Tag: Book

A Child Teaches Great Grandma About Pronouns in New Picture Book

A Child Teaches Great Grandma About Pronouns in New Picture

A self-assured, gender ambiguous child gets a visit from Great Grandma Bubbie—and teaches her a few things about pronouns and gender in a sequel to a 2019 picture book about gender creative play.

Jamie and Bubbie - Afsaneh Moradian

Jamie and Bubbie: A Book About People’s Pronouns, written by Afsaneh Moradian and illustrated by Maria Bogade (Free Spirit Publishing) is a sequel to the duo’s Jamie Is Jamie: A Book About Being Yourself and Playing Your Way (my review here), but either can be read independently of the other. Both books star Jamie, a child whose gender is never specified. In the latest book, Bubbie comes for a visit (making this, as far as I’m aware, the first LGBTQ-inclusive picture book with a great grandparent in it). As she and Jamie do things together in the neighborhood, Bubbie mistakenly misgenders several of the people they meet—a woman as a man, a man as a woman, and a transgender girl whom Bubbie had previously met when the girl was still using her male birth name. Jamie knows everyone’s correct genders and pronouns, though, and gently informs Bubbie. Bubbie admits she’s been “putting my foot in my mouth all day.”

Jamie reassures her that you can’t always know what pronouns someone uses, and that if they don’t tell you, you can always use their name or “they.” Jamie’s mother offers the example, “We can say that the mail carrier is taking mail out of their mail bag and putting it in the mailbox.” Then Jamie mentions a friend who uses “they.” Grown-ups may need to clarify here that some people choose to use “they” on an ongoing basis; it’s not just for when you don’t know someone’s pronouns. (At the end of the book, some “Tips for Teachers, Parents, and Caregivers” do help explain this.)

Jamie’s mother then tells Bubbie that people sometimes change their names and/or pronouns, and that it’s important to call them by the name and pronouns they want to use, which is good advice. Bubbie says that’s a lot to remember, but she’ll try.

The mother and Jamie’s explanations to Bubbie border on pedantic but are simple and supportive, and may be useful to those first encountering the idea of chosen pronouns or singular “they.” Jamie’s own gender and pronouns remain unknown. On one level, this book could have been a good time to introduce them—if they’re not what Bubbie would have expected from Jamie’s gender assigned at birth, perhaps she should be clued in as part of her whole education about the subject. On another level, though, perhaps more children will relate if they can imagine that Jamie’s gender is whatever they want it to be. As in the first book, Jamie is just Jamie. Jamie’s gender ambiguity also offers a place for discussion about asking someone what pronouns they use.

A few lines of dialogue could have benefited from indications of who is speaking; adult readers should be able to guess from context, but a little extra clarity might help the younger ones. And a neighbor’s sudden reference to Bubbie as “Mrs. Green,” when there was no previous indication of her last name, may confuse young readers at first (especially because a passing pedestrian on the page is wearing a green jacket).

As with the first book in the series, I like that Jamie, not an adult, is doing most of the instructing (though the mother does chime in a bit). Jamie knows the people in the neighborhood and understands the importance of referring to them the way they want. We can always use more role models of confident kids who move through the world with respect for themselves and others—and aren’t afraid to teach adults a thing or two.

Adults should appreciate the thoughtful tips at the end on talking with children about pronouns. I will note that Moradian here uses the term “gender nonconforming,” which PFLAG said in 2019 was outdated and Gender Spectrum (which Moradian includes as a resource) does not include in its list of gender-related language. I recognize, however, that these terms shift and evolve, perhaps faster than publishing cycles; I just hope this gets updated in a future edition. Mostly, Moradian’s brief explanations and suggestions seem clear and useful. Those who want more ideas for using the book as a jumping-off point for talking about gender and family can also check out the Teacher’s Guide, available under “Free Downloads” at the book’s Web page. Despite a few minor places for improvement, Jamie and Bubbie is a positive addition to the growing number of picture books about gender identity and expression.

(As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.)

Julián Is Back in Joyous New Picture Book

Julián Is Back in Joyous New Picture Book

Julián is back! In the sequel to the acclaimed 2019 picture book, Julián Is a Mermaid, Julián and his abuela are attending a wedding, where Julián meets a new friend and shows that he’s still full of imagination and a creative sense of style.

