Transgender Characters in Children’s Picture Books

by Janine Schall

10000 Dresses coverAlthough I’ve been interested in children’s books with LGBT characters for over a decade, for a long time that actually meant children’s books with gay or lesbian characters. While picture books with characters who transgress gender roles have been around since the 1970s and picture storybooks with explicitly lesbian and gay characters have been around since 1989, a transgender character wasn’t introduced until 2008 in 10,000 Dresses by Marcus Ewert.

In 10,000 Dresses, Bailey dreams about beautiful dresses, but each of her family members in turn rejects those dreams. Her father says:

“Bailey, what are you talking about? You’re a boy! Boys don’t wear dresses!”

“But…I don’t feel like a boy,” she said.

“Well, you are one, Bailey, and that’s that! Now go away and don’t mention dresses again!”

After her brother threatens to kick her for talking about dresses, Bailey runs away from him and his friends. She comes across another girl, who is having trouble designing a dress. Bailey tells the girl about the dresses that she’s dreamed of, and as the book closes the two are making dresses together.

Since 2008, the collection of books with transgender characters has grown rapidly. Other books with transgender characters feature more supportive families for the transgender child than the family in 10,000 Dresses. Many of these are self-published, including Be Who You Are! (Carr, 2010), The Adventures of Tulip Birthday Wish Fairy (Bergman, 2012), When Kayla Was Kyle (Fabrikant, 2013), and But, I’m Not a Boy! (Leone, 2014).

Another set of books includes boys who like to wear dresses. These gender-nonconforming characters could be read as transgender. For example, My Princess Boy (Kilodavis, 2011) is told from a parent’s perspective, describing a beloved son who likes to dress up and sometimes gets teased for wearing girly dresses. In both Jacob’s New Dress (Hoffman & Hoffman, 2014) and Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress (Baldacchino, 2014) a young boy likes to wear dresses at school. In both books the boy gets teased, but eventually wins over his classmates.

As with the early picture books with lesbian or gay characters, in these books being transgender is either a problem or something that has to be explained. The goal of all the books is to provide positive representations in order to educate both children and adults about the lives of children who are transgender.

This series of posts have provided a quick look at a collection of books with explicit or implicit LGBT characters. However, this collection is deeper and more complex than can be discussed in four short blog posts. I encourage readers to continue exploring these books!

Children’s Books Cited

Baldacchino, C. (2014). Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress. Toronto, Ontario: Groundwood Books.

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

Carr, J. (2010). Be Who You Are! Bloomington, IN: AuthorHouse.

Ewert, M. (2008). 10,000 Dresses. New York, NY: Seven Stories Press.

Fabrikant, A. (2013). When Kayla Was Kyle. Avid Readers Publishing Group.

Hoffman, S. and Hoffman, I. (2014). Jacob’s New Dress. New York, NY: Albert Whitman & Co.

Kilodavis, C. (2011). My Princess Boy. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.

Leone, K. (2014). But, I’m Not a Boy! CreateSpace.

Please visit wowlit.org to browse or search our growing database of books, to read one of our two on-line journals, or to learn more about our mission.

 

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