Transgender Parent & Friendly Picture Books for Young Children

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mydadwearsBy: Elizabeth Rowell, Special to TRT—

Picture books about many different kinds of families are readily available for young children including families with a mom and a dad, one parent, two moms and two dads, as well as a few with parents who have disabilities or illnesses. Young children enjoy and feel validated when they are read books that feature their families. Unfortunately, for many years the only book published in the United States for a transgender parent to share with a young child was the groundbreaking Carly, She’s Still My Daddy (Boenke 2004).  However, in the last four years additional picture books have been made available about transgender moms and dads to select from to read as well as to discuss with young children eight and under. In addition the first general family book for young children that includes a transgender parent has recently been published, Families Are Like Ice Cream Flavors (George 2013).  The authors of these books include a transitioned parent, a mother, a wife and mother in-law, a separated spouse, and a college student.   Two books are from Australia and have a few different words that will add to the listening to and sharing experience.  Unfortunately, one book about a transgender mom, My Dad Wears Pirate Shoes (Hall 2012), conveys the view that being transgender is a choice and is not recommended for sharing with a young child unless it has been carefully previewed first.

Most of these recommended books are told through young children’s eyes and include details about their parents’ gender transition in ways that can be understood by youngsters,  sometimes with a little help. The parents explained prior to their transitions that either “nature had made a mistake” (Mossiano 2012 & 13) or that they had often been sad, unhappy or grumpy because they always felt inside like the opposite gender (Boenke 2004, Martinez 2008). The different reactions of other people and the impact on families are mentioned in some and at the end of each book the children say how their parents were happier now and that they also felt happy, loved, and/or lucky that they had a new mommy or daddy.   The Little Boy (Kelly & Webster 2008) is written about him and what he was probably thinking when he was a little girl and that no one understood when she tried to tell them that she was really a boy. He transitioned as an adult prior to marriage.  These books could be especially helpful for young children who have transgender parents and can help them realize that other youngsters do as well.  It is best to read them to and discuss with an individual child or to a sibling group. However, each book should be reviewed prior to sharing to ensure that it is a book that would be appropriate at this time.

General Family Book

Families Are Like Ice Cream Flavors (2013) by Erin George, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform

This innovative young children’s picture book about different types of families is the first to include a photograph of a transgender mom and her daughter with the text “Kimmy’s mom was once a man”.  There is also another page with an illustration of a hand holding a wand with a star and the words “Some moms turn into dads and some dads turn into moms”.  This rhyming book with minimal text and very colorful illustrations shows that having a transgender parent is just another way to have a loving and caring family. Young children can join in with the rhyming words and some would eventually be able to read this book themselves. The author who has written other children’s books is pursuing a master’s degree in family therapy. (Ages 3-6)

Transgender Mom Books

Carly: She’s Still My Daddy (2004) by Mary Boenke, TNET (The Transgender Network of PFLAG).

This inexpensive publication produced on a copier in black-and-white with a blue cover and simple but effective illustrations was the first book for a young child that deals with a parent who is transitioning. It focuses on young Tommy’s reactions to his dad’s transition to Carly and can help a child understand more about this process. His Dad goes to a counselor and a support group, takes special pills, has electrolysis, goes away for awhile to have an operation, and gets voice lessons. He takes Tommy with him to a support group where he meets a man who explains that he is intersexed and another who says that he is a crossdresser once in a while. They even went fishing with a female-to-male transgender friend of his Dad. The different reactions of others and the impact on the family are discussed.  However, at the conclusion the family is still together.  Words that might be difficult are highlighted so that the adult reading the book to a child can explain them if necessary.  The author who has a transgender child has been very active in PFLAG.  (Ages 4-8)

My New Mommy (2012) by Lilly Mossiano, Publish America.

Young Violet tells how her daddy explained to her that “nature made a mistake and he should have been born a girl like her”. She then discusses the steps he went through including shaving his beard, getting his ears pierced when she did, wearing dresses, going to see a doctor, and then having an operation so “she could become a girl”. This might be a single parent family, as no other adults are shown or referred to.  At the end Violet states that she feels lucky that her daddy is now her new mommy and they will always love each other. The text is very appropriate for young children and some could read it to themselves. The pastel watercolors directly relate to the text and would be helpful for young children to retell Violet’s story. The author is a transgender woman and is writing a number of gender variant friendly children’s books. This EBook is available at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/292516. (Ages 4-7)

My Dad Wears Pirate Shoes (2012) by Gae Hall CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.

