I’m Not A Girl (Maddox Lyons & Jessica Verdi)

Hello, friends! Our book today is I’m Not A Girl, written by Maddox Lyons and Jessica Verdi, and illustrated by Dana Simpson, a touching and empowering story about a young child’s journey of self-discovery and self-actualization.

The red-headed narrator opens our story by explaining that today is picture day – he HATES picture day, because he always has to wear a dress. Just like at Halloween, when the salesperson and Mom only let him pick costumes from the girl’s side. He tries to communicate the things he wants – like cutting his hair short – but people just don’t seem to listen. The little boy isn’t a tomboy, and he acknowledges that there’s nothing wrong with being a girl – but he is NOT a girl, and nobody seems to understand that. That is, until the day he meets a pair of new friends at the pool who teach him a new word: transgender. Suddenly, our young hero has the words to explain how he feels, and he might just be ready to show his parents, and the world, who he really is.

Wonderful. Written from the perspective of a transgender child, this story of gender discovery and transition does a fantastic job of walking readers through the emotional frustrations and triumphs that accompany that journey. Co-authors Lyons (who is himself transgender) and Verdi do an incredible job of explaining the feelings of living with gender dysphoria in a way that audiences young and old can empathize with. Simpson, also transgender, puts a great deal of heart into the artwork, and while the composition can occasionally feel flat, the emotions of the characters are beautifully portrayed through facial expressions; the final illustration and Easter egg in the backmatter tug the heartstrings. The length is great, and JJ and I both loved this one – it was a great way to celebrate the anniversary of the Stonewall uprisings and have our own conversation on gender identity. Overall, this is a great book to introduce the concept of being transgender, for kids who may be struggling with their own dysphoria and for allies who want to better understand their perspective. We highly recommend this one, and it’s Baby Bookworm approved!

(Note: A copy of this book was provided to The Baby Bookworm by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)

I Want to Be a Vase (Julio Torres)

Hello, friends! Our book today is I Want to Be a Vase, written by Julio Torres and illustrated by Julian Glander, a hilariously irreverent and thought-provoking look at identity.

It’s a quiet day in the bathroom of the apartment when the plunger makes an unexpected announcement: “I want to be a vase.” Its bathroom compatriots react with various levels of surprise and disapproval, none more so than the vacuum cleaner. Yet the plunger is undeterred; it ventures through the living room and into the kitchen procuring some fresh-cut flowers and tape, and reinvents itself. Many of the kitchen’s objects are confused at first, but the pot readily accepts the plunger’s new identity; after all, the pot has always dreamed of being a trash can. Suddenly, objects all over the apartment are happily finding new uses and identities, much to the vacuum cleaner’s dismay! Will the objects be set straight – or were they right to chase their dreams all along?

Hysterical and insightful. Torres’s incredibly amusing conversational text (differing fonts and outline colors deftly signal each speaker) pairs beautifully with Glander’s spectacularly stylized 3D digital illustrations to tell a bizarre yet oddly universal story about self-actualization. While some of the objects’ chosen identities are played for laughs (“I want to be a pillow too!” cries a mirror, “A sharp, breakable, dangerous pillow!”), the arguments for rejecting an assigned identity that is uncomfortable or unfulfilling, as well as the final understanding that accepting those identities makes everyone happier in the long run, are very much drawn from real-life. Young readers, who have no problem seeing the possibilities of what objects can be beyond their intended uses, will easily grasp the concept, as well as the comedy of the sharp dialogue and colorful artwork. The length is perfect for a storytime, and JJ absolutely LOVED this one; she was screaming with laughter by the fourth page, and joyfully helped the book itself realize its own dream of exploring new opportunities. This is a strange book, but an utterly delightful one. Overall, a whip-smart and wonderfully silly read, and it’s Baby Bookworm approved!

(Note: A copy of this book was provided to The Baby Bookworm by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)

When Aidan Became A Brother (Kyle Lukoff)

Hello, friends! Our book today is When Aidan Became A Brother, written by Kyle Lukoff and illustrated by Kaylani Juanita, a very unique story of a little boy becoming a big brother.

When Aidan was born, everyone thought he was a girl. So they decorated his room in “girly” colors and gave him a girl’s name and put him in pretty dresses. But when he grew bigger, Aidan realized that he hated all those girly things; of course, so did some of the other girls too, but Aidan didn’t feel like those types of girls – he felt like another type of boy. When he told his parents, they supported him and helped him transition, and now he’s happy being a boy, and most excited to be a big brother to his little sibling-to-be. He wants to make sure that the new baby will feel welcome and loved no matter who they are. But how can he do that, especially when the world can still be such a confusing place for him? Aidan’s willing to try – he’s determined to be the best big brother he can.

