Young Adult And Middle Grade Books With Trans Feminine Characters

Young adult readers can now find better queer diversity scattered across young adult literature. Many of these new stories feature trans masculine characters. Here are some young adult stories featuring trans feminine characters.

VICTORIES GREATER THAN DEATH (UNSTOPPABLE #1) BY CHARLIE JANE ANDERS (2021)

Young adult science fiction adventure. A standout feature of this novel: The characters model consent.

Outsmart Your Enemies. Outrun the Galaxy.

Tina never worries about being ‘ordinary’—she doesn’t have to, since she’s known practically forever that she’s not just Tina Mains, average teenager and beloved daughter. She’s also the keeper of an interplanetary rescue beacon, and one day soon, it’s going to activate, and then her dreams of saving all the worlds and adventuring among the stars will finally be possible. Tina’s legacy, after all, is intergalactic—she is the hidden clone of a famed alien hero, left on Earth disguised as a human to give the universe another chance to defeat a terrible evil.

But when the beacon activates, it turns out that Tina’s destiny isn’t quite what she expected. Things are far more dangerous than she ever assumed. Luckily, Tina is surrounded by a crew she can trust, and her best friend Rachael, and she is still determined to save all the worlds. But first she’ll have to save herself.

Buckle up your seatbelt for this thrilling sci-fi adventure set against an intergalactic war from international bestselling author Charlie Jane Anders.

LAKELORE BY ANNA-MARIE MCLEMORE (2022)

Young adult. And what a fantastic cover. Just look at the colours in that water.

Two non-binary teens are pulled into a magical world under a lake. But can they keep their worlds above water intact?

Everyone who lives near the lake knows the stories about the world underneath it, an ethereal landscape rumored to be half-air, half-water. But Bastián Silvano and Lore Garcia are the only ones who’ve been there. Bastián grew up both above the lake and in the otherworldly space beneath it. Lore’s only seen the world under the lake once, but that one encounter changed their life and their fate.

Then the lines between air and water begin to blur. The world under the lake drifts above the surface. If Bastián and Lore don’t want it bringing their secrets to the surface with it, they have to stop it, and to do that, they have to work together. There’s just one problem: Bastián and Lore haven’t spoken in seven years, and working together means trusting each other with the very things they’re trying to hide.

ZENOBIA JULY BY LISA BUNKER (2019)

Upper middle grade.

Zenobia July is starting a new life. She used to live in Arizona with her father; now she’s in Maine with her aunts. She used to spend most of her time behind a computer screen, improving her impressive coding and hacking skills; now she’s coming out of her shell and discovering a community of friends at Monarch Middle School. People used to tell her she was a boy; now she’s able to live openly as the girl she always knew she was.

When someone anonymously posts hateful memes on her school’s website, Zenobia knows she’s the one with the abilities to solve the mystery, all while wrestling with the challenges of a new school, a new family, and coming to grips with presenting her true gender for the first time. Timely and touching, Zenobia July is, at its heart, a story about finding home.

IF I WAS YOUR GIRL BY MEREDITH RUSSO (2016)

If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo

A new kind of big-hearted novel about being seen for who you really are.

Amanda Hardy is the new girl in school. Like anyone else, all she wants is to make friends and fit in. But Amanda is keeping a secret, and she’s determined not to get too close to anyone.

But when she meets sweet, easygoing Grant, Amanda can’t help but start to let him into her life. As they spend more time together, she realizes just how much she is losing by guarding her heart. She finds herself yearning to share with Grant everything about herself, including her past. But Amanda’s terrified that once she tells him the truth, he won’t be able to see past it.

Because the secret that Amanda’s been keeping? It’s that at her old school, she used to be Andrew. Will the truth cost Amanda her new life, and her new love?

Meredith Russo’s If I Was Your Girl is a universal story about feeling different and a love story that everyone will root for.

BIRTHDAY BY MEREDITH RUSSO (2019)

Birthday by Meredith Russo cover

Boyhood meets The Sun Is Also a Star in this unconventional love story by award-winning author Meredith Russo!

Two kids, Morgan and Eric, are bonded for life after being born on the same day at the same time. We meet them once a year on their shared birthday as they grow and change: as Eric figures out who he is and how he fits into the world, and as Morgan makes the difficult choice to live as her true self. Over the years, they will drift apart, come together, fight, make up, and break up—and ultimately, realize how inextricably they are a part of each other.

STAGE DREAMS BY MELANIE GILLMAN (2019)

A 100 page graphic novel.