This book told in rhyme with a clever cover and colorful illustrations was inspired by the author’s eight year old son who discovers a pair of black shiny high-heeled patent leather shoes with polished gold buckles that are his Dad’s size hidden in his parents’ closet. Dad eventually starts wearing more girls’ clothes, a wig, and makeup at home and then elsewhere. The two young boys struggle to understand why their father does not wish to dress as a man, eventually changes his first name, has an operation, and now lives as a woman. The young narrator talks about his Dad’s strange choices and that when he grows up he will be a man because that’s, the way God made boys to be.  However, the son says that although Dad looks like a girl and has a brand new name, he’s still my Dad and he will always be. The father calls the children frequently and visits on weekends but the boys are still very confused. Many of the colorful illustrations do not show Dad in a good light.

After learning of her minister husband’s crossdressing, the author, who is also a minister, author, and speaker, returned to Australia with the two boys.  She researched transgenderism from a Biblical standpoint and is now the Director of Expose Ministries whose aim is to equip Christian women to stand against transgenderism in their marriage and their homes. She is also writing a book, He Will Never Be She.

My Dad Wears Pirate Shoes should be carefully studied prior to sharing with children because of the views expressed. While reading this book, you also wonder if Dad gave more help and input to his sons. Some children and family members do have difficulties understanding and accepting a transgender parent and perhaps, if used carefully this book might be helpful to read and discuss with them. (Recommended only after previewing for ages 6-8+)

Transgender Dad Books

My New Daddy (2013) by Lilly Mossiano. Spun Silver Productions

Young Charles explains in this book how his mommy, the only parent mentioned,  became his daddy, after telling him that nature made a mistake and she should have been a boy like Charles. She got a short hair cut, bought a boy’s bike, wore men’s clothes, and started going by a new name. She also went to see a doctor and had an operation so that she would be a boy like Charles. He considers himself lucky because his mommy is his new daddy and they will always love each other.  The minimal text and appropriate softly colored illustrations will help young children relate to this book, some read it to themselves, and others tell the story from the pictures. The author is working hard to put out books to help the next generation be conscious of the existence of and have respect for transgendered individuals. This EBook is available at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/292516. (Ages 3-7)

My Mommy Is A Boy (2008) by Jason Martinez, Self Published.

This paperback book dedicated to the author’s four year old daughter was written to help her understand his transition and show her how much he loves her.  It focuses on four year old Amaya’s story of why her female-to-male transgendered mommy looks like a boy. She explains her mommy’s gender transition process that consists primarily of having shots so that her body matches her heart, her voice deepens, and muscles grow bigger in simple terms easy for a child to understand. Other people’s reactions are mentioned and at the conclusion Amaya says she  now has two dads.  The message is simply, that, “no matter what her mommy looks like on the outside, she is still the same person and they love each other”.  The book is brightly illustrated

The Little Boy (2008) by E. Kelly & E.  Webster , FTM Australia.

This child tried to explain that she was really a boy but nobody understood.  When she grew up, she read about transgenderism, and went to a special doctor who confirmed that she actually was a boy. He transitioned as an adult, is married, and has children. This book was written by his wife and mother-in law, an ex primary school teacher, for their children/grandchildren as a tool to help explain their father’s history.  It consists primarily of photographs of the little girl until she was about eight and the final pictures show him at his wedding as well as playing with two children.   The text is very appropriate for young children to listen to and enter in with some of the repetitive phrases. This is the only book currently available where the adult transitions prior to becoming a parent. It is available at Lulu.com to purchase and to freely download from www.ftmaustralia.org. All proceeds go to FTM Australia.  (Ages 3-8+)

These books should be available for parents and educators in all libraries. Unfortunately, they are all paperbacks and rarely found in public libraries, even those that do include soft covered books.  However, try making requests for specific books for your public or school library to order.  Be prepared to make this request several times and suggest that others do as well.  Each time a request is made might make an impact! Lambda Legal has suggestions on how to get and keep books in libraries.  Perhaps a group could be formed to create a lending library.  As many are self published, often in limited quantities, it is best to get them while they are still obtainable at reasonable prices. All of these books can currently be purchased on the Internet from bookstores including Alibris, Amazon, and Lulu.com.

