I Am Jazz by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings
This is a really sweet picture book about a child looking for love and acceptance in her world, and to her true self. I think that message is at the heart of many children’s books that I come across as a children’s librarian, and lover of books! It can be rather difficult to accept who you are when the world around you wants to fit you into their box of “normalcy”.
Jazz is a brave girl who is happy to live her life as a girl, and this story gravitates to how she has always been her real self- playing with dolls, swimming like a mermaid, loving pink. All are stereotypical ways to describe an average girl. And, that is the life that she has always lived. Children (and adults) can get stressed or feel strange when they see something unexpected, and unfortunately, it seems like attacking it is the only solution. But with a book like this, it shows how normal Jazz is, just a girl living her life- even though her life may be different than yours.
Unfortunately, this book has faced attention beyond a normal book review. ”I Am Jazz” is on the top ten most challenged/banned books of 2015, clocking in at number 3 for promoting homosexuality, discussing sexual education, offending religious viewpoints, being unsuitable for age group, and being inaccurate.
I always wonder the percentage of people who challenged a book, who have actually read it. Usually, that number can be smaller than you would expect. People see that it is a story of a transgender child, they get offended, and then they attack. The book makes no mention of homosexuality or sexual education beyond seeing a doctor and defining transgender as “I have a girl brain but a boy body!” The text is simple and reads exactly as a child would narrate it, making it completely suitable for a child to read.
Amy Steinbauer is a Children’s Librarian for DC Public Libraries. She specializes in outreach and early literacy. She has her MLISc from University of Hawaii, and a B.A. in English from Muhlenberg College in Allentown, PA. She won the 2015 Conable Scholarship to attend ALA Annual in San Francisco, and presented at the 2016 Annual conference in Orlando, FL. She loves professional development, and is currently serving as a Board Member at Large for the Association of Bookmobile and Outreach Services (ABOS), is on ALA’s Public Awareness Committee, and on the SASCO Committee through NMRT. She loves mermaids, and advocating for libraries, and will one day combine them both to take over the world! Until then, follow her on twitter @merbrarian.