November is Transgender Awareness Month. This is a time to celebrate and support the trans community, as well as promote education about what it really means to be transgender. Here at Bookish, we believe books are vital to that education. We’ve rounded up 21 titles that feature incredible transgender characters and authors for readers of all ages. This is an incomplete and ever-growing list of titles, and here we have on newer releases, to better highlight books that readers may have not yet come across. It’s a place to start, and we encourage our readers to explore books beyond this list and let us know in the comments or on social media which ones resonate with them.
Michael Hall tells the story of a crayon who is having an identity crisis. His label says red, but everything he tries to draw comes out blue! The other crayons insist that Red try harder, apply himself more, and really focus on being red. It isn’t until someone asks Red to draw a blue ocean, that Red realizes what he truly is: a blue crayon in a red wrapper. Red, who had been downtrodden after failed attempts to create red images, is now joyous! He draws blue jeans, a blue whale, and blue birds. His new identity is accepted by the other crayons, though a few try to claim they knew it all along. This is one of our editor’s favorite children’s books. It’s a wonderful story about being true to who you are that any child can relate to, but it’s particularly poignant for a reader who feels as though they too have been labeled incorrectly.
Errol and his teddy bear are best friends. They ride bikes, play in the park, have tea parties, and more. Every day is a new adventure… until Errol realizes that his friend is quite sad. This bear’s fluffy heart is burdened with a secret: Her name is Tilly, not Thomas. She confesses that she was afraid to tell Errol. What if he didn’t want to be friends anymore? Errol assures her that their friendship is more important to him than anything else, including whether she’s a girl or boy teddy bear. Of course he accepts her for being who she is! Tilly happily removes her bowtie and places it atop her head, and Errol races to call their friend Ava so they can go to the park and play. This picture book, inspired by author Jessica Walton’s father’s transition from male to female, acknowledges the very real fear in coming to loved ones with a secret that they may not accept. It also shows readers that true friends want you to be happy and will love you no matter what.
Charley Parkhurst’s life was legendary. He ran away from an orphanage at age 12, learned to work with horses, traveled to California during the Gold Rush, and later became one of the bravest and fastest stagecoach drivers on the coast. When he died, it was discovered that Charley had been born a woman. Little is known about why Charley presented as a man. Maybe that is the gender that felt true to him, or maybe he saw the limits of being a woman at that time and wanted the freedom to work, vote, and do as he pleased. What we do know is that he was a talented and brave human being. His story should inspire all readers who strive to be true to themselves. Readers interested in a more modern biography should check out I Am Jazz by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings.
A middle grader named George learns to stand up for herself in Alex Gino’s debut novel. When she learns that this year’s school play is Charlotte’s Web, 10-year-old George is determined to win the coveted role of Charlotte. But her teacher doesn’t even allow her to audition because, like everyone else, she believes that George is a boy. But George isn’t ready to give up just yet. Both hopeful and heartbreaking, George’s tale about asking the world to see her for who she is will resonate with readers and stay with them long after they’ve turned the final page.
Twelve-year-old Shane Woods is keeping a secret. He hasn’t told his baseball team, his best friend, Josh, or his crush, Madeline, that he’s about to start taking testosterone so that his growing body can keep up with other boys his age. His friends have only ever known him as a boy, and he isn’t sure how they’d react if they knew the truth. Before he can work up the nerve to tell them, a bully learns his secret and decides to spread the word. The aftermath is brutal, and Shane isn’t sure if he’ll be able to survive it. Thankfully, he isn’t alone; through a support group he meets a trans girl named Alejandra. M.G. Hennessey’s middle grade novel doesn’t shy away from tough moments, but it still leaves readers with a hopeful ending.
In Grayson’s dreams, she’s a girl wearing beautiful dresses. She keeps these thoughts from those around her, fearing what they might say, but when she’s given the chance to audition for the school play, she decides to take the risk. The Greek goddess Persephone is the lead role, and Grayson relates to her captivity in a profound way. Through the play, Grayson begins to find the support she needs from the director (a teacher) and her fellow cast members.
