Maya Gonzalez’s The Gender Wheel (2017)

The Gender Wheel (2017), written and illustrated by Maya Gonzalez, introduces readers to gender diversity through the concept of a “gender wheel.” Gonzalez’s images are warm and inviting. She illustrates her characters in a range of skin-tones with a variety of gender expressions.

The commendable purpose of the book is to teach children to understand gender outside of a binary model that Gonzalez considers a colonial legacy.Gonzalez connects the binary sex-gender system to European colonization of the Americas. As a result, she firmly places inherited gender meanings  within a history of socio-political struggle and conquest. This is a smart analysis and a useful alternative to considering binary sex-gender distinctions as a product of nature.

For Gonzalez, gender diversity is natural and gender “boxes,” which emanate from a culture of conquest, violently disrupt the soft circles and cycles nature produces. In Gonzalez’s theory of gender, nature and culture stand in an antagonistic relationship and readers should search to reconnect with nature and by extension their unique gender “truth.” Gonzalez writes: “Seeing where girl/boy beliefs come from and how they try to control nature helps us see through the false boxes they create. This brings the truth of nature back into focus.”

Although I’m critical of the binary between nature and culture that Gonzalez introduces, I appreciate the messages of inclusion, fluidity, and self-definition that permeate the pages. This is a provocative, teachable text, and a useful intervention into binary thinking about gender constructions that even  young children will be able to engage. However, because it is so very text heavy, I would suggest it for children seven and older. Although it could certainly be taught to younger children, it would need a lot of “scaffolding” from a competent teacher.

This review is part of my “Snapshots of LGBTQ” Kid Lit” project. I’m working on a book, The Transformative Potential 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 2018. Follow my blog to follow my journey!

Available June 2022

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