Here’s what I didn’t have when I was growing up in our tiny row house in Philadelphia:  a dad who lived with us (my parents divorced when I was really young), enough money to buy even reduced price lunch tickets at school (they cost a whopping $.40 a day, so my sister and I received free lunch tickets), and different kinds of clothes to wear each day (Mom bought my sister and I a couple pair of pants and a few tops before school started, and they had to last the whole school year, even if we outgrew them).

Northeast Regional Library Photo

Here’s what I did have:  a mom wise enough to take my sister and me to the Northeast Regional Library  every Saturday, where I was left alone to choose any books I wanted.

mr poppers penguins
I chose and fell in love with Mr. Popper’s Penguins.  I needed those penguins — that fun fantasy life with wild, waddling penguins in the house – so different from the lonely childhood I was experiencing.  I needed that book-window into a home filled with fun and love and levity.

Hundred Dresses

I also chose and fell in love with The Hundred Dresses  about a girl who went to school wearing the same thing every day.  She was made fun of by classmates.  And in the end, the reader learns how creative she was.

That’s me! I wanted to shout.  I wear the same thing to school a lot.  I feel isolated.  I’m creative.  The Hundred Dresses was a mirror for me.  It made me feel less alone in the world.  More validated.

We need books that are mirrors.

We also need books that are windows, like Wonder, Out of My Mind and Crenshaw, so everyone else can know how it feels to be different/isolated/scared/poor, etc.

Story is the only time we can get inside another person’s mind/thoughts/feelings.  Books are our golden opportunity to help develop empathy in young people and contribute to making this a kinder, more compassionate world.


Lily and Dunkin is a mirrors and windows book.  It’s a dual narrative of a big-hearted, transgender girl who tries to save a special tree . . . and save herself and a boy who is hiding a big secret and struggling with bipolar disorder, as he spirals toward psychosis.

A young transgender man recently told me he wished Lily and Dunkin were available when he was a kid so he could have seen himself in a book.  He also said he thought the book would save lives.

Our older son, who deals with bipolar disorder (more about that in the book’s author’s note), said Lily and Dunkin captured exactly what he felt like.  He said it was like I was inside his head.  And he told me he was proud of me because this book would matter to so many of the young people who feel different and left out and on the fringes of society.

It’s my greatest hope that in addition to providing a mirror, Lily and Dunkin offers windows that create empathy, understanding and kindness.  After you read the sobering statistic at the end of the book, you’ll know why it’s vital to get this book into the hands of as many young people as possible right now.

And, of course, I couldn’t not put humor into this book.  It’s what I do.  Every one of my novels has humor and heart.  So, as you read Lily and Dunkin, you’ll encounter a weight-lifting, tattooed, exercise guru grandma and discover a pink, plastic flamingo mystery.


Now . . . if only there were penguins.

Donna Gephart was born in Philadelphia and now lives in South Florida with her family and furry canine friends. Her books include Death by Toilet Paper; Olivia Bean, Trivia Queen; How to Survive Middle-School; As if Being 12-3/4 Isn’t Bad Enough, My Mother Is Running for President!, and now Lily and Dunkin. For reading guides, resources, writing tips, and more, visit donnagephart.com.