Quick Things You Need To Know:
- I’m working on a public book collection of the best books featuring explicitly nonbinary and gender-fluid characters, which is over here. Since I have to keep public collections short, all the stuff that didn’t quite fit in is going to live here.
- I pulled out all of the books that featured nonbinary characters (no pronouns) but then are identified as male or female in the book description or the author’s website. Disappointment!
- These makers don’t deserve credit for nonbinary characters if it wasn’t intentional, so I’m creating a sub-list of books that you can read to your kids as nonbinary characters, but the author didn’t explicitly mean them to code that way.
- I’ll also include books that feature nonbinary characters, but were otherwise problematic, unengaging, or confusing.
Click here to see public book collections featuring nonbinary characters
Nonbinary Characters in Unengaging and Problematic Books
These were the books that were confusing, kinda ‘meh’ but not quite problematic. Or were a little too vague on whether characters were nonbinary or just breaking gender constructs.
- Newspaper pirates – (shelton). I *think* this character is supposed to be nonbinary, they kind of present as a feminine boy, with lots of jewlerly and nail polish and tight clothing. Sadly the story opens an info gap it never closes – who the fuck is stealing all the newspapers? We never find out who the newspaper thieves are, the story is all over the place and takes forever to get nowhere. the illustrations are a littttle demented. I wanted to like this, as it normalizes multiracial families and gay dads (black dad – papa, white redhead dad – abba, white redhead kid), but oh this book was a mess. Disclosure: Received a free digital version of this for review.
- Are you a boy or are you a girl? – savage – illustrations are awful, story is boring. They really harp on how wealthy Tiny kid is and I wonder why, other than to underline how open gender fluidity in childhood is a privilege exclusive to the liberal white elites. But given how thrown-together this book is, I kinda doubt it’s that deep. Looks like a multiracial blended family with a darker dad, but only the new baby is brown, with the other two ginger and blonde, so it almost fits for blended families, but it’s too unclear. fiona the sister is a girl. tiny is nonbinary and a kid yells at them for thier name. a girl says girls can’t be firefighters but there is a lady firefighter driving the firetruck – which I know is supposed to counter what the bully said, but it’s just…so poorly done. It feels slapped together and boring and terrible, kids deserve better. The bullies say stuff like like girls can’t play football, blah blah. bully calls tiny an “it” but the story never addresses how that kind of language is harmful, just has the teacher screaming (physically, her mouth is huge) to say he’s sorry. WTF? and suddenly magic happens or something and they win over the bully, then for some reason a token kid in a wheelchair shows up at the end. what the FUCK is going on in this book? #OwnVoices nonbinary author and trans illustrator, but damn is this insulting towards kids.
- A House For Everyone – I was on the fence about this – I’ve tried this multiple times, but without a story to hold the characters together, it’s not engaging enough for us. I like how it really spells out a bunch of different gender identities, but it kinda reads like a role call, and it’s a chore to read. Our most successful read was from R2 (age 4) pulling this off the shelf in a desperate attempt to stave off bedtime, but even then the kids ended up getting lost in the details (some of the illustrations are gloppy and confusing) rather than getting the point of all the gender identities. Disclosure: Our friends from Rabble Books & Games sent this to me all the way from Australia!
- Is That for a boy or a girl? – bergman – rhyming is a bit clunky and painful to read. While the text is awful, the illustrations are inclusive, so it’s a shame we have to skip this one. I was on the fence, but multiple problematic issues: “There are days I adore my tidy braids, But sometimes my hair is a mess.” Oh yikes yikes yikes – alongside picture of black child, that is super problematic. Let’s not talk about Black kids’ natural hair as ‘a mess.’ Shows a white girl in a motorized wheelchair eating fast food (without food shaming, yay.) but shows a girl sitting upside down in the bus with the line “Kids should do what makes them feel good. Please mind your own business.” Umm…no that is actively unsafe, and there’s a difference between self-expression and risky behavior. Why even we’d need to imply that oral stimming is shameful, yikes nope: “Sucking his thumb, and it doesn’t make him a ‘sissy’ no matter what you say.” sends mixed signals, linking boyish as tough and fast when my kids don’t have that connection. “It’s not ‘boyish,’ fast and tough, but my words can be gentle or they can be rough.” It does addresses bathroom usage by trans kids, which is good, but still not worth reading due to the downsides. #OwnVoices transmasculine author. Transparency: Flamingo Rampant sent me a free digital copy for review.
