Sometimes talking with your kids about an important subject is hard. Depending on the kid, a conversation might be brushed off or misunderstood. This was the case with my youngest when it came to having conversations about the fact that his sister is transgender.
My youngest was the last one in the family to consistently use proper pronouns and call his sister Jade—it’s not like he was willfully rebelling. Noah has a cognitive disability that makes certain concepts harder for him to grasp, especially abstract concepts (time is one example—it’s never come easily to him). For him, the idea that the person he always knew as his brother was actually his sister was more than a little confusing—he’d lost that childlike ability to just go with the flow, but he also didn’t have the immediate ability to grasp concepts of gender vs. sex either. Luckily, Jade never held it against him, so we would just correct Noah when he misgendered her and move on.
The hardest part was that most of the time, Noah really didn’t want to talk about gender with me. If I tried to have a conversation with him about it, he’d just kind of roll his eyes and say, “Yeah, yeah, Mom. Okay, fine” and shut me down pretty quickly. This was probably partially a typical teen response and partially a response to the fact that he didn’t fully understand (sometimes if he doesn’t completely understand something, his self-defense mechanism is just to brush it off). I wished that I could help him understand why it was important to Jade that she not be misgendered or misnamed. Eventually, we got there—at least ostensibly—and Noah is now finally pretty consistent with calling Jade his sister, etc (four years later). But I still wasn’t sure how much he really understood or if he just finally got used to using the right words.
So, getting to my “sneak attack”—a little over a year ago, I listened to the audiobook of George by Alex Gino. If you don’t know the book, it’s a MG contemporary about a transgender girl. Jade was actually in the car with me when I started listening to it, and she asked, “Is this written by a transgender author? They seem to really understand what it’s like to be transgender.” (At the time, I wasn’t sure, but I told her I’d look it up—Alex Gino, it turns out, is genderqueer and uses they/them pronouns, so it makes sense that they understood their MC deeply.)
After I listened to the book, I had an idea: What if I just quietly added the audiobook to Noah’s list of favorites on Hoopla? I knew if I mentioned it to him or told him what it was about, it would feel like me trying to teach him a lesson or something and he probably wouldn’t be interested, so I just added it without ever mentioning it. Noah LOVES audiobooks, and I often add books I think he’d like to his list, so he didn’t think much of it. And, honestly, I kind of forgot about it after that…
Until one night recently when I was driving him somewhere, and he randomly said, “Oh, Mom, I just listened to an audiobook called George. Have you read it?”
My eyebrows went up. “Yeah, I have. Did you like it?”
“Yeah it was really good,” he said. “You know, it must have been really hard for George when he knew he was a girl and nobody else understood it.” (Yes, I know, we still didn’t get those pronouns quite right, but I’ve seen grown adults who wrote reviews for the book and misgendered the MC, so I’m giving Noah some grace here). He then went on to tell me how he really felt like he understood the MC and how much he liked the book!
So this one book did for me what I couldn’t manage with years of conversations—it helped Noah understand how it feels to be transgender and made him feel empathy for a kid who’d been misunderstood her whole life. I can’t tell you how overjoyed I was! I’ve written posts before about how books can broaden our horizons and make us more empathetic, and this is probably the most compelling evidence I could ever present.
So, now I just have to put some thought into what other books I can slide into Noah’s favorites. 🙂
Has a book ever helped you explain something better than you could in a conversation? Have you ever tricked someone into reading a book you thought might be “good for them”? Was it successful? I want to know!
This is so sweet! I’m glad the sneaky book worked. Nobody in my family reads or listens to audiobooks, so I can’t secretly teach them things. Baby Brooklyn likes books, though. We read together A LOT. She recently got a book about taking care of pets. I’m hoping it will teach her not to hit the dog. That would be great.
Well, you have Brooklyn on the path to future sneak attacks. Job well done!
I loved this post, Nicole! I’m glad Noah found a book that has helped for him to process what his sister is going through. I would offer some recommendations but I’m not sure how old Noah is and what he’s comfortable reading. But for your reference, Sissy by: Jacob Tobia is an AMAZING memoir by a non-binary person that I thought really explained gender well. It’s not YA and is a bit more mature, so perhaps it’s better when Noah is older. But Jade may love it too!
I will definitely check that book out. Thanks for the recommendation!!
I love George for this reason! I felt like it did such a great job of discussing gender without getting into sexuality to make it easier for younger readers to grasp. Such a well done book that I often recommend!