Julian at the Wedding - Jessica Love
Julián at the Wedding, by Jessica Love (Candlewick), is as beautiful as its Stonewall Award-winning predecessor, with Love’s watercolor, gouache, and ink illustrations on warm tan kraft paper driving the story forward, helped by the few well-chosen words. As the story opens, we see Julián and his grandmother, both Afro-Latinx (as Love has stated), preparing to be in a wedding, which is “a party for love.” Today, he is wearing a lavender suit with shorts, along with fuchsia shoes that match his abuela’s dress and a fuchsia ribbon tied at his throat. The tails of his suit flare at the waist, almost skirt-like. His sense of fashion has a distinctly feminine flair—but there are many ways to convey that. There are happily now a growing number of books about gender creative boys who wear dresses or skirts, but gender creativity can take many forms. I like that Love went for something different here, but one that still feels true to what we know of Julián’s self-expression from the first book. He’s not showing up in a trim masculine suit with pants and a tie.

As they arrive at the wedding, they meet Marisol, a young girl whose own abuela is switching out Marisol’s baseball cap for a crown of flowers—another moment in which gender expression shows itself and that we’ll return to later. We meet the two brides, both Black women, one in a white dress with flowers throughout her Afro and the other with locs and a white suit. During the ceremony, they kiss as Julián and Marisol stand by. All-Black same-sex couples are unfortunately rare in picture books, and this expression of their love feels like much-needed representation.

Julian at the Wedding - Jessica Love

At the reception, Julián and Marisol grow as bored as any two young children at a grown-up party, and sneak off to find amusement—but not before Marisol places her crown of flowers on Julián’s head, with a look indicating that she realizes it suits him better than her. They find a willow tree that Julián declares “a fairy house,” but while he is draping himself in its swooping branches, Marisol is running around with the brides’ dog, and dirties her dress beyond redemption. Julián, however, finds a solution. He gives Marisol his dress shirt, which extends past her waist, and ties some fluttering willow boughs around her shoulders to fall down her back. In a joyous moment, he spreads the tails of his suit jacket and the two of them imagine themselves borne aloft as butterflies.

Then the abuelas come over with understanding smiles. Marisol’s places the baseball cap back on Marisol’s head in a moment that parallels when Julián’s abuela gives him a beaded necklace in the first book. In an online Author’s Note (PDF), Love reflects on the two moments and the two books, saying:

I think of the two books as different verses of the same song, and that moment of handing over a talismanic object is the chorus. We ask children to perform their genders in different ways, and just as Julián’s nature is larger than the role society would ask him to play, Marisol’s nature doesn’t fit inside her dress. Because this is an experience Julián understands, he is able to use is empathy and creativity to help his friend move from shame into joy. They are both stories about finding a way of being at home in yourself, then finding the courage to share that self with the world.

When Julián, Marisol, and their abuelas go back to the wedding, everyone is dancing—couples of various genders, mostly people of color—and the flower-wreathed Julián and cap-wearing Marisol join in. At the end, the two children fall asleep with the brides’ dog under a tree, as the brides dance on and the abuelas eat cake.

Love’s art, as always, is exquisite. She once again shows her skill in capturing human emotions, from Julián and Marisol’s initial boredom to their later joy in mischief, to the abuelas’ bemused acceptance of their antics, to the easy rapport among the guests. She also gives us wonderful details throughout—the lacy tablecloth at the reception; Julián and Marisol’s imagined wings; the abuelas walking barefoot, shoes in hand, to find them; the Statue of Liberty in the background to anchor the story in a place and remind us this is as American a tale as any other.

Importantly, too, she depicts not just individuals, but a community—dancing, laughing, welcoming difference, and celebrating the ties of love—just as the original story is both about Julián’s individual desire to dress as a mermaid and also about finding a community of like-minded merpeople.

The best thing about having a second book about Julián is that we can learn more about him and his world in a way that honors his identity but that isn’t “about” it in the same way the first book was. Similarly, Kyle Lukoff’s Max and Friends series, about a transgender boy, starts with a book that is more about Max’s identity, but progresses to two volumes that are more about his friendships (without losing sight of how Max’s identity shapes him). Not that one-off books can’t be meaningful; just that we can sometimes learn more fully about the characters if we live with them for a while. Julián at the Wedding, in this respect, is a lovely continuation of his story.

Worth Considering

While the response to Julián Is a Mermaid was overwhelmingly positive, Dr. Laura M. Jiménez offered some critical thoughts concerning Love’s identity as a cisgender White woman and how that may have impacted her telling of the story. Love herself has written “On being a white, cishet artist creating outside my experience,” in which she acknowledges her limitations and discusses what she did not only to research and speak with people but also to examine herself and her biases. Whether she got it right in either book is something each reader will need to consider for themselves. I, as a White, cisgender, Ashkenazi Jewish woman, think that Julián at the Wedding is a beautiful tale of self-expression, friendship, and love—but I recognize that that is filtered through my own identity and experiences.

