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.Gonzalez connects the binary sex-gender system to European colonization of the Americas. As a result, she firmly places gender meanings as we inherit them within a history of socio-political struggle and conquest. This is a fair 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.” Gonzalez’s theorization of gender is reminiscent of essentialist models of gender and not the most sophisticated gender theory.

Although I don’t agree with Gonzalez’s theory of gender, I certainly appreciate the overall message of inclusivity. I think this could be a teachable text and a useful intervention into binary thinking about gender for young children. Because it is so very text heavy, I would suggest it for children nine to eleven. It could certainly be taught to younger children, but 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 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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