Yes, I had no qualms about handing him that book and just letting him read it with zero input from me because there were no darker themes to worry about (some other excellent books I’ve read deal with self-harm or violence from others—and I wouldn’t feel comfortable just handing the book off to him blithely without talking through some things with him). Anyone can read George!!
Great post–thank you so much for sharing. I will seek out George and read it. One book that opened my own eyes to my own anxiety and my daughter’s (which is much, much worse than mine), was Queen of Geeks. After reading this book, I understood that panic attacks are real, how they make you feel, and what to do/not to do when my daughter was having one.
Oh, now I really want to read Queen of Geeks—that one’s going right on my TBR!
Nicole, you made me cry. This is such a sweet and beautiful story. Thank you for sharing.
Aww, I’m glad this could make others happy too!
I never succeeded in doing this with my kids. I wish I had.
Who knows if it will ever work again, but I’m very grateful that it did this time!
It’s great that you’re putting a spotlight on LGBT characters in books. If you ever wanted to do a collab interview to highlight performers or authors let me know. I have a few in mind.
I’ll confess that I’ve been kind of a mess about my blogging schedule lately, so I hesitate to do a collab, but I’ll definitely keep it in mind for the future!! (Hopefully I’ll feel more like my “normal” blogging self soon!)
What a great approach, Nicole. How anyone could even minimize the power of books and their ability to teach and shape us is beyond me.
Books shape us in so many ways—we can’t ever forget the power that a good book can have!
This is such a wonderful thing! I love when books can help in whatever way.
Yes, books can be so wonderful for expanding empathy!
NICOLE I have tears in my eyes, this is so lovely! I mean, you are clearly a genius (and an awesome mom, which of course I already knew but it needs to be said again) because I don’t know that I would have thought of such a perfect plan! I mean, what better way to help Noah understand and empathize than with an emotive story from the eyes of someone who has lived it? This is the heartwarming story I needed today, you are just the BEST ♥♥
I don’t know that I deserve all the parenting credit, but I’ll pretend and take it all. LOL!
I definitely credit a lot from reading books. I grew up with my dad and he was very conservative. Since I read romance at an early age, I learned a lot of things about sex and having relationships, etc. While some books aren’t exactly 100% accurate – especially with some romance books – it helped me understand a lot of things while not actually talking to my dad about girls and boys, you know?
I think it was a great idea for you to sneak in the audiobook to his list and not mention it, Some of these things take time to process and it looks like your youngest needed time to do it. I’m so happy he was able to process and understand things on his own.
I also struggle with pronouns. I grew up outside the US and we have gendered words similar to Spanish, so I have to be aware to use the correct pronouns.
Don’t feel too bad—lots of people struggle with pronouns, even those of us who have grown up somewhere without gendered words. The fact that you’re trying hard says a lot!
I haven’t been able to trick my kids into reading something yet, and I’m not opposed to it! I did recently have my youngest read WHEN YOU REACH ME and I didn’t tell her that it was a time travel book because I was sure she would reject it. When she got to the end, she was blown away by the reveal and we got to have a great conversation about it. It’s nice to see them open up to new topics.
Ooh, you make me want to read that book now too. LOL!
This is awesome! Great job on finding alternate methods of teaching. Not everyone learns in the same way, and I think too few of us remember that.
Also, I think a book like George would be difficult for a lot of people to correctly gender the MC. I’ve wondered before how to write reviews where the MC starts out as one gender, but over the course of the novel comes to realize they are another gender. I’ve never been sure if I should use the gender the MC is at the end, or base it off of where the MC was in their journey.
I think George makes it especially hard because the title of the book is the character’s name before she realizes she’s a girl. I always refer to the character with their true gender, but I’ve had a lot more time to think about pronouns and process them than most people, so it comes a little more naturally to me–and I still had to be careful when I wrote my review. I think most people will give grace if they know you’re trying hard to be respectful of their gender.
What an uplifting story!
We need those lately, right?
I love this! That’s great that Noah was able to read the book without you making it a big issue and that it really helped him empathize with the MC. I’m sure it’ll definitely help him even more with Jade now, because he’ll see the connection between the MC in George and his own sister. Big topics like being transgender can be tough for anyone to grasp, so I think books are a great way to introduce topics and make the more understandable. I know that through reading my whole life, I definitely grasped a lot about other people (and myself) that I might not have otherwise.
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