Margaret Baker-Street’s Michael and Me (2014) is a first-person narrative focused on a second-grade boy named Brian and his reaction to a classmate’s gender transition. The story opens at the start of a new school year. One of Brian’s classmates comes to school post-transition using the name Michael as well as the masculine pronoun. No explanation is provided to the students in Michael’s class, and most of them mock Michael, because they don’t understand “the new way she looked.”
Although the teacher seems to support Michael (who Brian frequently refers to by his dead name), no explanation about gender transitioning is provided to the second graders. Brian, like his peers, is confused, but unlike them, he doesn’t act out and mock his friend. However, he also doesn’t reach out and talk to Michael. Instead, when Brian gets home from school, he asks his mom to help him understand. His mom explains that Michael is transgender. The mother and son are depicted researching more about what it means to be transgender. After their conversation, Brian understands that Michael always felt like a boy and is now happy because he gets to be his true self.
Brian and Michael become best friends, and Brian is able to use his new knowledge to support Michael at school. Brian notes: “After the other kids understood what transgender was they didn’t laugh anymore and they didn’t say mean things.”
I appreciated some aspects of this text quite a bit. Even though Brian didn’t understand why his friend looked and acted differently, he didn’t thoughtlessly bully him. Instead, he asked a trusted adult to help him understand. I also liked that the text gestured to the idea of being an ally.
There were many aspects I didn’t like. Michael is referred to using the feminine pronoun and by his dead name through most of the text. No one seems to intervene when Michael is initially bullied, including his teacher and Brian.
This text may be helpful for young readers who don’t have much exposure to LGBTQ+ communities, issues, and individuals; particularly those with a transgender peer. Most books about transgender children focus on coming out to immediate family, so this does meet a need. However, I think other books do the work better. For instance, I love the autobiographical I am Jazz. I don’t recommend Michael and Me, but it does point to the need for more books about transgender youth targeted at cisgender audiences.
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 forthcoming 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!