In this rollicking queer western adventure, acclaimed cartoonist Melanie Gillman (Stonewall Award Honor Book As the Crow Flies) puts readers in the saddle alongside Flor and Grace, a Latinx outlaw and a trans runaway, as they team up to thwart a Confederate plot in the New Mexico Territory.

When Flor–also known as the notorious Ghost Hawk–robs the stagecoach that Grace has used to escape her Georgia home, the first thing on her mind is ransom. But when the two get to talking about Flor’s plan to crash a Confederate gala and steal some crucial documents, Grace convinces Flor to let her join the heist.

THE FOUR PROFOUND WEAVES BY R.B. LEMBERG (2020)

Fantasy. Although this is short, the prose is challenging and the world building sophisticated.

THE FOUR PROFOUND WEAVES BY R.B. LEMBERG

Wind: To match one’s body with one’s heart
Sand: To take the bearer where they wish
Song: In praise of the goddess Bird
Bone: To move unheard in the night

The Surun’ do not speak of the master weaver, Benesret, who creates the cloth of bone for assassins in the Great Burri Desert. But Uiziya now seeks her aunt Benesret in order to learn the final weave, although the price for knowledge may be far too dear to pay.

Among the Khana, women travel in caravans to trade, while men remain in the inner quarter as scholars. A nameless man struggles to embody Khana masculinity, after many years of performing the life of a woman, trader, wife, and grandmother.

As the past catches up to the nameless man, he must choose between the life he dreamed of and Uiziya, and Uiziya must discover how to challenge a tyrant, and weave from deaths that matter.

Set in R. B. Lemberg’s beloved Birdverse. 

Subscribe to occasional bookish newsletter.

Home » Storytelling

Magical Times of Day

Songs at Midnight, Billy Daniels with Benny Payne at the Piano

Before we had clocks, humans paid more attention to the sky and environment. Read older classics such as the novels of Thomas Hardy and notice how characters make use of all their senses once the sun goes down. They couldn’t simply flick on a light. Even though candles have long been available, they were expensive. My own Northern Irish peasant ancestors were well-accustomed to darkness.

I know this partly because an optometrist told me I have large pupils which don’t dilate down all that well. Especially when young, I had no trouble navigating the dark. Like many child readers, I was constantly told to turn on a light.

Clocks (and later, home lighting) changed our entire mode of being:

So kind of 13th, 14th century, mechanical clocks start diffusing and they start in Italy, but they rapidly go from city to city and towers are trying to one off other towers and they would ring bells. And it led to the city kind of literally running like clockwork, like they ring the bell and everybody wakes up and then has breakfast and then there’s the lunch bell and so the city begins to run like clockwork. But the clock doesn’t diffuse into the Middle East and other cultures didn’t seem to have the immense interest in getting a clock the way the Europeans do.

Joe Henrich on the Preposterous Universe podcast

Industrialisation also put an end to genuine beliefs about certain magical times of day.

THE BLUE HOUR

The blue hour is mostly a photography and art concept. Especially on older cameras, photographs taken at the ends of the day turn out better than when taken under bright sunlight. The blue hour comes from French l’heure bleue and refers to the period of twilight when the sun dips below the horizon, causing residual sunlight to cast a blue light over the landscape.

Continue reading “Magical Times of Day”

Books About Non-binary Genders For Readers Of All Ages

Gender is in Western culture a relational concept. And “masculinity” relies on a binary relationship with femininity. Non-binary people have existed since the dawn of humankind, and are now cracking open proscribed Western gender expectations for everyone.

Here are a few authors contributing to the conversation.

EUPHORIA KIDS BY ALISON EVANS (2020)

Australian young adult fantasy

Ever since the witch cursed Babs, she turns invisible sometimes. She has her mum and her dog, but teachers and classmates barely notice her. Then, one day, Iris can see her. And Iris likes what they see. Babs is made of fire.

Iris grew from a seed in the ground. They have friends, but not human ones. Not until they meet Babs. The two of them have a lot in common: they speak to dryads and faeries. They’re connected to the magic that’s all around them.

There’s a new boy at school, a boy who’s like them. He hasn’t found his real name. Soon the three of them are hanging out and trying spellwork together. Magic can be dangerous, though. Witches and fae can be cruel. Something is happening in the other realm Despite warnings to stay away, the three friends must figure out how to deal with it on their own terms.

Recommended for fans of Francesca Lia Block and Studio Ghibli films.

