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14 Must-Reads Narrated By Transgender Kids and Teens

Every Tuesday since May, I have posted a summary of YA, MG, and picture book new releases that week. This has resulted in several unintended consequences. My TBR list has grown exponentially (okay, I expected that). I’ve engaged with lots of other librarians who have commented on or emailed me about the lists. And I am better able to spot genre and subject trends in new books being published.

It is this last one that I want to talk about today. The biggest trend I’ve seen in these past few months is an uptick in new releases featuring GLBT characters. Transgender teens are especially underrepresented in literature for teens.

Recently, I read two books featuring transgender narrators. This was stepping way outside the box for me, and I am so happy that I gave them a shot. This is a much-needed topic in today’s world, and considering the higher depression and suicide rates in today’s transgender teens, it is more important than ever that transgender people of all ages can see themselves in the books they read. They need to see that they are not alone (and they totally aren’t), that there are others out there who are like them. Books with transgender narrators show teens how others handle being transgender in a world that often does not understand.

I am proud to say that I do have a few transgender narrators living on my library shelves. I am sad to say that it’s still not enough. We do not have any openly transgender students at my school, but I do wonder if we have some who haven’t told anyone yet. Maybe, maybe not. Rest assured, even if my students are not themselves transgender, they will encounter transgender individuals in their lives. Books like these can only help our students understand that no matter how you feel about someone’s differences, everyone is a real person who has the fundamental right to be treated with dignity.

Lily and Dunkin (Donna Gephart)
Lily Jo McGrother, born Timothy McGrother, is a girl. But being a girl is not so easy when you look like a boy. Especially when you’re in the eighth grade. Dunkin Dorfman, birth name Norbert Dorfman, is dealing with bipolar disorder and has just moved from the New Jersey town he’s called home for the past thirteen years. This is one of the two books I referred to in my introduction above. I loved the way this book was written and how both Lily and Dunkin have supportive families who love them very much. I compared this book to Palacio’s Wonder in my review, and I stick by that. I believe this book has the power to change hearts.Read my review of Lily and Dunkin.


The Art of Being Normal (Lisa Williamson)
David Piper has always been an outsider. His parents think he’s gay. The school bully thinks he’s a freak. Only his two best friends know the real truth: David wants to be a girl.
On the first day at his new school Leo Denton has one goal: to be invisible. Attracting the attention of the most beautiful girl in his class is definitely not part of that plan. When Leo stands up for David in a fight, an unlikely friendship forms. But things are about to get messy. Because at Eden Park School secrets have a funny habit of not staying secret for long , and soon everyone knows that Leo used to be a girl.


A Boy Like Me (Jennie Wood)
Born a girl, Peyton Honeycutt meets Tara Parks in the eighth grade bathroom shortly after he gets his first period. It is the best and worst day of his life. Determined to impress Tara, Peyton sets out to win her love by mastering the drums and basketball. He takes on Tara’s small-minded mother, the bully at school, and the prejudices within his conservative hometown. In the end, Peyton must accept and stand up for who he is or lose the woman he loves.


Parrotfish (Ellen Wittlinger)
Angela Katz-McNair has never felt quite right as a girl. Her whole life is leading up to the day she decides to become Grady, a guy. While coming out as transgendered feels right to Grady, he isn’t prepared for the reaction he gets from everyone else. His mother is upset, his younger sister is mortified, and his best friend, Eve, won’t acknowledge him in public. Why can’t people just let Grady be himself?


Run, Clarissa, Run (Rachel Eliason)
There is much going on in this one: a transgender teen, a sexual predator, sex reassignment surgery across the world…Clark is harassed daily at school for his effeminate behavior and appearance. He has no friends and a brother that is as likely to be on the teasing as to prevent it. When Clark is offered a job babysitting for the Pirella family, it seems like a godsend.


Being Jazz (Jazz Jennings)
Jazz Jennings is one of the youngest and most prominent voices in the national discussion about gender identity. At the age of five, Jazz transitioned to life as a girl, with the support of her parents. A year later, her parents allowed her to share her incredible journey in her first Barbara Walters interview, aired at a time when the public was much less knowledgeable or accepting of the transgender community.


