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Explaining Gender Identity to Children Through Books

“How do I explain it to my kids?”

Talking to kids about gender is a new topic that parents have to prepare themselves to discuss. However, introducing children to diversity that they may not experience inside the home is important. It is within the rights of the parents to have a respectful, intelligent discussion about unfamiliar social situations to their children, but it is even more helpful when they have resources to help them portray the message.

Evidence suggests that gender identity is one of the earliest forms of self-awareness; one of the first things that a person conceptualizes about themselves. Familiarizing children with gender identity from an early age could, in some cases, prevent a lot of confusion and pain, and in other cases, lead to many more empathetic young people, which in turn creates a safe space for gender fluidity.

At the same time, gender can be a complicated subject for even the most studied and informed adults. So how do we explain something that we might not even fully understand ourselves to children?

Even kids who don’t identify as gender fluid or who have never been exposed to gender fluidity may wonder about gender. Early on, kids make observations like all the girls in my preschool have long hair and the boys wear shirts with cars on them. As time goes on, more observations are stockpiled of social consequences that correspond to gender. This realization can create confusion. Then there are other kids who might be confused about their personal gender identity even before they’ve been socialized.

That’s where books come in. Books can explain just how personal gender identity is and that identifying with male or female is not as easy as defaulting to what you were assigned at birth. Here’s a list of books to help parents initiate discussions with their kids about gender identity.

Goblinheart by Brett Axel, Illustrated by Terra Bidlespacher

In a magical world where there are only two types of creatures, fairies and goblins, a young member of the fairy tribe, Julep, wants to live as a goblin. This causes some unrest, but ultimately, both the fairies and the goblins accept Julep’s decision. An allegorical story, this would work well to lay the groundwork for understanding gender, possibly before your kids have asked any specific questions.

My Princess Boy by Cheryl Kilodavis, Illustrated by Suzanne DeSimone

Told from a mother’s perspective, this book chronicles the experiences of a four-year-old boy who loves to wear dresses and adores all things glittery and feminine. This book will help kids understand that gender is rarely always black and white and that the best thing they can give to others going through doubt about their assigned gender is acceptance and understanding.

The Princess Knight by Cornelia Funke, Illustrated by Kerstin Meyer

Violetta’s family thinks she’s a princess, but she doesn’t want to be. She’s a knight. When her father calls for a tournament to win Violetta’s hand in marriage, she decides to compete for her own hand, and for her own life. This works as an allegory for battling gender stereotypes as well as a girl-power-fostering story about independence from gender norms.

I Am Jazz by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings, Illustrated by Shelagh McNicholas

The real life story of trans spokesperson Jazz Jennings, this is an actual account of a child who knows she has the brain of a girl in the body of a boy. A clear and simple explanation, this is another good one to show to kids empathy towards people at odds with their assigned gender.

When Leonard Lost His Spots: A Trans Parent Tail by Monique Costa, Illustrated by Marina Shupik

The lioness is one of the most beautiful and powerful animals on earth, so you can imagine her surprise when she was born into the body of a male leopard. Narrated by a young cub, this book serves great allegory for those who feel they were born with a body that doesn’t match the way they feel in their mind.

Sarah Moesta

Sarah Moesta is a recent graduate with an M.A. in English. She spends her time arguing about the merits and pitfalls of pop culture on the internet and in the real world. When she’s not writing, she can usually be found outside, probably petting a stranger’s dog. Some of her other work can be found at Smokelong Quarterly, SPARK's 17/Teen Vogue Challenge, and TheBurg News.