I will also mention Jiménez’ citation of librarian Angie Manfredi, who opined about Julián Is a Mermaid that “it would NOT be getting this amount of love and attention if it were written by a gender non-conforming queer IPOC – it might not even have been published.” That feels unfortunately true. Even as many of us praise both it and its sequel, then, let us consider what Love herself wrote at her website:

As a part of my accountability practices I use a portion of my income from Julián is a Mermaid to support Black Lives Matter, Stacey Abrams’ excellent work with FairFight2020The Okra Project and wherever I can I try to help bring authors and illustrators who are far less represented in the publishing industry to the attention of my editors, publishers, agent and the larger reading public.

How can we other White, cisgender folks similarly raise the voices of others who are less represented? How can we push schools, libraries, and publishers to do so? Those are bigger questions than I will tackle in this post, but I think it is vital that, like Love, we each reflect on and act on them in whatever ways we can.

(I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program that provides a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.)

Poems, Protest, and Empowerment in New Picture Book About Young Activists

Poems, Protest, and Empowerment in New Picture Book About Young

A new picture book pairs the stories of youth activists with #OwnVoices poems from exceptional adult poets who were inspired by their work. Unsurprisingly, there are queer voices among them.

No Voice Too Small
“No voice is too small/to solve a problem/that’s big,” begins Lindsay H. Metcalf’s poem at the start of No Voice Too Small: Fourteen Young Americans Making History, edited by Metcalf, Keila V. Dawson and Jeanette Bradley, and illustrated by Jeanette Bradley (Charlesbridge). In its pages, we meet Samirah “DJ Annie Red” Horton, who shares anti-bullying messages through rap; Ziah Ahmed, who held face-to-face conversations with everyone in his high school as a way to forestall anti-Muslim hate; Levi Draheim, who became the youngest of 21 kids who sued the U.S. government for failing to act to stop climate change; Jasilyn Charger, who helped launch the Standing Rock Pipeline Resistance Movement, and more. Most are people of color.

Each person profiled gets a two-page spread drawn in Bradley’s digital pastels and charcoals on an earth-toned, textured background. The images feel warm and approachable. On the left page of each spread is a poem about the person’s impact; on the right is a prose paragraph with further details. The poems are by an array of well-known writers, including Carole Boston Weatherford, author of Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom, which won an NAACP Image Award; Nikki Grimes, who won a Coretta Scott King Author Award for Bronx Masquerade and was given the Children’s Literature Legacy Award in 2017; and Guadalupe Garcia McCall, the Pura Belpré Award winner for her novel Under the Mesquite. Each poet shares at least one aspect of their identity with their young subject. Additionally, each poem uses a different poetic form, helpfully explained at the end of the book.

Also profiled is transgender activist Jazz Jennings, with a poem about her by author S. Bear Bergman, founder and publisher of queer micro-press Flamingo Rampant. We also meet Zach Wahls, whose speech about his two moms to an Iowa House committee went viral in 2011, and whose Scouts for Equality organization helped pressure the Boy Scouts of America to allow gay scouts. His poem is by Lesléa Newman, best known as author of Heather Has Two Mommies, but also an award-winning poet. (Side note: Wahls, now an Iowa state senator, pops up in a new book for the second time this week.) If all that wasn’t queerness enough, illustrator Bradley is herself a queer mom.

There are any number of queer-inclusive books about young activists, including Kid Activists, by Robin Stevenson (my review here), Peaceful Fights for Equal Rights, by Rob Sanders (my review here), and the very recent V Is for Voting, by Kate Farrell (my review here). No Voice Too Small is an outstanding addition to the genre, offering not just profiles of its subjects, but poems that further inspire and empower.

Watch a trailer for the book below:

(I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program that provides a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.)

“If These Ovaries Could Talk” Book Brings Podcast Humor and Insight to LGBTQ Family Making

"If These Ovaries Could Talk" Book Brings Podcast Humor and

A new book by the hosts of a popular podcast captures the lively spirit of the show and the insights of their many guests as it explores LGBTQ family making.

If These Ovaries Could Talk

If These Ovaries Could Talk: The Things We’ve Learned About Making an LGBTQ Family, by Jaimie Kelton and Robin Hopkins, might more accurately have been subtitled “… Making LGBTQ Families,” because there are many of them here and they’re a varied lot. Since January 2018, when Kelton and Hopkins launched their If These Ovaries Could Talk podcast, they’ve spoken with dozens of LGBTQ parents, parents-to-be, and their children, including celebrities like comedian Judy Gold, poet StaceyAnn Chin, and Iowa State Senator Zach Wahls; medical, legal, and financial experts; and many other individuals and couples of various identities and at different stages of their parenting journeys. Their book, culled from the many conversations they’ve had, is aimed at two audiences: LGBTQ people who want to start a family and curious non-LGBTQ folks who might want to know more about LGBTQ families but have been “too afraid to ask.”

