Next week is Banned Books Week, an annual celebration of the freedom to read. As part of their efforts, the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom compiles a list of the top ten most frequently challenged books. As this year’s list proves once again, if any book is bound to end up challenged, it’s one that deals with LGBT issues and alternative families.
In 2015, I Am Jazz, the picture-book memoir of transgender teen and LGBT activist Jazz Jennings, was one of the top-five most challenged books. Such backlash hasn’t slowed Jennings, now 15, down one bit—this year, Booklist gave a starred review to the memoir she wrote for older readers about her life experiences so far.
I’ve compiled a list of just some of the titles that, like Jennings’ books, frame the LGBT experience in general, and the transgender experience in particular, for young readers. For middle-grade books about transgender kids, see Julia Smith’s feature, “Exploring Gender Identity,” from the July 2016 issue of Booklist. For move infomation about Banned Books Week events, including a webinar and virtual read-out, visit the Banned Books Week page.
And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson
Roy and Silo were “a little bit different” from the other male penguins: instead of noticing females, they noticed each other. Thus penguin chick Tango, hatched from a fertilized egg given to the pining, bewildered pair, came to be “the only penguin in the Central Park Zoo with two daddies” in this picture book based on true events.
In Our Mothers’ House, by Patricia Polacco
The oldest of three adopted children recalls her childhood with mothers Marmee and Meema, as they raised their African American daughter, Asian American son, and Caucasian daughter in a lively, supportive neighborhood. Filled with recollections of family holidays, rituals, and special moments, each memory reveals loving insight.
Introducing Teddy, by Jessica Walton
Errol and his friend Thomas—a plump, bow-tied stuffed bear—are constant companions. But one day, Thomas is sluggish and sad, and when Errol asks him what’s up, he’s afraid to tell the truth: all along, he’s felt like a girl bear instead of a boy bear, and he’d much rather be called Tilly. With the blithe acceptance children are so good at, Errol is happy to acquiesce.
Red: A Crayon’s Story, by Michael Hall
Though not overtly about LGBT issues, this picture book about a crayon nails the essence of the gender issues that many struggle with. Red is blue—he can’t seem to color anything correctly. Other crayons try to help, to no avail. Everyone is afraid there is something wrong with Red until Purple asks him to draw a blue ocean. At first, Red says he can’t—oceans aren’t red!—but Purple insists he try.
Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out, by Susan Kuklin
Kuklin’s nonfiction book profiles six transgender teens in their own words and in the author’s excellent photographs. The result is a strikingly in-depth examination of the sometimes clinical complexities of being transgender, even as Kuklin’s empathy-inducing pictures put a human face on the experience, bringing welcome clarity to a subject that has often been obscure and gives faces to a segment of the population that has too long been invisible.
If I Was Your Girl, by Meredith Russo
Eighteen-year-old Amanda has a closely guarded secret. At her old school, she was Andrew, battered and abused for being different. Following surgery, Amanda lives as invisibly as possible with her divorced father. But then she meets sweet, gentle Grant and, despite her fears, finds herself falling in love. Russo, a trans woman, writes with authority and empathy, giving readers not only an intellectual but also an emotional understanding of Amanda and her compelling story.
Rethinking Normal, by Katie Rain Hill
Some Assembly Required: The Not-So-Secret Life of a Transgender Teen, by Arin Andrews
These dual-published memoirs follow the stories of two transgender teens, Katie (male-to-female) and Arin (female-to-male) from small Oklahoma towns who met and, against all odds, fell in love. Excited by the opportunity to raise the visibility of transgender issues, the two felt that their life stories could provide inspiration. Though their romance ended, their friendship remained, and their complementary stories put sympathetic, human faces on a condition that otherwise might be presented as coldly clinical.
When the Moon Was Ours, by Anna-Marie McLemore
Sam and Miel, always close, begin a tentative romance; Miel understands why Sam is drawn to bacha posh, a Pakistani practice where families without sons allow a daughter to live as a boy. But Sam and Miel have caught the eye of the four Bonner sisters, rumored to be witches, and that attention could destroy everything. Infused with magical realism and Latino folklore, this is a careful, close look at gender identity and what it is to possess any body at all.