Recently, Oregon Battle of the Books (OBOB) released its reading list for the 2018-2019 school year. On this list is the award winning middle grade novel George by Alex Gino. The story centers around a young transgender child, George, who was born a boy but knows she is a girl. The book tackles the difficult, and too often undiscussed, situations and emotions a young transgender child might experience. Many parents in Oregon have taken issue with this selection, saying that the book is not appropriate for the grade level for which it was chosen.
Bold, rainbow-colored words take up the back cover of Alex Gino’s George: “Be Who You Are.”
Even if you don’t think the reader is “ready” for the nuances of a given book, they’ll gain something from the experience. It doesn’t need to be the same as what you got from the book. Either that, or they’ll decide the experience isn’t enjoyable and stop on their own. But when we learn young that certain books aren’t for us, those lessons go deep. We learn that certain information isn’t for us and that certain ways of being aren’t for us. We are closed off to entire swaths of the world, and of the worlds that people imagine and create for us.
There’s an empathy portion of my school visit presentations. We talk about characters who are different than us. Look different. Believe different things. Dress differently. Because when we read, we develop a better understanding of the human experience. I booktalked George to fourth graders at six schools and to a combined assembly of third and fifth graders at another. I shared with the kids the book’s most basic and beautiful message. Be who you are.