That sets it apart from many of the other books about LGBTQ family making, which are aimed more exclusively at prospective LGBTQ parents. The dual audience for this book, though, parallels the goal of the podcast “to normalize (for lack of a better word) our nontraditional families. To show the world our struggles, our love, our joy, our thoughtfulness and our humanity.” Hopkins and Kelton find the balance between those audiences by focusing on sharing stories rather than creating a step-by-step how-to manual—yet there’s still plenty of practical information here for those who want it. Although they don’t shy away from the many challenges faced by LGBTQ parents—both as LGBTQ people and as parents—they also give readers a big heaping dose of joy and positivity. “Our families are freaking fabulous,” they emote.

If These Ovaries Could Talk

Jaimie Kelton (L) and Robin Hopkins (R). Photo credit: Lit Riot Press

Kelton and Hopkins, both award-winning actors, bring their signature humor and chatty tone to keep things conversational, even when discussing serious topics. Hopkins began her career as a stand-up comic in New York City and is now an executive producer of the podcast Amy Schumer Presents: 3 Girls, 1 Keith. Her film and TV credits include Boardwalk EmpireLouie, Hindsight and more. She’s also an accomplished playwright. Kelton has over 17 years of stage experience as an actor, singer, and dancer, and has done voiceover work for Disney’s The Octonauts, Amazon’s Bug Diaries, and SYFY’s Happy, among other shows. Importantly, too, they’re both lesbian moms who also share their own stories.

Rather than simply give us transcripts of their podcast episodes, however, they’ve sifted through them to compile key stories and dialogues into thematic chapters. Most chapters begin with short introductory pieces by each of them, followed by the first-person reflections on the chapter’s topic by several podcast guests, sometimes in conversation with each other or the hosts.

The first section of the book is about starting a family, beginning with a chapter on deciding if you even want to do so. There are chapters on donors, assisted reproduction, adoption and foster care, and “Trans and Fertility” (awkwardly named but thoughtfully done in that the cisgender authors step back to let transgender people speak for themselves). The second section looks at topics for those who already have kids. Here we have chapters on money and legal issues, “Being Out as a Family”; “Talking to Your Kids About Their Family”; families that include networks of donors, donor siblings, and other adults; being a non-biological, adoptive, or step parent; intersectional issues including race, religion, and gender fluidity; and “Growing Up with Gay Parents.” A glossary at the end provides a helpful look at some commonly used terms.

Perhaps most importantly, the stories here convey the great variety of LGBTQ parenting experiences. The book is, of course, limited by the identities and experiences of Hopkins, Kelton, and their guests as of the book’s writing—they’re a diverse lot, but don’t, for example, include any parents who identify (at least in the book) as bisexual or any children of transgender parents. (They do, however, include transgender parents and bisexual children of LGBTQ parents, though one guest’s description of her daughter as both “bisexual” and “lesbian” begs clarification.) Their podcast continues, though; perhaps there will be a second book as well, with even more varied voices.

A few quibbles have more to do with the editing than the main content of the book. There are an unfortunate number of typos, which I hope can be corrected in a future edition. A full index would have been helpful. A list of the podcast episodes and guests would have benefited from including the episode dates. Those are minor issues, however, and do not substantially detract from the thoughtful stories, information, and sense of community conveyed by the many voices here.

If you want to be inspired by other LGBTQ families who have been have through some of the same decision-making processes; if you want to feel like you’re in a fun group discussion with other LGBTQ parents and their children that makes the whole experience less daunting; or if you want a book to share with non-LGBTQ relatives, friends, and neighbors about our families, then this is the book for you. Let’s hope these ovaries keep talking.

Like the book? Keep up with If These Ovaries Could Talk wherever you listen to podcasts.

(I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program that provides a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.)

Lil Nas X has written the ‘best kids’ book of all time’

Lil Nas X book C is for Country

C is for Country by Lil Nas X will come out on January 5, 2021. (LilNasX/ Twitter)

Lil Nas X has written a children’s book in which he and Panini the pony embark “on a joyous journey through the alphabet”.

The “Old Town Road” singer, who came out as gay in July 2019, announced on Twitter: “I’m dropping the best kids book of all time soon! C IS FOR COUNTRY, out 5 January, 2021 from Random House Kids.

“I can’t wait to share it with you all.”

