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: 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.
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