By: Ellie Diaz
Bold, rainbow-colored words take up the back cover of Alex Gino’s George: “Be Who You Are.”
George ranked No. 3 on ALA’s Top Ten Challenged Books of 2016 list because of its inclusion of a transgender child and “the sexuality was not appropriate at elementary levels.”
When George looks in the mirror, she sees a girl named Melissa starting back at her, while everyone else sees her as a boy. With her elementary school’s production of Charlotte’s Web just around the corner, George is nervous but thrilled to have the chance to be Charlotte… until her teacher bars her from even trying out. With her friend and ally Kelly by her side, George attempts to get the rest of the world to see who she truly is.
Even though George won a Stonewall Award and Lambda Literary Award, and School Library Journal reviewed it as a “required purchase for any collection that serves a middle grade population,” the book is still targeted for censorship.
The 2016 censorship reports OIF recorded for George are marked confidential. But there are many successes to highlight.
For instance, during a visit to the Morse Pond School library (Falmouth, Massachusetts) in 2015, there were no copies of George on the shelves — not because it was banned, but because students kept checking it out. Last year, a Connecticut sixth-grade student wrote a letter to Gino, thanking them for boosting her confidence and inspiring her to think about gender roles and society’s expectations. The student won the Library of Congress’ “Letters About Literature” contest for grades 4-6.
“Your book led me to have many discussions with my librarian, my parents, and my friends,” the letter stated. “Your book and the issues it raised helped me be someone who is more supportive of people who face stereotypes like the ones in your book, about who people are and how they should act. Your book made me realize that maybe I can help the next George be accepted throughout their life, and I can also help the next mother of George better accept their child if they have that challenge.”
Read the powerful letter here.
George is just one of the five books on the ALA Top Ten list that was challenged because of LGBT content: Two Boys Kissing (written by David Levithan, who edited George), This One Summer, Drama and I Am Jazz. These five challenged books also have another thing in common: They were written with a younger audience in mind.
When asked what they would like to see more of in trans kidlit, Gino had a list of suggestions.
“Trans voices telling trans stories,” said Gino in an interview with The Guardian. “There is a layer of depth and truth that comes from people writing from inside their communities that can never be replicated by people outside it. Also, more intersectionality! More people of colour, more people with disabilities, more stories that reflect, respect and celebrate the range of people we are. And more stories with joy.”