According to Random House, kids aged three to seven years old will be able to “join superstar Lil Nas X… and Panini the pony on a joyous journey through the alphabet from sunup to sundown”.

The blurb continues: “Experience wide-open pastures, farm animals, guitar music, cowboy hats, and all things country in this debut picture book that’s perfect for music lovers learning their ABCs and for anyone who loves Nas’s signature genre-blending style.”

C is for Country, illustrated by Theodore Taylor III, is “a celebration of song and the power inside us all” and will also feature “plenty of hidden surprises” for adult fans of the Grammy award-winning artist.

Although some Lil Nas X fans on Twitter were disappointed that he was announcing a picture book rather than his new album, which he insists is “98 per cent done”, others were convinced that C is for Country would be a “masterpiece”.

One Twitter user wrote: “I don’t have any kids or intend to for like 20 years so I will be reading this to my dogs.”

“I haven’t touched a book in years but I’ll do it for you king,” said another.

The LGBT+ community has been disappointed by certain children’s authors recently, so one Lil Nas X fan came up with an ingenious idea. They wrote: “[I’m] telling my kids this is who wrote Harry Potter.” 

Lil Nas X recently launched a spring clothing collection with designer Christian Cowan, the mastermind behind Lil Nas X’s 2019 VMAs outfit. 

In a joint interview about the collection for Vogue, the pair revealed that 100 per cent of proceeds will be donated to the Black trans community in Atlanta, Georgia, where Lil Nas X is from.

A Queer-Inclusive Picture Book About the Power of Voting

A Queer-Inclusive Picture Book About the Power of Voting

As we head into the fall and one of the most momentous elections in our nation’s history, voting is more important than ever. A new picture book about voting and civic engagement is both timely and queer-inclusive.

V Is for Voting - Kate Farrell

V Is for Voting, an alphabet book written by Kate Farrell and illustrated by Caitlin Kuhwald (Henry Holt), offers simple phrases and sentences for each letter, all related to voting and democracy. “A is for active participation. B is for building a more equal nation,” it begins. We read about a Free Press, those who Govern, Judges (with a close-up of Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s famous white jabot), and more, while learning the importance of Engagement, Questions, Teachers, Working for change, and other concepts, all depicted with Kuhwald’s bold, bright illustrations.

We meet a variety of activists and leaders, including Thurgood Marshall, Ruby Bridges, Cesar Chavez, O. J. Semans, Patsy Takemoto Mink, and Ida B. Wells, along with Alicia Garza of Black Lives Matter and many more. They’re not named in the text itself, but a page at the end tells us who they are. Along with the famous people, however, a diverse group of young people and their parents march, speak out, help each other, and seek to learn more about our country and its democratic processes. Several pages show peaceful protests and marches; others show community members helping each other or working side-by-side. A few anthropomorphic animals in some of the marches seem odd at first, but perhaps they’re intended to remind us of the need for environmental justice that impacts all creatures.

I particularly appreciated that on the page for Suffrage, the text notes, “This fight is ongoing, not history’s footnote.” A Voting Rights timeline at the end also takes us from 1787, when the U.S. Constitution was written, through 2013, when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down part of the Voting Rights Act, “allowing states with a history of discrimination to pass new voting laws without federal approval.” There’s a lot to unpack there, and this book doesn’t, but perhaps it will inspire readers (and their grown-ups) to dig deeper with other books and resources.

Most of the pages show positive actions towards change and civic participation; the only one that doesn’t is “H is for homelands that we’ve occupied.” Since this occupation is in fact the tragic and awful underpinning of our whole democratic experiment, that page feels appropriate to include—but parents and teachers may need to explain to young people that it is not, like the concepts on the other pages, something to aspire to.

Harvey Milk is the only famous person shown who is clearly queer (though you can count Eleanor Roosevelt if you like), but several of the unnamed cast carry rainbow signs during protests and marches, which we see them making right on the first page. In one scene, a young person of ambiguous gender wears a rainbow button and carries a sign with the transgender symbol on it, marching arm-in-arm with their mother; they both seem to be of South Asian heritage. On another page, the two are again marching together and the mother is carrying a sign with a rainbow heart. I would have liked to have seen Marsha P. Johnson or another trans activist clearly depicted among the famous people in the book—but at least there’s a young trans person carrying the trans symbol, with the support of their mother, which feels equally important.

The book bears obvious similarities to Rob Sanders’ Peaceful Fights for Equal Rights(my review here) and Innosanto Nagara’s A is for Activist, but doesn’t feel redundant. Nagara’s is a board book for much younger children (though the vocabulary is geared to an older crowd); Sanders’ is specific to activism and protest rather than civic engagement more broadly as in V Is for Voting. That’s not a criticism—all of these perspectives are important, and I heartily recommend all of these books.