THE PRONOUN LOWDOWN: DEMYSTIFYING AND CELEBRATING GENDER DIVERSITY BY NEVO ZISIN (2021)

Australian non-fiction

The Pronoun Lowdown by Nevo Zisin

Thanks to the efforts of trans and gender-nonconforming activists, gender-diverse experiences are no longer able to be ignored. These lived experiences (the joyful and the painful) are being seen and heard. This book highlights, demystifies, and celebrates the lived experience of trans and gender-nonconforming folk.

The Pronoun Lowdown is an illustrated history of how the gender binary came about, from ancient Greece to now. Alongside personal anecdotes, it provides examples of subversive historical figures, and demonstrates the gender-neutrality of ye olde language (Shakespeare’s and Oscar Wilde’s included).

There are also examples of “how to” and “how to not” ask for someone’s pronoun, and other advice for avoiding generally bad behavior. (We needn’t be gendering a stranger’s dog, people. C’mon!) This book also breaks down how different languages navigate (or, struggle to navigate) pronouns.

FINDING NEVO BY NEVO ZISIN (2017)

Australian autobiography

Meet Nevo: girl, boy, he, she, him, her, they, them, daughter, son, teacher, student, friend, gay, bi, lesbian, trans, homo, Jew, dyke, masculine, feminine, androgynous, queer.

Nevo was not born in the wrong body. Nevo just wants everyone to catch up with all that Nevo is. Personal, political and passionate, Finding Nevo is an autobiography about gender and everything that comes with it.

GENDERQUEER BY MAIA KOBABE (2019)

American, graphic novel, memoir

In 2014, Maia Kobabe, who uses e/em/eir pronouns, thought that a comic of reading statistics would be the last autobiographical comic e would ever write. At the time, it was the only thing e felt comfortable with strangers knowing about em. Now, Gender Queer is here. Maia’s intensely cathartic autobiography charts eir journey of self-identity, which includes the mortification and confusion of adolescent crushes, grappling with how to come out to family and society, bonding with friends over erotic gay fanfiction, and facing the trauma of pap smears. Started as a way to explain to eir family what it means to be nonbinary and asexual, Gender Queer is more than a personal story: it is a useful and touching guide on gender identity–what it means and how to think about it–for advocates, friends, and humans everywhere.

A HOUSE FOR EVERYONE: A STORY TO HELP CHILDREN LEARN ABOUT GENDER IDENTITY AND GENDER EXPRESSION BY JO HIRST AND NAOMI BARDOFF (2018)

Australian picture book

A House For Everyone  Jo Hirst picture book cover

Jackson is a boy who likes to wear dresses. Ivy is a girl who likes her hair cut really short. Alex doesn’t feel like ‘just’ a boy, or ‘just’ a girl. They are all the same, they are all different – but they are all friends.

At lunchtime, all of Tom’s friends gather at school to work together building their house. Each one of them has a special job to do, and each one of them has a different way of expressing their gender identity.

A very simple story that challenges gender stereotypes and shows 4 to 8 year olds that it is OK to be yourself. An engaging story that is more than just an educational tool; this book will assist parents and teachers in giving children the space to explore the full spectrum of gender diversity and will show children the many ways they can express their gender in a truly positive light.

Subscribe to occasional bookish newsletter.

Home » Storytelling

Of Mice and Men: Classroom Alternatives

Of Mice and Men is a 1937 novella by John Steinbeck. Two migrant ranch workers move from place to place in California looking for work during America’s Great Depression.

This social protest novel is widely studied with high school English literature students. But, where funding allows, English teachers are starting to replace class sets Of Mice And Men with better options.

So, if a school is able to replace John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men with a more contemporary, and better, novel, what are those options? Below are seven alternatives, the bulk of them published in the last five years.

PURPLE HIBISCUS BY CHIMAMANDA NGOZI ADICHIE (2012)

Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie book cover

Fifteen-year-old Kambili and her older brother Jaja lead a privileged life in Enugu, Nigeria. They live in a beautiful house, with a caring family, and attend an exclusive missionary school. They’re completely shielded from the troubles of the world. Yet, as Kambili reveals in her tender-voiced account, things are less perfect than they appear. Although her Papa is generous and well respected, he is fanatically religious and tyrannical at home—a home that is silent and suffocating.

As the country begins to fall apart under a military coup, Kambili and Jaja are sent to their aunt, a university professor outside the city, where they discover a life beyond the confines of their father’s authority. Books cram the shelves, curry and nutmeg permeate the air, and their cousins’ laughter rings throughout the house. When they return home, tensions within the family escalate, and Kambili must find the strength to keep her loved ones together.

Purple Hibiscus is an exquisite novel about the emotional turmoil of adolescence, the powerful bonds of family, and the bright promise of freedom.