Girl Mans Up (M-E Girard)
All Pen wants is to be the kind of girl she’s always been. So why does everyone have a problem with it? They think the way she looks and acts means she’s trying to be a boy—that she should quit trying to be something she’s not.


Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out (Susan Kuklin)
Author and photographer Susan Kuklin met and interviewed six transgender or gender-neutral young adults to discuss their lives before, during, and after their personal acknowledgment of gender preference. Portraits, family photographs, and candid images grace the pages, augmenting the emotional and physical journey each youth has taken.


Beautiful Music for Ugly Children (Kirstin Cronn-Mills)
“This is Beautiful Music for Ugly Children, on community radio 90.3, KZUK. I’m Gabe. Welcome to my show.” My birth name is Elizabeth, but I’m a guy. Gabe. My parents think I’ve gone crazy and the rest of the world is happy to agree with them, but I know I’m right. I’ve been a boy my whole life. When you think about it, I’m like a record. Elizabeth is my A side, the song everybody knows, and Gabe is my B side–not heard as often, but just as good. It’s time to let my B side play.


Luna (Julie Anne Peters)
Regan’s brother Liam can’t stand the person he is during the day. Like the moon from whom Liam has chosen his female namesake, his true self, Luna, only reveals herself at night. In the secrecy of his basement bedroom Liam transforms himself into the beautiful girl he longs to be, with help from his sister’s clothes and makeup. Now, everything is about to change-Luna is preparing to emerge from her cocoon.


George (Alex Gino)
When people look at George, they think they see a boy. But she knows she’s not a boy. She knows she’s a girl. George thinks she’ll have to keep this a secret forever. Then her teacher announces that their class play is going to be Charlotte’s Web. George really, really, REALLY wants to play Charlotte. But the teacher says she can’t even try out for the part…because she’s a boy.


Being Emily (Rachel Gold)
They say that whoever you are it’s okay, you were born that way. Those words don’t comfort Emily, because she was born Christopher and her insides know that her outsides are all wrong. They say that it gets better, be who are you and it’ll be fine. For Emily, telling her parents who she really is means a therapist who insists Christopher is normal and Emily is sick. Telling her girlfriend means lectures about how God doesn’t make that kind of mistake.


Gracefully Grayson (Ami Polonsky)
Grayson Sender has been holding onto a secret for what seems like forever: “he” is a girl on the inside, stuck in the wrong gender’s body. The weight of this secret is crushing, but sharing it would mean facing ridicule, scorn, rejection, or worse. Despite the risks, Grayson’s true self itches to break free. Will new strength from an unexpected friendship and a caring teacher’s wisdom be enough to help Grayson step into the spotlight she was born to inhabit?


The Pants Project (Cat Clarke)
This is the second transgender-narrated title I’ve read. I really liked it because it made me think about my own school’s skirts-only uniform for girls, which is outdated and impractical. I’m adding The Pants Project to this list, even though it doesn’t come out until March 2017. Liv knows he was always meant to be a boy, but with his new school’s terrible dress code, he can’t even wear pants. Only skirts. Operation: Pants Project begins! The only way for Liv to get what he wants is to go after it himself. But to Liv, this isn’t just a mission to change the policy—it’s a mission to change his life. And that’s a pretty big deal.


So that’s my list! As I’m seeing a general increase in new GLBT titles lately, I know this list will likely grow as more rich literature about transgender teens becomes available. If you haven’t read any transgender-narrated books for teens, I urge you to give them a try. You don’t have to be transgender yourself to enjoy the stories and empathize with the characters, who may represent a current or future student at your school.


What favorites have I left off the list? Do you have books about transgender teens in your library? How are they received by your students, parents, teachers, and administration?



  • I love these recommendations! I recently added an LGBT book bin to my classroom library and the books are flying off the shelves 🙂

    • That's awesome! I think your students will be kinder, more empathetic citizens for having read them.

  • I've read George, Gracefully Grayson, and Lily and Dunkin, and they were all delightful (and they all made me cry). Thanks for the list 🙂

    • I love when I connect deeply enough with characters that I cry when I read their stories!

  • Love your openness to delve into LGBT books! As an LGBT member it makes me happy. Also I really liked "for today I am a boy"


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