Farrell wrote the book “to help even the youngest readers understand why voting is important” and to help them “feel invested in and hopeful for the future of our democracy,” she explained in the press materials. “A government that doesn’t reflect the diversity of its people cannot represent the will of its people.” This year, that message is more important than ever.

Want more kids’ books on social justice? Here are a few.

(I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program that provides a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.)

Transition and Transformation in a Picture Book for Rosh Hashanah

Transition and Transformation in a Picture Book for Rosh Hashanah

A family’s annual celebration of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and the changes that each year brings, form the texture of Love Remains: A Rosh Hashanah Story of Transformation, a new picture book about a Jewish family and their transgender child. One of the authors, Rabbi Ari Moffic, spoke with me about it.

Love Remains - Ari Moffic

Moffic, the director of congregational learning at Temple Beth-El in Northbrook, Illinois, is a Reform Jewish rabbi married to another Reform rabbi. They have two children, a cisgender teen and a transgender tween. Parenting a transgender child “is nothing that we were prepared for or really knew anything about until we started raising this child,” Moffic said. “It’s definitely set us off on the course of a new education and having new people in our lives and experiences. It’s been really a blessing.”

The idea for the book took shape years ago when Moffic was at a Jewish conference, speaking with another parent of a transgender child. They realized that although some Jewish publishers were starting to publish children’s books with LGBTQ themes, they hadn’t seen any with Jewish transgender characters. They wanted to change that so that their children “can see themselves in stories” and so “all children could see the range of human experience within a Jewish setting,” Moffic explained.

“I had this story idea in my head but I’d never written a children’s book,” she continued. She eventually connected with Jessica Leving, author of a children’s book about growing up with a sibling who has a disability. In addition to her writing skills, Leving had done LGBTQ advocacy and also knew how to self-publish on Amazon. Self-publishing was important because, while most children’s book authors have their illustrators chosen by the publisher, Moffic already knew the illustrator she wanted to use: Teddi Garson, “an amazingly talented genderqueer Jewish tattoo artist.” Moffic had conducted the wedding of Teddi’s sister.

Although it might seem edgy to have images drawn by a Jewish tattoo artist (according to some interpretations of Jewish law, Jews should not get tattoos), Love Remains is deeply rooted in Jewish values and traditions. Rosh Hashanah is the start of the new year and part of a wider time for self-reflection during the Jewish High Holidays. It offered “just the perfect backdrop to talk about change and renewal and transformation,” Moffic said.

The book starts by quoting Ecclesiastes 1:3-8, which begins, “A season is set for everything, a time for every experience under heaven.” Floyd Kessler, a Jewish transgender artist, contributed an image of the text spiraling inside an apple, a traditional Rosh Hashanah symbol.

Rabbi Ari Moffic

Rabbi Ari Moffic, courtesy of her.

Moffic explained, “I wanted to start with Ecclesiastes because I believe that if we’re going to really live our lives and engage with life, we’re going to have change. We’re going to have big changes and small changes and happy changes and sad changes.”

We see that reflected throughout the story, as year after year a child goes with mother and father to the grandparents’ house for Rosh Hashanah. One year, their favorite flower shop is closed and they must find another; the next year, the grandfather has died; the year after that, a cousin has a new baby.

The child similarly transforms. Initially, she has a ponytail and uses the name Danielle and female pronouns. The next year, she is excited about getting a boy’s part in the school play. The year after that, the child is reluctant to go to the family dinner. The dad gently asks, “Are you nervous because everyone knows you’re Dan now, and they might get your name wrong or have questions?”

That was the concern, but Dan, now with short hair, finally agrees to go. “The family knows this is who I’ve always been anyway,” he says.

Indeed they do. When everyone shares something new that has happened to them since last year, Dan mentions going on a school hike. Everyone laughs good naturedly. Dan’s mom is surprised that’s what he wanted to share. Grandma notes wisely that many things can be important. An aunt observes, “You seem happy and at peace.” Their absolute acceptance—and the idea that a transgender identity is only one part of a person—makes this a story that should delight families with transgender children.

The book is on the wordy side of the picture book range, which means it may be best for a child to read with a grown-up. It also shows rather than tells about Dan’s transition and what it means to be transgender—more reasons to read it in a setting that allows for discussion. That’s not a criticism; this book fills a different need than more explicitly explanatory texts by placing Dan’s transition in a broader story about family, tradition, and change.

