It Feels Good to Be Yourself: A Book About Gender Identity by Theresa Thorn, illustrated by Noah Grigni
It Feels Good to Be Yourself:
A Book About Gender Identity
by Theresa Thorn, illustrated by Noah Grigni
Review Copy from Macmillan Kids
Who Are You? The Kid's Guide to Gender Identity picture book was published in 2017. Author Brook Pessin-Whedbee is an educator, a family advocate, mother and founder of Gender Inclusive Schools Alliance in Berkeley, CA. As someone learning about the multifaceted concept of non-binary gender as well as how to talk with kids about it in an educational setting, I greatly appreciated the simple, straightforward text as well as the resources and support provided in the back matter. With It Feels Good to Be Yourself: A Book About Gender Identity, Theresa Thorn and Noah Grigni have created an even more accessible picture book for young readers with page after page of richly glowing, predominantly blue and pink illustrations, resources for adults in the backmatter. And, perfectly, Grigni, is a non-binary transgender illustrator while Thorn is the mother of a non-gender conforming child. Theresa Thorn, an author and cohost of the parenting humor podcast, and her husband Jesse Thorn, a public radio host and creator, have spoken about their child on their own shows and also in an interview from 2017 with Evan Urquhart for Slate. What struck me most about their interview was the hesitancy with which they spoke about their child, wanting to talk about it in a way that made it clear this was a normal thing, but also to be sensitive to their transgender child's age and evolving experience of gender because, as Jesse Thorn noted, he wanted to, "leave room for her to become whoever she wanted to be as she grew up and developed." I sometimes find myself feeling challenged by the variety and fluidity of gender identity, how to understand it and how to talk about it. Both Thorn's book and the insights she and her husband share in their interview have helped me understand that, especially because this is something that very young and even non-verbal children experience, understanding and talking about gender identity has, as Thorn repeats over and over in It Feels Good to Be Yourself, there are many different ways to be a boy or a girl, to be non-binary, and, "there are a never-ending number of ways to be yourself in the world." Above all else, Thorn's words and Grigni's illustrations exude inclusivity, love and acceptance for everyone.
Thorn introduced readers to four children with simple, normalizing language that reads like a warm hug. Ruthie is transgender; girl is her gender identity. Xavier is Ruthie's brother and cisgender boy is his gender identity. Using these siblings, Thorn helps readers understand the fluidity and evolving experience of gender by explaining that, "when you were born, you couldn't tell people who you were or how you felt. They looked at you and made a guess. Maybe they got it right., maybe they got it wrong. What a baby's body looks like when they are born can be a clue to what the baby's gender will be, but not always." And, with love and support for both, Thorn explains,
When people guess wrong, it's okay to let them know. Ruthie was five when she told her parents, "I know you think I'm a boy, but I'm really a girl." Oops! Ruthie was a girl all along - they just didn't know it at first. When people guess right, it's okay to let them know. Xavier was three and a half when he told his family, "I'm a boy! I like being a boy!"
Alex and JJ are non-binary characters, explaining that not everyone feels like a boy or a girl. Alex is both boy and girl, and this is Alex's gender identity. JJ is neither boy nor a girl, "they just felt like themself," and this is JJ's gender identity. As Thorn explains, "there are many different ways to be non-binary - too many to fit in a book!" Thorn ends her story with more warm words of understanding and support,
You might feel like your gender changes from day to day or from year to year. You might feel like none of these words describes you perfectly. You might not be sure yet. Maybe you're still figuring it out.
Your feelings about your gender are real. Listen to your heart.
No matter what your gender identity is, you are okay exactly the way you are. And you are loved.
It feels good to be yourself, doesn't it?
Grigni's illustrations are a true marvel of diversity, with an array of skin colors and gender expressions on the page. Their characters all have gentle eyes and warm expressions on their faces, mirroring the love and support expressed through Thorn's words. Resources include "Helpful Terms to Know," books for kids and adults, websites, organizations and helplines, and a documentary film. In addition to author and illustrator notes that share their experiences with gender identity, Thorn includes "A Note About Pronouns," which I greatly appreciated. Again, with sensitivity and thoughtfulness, Thorn encourages readers to listen, rather than guessing or assuming, saying, "when we use the wrong words, we can really hurt people."