Transgender Books for Younger Readers
Look,I sometimes feel that I use Trish Buckley’s reviewing expertise purely for the ‘tricky’ books, the books I just don’t know what to do with or what to say about, but love and believe in. But the truth is, I believe so passionately in having diverse books available for young people and I don’t think that my own words have as much power as the ones that Trish writes. She is my go-to teacher librarian/webmaster/reviewer for all things ‘diverse’ in the world of children’s and YA literature. She has her finger on the pulse of what is new, already out there, necessary to add to your collection or OTT and to be avoided. The woman is a veritable wealth of knowledge about all things children’s and YA literature and I couldn’t do without her. You will find many, many reviews by Trish on here…just search her name in the little search box in the top right hand corner up there…see it? Handy little box.
These books are not just for young people or their families are who identify as transgender, these are books for all.
Thanks Lovely Lady!
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I know sometimes it feels like social issues books are forced on us at an alarming rate, and we’re made to feel bad if we don’t put them in our libraries. We justify not adding them because of parental backlash, school leadership concern, and all the extra work to make sure they are only put in the right hands.
Conversely, the latest book by Kate Mesner, The Seventh Wish caused some consternation in the States, shows what happens when schools decide not to stock books. So it seems like it doesn’t matter which decision we make, we are criticised. All we can do is what’s best for the students in our library, and be clear about what’s in our collections. I urge you all to read books that might be construed as ‘problems’, and be confident about your decisions.
You can probably tell that I’m all for including books that might be considered too sad, or too scary, or too dark. I am not quite sure how to label books about young people who want to, or who are in the process of transitioning, but these are the books I highlight in this post. You don’t have to add them all to your shelves, but each one gives a different perspective, a different way to look at the issue. They depict transgender kids like all other kids—they just want to be seen the way they see themselves. The ability to create empathy in readers cannot be under-estimated. Here are three I read recently that exemplify the best reasons to have a book about a transgender kid in your collection.
‘George’ by Alex Gino 2015 Scholastic
George is only in the fourth grade, but she already knows she’s a girl. Her problem is how to tell everyone else. She struggles to talk to her mother, and her supportive and fierce best friend, Kelly, and the only way she sees it might be possible, is if she gets to play Charlotte in her class production of Charlotte’s Web. George’s journey is gentle and affirming. She is clear with what she wants. It’s inspiring, and shows the strength of these kids. Their certainty of who they are. Their bravery.
Author Alex Gino subtlety shows oblivious gendered actions from teachers can impact negatively on the children in the class. Mrs Udell gives the boys blue cards and the girls pink. We see George react badly to this. It’s even worse when she dismisses George’s audition as Charlotte so completely and so harshly. George’s devastation though, leads to a scary conversation with Kelly, bringing the dream of matching her outside appearance with her inside self closer. She eventually discovers her most surprising supporter, her older brother, Scott. After George shares her secret, Scott thinks for a minute, then says, ‘Weird. But it kinda makes sense. No offense, but you don’t make a very good boy.’ And George replies, ‘I know’. It’s such a lovely, compelling moment.
George’s story ends with hope and happy anticipation.
‘The Other Boy’ by M.G. Hennessey 2016 HarperCollins
Shane has always felt like a boy, and from the time he was 8 and told his mum, she’s been supportive and pro-active, giving him what he needs – counsellors, doctors, and treatment. Plus, she deflects the disappointment of his father. Shane moved from San Francisco to Los Angeles, and nobody knows his secret. Now he’s 12, things are about to get really tough. He’s about to be outed by his nemesis, and initially, his own courage fails him. He tries to ignore the awful insults flung at him and hopes his friends still know he’s the same boy. It’s not surprising how badly this goes.
Shane’s story includes baseball, banter and video games with best friend, Josh, and panels from his sci fi graphic novels. Shane feels like a real person, with his flaws and fears. He is bullied, but he has people he can talk to (if he choses to). There is one small glimpse into his worst moment, when he almost thinks about harming himself, but this is a very small component. He quickly dismisses this idea, but this is him at his lowest and unhappiest time, so it fits.
Overall, the narrative is optimistic and primarily, a universal story of someone who is growing up and working out who he is.
‘The Pants Project’ by Cat Clarke 2017 Sourcebooks Fire
Liv’s story isn’t released until March next year, but it’s another transgender story worth considering. Liv is also flawed. Often his actions are selfish, but he admits up to them, and always recognises his guilt for what it is. There are lots of universal themes here too – Liv’s best friend Maisie, wants to be popular, and is embarrassed when Liv decides to take on the school over its out-dated uniform policy. His ability to make friends with Jacob show that even though others consider Liv a ‘freak’, he’s able to shrug off teasing and bullying to be comfortable with who he is.
The other complication is Liv’s life is his two mums. At one point, he cringingly thinks once everybody knows, they might be blamed for the way he is. A lot of his bad decisions are about protecting his parents, which we know is silly, but its his genuine and loving intent. No wonder, because Liv’s family life is wonderful. Mom and Mamma are great parents, and little brother, Enzo and three legged dog Gab are also both well developed (well, not so much with the dog), and significant to Liv’s story. The diversity is layered, and shows the complexity and messiness of everybody’s lives. Jacob has a secret too, and his loyalty and strength give Liv confidence to take on the school principal, the bullies, and his own fears.
Interestingly, both George and Liv divulge their secrets firstly to friends. Authors want readers to see how crucial it is for young people to realise the important role they may play in their friends’ lives. We all need to be open to the possibility that there’s more to the people around us than we see on the surface. This is why we need to watch our language, and our actions. Words have power to hurt or to heal. Being conscious of what we say and do can be one of the first, tiny steps we take towards showing ourselves as true friends.
Other books that are worth considering (unfortunately, the list is short).
‘The Boy in the Dress’ by David Walliams. HarperCollins 2008 (important as it shows that cross-dressing isn’t necessarily an indicator of gender orientation or sexual identity)
‘Gracefully Grayson’ by Ami Polonsky. Disney-Hyperion 2014 (12 year old M2F orphan who decides to ‘come out’ by playing a female role in the school play)
‘Lily and Dunkin’ by Donna Gephart. Delacourt Books for Young Readers 2016 (includes a positive representation of a young person with bipolar disorder, as well as a transitioning M2F)