Moffic said she imagines parents, grandparents, teachers, or librarians reading the book to a child and asking questions like, “Do you notice anything about how this kid’s appearance changes?” or “Can you tell if someone’s a boy or a girl based on how they look?” They can also talk about “how changes can be hard and exciting” and “becoming who we’re meant to be is just this evolving part of our stories.” Moffic invites those seeking discussion questions to e-mail her at loveremainsbook@gmail.com for a list tailored to their needs.

This year, Rosh Hashanah, which begins the evening of September 18, “is going to feel different for so many reasons,” she said. “But I think we have to embrace change and transformation and growth and renewal and the opportunity to keep living.”

Originally published as my Mombian newspaper column.

(I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program that provides a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.)

Board Book Explores Joyful Messes and Diverse Families

Board Book Explores Joyful Messes and Diverse Families

A fun board book for the youngest children is full of surprises and diverse families as it celebrates the messiness of life.

Who Is Making a Mess? - Maria D'Haene

Who Is Making a Mess? written by Maria D’Haene and illustrated by Charlie Eve Ryan (Amicus Publishing), is told in alternating two-page spreads. The first spread asks the titular question and shows a close-up portion of an image—jeans-clad legs sticking out from under a car bumper; the bottom of a frilly apron worn by an adult standing next to a child at a table; or the back of an adult standing at a sink of dirty dishes, for example.

The second page of each spread changes the perspective to show who is really making the mess. “Mama is making a mess,” we read as we zoom back to see that the jeans-clad legs belong to a woman in overalls fixing a car as her presumed husband stands by holding their baby; their other daughter is fixing her scooter, in imitation of Mama. The frilly apron is worn by a grandpa, helping his grandchildren bake. The person at the sink is a mother wearing a baby carrier over her chest as her baby splashes water; she looks slightly harried as she turns to speak with another woman bringing in groceries, presumably her spouse.

The people are racially diverse and come together on the last page for a big, messy picnic. It’s unclear if they’re all part of one big family or just a community, but their joy at being together is obvious.

I love the interactivity generated by the question-and-answer format and the zoomed-in/zoomed-out illustrations. Young readers will delight in guessing at what’s to come (even after the umpteenth reading; trust me, I had a toddler)—and in seeing the characters make their messes. Ryan’s images are full of color, motion, and joyous splatters, and make the whole concept work.

Subtle messages about breaking gender stereotypes may also serve them well in the years ahead. Who Is Making a Mess? is a book worth adding to the mess on your bookshelf.

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A Sparkling New Picture Book on Gender Expression and Allyship

A Sparkling New Picture Book on Gender Expression and Allyship

Here’s my third and final review for this week’s mini-theme of picture books about gender creative boys—this one focusing on the importance of allies.

Bling Blaine - Rob Sanders

A Glittery Tale

The titular character of Bling Blaine: Throw Glitter, Not Shade, by Rob Sanders (Sterling Publishing), loves to sparkle. “He bedazzled his book bag. He added sequins to his baseball cap,” Sanders tells us. He “spread happiness like confetti.” Blaine is popular and active in the school community, decorating the library and giving out shiny bookmarks to the other kids.

A few kids, however, don’t understand him. One says that only girls wear sparkles. A new kid pushes him and calls him “sissy.” Eventually, their words begin to affect him, and he shows up one day in plain, dull clothes. Blaine looks glum and this casts a pall over the whole school.

The next day, several other students—boys and girls—show up wearing sequins and sparkles in defiance of the detractors. Blaine’s friends then talk with the new kid and with a grown-up library volunteer who had rolled her eyes at Blaine’s bling. Sanders avoids heavy-handed messaging, though—we’re never told what the friends say, but it’s clear from the illustrations that they’re explaining their support for Blaine’s style.

Blaine then gives a sparkly gift to the new kid, who thanks him and smiles “just a little”—a soft touch conveying that change sometimes takes time. The final spread declares that from then on, “everyone was free to be themselves” at the school. That feels a bit optimistic—but we could all use some optimism these days.

Letizia Rizzo’s cartoon-like illustrations are cheery and colorful, emphasizing pinks and purples. Blaine has medium brown skin and dark brown curly hair. The other children are of various racial and ethnic identities and body types.

Several other books about gender creative boys in school situations have plots that may seem similar on the surface—the child gets teased and then everyone learns a lesson about diversity. Yet Sanders, an elementary school teacher and author of numerous LGBTQ-inclusive books, goes beyond that to offer some different perspectives: Blaine’s being bullied has a negative impact on the whole community. The students find the solution themselves, without adult intervention. Importantly, too, allies are key.

