I received a free digital ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review
The story is both simple and complex - a little girl who wants to be herself and be accepted by both parents for who she is. We meet seven year old Stephie, who shares her favorite things. She loves bugs, scary movies, spaghetti, and reading. She also shares that her father thinks she is his son named Stephen, even though she is a girl named Stephie. This is something her mother understands, but her dad struggles with throughout the entire book. He is never malicious or demeaning, and Stephie loves her dad very much. But she also wants him to understand that Stephen doesn't exist.
The message is fantastic and positive - only we get to decide who we are, that is not up to any other human on earth. I felt on the first reading that the ending was kind of abrupt, but I've reconsidered that after I read through it again and again. I was glad from the first read that the dad did not suddenly do a complete about-face and accept that Stephen was now Stephie. While it would be wonderful if every parent reacted positively, we know that is not reality for so many kids who identify as trans, and would have been a slap in the face to all of those who struggle with unaccepting families and lack of support. BUT, showing them still having a close relationship at the end, I think, shows that they are still working on understanding each other and trying to figure out how to make it work. It is clear that they love each other very much, even as they are working through this complex issue together. Stephie is remarkably patient for a seven year old in how she does things for her dad (like going fishing) even if she doesn't want to. It is a bummer that children have to take on these adult roles of being patient teachers sometimes, but she handles it with ease and part of that is due to her young age. She intuitively knows that patience is important. It makes me incredibly sad for Stephie though, that this is placed on her shoulders. She must be the adult and teach her father, and it is not fair to her. Still, Stephie is resilient and stays true to herself. She is strong because she has to be, as so many other trans children have to be.
I really like that Stephie's interests are all her own. She knows she is a girl, and likes the things that she wants to like. In this case, they are not all things that are 'stereotypical' for a young girl to like. My cis daughter loves all kinds of things that are not stereotypical - garbage trucks and super heroes, mud, collecting rocks. BUT, she also loves dressing up, lip gloss, and wearing my high heels. I think everyone would be a whole lot happier if parents didn't try to force any gender stereotypes on their kids, regardless of gender.
I read this book on my Kindle and so I unfortunately can not comment on the illustrations/color, as everything is black and white for me. I think that I would still want this as a physical copy in our personal library, as well as a the school and public libraries. This needs to be visible for all students, but especially those who understand and can feel that they are not who the world thinks they are. I have never read a children's book before with a character who is trans. Having this visible for those students who know that they are not who others think they are is so critical - especially for those who do not have a lot of support at home. These kids need to know that it is okay and that nothing is wrong with them. Just as we need adequate representation for people of all races and ethnicities, trans kids, as well as non-binary and gender-nonconforming, need to see themselves represented as well. I can't even imagine what it would be like to not see myself represented in media, and I think it would be very disheartening. This can also help give those students the right words to express themselves, especially those who know very early on that something is not quite fitting correctly in their lives. So many of my gay friends have stated that they knew they were attracted to other boys from an early age, but didn't know how to express their thoughts and feelings to the adults in their lives. It also matters that cis children be educated and aware of the fact that they will have classmates at some point who fall into a wide variety of LGBTQIA+ categories.
Aside from the story itself, the author provides a slew of discussion questions and resources for parents and educators to use. I feel like this will be incredibly effective in discussing such complexities with their children. There are also several book suggestions that I will be exploring further.
I feel like this is a good starting point for younger readers and it a good contribution to children's literature. Stephie is very matter-of-fact. She knows who she is, and she stays true to that throughout. With books like this, it will help both trans kids to know they are not alone, and allies address the subject with kiddos who are not trans.