I read a lot of books with my kids, particularly ones that have anything controversial in them that I want to talk to the kids about while they are reading or after they are reading the book. So I knew immediately when I heard about George by Alex Gino that the girls and I needed to read it together.
I bought the Kindle version on Friday and we all started reading. I finished Friday night and the girls finished on Saturday, so it was a pretty quick read. I wanted to be able to share not only my views on the book but those of my kids as well. For what it is worth, Jillian is 14 and in high school. Cassie is 12 and in junior high.
*Important Disclaimer at the End*
Why Is George Controversial?
The main character, George/Melissa, is transgender. The book is essentially all about George’s struggle with being herself and telling others that even though she was born a boy, she feels she is a girl. On top of that, George is only 10 years old, and the book is intended for kids in grades 3 to 7. That’s basically 8-12 year olds–maybe too young to understand such a complex subject? Depends on the kids.
The book is being published by Scholastic, a huge publisher of children’s books (as well as young adult books such as Harry Potter and the Hunger Games). The initial run of the book was 50K copies, with 10K being sent to teachers and libraries. That means this book is going to be showing up in a LOT of schools very soon.
The author, Alex Gino, self-identifies as a “fat queer,” “author of progressive middle grade fiction” and uses the pronoun “they” rather than “he” or “she.” (In the book, George uses “she.”) Alex is involved in “queer and trans activism,” and this book is clearly a step in that direction. Visit Alex’s site to learn more.
I didn’t read much about the book before I sat down with it, so I don’t know what I was expecting. The plotline was 99% about George and her transgender issues (maybe 100%), which was odd for me. Then again, it wasn’t a very long read, so there wasn’t really room for any other kind of subplots or character development. The book is clearly geared toward kids in terms of the simple plotline and it read kind of like an after-school special.
George was different. George was picked on by male bullies but her female friend was understanding. Her mom was understandably confused at first. The only interaction I was surprised by was the brother.
I didn’t find anything in it that was objectionable for my daughters at their ages, but for younger kids who have not been exposed to as much, there will be a lot of confusion and questions. I think that’s the point of the book though. It’s a place to start the conversation with your kids. The book isn’t supposed to be entertaining.
There are MANY takeaways from the book from an educational standpoint. To name just a few:
- What does it mean to be transgender?
- Kids should be comfortable to be themselves no matter what that means
- How do you deal with bullies?
- How should parents react to their kids?
- What role do teachers play in encouraging kids to be themselves and feel safe?
Would I be comfortable with my 3rd grader reading George? It’s hard to go back in time and answer that because a lot has changed even in those 4 years. It comes down to how mature the kids are, what they have already been exposed to, and whether you are ready to have the hard conversations with them. For me, these are conversations worth having. Especially when my kids tell me that they know at least 2 transgender kids in their school already.
My Kids’ Review
I was surprised at what my kids had to say. Cassie (who is younger) thought that the book was more immature and geared toward kids a lot younger than her. Jillian actually really liked it and didn’t feel that way. They both did like the book, however, and said that they would have their friends read it.
Both girls were not really surprised by the main concept of the book and already knew what transgender meant before they read it. However, the biggest thing they said was that they were surprised how young the main character was. Cassie said she didn’t think someone that young could make that kind of decision yet. Jillian said she thought that people didn’t start to feel those things until they were older, maybe even adults. So that’s something that the 3 of us talked about.
Jillian mentioned that she thought that transgender acceptance has to be the next “thing” because people are now finally accepting of homosexuality (kids are so optimistic!). Because of that, she thought that the book could serve a really important purpose in helping both parents AND kids understand more.
Should Your Kids Read George?
As a parent, I think you have every right to either shove George in their face and make them read it or keep it from them because you think they are not mature enough to understand it. However, know that as other kids start reading it and talking about it, your kid will likely get more curious. And you are usually better having the conversation with them first before they hear things from other people.
I’ve never put a disclaimer on a post before, but I felt that I need to with this one. This post was hard to write because I don’t feel that I myself am in the best position to talk about transgender issues. Did I use the wrong pronouns or terminology? I don’t know. And I dodged any mentions of religion at all, even though I am a Christian. The bottom line is that I wanted to get the information out there for the rest of you to know what the book is about before it ends up in your kids’ hands and you don’t know what to do with it.
I completely welcome any comments–constructive or otherwise. If we are NOT talking about this book, I did something wrong.