- all i want to be is me – rosenblatt – bland, boring, repetitive, saccharine rhyming, “look inside my heart” stuff. lots of waldorfy watercolors, but not in a pretty way, just in a sappy way. Blegh.
Humans with no pronouns
All of these books feature characters who do not use any pronouns
- Little You (Van Camp) – This is a fine book, but it’s not particularly engaging. It’s a board book for toddlers, with heady lines like “You are life and breath adored / You are us and so much more” which is hard to parse for infants and toddlers, centering the adult gaze. It’s the kind of thing grandparents get for baby shower gifts.
- Sweetest Kulu – Another #OwnVoices Indigenous/First Nations (Inuit) maker, but again, forgettable with lines that don’t really mean anything to little kids. SUPER cute illustrations but without scaffolding on the connection between animals, the earth, and Inuit culture, it doesn’t grab kids for engagement.
- Amazing me music – thompson – cute chubby babies, inclusive of disability, race, gender, nonbinary. particularly like that almost all of the instruments are DIY makeshift upcycled, environmentalism, board book. I feel like there are hundreds of these un-named baby books so it doesn’t quite make the cut for explicitly nonbinary.
- My two uncles – vigna. kid hangs out with uncles. grampa is against his gay son. good for explaining homophobia – kid’s dad explains why grampa doesn’t approve, and what it means to be gay. main character’s name is ‘Elly’ and looks nonbinary, had short hair and I perceived them to be masculine, but Elly later wears necklace and puffy shouldered outfit with a flower headband at grandparent’s 50th anniversary party. gran gives them hugs. grampa waves, but the bigotry isn’t magically resolved, which i appreciate. lgbtq+, gay uncles.
- Summer’s end – boelts – kid is sad that summer is coming to an end, and grieving over the loss of summer things like going barefoot, sparklers, visiting cousins, etc. nonbinary white child with a white family (hair is long and then short after a haircut). we see the little sister getting really excited about starting first grade, and how the narrator, erasures her. Only after visiting the Amazon page just now do I see that the character’s name is ‘Jill’ and referred to as ‘she’ – in the book there isn’t any hint as to the gender. Turns out, the book was published in 1995 and Boelts wanted a nonbinary character, but they had to name and gender the character to satisfy publishers trying to sell the book. Best for kindergarten+, as the story is about the end of summer and prepping to go back to school. growing up, seasonal transitions, milestones, back to school, independence
- What Can A Citizen Do – eggers – I love the page that says “A citizen is just like you.” with a little white boy toting a ton of wood and tools and a baseball cap, wearing a fantastic pink leotard and tutu. all characters are nonbinary. but there isn’t so much a story and the text an illustrations pu the burden on grown ups to explain the connection. also everything is true except for the odd part where a bear shows up. “A citizen can be a bear.” Except…no. A bear is not a citizzen. Then it runs off the rails – the bear goes on to paddle a bike thing to power an elevator and at that point – I’m kind of lost. the idea behind the book is good, and if the story was tighter and made more sense, or was clearer in writing, it would be awesome. the end is nice but confusing. could be delightful for open borders and progressive immigration, if it were better executed. the ‘no trumpets’ sign is a dig at 45, but it’s poorly executed. includes a character wearing a, twins (showing how identical twins are not quite alike, the longer you look at them, the more differences you find, very subtle.), power in diversity, activism
- Stuck with the blooz – Levis – Author intentionally created a non-binary character on purpose, but only so kids could see themselves in the character (in that case it’s an interesting choice that the author made them white and blonde) but not because they felt the need to represent non-binary kids (from podcast interview with Levis). The main character is threatening and violent “you go away, blooz, or ill punch you in the face.” The fuck? Threatens and tries to keep it out, then tries being nice and asking what’s wrong, then just hangs out with it and it eventually gets bumped off during a bike ride. If we are coding this for depression it sounds awfully easy to accidentally or just wait it out. Nope – why even does this book exist?
