It looks like a new-baby book. And it IS a new-baby book, but it’s also so much more. Kyle Lukoff’s picture book, When Aidan Became a Brother (fabulously illustrated by Kaylani Juanita and published by Lee & Low), takes on—in the most clear, lovely, and warm way—the desire for families to unlearn gender assumptions, especially when a new baby arrives.
The story begins with Aidan, who, when he was born, was assumed to be a girl. His room was decorated the way girls often liked their rooms decorated; his clothes were the kinds of clothes many girls liked wearing. But Aidan was a boy, and after realizing it, Aidan and his parents set about to fix the parts of Aidan’s life that didn’t work anymore. Boom! Not a big deal, just a process. The simplicity and caring of this opening slays me; it’s like reading the first lesbian YA novel that didn’t end in tragedy. You mean, gender coming-out, too, can be a joyful and textured experience for a kid? Hooray!!
That’s just the start of this book, not the main story. When Aidan’s parents come to him with the happy news that they are expecting another baby, Aidan is thrilled, and very eager to welcome the new baby in all the right ways. The preparations are fun and exciting, but also fraught with worry: what if the way they’ve painted the baby’s room isn’t right? What if the onesies they choose aren’t perfect for the baby? Happily, Aidan comes to realize that making a sincere effort is the main thing, and that when mistakes happen, they can be fixed with communication and love and understanding “how important it is to love someone for exactly who they are.”
It’s a beautiful, brand-new kind of new-baby story that should find a wide audience among all kinds of loving families, even those whose babies grow up into the identities they were assigned at birth.
We were lucky enough to welcome the author to our Saturday story time last weekend. Lukoff, a former bookseller and current school librarian who is also a trans activist and educator, is quite seasoned at author events. The author of Call Me Max, Max and the Talent Show (which also celebrate the trans experience, published by Reycraft Books) as well as A Talent of Ravens and the upcoming Explosion at the Poem Factory (both published by Groundwood), he’s had a lot of practice. His background in both the book and teaching worlds makes him very much at ease in front of a crowd. He’s one of the best reader-alouders (as we call them) we’ve ever had—lively, well-paced, great variety of voices for the characters, relaxed and kind interaction with kids that draws out their observations and questions. He’s both humble and charismatic, a rare combination of qualities that makes listeners lean forward and want to engage.
He also does something that warms my book-loving heart: at his own readings, he says, he always chooses another book by another author to read. In this case, it was Michelle Knudsen and Scott Magoon’s Big Mean Mike, which Kyle loves because in it, a tough bulldog concerned with his mean reputation learns that it’s okay not to hide that he loves adorable fuzzy bunnies as much as he loves his loud car and spiked collar.
Kyle also pointed out the many clever visual details and recurring images in artist Kaylani Juanita’s beautiful illustrations for When Aidan Became a Brother, things that visually-oriented kids will pick up on quickly, but that word-oriented readers might miss. Details like the cat that appears in most of the spreads, a mirror reflection that subtly expresses a particular emotion, a painting on an easel in Aidan’s room pre-transition that predicts/reflects the post-transition Aidan, and many more.
It will be exciting to see where Kyle Lukoff’s career takes him. He is definitely an author to watch—and to read. The books he’s already written are charming, creative, well-written, and varied, and he’s deep into writing a MG novel, with another in the wings. We will be eagerly awaiting them.
We were so honored to host Kyle, and delighted that When Aidan Became a Brother has been born into a world that is mostly, at long last, ready to welcome it.
Next up for Kyle: