Books to Celebrate International Transgender Day of Visibility

International Transgender Day of Visibility is an annual event that occurs on March 31st. The day is dedicated to celebrating the accomplishments and contributions of transgender and gender nonconforming people and raising awareness of discrimination faced by transgender people in the United States and worldwide. Sadly, injustices continue – Texas families are now fighting against recent efforts to harm transgender children and tear apart their families by Governor Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton. For further information, you can read NPR’s website article, A Texas Judge Blocks the State from Investigating Parents of Transgender Youth. In support of those families and transgender youth everywhere and to celebrate International Transgender Day of Visibility, I have gathered together noteworthy, affirming (several are #OwnVoices) titles for kids in preschool to 6th grade for everyone to enjoy and share!

Obie is Man Enough by Schuyler Bailar
(Grades 5-6)
Libby
Library Catalog

“An aspiring transgender Junior Olympian swimmer finds the strength and pride in his identity to race toward his dreams in this debut coming-of-age novel by groundbreaking trans athlete Bailar. Starting over after his abusive and discriminatory swim coach excluded him from the team, Obie Chang, a biracial (White/Korean) transgender boy worries about catching up to the other boys and proving that he is ‘man enough.' Although his family supports him, one of his best friends at school and the pool has turned into his biggest bully, and the other is drifting away toward the mean, popular girls. As he dives from the blocks into the challenging waters of seventh grade and swims toward his goal of qualifying for the Junior Olympics, Obie discovers belonging in his community and in himself. Affirming adults–including his parents and grandparents, a new swim coach, and his favorite teacher–play significant supporting roles by offering encouragement without pressure, centering Obie's feelings, and validating Obie's right to set his own boundaries. Vulnerable first-person narration explores Obie's internal conflict about standing up for himself and his desire to connect to his Korean heritage through his relationship with Halmoni, his paternal grandmother. A romance with Charlie, a cisgender biracial (Cuban/White) girl, is gentle and privacy-affirming. Short chapters and the steady pace of external tension balance moments of rumination, grounding them in the ongoing action of Obie's experiences. Energizing and compassionate.” – Kirkus Reviews

Zenobia July by Lisa Bunker
(Grades 4-6)
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“It's a year of big changes for Zenobia July. After her father died in what is being called a hunting accident (her mother passed away when she was small), she has moved from Arizona to Portland, Maine, to live with Aunts Phil and Lucy–a quirky couple with a diverse friend group, including the larger-than-life drag queen ‘Sprinkles.’ She's also starting school for the first time as a trans girl. Zen bonds with the middle school's band of ‘orphan misfits,’ which includes genderqueer Arli, Congolese immigrant Chantal, and new kid Elijah, who is eventually outed as trans. But even with the support and love of her aunts, she wrestles daily with the person she sees in the mirror. A boost of self-confidence comes when Zen, a talented hacker, uses her skills to help the school discover who is posting anti-Muslim and transphobic smears to the school website. Bunker (Felix Yz) brings considerable empathy and skill to her authentic, nuanced portrayal, balancing Zen's darker moments with humor. Though Zen is haunted by self-doubt and anxiety, she's bolstered by the kindness and acceptance of her friends and new family. Brief interludes by those in Zenobia's orbit add perspective. An accessible and relatable story for anyone who is struggling to fit in.”–Publisher’s Weekly
The Pants Project by Cat Clarke
(Grades 4-6)
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Library Catalog

“A wonderfully sweet middle grade story with a satisfying ending. Liv is starting middle school, and he is nervous. Liv is transgender, but he hasn't told anyone, so everyone assumes he is a girl. He will be attending a new school in the fall, and the dress code states that all girls must wear skirts. Liv takes matters into his own hands and decides to challenge the school's dress code, and along the way he finds allies in unexpected places. Peppered with a diverse cast of characters, including Liv, who is bullied at school because he has two moms, and his best friend, Jacob, who walks with a cane, this is an ultimately upbeat story that celebrates differences. Liv's family members are very supportive, and their Italian heritage shines through in their everyday lives. The hopeful tone makes it easier for readers to grapple with the serious issues discussed, and the happy-ever-after ending will not fail to satisfy. VERDICT Give to fans of Tim Federle's Better Nate Than Ever and Alex Gino's George. A strong purchase, especially in light of the need for younger middle grade fiction featuring transgender characters.”–School Library Journal