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Transgender Friendly Picture Books for Young Children

Many transgender adults don’t remember any picture books from their early childhood years (3-8) that could have been supportive or made a difference in how they felt about their own gender identification. When asked, some either say none or share Luna (Peters 2006) or Parrotfish (Wittlinger 2011) which are wonderful books, but are for much older youths. One reason for this is that there have been so few children’s books with transgender main characters. However, from a four year old boy in his dream skirt (Mack 1979 & 84) to a Gender Wish Fairy and the planet Tenalp where everyone is transgender for a day (Bergman 2012), there have been some much needed new additions to the slowly growing genre of Transgender Friendly Picture Books for Young Children, pre-k to age eight. Some of these books can be very meaningful for young transgender children to validate their own feelings and for others to begin to learn about and understand those who are gender variant.  As transphobic bullying begins very early and escalates if not dealt with appropriately, resulting in many long term educational, psychological, and emotional problems, some of these books could also open up discussions about how young listeners could deal with bullying they might themselves experience or how others could stick up for and be supportive to gender variant children who are being treated unkindly because they are different.

However, young children will never know about these books unless caring adults obtain them, discuss, and read the books aloud to them. Unfortunately, few are available in public or school libraries. Many reasons are given for their exclusion, including that library funds are tight and they need to get all the Caldecott/Newberry/King honor awards, that there are few requests for this type of book, or that they prefer hardcover books.  Check out which of these books are available in your libraries and advocate for the inclusion of specific ones so that they will be available for young children. You might have to request them many times and get others to do so as well. Lambda legal (www.lambdalegal.org) has suggestions on how to get and keep these books in libraries. Consider starting a lending library with a group of friends where each one donates a book or collectively the group has tag sales or other fund raisers. These books can play a vital role in enhancing gender variant children’s self concept and promoting other young children’s understanding of the transgender experience and proactive anti-bullying commitment which can help to make the world a better place.

It’s important to review these books prior to reading to young children so that you can provide a meaningful read aloud, discussion, and sharing experience. Even though most are intended for young children, some are interesting for older youths and transgender people of all ages who did not have access to books like these when they were younger. All are currently available in some way on-line usually either through Alibris, Amazon, or LULU.com.

Transgirls

10,000 Dresses (2008 & 2011) by Marcus Ewert, Seven Stories.

This hardcover book with colorful font, eye catching illustrations, and changing pronouns features a young child who quietly says “I don’t feel like a boy”.  Bailey dreams about beautiful dresses and asks his family members if they can get him one.  Unfortunately, his parents tell him repeatedly that he is a boy and boys don’t wear dresses. His brother even threatens him.  He eventually meets an older girl to create dresses with who says Bailey is the coolest girl she has ever met.  It has won a Stonewall Honor Book Award (2010) that was recognized by the American Library Association. ALA’s acknowledgment can be used to try to get this book into public libraries.  This was the author’s first children’s book. He is active in the gay community. (Ages 3-8)

The Adventures of Tulip, Birthday Wish Fairy (2012) by S. Bear Bergman, Flamingo Rampant, Toronto, Ontario.

In this very touching and engaging story, Tulip Birthday Wish Fairy, responds to all the birthday wishes of North American nine-year-olds. After receiving an unusual wish from David who wants to live as Daniela, Tulip learns how to help this child as well as her family so that she can become the person she really is. She makes sure that Daniela and her family have all the support, care, love, confidence, and bravery needed to educate the world around them. Tulip is then asked to be the Gender Wish Fairy and work with only these children.  S. Bear Bergman skillfully combines humor and creativity with the complexities of gender variance and the lively cartoon like illustrations help to convey the story’s message. Bergman is transgender and recently started his own publishing company to publicize gender variant books.  (Ages 4-8+)

Be Who You Are (2010) by Jennifer Carr, Author House.

The author’s daughter transitioned when she was six and this book reflects the understanding, acceptance, and expressed love by their families that is needed by transgender youths.  Nick always felt like a girl and his parents supported him. When his teacher doesn’t understand his girl brain, both parents meet with the educator and school gets better.  They also have him see a doctor who talks to children who feel they were born in the wrong body.  When Nick thinks he is the only child who feels this way, his parents find a group of families with transgender children. Soon the child is wearing girl clothes all the time and gets a library card with her new name, Hope. The creative illustrations clearly convey the feelings of all and the positive steps that parents and even a younger sibling can take to provide a positive environment for their transgender child.  This outstanding paperback book should be in all elementary schools and libraries and readily available for parents who have transgender young children.  It is also on the 2012 Rainbow list. (Ages 3-8+)

Transboys

Backwards Day (2012) by S. Bear Bergman, Flamingo Rampant, Toronto, Ontario.