Please, baby, please – spike lee – hard work of parenting. mother is primary caretaker, nonbinary child (no pronouns) does typical toddlerish stuff while mom tries to manage it all. father is in background and doesn’t do any childcare (so I’m not going to recommend it because holy gendering). funny for 4yo to read once but no story. normalizing black characters. mom pleads with baby, rather than empathizing or reasoning with them which is annoying. seems written for toddlers but I wasn’t okay with reading it until 4+ when they are way past the age when they might mimic this behavior. skip. #OwnVoices Black maker, illustrators of color.
- The grand expedition – adibage(s?) – not bad, but bland. two nonbinary kids (looks norwegian?) camp out in back yard. cute, everyday sibling adventure. single dad, but he doesn’t really do any caretaking. healthy sibling relationships, but story is too forgettable
- float – daniel miyares – wordless filler book, meh
- All my friends are fast asleep – david weinstone – set to song. not worth reading, but cute. ages 1-4. kid tries to sleep everywhere and finally finds they’re able to sleep in their own bed. book jacket describes him as a boy, but told in first person and story doesn’t use pronouns. normalizing black boys, bedtime
- Let’s talk about body boundaries, consent & respect – sanders – I originally thought the author was leaving some kids gender-ambiguous on purpose, until I later read her book “Who Am I” which feeds into a gender binary while claiming to dismantle gender norms. This book about body boundaries is good, but that other one about gender is shitty. Anyway, this is probably the best book we’ve found about consent, and even taught us about security networks, and the importance of having at least one person outside our family in the security network. Sanders has a problem with running on (and on and on) with her books. I wish the end part (about sharing, waiting turns, etc) had been cut off and made into another book. the earthquakes were kind of done with it at what felt like the natural ending on page 27, only to have itdrag on for another 10 pages. illustrations are great, AND when they show body bubbles, they show how it includes a person’s wheelchair. this is the only book I’ve found that explains that we don’t touch a person’s wheelchair without consent. decent mix of race, but all the kids are thin. some kids appear nonbinary. Q loved it at 6, R2 enjoyed it at 3.75, i’d like to read this at least once a year as a refresher for hte kids. sexual assault prevention (self-protection), consent, establishing boundaries.
- potty – leslie patricelli. I liked this a surprising amount, and was almost sad that we’re done with potty training because it meant we were all done with it. the nonbinary baby doesn’t WANT to go in the diaper, so they watch the dog and the cat and figure hey – why not the potty? then they wait foreverrrr and finally when they go, stars show up and the whole family cheers. my 24m old thought the sitting on the diaper and realizing it and needing to take it off again was HILARIOUS and it made him feel very smart to be in on the joke. when the baby finally went potty, he’d turn to me, his eyes wide with excitement, he’d point and say “PEE PEE!!!!! POO POO!!! YAAAAAYYY!” and hold his hands up high. We made a big deal out of it.
- Goodbye summer, hello autumn – kenard park – There’s a whole series of these based on seasons. great illustrations, no story. protagonist looks Indian (reddish brown skin tones), but background characters include wide range of skin colors from white to many tones of black to very very dark black. includes a Sikh person in the background. super beautiful and cheery, i thought Q wouldn’t like this because there really isn’t a story (just a nonbinary child going through the day looking at the way the environment has changed to cold and autumny). but he enjoyed it probably because the illustrations of people and environment wee so cheery and cute – age range: 3.5+ I thought the kid was nonbinary, but the book description calls her a girl
- Love is a truck – novesky – none of the words in this book make any sense. also i feels like i SHOULD rhyme, but doesn’t, which is jarring. “Love is a fire engine, red as a heart. A ladder truck, spotted dog in the back.” like what? the only good thing about this is the illustrations, which appears to normalizes a nonbinary Black child and a kind and gentle big sibling who eats ice cream, plays in the dirt, and kisses the toddler goodnight. comparing this to companion ‘love is a tutu’ the kids look highly gendered. shame. would work for kind & gentle Brown boys as a stand-alone book. Best for kids who can’t read because reading it aloud is painful.