Melissa: Previously Published As George by Alex Gino
(Grades 4-6)
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“Though others see her as male, 10-year-old George has long known that she is a girl, and she longs for people to see that truth, even while the idea terrifies her. When George’s fourth-grade class has tryouts for a school production of Charlotte’s Web, George desperately wants to play Charlotte, a character she adores. George’s teacher doesn’t allow George to audition for the part, but her supportive best friend Kelly, who is cast as Charlotte, comes up with a plan that may give George the chance she needs. The taunts of a school bully, George’s self-doubts, and her mother’s inability to truly hear what George is telling her carry real weight as debut author Gino’s simple, direct writing illuminates George’s struggles and quiet strength. George’s joy during stolen moments when she can be herself will resonate with anyone who has felt different, while providing a necessary window into the specific challenges of a child recognizing that they are transgender. Profound, moving, and—as Charlotte would say—radiant, this book will stay with anyone lucky enough to find it.” –Publisher’s Weekly

Calvin by JR Ford, Vanessa Ford & Kayla Harren
(Preschool-Grade 2)
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“For as long as I could remember, I knew I was a boy.” This opening line places a young child in the center of his story about gender identity and courage. Just before going on a family trip to visit his grandparents, the boy (who chooses not to share his name until the end of the story) faces his fears and his ‘what-ifs’ and tells his parents (his father is dark-skinned, and his mother appears white) that he is not a girl as they had thought since birth. The boy is affirmed and supported by all those who love him, and he has a wonderful summer making new friends and wearing the clothes in which he feels most comfortable. A new haircut helps him see himself more accurately, but the feeling of isolation and the ‘what ifs’ are front and center in his thoughts the night before the school year begins. With some deep breathing and his parents by his side, the boy goes to school only to find that he is accepted for who he is, that being Calvin is his truth, and that speaking that truth makes the ‘what-ifs’ melt away. The bright and engaging illustrations capture Calvin's emotional journey very effectively and feature a diverse community. The author's note is affirming and acknowledges the experiences of the authors who are parents of two children, one of whom identifies as transgender. This is an optimistic, almost idyllic, story of a young person being accepted for who they are and should be the experience that all children experience as they are discovering and sharing their truths. VERDICT Calvin is a hero for young people who need support in voicing their essential selves, and also for those children who need to see how easy it is to be an ally to others. This addition to the growing list of titles that feature transgender characters is most welcome!–School Library Journal

Growing Up Trans: In Our Own Words by Lindsay Herriot & Kate Fry
(Grades 6-8)
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“This book offers poems, essays, drawings, stories, and letters from 21 transgender Canadians aged 11 to 18 (plus one 74-year-old). They describe their experiences in terms of acceptance, their childhoods, families, schools, bodies, everyday life, and mental health. Each chapter asks readers questions that invite them to connect the material to their own lives. Further-reading lists conclude each chapter, with adult transgender-studies scholars advising readers on what they can do next. One particularly moving and powerful entry from an anonymous teen's letter discusses how trans individuals just want to be treated like people. In another poem, Owen Miller, 16, says, ‘When you speak with someone who thinks you're someone you're not / You begin to feel every word is a lie.’ The scrapbook-style layout, with its variety of fonts and colorful background graphics, is visually appealing. An afterword contains contributors' biographies, resources (mostly Canadian), and terms. Heartfelt and honest, this will be a valuable resource for trans readers hoping to see themselves and will help cis readers better understand their journeys.”–Booklist

