This is the last of the GBLT book review series, but hopefully we’ll post more of these characters. Read the other GBLT reviews.

I Am Jazz, by Jazz Jennings, tells the story of a girl who was not originally a girl. The boy she started out as felt uncomfortable when he identified more with how girls dress, style their hair, and the activities most girls were drawn to. He was made fun of and excluded and even encouraged by his naïve family to do boy things. Eventually, they saw how he was hurting and upset and came around to the idea that he was more comfortable as a girl. They let him change his hair and clothes and participate in activities he wanted. The book covers his transition, even the awkward moving from the boys bathroom and locker-room to the girls. Although very straightforward (there’s not much exciting storyline), the text is written from the point of view of a child so that younger kids can understand the emotions and try to relate. The text is spare, which is good because the illustrations fill in and work hand-in-hand so that the text can be short and still understandable. It’s very advising at the end “being different is okay,” “be happy with who you are,” “when people get to know you, they’ll like you,” “different is special.” Which, technically is all true and comforting to kids, but possibly over the top. I love the bios at the end of the book.

The idea that Jazz was ultimately happier after a somewhat rough transition, I think, lends hope to kids and families in similar situations that they will find happiness and acceptance too. I think it also is a good introduction when teaching other kids about this issue if they have questions or know someone who is transgender. This is based on the true story of Jazz Jennings who is a child advocate for the TransKids Purple Rainbow Foundation. The author, Jessica Herthel, also has a strong background on the subject. She is the director of the Stonewall National Education Project, developing teaching materials for LGBTQ friendly schools. This book was on the 2015 Rainbow List award list.

There was a debate as to whether the book should go on the “new” shelf at the library. We usually put new books that are not series or replacements on the new shelf so that patrons can see what is, well, new. The worry was that if we put this on the new shelf that some unassuming young patron would pick up the book with the cute girl with the cute name on the cover, check it out and then bring questions to parents that they didn’t want to answer. I am all for putting the book on the new shelf, especially since it won an award, but I work in a fairly conservative community that I think would disagree. Well, they have disagreed.

I don’t think we should be afraid to even indirectly promote a book like this. We ended up putting it in the non-fiction section and not in the new shelf area. The argument was that it was technically nonfiction because it was a true story that discussed the issue of gender transformation. The book was marketed as a picture book that was inclusive of the transgender. I believe that it was put in the nonfiction area to bury it so that we were not challenged on the book by angry parents having to explain this issue to their kids.

And I see that. I really do. A person should not be forced to expose their kids to issues they don’t think their kids are ready for yet. But, really. Are we hiding gblt people from public exposure because we’re afraid of what to tell our kids? I’m not trying to “promote” this book to force issues on anyone. It’s a good book. I never book talked it to anyone. I would put it on the new shelf so patrons know it’s available. I think that by including it with our general collection, we’re saying, yeah, these people exist. They may not be the majority, but they are normal people who feel they were labeled wrongly and feel more comfortable with themselves as the opposite gender. Shouldn’t they feel like they are included in society? Shouldn’t they see themselves in books just like the #weneeddiversebooks movement? Despite recent events in the news, society as a whole has come a long way on the topic of race, but not sexual orientation.

Now, I agree that even though it is a picture book story, it does focus on the issue of transgender specifically and not just a transgender kid in her normal life having an adventure/mystery/insert-genre-here. So yes, technically, it could go in the nonfiction for parents or kids specifically seeking out information/comfort/understanding on that topic. But I think the first reaction at libraries shouldn’t be, where can we hide this so we don’t have to cower before parents? And I know that’s not most librarians’ intentions, but I feel like we are still scared. And for what?

I noticed that most libraries had this book in the parenting section, so maybe they had issues with this as well. Feel free to comment or debate. I think this is an important issue to talk about and it lead to some great conversation and debate at work.

I am not a parent yet, but I would like to determine when I have these conversations with my kids, I guess. But, we’re always going to be surprised by questions like this because kids are smart, and inquisitive, and usually half as biased or wary as we are. Take advantage of this to have a great conversation with your children before they are exposed to it in a different, possibly negative light. Don’t make our kids afraid of what they aren’t familiar with. Books are great at showing multiple and different perspectives. Everything will eventually come up in books or in life: sex, drugs, relationships, sexual orientation, abuse, etc. I’m not trying to push anything in anyone’s face. But I’m not trying to bury it either.

This book has been vetted and awarded. So I’m obviously not the only person with this opinion. These books deserve to be read.

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