- Draw the line – otoshi – meh. a light skinned dark haired child and tanned blonde child are dawing with chalk on th ground, they bump into each other and start playing together by picking up the line and running around with it. one of them gets tangled and angry and the other laughs. they get into a tug of war, which creates a rift and a shouting fight. they get lonely and start mending it together. I get the idea but it’s kind of boring to watch. wordless, conflict resolution, nonbinary since there are no pronouns, but they are both masculine-coded with boy-cut shirts and clothing and haircuts, AAPI maker. description lists them as boys
- The Only Child – guojing – about author’s experince feeling loney under china’s 1-child rule. might be AAPI. gorgeous, adorable, nonbinary-presenting, normalizing asian protagonists, fantasy adventure, wordless (but LONG). R2 enjoyed this. foreword of story is how author made it back home on their own after accidentally falling asleep on the bus alone at age 6 – but this is a surreal fiction, a buck rescues the child, and that’s a huge missed opportunity for teaching kids they are capable and resilient on their own, AAPI women makers, single-child family constellations. no pronouns but ‘girl’ in book description.
- i know a rhino – rough and tumble playing with their animals, plus tea parties (ages 18m+). comes in board book form. no pronouns but description says girl
- Daddy me and the magic hour – melmed – shared hetero parenting (dad cooks dinner, mom feeds baby). So cute and gentle for ordinary life and feminist dads. Dad goes on after dinner walk around neighborhood with nonbinary kid. So cute, best for maybe 3-5. Non pronouns for kid but description on book jacket says boy. Daddy is very gentle and takes responsibility for things without direction from mom.
- Molly Bang
- ten nine eight. (Bang) My kids particularly liked this book because of the stuff they had in common with the character (Black grampa, white bear, black cat, etc). the earthquakes loved that the cat steals the shoe as toddlers (i’s a mystery until a couple pages later). it’s just a counting book. at 30 months we’re moving on to more interesting books, although kids would probably be willing to ead it up to age 3, everyday life, normalizing black children of color, book description lists the child as a girl, board books
- In my heart – molly bang – brown kid with straight black hair, white parents. father does equal caretaking. mom talks to her child, we see no matter what she’s doing, she carries her kid in her heart (written to her child, as in ‘you.’ mom is a veternarian, dad dgets kid rady for school. she is in th kid’s heart too. best for separation anxiety, nice normalizing family constellations, adoption, normalizing diversity, intentionally nonbinary, toes the line on white saviorism for transracial adoption since it really centers on the parents. Super progressive back when it was published in the 80’s, but the art is chunky and dated and my kids have zero interest in it.
- All of me! – a book of thanks – molly bang – Same issues as the others – nice idea, revolutionary 30 years ago, now it’s just kinda boring. a little kid (nonbinary). thankful for mouth for tasting, ears for hearing sounds, etc. multiracial character (white dad, brown mom with straight hair), appreciation and gratitude, senses
- found – newman – wordless book about pets- kid finds and loves dog, realizes it belongs to someone else. circular sort of, as it’s clear they lost a dog named prudence before this, and after they give the dog back, they get a bulldog. presents as feminine because of curly bob haircut and tights, referenced as ’she’ in description, but no pronouns in the story
- It’s a tiger! – larochelle – cute enough. kid (nonbinary, masculine), keeps trying to get away from a tiger, but we see what he thinks are vines/snakes/sea captains are actually a tiger. turns out the tiger just wanted a nap. search & find, twist endings, predators. LaRochelle’s website lists child as a boy.
- Helping Hands Series – Birkett
- Fix it! – ‘Fix It’ features a nonbinary child of color repairing broken toys and building alongside parents. Part of my FAVORITE series for toddlers & younger preschoolers. With scarce text and illustrations inviting questions from littles, the writing is ‘meh’ but it’s easy to ignore the text and discuss what’s happening on each page. Best for ages 0-3, breaking gender constructs, normalizing characters of color, and no pronouns.
- ‘Away’ – Emil sher – People code the protagonist as both he or she, there are no pronouns, but the child leans toward feminine-presenting. The book description lists her as a girl.
- Lovely (Hong) – Features gender ambiguous characters, but the text doesn’t have a story to give characters pronouns. Most of the characters are feminine-presenting, with some masculine, the line is intentionally blurry there. Includes a wide range of body sizes, ages, wide range of skin tones. Its a twist on the traditional kids ‘opposites’ books, and even includes where Q and I discussed his bias toward sleek hair over fluffy hair. the fact that they include various AGES is awesome too, and break stereotypes (older woman is spiked and punk, ‘fancy’ is determined by fancy shoes, not skin – the wearer has hairy legs). sporty features the prosthetic leg of a soccer player. wide range of skin conditions including vitiligo, age spots, different colored eyes, etc. people in dresses with facial hair, ages 3+.
