Most of the books that I write about here are books that at least one of my daughters has read. There are times, however, when I am reading middle-grade fiction that moves me so much that I have to write about it before my eight year old has a chance to read it, or before I’m ready for her to read it. This is one of those books.
George is an amazing book written by Alex Gino. The story focuses on George, a young girl who was born in the body of a boy. George’s best friend is a girl and the boys in her class have a tendency to make fun of her for her kind-hearted ways. Her most prized possession is a secret stash of magazines for tween and teen girls, and more than anything else, she wants to play Charlotte in the 4th grade production of Charlotte’s Web. When she admits to wanting to audition for Charlotte, she starts the process of admitting to her friends and family who she really is and readers see how those closest to her respond.
Reading George is painful and yet inspiring. What is so amazing about George is how honest and raw the book is. When I was growing up in the 80s, a book like this about homosexuality or even the notion of questioning your sexual-orientation would have been earth shattering. I’m thrilled to see how far we have come in terms of acceptance and acknowledging the challenges that transgendered youth feel is a huge step in the right direction.
The notion of a book about transgendered youth is wonderful, but I will admit that I don’t think that it is appropriate for J who will soon be turning 9. George focuses on a 4th grade child, but the book is only appropriate for a child who is emotionally and intellectually ready to deal with the subject matter. I grew up in Los Angeles and in a city like that, children are more likely to know families with same-sex parents and the children themselves often grow up a bit faster. Because we live in the rural south, concepts of sexuality and sexual identity tend to come at a slightly older age something that I’m honestly grateful for.
George barely touches on sexuality and instead focuses on how George feels as a person, which is vitally important when considering identifying as transgendered rather than homosexual. George isn’t sure yet who she likes, boys or girls, she just thinks that she is a girl and doesn’t fit in as a boy. On many levels, this actually makes things more complicated. As George’s older brother aptly puts it, “That’s more than being gay. No wonder mom is freaking out.”
For the younger set, it will be some time before they are ready for George. For them, and anyone else, Red – A Crayon’s Story is a truly wonderful picture book about accepting yourself regardless of who everyone thinks you are supposed to be. While not specifically about sexual-identity, Red is about being true to yourself. In this amazing book, Red is a blue crayon in a red wrapper. Red just isn’t very good at being red. Everyone has ideas about how Red can try harder and focus, but the reality is that a blue crayon can never be red. Until Purple asks Red to draw water for her, Red simply feels like a failure. This is a beautiful book that is understood at a variety of levels and ages. My five year old tells me that she likes this book because it is about being who you want to be and she even gets the notion of acceptance without me telling her.
I encourage everyone to read these books and when the time is right for your child, to let them read George. It is hard for anyone to comprehend what someone who feels foreign in their own body might feel like, but this gives a great sense of the trans child from a child’s perspective. Just as we need to open our eyes to the diversity of our world in terms of the many cultures that exist, having compassion and attempting to understand LGBTQ youth is vitally important. These books are an amazing place to start.
For additional resources, check out these websites:
30 LGBTQIA Positive Books for Children
The LGBTQ Family Friendly Children’s Book List
Jenny Evolution – Best LGBT Books for Children
I am Jazz – Review from SF Gate
40 LGBTQ-Friendly Children’s Books