Parents and teachers alike want to teach their children to be compassionate, kind, and inclusive. We can not do that without making our bookshelves inclusive too. We can not tell our children everyone is worth the same and that everyone deserves to be seen for who they are, and then make these books “a sensitive subject” to be discussed (or not) at home because some think they are inappropriate for school. That teaches our children that these topics are shameful, that these books are taboo, and in turn, that the families and people portrayed in them are. That gets us nowhere. Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming People of all ages deserve to be seen and celebrated for who they are. While many of us are quarantined at home, we need to make an intentional effort to continue to give our children an inclusive empathy focused education. I urge you to find some of these books about gender non-conforming and transgender kids either on a free app, buy them online, or at the very least record the title so you can find them at your local library after quarantine is lifted. Children need to see themselves and others who aren’t just like them in books and reflect on how similar we are and about how our differences should be celebrated.
Books For Kids About Being Transgender or Gender Non-Conforming
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Neither by Airlie Anderson is a sweet and super colorful book about exclusion and inclusion. There has never been a bunny bird before, so when one hatches and wants to play, the bunnies and the birds both exclude the bunny-bird. Luckily for our awesome friend, they find a new place where individuality is celebrated and celebrates with LOTS of colors. Children love guessing what mix of animals make up each colorful creature, but the message about inclusion and being free to be your authentic self is front and center.
Morris Micklewhite and The Tangerine Dress By Christine Baldachinno has been a reader suggestion for as long as I’ve been publishing this list. I finally got my hands on it, and I can see why. Morris is just who he is and who Morris happens to be a boy who loves to dress up in an orange dress. The adults in the story don’t pass judgment. They support Morris for who he is without labeling or shaming. It takes some time for all the kids to be accepting. But soon, their similarities and mutual interests overcame the differences, and everyone plays together. Not a bad lesson for the rest of us!
10,000 Dresses by Marcus Ewert is a story about a little boy who doesn’t feel like a boy and dreams of the most amazing dresses every night. He tries to tell his family about his dreams, but they brush them off, insisting that he is a boy and boys shouldn’t dream of dresses. His family is not accepting at all, and you must know that. It was hard to read, but this as an opportunity to talk about adversity. What I love about this book is that while the narrator refers to Bailey as she, all of Bailey’s family refers to Bailey as a boy. Only Laurel, an older girl who accepts Bailey as she views herself, calls her a girl. The book itself is amazingly creative and a great book about accepting and respecting people for who they are, not for who society tells us they “should” be.
Phoenix Goes To School by Michelle and Phoenix Finch is about the first day of school for a little girl named Phoenix, who is transgender. What I really appreciate about this book is that readers meet Phoenix, and in the first few pages, we learn that she was born a boy but identifies as a girl, and then the rest of the book is just about school anxiety really. I think this little book is really very powerful because it does a brilliant job of showing that Phoenix is just like other kids who want to fit in.
George, by Alex Gino, is a beautiful book. The author weaves an engaging story about George, who is in the 4th grade and hiding something huge from everyone. He’s not a he on the inside at all; she is a she. This story about a transgender girl is especially touching because it’s from her perspective. No article or documentary has given me a deeper understanding of some of the feelings of someone who is young, and transgender may feel like this book has. My daughter begged me to read it to her in kindergarten, and I thought she’d get bored, but instead, it remains one of her favorite books to this day. She loved it at 5, though the suggested age is middle elementary and up.
They, He, She, Me, Free to be me! by Maya Gonzales and Matthew SG is a little book that uses vibrant images of all kinds of people and their preferred pronouns. The message is clear that pronouns matter and that who you might think is a he is they and someone you might call she is a he… what matters is that no one but the person determines their pronoun and we respect that. This is an excellent book with lots of resources at the end to talk about why pronouns matter and their role in respecting others.
Red: A Crayon’s Story by Micheal Hall is one of my very favorite picture books. It makes me cry because it tackles huge emotions with simple words and illustrations. They take my breath away. All crayons come with a label, but is that label always, right? Red came from the factory with a red printed on his red label, but even when he tried, and trust me, he tried, all he could do was color blue. It’s not until he is asked by purple to draw him a blue ocean that he finally finds a place where he belongs. While this book doesn’t specifically speak about being transgender, if your child has any understanding of it, they will make the connection; I know mine both did. Also, the book is a straightforward introduction to the idea of what being transgender means.
I Am Jazz by Jessica Herthel is a book all about Jazz – a real-life little girl who is transgender. The book is a relatable introduction to what being transgender means on a level children can relate to. In my experience, children accept Jazz and her story quickly. There might be some giggles, but after the initial “Wow, I never knew that was possible.” they see a kid being a kid. This book was a favorite bedtime story for my daughter for many years.
