Friday, February 20, 2015

Children's Books on Gender Creativity



My kids all teenagers now and I'll admit that I miss the days of going to the children's section of the library and selecting a huge pile of pictures books to bring home to enjoy reading together. After seeing lists of recommended books that relate to transgender children I decided it was time to check out a few books for myself. Happily, my local public library has 5 to 6 copies of each of the books pictured above.

I Am Jazz directly addresses the experience of being transgender. It is the first person account of Jazz Jennings' experience as a young child. The pictures are cute and support not only the story but also extending the conversation about what Jazz is feeling. This is a great book for helping all kids, and adults, understand in simple terms what it means to be transgender.

Jacob's New Dress says "There are lots of different ways to be a boy." This makes it a book not so much about being transgender as being gender creative or perhaps gender fluid. Jacob pretends to be a princess at school, he was a witch for Halloween, and he wants a dress to wear to school. This book shows the mental processes that many parents go through as they come to understand and support their gender nonconforming child. This clear illustration of parents working through to their own place of being able to support their child could be helpful to parents who are struggling with how to respond to their own child's requests that are stretching their parental comfort zone.

Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress has delightful illustrations that take us into the world of a little boy with an awesome imagination who likes to wear a brightly colored dress from the dress up clothes at school. As with Jacob's New Dress, this book is about a boy who wears dresses. However, in this book you have a mother who is shown fully supporting her child's gender expression. For example, Morris' mother paints his fingernails. This book focuses on Morris figuring out how to create a place for himself, how to draw other children into his world, how to fit in on his own terms.

My biggest hesitation in recommending each of these books is that all three portray children who go to school and who are teased or face challenges because they are gender creative or gender nonconforming. While these books may be helpful to the child who shares that experience, that is one of going to school and experiencing negative reactions from their peers, I might be cautious about sharing these books with a young child who is exploring their gender identity who has never been to school or who has only had people react positively to their self expression. Over all the books are positive and empowering, but I would hate for a child to be discouraged from expressing or exploring their gender identity due to worries that come from reading a book. This would, of course, depend upon the child and their level of sensitivity.

It would be wonderful to have more books on library shelves that show kids exploring gender without any negative commentary. Books that support kids in the exploration with joy and without the sense that it's odd, abnormal, or unexpected. I'm hoping there are books out there already that I don't know about. If you know of any please share them in the comments.

All three of the books focus on children who were assigned male at birth. Are there books for kids who are assigned female at birth who identify as boys? There are books with main characters portrayed as tomboys, but what about transgender boys who like what society generally considers "boy things" and whose affirmed gender is boy. There are also transgender boys who have more traditionally female interests. And what about transgender girls who don't like pink. If you know of any books that fill these need please share them in the comments as well.

The main character each of the books is portrayed as an assigned male at birth child, with light colored skin, who goes to school. It's wonderful to see an ever increasing variety of books becoming available that explore gender identity and gender expression for younger children, however, there continues to be a need for more books that provide for greater diversity.

Learn more about the books:

I Am Jazz 


2 comments:

  1. "When Kathy is Keith" by Wallace Wong might be a good book for female-assigned kids.

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  2. Thank you for the suggestion. Sadly, my library doesn't have a copy and it's prohibitively expensive to purchase online. I would like to find a copy to review since the comments on amazon are few and mixed in opinion. I'll keep an eye out for it.

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