It’s an understatement to say that representation is important; it’s vital to creating accepting and understanding communities. This is why we’re particularly excited about this book, which uses a trans model on the cover. After living with her mom while she transitioned from Andrew to Amanda, high school senior Amanda Hardy transfers schools and moves to Lambertville, Tennessee to live with her estranged father. Being the new girl is always a challenge, but things start to look up when Amanda meets the charming and handsome Grant Everett. Inspired in part by author Meredith Russo’s own experiences as a trans woman, this is a beautiful and genuine coming-of-age story about being yourself and falling in love.
Lisa Williamson’s novel about two trans teenagers was inspired by the individuals she met while working at the Gender Identity Development Service in London. The story revolves around Leo and David. Their friendship begins with math tutoring, but really takes off when David learns that Leo is trans. David, who has longed to be a girl for years, is amazed to meet someone who understands those feelings and is passing. Together, they learn to rely on each other for support. Halfway through the novel, David chooses the name Kate, though he continues to use he/him pronouns. His journey shows that the transition process can be slow and steady, often moving forward a step at a time. With David and Leo, Williamson wanted to convey the different experiences that trans men and women go through. She told the Guardian about the teens she met with: “Some encountered bullying and prejudice, others overwhelming support and kindness. There is no universal experience and I wanted to communicate this.”
Who doesn’t love a modern fairy tale adaptation? Brie Spangler’s Beast is about a 15-year-old boy named Dylan who doesn’t quite fit in. As a specimen, yes, he’s intimidating: He’s a towering 6’4” and hairier than a “throw rug.” Girls are afraid of him; guys mock him. When Dylan slips and falls from the roof, his mother worries that it was intentional and signs him up for group therapy. That’s where he meets Jamie. She’s smart, beautiful, and trans. On the first day of therapy, she told the group that she’s a trans girl, but Dylan wasn’t paying attention. This is an enchanting and insightful tale about breaking stereotypes and accepting people just as they are.
Readers looking for just a touch of fantasy should pick up Anna-Marie McLemore’s tale of friendship and magical realism. She tells the story of Miel and Sam, best friends who would do anything for each other. Sam has lived as a boy for most of his life and finds solace in the Pakistani practice of bacha posh, where a daughter in a family without sons is raised as a boy until she’s of marriageable age. Sam has wondered if he’d grow up and want to be a woman, but in his heart feels like he truly is meant to be a man. This is a sensitive and rich tale that readers won’t soon forget.
Through interviews and photography, author Susan Kuklin captures the lives of six American teenagers. Some identify as transgender, others as genderqueer, and all provide valuable insight into the lives of young adults who are breaking free of rigid gender stereotypes. In a starred review, Publishers Weekly says, “Readers will gain a real understanding of gender as a spectrum and a societal construct, and of the challenges that even the most well-adjusted, well-supported transgender teens face.”
In this novel by Jenni Fagan, readers will meet Constance and her pre-teen daughter, Stella, a trans girl. Constance and Stella are living in Scotland in 2020, battling extreme weather and natural disasters that seem to suggest that the end of the world might be close at hand. When a newcomer named Dylan comes to town, their lives will become entwined in ways they could not have foreseen. For readers who enjoy apocalyptic fiction, this novel is sure to hit all of the right notes. We even called this book one of the must-read novels of this summer.
Rosie thought that she had four sons until the day that her youngest, three-year-old Claude, told her otherwise. Claude expressed a desire to be called Poppy, and Rosie and her husband Penn began to adjust to the challenges of raising a transgender girl. This revelation, of course, had a big impact on Poppy and her family, and led them to move across the country to find a more accepting community to live in. Laurie Frankel’s forthcoming novel delves into the joys and trials of parenting a transgender child, and the experiences chronicled here will resonate with all readers—not just those who are in Rosie and Penn’s shoes. Readers can find this book on shelves beginning January 24 of next year.