Jacob’s New Dress by Sarah Hoffman is about Jacob, who likes to wear dresses. Unlike Bailey in 10,000 dresses, Jacob is accepted by the majority of his peers and, more notably, his family. His parents encourage him to be himself cautiously. I liked that throughout the story, his parents softened their stance as Jacob became more confident about how he felt and how he’d handle teasing. Jacob gets teased, but he is also accepted, which makes this book a great discussion starter with any child. Whether they have a child in their school, who may dress in gender non-conforming ways or a family member who is transgender, not all boys who wear dresses are going to identify as transgender, non-binary, or gay, and this book doesn’t say they will. Instead, it says to be yourself whoever that may be.
My Princess Boy by Cheryl Kilodavis, has been talked about so much I think I had inflated expectations. Don’t get me wrong. I think the message is so important, and the book does an excellent job of introducing readers to her son, who doesn’t fit into a binary definition of gender. It explores how he gets hurt when people laugh at him and how great his family is at supporting him. I like how simply blunt the book is. And it should be because the lesson should be about acceptance and allow people, especially children, to express their true self even if it doesn’t fit the narrow definition we have given it. I think I was expecting more of a story even though I knew it was nonfiction. It opened a great dialog with my son when he was five about how he would treat a male friend if they wanted to dress in a dress. Good discussion at our house, worth the read for sure!
Julian Is A Mermaid by Jessica Love is a world I want to live in where women and children and even chihuahuas can be mermaids if they please, they just need the costume. In this story, a little boy who LOVES mermaids is on the metro with his Abuela and sees women dressed as mermaids, and his imagination runs wild. When he gets home, he transforms himself into a mermaid while his Abuela is busy. When his Abuela interrupts, she thinks he may be in trouble, heck we all believe he may be in trouble, but the end is far from it. While this book doesn’t overtly address the LGBTQ community, the experience of showing a loved one who you are and worrying that they may reject that speaks to the topic as does the fact that Julian is going against gender stereotypes as he dresses like a mermaid. This book is easily one of the best books I have read that celebrates a child’s true self, and I read a lot of picture books! GO, buy it now!
When Aiden Became A Brother by Kyle Lukoff represents a significant evolution in books for kids. It brings together books about new babies and books about kids who identify as transgender. I am asked for these types of books all the time, and this book does a great job of explaining the many issues and specifics about how a family like Aiden’s would face a big change like a new baby. The book dives into how Aiden transitioned, his fears about the new baby, and how a loving, accepting family handles both.
Jamie is Jamie by Afseneh Moradian is a book that tackles the gender stereotypes we have and teach our children about play and toys. This book is instrumental for older preschool classes, and children start classifying things as boy toys and girl toys. I know I have had many discussions over the years in my classrooms to dismantle this idea that toys have a gender. This book is the perfect tool for that issue as Jamie plays with all toys, is not clearly a boy or a girl, and after Jamie plays with everything, the rest of the class feels more empowered to play with all the toys as well.
Sparkle Boy by Leslea Newman has flown under my radar somehow until now… it’s such an excellent book. In the book, a little boy who adores everything that glitters and sparkles confronts kids who tell him he can’t like what he likes. With the help of his sister, who was initially against his love of things that aren’t stereotypically male, he realizes that he gets to decide what he likes, not other people. Questioning gender norms is essential if we want children to feel like they can express who they are without sanction, and if we’re going to foster a community that accepts people for who they are as well, this book helps do that.
The Boy & The Bindi is a beautiful book about a little boy who is very curious about his mom’s bindi. Traditionally a bindi is worn by Hindu and Jain women and girls, but not boys or men. But his mom sees that he is curious and gives him his own, and it awakens his sense of self and helps him express who he is. While this book doesn’t speak specifically of gender issues, the author is a transgender woman, and in many ways, this book reminds me of Julien dressing as a mermaid. It pushes gender norms and forces readers to see that being yourself doesn’t always fit into specific pre-made boxes.
Jack (Not Jackie) by Erica Silverman is a fantastic book about being a transgender boy with a sibling who isn’t so sure about your gender identity. Jack was born a girl, and his older sister really loved having a little sister, now that Jack has transitioned to being a boy, his sister is having a hard time. This book shows how families may go through a grieving process and take some time to learn how their relationships may differ as well as stay the same. Great book, especially for families who are going through a transition process.
Introducing Teddy by Jessica Walton is a FANTASTIC book. What makes this book, about a teddy bear who is transgender, so amazing is that it accurately reflects most young children’s view and acceptance of someone who is transgender. When a member of our church came out as transgender, my then 4-year-old was like, “Cool, can I have some cookies.” and my then 7-year-old said, “So I shouldn’t say she anymore? OK.” and that was IT. I had already explained what transgender meant, and that was all they needed to accept someone. That is precisely what this book is like; Teddy is all sad and worried that her friends won’t accept that inside, she is a girl teddy even though outside she looks like a boy. She spills the beans, and everyone accepts her and her new name Tilly. I love how easy and straightforward this book is, and its focus on friendship is lovely. It’s perfect for any preschool and early elementary-aged kiddos.
For more books about LGBTQ+ Pride check out my full list here.