I Am Jazz by Jazz Jennings, Jessica Herthel & Shelagh McNicholas
(Grades K-3)
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“An autobiographical picture book describes trans-youth activist Jazz Jennings' story of embracing and asserting her transgender identity.Both the title and the opening text proclaims, “I am Jazz!” The book goes on to detail Jazz's various interests and tastes, which follow traditionally feminine gender norms. But as Jazz goes on to explain, she has ‘a girl brain but a boy body. This is called transgender. I was born this way!’ Although the realistic watercolor illustrations consistently display only happy faces in these beginning pages, the text recounts her family's struggle to understand her early-childhood assertion of femininity: ‘At first my family was confused. They'd always thought of me as a boy.’ Jazz recalls her pain when compelled to wear ‘boy clothes’ in public. ‘Pretending I was a boy felt like telling a lie.’ Her parents' efforts to understand prompt them to meet with a doctor who introduces the word ‘transgender,’ which enables the family's powerful affirmation: ‘We understand now. Be who you are. We love you no matter what.’ The story balances this acceptance with honest acknowledgement of others' ongoing confusion and intermittent cruelty, and it briefly addresses Jazz's exclusion from girls' soccer in her state. Ultimately, Jazz's self-acceptance, bolstered by her family's support and advocacy, acts as a beacon for readers, trans- and cisgender alike. An empowering, timely story with the power to help readers proclaim, in the words of Jazz's parents, “We understand now.”–Kirkus Reviews

Too Bright to See by Kyle Lukoff
(Grades 4-6)
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Library Catalog
“In the wake of his uncle's death, a transgender boy on the cusp of middle school grapples with grief, friendship, and identity. Bug lives in a haunted house, but the ghosts of long ago never bothered him before this summer. Then Uncle Roderick, who was gay, passed away, and now the house feels different with just Bug and his mom left. Usually he would spend a month away at camp, the only place he feels connected to a group, but money is tight this year. When a ghost begins following Bug and his dreams turn to nightmares, he searches for answers about who is haunting him and why. As the ghostly mystery unfolds over the course of the summer, Bug struggles with new tension with his best friend, Moira, a girl whose interest in the duo's reinventing themselves in middle school feels overwhelming and full of expectations he doesn't know how to meet. This coming-of-age and coming-out story takes a needed departure from other stories about transgender youth by illuminating the perspective of a young person who does not initially know how to identify his discomfort. The narrative pushes against gendered stereotypes about interests like sports and makeup, challenging restricting ideas about gender and self-expression. A chilling, suspenseful ghost story balances the intimate, introspective narrative style. Most of the characters are White, including Bug, his family, and Moira. Haunting and healing.”–Kirkus Reviews
When Aidan Became a Brother by Kyle Lukoff & Kaylani Juanita
(Grades K-2)
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“A transgender boy anticipates his new job as a big brother by helping his parents prepare for his baby sibling's arrival. Aidan ‘felt trapped’ in his old name, clothes, and room before he told his parents ‘what he knew about himself.’ Some girls never wore dresses, ‘but Aidan didn't feel like any kind of girl’ because he was ‘another kind of boy.’ With his parents' support, he embraces his identity and takes on a new, important role, becoming a big brother. More than anything, he wants the baby to feel loved and understood. This picture book sets a new standard of excellence in transgender representation by centering the feelings of Aidan, a biracial (black and South Asian) transgender boy. Juanita's (Ta-Da!, 2018) digital illustrations have the look of ink and watercolor, and they bring the love in Aidan's family to life. Bright, mixed patterns in Aidan's clothes capture the vibrancy of his personality and his excitement to welcome a baby into the family. Lukoff (A Storytelling of Ravens, 2018) breaks away from binary language and stereotypical gender roles, highlighting within the text and in an author's note that there is more than one way to be a person of any gender. The hopeful message at the end emphasizes love and the importance of staying open to learning. Joyful and affirming, Aidan's story is the first of its kind among books for welcoming a new baby.”–Kirkus Reviews

