November 20th marks Transgender Day of Remembrance, a day to remember those who have been killed because of their gender identity or expression. While there are not yet many children’s and young adult books featuring transgender characters, here are a few books that can be used in a display or program.
Picture books are a great way for a person to engage briefly with an idea, and most are written for children, so the language is accessible to a wide variety of people.
- Red: A Crayon’s Story by Michael Hall. This story of a blue crayon who is mistakenly labeled “red” is a great way to introduce young children to a character who doesn’t fit the label s/he’s been given.
- I Am Jazz by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings. This is the picture-book biography of Jazz Jennings, a transgender teen who publicly came out when she was still in kindergarten.
- My Princess Boy by Cheryl Kilodavis. This story of a boy who enjoys sparkly, pink things is another way to introduce the idea of being gender-nonconforming in an accessible format.
- Be Who You Are by Jennifer Carr. This picture book is the story of Hope, a fictional character who was born Nick and comes to the realization that she is, in fact, a girl.
- Rough, Tough Charley by Verla Kay. This is an account of Charley Parkhurst, a California stagecoach driver who was discovered, upon death, to be a woman who had been living life as a man.
Nonfiction books can provide information, especially when readers are reluctant to search online in fear that someone may see what they’ve been searching for.
- Transparent by Cris Beam. Beam profiles four transgender teens at a school for transgender students in Los Angeles. This narrative nonfiction has been described as carefully written and sensitive to a sensitive topic.
- Some Assembly Required: The Not-So-Secret Life of a Transgender Teen by Arin Andrews. Arin tells the story of his transition and life as a trans teen in this autobiography.
- Rethinking Normal: A Memoir in Transition by Katie Rain Hill. Katie, who at one time was dating Arin, tells her side of the story in her transition as a transfeminine teen.
- Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kuklin (2015 Stonewall Honor Book). This collection of photographs and interviews with transgender and gender-noncomforming teens is another easily accessible way for those who are not familiar with the concept of being transgender to take a brief walk in another person’s shoes.
- My Gender Workbook by Kate Bornstein. Hands-down this was the most recommended book when I asked those in the trans* community to identify books that would be helpful to teens and those who work with teens.
- Hello Cruel World: 101 Alternatives to Suicide for Teens, Freaks, and Other Outlaws by Kate Bornstein. While this book doesn’t focus singly on issues affecting the transgender community, it is true that transgender people have a higher rate of suicide than their cisgender counterparts. This book is a list of suicide alternatives, some silly and some serious.
Young adult novels are a great way to provide both windows and mirrors to those who may wish to learn more about Transgender Day of Remembrance.
- What We Left Behind by Robin Talley. This book follows Toni and Gretchen as they head to college and face the world outside their cloistered high school. Apart for the first time in two years, each has the opportunity to explore what it means to be themselves.
- Jumpstart the World by Catherine Ryan Hyde (2014 Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults). Elle is sixteen, but her mother has given her her own apartment so that Elle will be out of her way. In meeting the neighbors, Elle discovers that one of them is a transman.
- Luna by Julie Anne Peters (2005 Best Books for Young Adults, 2006 Popular Paperbacks, 2005 Stonewall Honor Book). During the day, Liam acts like every other boy at school. At night, however, he transforms into Luna, the person she truly is. Can Luna’s friends and family accept her transformation?
- Almost Perfect by Brian Katcher (201o Best Books for Young Adults). Logan is recovering from a breakup when Sage moves into town and begins attending his school. Logan is drawn to Sage, and then he discovers that Sage is transgender, and hasn’t been allowed to attend regular school for the past four years because her family is scared of the way people will react to her.
- Parrotfish by Ellen Wittlinger. Grady’s family won’t accept him as a boy and even his best friend has deserted him. However, he finds an ally in Sebastian, who explains to him that parrotfish sometimes change their gender when needed.
- Happy Families by Tanita Davis. Unlike other books on this list, this book tells the story of a family where one of the parents comes out as transgender. Told in alternating viewpoints between the two children, the journey of this family on the road to recovery is not to be missed.
- Wandering Son by Takako Shimura. This graphic novel series features two transgender characters: one girl who was born in a boy’s body and one boy who was born in a girl’s body. Written and drawn in a manga style, this book would be very accessible to those who find traditional print materials daunting.
- Beautiful Music for Ugly Children by Kirstin Cronn-Mills. Gabe is very interested in music, and he is looking to participate in a DJ contest, but he wants to do it as Gabe, while much of the world still sees him as Elizabeth. This is a great book for music fans with additional information in the appendix for those who wish to learn more about being transgender.
- Being Emily by Rachel Gold. Emily is having difficulties getting her friends and family to accept her as the girl she is, but her therapist works with her to help her be strong, and eventually even her girlfriend comes around to be her supporter.
- Run, Clarissa, Run by Rachel Eliason. Clarissa is a hacker, and she repairs people’s computers in order to save money for the sex reassignment surgery (SRS) she eventually wants to have. Without the support of her family, Clarissa escapes to Thailand to have this surgery performed.
- Every Day by David Levithan. This book features a character named A who wakes up every day in a new body. Sometimes the bodies are male, sometimes female, sometimes gay, sometimes straight. One of the bodies A inhabits is transgender.
- Beauty Queens by Libba Bray. This story, which is a satire on reality TV, beauty pageants, commercialism, etc., tells of pageant contestants who crash-land on an island and must survive until help comes, or until they create a rescue themselves. One of the characters is transgender.
- I Am J by Cris Beam. This is an inner-city story of a boy who has to move out of his home because his parents cannot accept that he is transgender. He navigates the world of therapy in the hopes of beginning hormone replacement therapy (HRT).
- Freakboy by Kristin Elizabeth Clark. This novel in verse a la Ellen Hopkins tells the story of a boy who is coming to grips with the fact that he may be transgender, his girlfriend, and a transwoman at an LGBT teen center who is “paying it forward” by working with teens. The free verse style of writing will appeal to teens who enjoy stories written in verse or want something they can read relatively quickly.
- If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan. This story takes place in Iran, where homosexuality is punishable by death, but being transgender is treated with surgery and hormones. Sahar does not consider herself to be trans, but she is willing to go through the necessary surgeries if it means she can stay with Nasrin. This is an excellent multicultural story that features transgender characters.
–Jenni Frencham, currently reading You’re Never Weird on the Internet by Felicia Day
2 thoughts on “Transgender Day of Remembrance: A Booklist”
A totally powerful book is October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard by Leslea Newman consists of poems about the murder of Matthew Shepard- everyone should read it and know about it.
I absolutely agree that October Mourning is a powerful book! I make a point to include it in YA collections whenever I have opportunity. However, since Matthew identified as gay and not transgender, the book didn’t really fit the parameters for this list.
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