6/18/18
The Best Transgender Books for Kids

The bad news: Trump’s list of discriminatory actions against the transgender community so far is too long to list in this post. Him rescinding the Obama administration’s federal guidelines for schools to allow kids to use the public bathrooms that match their gender identity — arguing unconvincingly that this is a states’ rights and not a civil rights issue — is just the tip of the iceberg! (See the full, depressing, rage-inducing list here.)

Both Obama’s roll-out and Trump’s rescinding were largely symbolic, but the former set a tone of progressive inclusiveness while the other currently sets a tone of federally-sanctioned discrimination. In other words, for every one step forward, Trump is determined to take us twenty-two steps back.

The good news: A study published in Pediatrics has shown that families who support their child’s decision to live as a gender different from their birth sex are no more or less depressed than the national average.  And a meta-analysis of 28 studies showed that trans individuals who receive treatments (such as puberty-delaying drugs, cross-hormonal therapies, and sex-re-assignment surgery — all proven to be safe) are psychologically better off.

So whether you’ve got a child questioning their gender identity, know a kid who is, or just want to help raise tolerant, sensitive citizens, here’s a comprehensive list of great books for kids — novels, picture books, workbooks, memoirs and profiles — that deal with transgender and intersex issues, gender non-conformity, and sexual orientation as it relates to trans people. (There are so many good ones, especially in the last few years, that we couldn’t narrow it down any further. In fact, we’ve added even more recently!) All are well reviewed, many are award winners, a few are bestsellers, and (surprise, surprise) several have made the top 10 list of most challenged books in the past several years. We’ve put them in order of age appropriateness:

 

1. “What Makes a Baby” (2013)

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Author: Cory Silverberg
For Ages: PreK – 8yo
Type: Picture book
Summary: Super fun, illustrated guide for little kids from ALL kinds of families about “where babies come from” that is incredibly inclusive and avoids language based on stereotypical gender binaries.
Praise: “Cory is a Dr. Spock for the 21st century.” –Susie Bright

 

2. “From the Stars in the Sky to the Fish in the Sea” (2018)



Author:
Kai Cheng Thom
For Ages: 3-8
Type: Picture Book
Summary: In this captivating, beautifully imagined picture book about gender, identity, and the acceptance of the differences between us, Miu Lan faces many questions about who they are and who they may be (note the use of “they”). But one thing’s for sure: no matter what this child becomes, their mother will love them just the same.
Praise: This book’s themes can resonate with any child who feels excluded (or excludes others) and can also open up conversations about nonbinary gender identities. A relevant tale of love and acceptance that can find a home in any children’s collection. —Kirkus Reviews

 

3. “Julián Is a Mermaid” (2018)

Author: Jessica Love
For Ages: preschool+
Type: Picture Book
Summary: In this beautifully done author-illustrator debut, a glimpse of costumed mermaids leaves one boy flooded with wonder and ready to dazzle the world. But will his abuela understand?
Praise: “There is nothing about this book that is forgettable. In fact, you may have a hard time not thinking long and hard about it after you put it down. A book for mermaids and boys and girls and parents and teachers and booksellers and librarians and . . . Let’s just simplify things and say it’s a book for the human race.” – Betsy Bird, Children’s book author and Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library

 

4. “I Am Jazz” (2014)

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Author: Jessica Herthel & Jazz Jennings
For Ages: 4 – 8yo
Type: Picture book
Summary: Illustrated story of a transgender child based on the real-life experience of Jazz Jennings, who always knew she had a girl’s brain in a boy’s body. One small drawback: female identity is tied to princesses, pink and mermaids. One big badge of honor: it made the list of most challenged books last year.
Praise: “I wish I had had a book like this when I was a kid struggling with gender identity questions. I found it deeply moving in its simplicity and honesty.” –Laverne Cox (Sophia in “Orange Is the New Black”)

 

5. Red: A Crayon’s Story (2018)

Author:  Michael Hall
For Ages: 4-8
Type: Picture Book
Summary: In this funny, heartwarming and subtle tale, a blue crayon mistakenly labeled as “red” suffers an identity crisis.
Praise: “[A] fresh approach to colors and feelings. . . . Readers will share all the emotional elements of the tale—humor, despair, sadness, frustration, and finally, excitement.” (Booklist, starred review)

 

6. “The Boy and the Bindi” (2016)

