AUTHOR: Alex Gino
PUBLISHER: Scholastic Press
RELEASE DATE: August 25, 2015
GENRE: Junior Fiction, LGBTQI+
PAGE COUNT: 195
You may be surprised to hear that a children’s book would be my pick above many of the LGBTQI+ books written for adults. Why? George’s representation of a transgender child captures the feeling of being “born this way”. It talks about gender in a way that young readers can understand, and which also has the power to educate adults.
Fourth-grader, George, is determined to be Charlotte in the class production of Charlotte’s Web. This is the chance she’s been waiting for to tell the world she’s a girl. But when the teachers refuse to even let her audition for a girl’s role, her flamboyant best friend Kelly comes up with a daring plan to make George’s dreams comes true.
This is possibly the cutest book I’ve ever read. George is an adorable and emotionally attuned character, with a balance of courage and self-doubt that makes her empathetic to junior readers facing a wide range of struggles. After reading Charlotte’s Web, George knows that playing Charlotte in the school production will force people to accept her identity. Her outspoken bestie, Kelly, is contagiously optimistic – just what George needs to help conquer the obstacles standing between her and her goal.
George hated the boys’ bathroom. It was the worst room in the school. She hated the smell of pee and bleach, and she hated the blue tiles on the wall to remind you where you were, as if the urinals didn’t make it obvious enough. The whole room was about being a boy – page 17
I recommend George as a starting place for anyone who wants to learn more about being transgender, regardless of age. Through its clear communication of the topic, this book makes LGBTQI+ issues accessible to even very young readers. I can imagine parents sharing this book with a child to help them understand the experience of a transgender family member or friend. Also, other children like George may find this book validating of their feelings – seeing your struggles shared by a story character is life-affirming.
What wowed me the most is how uncomplicated George’s gender identity is. (Be mindful that George represents only one person’s experience. While it is a well-written introduction to a handful of themes and issues that face the LGBTQI+ community, George’s experience is safe and happy compared to many people’s. That said, it’s a great story to educate young people about gender diversity. See my LGBTQIA Book Recs page for further reading.) For George, it’s simple. She knows it isn’t a phase, and that she doesn’t need to prove herself to anyone. Above all, she knows that being viewed and accepted as female by her friends and family will resolve her dysphoria. Readers are left with no choice but to stand by George and accept her for who she is. George teaches a fundamental value – that one’s gender identity is nobody’s business but one’s own.
Language and Gender Roles
I appreciate how this book demonstrates the power of language to suppress divergence from the perceived norm. Although language acts on such a subliminal level, the psychological impact can be huge. The adults in George unwittingly hurt her feelings and make her feel “Other” by using language that treats male and female as binary opposites. For example, George’s teacher tells her, “I know you’ll turn into a fine young man” (page 15). When her mum encourages her to share her feelings, she says, “You will always be my little boy, and that will never change. Even when you grow up to be an old man, I will still love you as my son” (page 47). This upset me because it made me aware of how blind most people are to the underlying implications of our everyday language around gender.
Similarly, Alex Gino’s use of feminine pronouns (“she”/”her”) when referring to George may seem insignificant. However, this makes readers subconsciously accept George’s gender identity as matter-of-fact. Yet more proof of language’s power to frame gender in both helpful and harmful ways.
Last summer, George has seen that phrase in one her own dad’s magazines, an article called 10 WAYS TO GET IN TOUCH WITH YOUR FEMININE SIDE. George has been excited to read it, but the article had been disappointing. It talked about taking time to feel your emotions, which George already did too much already. Worse, the article kept reminding the reader that finding your feminine side made you more of a man – page 60
George’s bullying will be relatable to many young readers, regardless of gender identity. She’s picked on by other kids because she doesn’t fulfil the expectations of males in her society e.g. she’s emotionally sensitive and doesn’t enjoy sports. This book shows how people who don’t fit their gender roles, regardless of gender or sexual identity, face adversity in pretty much every aspect of their lives. Out of every LGBTQI+ book I’ve read, George proved this point most powerfully because it made the issues so visible and easy to discuss.
With its pared back approach, George is a fantastic LGBTQI+ book for readers of all ages, introducing a much deeper, multi-faceted conversation about transgenderism. George, with her self-belief and her dreams, will touch a lot of hearts.