Children's Review: Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag

The life of Harvey Milk, one of the first openly gay people to hold political office in the United States, ended tragically: on November 27, 1978, Milk, who had won a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977, was murdered, along with the city's mayor, by a disgruntled and homophobic colleague. Older kids may be ready for the whole story, but Rob Sanders (Outer Space Bedtime Race) offers little ones an age-appropriate introduction to Milk through one of his overlooked contributions to the gay rights movement: the rainbow flag.

In Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag, Milk is first shown as a young man lying barefoot in the grass, mulling over his "extraordinary dream": that "everyone--even gay people--would have equality" and "be able to live and love as they pleased." He's next pictured speaking at a rally, confronted with signs of support ("PASS GAY RIGHTS BILL") and opposition ("GAYS MUST GO"), and then it's on to the campaign trail in 1977: Milk has determined that "the best way to change laws was to help make laws." It's while organizing a march in opposition to laws that discriminate against gay people that Milk seizes on the idea of "a symbol that shows who we are and how we feel. Something to carry during the march." Milk asks artist Gilbert Baker to come up with the symbol, and with the help of volunteers who aren't averse to dye-stained fingers, Baker creates the majestic rainbow flag that makes its debut on June 25, 1978, at San Francisco's gay pride march.

As Steven Salerno's (Brothers at Bat: The True Story of an Amazing All-Brother Baseball Team) illustrations attest, the flag has since become a versatile, international and ubiquitous symbol of gay pride. A two-page spread shows a dozen everyday people--cop, servicewoman, surfer dude--flying the flag in their own way. In another spread, the flag flaps in front of a church, a farm and a suburban home. For the 1994 gay pride march in New York City, Baker designed an outsize banner that Salerno depicts blanketing the avenue like a rippling rainbow river.

Salerno captures another potent symbol in his ebullient art: Milk wears his trademark smile throughout Pride. Salerno even shows Milk smiling in the newspaper head shot accompanying a report on his death--a necessary fact of this book but not its lead story. In the book's dazzler of a penultimate illustration, the colors of the rainbow are projected on the façade of the White House, as happened on June 26, 2015, when the U.S. Supreme Court legalized gay marriage. Surely Milk would have been smiling at--and taken, yes, pride in--that. --Nell Beram, freelance writer and YA author

Shelf Talker: This picture book honors one of the accomplishments for which gay rights pioneer Harvey Milk isn't especially well-known: in 1978, he spurred the creation of the rainbow flag.

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