Being You: A First Conversation About Gender by Megan Madison, Jessica Ralli & Anne/Andy Passchier
(Preschool-Grade 2)
Libby
Library Catalog
“This primer on gender lays the groundwork for affirming conversations and creates opportunities for self-identification. In straightforward, encouraging prose, Madison and Ralli guide readers through a gentle and interactive introduction to gender, sex, self-expression, and feminism. Beginning with a concrete foundation of commonality (everyone has a body), the lesson continues naturally into specific body parts (elbows, noses, vaginas, penises–the latter two not depicted), all the while normalizing that ‘every person's body parts look different.’ With that understanding, the narrator transitions into the way grown-ups describe babies as boys or girls when they are born, based on genitalia; here there's a refreshing (but brief) acknowledgement that sometimes grown-ups aren't sure but make a guess anyway. Emphasizing joy, wonder, the fluidity of identity, and self-expertise, the text carefully distinguishes gender from expression, which leads seamlessly into a developmentally conscious explanation of harmful stereotypes, unfair rules that give boys unearned power, and ultimately a call to action. Prompting questions invite the audience to deepen the facilitated conversation through moments of self-love, reflection, and sharing personal truths. Accompanying illustrations feature a racially diverse cohort of children learning about themselves, playing with one another, and engaging with their community, which includes recurring representations of disabled people as active participants. The final pages, targeted at caregivers, provide additional means of engaging with the conversation and pointedly challenge adults not to underestimate young people. An invaluable resource that supports ease and confidence.”–Kirkus Reviews
My Rainbow by Trinity Neal, DeShanna Neal & Art Twink
(Preschool-Grade 2)
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Library Catalog

“A loving mother helps her daughter express herself and feel like a rainbow. Trinity, an autistic, Black, transgender girl wishes she had long hair. But growing it out is a struggle because she hates hair touching her neck. Seeing her daughter's sadness, Trinity's mom, a Black cisgender woman with natural hair cropped close, listens to Trinity's concerns. At first, she tries to reassure Trinity that girls can wear their hair short, but Trinity still doesn't feel happy. Honoring the truth that Trinity knows herself best, Trinity's mom puts her love and devotion into creating a curly, teal, pink, and purple wig for Trinity, with some help from Trinity's older sibling. Richly colored and invitingly detailed full-spread illustrations that complement the story's title and theme accompany the text. The narrative centers a Black family whose members are depicted in the illustrations with skin that is a range of rich browns. In the midst of Trinity's struggle with her gender expression, her mom models listening and affirmation. She acknowledges that her own experiences with societal expectations of gender expression as a cisgender woman are different from Trinity's. Even as the story shifts to show Trinity's cisgender mother's perspective, Trinity's feelings remain the focus and her happiness the motivation. Apart from the use of person-first language (‘kids with autism’) instead of identity-first language, Neal and Neal emphasize that all aspects of Trinity's identity deserve celebration and make her a masterpiece.” –Kirkus Reviews

Born Ready: The True Story of a Boy Named Penelope by Jodie Patterson & Charnelle Pinkney Barlow
(Grades K-3)
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Library Catalog

“A Black transgender boy shares his identity and competes in a karate tournament with the encouragement of his family in this picture-book biography. Penelope knows who he is and what he likes even if his family is too busy to notice him. He stomps through the house, cuts in line, and pounds his fists so they will hear, see, and feel his anger that everyone thinks he's a girl. When his mom stops to listen, he tells her about his gender and helps her understand that he doesn't just feel like a boy, he is one. With his family's support behind him and the strength of his own determination to never give up, Penelope comes out at school and faces a new challenge: competing in a karate tournament. First-person narration centers Penelope's feelings and perspective in every stage of his story. Warmth and pride in identity radiate from the pages, brightened by the expressive, lively illustrations. The adults in Penelope's life model care by encouraging him to speak for himself and listening to him when he does. One thing he speaks up about is that he likes his name: Penelope. Perseverance also stands out as a significant theme within the narrative, with emphasis placed on Penelope's diligent practice and refusal to quit leading up to his victory. This representation of a Black family and transgender child (author Patterson is Penelope's mother) shines with joy and affirmation. (Since the creation of this book, the author's son has changed his name to Penel.)” –Kirkus Reviews

Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky & Emily Beresford
(Grades 4-6)
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“In this sweet and thoughtful debut, an introverted sixth grader begins to come into her own as a transgender girl. Grayson was orphaned in preschool and lives with her aunt and uncle in Chicago. She's becoming more and more aware of a nagging feeling that she should be living as a girl, despite being male-assigned, and on a daring whim decides to audition for the part of Persephone in the school play. She has a supportive teacher and a new friend, but also has to contend with school bullies and disapproving adults. The writing is clear and effortless, with a straightforward plot and likable characters. Grayson is a charming narrator who balances uncertainty with clarity, bravery with anxiety. This title has less obvious and didactic intent than other novels featuring transgender protagonists. A welcome addition to a burgeoning genre.” – School Library Journal

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