The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang (9781626723634)
Released February 13, 2018.
While Prince Sebastian’s parents are busily searching for a bride from him, he is hiding a secret from everyone. He hires a dressmaker, Frances, to make his wardrobe for him, including dresses that are stunning creations. They allow him to become Lady Crystallia, who soon becomes a Paris fashion icon herself. As Frances gains fame as the Crystallia’s dressmaker, Sebastian’s secret becomes much harder to hide and soon the two have to choose between keeping the secret and allowing Frances to follow her dreams.
This graphic novel by Wang, who did In Real Life with Cory Doctorow, has created a graphic novel that embraces people exploring their gender identity while also incorporating a beautiful romantic nature to the entire book. Throughout there is a feeling of connection between Frances and Sebastian, one that goes beyond fashion. The fashion adds a layer of self expression for both of them, of triumph and discovery as well.
Wang’s art captures Paris at the dawn of the modern age. Filled with gowns, horse-drawn carriages and grandeur. It also has a humor in it, one that allows readers to chuckle at absurd situations and one that creates truly human characters for readers to connect with deeply.
Beautiful, layered and modern, this graphic novel embraces gender identity and gorgeous dresses. Appropriate for ages 12-15.
Reviewed from copy provided by First Second.
Big Bob, Little Bob by James Howe, illustrated by Laura Ellen Anderson (InfoSoup)
When Big Bob moves in next door, Little Bob’s mother is happy that he will have a friend so close by. But the two boys are very different in more than just their size. Big Bob likes to roughhouse, play sports, and zoom trucks around. Little Bob likes to spend time quietly reading, play with dolls, and sometimes wears girl clothes. Big Bob teases him for a lot of these things until a new girl moves into the neighborhood and tells Little Bob that boys don’t play with dolls. Big Bob stands up to her and soon the three of them are playing in whatever way they like best, because both girls and boys can play with whatever they choose.
While the message here can get a little heavy handed at the end, this is an important book. It shows that gender norms are a spectrum, that boys who play with dolls don’t have to be given any additional labels unless they identify in a different way. It also embraces that girls too sometimes prefer playing games or choosing toys that are traditionally masculine. There is a broad acceptance here with children being given the space and time to realize that they were viewing the world through a limiting lens.
Anderson’s illustrations are playful and bright. The neighborhood is quirky and welcoming with plenty of place to play separately and together. The use of wild colors adds to the appeal with trees of tangerine and lemon/lime and garlands of flowers and hearts dangling from them.
A book about accepting differences, learning to get along and finding new friends, this picture book is strong pick for library collections. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
I’m a Girl by Yasmeen Ismail (InfoSoup)
A little girl donkey keeps on getting mistaken for a boy. She knows that others think that she should be nice, but she’s “sweet and sour, not a little flower.” She rides really fast on her scooter too and people think she’s a boy as she zooms past them. She takes off her clothes down to her underwear to jump in the pool too. After each time she is mistaken for a boy, she insists over and over again that she is a girl! In the end she meets a boy who is mistaken for being a girl and the two of them rejoice in dressing and being exactly who they are.
This is a lovely and very accessible look at gender stereotypes and the children who act as themselves and against societal expectations. I appreciate the book going beyond external trappings and looking at behavior and what a child finds fun. So girls can be noisy, messy, fast and exciting. This book can be used just as a dynamic picture book about gender but it could also be used in a classroom to discuss differences and similarities and why it is good to be yourself.
The illustrations are done in watercolor that is vibrant and bright. The little blue donkey dances across the page moving at breakneck speed and clearly have a great time. The use of her beaded necklace shows the speed that she is going at and also shows that she does have some more feminine aspects to her dress as well. It’s a subtle way to speak to the mix of feminine and masculine traits that we all have.
A radiant picture book about breaking gender stereotypes, this book introduces a jolly female protagonist. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from ARC received from Bloomsbury.
Introducing Teddy by Jessica Walton, illustrated by Dougal MacPherson
Starting as a Kickstarter project, this picture book features Thomas the teddy and Errol who are best friends. They do everything together, riding bikes, playing in the garden, and eating in the tree house. But one day, Thomas doesn’t feel like playing. Even a visit to the park won’t cheer him up. When Errol asks what is wrong, Teddy says that he is worried that if he tells Errol that Errol won’t want to be his friend any more. After Errol reassures him, Teddy admits that he has always felt in his heart that he is a girl teddy, not a boy teddy. When the two meet Ava, she demonstrates that girls can be anything they want, including inventing robots and wearing their hair without a bow. It’s a gentle look at gender identity.
