Jazz Jennings is a real person. She's been out as trans for years, appearing on USian network television newsmagazines, doing interviews and features. She's a teenager now. In this picture book, she's a much younger kid. Although the book says right on the cover that it's "by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings," making it nonfiction/autobiography, it has the feeling of a fiction picture book.
The most important thing about this book: it exists
. And it's published by a mainstream publisher (Dial/Penguin). I think (please correct me if you know otherwise) that it's the first picture book explicitly about a trans child. This is a mammoth first step. Cheers, cheers, cheers and joy to Jazz and this book!
A few other thoughts, none of which matter as much as the above paragraph. Both prose and art (art is by Shelagh McNicholas) create a binary gender message, very gender essentialist. "As I got older, I hardly ever played with trucks or tools or superheroes. Only princesses and mermaid costumes." In the world of this book, the stuff traditionally assigned to girls makes up actual girlness. I wish the book included a less essentialist sentence too, something about how you can also be a girl if you don't prefer or don't exclusively prefer those trappings. It wouldn't have had to attach that possibility to Jazz herself in order to be included.
The core definition of transgender in this book is, "I have a girl brain but a boy body. This is called transgender. I was born this way!" On one hand, this definition lacks a lot of crucial nuance. If a person is a girl, they have a girl body by definition. "Born this way" is not every trans person's experience and sometimes sounds defensive, as if being born trans is necessary in order for transness to be considered fine. I would never be comfortable with this definition in a context for older readers. On another hand, this book is friendly to readers as young as two or three, who, developmentally, have not even finished learning the traditional sex categories. [ETA:
I don't like my use of the word "traditional" there. Transness isn't new. "Cisnormative sex categories," I should have said.] So I'm not sure it's terrible to learn the definition this way first, and add/complicate later. I'd love to hear other thoughts on this.
The book also feels very white and very, hmm, nice and clean. I'm not sure what I mean by that. I emphatically don't
mean that I wish it included any harrassment or bullying -- I'm extremely glad it doesn't. I'm not saying it needs more difficulty for Jazz to face. There's just something about the world it portrays that makes me say, yes, this is fantastic, now we needs tons more books about trans children immediately so this isn't the main/only picture. The art's style
is part of this. And to be fair, demographics is also part of it. Trans kids are not all girls, not all white, not all from mom/dad families, etc.
But no book can be every book. This is Jazz's book, and I'm so glad it's here.