Be Who You Are (2010), written by Jennifer Carr and illustrated by Ben Rumback, explores a young transgender girl’s transition. Although Hope’s sex assignment was male, she always felt like a girl. She tells her very accepting parents while she is quite young, and they support her. However, Hope isn’t comfortable being as open about her gender identity at school, and her gender is repeatedly policed by a teacher who sees her as a boy. This happens when Hope draws a picture of herself as a girl and when she stands in line with other girls. When Hope shares her discomfort at school with her parents, they become advocates. They introduce her to a therapist who encourages her to share her feelings about gender. Hope soon begins to transition; first growing her hair long, and then wearing girl clothes more and more frequently. Like her parents, Hope’s younger brother becomes a supportive ally.
This is one of a small handful of books about transgender children. Carr is a parent-advocate of a transgender child and Be Who You Are is unambiguously trans* affirming throughout. It provides an accessible trans* narrative for young readers.
I prefer Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings’ I am Jazz, which delivers the same story but is co-authored by a transgender child and told in the first-person. However, this book predates I am Jazz by several years and depicts its important lesson of transgender acceptance very nicely.
A House for Everyone (2018), written by Jo Hirst and illustrated by Naomi Bardoff, introduces children to a range of gender expressions and identities while shattering stereotypes about gender norms. Bardoff’s rich and inviting images work wonderfully with Hirst’s text, which would otherwise struggle to deliver its message. This timely contribution to the ever-growing canon of LGBTQ* children’s literature presents gender with care and a much-needed matter-of-factness likely to appeal to adult readers using the text to encourage conversations about gender and acceptance.
Written by Alice Reeves and illustrated by Phoebe Kirk, Vincent the Vixen is a children’s picture book full of welcome surprises. The story, about a transgender girl-fox, encourages conversations about acceptance, self-awareness, and gender identity.
It begins with several foxes playing together. The foxes, identified as siblings, are seen without any identifying gender markers, such as clothes. They’re shown playing hide-and-seek, swimming, and annoying a grumpy cat. None of these activities are particularly gendered, so at the text’s opening gender is inserted as a non-issue. This changes when the fox cubs go to Betty the Badger’s house.
I am Jazz (2014) is an autobiographical children’s picture book co-authored by Jessica Herthel and the title character, Jazz Jennings. Jennings, now a young transgender woman with her own TLC show, first entered the spotlight in 2007 when she was featured on a 20/20 documentary about transgender children. This book is a significant contribution to LGBTQ* children’s literature, since it is co-authored by, and narrated from the perspective of, the transgender child protagonist.
If you’re interested in my more theoretically engaged work on LGBTQ* children’s picture books check out Heroes, Heroines, and Everything in Between: Challenging Gender and Sexuality Stereotypes in Children’s Entertainment Media. I contributed a chapter called “A Little Queer: Ambivalence and the Work of Gender Play in Children’s Literature.” I also have an article forthcoming in the Journal of Homosexuality.
Marcus Ewert’s 10,000 Dresses is the story of Bailey, a transgender girl whose family members insist she is a boy even though she knows she’s a girl. Rex Ray illustrates the text, providing the reader access to Bailey’s psychic life by depicting her dreams and thoughts. The only disappointing part of the text is the orange-tint to Bailey’s skin, a color that connotes quite differently in 2018 than it did upon the books original publication in 2008. Continue reading