold them virtually as well. I have students at the elementary level sending me emails because they know they are coming to my school someday. There is no “phase” about it. Children know they are different.
You are such a vocal advocate for diverse voices in the kidlit community. What advice would you give those still learning to find their voice and speak up for others?
That’s a hard question. I’m still learning daily how to speak up and out for others without putting myself in danger and without making huge mistakes because I have done both. Both have left scars on an already scarred heart. I’d say joining platforms that support as well as giving money to verified platforms that support helps immensely. Celebrate diversity in all its intersections because it is truly beautiful. And if you have any kind of privilege–even if you are intersectional yourself–use that privilege to help others whenever possible.
What are your plans for Halloween this year? Do you have any creative costumes planned?
I’m going as a bat tap dancer. It’s going to be weird, but kids will like it. Oh, and I can’t even tap dance. Soooo…there’s that. I hope to read at a local bookstore as well as hand out candy. One of the schools is doing a haunted house, so I look forward to joining in on that!
A Costume For Charly is your debut, so I have to ask, what’s next for you?
I have a short story coming out in a literary magazine and we’re waiting to announce my next book. It’s not LGBTQIA+ because I don’t want to write only about my identity since I’m so much more than this. My experiences extend beyond identity. Looking forward to everyone hearing about both!
Is there anything else you’d like to share with Mutually Inclusive’s readers?
If you read this blog, then I know you must be amazing and want the best for your kiddos. Keep being you!
I love that! Thank you so so much for joining us today, CK. It’s been an absolute delight chatting with you!