Personified Animals & Things with no pronouns
It’s way easier to make non-gendered characters when they are animals and things, so this kind of feels like a cop-out. Whatever, I’ll put these here so you can have them on hand.
- the road home katie cotton – animals hibernating/migrating for winter, past aching wings and muscles, hard work, how the way home IS home, how hunting for scarce food and running from predators IS life. kinda harsh but also beautiful, similar to ‘Winter is Coming‘ but this one feels less doomed/foreboding and is less triggering for food insecurity. This one is more hopeful and focuses on striving to get through challenges. it’s just a part of life and there’s way to make peace with that. each pair of animals is a single parent and baby (no pronouns).
- Up! Tall! And High! – long – i particularly loved that it was both funny and kind. the birds help each other up when they fall down, and give the penguin balloons when it notices the penguin is sad about not flying. kind action (very subtle, but rare for early readers), short chapter books, VERY simple emerging reader with mini chapters. Helpful for Q as he learns how to read. suess-style repetition, more advanced than orange pear apple bear, but less simpler than barton’s dinosaurs and flare.
- Wednesday – bertier – Little round can’t make all the complex shapes big square can, and it gets kind of annoyed with the blue square showing off. they work together and make even better shapes and have more fun when they work together. ages 3.5+ no pronoun), disability inclusion, validating for frustrations with being small, geometry, abstract stories, cooperation, personal conflict
- I love you near and far – parker – this is absolutely adorable. Mom and kid stay connected with family members who live across the globe, most particularly dad who appears to be stationed in mid-Asia. DAd sends souvenirs and photos, they videochat with him. talk on phone with knitting grandparent, get gifts of sweaters and mittens in the mail. rhyming is cute, sweet, and upbeat. also addresses that it’s hard to miss people, doesn’t sugarcoat the fact that sometimes the kid (nonbinary) gets sad. how they can use a car/train/plane to see each other sometimes, and how they will be together again for special events like birthday parties. validating for people who miss family members who are far away. mainly focuses on active duty military parent (presents as male and called ‘DAD’ on the poster), but can also work for grandparents and other family.
- I Like It When (Murphy)- Single nonbinary parent & nonbinary child. best for ages 18-30 months. When we read “I like it when you hold my hand” R2 reaches for my hand. Etc for hugs, dancing, peekabo, tickling, and we practice asking for and giving/respecting consent. I was sad to have the kids grow out of this.
- Monster’s new undies – carpenter – gets kids excited about underpants (potty training), or to give up old worn out undies. parent offers both feminine-cut and brief-cut undies, suggesting monster is nonbinary, which I like. 18m-4y
- McMullan Truck Series
- I’m brave! – 1+ this was a great book, nonbinary firetruck with tools and procedures used to fight fires. had nothing to dow ith bravery though. really enjoyed at 2.5
- I’m mighty! – thought r2 might enjoy it at 3 since he likes feats of strength, but he was okay with it for one read then wanted to bring it back. tugboat helping big ships into the water, tall ones, wide ones, tall and wide ones. not really a story, but all the big ships are female and the is nonbinary. 3+
- I’m Dirty – perfect for young toddlers through kindergarten, it was the first and most effective book with a nonbinary character we read to the earthquakes when they were little – which is super helpful since the aren’t many female truck books and I was able to read this with a very feminine voice. As they got older, they started to push back and argue that the main character is male, which gave us good opportunities to discuss gender fluidity. It’s been surprisingly helpful not to have pronouns in this simple book. Also my kids love that it’s muddy.
- I Have A Balloon / Where Is My Balloon (bernstein) – perfect. wonderful to read with both 3 & 6, esp since they constantly want what the other person has. simple statements like “I have a balloon. you have a sock.” is perfect for early readers and lets kids infer emotions and motivations based on text and images. powerful and useful for social emotional discussions! envy, trading, early reader, nonbinary characters