Books for Ages 8-10: George by Alex Gino

This is another book about transgender characters. It is important, because it is one of the first books by a transgender author for children to be published by a major press (Scholastic).

 

George by Alex Gino

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Gino, Alex (2015). George. New York, NY: Scholastic.
ISBN:978-0545812573

224 pages.

This book’s title is a little ironic, because there’s nobody in this book whose real name is George. The main character is a girl named Melissa! Melissa is in fourth grade, and even though she has a nice best friend, a loving family, and enough time to play video games most days after school, she has a big problem: for her entire life, everyone around her has believed she is a boy and treated her like one. Everyone still calls Melissa George and believes she’s a boy, because she hasn’t found a way to explain to everyone how she thinks of herself and what she wants. What she wants from her fourth grade year, specifically, is to play Charlotte the spider in the school’s production of E.B White’s story Charlotte’s Web. Melissa decides that she’ll do anything to figure out how to get the role–even if it means having some pretty difficult conversations with other people she didn’t think she was ready to talk to about how she feels. She finds that she has the power to persuade people to allow her to be who she feels she is, and her life changes course entirely.
Here is a quote:
“She looked in the mirror and gasped. Melissa gasped back at her. For a long time, she stood there, just blinking. George smiled, and Melissa smiled too.”
The tone of this story is one of gradually building suspense mixed with funny dialogue and smart thoughtful insights from Melissa. My favorite parts are where Melissa and her best friend Kelly spend time together–both are great at telling jokes, and sound exactly like real fourth-graders.
Alex Gino is a transgender author who is one of the first trans people to publish a children’s book which features a trans girl as the protagonist. Melissa, the main character, doesn’t have the same identity as Alex Gino, who identifies as non-binary, not a girl, and uses they/them pronouns. However, Gino works hard to make sure that Melissa’s internal feelings are depicted realistically and respectfully. The book evokes a deep sense of sympathy for Melissa’s desire to express her theatrical talents in the role that suits her best, and captures what it’s like to know what you’re good at and wanting to pursue it while being unsure whether you have the strength to ask for permission. Melissa does find herself having to educate other people about what she understands about herself and what she knows about other trans people, but it makes sense in terms of the plot and overall story. The book is smart in the way it depicts the stress of trying to communicate your needs as a nine-year-old in the world, which is relatable whether or not people have ever fundamentally misunderstood something important about who you are.
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