While I haven’t been tearing through novels like I had hoped I would be these past few months, I did recently stumble across this buried treasure when the first book in the series came across our return desk.
“Call Me Max” by Kyle Lukoff and Illustrated by Luciano Lozano is a sweet and simple picture book, that introduces readers to Max, a transgender boy who is embracing his true self and his friends are learning what that means.
His friend Teresa is a girl who likes to play in the dirt and get into trouble. His friend Steven is a boy who likes to wear dresses. Through simple conversations and interactions, Max is able to explain why he is Max and they accept that.
And that could have been the end of the story…but luckily, it isn’t, which is what I really love about these picture books – they are a series. Yes, Max is a transgender boy, but after he gets that explained to his friends and out of the way, they go on to have fun and play together, like all the other kids.
In “Max and the Talent Show“, the loud and proud Steven wants to take center stage at the talent show. Shy Max doesn’t want to perform, but he wants to be a part of it. Together, the two go shopping for Steven’s outfit for the big night. Some grown-ups give them strange looks, but Steven is a charismatic guy and manages to get the shoes, the dress, and the crown for the big night by weaving amazing stories that show why these items are important to him, even if the adults in the room don’t think a boy like him should want them.
On the night of the talent show, Max realizes that Steven had been so focused on getting his outfit together, he doesn’t have a plan for what to do on stage, but luckily Max reminds him of his stories, and he takes the audience back on the adventure with him.
In “Max on the Farm“, Max goes on a field trip with Teresa, spending the day and night on the farm. Teresa likes to sneak out and get them into trouble. She has no problem splashing through the mud.
What is great about all these books is that it explores the idea of gender as a construct in the most basic way – by pointing out that kids are all different and their assigned gender has nothing to do with the things they like to do. A boy can like dresses, a girl can like mud, and another child might just know deep down that they are a boy. It’s about being true to yourself, knowing yourself, embracing yourself, and finding friends that support you. This is a perfect world where kids can be who they want to be and the kind of stories that should be shared.
I think a lot of times adults see books with this kind of content and deem it “inappropriate” for children because they only associate gender with sexuality, but that is not the case. Gender can play a huge part in identity and somehow adults forget that because of all their grown-up baggage. These picture books are written with great care, with the child in mind, a chance for the child who is struggling with these feelings to see themselves reflected in the story. A chance for a child with a friend that they know isn’t happy being told to wear a dress or that they are not allowed to play with dolls to see their friend as someone who just likes something and that it doesn’t matter if they are a boy or a girl, they are still their friend. That transgender kids exist, and that they are just kids too so play with them and get to know them, just like you would want them to get to know you.
Next time you’re at the library, check out the Max series (Talent show is my personal favorite) and see what I mean. They are sweet books, just trying to make the world a better, more welcoming place. One page at a time.