Author: Vivek Shraya
For Ages: 4-8 years old
Type: Picture Book
Summary: A five-year-old South Asian boy becomes fascinated with his mother’s bindi, the red dot commonly worn by Hindu women to indicate the point at which creation begins, and wishes to have one of his own. Rather than chastise her son, she agrees to it, and teaches him about its cultural significance, allowing the boy to discover the magic of the bindi, which in turn gives him permission to be more fully himself.
Praise: “The author, a transgender woman, deftly explores difference and self-acceptance, the subversion of gender expectations, and the power of ‘making sure I don’t hide/Everything I am inside.'” —Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon, Washington, DC

 

7. “Sex Is a Funny Word: A Book About Bodies, Feelings and YOU” (2015)

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Author: Cory Silverberg
For Ages: 
7 – 10yo
Type: Sex ed picture book
Summary: The second in Silverberg’s guides for kids (see #1; can’t wait for the teen one!) which deals with gender and sexual identity throughout in incredibly smart and sensitive ways. Same fabulous illustrator from “What Makes a Baby.”
Praise:
 “Emphasizing the importance of trust, respect, justice, and joy—as well as open communication — it’s a thoughtful and affirming exploration of relationships, gender identity, and growing sexual awareness.” –Publishers Weekly, starred review

 

8. “George” (2015)

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Author: Alex Gino
For Ages:
 9yo+
Type: Novel
Summary: Everyone thinks George is a boy, but she knows better. When her middle-grade teacher says she can’t try out for the part of Charlotte in the school play “because you’re a boy,” George and her friend come up with a plan so she can finally be who she wants to be.
Praise:
 “…deeply moving in its simplicity and joy. Warm, funny, and inspiring.” — Kirkus Reviews, starred review

 

9. Lily and Dunkin (2018)


Author:  Donna Gephart
For Ages: 10+
Type: Middle Grade Novel
Summary: A compelling dual narrative about two remarkable young people: Lily, a transgender girl, and Dunkin, a boy dealing with bipolar disorder.
Praise:  2017 Southern Book Award Winner—Juvenile Category; NPR’s Best Kids’ Books of 2016; Chicago Public Library Best Fiction for Older Readers 2016; New York Public Library Best Books for Kids 2016; Amazon’s Top 20 Children’s Books of 2016; Top 10 Audiobooks of 2016, School Library Journal; Goodreads Choice Awards 2016 — Best Middle Grade & Children’s; 2016 Rainbow Awards — Best Transgender Book

10. “Gracefully Grayson” (2014)

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Author: Ami Polonsky
For Ages: 
11yo+
Type: Novel
Summary: Grayson’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.
Praise: 
“Thank you, Ami Polonsky, for creating this memorable character who will open hearts and minds and very possibly be the miracle that changes lives.” –James Howe, award-winning and best-selling author of The Misfits

 

11. “Parrotfish” (2014)

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Author: Ellen Wittlinger
For Ages: 12yo+
Type: 
Novel
Summary: 
Angela Katz-McNair never felt quite right as a girl. So she cuts her hair short, purchases some men’s clothes and chooses a new name: Grady. While coming out as transgender feels right to Grady, he isn’t prepared for the reactions of his friends and family. Fortunately he finds some kindred spirits (one of whom teaches him there’s a precedent for transgenderism in the natural world).
Praise: “Grady eventually decides that he will always straddle the 50 yard line of gender, and the book should help teens be comfortable with their own place on that football field.” — School Library Journal

 

12. “Freakboy” (2013)

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Author: Kristin Elizabeth Clark
For Ages: 12yo+
Type: Novel
Summary: Brendan Chase is a star wrestler, a video game aficionado, and a loving boyfriend to his seemingly perfect match, Vanessa. But on the inside, Brendan struggles to understand why his body feels so wrong — why he sometimes fantasizes having long hair, soft skin, and gentle curves. The novel folds 3 narratives with 3 different perspectives presented in 3 different fonts into one cohesive story written in verse.
Praise: “*This gutsy, tripartite poem explores a wider variety of identities–cis-, trans-, genderqueer–than a simple transgender storyline, making it stand out.” –Kirkus Review, starred review

 

13. “Every Day” (2013)

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Author: David Levithan
For Ages: 12yo+
Type: Novel
Summary: A love story written by the author of Nick & Nora’s Infinite Playlist about A, a teen who wakes up every morning in a different body, living a different life.
Praise: “Amazon Best Books of the Month, September 2012: Every Day is technically for young adults, but the premise of this unusual book goes much deeper. It asks a question that will resonate with the young and old alike: Can you truly love someone regardless of what they look like on the outside?”

