The need for transgender books is great, and the need is only growing, especially as children become more aware of themselves, their bodies and how they identify with gender. Jazz Jennings, a transgender teen girl who was the subject of TLC’s I Am Jazz documentary series, summed up why books on transgender characters and narratives are important.
“Having transgender characters leads to more visibility which creates education,” she told USA Today. “Education can hopefully lead to everyone treating our community with acceptance and love.”
With such a need for representation, the fiction world is now beginning to cater to the underserved market of transgender kids and teens. Here are five of just a plethora of books for kids out there focused on transgender characters and experiences.
All summaries from Amazon.com.
I Am Jazz by Jessica Herthel, Jazz Jennings, illustrated by Shelagh McNicholas (ages 4 to 8)
Summary: From the time she was two years old, Jazz knew that she had a girl’s brain in a boy’s body. She loved pink and dressing up as a mermaid and didn’t feel like herself in boys’ clothing. This confused her family, until they took her to a doctor who said that Jazz was transgender and that she was born that way. Jazz’s story is based on her real-life experience and she tells it in a simple, clear way that will be appreciated by picture book readers, their parents, and teachers.
Why I like the book: I really like what fellow ASFA-ite Laverne Cox wrote about the book:
“This is an essential tool for parents and teachers to share with children whether those kids identify as trans or not. I wish I had had a book like this when I was a kid struggling with gender identity questions. I found it deeply moving in its simplicity and honesty.”
George by Alex Gino (by ages 9 and up)
Summary: When people look at George, they think they see a boy. But she knows she’s not a boy. She knows she’s a girl.
George thinks she’ll have to keep this a secret forever. Then her teacher announces that their class play is going to be Charlotte’s Web. George really, really, REALLY wants to play Charlotte. But the teacher says she can’t even try out for the part . . . because she’s a boy.
With the help of her best friend, Kelly, George comes up with a plan. Not just so she can be Charlotte — but so everyone can know who she is, once and for all.
Why I like the book: The review by the School Library Journal points to what makes George a must-buy for parents–it’s a book that focuses on the power of pronouns and visibility.
…George offers more than the novelty of an LGBTQ coming-out story, however. Here, what is most remarkable is the use of pronouns: While the world interacts with George as if she is a boy, the narrator only refers to her with female pronouns, which gives her girl-ness a stronger sense of validation. In addition, George comments on the fact that, in past years, gays and lesbians have achieved a certain amount of visibility and acceptance, while the trans* community is still largely ignored and misunderstood. George’s mother remarks that while she can handle having a gay child, she simply can’t accept her as “that kind of gay.” For George, as is the case for many LGBTQ youth, coming out is a process that she must repeat until she is properly recognized. There is pain in George, but not without the promise of a better tomorrow, even if tomorrow doesn’t arrive as soon as it should.
Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky (ages 11 and up)
Summary: Grayson Sender has been holding onto a secret for what seems like forever: “he” is a girl on the inside, stuck in the wrong gender’s body. The weight of this secret is crushing, but sharing it would mean facing ridicule, scorn, rejection, or worse. Despite the risks, Grayson’s true self itches to break free. Will new strength from an unexpected friendship and a caring teacher’s wisdom be enough to help Grayson step into the spotlight she was born to inhabit?
Why I like the book: Gracefully Grayson has been lauded by readers and reviewers as being a thoughtful story that has helped teachers and tutors better understand their students. According to one Amazon review:
“Gracefully Grayson is a must read for middle school teachers and parents. Ami must have been a wonderfully insightful and compassionate teacher. I found myself weeping many times throughout this story. Learning who you are, who you want to be is a lifelong process. No one said it is easy, especially for children who have life issues to deal with. Books like this offer all readers the opportunity for thoughtful introspection and meaningful discussion or just the experience of broadening ones horizons. I am recommending an immediate read for my former colleagues, grandchildren and their parents.Kudos to Ami. Well done.”
Parrotfish by Ellen Wittlinger (ages 12 and up)
Summary: The groundbreaking novel from critically acclaimed author Ellen Wittlinger that tells the story of a transgender teen’s search for identity and acceptance has now been updated to include current terminology and an updated list of resources.
Angela Katz-McNair never felt quite right as a girl. So she cuts her hair short, purchases some men’s clothes and chose a new name: Grady. While coming out as transgender feels right to Grady, he isn’t prepared for the reactions of his friends and family. Why can’t they accept that Grady is just being himself?
Grady’s life is miserable until he finds friends in unexpected places—the school geek, Sebastian, who tells Grady that there is a precedent for transgenders in the natural world, and Kita, a senior, who might just be Grady’s first love.
In a voice tinged with humor and sadness, Ellen Wittlinger explores Grady’s struggles—universal struggles any teen can relate to.
Why I like the book: Parrotfish gives readers a look at gender identity on an intimate level. According to Booklist‘s review:
“…[Wittlinger has] done a superb job of untangling the complexities of gender identity and showing the person behind labels like ‘gender dysphoria.’ Grady turns out to be a very normal boy who, like every teen, must deal with vexing issues of self-identity.”
Freakboy by Kristin Elizabeth Clark (ages 12 and up)
From the outside, Brendan Chase seems to have it pretty easy. He’s a star wrestler, a video game aficionado, and a loving boyfriend to his seemingly perfect match, Vanessa. But on the inside, Brendan struggles to understand why his body feels so wrong―why he sometimes fantasizes having long hair, soft skin, and gentle curves. Is there even a name for guys like him? Guys who sometimes want to be girls? Or is Brendan just a freak?
In Freakboy‘s razor-sharp verse, Kristin Clark folds three narratives into one powerful story: Brendan trying to understand his sexual identity, Vanessa fighting to keep her and Brendan’s relationship alive, and Angel struggling to confront her demons.
Why I like the book: Freakboy has been called a “must-have for library shelves” by Booklist, citing its verse, multiple main characters, and an in-depth exploration of gender identity.
When Brendan Chase types “Want to be a girl” into his Mac’s search engine, one word pops up: transsexual. In Clark’s raw, honest debut novel, told in verse, three voices capture a few experiences of teens on the transgender spectrum. Brendan is “not one of those people / who’s always wanted to wear a dress. / Who’s always known / he should have been born female.” Sex with girlfriend Vanessa, although confusing, feels good, and Brendan questions throughout whether or not he’s trans. Fortunately, there’s an angel in his life—literally. Angel, trans without sex-reassignment surgery (“My junk doesn’t dictate who I am”), fights against demons of her own and struggles to reconnect with her younger brother. She’s a volunteer at Willows, a center for queer teens, and eventually introduces Brendan to terms like gender identity, gender attraction, genderqueer, and gender fluid. Meanwhile, the third voice belongs to Vanessa, a girl on the boy’s wrestling team, who can’t understand why her boyfriend, Brendan, is suddenly so distant. Unlike many novels that deal with one transgender character, this movingly explores so many gender identities, from the three main characters (each appears as a different font) to Angel’s roommates. A must-have for library shelves, this will be popular with fans of Ellen Hopkins. Resources and further reading conclude.
What books do you recommend? Give your opinions in the comments section below!
Background research: Huffington Post