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Talking With Kids About The Gender Spectrum – Inclusive Picture Books
[Image description: Illustration from They, She, He, Me: Free To Be!, by Maya Gonzalez. Three smiling people with light-brown skin of nonbinary gender, with dark hair of different lengths and green and white clothing.]
Not sure how to explain the difference between sex and gender with your kids? If you’re looking for inclusive, age-appropriate, and body-positive books to understand the difference between assigned-sex-at-birth and gender, this picture-book guide is for you.
First Talks About Body Boundaries
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105: Talking With Kids About Gender
Building A Framework Of Acceptance & Inclusion
Genitals and assigned sex at birth don’t automatically determine a person’s gender. I’ve explained that to my kids countless times, but we hadn’t gone over the many (MANY) things the outside world teaches them to assume are innately masculine or feminine, like facial hair.
Expansive books on the spectrum and fluidity of gender give my kids a safe, age-appropriate space to question the rigid binary messages they’ve been told. Thanks to these books, they continue to think critically about why only some kids are allowed to own their masculinity and femininity.
It gives them the courage to challenge these assumptions.
From left-to-right, and top-to-bottom, you can introduce these books in a pace that feels right to you, answering kids’ questions as they go. If you’re not ready for these books yet, check out our basic books on anatomy and body awareness, then come back here.
- They She He Me (pronouns, nonbinary, gender fluidity & spectrum, breaking gender constructs)
- Introducing Teddy (transgender)
- Red (transgender, invisible disabilities)
- From the Stars In The Sky To The Fish In The Sea (nonbinary, gender fluidity)
- Worm Loves Worm (nonbinary, gender fluidity, marriage rights)
- Neither (nonbinary, spectrum)
- *A Princess Of Great Daring (transgender, breaking gender constructs
- Lovely (gender spectrum, breaking gender constructs)
- I Am Jazz (transgender, women’s history)
- The Gender Wheel* (nonbinary, gender fluidity & spectrum, whitewashing, colonization, breaking gender constructs)
- *47,000 Beads (nonbinary, two-spirit) – Only available in a 6-book set with other Flamingo Rampant books, unless you can catch it while it’s sold as a book-of-the-month.
- George (transgender, chapter book for older readers)
*Disclosure: I got access to a free digital version of ‘A Princess of Great Daring’ & ‘47,000 Beads’ from the publisher, Flamingo Rampant.
The only book that shows genitals is The Gender Wheel – and the reading level is for older kids anyway. The product page guide says 4-8, but the flowery, didactic text is probably best for ages 5.5+. (Or older, if you’ve got spirited kids who can’t sit through didactic books.) By the time your kids are old enough for it, you’ll be ready to say words like ‘penis’ and ‘vagina’ out loud. Go ahead and start practicing now. It gets easier.
VULVA. See? Six years ago there’s now way I would have typed that on my website. Progress! Destigmatizing! Shameless!
I used to recommend Who Are You as a starter book for preschoolers, but I recently found out that white cisgender authors plagiarized The Gender Wheel, appropriating and whitewashing the labor of Maya Christina Gonzalez, a queer Chicana woman. (…Yeah.) Don’t buy it, and don’t check it out of the library (libraries track that). Let it fade into obliviousness.
Breaking Gender Constructs
Books featuring kids using binary pronouns, empowered and self-accepting while breaking cultural gender norms. This mainly focuses on kids who use male pronouns, since breaking gender constructs is increasingly already acceptable for girls & women.
Most of these books are validating – meaning they are meant to show kids that they are not alone, be careful and ad-lib when reading these to kids who haven’t already internalized gender constructs. I’m particularly cautious about how we read lines such as “Girls can be doctors, too,” which suggest that gender roles are normal and this one character is an outlier. Nah.
Kids using he/him/his
Validating books about boys rockin’ skirts: Jacob’s New Dress and Morris Micklewhite And The Tangerine Dress are both wonderful. My younger son and I prefer the illustrationsand dreamy quality of Morris, but my son connected with Jacob’s Dress easier. Sparkle Boy had some unrealistic sibling conflict resolution and centered the feelings of a bigoted sister, so I’m not a huge fan of it, even though it does normalize a multi-ethnic family (Latinx/white). My Princess boy featured some creepy faceless characters and the story was solidly meh? although we did like the real-life photos at the end. 10,000 Dresses was solidly bizarre, confusing, negative, and a little creepy in execution, so I’d read that one with caution. I liked the idea behind One Of A Kind, Like Me, but we found the story disengaging. Reading it was kind of like running a very boring, yet stressful, shopping errand.
See our reader discussion on Julián is a Mermaid. While it’s still a lovely book I recommend, we need to be aware of some cultural whitewashing.
The Boy & The Bindi, Want To Play Trucks? What Can A Citizen Do (caveat, this book runs of the rails a little. The weird bear citizen kinda ruins the message.), Charlie & Mouse (Mouse wears a tutu, it’s no big deal), Teddy’s Favorite Toy.
You Might Like: 6 Mistakes We Make Raising Boys: Preventing Sexual Assault
Kids using she/her/hers
The Ballad of Mulan, Phoebe & Digger, The Paper Bag Princess, Teeny Tiny Toady, Lucía the Luchadora, Drum Dream Girl
Also decent, but not pictured because they were less engaging and we’re running out of space: Not All Princesses Dress In Pink, What Do Grown-Ups Do All Day, A Fire Engine For Ruthie, Beautiful.
You might also like: Boys Need Books About Girls: Normalizing Kickass Girls Of Color
Stay Curious, Stand Brave & Let Your Kids Be Happy
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