 

14. “Happy Families” (2013)

happyfamilies

Author: Tanita S. Davis
For Ages: 12yo+
Type: Novel
Summary: The life of teen twins is turned upside down when their father starts living as a female.
Praise: “The story’s focus on an African-American family makes it particularly notable in LGBTQ-themed teen literature. Warmly drawn; a valuable conversation-starter for families like Ysabel and Justin’s.” –Kirkus Review

 

15. “Rethinking Normal: A Memoir in Transition” (2015)

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Author: Katie Rain Hill
For Ages: 13yo+
Type: Memoir
Summary: Nineteen-year-old Katie Rain Hill shares her personal journey of undergoing gender reassignment. The book now includes a reading group guide.
Praise: “Will both educate cisgender readers and strike sparks of recognition in those questioning their own gender identities.” –Kirkus Reviews

 

16. “Beautiful Music for Ugly Children” (2012)

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Author: Kristin Cronn-Mills
For Ages: 13yo+
Type:  Novel
Summary: “This is Beautiful Music for Ugly Children, on community radio 90.3, KZUK. I’m Gabe. Welcome to my show….I’m like a record. Elizabeth is my A side, the song everybody knows, and Gabe is my B side―not heard as often, but just as good. It’s time to let my B side play.”
Praise:Winner of the 2014 Stonewall Book Award for Children’s and Young Adult Literature

 

17. “Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out” (2015)

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Author: Susan Kuklin
For Ages: 13yo+
Type: Nonfiction profiles
Summary: Having met and interviewed six transgender or gender-neutral young adults, Kuklin presents them here before, during, and after their personal acknowledgment of gender preference via portraits, family photographs, and candid images.
Praise: A 2015 Stonewall Honor Book (also on the list of most challenged books of 2015)

 

18. “Tomboy: A Graphic Memoir” (2014)

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Author: Liz Prince
For Ages: 14yo+
Type: Graphic novel
Summary: A graphic novel about refusing restrictive gender “norms” (and even sometimes inadvertently embracing gender stereotypes). Life lesson: there’s no one right way to be a girl.
Praise: Kirkus Reviews Best Books of 2014 list, Texas Library Association (TLA) Maverick Graphic Novels List 2015, YALSA Great Graphic Novels for Teens 2015 nomination, Amelia Bloomer Project 2015 nomination, YALSA Quick Picks 2015 nomination, Cybils Awards 2014 nomination, Teen Choice Book of the Year Awards nomination, Broken Frontier Awards nomination

 

19. “The Gender Quest Workbook” (2015)

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Author: Multiple authors
For Ages: 14yo+
Type: Workbook
Summary: A comprehensive workbook that incorporates skills, exercises, and activities from evidence-based therapies—such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)—to help transgender and gender nonconforming (TGNC) teens explore and navigate their gender identity and expression at home, in school, and with peers.
Praise: “This workbook is an important resource for the transgender community. I wish I’d had something like it when I was coming out to myself.” — Greta Gustava Martela, cofounder and executive director of Trans Lifeline, the first national crisis line for transgender people

 

20. “I Am J” (2015)

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Author: Cris Beam
For Ages: 14yo+
Type: Novel
Summary: Sick of hiding the body that’s betraying him under baggy clothes, J runs away, begins attending a school for gay and transgender teens, and ultimately decides to take testosterone, all while navigating family, friendships and young love.
Praise: An ALA Best Fiction for Young Adults Title, a California State Recommended Literature List Pick, an Amazon Best Book of the Month Pick, a Kirkus Reviews Best YA Book of the Year

 

21. “Some Assembly Required: The Not-So Secret Life of a Transgender Teen” (2015)

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Author: Arin Andrews
For Ages: 14yo+
Type: Memoir
Summary: Seventeen-year-old Arin Andrews Arin reveals the challenges he faced as a boy in a girl’s body, the humiliation and anger he felt after getting kicked out of his private school, and all the changes—both mental and physical—he experienced once his transition began. Now with a reading group guide and an all-new afterword from the author.
Praise: “This is a brave book that handles complicated and sensitive topics honestly and, at times, with humor.” –Publishers Weekly

 

22. “Luna” (2006)

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Author: Julie Anne Peters
For Ages: 14yo+
Type: Novel
Summary:  Regan helps her brother Liam with his secret, supplying clothes and makeup and cover — that is, until her sibling decides to go public as Luna, which threatens Regan’s own social standing.
Praise: National Book Award Finalist, an ALA Best Book for Young Adults, a Stonewall Honor Book, a Lambda Literary Award Finalist, a Book Sense Summer Reading Book for Teens

 

23. “Almost Perfect” (2010)

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Author: Brian Katcher
For Ages: 14yo+
Type: Novel
Summary: Boy kisses girl, girl admits she was born a boy, boy dumps girl, boy grows to accept girl for who she truly is.
Praise: Winner of the Stonewall Children’s & Young Adult Literature Award