Continue reading “Of Mice and Men: Classroom Alternatives”

What is a twice-told tale?

Twice Told Tales by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Dictionary Definition of twice-told

Twice-told officially means well-known from repeated telling. The word is used chiefly in the phrase “twice-told tale“.

First Known Use

The word first took off around the year 1597, in the meaning above.

Various Meanings In Contemporary Use

Twice-Told Tales is a short story collection in two volumes by Nathaniel Hawthorne. The first volume came out in the spring of 1837 and the second in 1842. The stories were previously published in magazines and annuals, which formed a sort of pun for audiences used to the original meaning of ‘old’ and ‘well-known’.

But we can hardly call 1837 contemporary.

For a 2017 usage of the word ‘twice-told’ in publishing, take the example below. In the marketing copy of The Way Home In The Night (Yoru no kaerimichi), ‘twice-told’ means something quite different:

A mother rabbit and her young bunny are on their way home in the dark night. “My mother carries me through the quiet streets,” the bunny explains. “Most of our neighbors are already home.” The bunny can see their lights in the windows, and hear and smell what they might be doing: talking on the phone, pulling a pie out of the oven, having a party, saying goodbye. When they reach home, the father rabbit tucks the bunny into bed. But the bunny continues to wonder about the neighbors’ activities. “Are the party guests saying goodnight? Is the person on the phone getting ready for bed?” And what of the footsteps that can be heard in the street as the bunny falls asleep? “Will she take the last train home?”

This beautiful picture book captures the magical wonder a child feels at being outside in the night. Award-winning author and illustrator Akiko Miyakoshi’s softly focused black-and-white illustrations with just a touch of neutral color have a dreamlike quality, just right for nodding off to sleep with. The book is intriguing in that it contains twice-told stories, once as they are observed and second as the bunny imagines them. This offers a perfect prompt for young children to create extensions of other stories they have read or heard. A deeper reading could encourage critical thinking by comparing the different pastimes of the neighbors or, ultimately, what it means to be home.

MARKETING COPY

Twice-told As Synonym For Literary Parallax

In this case, ‘twice told’ refers to the technique of literary parallax, which Impressionistic and Postmodern storytellers love.

Use In The High School Classroom

Twice-told tales in the parallactic sense are especially for inspiring creativity. They demonstrate to students that there is no one way to interpret a work of art, be it writing or image.

There are a number of short story compilations available which take a single work of art and ask various writers to interpret it. One example is Twice Told: Original Stories Inspired by Original Artwork, aimed at a young adult audience.

Artist Scott Hunt provided 9 charcoal drawings and 18 authors for teens wrote short stories inspired by them.

There are two stories for each picture, showing young creators that there is no “right” way to interpret a picture. 

An Australian example is the short story collection Cahill Expressway. Various writers each contributed a story inspired by the famous painting.

Jeffrey Smart, Cahill Expressway (1962), National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

The book is called Expressway: Twenty-Nine Australian Writers Respond to Helen Daniel’s Invitation: Stories Based on Jeffrey Smart’s Painting “Cahill Expressway”. Unfortunately, both books above are increasingly difficult to find.

Note that Australian picture book writer and illustrator Shaun Tan included a pastiche of Jeffrey Smart’s Cahill Expressway in his book The Lost Thing.

Tan’s picture book Rules of Summer lends itself extremely well to class exercises in which every student writes a different story about one of the pictures within. Primary aged students do very well when asked to write their own Rules of Winter, for example.

Subscribe to occasional bookish newsletter.

Home » Storytelling

Writing Thumbnail Character Sketches

personality type thumb finger nail

We see people and things not as they are, but as we are.

Anthony de Mello

Park: “What did he look like?”
Girl: “Well, kind of plain.”
Park: “In what way?”
Girl: “Just……..ordinary.”

Memories of Murder, Bong Joon-Ho (2003)

Readers differ in the amount of description they need when reading a fictional character. I remember once writing a short story then uploading it to my writing group for critique. In the short story I’d mentioned about halfway through that the main character had a beard. I’ll always be amused by one beta reader’s comment: “It’s a bit late to spring a beard on us.” (My emphasis.)

Now I look at beards on men and think of how the beard might suddenly ‘spring upon’ me… which has pretty much ruined beards… Anyhow, the moral of that story is that some readers didn’t mind learning he had a beard whereas others had already constructed a strong visual in their mind and didn’t want it altered. So if you are going to describe a person, do it early. That said, I’ve read plenty of popular work in which description is drip fed to the reader.

