21 Transgender Books To Help You Raise Tolerant, Sensitive Kids

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It's never too early to learn.

Bad news: The so-called president of the United States just rescinded the Obama administration’s federal guidelines for schools to allow kids to use the public bathrooms that match their gender identity, arguing unconvincingly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 — not a civil rights — issue.

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

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.

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!)

All are well reviewed, many are award winners, a few are bestsellers, and (surprise, surprise) two made the 2015 list of most challenged books.

We’ve put them in order of age appropriateness:

“What Makes a Baby” (2013)

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

“I Am Jazz” (2014)

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”)

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

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

“George” (2015)

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

“Gracefully Grayson” (2014)

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

“Parrotfish” (2014)

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<

“Freakboy” (2013)

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

“Every Day” (2013)

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?”

“Happy Families” (2013)

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

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

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

“Beautiful Music for Ugly Children” (2012)

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

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

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)

“Tomboy: A Graphic Memoir” (2014)

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

“The Gender Quest Workbook” (2015)

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

“I Am J” (2015)

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

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

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

“Luna” (2006)

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

“Almost Perfect” (2010)

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

“Alex As Well” (2016)

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

“Being Emily” (2012)

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

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

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

 

This article was originally published at Em & Lo. Reprinted with permission from the author.

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