This fascinating book with colorful, full page, modern style illustrations and text with some Dr. Seuss like words is set on the planet Tenalp. Tenalp has seventeen seasons, including one where for a single day everything is backwards. Young Andrea always looked forward to this season, so she could turn into a boy even if just for that day. One year she doesn’t change and she’s very dejected.  However, the following day, she turns into a boy and happily stays that way! His worried parents take Andy to meet with some Backwardsologists who decide that Andy didn’t change on Backwards Day because as Andrea he was already backwards.  They convince his parents that this was a Backwards Day Miracle and they now have a wonderful son. In future Backwards Days, Andy turns into a girl for just that day. This captivating paperback book can open the door for some fruitful discussions.  The author is a married, transmasculine person, lives in Toronto, and has a son. Bear prefers to use gender independent when referring to young children instead of gender variant or transgender. (Ages 4-8+)

Rough Tough Charley (2007) by Verla Kay, Tricycle Press. 

Based on a true story told in rhyme with minimal text and illustrated with detailed paintings, this is a unique nonfiction hardcover children’s book complete with an outline of facts about Charley Parkhurst. Charley is first pictured at about 8 or 9 years of age but his transgender status is not revealed until the end of the book.  He was orphaned as a young child, lived and worked in stables in New England, fought bandits, voted, and later became a stagecoach driver in the Old West at a time when women did not do things like this. It wasn’t until his death that a doctor discovered that Charley was really a biological woman. The author has written other children’s books about historical events and figures. It’s a wonderful book to use to discuss gender variance throughout the ages and is found in some libraries. (Ages 6-8+)

When Kathy Is Keith (2011) by Wallace Wong,  Xlibris. 

This is the first book about a little girl who knows and tells others that she is really a boy. Unfortunately, no one believes her. Her family and teacher say she is silly or will outgrow this feeling, and her friends make fun of her. However, after Kathy’s mom overhears her daughter’s request of Santa, her parents find support in different groups, realize that there are other children like Kathy, and help her to transition. Keith realizes that although not everyone will understand what he is going through, his family will always be there for him. This book shows how some parents and siblings often have to go through stages of understanding prior to accepting and advocating for their transgender child. This paperback with large eye catching illustrations should be readily available for all young children and their parents. If Santa Claus is a problem, those pages could be omitted and Kathy’s mother could hear her making a birthday candle wish or one on the first star seen at night. The author is a clinical psychologist who has worked with children and youth with gender issues. He is openly gay and actively involved in the Transgender community. (Ages 4-8 and for all adult transmen who wished for a book like this when they were young.)

Gender Variant Boys

Jesse’s Dream Skirt (1979 & 1984) by Bruce Mack, Lollipop Power.

This was the first book that featured a gender variant child and it is discouraging to note that some of the same hurtful things are happening today. Jesse likes to dress up in his mom’s clothes but wants a skirt of his own size that he can wear everywhere and twirl around.  He and his supportive mother sew his “dream” skirt together.   Before he wears it outside, his mother warns him that some people might not like it and could even make fun of him, but Jesse wears it proudly to his multicultural daycare. When he is ridiculed by some of the children, he is very upset.  However, his sensitive teacher, Bruce, compliments his skirt and comforts Jesse. Bruce then has a discussion with the children about why some are making fun of Jesse’s skirt.  Many of the stereotypes and biases still present today come out but eventually some children agree that people should be able to wear what they want. The illustrations carefully convey the different feelings of the children regarding Jesse’s skirt.  Unfortunately, this book is out of print and very expensive to purchase. However, the words are available on Crossing Paths Where Transgender and Religion Meet (www.uua.org/documents/obgltc/crossingpaths) and the cover showing Jesse in his dream skirt is available on Google images.  The book could be shared in these ways and children could create their own pictures about it.  This very meaningful paperback book should be reprinted and read by parents and every daycare, preschool, K-2nd grade teacher. (Ages 3-7)

My Princess Boy (2010) by Cheryl Kilodouis, Aladdin/Simon Schuster.

This hardcover nonfiction book was inspired by the author’s son and by her own struggles to understand his choices. Dyson loves the color pink, sparkly things, wears dresses as well as jeans and often his princess tiara when climbing trees. He calls himself a Princess Boy and the family including his brother loves him exactly the way he is. Unfortunately, sometimes he gets laughed at when he goes shopping for and wears girl clothes. This is also the first gender variant picture book that features an African American child. A picture of Dyson can be obtained from Google images so that children can see that this is about a real little boy as the imaginative illustrations all with a pink background do not include facial characteristics. The text conveys the importance of not making judgments or bullying, and acceptance of people for who they are. On one page the reader/listener is asked “If you see a princess boy, will you laugh at him, call him a name, play with him, or like him for who he is?” This book should be shared with all children and be in all libraries.  (Ages 3 to 8)

Gender Variant Girls

Are You a Boy or a Girl? (2000) by Karleen Jiminez. Green Dragon Press, Toronto, Ontario.

