In 2008, Marcus Ewert’s storybook, 10,000 Dresses, offered transgender children their very own fairy tale. The book’s protagonist, Bailey, dreams of wearing a crystal gown. Bailey’s family insists that boys don’t wear dresses, but when Bailey befriends a neighbor with a sewing machine, she makes a dress that fits the girl she knows she is.
Bailey’s story of family rejection reflects an experience shared by far too many gender-nonconforming children. But as more and more parents think critically about gender, a new wave of children’s books depicts families who encourage their kids to be who they are.
When Jennifer Carr‘s oldest child confessed that she felt like a girl inside, Carr searched for a relatable storybook that would help her child feel less alone. She brought home 10,000 Dresses, but Carr’s children didn’t like that Bailey’s family rejected her because she was transgender.
Carr needed a book that reflected her child’s experience, a story of acceptance and familial support. So Carr wrote that book herself.
In 2011 Carr published Be Who You Are, a storybook about a male-assigned child who tells her parents she feels like a girl inside. Her parents tell her to “be who you are,” and Nick grows out her hair, wears dresses, and changes her name to “Hope.”
While Carr was struggling to understand her child’s gender identity in Chicago, Seattle mom Cheryl Kilodavis was consulting experts about her son, who had taken to wearing princess costumes. At first, Kilodavis tried to redirect her son’s interests, worried that his love for tiaras would make him a target for bullies. But pediatricians and child psychologists put Kilodavis’ mind at ease.
“The verdict was: He is a happy and healthy little boy who just likes pretty things and likes to dress up,” Kilodavis told Parents magazine. “The advice was not to over-encourage it or over-discourage it.”
Kilodavis eventually authored My Princess Boy, a picture book about a young boy with an affinity for “girl things.” The protagonist, Dyson, isn’t transgender, but he certainly defies gender norms. Like Hope’s family in Be Who You Are, Dyson’s family loves him exactly the way he is.
The book has led some online commentators to question Kilodavis’ parenting methods, and Kilodavis isn’t alone. Jennifer Carr has also faced criticism for parents who disagree with her message.
“I had people saying wolves should raise my children instead of me,” Carr told the Windy City Times.
But most of the feedback that Kilodavis and Carr receive has been overwhelmingly positive.
Kilodavis and Carr are filling a void in children’s literature that doesn’t only help kids—these books are showing parents what supportive families look like, and for that, these radical mothers deserve some serious props.
Recently I have been playing with the idea of writing my own children’s book. I tutor elementary schoolers at my local library in reading. I have one tutoree in particular who has touched me deeply. She is a first grader who likes black and red and is constantly called an evil tomboy by her classmates and older sister. Needless to say, she reminds me a lot of me. She also likes playing practical jokes and tricking people (my other, more villainous alter-ego is a trickster). My tutoree was very reserved and shy when we first met this January, but now that the program is over we get along famously. Her mother personally thanked me and told me that I really helped her daughter out in more than just reading. She is more confident and is thinking about things in new ways- they want me to be her tutor all next year as well.
I want to write a children’s book about her. For girls like her. Its really hard to find picture books that she’ll find interesting when all of the ones about little girls are like: sleepovers, pink, and stupid. I want to write a book about a tricky girl who likes dark colors. I want to write about how she is not evil, she is just herself. She doesn’t have to like pink or purple to be good. Color preference doesn’t make you inherently good or evil. Only the choices you make and how you treat people determines that.