So, like my first gender fluid kids books blog post, most of these books explore femme trans identities. I’m not totally sure why femme trans narratives dominate the youth lit– lemme know if you have thoughts– but that seems to be where we’re at right now. I think it’s important to remember that we, right now today, are at the very beginning of trans/gender nonconforming representation in kid’s lit. So while there are some glaring holes–and it’s not just MOC kids getting left out, these books are also mostly about White kids– in what gender independent narratives that are getting told right now, one could be optimistic about the diverse gender representations that are going to be in kid’s books as more and more of them get published.
Which brings me to my first couple of reviews. Flamingo Rampant is an independent kid’s book publishing company, that focuses on stories of gender independent folks. (They are about to launch a book club which will be 6 new picture books over 2015; you can find out all about it on the main page of their website). Currently they have published two books, Backwards Day and The Adventures of Tulip, Birthday Wish Fairy.
Backwards Day has a really fun concept! On a far away planet called Tenalp a lot of things are different, one of which is that one day every year everything is the reverse of how things usually are. Day is night, upstream runs down, and binary genders switch! While there are a lot of things to enjoy on backwards day– ice cream for breakfast!– one kid named Andrea LOVES backwards day because it’s the one day of the year she [sic] feels like herself [sic]: a boy. The book looks at one particular Backwards Day where Andrea stays a girl – a particularly devastating day- and the following day when Andrea becomes (and ends up staying) a boy [sic]! While it’s confusing to his parents at first when a nice doctor explains that Andrea is actually boy, and sometimes the magic of backwards day lets folks permanently transform into who they really are, everyone ultimately gets on board, and Andy’s totally thrilled!
The Adventures of Tulip, Birthday Wish Fairy felt a little amateurish to me. It’s another super cute concept, but it’s just not executed as well as the other books on this list. My main issue is that it just has too many words jam packed onto every page; it feels too scrunched to be a picture book. I feel like it would have done better as an illustrated chapter book or a kid’s graphic novel. It tells the story of Tulip who, true to the title, is a fairy who grants birthday wishes. One day he gets a special birthday wish from a boy who wants to be a girl [sic]. After receiving guidance from the head wish granting fairy, Tulip gives this child luck and courage, and also gives the kid’s family open minds to see who their child really is. After the child’s birthday has passed, Tulip continues to work with this family giving them strength, resilience and the ability to advocate for their trans child after the rest of his birthday wish duties are done. Tulip is so dedicated to this child that he is given a new job as the fairy who helps gender nonconforming children with their transition wishes.
Be Who you Are is a realistic story about a young trans girl who goes through the process of transitioning. Everything goes the way you would hope it would. Her family is open to her identity and advocates for her at school, which allows her to be who she is. Her brother has a hard time with the concept, then they have a rather sweet conversation about it and he gets on board too. It’s a cute, light hearted book that one would hope could serve as a blueprint on how to handle kids transitioning in your community.
Like the two previous, this book initially uses the main character’s birth name and the gender pronouns she was coercively assigned at birth and switches to her real name and gender pronouns at the end. This isn’t my favorite; I am a much bigger fan of trans kids books that consistently use the kid’s real pronouns throughout the narration. However I included all three books in this review since, as I’m sure you already know, there isn’t a great variety of gender independent youth lit to choose from. For some kids and families it would make sense to have a more selective collection of picture books that uses the child’s real gender pronoun consistently; but for some kids and families it would make sense to have more books with trans narratives even if some use outdated and/or incorrect language. And I’m just hoping I give folks enough information to make those choices for themselves.
This book is really exciting because Jazz Jennings co-wrote it about her own experience being a trans girl! It starts off introducing Jazz, what she does, what she likes, and who her friends are. Then it goes back and talks about what it was like for her to be coercively assigned male as a young child and what transitioning was like for her. Her family is so sweet and supportive, and it’s delightful to read about the joy she experiences when they get it and she gets to start publicly being who she is. Her wider community does find it confusing. For a while they make her play on boy’s soccer teams, and some kids still tease her and use a boy name for her. But she has friends who love her, support her, and know who she is. It ends with Jazz proclaiming she doesn’t care if she’s different; she knows who she is, happy, fun, and proud. She is Jazz!
I’m including this book, even though it’s not a trans narrative, because I want trans inclusive kids books to go beyond stories of transition, and What Makes a Baby does that. What Makes a Baby is a really great kids book about how babies get made that is inclusive to all families! When it talks about what you need to make a baby, it talks about sperm, eggs, and uteruses; what’s really exciting is it doesn’t assign any of those pieces to any kind of body or gender. What Makes a Baby also goes beyond trans inclusivity when it asks the reader “Who helped bring together the sperm and the egg that made you?” and “Who was happy that it was YOU who grew?” Making it inclusive to babies who who conceived not only by trans parent(s) but any parents using donor sperm or a surrogate womb, or parents who adopted their babies. And while I think it’s pretty awesome that as the cover says this is “a book for every kind of family and every kind of kid,” it is the first kids book about making babies that is inclusive to trans parents and trans kids which is pretty ground breaking.