Yesterday at work I had a teacher ask for book recommendations for her grade five and six students.
I immediately thought of Alex Gino’s George.
Here’s some info on George:
When people look at George, they see a boy. But George knows she’s a girl.
George thinks she’ll have to keep this a secret forever. Then her teacher announces that their class play is going to be Charlotte’s Web. George really, really, REALLY wants to play Charlotte. But the teacher says she can’t even try out for the part … because she’s a boy.
With the help of her best friend Kelly, George comes up with a plan. Not just so she can be Charlotte – but so everyone can know who she is, once and for all.
GEORGE is a candid, genuine, and heartwarming middle grade about a transgender girl who is, to use Charlotte’s word, R-A-D-I-A-N-T!
(Source: Alex Gino)
I can’t begin to tell you how excited I was when the teacher came up to the register a few minutes later, and George was one of the books in her hands. I won’t lie, I wanted to both cry, and hug the teacher.
Not only is this teacher to be praised for buying books to keep in her classroom for students to read, but the fact that she bought a story with a transgender character just warms my heart.
George is such a wonderful, powerful and impactful story, that I believe has the power to change lives. We need to see more LGBTQ+ books being made easily and freely available to those who want access to them, especially a children’s novel like George.
I’ve recently been working on a proposal for my major research essay for my Master of Arts in Communication, where I’m proposing to examine identity formation in young adult novels. Part of my proposal involved looking into the impacts LGBTQ+ YA books have on the youth who read them.
Here’s some of what I found:
YA literature is an influential source of information on identity development for teens, and that it deserves further study to explore efferent readings of the literature. “The young adult novel is quickly becoming one of the best complementary sources of information related to sex, tolerance, navigating queer life, and sexual diversity—both for queer teens who wish to find books they can relate to and for nonqueer teens who wish to read depictions of what their peers experience in life” (Bittner, 2012, p. 370-371).
“Examining texts for different conceptualizations of sexual and gender identities might invite students and teachers to interrogate assumed notions of identities as essential or even developmental. This might free a student who has been tagged as a fag or a dyke, even for years, of the burden of homophobia, even if only in his or her English language arts class. It might also liberate a student who has always understood himself or herself, and has always been understood by others, as straight, but who is struggling with a confusing attraction to a same-gender peer. In other words, exploring possibilities of sexual and gender identities that are multiple, variable, and fluid might alleviate some of the pressure of being or becoming someone who is socially acceptable and soothe the anxieties associated with being or becoming someone who is not” (Blackburn, Clark & Nemeth, 2015, p. 34).
“While literature may not eliminate homophobia nor alleviate the risks stemming from it, well-written books may help subvert the culture of silence still current in many school environments and offer a supportive framework for self-understanding by gay and lesbian teens. Moreover, books such as the ones discussed here may help heterosexual students who are homophobic question their traditional assumptions in order to lead lives not bound and threatened by prejudices and fears” (Norton & Vare, 2004, p. 69).
YA authors understand the powerful socializing forces of children’s and YA fiction, which Wickens (2011) argues is a reason they should be studied. “Authors of contemporary LGBTQ novels appear to be as equally aware of the potential impact of their books on their audiences. As a result, studying these texts for the ways they enact and engage with ongoing discourses around sexuality and gender helps effectively trace these cultural shifts and their impact on future generations” (Wickens, 2011, p. 162).
As the studies referenced above show, LGBTQ+ literature for children and young adults has the power to shape minds and its impacts are possible, not only to help queer and trans youth to understand themselves, but to also help straight and cis youth to understand what their peers are going through. This can help to reduce homophobia and transphobia, and I think that introducing books like George to children a young age will help to make these impacts happen sooner.
If there’s one thing we need, it’s more love, acceptance and celebration of the LGBTQ+ community, and it’s people like the teacher I met today that will help make this possible. And ultimately, I think more people like that will make this world a better place. One classroom and one student at a time.
Bittner, R. (2012). Queering sex education: Young adult literature with LGBT content as complementary sources of sex and sexuality education. Journal of LGBT Youth, 9(4), 357-372.
Blackburn, M., Clark, C., & Nemeth, E. (2015). Examining queer elements and ideologies in LGBT-themed literature: What queer literature can offer young adult readers. Journal of Literacy Research, 47(1), 11-48.
Norton, T. L., & Vare, J. W. (2004). Literature for today’s gay and lesbian teens: Subverting the culture of silence. The English Journal, 94(2), 65-69.
Wickens, C. M. (2011). Codes, silences, and homophobia: Challenging normative assumptions about gender and sexuality in contemporary LGBTQ young adult literature. Children’s Literature in Education, 42(2), 148-164.