Transgender Children’s Books: The Once-Taboo Topic Is Now Hitting Bookshelves, And Not Without Controversy

Transgender children’s books, which address a topic once considered so taboo that no mainstream publisher would touch it, are gaining a wider audience thanks to a handful of authors and a few mainstream publishers willing to reach out to children struggling with gender identity, the New York Times is reporting.

Children’s literature has often been reluctant to take on taboo subjects — Judy Blume’s candid descriptions of menstruation and teen sexuality were considered scandalous in their day, according to NPR. But the children’s publishing industry has taken on a handful of difficult subjects in recent years, including rape, suicide, and sex trafficking. But the subject of gender identity in teens, adolescents, and children has gotten scant little attention.

David Levithan, vice president and publisher of Scholastic Press, says that publishers are now becoming willing to take on the subject of transgender children — however slowly.

“In our culture, it was really something that was in the shadows, but suddenly people are talking about it. As our culture is starting to acknowledge transgender people and acknowledge that they are a part of the fabric of who we are, literature is reflecting that.”

Much of the body of work in transgender children’s literature is aimed at teens and adolescents, according to SFGate. Sam Martin, a 43-year-old who has transitioned from female to male, will be releasing later this month a semi-autobiographical teen novel about a transgender teen boy who falls in love with another boy. Similarly, the memoir Rethinking Normal by Katie Rain Hill, about a transgender teen girl in Oklahoma who falls in love with another transgender teen girl, hit the shelves last year.

A scant few books about transgender issues are aimed at an even younger crowd: pre-teens and children. Jacob’s New Dress, published in March, 2014, tells the story of a young boy who wants to dress like a girl.

“Jacob loves playing dress-up, when he can be anything he wants to be. Some kids at school say he can’t wear ‘girl’ clothes, but Jacob wants to wear a dress to school. Can he convince his parents to let him wear what he wants? This heartwarming story speaks to the unique challenges faced by boys who don’t identify with traditional gender roles.”

The subject of transgender issues being tackled in children’s books is not without controversy. When transgender teen Jazz Jennings published I Am Jazz, her picture book about a transgender girl, some of the reviews were scathing.

“Small children who need a picture book do not need to deal with issues of sexuality and gender confusion. This book has cute pictures in it, but reading it was horrifying. Pushing an agenda of sexual issues on small children is despicable. Read the book once. I would never read this to children.”

Even some librarians are hesitant to include books about transgender children on their shelves. When Scholastic sent out advance copies of George, a novel — aimed at third and fourth graders — about a boy who identifies as a girl, reviews from librarians were largely positive. Still, a few insisted that the subject matter wasn’t appropriate for its intended audience.

Do you believe the subject of transgender issues, and other LGBTQ issues, is appropriate for discussion in children’s books? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

[Image courtesy of: Shutterstock / Matthew Cole]