Reading The Rainbow is an original regular feature at Musings From Neville’s Navel. I’m a queer bookworm who loves to geek out about books and LGBTQ+ topics, so why not talk about both subjects at once?! Basically, I review books with queer characters and/or themes, discuss the pros and cons of each, and tell you which stories are worth your time!
Author: Jessica Herthel, Jazz Jennings, and Shelagh McNicholas
Genre: Picture book, autobiography/memoir,
Length: 32 pages
Published by: Dial Books
Date of publication: 2014
From the time she was two years old, Jazz knew that she had a
girl’s brain in a boy’s body. She loved pink and dressing up as a mermaid and didn’t feel like herself in boys’ clothing. This confused her family, until they took her to a doctor who said that Jazz was transgender and that she was born that way.
Previous Reading The Rainbow posts may be found here.
So I really suck at regularly updating this feature, don’t I? The most recent Reading The Rainbow post was published waaaaaay back in NOVEMBER. Oops! However, if all goes according to plan, you’ll see at least ten and maybe even fifteen (or more!) RTR posts this June.
Because I’m awesome that way. And because I really, really need to work on writing posts like this one more frequently.
Anyway, today I’m reviewing I Am Jazz, written by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings and illustrated by Shelagh McNicholas. I wish I could tell you who recommended this book to me, but honestly? I’m not sure. I might’ve found it through We Need Diverse Books, but I’m not sure.
As is evident from the blurb above, I Am Jazz is about a transgender girl – not a fictional one, but a little girl who really exists! Jazz Jennings co-wrote this book at the age of thirteen, has her own YouTube channel, has written for Time, has won numerous awards for her activism, et cetera. Basically, she’s awesome and accomplished and adorable.
And I’m so glad she wrote this book. As I’ll discuss below, I do have a few issues with it, but overall I’m just really happy that slowly but surely, the number of LGBTQ+ children’s books is growing. LGBTQ+ picture books, especially, are rare, and AS FAR AS I KNOW I Am Jazz is the only one that specifically deals with trans lives.
I’m not happy about how HARD reviewing picture books is, though! OH MY GOD. I read this book in, like, five minutes… which was fun. Reviewing it is challenging, though, because I’m not used to that format: I’m pretty sure I’ve never reviewed a picture book here before! BUT. I will do my best, all right?
So. First of all, I’m glad this book was written. I know I JUST said that, but such a book desperately needed to exist. The only other trans-related books I’m aware of were written for YA or adult audiences, but trans kids need to see themselves in fiction as well. Cisgender people need it, too, because there is an enormous lack of understanding. (Not to mention a huge problem with disrespect.)
Like, I had no idea that trans people even existed until I was about fifteen, and I was seventeen before I stopped being judgmental about them. That’s incredibly messed up, isn’t it? I was nearly an adult before I found accurate information, learned about trans history, et cetera. I can’t imagine how badly that screws up trans kids – I have friends my age or older who only recently figured out their gender because absolutely NO adults had ever told them about trans people, so even if they knew something was different about them, they didn’t quite know what.
I don’t even know whether or not I want to have kids someday but if I do, I’m definitely reading this book to them. And reading loads of other LGBTQ+ fiction and nonfiction aloud, and introducing them to queer history and role models. Whether they’re queer or straight, trans or cis, I want them to have this information at five (or younger) – not at fifteen like I did.
[Takes deep breath and gets off her soapbox]
Anyway. I enjoyed this glimpse into Jazz’s life: Her interests, her friends, her school. Oh, speaking of school: That part broke my heart. She talked about adults and other kids being rude to her and calling her a boy and I’m just like UGH WHY ARE PEOPLE SO AWFUL SHE’S JUST A KID.
So I’ve talked about the writing in this book – what about the illustrations? Well, let’s just say that this is the part of the review where I discuss some of the things I wasn’t so fond of. The illustrations were cute and colorful… but Jazz also looks white. Why?! She’s not white. One of the problems in LGBTQ+ representation (in both fiction and nonfiction) is how overwhelmingly white it is. I’m no artist but is it really that hard to, you know, accurately depict people’s races?
My other issue with I Am Jazz is the simplistic explanation of what it means to be trans. It’s a decent INTRODUCTION, but I felt like the authors were talking down to children. Which is odd, because Jazz is a child herself – and besides, kids can understand a lot more than you might think!
Like, I didn’t feel there was enough distinction between Jazz’s interests and her gender. She talks about liking dresses and mermaids and that’s FINE. Go for it; dresses and mermaids are awesome! However, I Am Jazz seemed to say that liking stereotypically girly things makes you a girl, and it doesn’t: It just makes you a person who likes stereotypically girly things. Jazz is a girl whether or not she likes dresses. There are butch trans women and femme trans men!
I don’t know. It just seemed odd. And even if the authors didn’t want to digress from the story to add an explanation, couldn’t they have included a short note about it at the very end, along with their description of a transgender organization Jazz co-founded?
I definitely think this book could’ve benefited from a slightly longer end-section-thingy. (An appendix? Is that the right word?) Oh, well. I Am Jazz serves as a decent introduction, especially for children, and then the readers could go find more information online, or wherever.
I would recommend this book to…
- Parents and teachers (so they can educate the children they take care of)
- Anyone who is five at heart and loves picture books
- Those who want basic info about being transgender, especially those who want a personal perspective
- Anyone who’s looking for a different kind of LGBTQ+ story
So, what’s my final FINAL opinion of I Am Jazz? I do have a few issues with it, but overall I feel that this book is a decent introduction to trans experiences. And I LOVE LOVE LOVE that it’s about a little kid, because our society has this weird idea that Being Queer Is An Adult Thing and that you can’t possibly know that you’re queer until you’re older.
This book is a good antidote to that. It discusses a topic not often found in children’s literature, it’s short and sweet, and Jazz is an enthusiastic, lovable protagonist. Go try this book! It’ll take you literally five minutes to read and then you can report back to me with your thoughts, ha ha.