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  WINDY CITY TIMES

MOMBIAN Trans/gender-creative children star in new picture books
by Dana Rudolph
2019-05-26

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Three new children's books each offer different approaches as they highlight different aspects of gender identity and expression.

When Aiden Became a Brother, written by Kyle Lukoff and illustrated by Kaylani Juanita ( Lee & Low ), is a sweet and joyous tale about a biracial ( Black and South Asian ) transgender boy awaiting the birth of his new sibling. The book starts by explaining that everyone thought Aiden was a girl when he was born, but he later realized he was a boy. While "it took everyone some time to adjust," his family was supportive and "learned a lot from other families with transgender kids like him" ( a nice nod to the importance of community ). The heart of the story, though, is not about Aiden's transition, but rather about how he prepares to be a big brother, "an important job for a boy like him."

What sets this book apart from many others about transgender or gender creative children is that rather than Aiden's gender identity offering only challenges to be overcome, it is instead a source of strength and wisdom. Aiden's interest in being a big brother stems from his desire "to make sure this baby would feel understood right away." He recalls, too, "that it had been hard for his parents to let go of the name they gave him," so he looks for names for his new sibling that would fit "no matter who they grew up to be." Aiden also worries that his sibling won't like the clothes and colors he picked out, but then reviews his own baby pictures, when he "looked so different." He reflects that he "liked the boy he was growing into," and that even if things aren't perfect for his sibling at first, "maybe that was okay." He's experienced changes himself and knows it is possible to get through them.

Lukoff, who is transgender himself, deserves much praise for this lovely and empowering story. Juanita's illustrations capture the emotions of Aiden and his family and add vibrant textures to the tale. This is a must-read book that should be on every LGBTQ-inclusive bookshelf.

Jacob's Room to Choose, by Sarah and Ian Hoffman, illustrated by Chris Case ( Magination Press ), takes another approach and clearly addresses an issue of concern for gender nonconforming children and their families. The book is a sequel of sorts to the duo's 2014 book, Jacob's New Dress, about a gender creative boy who wants to wear a dress to school—a reflection of the Hoffman's own gender nonconforming child. In the latest book, Jacob, who is White and wearing a dress, wants to use the boys' restroom at school. His friend Sophie, who is Black and wearing khaki pants and a button-down shirt, wants to use the girls'. They are each chased out by other students. When their teacher learns of this, she initiates a discussion of gender expression with the whole class. When it comes to bathroom use, she prompts the children, "I wonder if there is another way?"

The children themselves come up with a solution, deciding that anyone should be able to use any bathroom, and making a variety of signs to indicate this. The story ends with Jacob and Sophie happily using the relabeled facilities.

This is a more issue-oriented book than Aiden, but it's an issue for many gender creative and transgender children, so the thoughtful treatment should be welcome by many families. The unfortunate reality, though, is that not all schools will be as quick to make change as Jacob and Sophie's—but perhaps this little book with its cheerful illustrations and creative kids will offer a model for some schools, at least, to follow.

It Feels Good to Be Yourself: A Book About Gender Identity, by Theresa Thorn and illustrated by Noah Grigni ( Henry Holt/Macmillan ), goes even further in the direction of pedagogy. "This is Ruthie," it begins. "She's a transgender girl." The book explains that "everyone thought she was a boy" until she grew old enough to tell them that "she's actually a girl." Thorn, the real-life mother of a gender nonconforming child, then introduces us to other children who are cisgender, non-binary, and whose gender identities are changing. The last few pages address the reader directly with advice such as, "Your feelings about your gender are real. Listen to your heart."

Although the children in the book are fictional, this is less a story and more a straightforward discussion of gender identity. That's not a criticism; the book is well suited as a way for parents and teachers to introduce the variations of gender identity, and conveys a lot of warmth despite its pedagogical slant.

Vanessa Ford, an educator and advocate for transgender equality and parent of a transgender child, has told me, "When a child is able to see themselves in a book, it changes the way they interact with the world. They feel seen. When children see others who are different from them in a book, it helps built empathy and understanding. Both of these things are critical to our trans youth as they navigate the world."

Transgender and gender creative children, their families, and friends should appreciate having such a range of new books as their compasses.

Please join me on Monday, June 3, for #LGBTQFamiliesDay, my 14th annual day of storytelling and sharing to celebrate and support LGBTQ families. Just use the hashtag #LGBTQFamiliesDay on any social-media channel.

Dana Rudolph is the founder and publisher of Mombian ( mombian.com ), a GLAAD Media Award-winning blog and resource directory for LGBTQ parents.


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