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Across the country, as trans-identified and gender non-conforming children and teenagers are supported in living their affirmed gender identities, many are finding their anthem in an illustrated songbook by Phyllis Rothblatt:
Mixed Diversity Reads Children’s Book Reviews’ Interveiw with Phyllis Rothblatt
Omilaju Miranda of Mixed Diversity Reads Children’s Book Review who fell in love with the book upon reading it, had the pleasure of speaking with author, activist, and child and family therapist, Phyllis Rothblatt about her book and the victories and challenges of the movement to respect (not just tolerate) the identities of gender creative and gender non-conforming children and teenagers.
MDRCBR: What Inspired You to Write All I Want To Be is Me?
Rothblatt: I knew a lot of children who didn’t fit inside of typical gender boxes— they expressed their gender identity in more fluid ways, or, perhaps they didn’t identify as either a boy or girl. I knew children who felt like a blend of both genders, and those who felt that their body didn’t match who they really are inside and that they are really the other gender. I didn’t see anything available in children’s literature that affirmed or reflected these gender creative kids or their experiences. I wrote, All I Want To Be Is Me for these kids- they inspired me. Their intense determination to be themselves, even when no one else understood them or supported them- I found that inspiring and so courageous.
Imagine a world where it’s no big deal to be transgender, a safe space for everyone. I Am Jazz is the kind of children’s book that brings us closer to that world.
With a matter-of-fact and endearing voice, Jazz explains her journey to getting everyone around her to accept her identity. The book begins like any other children’s book about a little girl: Jazz’s favorite color is pink, and she likes dancing, singing, soccer, and mermaids. The turning point comes after Jazz introduces her best friends, Samantha and Casey, with whom she enjoys cartwheels and trampolines. “But I’m not exactly like Samantha and Casey,” she continues, “I have a girl brain but a boy body. This is called transgender. I was born this way!” Even as a toddler, Jazz tried to correct her mother when she called her a good boy. “No, Mama. Good GIRL!” (more…)
Jacob’s New Dress is a touching, realistic tale of a little boy who is dealing with the fallout of being gender non-conforming. Written by parents of a “son who loves pink”, the story is educational without being didactic. Bright, playful illustrations animate a gentle description of conflict at school, which is resolved by caring parents and supportive friends.
Bright paper collage illustrations serve as a backdrop to Roland Humphrey is Wearing a WHAT?, the tale of a boy who likes to wear pink, sparkles and dresses to school. The story hinges on the relationship between Roland and two little girls at the bus stop who try unsuccessfully to educate him about the “color rules 4 boys.”
Roland blatantly violates these rules on a daily basis. Instead of “blues, browns and DARK purple,” Roland wears violet-striped shoes, a butterfly on his “manly green” shirt, and a sparkly blue barrette in his hair. (more…)
This Day in June by Gayle E. Pitman is an easy way to introduce a child to the joy motivating people to celebrate in Pride Parades every year. Easy to follow, simple, two line rhymes in inconspicuous locations on the pages, which seem to overflow with vibrant illustrations, describe the many sights common in a Gay Pride Parade. Not a part of the sparse text, but present in the illustrations are many of the political messages that are commonly seen at a Gay Pride Parade. While the illustrations are fun, this isn’t like the books we normally review, which represent LGBT-parents leading a family. There are children in a few of the illustrations but most of the illustrations feature adults having parade fun, which means that in addition to images of people with rainbow colored hair, parade floats, flags and Carnivalesque costumes, there are illustrations of men without shirts and adults kissing. When I saw the images of bare chested men, bikini-top wearing marchers and adults kissing, I had a strong oppositional reaction to the idea of showing this to a child however reading the discussion guide in the back of the book helped me to see that a child looking at these illustrations would not read the same sexual context that I see, into these images. (more…)
This book drew me in to review it. I could not have delayed it if I wanted to. Morris Micklewhite likes his home, pancakes, and lots of things at school, including a tangerine colored dress from the dress up box. He loves the way the tangerine dress makes him think of “the sun, tigers and his mother’s hair.” He puts the tangerine dress on over his pants and black and white striped shirt, and tries different, dressy, heeled shoes from the dress up box on. Morris likes the sound the dress makes when he walks, has a favorite pair of dress shoes that make the sound “click,click, click,” enjoys his nails painted by his mom, but does not like the way boys and girls bully him at school because of the dress.
The text deals accurately with the realistic, antagonistic responses that both girls and boys have to non-conforming gender performance amongst their peers, with girls trying to pull the dress off of Morris’ body, boys excluding him from their games, and both genders verbally taunting him. Isabelle Malenfant’s pen and ink illustrations depthfully present each character’s many layered emotions and Morris’ purposeful, powerful, and vulnerable actions throughout the narrative.
Morris retreats to his home for a few days, taking refuge in his mom’s nurturing, books, puzzles, his cat and his dream. When he returns to school, he carries a painting of his dream with him, and when the boys refuse to allow him entry to their cardboard space ship, he builds one of his own. When the girls try to take the dress from him again, Morris stands up for his right to wear the tangerine dress until he is finished with it. Then, the boys who like the space ship Morris has built better than the one they built, allow Morris to lead him with his imagination and get to know him as an inventive, exploring fellow kid whose fun quotient is more important than the idea that he could change them into girls.
The winning moment of this book after we go through Morris’ journey of social challenges and self acceptance is his self-confidence, expressed in the affirmative exchange he has with a little girl in his class named Becky.
When Becky snips, “Boys don’t wear dresses.”
Morris responds, “This boy does.”
And there he goes. Morris you have the right to be you.
Whether the child you read to, or who reads this, is gender conforming or non-conforming in their play, every child will be able to understand the emotional and psycho-physio pain they have in response to being bullied and not accepted, feeling the need to step away from all peers for a little while to take a rest from bullying, and the importance of their imagination to serve as a self-soothing coping mechanism; the power of their imagination to bring them joy and instill in them a sense of pride in themselves where they may have suffered from the jabs of other children. While the standard formula often works well, one of the unique things about this book as compared to others about bullying or intolerance from children is that there are no proactive adults involved in this children’s dispute. The protagonist and his peers work out their relationships on their own– a plot choice that models independence and self-reliance for the young reader. Without Morris or the narrator saying it, the story conveys the universal message of “I can do.” to readers. (buy)
Recommendation: Highly recommended 3+
Reviewer: Omilaju Miranda
The Website, which founder Omilaju Miranda began as a page on facebook is now a full website with blog where you can find books with diverse protagonists by specific category. Books are easily locatable on a drop down menu. The site is dedicated to listing and reviewing children’s and YA books with protagonists who are either: biracial/mixed, transracial adoptee, bilingual, lgbt-parented, single-parented, or gender non-conforming. There is also a magazine where the site will feature writing for, and by children, and an opportunity for parents to send in photos and videos of their children reading or reciting stories and poems. Check out the book site and find the book for your little one today. If you are a writer or interested in communications and publicity, the site is actively seeking children’s book reviewers and interns to publicize and network with schools and libraries.