What an lovely and unexpected book. While the story centers around a transgender child, the main theme is not solely about being trans, but how we view gender. Telling it from the point of view of Aidan – a young child who has already spent his childhood examining gender roles by necessity – allows readers both young and old to question along with him as he ponders why it should matter if the new baby is a boy or girl, or how it should affect how they are dressed or treated. It allows the book to have a great range of themes: it’s a new baby book, and a book about growing up trans, and a book about societal views on gender, and a book about love and family, and a book about how there are lots of ways to be a boy or a girl, and more. It’s fresh and striking and can open up opportunities for many discussions. The artwork is the cherry on top, using bright patterns and expressive faces to create emotion and warmth. Even the author’s note is a touching reminder that by being true to ourselves, we make the world brighter and more wonderful. The length was great, and JJ loved it too. Absolutely superb, and it’s Baby Bookworm approved!

It Feels Good To Be Yourself: A Book About Gender Identity (Theresa Thorn)

Hello, friends – we’re back! And with a book that’s perfect for our first Pride Month review: It Feels Good To Be Yourself: A Book About Gender Identity, written by Theresa Thorn and illustrated by Noah Grigni.

Meet Ruthie. She is a transgender girl; when she was little, everyone thought she was a boy, but when she was old enough to speak for herself, she let everyone know the truth. Her brother Xavier is a cisgender boy; when he was little, everyone thought he was a boy, and they were right! They also have friends like Alex – who is both a boy and a girl – and JJ, who doesn’t feel like either. Alex and JJ are non-binary, and just like there are lots of ways to be a boy or a girl, there are lots of ways to be non-binary as well! No matter what gender someone identifies as, the most important thing is that they are loved, supported, and free to be themselves – doesn’t it feel good to be yourself?

LOVE. Taking a concept that is often overwrought or misconstrued and simplifying it down to its core elements, this child-friendly look at the spectrum of gender covers a lot of ground without ever feeling overwhelming or confusing. Especially wonderful is the way the illustrations explore further elements, such as diversity, intersectionality and non-gendered clothing and play, giving kids and parents even more avenues to discuss all the wonderful ways we can be different. The text can feel a little repetitive in areas, but it’s not out of place with such important and complex topic, and the ultimate lesson is about loving yourself and feeling free to express who you are in whatever way makes you feel comfortable. JJ especially enjoyed the rich colors of the art (and that she shared a name with one of the characters). The length was great, the wealth of backmatter encourages further education, and we loved it. A great way to explore questions about gender as a family, and it’s Baby Bookworm approved!

(Note: A copy of this book was provided to The Baby Bookworm by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)

10,000 Dresses (Marcus Ewert)

Hello, friends! Our book today is 10,000 Dresses, written by Marcus Ewert and illustrated by Rex Ray, a look into the dreams and struggles of a young transgender girl.

When Bailey dreams, she dreams of dresses – 10,000 in total. Each dress is a wonder, made of crystals or flowers or windows into far-off lands. But whenever Bailey wakes up and shares her dreams with her family, she is met with uncharitable reactions: “You’re a BOY!” they say, “you shouldn’t be thinking about dresses.” Bailey tells them that she doesn’t feel like a boy, but they refuse to hear it, and her brother even cruelly bullies her. Seeking solitude, she walks to the end of the road and finds an older girl making a dress; Laurel has the skill for dressmaking but lacks inspiration. Bailey shares her dreams with Laurel and together, they begin to make Bailey’s dream dresses a reality.

This one is tough. Bailey’s dreams are so lovely, and the way the text uses her preferred pronouns from the start captures the confusion and frustration of trans people knowing who they are while the world tells them something else. My concerns lie with Bailey’s family: while their attitudes and reactions are sadly accurate of the families of many trans people, I’m on the fence on whether this honest depiction is right for a picture book. Likewise, I LOVED the interactions with Laurel at the end, which gives hope of finding and making one’s own family – again, as many transgender people must do – but it raises the question: what will Bailey’s family do when they discover she’s been making and wearing dresses? Overall, I think this is a blunt yet hopeful depiction of life as a trans child, but when sharing it with bookworms, be sure to include a conversation to discuss questions they may have. Otherwise, the mixed-media art carries to the story and its themes beautifully, the length is fine, and JJ enjoyed it. Baby Bookworm approved!