Brett Axel’s Goblinheart: A Fairy Tale (2012)

Goblinheart: A Fairy Tale (2012), written by Brett Axel and illustrated by Terra Bidlespacher, is an allegory of transgender experience told through the story of a goblin named Julep.

In Julep’s community fairies and goblins care for a big beautiful tree. Goblins grow claws when they come of age and use their claws to tend to the tree’s roots. Fairies grow wings when they come of age and use their wings to tend to the tree’s leaves. Fairies and goblins even have different diets.

When Julep matures, they begin to grow wings like a fairy, but in their heart, Julep is a goblin. After Julep and their cohort of fairies and goblins have physically matured, they start training to care for the tree. Julep surprises the community by lining up with the goblins. After some discussion, the elders agree to allow Julep to work with the goblins. Julep eventually binds their wings and creates a pair of gauntlets they use to tend the tree’s roots.

Julep is eventually able to help a fairy from a different community in a similar situation.

I love this story and think it will attract older readers, especially those on the brink of puberty who are concerned with their changing bodies. I found myself wishing this was in a graphic novel format to appeal to transgender children between nine and twelve who might be uncomfortable picking up a picture book. But, the story is also likely to appeal to younger children, even if they won’t appreciate all the nuance. I really enjoyed the quirkiness and clever handling of a theme usually didactically explored.

This review is part of my “Snapshots of LGBTQ Kid Lit” project. I’m working on a book, The New Queer Children’s Literature: Exploring the Principles and Politics of LGBTQ* Children’s Picture Books, which is under contract with the University Press of Mississippi. Part of my research is identifying and interpreting English-language children’s picture books with LGBTQ* content published in the US and Canada between 1979 and 2019. Follow my blog to follow my journey!

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