Jacob’s Room to Choose by Sarah and Ian Hoffman

Published: 7th May 2019Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Magination Press
Illustrator: Chris Case
Pages: 32
Format: Picture Book
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

The beloved lead character from Jacob’s New Dress is back in an encouraging story about gender expression. When Jacob goes to the boys’ bathroom he is chased out because the boys think he looks like a girl because of the way he is dressed. His classmate, Sophie, has a similar experience when she tries to go to the girls’ bathroom. When their teacher finds out what happened, Jacob and Sophie, with the support of administration, lead change at their school as everyone discovers the many forms of gender expression and how to treat each other with respect.

Jacob is back and once again Sarah and Ian Hoffman have made a nice story that is about acceptance, understanding, and education. We’re introduced to Jacob’s friend Sophie, we aren’t give a backstory on this character but she is Jacob’s friend and dresses in typically masculine dress. She, like Jacob, experience problems when trying to use the bathroom.

Neither Jacob or Sophie are presented as being trans, but their different ways of expressing themselves makes them appear to others like their opposite gender which results in issues when trying to use the bathrooms at school. I loved the exercise the teacher has the class conduct because it is a basic, visual experiment that not everyone looks alike nor does it matter who uses the bathroom because everyone must go at some point. In both stories about Jacob the teacher has been a fighting force which is fantastic, even the small nudges make huge impacts and I love seeing adults so supportive and understanding.

I also love that these books are about gender expression and gender non-conformity. It fills the gap between cisgender and trans books which kids can easily understand and be educated on. The authors are writing from experience and they use this to create a heartfelt story showing that education really works and everyone deserves to feel safe and happy no matter where they are. I loved that these lessons can be taught to kids from an early age, the problems come, as the author’s message at the back states, with those who are older who haven’t been taught these messages of acceptance.

Once again Case’s illustrations help represent the message the story is trying to convey. The pictures are a mix of full page and small patches on the page but they tell the same story with a lot of emotion behind them in the character’s actions and expressions.

I’ll be interested to see if there are future books about Jacob because It’s love to see the Hoffman’s cover other situations and challenges the gender non-conforming kids will face.

You can purchase Jacob’s Room to Choose via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust

 

Introducing Teddy by Jess Walton

Published: 31st May 2016Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Bloomsbury USA Childrens
Illustrator: Dougal MacPherson
Pages: 32
Format: Picture Book
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

One sunny day, Errol finds that Thomas the Teddy is sad, and Errol can’t figure out why. Then Thomas the Teddy finally tells Errol what Teddy has been afraid to say: ‘In my heart, I’ve always known that I’m a girl Teddy, not a boy Teddy. I wish my name was Tilly.’ And Errol says, ‘I don’t care if you’re a girl teddy or a boy teddy! What matters is that you are my friend.’

This is a beautiful story about Thomas the teddy, his friend Errol and Thomas’ desire to be his true self.

The narrative is a lot simpler than what I was expecting, but it is still a great story because it doesn’t complicate anything. We’re shown Thomas the Teddy’s fears about not having a friend anymore when he tells his friend his secret, but we’re also shown acceptance and love when he does.

Walton shows that nothing changes in teddy and Errol’s routine, it is exactly the same and she shows that telling people and showing them who you really are can be easy and matter of fact as well. Highlights have to be how Teddy’s friends immediately switch to her new pronouns when she tells them she would like to be Tilly instead of Thomas.

The illustrations by MacPherson are adorable, simple but descriptive as well, and I love that Teddy and Errol have this fun relationship that they continue to have when Errol learns Teddy would like to be Tilly.

Because it is a simple narrative it doesn’t take away the importance, but it is an easy to understand story for kids and with all the main moments covered by Walton’s story it is a great way to explore the topic. As the subtitle on the book says, it is a gentle guide to gender and friendship.