CONCRETIZATION

There is a term used in reference to literacy: Concretization. It is thought that children are better at ‘concretizing’ than adult readers, who no longer require it in order to follow a story. So it’s possible (hypothetically) that children’s literature might provide more in the way of description than books for adults.

Author Sarah Dessen requests that no faces go on the covers of her books.

I don’t like to throw characters into a plot as though it were a raging torrent where they are swept along. What interests me are the complications and nuances of character. Few of my characters are described externally; we see them from the inside out.

Michael Ondaatje
Continue reading “Writing Thumbnail Character Sketches”

Eavesdropping in Storytelling and Illustration

When there’s a mystery to be solved in a story, especially in a children’s story, the character very often begins their journey after hearing a conversation they weren’t supposed to hear. The Golden Compass begins like this. Another example is The Halfmen of O by Maurice Gee. For a picture book example see The Stranger by Chris Van Allsburg.

There are many other eavesdropping scenes which open stories for children.

Why? Because children don’t start with the same information that adults have, and are protected from evil by those who love them. Also, don’t we all learn most of the things from overhearing and observation during childhood?

Since women are historically infantalised, there are many artworks which show a woman hiding in the corners, learning things she is not supposed to. Knowledge is power. These are subversive women.

1887-88 Danaë and the Brazen Tower (aka The Tower of Brass), by artist Edward Burne-Jones.
1887-88 Danaë and the Brazen Tower (aka The Tower of Brass), by artist Edward Burne-Jones.

Or perhaps she was simply gazing from inside at the outside world, because a woman’s place is traditionally in the home.

Paul Zelinsky for Rumpelstiltskin
Charles West Cope - Palpitation 1884
Charles West Cope – Palpitation 1884

The TV series Big Love about the three wives of one man offered many opportunities for eavesdropping scenes, as all three women were living in each others’ pockets. When a character is forced to eavesdrop in order to learn what’s going on, this suggests a degree of powerlessness.

In Big Love we never see Bill (the husband) eavesdropping. He doesn’t need to. However subversive the image of the eavesdropping woman, determined to find things out about the world despite the lack of information provided to her, the proliferation of such gendered scenes suggests, to the wrong audience members, that women are naturally sneaky, devious and manipulative.

The following image plays on fears of the upper classes about the people they employ to work in their homes.

In a position to know, Clarence Coles Phillips, 1921 eavesdropping
“In a position to know”, Clarence Coles Phillips, 1921.

The stairs and hallway are typically a good place in the storybook dream house from which to hear everything going on.

George Hughes Figurative Painting “Eavesdropping-On-Grownups” for the cover of Saturday Evening Post, 1955.

The image below is no doubt supposed to be cute, but there’s something incestuosly creepy about a little brother listening in on his big sister’s conversation with (by her body language) a boyfriend. That same creep factor is utilised in Six Feet Under to unambiguously creepy effect when Billy follows Brenda and Nate into Brenda’s bedroom and photographs them while they are asleep.

The-Little-Brother-1949-by-George-Hughes
“The Little Brother” 1949 by George Hughes

The following is an eavesdropping scene from a chocolate box.

“Listening at Doors” This is an illustration by Hugh Thomson for the play Quality Street by J.-M. Barrie. The-chocolate selection was named after the play.

Outside ninjas and actual spies, it’s more difficult to find examples of grown men eavesdropping in art. Men run the world. Men don’t need to be secretive about their need to know what’s going on.

Home » Storytelling
Lemon girl young adult novella

READ AT MY OTHER BLOG

Subscribe to occasional bookish newsletter.

Home » Storytelling

Nymphs and their Habitat

WHAT ARE NYMPHS?

Nymphs are minor female nature deities from Ancient Greek folklore. Like Pan, they serve as personifications of nature but unlike Pan, who can turn up anywhere (e.g. in The Wind In The Willows or as a character in The Secret Garden), nymphs are typically tied to a specific place. They are usually depicted by horny heterosexual male artists as beautiful maidens.

ARE NYMPHS GODS?

Well, they are not necessarily immortal, but are thought to live much longer than humans. In this respect they’re like the djinn, or like characters such as Noah from the Bible, who also lived an extremely long time, apparently?

Some nymphs are depicted with wings; sometimes nymph wings look like cherub wings, suggesting they can fly close to the Heavens, and perhaps occupy a liminal space between Heaven and Earth.

More similar to Greek gods than to monotheistic Gods, nymphs sit at all points along a morality spectrum: Some are simply beautiful and laze around next to rivers as a beautiful addition to nature while others have far too much sex and encourage men to do very bad sex things which will send them to Hell.

Continue reading “Nymphs and their Habitat”