While this series is dedicated to discussing identity and sexuality in YA lit, we can't forget about children's lit. People need books they can see themselves and their experiences inside of long before they're teenagers. In a recent Kickstarter video for their gender non-binary children's book series, Talcott Broadhead and Rae Ludwig discuss the need for children's books for kids of all genders. In the video, Broadhead says, "Most children don't have access to either concepts of diverse gender identities, because they're only presented with the binary option, or even the capacity to articulate what their own gender identity might be."
In the introduction to Rainbow Family Collections: Selecting and Using Children's Books with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Content, a super resourceful book I recently picked up at the library, author Jamie Campbell Naidoo writes about growing up with little access to books that said it was okay "for a boy to like sewing, have female friends, or find other boys attractive." Says Naidoo:
Perhaps if those books had been available then, my upper elementary, middle school, and high school years would not have been as traumatic and difficult as they were. If my experiences had been normalized or I had been given an opportunity to find children's books that mirrored my life and the lives of other queer children, then I would not have felt so alienated and ashamed of being different from my peers and classmates.
Thankfully, there are many children's books these days that tell kids they're allowed to love whomever they choose, and a whole bunch of books about having queer parents and family members. And more recently, we've started to see children's books focused on telling kids that there are many ways to identify, that it's okay to feel like your body doesn't match your gender, and that it's also okay if you aren't yet sure how you identify. Here are a few recently published and forthcoming books that do just that:
Written by Marcus Ewert, Iillustrated by Rex Ray
We like 10,000 Dresses. It's one of Andi's favorite children's books. As Malic White wrote in "End of Gender: Not Your Mother's Storybooks" when Marcus Ewert's 10,000 Dresses was published, it "offered transgender children their very own fairy tale." In 10,000 Dresses, Bailey just wants to be accepted as a girl who loves dresses. She has dreams about beautiful dresses that she longs to wear in real life, but her parents tell her she can't because she's a boy. At the end of the story, Bailey finds a friend who not only accepts her for who she is, but is actually super excited to help Bailey craft up some dresses of her own.
While the dresses in 10,000 Dresses are beautiful, and the story ends on a very high note, Bailey does encounters family members throughout the story who are not at a point where they can accept who she really is. There is a particularly tense point where her brother tells her that wanting to wear a dress is gross, and he threatens to kick her before she runs away (to meet her new friend). I've read this book with various groups of children, and the scene with her brother has sometimes been hard for them (of course!), but it can also open up important conversation.
Be Who You Are
Written by Jennifer Carr, Illustrated by Ben Rumback
Jennifer Carr's daughter told her she'd been born in the wrong body when she was 4 years old. Carr responded, "'Be who you are.' With our love and support she started living authentically for the first time, and so did I." Carr wrote Be Who You Are after struggling to find resources for her family. This fictional story follows Nick, who has known that she's a girl for as far back and she could remember. While Nick's parents are very supportive and tell her to be who she is, her teacher isn't so understanding, and she's frustrated with having to use the boy's bathroom at school. Nick's parents talk to her teacher, let her wear dresses and grow out her hair, and bring her to see Dr. Bee, a therapist who works with gender non-conforming kids. She picks a new name, Hope, and the book ends with the incredibly sweet words, "Each day brings the chance for all of us to be who we are, to accept others for who they are and to make the world a more loving place for everyone."
My Mommy is a Boy
Written by Jason Martinez, Illustrated by Karen Winchester
In My Mommy Is A Boy, a girl explains why her transgender mommy looks like a boy. She talks about the transitioning process in simple terms, and tells readers that no matter what her mommy looks like or how people see her family, she loves her unconditionally. Martinez wrote this book for his child, and told the story using her voice. Here's what Jason said about the self-published book:
My daughter is 4 going on 5 soon. I created this book for her so that she can feel involved in my transition a bit. It's a short story told by her through my words, in the way she would tell someone else about me and my transition. Basically it's a children's story and it's supposed to help other kids with trans parents or a child that knows someone with a trans parent, understand that even though things are changing, everything will be fine and that parent will always love them regardless.
"Polkadot ____ " A Gender Non-Binary Children's Book Series
By Talcott Broadhead, Illustrated by Rae Ludwig
Talcott Broadhead and Rae Ludwig (whose words were featured at the beginning of this post) recently met their Kickstarter goal of $8,000 to make Polkadot happen, and we're so excited about what's next! The forthcoming Polkadot series will center the experiences of non-binary and other diverse gender identities. In the video for their Kickstarter, Broadhead explained, "What we hope to bring to light through Polkadot is some complexity, and also some of how that complexity is very normal, and how normal emerging gender identity is, and exciting, and playful, and that we can make room for that to happen." For more about the Polkadot series, check out their video! And check back for an interview with Talcott Broadhead next Thursday as part of our Beyond Judy Blume series.
Which books would you add to this list? Let us know in the comments!
This program was made possible in part by a grant from Oregon Humanities (OH), a statewide nonprofit organization and an independent affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities, which funds OH's grant program. Any views, findings, and conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of Oregon Humanities or the National Endowment for the Humanities.