Written by Norene Paulson and illustrated by Anne Passchier, Benny’s True Colors (2020) is a story about a butterfly everyone thinks is a bat. Benny the butterfly is constantly misidentified, because he looks like a bat. Although Benny looks like a bat, he feels like a butterfly and enjoys doing things usually associated with butterflies. Even more, in his dreams, Benny doesn’t just feel like a butterfly – he looks like one, too.
Even though Benny feels like a butterfly and dreams that he is a butterfly, he has a lot of trouble getting his body to do butterfly things. His wings don’t flutter, his ears don’t curl, and he can’t land upright. But, when Benny makes friends with a group of supportive butterflies, they help him figure out!
Even though his friends accept him and help him move and act like a butterfly, Benny still doesn’t look like a butterfly, and that makes him unhappy. However, with the support of his mom and the help of his friends, Benny transforms into a butterfly with curled antennae and brightly colored wings.
I’m sure this story was written with the best intentions, but it ends up being an awkward pseudo-celebration of queerness. Queerness, in this case more specifically, transgender experience and identity, isn’t present. The story falls flat and doesn’t do the work it likely hopes to accomplish, because it isn’t about transgender kids. A story about a cross-species transformation doesn’t seamlessly map onto transgender youth experience with transition. Instead, this book lacks depth, complexity, and specificity.