Elliot Wake (formerly known as Leah Raeder) writes about the life of a transgender male YouTube vlogger in this exciting new romantic thriller. Renard Grant has two lives: a public life as an internet personality, and a hidden life as a member of Black Iris, a vigilante group that specializes in taking down rapists. When Renard is accused of rape, however, it turns his world upside down—particularly because Renard himself has been the victim of assault, albeit in a female body. Wake’s new novel hits shelves on December 6.
If you’re looking for a legal thriller set in a fantasy world, check this book out. It takes place on the tropical island of Kavekana. Kai, our transgender heroine, is a priest who creates gods. Her creations accept sacrifices and protect worshipers from other gods, but they lack self-awareness… or so Kai thought. When she attempts to save one of her creations from dying, she’s injured and put out of work. With free time on her hands, she starts to investigate why her gods are dying and is shocked to uncover a conspiracy. This is the third book in Max Gladstone’s Craft Sequence series. Each novel can be read as a standalone, though the tales all take place in the same universe and dedicated readers will see some characters pop up in more than one book.
This collection’s subtitle is “The Year’s Best Transgender Speculative Fiction,” and we think you’ll agree. These stories take on gender and identity in fascinating and thought-provoking ways, sometimes directly, sometimes through metaphor. Kirkus wrote, “The speculative scenarios match with transgender perspectives in such complementary, productive ways that one wonders why it hasn’t been done more often. Traditional boundaries of identity and structure are blessedly absent, as this anthology challenges readers’ expectations in ways that few have managed to do before.”
While beginning his transition from female to male, Thomas McBee found himself examining masculinity in a whole new way. He begins his memoir by recalling two vivid memories: In one, a mugger threatens his life and then lets him go free. In another, he comes clean to his mother about the abuse he suffered at his father’s hands. This kickstarts an insightful examination of what is means to be a man in the biological and cultural sense of the word. In a starred review, Kirkus writes, “This is quite a story, masterfully rendered.”
After undergoing gender reassignment surgery at the age of 76, Stefánie decided to reach out to her daughter. The two had barely spoken over the last 25 years, and the email came as a shock to Stefánie’s daughter, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Susan Faludi. The exchange prompted Faludi to travel to Hungary to visit Stefánie and examine who her father had become during their long absence from each other’s lives. This book not only examines Stefánie’s identity and her complicated relationship with masculinity, it also explores the existing prejudice in Hungary and the reforging of a bond between parent and child.
It’s reported that one in two transgender individuals are sexually abused or assaulted at some point in their lives. The Human Rights Campaign notes that “it is clear that fatal violence disproportionately affects transgender women of color.” This makes psychologist Ken Corbett’s book about a 2008 murder more vital than ever before. Fourteen-year-old Brandon McInerney shot and killed Larry King, a classmate who had begun to explore gender identity and had recently started going by Leticia. Corbett, frustrated by the media’s avoidance of the role gender and race played in the crime, traveled to California to attend the trial. This is a challenging and heartbreaking read, but an incredibly important one.
While some individuals realize that they are trans later in life, others know it from a very young age. Nicole knew it from the time that she was little, always insisting that she was female, while the rest of her family referred to her as Wyatt. Nicole’s family reexamines their rigid views about gender in this book by Pulitzer Prize-winning science reporter Amy Ellis Nutt. Nicole’s twin brother Jonas says he always knew that she was a girl. Her mother, Kelly, realizes that loving and supporting her child is more important than anything. But Wayne, Nicole’s father, is a Republican and Air Force veteran who struggles with the transition. Readers will watch him evolve into a passionate advocate for trans rights. Coming out as trans to one’s family can be incredibly stressful, but this book offers great insight and hope that sometimes love really does conquer all.
This massive tome is written by and for trans individuals. With over 200 trans or genderqueer contributors featured in this book, readers are sure to find a voice and a story that they relate to. The book explores gender, race, religion, mental health, parenthood, and so much more. Advocate, who named it one of the Best Transgender Nonfiction Books of 2014, said, “At over 672 pages, Trans Bodies, Trans Selves looks to be the most comprehensive trans resource ever published.” It also serves as a reminder that there is no right or wrong way to be trans because each experience and expression of gender is wholly unique.