Thursday, July 13, 2017

Books with Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Themes for Younger Kids


25 books about diversity, self-acceptance, and being transgender or gender non-conforming for younger readers, transgender children's books


One day when I was working the desk, a patron asked for help using the catalog. The book she was looking up happened to be one with a transgender protagonist, and I mentioned I had read it recently. Then she explained she had a young transgender daughter and was having a very hard time finding any books with transgender characters or themes that were not for teens or older tweens.

I found a few titles in our catalog, which unfortunately were not in at our location. She asked about getting more added to the collection, and I showed her how to put in a request, but since she didn't know any specific titles, I offered to do some digging and e-mail her a list of titles so she would have something to start with. I included the titles our system owns, as well as those suggested by other youth services professionals, some I found on other lists, and some titles I just happened to come across in the process. She was primarily interested in picture books, but also wanted to know about any chapter books for kids up to about age 12.

*One caveat: I could not get my hands on most of these and had to go by samples, summaries, and reviews, so please don't take these as recommendations, merely as a list of books to consider.

Picture Books (ages 4-8ish)


It's Okay to Be Different by Todd Parr (2004). 

While this book doesn't specifically address being transgender, it does provide a positive message about being different in general. Some of the examples are physical characteristics, some are random, but it also includes having different kinds of families.

Written for the youngest readers, it features short, simple text, and bright, colorful illustrations with heavy black outlines that look as though a child had drawn them.

Be Who You Are by Todd Parr (2016). 

This is a companion to the book above, continuing the positive message about diversity and individuality, encouraging kids to be proud of what makes them unique, and to express themselves however they need to. It does not specifically address transgender, but it does show a boy wearing a feather boa.

Illustrated in Parr's signature primitive style with bold colors, this book is an excellent way to teach acceptance and individuality to young children.


Worm Loves Worm by J. J. Austrian & Mike Curato (2016). 

Two worms fall in love and decide to get married. Their friends excitedly ask them about their wedding plans: Who is going to wear the wedding dress? Who will wear the tux? The worms can't figure out which one of them should wear what, and in the end they decide that it doesn't matter

(Fun fact: Worms are simultaneous hermaphrodites, in other words they are all both male and female. When they mate, both sets of sex organs are used by both worms, and they both become mothers and fathers!)


Red: A Crayon's Story by Michael Hall (2015). 

A crayon is labeled Red, but no matter how hard tries, he just can't color anything red; everything keeps coming out blue! His teacher just thinks he needs more practice, and his friends and classmates try to show him how. But he still draws blue strawberries. He is very frustrated and sad, until he finally realizes that he isn't a defective red crayon, he is in fact a brilliant, but mis-labeled, blue!

An obvious parallel to being transgender can by drawn from the story, but it can also be used to relate to not being defined by your appearance or others' expectations in general.


BunnyBear by Andrea Loney & Carmen Saldana (2017).

Bunnybear was born a bear, but feels more like a rabbit. He prefers bouncing through the bushes to tramping in the forest. In his heart, he is light, bouncy, and fluffy. But, neither the bears nor the bunnies understand him at first, and when they make fun of him it makes him feel sad and anxious. Eventually he learns to be true to himself, and helps others as well.


Introducing Teddy: A Gentle Story About Gender and Friendship by Jess Walton & Dougal MacPherson, (2017).

Errol's teddy Thomas is his best friend, and they do everything together. One day Thomas is sad, and nothing Errol tries seems to cheer him up. At first Thomas is afraid Errol won't want to be his friend if he tells him what's wrong, but finally confides that in her heart she has always known she was really a girl teddy, and wishes to be called Tilly, not Thomas. Errol says he doesn't care, and that "What matters is that you are my friend."


I Am Jazz by Jessica Herthel, Jazz Jennings & Shelaugh McNicholas (2014). 

This is based on the real-life experiences of Jazz Jennings, a young transgender girl who is now well known as a spokesperson for transgender children. With this book she tries to explain in simple terms what transgender is, and what it was like for her as a young child. She does use the "born in the wrong body" explanation and gender stereotyping to explain how she knew she was really a girl, which some people object to, but is probably the easiest way to explain it to a young child.


When Kayla Was Kyle by Amy Fabrikant & Jennifer Levine (2013).

This is the story of Kyle, who looks like a boy, but knows he doesn't fit in with them and doesn't understand why they tease him. Kyle struggles to find the words to express how he feels to his parents, and his parents initially struggle to understand, but eventually help him transition to Kayla.

This is another self-published book with no professional reviews and very few reader reviews, though most were fairly positive. The author is not trans nor the parent of a trans child, but is a literacy specialist and advocate for equality and diversity. I have not seen the book first hand, but from the trailer on the author's website and reader reviews, my gut feeling is that it is well-intentioned, but may be overly simplistic and not that appealing to children.