This paperback book with black-and-white drawings and photos of real children tells the story of a child who identifies as a girl but doesn’t enjoying doing girl things like playing with dolls. She prefers to do boy things and with her short hair cut and boys’ clothing she looks somewhat like a boy.  She is sad when she is continually asked if she is a boy or girl and teased about her appearance and activities. Her understanding mother tells her that since the beginning of time there have been girls who like boy things and vice verse. However, now it’s hard because too many people don’t know about girls like her. Tomboy, an award winning 13 minute animated video based on the book, explores a day at home and school where Alex, a Hispanic child, is teased because some of her classmates think she acts like a boy. This book and video (vimeo.com/10772672) originated from the author’s own experiences as a Tomboy and volunteering in a kindergarten class. She finds that when she can express with humor, hurt, and honesty stories of variant gender expression, children and teachers respond with their own. Finalist, Lambda Literary Award, 2000. (Ages 4 to 8+)

A Book about Gender Variant and Transgender Children of Different Ages

All I Want to Be is Me (2011) by Phyllis Rothblatt, Self Published.

This small paperback book written in catchy rhyme with repetitive phrases that children will enjoy saying is unique in that it shows from personalized perspectives many diverse ways that children experience and express their gender identity and just want to be free to be themselves.  The emphasis is on being who you want to be and don’t mess with me! Bullying, courage, and self identification are colorfully illustrated in this multicultural book featuring children of different ages and abilities.  The author is an artist, writer, educator, and has worked with families with gender non-conforming and transgender children and youth. A very moving and powerful song by the same title can be downloaded on the book’s website, www.alliwanttobeisme.com (Ages 5-8 +).

A Fairy Tale with a Message

GoblinHeart-A Fairy Tale  (2012) by Brett Axe,  East Waterfront.

Julep has wings like the fairies rather than claws, but feels like a goblin on the inside, and wants to live and be accepted by the tribe as a goblin. Julep encounters many of the same problems of acceptance that transgender children often have. This small paperback with black and white fanciful illustrations contains no gender pronouns.  It could be used to convey messages about issues that are encountered by gender variant people. The author has four children and this is his first children’s book (Ages 5-8).

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2 Comments on "Transgender Parent & Friendly Picture Books for Young Children"

  1. Shefali Poojary | June 23, 2017 at 6:03 pm | Reply

    Dear Ms Rowell, I came across your article while researching for my book. It is informative and useful. I am writing a book about having different kinds of families in the Indian context. I want to read the books that you have mentioned here but buying all of them would be very expensive for me. New York public library does not have most of the books mentioned here. Could you please guide me on how I could read these books without having to buy them? Is there a particular bookstore I could go to in New York where I could find most of these books. I would really appreciate your guidance. Thank you!

  2. Elizabeth Rowell | September 16, 2017 at 1:34 pm | Reply

    Shefali, I’m very sorry that your library did not have most of these books and there are more that have been published since these were included in Rainbow times. You might ask a librarian to help you do a search of where in the nearby area libraries and bookstores you can find each book you are looking for. Before I was able to purchase them, I often did this type of search and even found Jesse’s Dream Skirt at a nearby college in CT. I try very hard to get these books into school and public libraries but even though I have brought the books for librarians to see I haven’t had very good results. I loaned some to one college library to review and never got them back as they mailed them back to me without insuring them and they never arrived. I get nearly all of my books from Amazon as most bookstores do not have many or any of them.
    If you were a student at Rhode Island College you could check them out but a few that are very rare are only to be read in the library. You might also contact some of the transgender or LGBT groups like PFLAG or GLSEN in your area to see if they have any of these. I’m sorry you are having such a difficult time finding them but libraries always seem to have a $$$$ reason for not including these books. That’s why I urge people who come to my workshops to keep asking their libraries to order specific books. Some of these books are available on kindle from Amazon and if you know someone who has any of these perhaps they could help you out. Many of Amazon books let you look at one or two pages on line.
    All the best to you in your search and you might even suggest that Rainbow Times include my reviews of books published after these reviews. It’s so important that young transgender children feel validated and not alone and that cisgender little ones learn about children who are gender different and become their understanding and supportive friends and allies.
    Elizabeth Rowell
    PS I visited your interesting and beautiful country years ago and also had a graduate nursing student from India in my Multicultural Views of same sex orientation and transsexuality course that I taught at RIC. She did her final project and presentation on the Indian Hijras. Interestingly her aunt who had recently given birth in India was visited by one of these groups who wanted to bless her child. If you find any children’s picture books about transgender children in India please let me know.

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