This is Walton’s first picture book and it is inspired by her father’s transition from male to female. In the picture book, she makes sure to keep everything at a level that small children can understand. It’s a book that speaks to gender and will also work for children who may not be transgender but feel that they don’t fit into the limits that society puts them into. It’s a book that celebrates being who you are and not being afraid to tell others what is in your heart.
MacPherson’s illustrations have a whimsical quality to them, filled with a zingy energy. The use of a bow to demonstrate gender works very nicely and subtly. The introduction of a girl character who is a lovely mix of long hair and skirts and then science and freedom makes for an excellent counterpoint to the bow and bow tie.
A strong addition to picture book about gender identity, this is a gentle way to speak about the issue with children. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from ARC received from Bloomsbury.
Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin (InfoSoup)
Riley carefully chooses the right clothes for the first day of public school, probably more carefully than another other teen ever has. Riley’s clothes need to blend in, but Riley has never been good at that, particularly with having a congressman for a father but even more so because being gender fluid makes dressing all the more complicated. When a therapist tells Riley to start a blog and find a cause, Riley starts to write online about what it is really like to be a gender fluid teen. At school, Riley is starting to fit in with new friends and what could be a budding romance if Riley is reading the signs right. But then advice Riley has given to a transgender teen online takes makes the blog go viral and the issue gets national attention. Soon Riley realizes there is a local stalker reading the blog, threatening to reveal Riley’s identity to everyone.
Garvin has managed to write an entire novel without letting readers know the gender that Riley was assigned at birth. It’s a tremendous feat, made all the more amazing because readers will not notice what he is doing. A large part of that is because Riley is an incredibly engaging and extraordinary character, filled with angst about gender but also longing for friends and even a dash of romance. Riley is a blaze of light as a character, burning so brightly on the page that is impossible to look away. This is a book that you read in one long gulp, caught in the world the author has created so vividly. It is a book that dances with disaster, offering a protagonist who is smart, courageous and simply superb.
Garvin deals with a series of serious issues in this novel. He does not shy away from any of it, which makes the book all the more raw and engaging. He shows exactly what being androgynous is like, the bullying and speculation about a person’s gender. He speaks to the tragedy of suicide in the trans population, the hatred that is directed their way, the lack of understanding and even violence by parents. He turns his attention to sexual attacks as well, creating a book that is riveting to read but also very important to have on library shelves.
An impressive, important and glorious teen novel about one gender fluid teen who will let you understand what being gender fluid is about and the courage it takes to be yourself every day. Appropriate for ages 14-18.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Balzer + Bray and Edelweiss.
George by Alex Gino
Released August 25, 2015.
George was born with the body of a boy but knows that she is really a girl. Her fourth grade classroom is doing a production of Charlotte’s Web and George wants to be Charlotte more than anything. But when she tries out for Charlotte instead of a boy’s part, George’s teacher stops her. George is offered the role of Wilbur, but that is not the character she wants to be since she’s not a boy! As George struggles with the bullies in her class, she also finds allies who embrace her gender. Once her best friend knows about her being transgender, she and George come up with a plan that will let George appear on stage as Charlotte after all. It will also let everyone know exactly who she is.
This book is so crucial. As the mother of a transgender teen, I know that she considered herself a girl from a very young age. Books like this will help young transgender children start to figure out what they are feeling inside and realize that they are not alone. The book focuses on a fourth grader, but trans children of all elementary ages will love this look at their struggles. I also must admit that I cried on page one. Gino does something I have not seen in other books about trans kids. He uses George’s given name combined with the gender pronouns she identifies with. That alone is so powerful and so important and so poignant. Another important moment comes later in the book when George’s best friend is helping her dress as a girl for the first time in public. Gino changes George’s name to her chosen female one once that happens. Another subtle but powerful statement about identity.
George herself is a beautiful protagonist. She represents so much of the struggle of trans kids and yet her own youth doesn’t get lost in the message. George is resilient, funny, and strong. I love the process of George’s mother in coming to terms with her daughter being transgender. It is so real, the denial, the rejection, and eventually the acceptance and importantly, looking for additional help. I also appreciated the school principal being the one who understands trans issues and offers a haven for George in the future. Another important piece in supporting trans kids in our communities.
