Thanks to the internet, television and books, there is a greater opportunity to learn more about subjects like gender identity issues in children. Many picture books are available for children 4-8 years old including Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress, Princess Boy, Jacob’s New Dress and I Am Jazz. There is also a TV show about transgender teen Jazz Jennings. Plus numerous middle grade novels for 8-12 year-olds, and young adult novels for 12 and older.
I finally had an opportunity to read a middle grade novel that has been on my TBR (to be read) pile for awhile now. Not every parent will want their child reading this or any book about gender identity issues. But for those who are open to it, I feel that the story is appropriate for the 8-12 year-old range. And beyond the subject itself, it shows characters that are empathetic, non-judgmental and caring. I really loved George by Alex Gino and it will go on my list of unforgettable books. George is a girl with a pretty big, stressful secret. The world sees her as a boy. George and the story’s narrator refer to her as a girl and so I found it easy to quickly also think of George as a girl. No one knows George’s secret, not her family (although we come to learn that they think she is gay), not even her best friend Kelly (a girl). Things come to a head when George and Kelly’s class puts on a play based on the book, Charlotte’s Web. George loves this book and desperately wants to play Charlotte. Kelly knows how much George covets the part of Charlotte, and the two spend a great deal of time practicing and learning the lines. When George auditions and reads the part of Charlotte for Ms. Udell, the teacher is extremely annoyed. “You know I can’t very well cast you as Charlotte. I have too many girls who want the part. Besides, imagine how confused people would be.” Ms. Udell offers George the part of Wilbur but she declines. George mutters to herself, “Stupid. Stupid body. Stupid brain. Stupid boys and stupid girls. Stupid everything.”
Everything starts to pile up all at once for poor George. Kelly gets the part of Charlotte. And even worse, George is being bullied by two boys in the class who obviously sense that something isn’t quite right with George and start calling her a “freaking girl.” Kelly drags George away, telling her not to listen to the jerks. George finally has enough nerve to say to Kelly, “What if I am?” Then George arrives home to find that her Mom has discovered her prized collection of girl magazines. The magazines have given her such comfort and now an angry Mom tells George she’d better not find him wearing her clothes or shoes. “That kind of thing was cute when you were three. You’re not three anymore.”
The next week is depressing for George. She doesn’t talk to Kelly and her Mom doesn’t say anything about the magazines. Fortunately, Kelly comes around and is very accepting of her best friend. Together they devise a plan for George to take the role of Charlotte in the play. They hope that everyone, including George’s mom, will see that she is a girl. George finally comes out to her family, and it’s encouraging when they begin to accept who she truly is. She even has an opportunity to be her true-self – Melissa. Kelly invites her on a trip to the Bronx Zoo and suggests that she dress as Melissa. It will be safe because no one in the city will know her.
I’m sure that not all transgender children have as positive a reaction to their coming-out from family and close friends that George has. But it is heartwarming to see how it could be. George is a perfect book to encourage conversations on gender identity and acceptance of those around us.