About Chris by Nina Benedetto (2015)

Chris knows he is a boy, even though his body looks female. This is a self-published book with no professional reviews, and the author is an educator, not a psychologist and does not mention any personal experience with the subject. Some reader reviews mention parts of the story as being confusing or problematic, but I am including it as I did not come across any other picture books about transgender female to male children, and some reader reviewers that identified themselves as parents of transgender children did report it was helpful. The author also has a companion book called My Favorite Color Is Pink.


Be Who You Are by Jennifer Carr & Bea Rumback(2010). 

One day at school the teacher asks them to draw a self-portrait, and Nick draws himself as a girl, because that how he has always seen himself. Nick's family joins a support group and are supportive when Nick asks to be recognized as a girl, use feminine pronouns, and change her name to Hope.

This is a self-published book, based on the author's own experiences with her children. There are no professional reviews, but reader reviews, including those by parents of transgender children, are overall positive.


My Princess Boy by Cheryl Kilodavis & Suzanne DiSimone (2010). 

This story is based on the author's experiences with her son, who is not presented as transgender, but a boy who happens to enjoy dressing up as a princess and stereotypical "girl" things. The story also addresses teasing and bullying, but shows a very supportive family, including the brother and dad. 

One criticism of the illustrations is the blank, featureless faces, that some readers found creepy or disturbing.


Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress by Christine Baldacchino & Isabelle Malenfant (2014). 

Morris is a boy with a vivid imagination who loves to play in the dress-up center at school, where his favorite thing to wear is a bright tangerine dress. The other kids tease him and tell him he shouldn't wear a dress because he is a boy, and should be doing "boy" things, and won't let him play in their spaceship. 

But then Morris uses his incredible imagination to construct his own spaceship, which draws the other children and they begin to accept him as he is.


10,000 Dresses by Marcus Ewert & Rex Ray (2008). 

Every night Bailey dreams of beautiful dresses, but when she tries to tell her family about her dreams, her parents tell her she's a boy, and boys don't wear dresses, and her brother says "Gross!". Finally she meets an older girl who shares her interests and they create beautiful dresses together.

This book could be very confusing to children who don't already have some understanding of transgender, as it is not really explained in the story. Bailey looks like a boy, and everyone else says Bailey is a boy, but the narrator consistently refers to Bailey with feminine pronouns, but no explanation. Some parents object to presenting an older, non-family member as Bailey's "savior."


Sparkle Boy by Leslea Newman & Maria Mola (2017). 

Casey loves puzzles, blocks, trucks, AND shiny, sparkly things. While his parents support his experimenting with sparkle, his older sister Jessie doesn't like it when he wears her old sparkly skirt or wants his nails painted. But, when he is teased by other boys at the library, Jessie sticks up for her brother.

This is by the author of Heather Has Two Mommies. One thing worth noting is that the illustrations show a family of color. I am disappointed the author chose the library as the setting for Casey being bullied; kids should be encouraged to see libraries as a safe place!


Jacob's New Dress by Sarah & Ian Hoffman & Chris Case (2014).

Jacob loves playing dress-up and pretending to be anything he wants. He wants to wear a dress to school, even though some kids say he can't because he's a boy. His mother agrees to help him make a dress, and when he is teased about it at school, he tells the bullies that he made that dress and will wear it proudly. His father and teacher are supportive; the teacher gives the example that only a relatively short time ago, girls were not allowed to wear pants, and that everyone should wear what they are comfortable in.


Roland Humphrey Is Wearing a WHAT? by Eileen Kiernan-Johnson & Katrina Revenaugh (2013). 

Roland likes sparkly things, rainbow colors, butterflies and barrettes. But the girls in his class tell him these things are only for girls. Roland questions why there is a double standard for girls and boys; why are the rules for boys so much more rigid? He sticks up for himself and decides to express himself the way that feels right for him.


Annie's Plaid Shirt  by Stacy Davids & Rachel Balsaitis (2015). 

Annie loves her plaid shirt, and wears it every day. But, when her uncle is about to get married, her mother tells her she must wear a dress to the wedding, even though she hates wearing dresses. In the end, Annie comes up with an alternative her mother accepts, by wearing her plaid shirt with one of her brother's old suits.

I have to confess, I'd be fine with the suit, but I still wouldn't let her wear the old plaid shirt to a wedding if it were my child!


All I Want to Be Is Me by Phyllis Rothblatt (2011). 

This book explores the various ways children can experience and express gender, presenting a positive image of gender diversity. 

This is a self-published book, and some reviewers felt the physical quality of the book was lacking, and some felt it was too repetitive, though that was a plus for young children. The author is a licensed marriage and family therapist.

Chapter Books (ages 9-13)


George by Alex Gino (2015). 

George knows she's a girl, but everyone else thinks she's a boy, and she thinks she will have to keep this secret forever. She looks at magazines for teen girls and imagines having the freedom to express herself the way she feels as "Melissa". Then one day the teacher announces they will be putting on a production of "Charlotte's Web", and George's strong desired to play Charlotte gives her to motivation to show her true self.