You can purchase Introducing Teddy via the following

Booktopia | Book Depository

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Jacob’s New Dress by Sarah and Ian Hoffman

Published: 1st March 2014Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Albert Whitman Company
Illustrator: Chris Case
Pages: 32
Format: Picture Book
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

Jacob loves playing dress-up, when he can be anything he wants to be. Some kids at school say he can’t wear “girl” clothes, but Jacob wants to wear a dress to school. Can he convince his parents to let him wear what he wants? This heartwarming story speaks to the unique challenges faced by boys who don’t identify with traditional gender roles.

I may have cried a little at the start from the simple line of “There are all sorts of ways to be a boy” and also because the conversations between Jacob and his mum are wonderful, and the writing has hit an ideal balance of acceptance and practical reluctance.

The dialogue used is about support and comfortableness. Jacob’s mum and dad don’t dismiss his ideas, but they use language to work around it. His mum is supportive but apprehensive but finds a solution to Jacob’s desires, and his dad compliments Jacob’s outfit while acknowledging it wouldn’t be something he would wear he doesn’t shut down the idea.

It’s a powerful book in that it doesn’t have answers. It was written after the authors son was gender non-conforming and I think this story is a great expression of that. It doesn’t have answers either way whether Jacob wishes he were a girl, or whether he feels weird in his body – he just likes to wear dresses. It is a great story to demonstrate that there is nothing wrong with kids exploring and trying new things. It does no harm to anyone and it gives them a chance to have fun.

There are no big conversations or topics raised, and the story doesn’t go into any further depth but it doesn’t need to. There’s a chance Jacob grows out of it and there is a chance he doesn’t, but that is not the point that is being made. It is about allowing Jacob to do something he is comfortable doing, showing him he has the support of his family, showing that there is nothing wrong with it, and it also shows that an easy conversation can be had that kids and adults alike can understand.

It isn’t all smooth sailing. We see Jacob’s apprehension, especially when it seems he isn’t going to get the support he wants and when he is dismissed by his peers, but there is a silver lining because we also see the acceptance around him and how he grows in himself and how his own pride outweighs the meanness of others.

Case’s illustrations are cartoony but realistic. The pictures are full page and coloured and the text is nestled amongst it as part of the story. The full pages allow for big scenes where entire classrooms and playgrounds can be shown which supports the narrative and shows off the scenes better than simpler or smaller images might. Case captures the emotion and drama in facial expressions and it enhances the fear and joy Jacob feels, as well as the feelings of those in his class.

I like this story because it is sweet and simple, and it shows how easy these kinds of situations can be. There are challenges as shown by the obnoxious child who clearly is repeating the things his parents say, but there are also wonderful moments where everyone else doesn’t see any problem with that and the narrative shapes these arguments in seamless and natural ways.

You can purchase Jacob’s New Dress via the following

Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

  Amazon | Amazon Aust

Frogkisser! by Garth Nix

Published: 26th February 2017Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Scholastic
Pages: 372
Format: Paperback
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
★   ★   ★   ★ – 4 Stars

The last thing she needs is a prince. The first thing she needs is some magic.

Poor Princess Anya. Forced to live with her evil stepmother’s new husband, her evil stepstepfather. Plagued with an unfortunate ability to break curses with a magic-assisted kiss. And forced to go on the run when her stepstepfather decides to make the kingdom entirely his own.

Aided by a loyal talking dog, a boy thief trapped in the body of a newt, and some extraordinarily mischievous wizards, Anya sets off on a Quest that, if she plays it right, will ultimately free her land—and teach her a thing or two about the use of power, the effectiveness of a well-placed pucker, and the finding of friends in places both high and low.

This is a fairytale through and through. There are talking dogs, princesses and a kingdom to defend and it has so many fabulous and magical moments it is pure delight. I loved how Nix causally throws in comments and lines as if they are perfectly normal sentences when they are not. It is makes reading a lot of fun and adds another layer of humour to enjoy. It is part of the fairytale trope or style I suppose that these things just happen but it was also great having this matter of fact, ‘what are you going to do about it?’ approach as well.