Important and life-saving for some children, this book demonstrates the acceptance that trans kids need and the power of family and friendship. Appropriate for ages 8-11.
Reviewed from ARC received from Scholastic Press.
Of Course They Do!: Boys and Girls Can Do Anything by Marie-Sabine Roger and Anne Sol
This very simple book filled with crisp photographs takes on gender stereotypes and proves them quickly wrong. The book starts with things that boys don’t do, like “Boys don’t cook.” Turn the page and the counter to the stereotype is given with a photograph of a chef and the words “Are you sure?” The book then moves on to stereotypes about girls, like them not playing sports.
The format is engaging and fresh. Having the more traditional gender role on one page and then the correction on next works particularly well, since it gives children a chance to realize that they themselves may think some of these things. I also like that the format asks questions on the pages where the stereotype is being disputed. This too lets children have the ability to change their mind rather than be defensive about what they had been thinking.
The illustrations are all photographs and are bright and clear. Many of them are close ups of faces that prove the point that girls and boys can do so many things. Throughout the book there is clear diversity as well.
Clear and intelligently designed, this book will be welcome for units about gender. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
Jacob’s New Dress by Sarah and Ian Hoffman, illustrated by Chris Case
At school, Jacob loves to dress up as the princess during play time. Christopher though doesn’t approve of Jacob wearing girl clothes even to pretend. Jacob’s teacher steps in and explains that you can imagine being anything you like. At home, Jacob tells his mother about what Christopher said and she says that he is welcome to get out the dress he wore for Halloween and play in that. Jacob loves the witch dress and wants to wear it to school, but Jacob’s mother doesn’t think that’s a good idea. So Jacob creates his own dress from a towel that he wears to school, but Christopher pulls it off at recess and teases Jacob about wearing it. Back at home, Jacob asks his mother to make him a real dress to wear. She is reluctant, but agrees, and then Jacob has a new dress that is all his own to wear whenever he wants.
The authors take the issue of gender variance head on in this picture book, keeping it firmly at a level that children will understand. The focus is on Jacob’s desire to wear a dress, not the complexities of what that may mean to label him in any way. That makes this a book that is about inclusiveness and bullying as well as addressing the need for children who have gender differences to see themselves in a book.
I also appreciate the way the authors included not just Jacob’s emotions about asking for a dress from his mother, but also her own complex reaction to it. While the entire exchange was positive and supportive, the pauses placed in the text spoke volumes about the emotions happening at the same time.
Case’s art is colorful and cute. The characters clearly show their emotions on their faces. The various dresses that Jacob wears are cleverly depicted. The lace on his final dress is clear but so are the dirty spots from playing in it.
An important book for libraries to have, this book will speak to children exploring their own gender roles and would make a great addition to diversity units. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
Freakboy by Kristin Elizabeth Clark
On the surface, Brendan has it all together. He has a hot girlfriend, he wrestles on the high school team, and he has a great younger sister who adores him. It is under the surface that Brendan struggles, because he feels like a boy inside sometimes and other times like his entire body is wrong and that he is a girl. As Brendan’s life spirals, he meets Angel, a transgendered teen who now lives as a girl. The two bond over video game playing, carefully stepping around the larger issues for a long time. But Brendan’s spiral turns darker and more destructive and having one understanding friend may not be enough to save him from himself and his despair.
Told entirely in verse, this book captures the world of a teen experiencing a different gender than the one he was born with. The story is told in three voices: Brendan, his girlfriend Vanessa, and Angel. In this way, readers get to see not only Brendan’s personal story and evolution, but also the way that it impacts people he loves. Angel serves as a vision of a possible future that is positive and yet complicated.
Clark doesn’t shy away from anything in this book. Sex and sexuality are discussed frankly and with beautiful details that add radiance and wonder. She also does not make things easy. Gender is shown in all of its complexity and as a full spectrum. One brilliant character is Vanessa, a girl who is a high school wrestler but also one that is flirtatious and womanly. Readers may not realize it at first, because Clark handles it gently, but Vanessa speaks to her own form of gender expression.
A powerful blazing novel that gives insight into teens struggling with gender variance and also offers a book where those teens can see themselves and a way forward. Appropriate for ages 14-18.
Reviewed from copy received from Farrar, Straus and Giroux.