When I put out a call for diverse articles on children’s books from guest bloggers, one of the respondents was M.G. Hennessey, an activist supporting rights for transgender folks. Hennessey has been vocal about the tendency of book reviewers to treat LGBTQ characters and themes as inherently “mature” even if the story content is G or PG equivalent, and for reviews to “warn” gatekeeper book buyers (teachers, parents, booksellers, librarians) that there are trans characters in books—attitudes that can contribute to further alienation and marginalization for children and teens who just want to be treated like other kids, with the same standards and open-mindedness.
Ami Polonsky’s groundbreaking Gracefully, Grayson and Alex Gino’s MG sensation, George, opened the door to mainstream middle grade fiction about trans children. In YA literature, Julie Ann Peters’ 2004 novel, Luna, and Ellen Wittlinger’s 2007 Parrotfish paved the way for YA fiction about transgender teens for a mainstream audience. It’s wonderful to see the field open up in recent years, with new books for all ages, several of which Hennessey describes below.
Please welcome M.G. Hennessey to ShelfTalker! Here’s her guest post:
I’ve always been a big believer in the power of books to change hearts and minds. It’s hard to hate someone you know, and these new and forthcoming titles provide a great window into the lives of transgender kids. It’s somewhat ironic that Transgender Awareness week comes on the heels of the November 8 election. Many in the transgender community are afraid that recent gains in civil rights and protections will be erased by the next administration.
Happily, the past year has seen a slew of books published with transgender main characters. The bulk of these are still transition stories that focus on trans girls, but hopefully in the future we’ll see more books that include trans boys, genderqueer, and gender expansive characters. It would also be wonderful if we reach a point where a character’s gender identity isn’t the main focus of the story; true equality will be achieved when a transgender child is simply another character in the book, appreciated for themselves.
For young readers:
I Am Jazz by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings
Trans teen and advocate Jazz Jennings co-wrote this book based on her life story. The language is clear and simple, and explains how Jazz’s family came to accept her for who she is, and helped her through her transition.
10,000 Dresses by Marcus Ewert
A lovely story about Bailey, a trans girl who dreams of fanciful dresses each night. Bailey confronts misunderstanding from her parents, but finds acceptance with an older girl, Laurel. Together they make the dresses Bailey has longed for.
Red: A Crayon’s Story by Michael Hall
Red is a blue crayon that has unfortunately been given the wrong label. Although not specifically about gender identity, the subtext is clear, and the overall message about being true to yourself should speak to all kids.
For a long time, most trans-themed children’s literature was relegated to the Young Adult sphere. Thankfully, there are some fantastic new books being published for tweens:
Ages 8 and up:
Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky
Grayson hasn’t had it easy. After losing her parents at an early age, she’s sent to live with an aunt, uncle, and cousin in what is not the warmest home environment. Grayson is a social outcast who yearns to have long, flowing hair and to wear pretty things. Auditioning for the school play finally gives her an outlet to show her true face to the world.
Lumberjanes series by Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, Brooke Allen and Shannon Watters
A fantastic option for fans of graphic novels with a supernatural twist. This story of five friends at a summer camp is refreshing for its wide range of characters of all races, family backgrounds, and body types. Trans character Jo officially comes out in issue 17, although from the way it’s presented, Jo’s friends knew and accepted her for who she was from the start.
The Other Boy by M.G. Hennessey
Shane is a post-transition 12-year-old boy who likes playing video games, working on his graphic novel, and playing baseball. He’s been living “stealth” at his new school for years, keeping his assigned gender secret from even his best friend, Josh. When Shane gets outed by the school bully, he’s forced to deal with the consequences. This is one of the only trans-themed books with a trans boy. It includes a graphic novel within the novel, illustrated by genderqueer artist Sfé R. Monster.
Lily and Dunkin by Donna Gephardt
Lily is a trans girl who is currently navigating her transition, while her new friend Dunkin is dealing with bipolar disorder. The story of their blossoming friendship amidst the challenges both are facing is well-handled, not flinching from the bullying kids confront even within their own families.
There are a wealth of new titles in the YA sphere with transgender themes. Accordingly, most of the books below delve more deeply into the types of issues confronted by teens, like drugs, peer pressure, and dating.
Ages 12 and up:
Beast by Brie Spangler
A modern-day retelling of Beauty and the Beast, told from the POV of “beast” Dylan. Though he’s only 15, Dylan could pass for an NFL linebacker. The fact that he’s also the smartest kid in his grade is often overlooked as he’s judged and taunted for his appearance. After jumping off his roof (ostensibly to retrieve a football), he’s sent to a support group where he meets trans girl Jamie. For the first time, someone sees Dylan for who he really is.
Jess, Chunk, and the Road Trip to Infinity by Kristin Elizabeth Clark
A trans girl, Jess, and her best friend, Chunk, take a cross-country road trip just after graduation. Jess thinks their destination is her estranged father’s wedding but maybe, just maybe, the road will lead to her best friend’s heart as well.
If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo.
A post-transition YA story written by trans woman Meredith Russo. Amanda has moved to small-town Tennessee to live with her father. Though initially determined to keep her head down and just finish high school, she soon finds herself unable to resist the charms of Grant. But when Amanda’s past is revealed, the new life she’s built threatens to come crashing down. There are two fantastic and informative author’s notes at the end of the book, one directed at transgender readers, the other at cisgender.
This is Elizabeth again. Thanks so much, M.G., for sharing these terrific recommendations with us!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
M.G. Hennessey is an ally and supporter of the Transgender Law Center, Gender Spectrum. and the Human Rights Campaign. She lives in Los Angeles with her family.