Anya is a great kid, she is thirteen which is hard to remember at times because of the things she achieves, but it is also a great reminder when she is doing these great deeds that she is only a child. There are moments where Anya realises how sheltered her life has been and you see her grow as she comes to understand the imbalance in the world and learn about kindness and the danger of too much power. It is a nice message that works well in the narrative and put in a way kids can appreciate without it being too heavy handed.

The story is filled with small moments and epic Quest moments which balance wonderfully. The individual characters are unique and help make this story feel like a classic fairy tale as well as a new type of story that brings the whole world to life. It is fun and filled with magic, friendships and Nix has established a vivid world that feels new while still cementing itself as a clear fairytale story with a villain, a goal, and a hero.

This is easily an adult or kid book and I think both audiences will have different things to take away from it. Even young kids will love this, it is filled with adventure and Quests, it’s funny but not silly, and Nix knows all the right moves to pull to make a great fairytale story new and exciting whilst also relying on the old and beloved.

You can purchase Frogkisser! via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

DymocksAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust

Wonder by R. J. Palacio

Published: 14th February 2012Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Alfred A. Knopf
Pages: 304
Format: Paperback
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

I won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse.

August Pullman was born with a facial difference that, up until now, has prevented him from going to a mainstream school. Starting 5th grade at Beecher Prep, he wants nothing more than to be treated as an ordinary kid—but his new classmates can’t get past Auggie’s extraordinary face. It begins from Auggie’s point of view, but soon switches to include his classmates, his sister, her boyfriend, and others. These perspectives converge in a portrait of one community’s struggle with empathy, compassion, and acceptance.

With a story like this it’s going to be a tough read and it was, sweet at times but filled with sadness too. Initially I thought Wonder was about a teenager, not too old but maybe 13 or 14. When I realised he was only ten, that he was only a child it was such a shock, I hate thinking of little kids being mean to each other because you know it’s not always their own opinions they’re repeating. It was easier to think of them as 14 but I had to constantly remind myself these kids are only in primary school.

It was mainly my own interpretations of their age because Palacio captures the voice of the child narrators wonderfully and it really reads like kids of ten or eleven are telling you the story, giving their sides of the experience. Each voice stands out and through actions and dialogue their personalities come to the surface.

Auggie himself is a complete sweetie. He is smart and kind and he has adapted brilliantly to his circumstances and how he interacts and deals with people. This is very much a story where everyone else needs to learn to accept Auggie, not one where he needs to learn to be ok with himself. Auggie knows who he is and what he is capable of and having his little shining light through everyone else’s cruelty and unkindness makes you proud of him.

I liked that Palacio really brought home the point that Auggie is a normal kid, no disability or special needs, he was just a kid that looked different on the outside from something out of his control.  The fact that he has had to deal with this his whole life makes him acutely aware of the remarks, the side glances and the staring people do to him and yet he remains a good natured person. He is an adorable kid that powers through and is ok in himself and while obviously he is a bit hurt what others say, it doesn’t bother him too much.

The different points of view are an excellent choice as it allows you to see other people’s perspectives of events and offers up more not only to their character, but it enriches the entire story. We get to hear from classmates at school but also people close to Auggie. I loved Auggie’s whole family, they are so much fun. His dad, mum, and sister are delightful and it’s fascinating to see and hear how they have managed to work their lives into remarkable normalcy around Auggie.

I found that I came to admire these characters. For their love and support, but also for their strength and determination to prove that there was nothing wrong. That yes, Auggie looked different but he was still a kid. He had feelings, he wanted friends, and he wanted to feel accepted like anyone else. Palacio has told a heart-warming story filled with love but also exploring how everyone is different and that kindness can come from anywhere.

You can purchase Wonder via the following

Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | Wordery

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust

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