This is considered to be a grandbreaking book, the first with a transgender character, written by a gender-queer author. However, some reviewers have found the writing to be weak and dull, and the characters to be less than authentic, and the plot is suspiciously similar to Gracefully Grayson, published the year before.


Gracefully Grayson  by Ami Polonsky (2014). 

Twelve-year old Grayson has a secret; she is a girl, stuck in the body of a boy. She generally keeps to herself for fear of someone figuring out her secret, until an unlikely friendship gives her the courage to try out for the part of Persephone in her school play and deal with the bullies and disapproval from adults.

This book came before the very similar George, and is perhaps better written. However, the author is not transgender and relies on the more simplistic "born into the wrong body" explanation of transgender, rather than the more nuanced explanation of being a girl but being perceived as a boy by everyone else in George.


Lily and Dunkin by Donna Gephart (2016). 

Lily is an 8th grade transgender girl who has not yet come out, but knows she must if she is to start hormone blockers to prevent male puberty. Dunkin is a boy who recently moved to the area and has bipolar disorder, plus is hiding a family secret. The two meet and form an unlikely friendship.

This book has received many positive reviews, though some feel the author tried to cover too many issues in one book. A few also feel that the author should not have written about a transgender character as she is not transgender herself and feel her portrayal showed a lack of understanding.


The Pants Project by Cat Clarke. (2017).

Eleven-year old Liv looks like a girl, but inside knows he's a boy. To make matters worse, his new school has a ridiculous dress code requiring all girls to wear skirts! Liv is not quite ready to come out to everyone as a boy, so instead launches a campaign against the outdated, sexist dress code. Also includes same-sex parents.

From the sample I was able to read and several reviews, I think this book is not as heavy as some of the others, and has a fair amount of humor. It is told in first person, avoiding the issue of pronouns. 


The Other Boy by M. G. Hennessey. 

This book is a bit different than many others in that the main character is already living as his true gender. Shane is a typical boy: he plays baseball, writes a sci-fi comic, and has a crush on a girl named Madeline. But, he also has a secret. Shane appeared to be female at birth, and his father is still treating his transition like a phase, not his true identity. Then, someone finds out and outs him to the whole school, and Shane has to deal with prejudice and hate, but is surprised by who is left standing by him in the end.

I like that the author's endnotes explain that this is only one fictional character's experience, and that not every person experiences being transgender in the same way; each person's journey is unique to them.

Non-Fiction Books


Who Are You? by Brook Pessin-Whedbee & Naomi Bardoff (2016). 

This book is not exactly a book for kids, but more of a tool to guide parents in a discussion of gender with young children. It makes a distinction between sex, gender identity, and self expression. There is a part to be read to the child, followed by a page-by-page guide with more information on key points for the parents. This book should defintely be read cover to cover by the parent in advance to be sure they are prepared for what questions may come up. For ages 4-8.


Sex Is a Funny Word  by Cory Silverberg & Fiona Smyth (2015). 

In comic book form, this book uses a diverse cast of children and families to help educate children about their bodies, gender, and sexuality. It gives opportunities for parents to discuss their values and beliefs, as well as safety and setting boundries. The book places emphasis on thinking for yourself and forming one's own opinions, as well as showing respect for yourself and others. It does not specifically talk about sexual intercourse, but provides a foundation to build on. I personally find the illustrations to be a bit garish, but kids may find that appealing. For ages 7-10.


I would like to re-iterate that these are NOT recommendations, merely suggestions. As M. G. Hennessey stated in the author notes at the end of The Other Boy, there are many different ways people experience being transgender, and the preferred terminology is rapidly evolving. Some object to the "wrong body" explanation as being overly simplistic and not an accurate portrayal of how they feel, while others say that is exactly how they feel. 

Each situation is different; therefore, there may be objections voiced about any of these books, and not every book is right for every family. I would *strongly* encourage parents to read any book carefully before reading/giving it to a child and consider if it is the right book for them. For example, many of these books address teasing and bullying, but some children have not experienced that, and a book that describes it may cause them to become fearful and anxious that they will be bullied. For others, it may help empower them to handle it if it does happen. A parent is usually the best judge for what book is best for their child.

4 comments:

  1. This is a great list and resource.

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  2. This is really helpful, thank you!

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  3. It is terrible what the world is teaching our kids today! This is not how God intended us to be. You were born exactly how you were suppose to be. No mistakes were made. This is a great list of books my kids will not be reading.

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    1. Thank you so much for taking the time to read my blog and leave a comment. You’re right; not every book is right for every reader, which is why I encourage parents to read all books carefully before giving them to young children. Clearly this list is not right for you; however, it was very appreciated by the patron who requested it and many other readers have found it very helpful.

      Libraries and library staff are held to a very high ethical standard of inclusion and equal access, which means we are there to serve *everyone* and to provide materials on a wide variety of subjects and differing points of view. If someone asks me for books or information, I will do everything I can to help them, without judgement and regardless of the topic or any personal opinions I may or may not have about it.

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