In fact, allyship is really the main theme of the book, more so than Blaine’s personal journey. That’s not a criticism; there are already many other books about gender creative children that more fully explore those children’s feelings. Bling Blaine, however, seems less a story for gender creative children than it is for their peers—it’s a tale on how to be allies, and that’s sorely needed, too.

Defining Allies

Two supplemental pages at the end offer a definition of “ally” and how to be one. An ally, it says, is “a person or group associated with another or with others for a common cause or purpose; a person who cooperates with another; supporter; friend.” That definition seems borrowed and only very slightly edited from the Dictionary.com entry. It’s true enough—but oddly omits the Dictionary.com meaning of “ally” that seems most relevant to matters of diversity, equity, and inclusion: “a passive or active supporter of a particular politicized or marginalized group, usually not a member of the group.” Yes, that wording is too complex for the picture book age range (and I’d drop “passive,” as I think that true allyship requires action). The idea of supporting someone even if they are different from you could have been incorporated, however.

The additional suggestions on “How to Be an Ally”—in brief: stand up for what’s right, learn, listen, and keep trying—are good but also don’t really get at the idea of allying across difference, except to note somewhat vaguely that, “as an ally, it’s not about you, it’s about the other person.”

Certainly, it’s a fine goal simply to encourage children to stand up for anyone being bullied, similar or different. That’s a good place to start talking about allyship, especially with younger children. But parents and teachers should be aware, particularly as kids get older, that there’s a further layer to explore about supporting people who may not look, act, or believe the same way.

Final Thoughts

I offer those thoughts because I really do like the story as a way to begin conversations about allyship, even if it’s only a starting point. I hope it sees much home and classroom use. It shows that the burden shouldn’t always be on gender creative kids (or kids of any marginalized group) and their families to solve problems of bias; it’s a community problem and allies have a big role to play. That’s a hugely important lesson for us all to remember these days, in a world where the shade threatens to overcome the glitter. Bling Blaine might just help turn that around.

You may also be interested in Sanders’ other two recent books, both biographies: Mayor Pete: The Story of Pete Buttigieg (my review here), and The Fighting Infantryman: The Story of Albert Cashier, about a transgender civil war soldier (my review here).

See also my reviews from earlier this week of two other books about gender creative boys: one for the youngest children and one from 1979 that has just been republished.

(I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program that provides a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.)

Picture Book Is a Glad Celebration of Gender Creativity

Picture Book Is a Glad Celebration of Gender Creativity

I’m going to lean in to the theme of picture books about gender creative children this week, with a look at a sweet recent picture book about a gender creative boy bear and his emotions.

Glad Glad Bear - Kimberly Gee

Glad Glad Bear, by Kimberly Gee (Beach Lane/Simon & Schuster), is the second of her Bear’s Feelings series that gently conveys social-emotional lessons through the adventures of the young, anthropomorphic Bear. (The first is Mad Mad Bear; the third, Sad Sad Bear, is scheduled for early 2021.) I’m often skeptical of anthropomorphic animals, since it seems like some publishers have at times seen them as more palatable than real humans in books about LGBTQ and gender creative characters—but this one is part of a series that began before touching on such identities. Its anthropomorphism therefore doesn’t seem like avoidance; it’s simply cute, and I’m fine with that. Also, the anthropomorphism is very light—these are basically human bodies with cute bear faces, not talking chickens, so they seem very relatable.

In Glad Glad Bear, Bear (who uses male pronouns) is happy about his first day at dance class. He has new leggings, slippers, and a tutu, which he joyously dons before accompanying his mother to dance class.

Upon seeing the other children and their parents, however, Bear feels “a little shy” and afraid—and “a little different.” We’re not told why, though the image shows us four presumed girl bears in tutus and one other presumed boy bear in leggings, but none in both tutus and leggings like Bear.

When the music starts, however, “Bear begins to feel light. And bubbly. And twirly.” Soon he is dancing. Afterwards, the teacher thanks him for coming, “And Bear is very glad he did.” We see him leaving the dance studio hand in hand with one of the girl bears.

It’s a sweet story—simple but perfect for the youngest age range. The illustrations are adorable, and clearly show Bear’s range of emotions. I also love that in contrast to many other books on gender creative boys, this one avoids having anyone make negative comments about Bear’s gender expression. Bear “feels a little different,” but it’s open to interpretation as to why—and even if readers decide it’s because of his gender expression, they’ll see that his hesitancy is soon dispelled. If only the real world was like that. Perhaps books like this can help make it happen—and then we’d all be glad.

H/t to Alli Harper of OurShelves for alerting me to this book.

(I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program that provides a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.)