Gender stereotyping and gender related bullying are growing concerns in our schools. Gender confusion and transgender identification are real challenges for children and families today. Alternative families and same sex parents are legal in Canada and becoming increasingly socially accepted. So, how do we talk to our children about these things? Where can we find books that mirror the realities we experience at school, in our communities and at home? Below are a few children’s picture books to get you started.
Richardson, Justin, and Peter Parnell. And Tango Makes Three. New York: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2005.
Roy and Silo live at the penguin house at the Central Park Zoo in New York City. They are a little different from the other males: they are not interested in the female penguins, but in each other. Soon a zookeeper notices their loving relationship and decides, like the other penguins at the zoo, they should be able to experience what it means to have a family. They are soon offered a fertilized egg to hatch, and become the proud parents of little Tango, the first penguin to have two dads.
And Tango Makes Three is an award-winning, heart-warming true story of two penguins who create a non-traditional family, based on love.
Herthel, Jessica, and Jazz Jennings. I Am Jazz. New York: Penguin Random House, 2014.
Jazz has a girl’s brain in a boy’s body. Her favourite color is pink; she loves dressing like a mermaid; and she is not interested in anything boys are. Her parent soon discovered that Jazz is transgender, and was born this way. It is not easy to navigate this while growing up, but this is who Jazz is. This book tells her story.
This is important book for all elementary schools and families. As coauthor, Jazz tells her story clearly and honestly, in hopes that other children and families with gender identity questions can learn and find peace in the discovery. This book offers readers a tool to talk more openly about being transgender (as well as other sexual orientations).
Polacco, Patricia. In Our Mother’s House. New York: Philomel Books, 2009.
Marmee, Meema, and their three children are just like most families: they cook; they play games; they laugh; they learn; and they celebrate the seasons of the year together. Most people in the neighborhood love them—and why not? They were always happy and always having fun! Sadly, some families don’t like them and work hard to stay away from them. They had two moms and three adopted children—now what kind of family is that?
In typical Patricia Polacco style, this book is written with deep love and endless joy. It celebrates diversity and highlights that family is where love is.
de Paola, Tomi. Oliver Button Is a Sissy. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1979.
Why didn’t Oliver just do what other boys did? Instead Oliver prefers playing with paper dolls, spending time in the attic putting on costumes, singing and dancing, and playing make-believe. The result? Oliver gets teased and bullied. Even his father doesn’t understand his choices, and thinks he should do more “boy things.”
Oliver Button Is a Sissy is a classic, and has stood the test of time. Ever so gently, celebrated author Tomie dePaola masterfully uncovers issues of gender stereotyping, bullying, self-esteem, and acceptance. An important book thirty-seven years ago and still today.
Newman, Leslea. Heather Has Two Mommies. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press, 2015.
“Heather’s favorite number is two. She has two arms, two legs, two eyes, two ears, two hands, and two feet.” Most everything about Heather is like most other children around her, with one difference: Heather has two mothers.
Jeanette Romkema is a partner and senior consultant at Global Learning Partners, Inc. <www.globallearningpartners.com>, and is professor at Wycliffe College in Toronto. Her masters and Ph.D. work is in curriculum, teaching, and learning, with her research focused on children’s literature.