Who Are You? The Kid’s Guide to Gender Identity by Brook Pessin-Whedbee, illustrated by Naomi Bardoff.
Jessica Kingsley Publishers, Philadelphia, PA, 2017. (First pub in the UK, London.)
Informative non-fiction picture book, 30 pages.
Not yet leveled. (I would read it aloud or rate it at about a third grade level due to difficult words like assigned, expression, identity.)
This simple picture book is a child’s first guide to gender identity, whether trans or cis or in-between!
As we prepared for the first Pridefest celebration with kids in tow, Husband ordered a bunch of books to read with them. Some were (unbeknownst to him) straight off my wishlist, while others, like this delightful guide to gender, were new to me.
The artwork, done via computer, is above par for a children’s non-fiction work. Beyond gender diversity, the artwork is also include diverse ethnicities, showing a variety of children and adults in various situations (including people of color as leaders). A variety of body types were also included. One girl is using a walker, representing visible disabilities.
We really appreciated this diversity since most LGBTQetc. books seem to have white characters. I didn’t expect the kids to be that interested in the illustrations, but they enjoyed the various details and wanted to read slowly and look at each person on each page spread. Sometimes they tried to determine the gender of the person, other times they wanted to talk about what they were doing or wearing. Eventually the novelty wore off, but we got some interesting discussions and solid quiet time first.
There are ample parent/educator notes to help adults use this book to talk to children and ideas for extending the learning with other books, DVDs, or discussions. There is an introduction in the front of the book and several pages at the end.
One difficulty we did have with this book was that the ending of the children’s text came rather abruptly. Despite having pre-read it, we each ran into the same problem, where we didn’t read the end with the finality that a last page would normally have. That’s because there are several pages of text for adults after the children’s portion of the book, so it looks like there is more when the book is over. A visual cue for the ending that would be helpful.
Another minor difficulty is that the term two-spirit has a meaning beyond transgender, so young children could be confused if they hear it used for a same-sex couple, etc.
The back of the book has a rainbow wheel with three levels. The inner circle states “I have ____ body” with three options: a body that made adults guess boy, girl, or say not sure. The middle circle says “I am ____ identity” and includes so many choices – gender neutral, trans, two-spirit, neutrois, sometimes a girl and sometimes a boy, just me, etc. The final outer circle says “I like ____ expression.” Half of this circle is different types of clothing or outward expressions of self like nail polish, jeans, belts, boots, etc. The other half is activities, some of which have a gender stereotype attached (dolls, football) but many of which don’t (sports, animals).
The kids loved this wheel. The authors themselves discuss some of the limitations in the book, but it was a helpful conversation starter. We took turns filling out the wheel, then we looked at people in the book and thought about people in our lives and turned the wheel for them.
We discussed the people we might see at Pridefest and how they might fall in various ways on the wheel. You can’t tell by looking at someone whether they like puzzles or gardening, and you can’t always tell gender identity or sexual orientation that way either. Based on one child’s comment, we were able discuss “acting gay” and how liking stereotypically feminized things doesn’t tell us whether a person likes men, women, or both.
The plastic pocket in the back did rip quickly which was disappointing. The wheel has a glossy front so it will probably hold up fine for family use. It’s possible to take it apart, laminate it, and put the pieces back together, which I’d recommend for any heavy use institution like a library or therapeutic setting.
Overall, of all the transgender picture books we read this month, this one and Red were clear winners (I’ll be reviewing Red eventually but meanwhile check out Sinead’s review!). They make a nice pairing since this is informative nonfiction while Red is a fun fictional story.
I plan to review the other books we purchased as well as our five favorite books about same-sex relationships, but I wanted to post this review because it can be difficult to find good books that discuss gender! I definitely recommend this book to libraries and for families or therapists that want to discuss this topic. It will work for a wide range of ages from kindergarten even up to middle school, and meets the need for a non-fiction picture book that sensitively and accurately educates youth about what it means to be transgender.