 

24. “Alex As Well” (2016)

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Author: Alyssa Brugman
For Ages: 15yo+
Type: Novel
Summary: An intersex kid forges a path between two genders to find their true self.
Praise: “Readers of authors such as John Green will devour this novel.” –Junior Bookseller & Publisher

 

25. “Being Emily” (2012)

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Author: Rachel Gold
For Ages: YA
Type: Novel
Summary: When Christopher tries to be Emily, her parents don’t understand, her therapist insists Christopher is normal and Emily is sick, and her girlfriend lectures her about how God doesn’t make that kind of mistake. But there’s still hope!
Praise: Winner 2013 Golden Crown Literary Award in Dramatic / General Fiction, Winner 2013 Moonbeam Children’s Book Award in Young Adult Fiction (Mature Issues), Finalist 2013 Lambda Literary Award

 

26. “Becoming Nicole: The Transformation of an American Family” (2015)

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Author: Amy Ellis Nutt
For Ages: Adult nonfiction (but appropriate for older teens)
Summary: With access to personal diaries, home videos, clinical journals, legal documents, and medical records, the author spent almost four years with this traditional family of adopted twin boys, one of whom transitions from Wyatt to Nicole.
Praise: New York Times Bestseller, a New York Times Notable Book, named one of the Ten Best Books of the Year by People and one of the Best Books of the Year by Men’s Journal, a Stonewall Honor Book in Nonfiction, and a Finalist for the Lambda Literary Award for Transgender Nonfiction

From books for kids to cinema for adults:
The Top 10 Transgender Films

This post has been updated.



3 Comments

  1. Alright… I’m all for teaching kids tolerance and respect. I myself treat transgendered people the same way I’d treat anyone else, and in the same way I’d want to be treated. Now here’s how this went way too far and got Trump elected:

    1. This article starts off by saying that it’s a bad thing kids can’t choose their bathrooms in schools anymore.

    2. But study #2 on that list confirms that most kids who express gender dysmorphia will grow into cisgender adults – in other words, 80% of kids who express some degree of gender dysmorphia are indeed “going through a phase.”

    3. Study #4 on that list then suggests that trans kids benefit from POWERFUL DRUG COCKTAILS!? WTF!!!

    So let me get this straight – a gender-dysmorphia-expressing boy who has an 80% chance of turning out cisgender anyway not only has has a legal right to barge in on my daughter in the girls’ bathroom regardless of HER comfort, but should also be subjected to a barrage of caustic hormonal therapies with who-knows-what long term effects?

    I read no further than point 4. That’s just plain nuts, and it’s the sort of thing that pushed the American right over the edge. This is what they were talking about when they said that the liberal agenda was being forced down their throats. They may be idiots and assholes for voting Trump into office, but we on the left sure did drive them straight into his arms with this sort of thing.

    When your ten year old says he might feel like he’s a girl, you say, “alright, well, let’s see how this plays out. In the meantime, keep using the boys room. If you still feel this way in your late teens we’ll act on it.” Because according to a study from an article intended to SUPPORT trans rights, there’s an 80% chance this will all blow over anyway! As an adult parent you don’t just play along with everything your adolescent decides. For the same reasons you don’t let your middle-school kid get a tattoo, you don’t let them take drugs intended to impact their biological gender development. For better reasons, actually. Tattoos are superficial.

    I say this as a committed American leftist, and a supporter of trans rights, and a friend to trans individuals, and a member of the school community: if you thought you could bring this battle into the hallways of America’s public school without vehement political backlash, well, welcome to the Trump presidency. Enjoy. We practically bussed them to the polls, while alienating the moderate leftists who stayed home on election day. An election year is not the time to bring a controversial ideological battle into childrens’ bathrooms god damn it. My greatest bitterness with Trump’s victory is the knowledge that the American left did everything we could to hand it to him.

    1. There’s a HUGE difference between any expression of gender non-conformity and a kid born with male genitalia who’s said they’re a girl consistently, continually and with confidence from an early age (like preschool) — not “I feel like a girl” but “I AM a girl.” For those kids — who are indeed rare — puberty is the worst thing that could happen to them: it blows up the secondary sex characteristics that are antithetical to their very core and the onset and conclusion of puberty makes gender affirmation surgery that much more difficult later in life. Should any and every kid who plays around with gender in middle school be put on puberty-blockers? No, of course not! But for those kids who have known who they are since forever, puberty-blockers are life savers. And most sane parents — esp those not on the right, not blinded by religion — would know the difference.

  2. Awesome list. I read I Am Jazz to my kids– I’d recommend it to anyone trying to explain these things to younger kids.

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