"It didn't matter where you were, if you were in a room full of books you were at least halfway home."
-Lev Grossman, The Magician's Land

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

George - Be Who You Are

Gino, Alex. 2015. George. New York: Scholastic Press. ISBN 978-0-545-81254-2

This middle grade novel is about a boy named George, but George knows she is really a girl.  This is a secret she has not shared with anyone.  It tears her apart inside when others refer to her as a boy or as a soon to be man, but every time she thinks about telling someone, the words get stuck in her mouth.  

George's fourth grade class is going to put on a production of Charlotte's Web, and George really wants to be cast as Charlotte.  If she could only perform as Charlotte, maybe everyone would finally realize that she is a girl, as well.  Unfortunately, her teacher won't even consider her for the part because "he's a boy."  As the story progresses, George struggles with sharing this information about herself with her mother and her best friend, Kelly.

Is George destined to work behind the scenes, while her best friend, Kelly, performs onstage as Charlotte?  And will George ever be able to let the world know who she really is?

Alex Gino has given the world a true gift in this powerful and important novel.  There is a profound lack of children's literature about characters who are transgender, especially for middle grade students.  This timely novel helps fill that gap.  It is beautifully written and completely age appropriate.  It is not about dating or sexuality; it is simply a story about personal identity.  Anyone who has ever felt different will relate to George.  Her dreams of being accepted for who she really is are not all that different than the dreams of most preteens.  Her utter devastation at not only not getting the role of Charlotte, but being dismissed as a joke by her teacher for even reading for the role, will resonate with readers who have ever been unfairly denied something they wanted.  And Kelly's ultimate acceptance of her and their experience together at the zoo will leave readers with a feeling of hope that George's (Melissa's) life is finally moving in the right direction. 

George's mother was a believable character.  She seemed to be in denial that her son was anything other than a typical fourth grade boy.  When she found George's secret stash of magazines, her first instinct was anger and to take them away from her.  As a mother, she doesn't want her child to choose a difficult path in life, and that's what she initially thinks when George tells her that she's a girl.  Fortunately, she does seem to start accepting her child for who she really is at the end of the book, in her words, "one step at a time."

Inevitably, there will be some who feel that the subject matter of this book is too controversial or inappropriate for middle grade students.  To those, I would say that it is my role as a library media specialist to promote literature that reflects and honors the lives of ALL young people.  If today's students are going to grow to be intelligent, empathetic, and kind adults, they need to build an understanding and appreciation of the diversity of the world we live in.  Literature is the best way to expose children to other cultures they may not encounter in their own lives.  George is an exemplary novel that can do just that.

Goodreads Choice Awards 2015 Finalist

Kirkus Reviews Best of 2015

Publishers Weekly Best Books 2015

School Library Journal Best Books 2015

School Library Journal Top 10 Audio Books 2015

From SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL - "For George, as is the case for many LGBTQ youth, coming out is a process that she must repeat until she is properly recognized. There is pain in George, but not without the promise of a better tomorrow, even if tomorrow doesn’t arrive as soon as it should. VERDICT A required purchase for any collection that serves a middle grade population."

From PUBLISHERS WEEKLY - "George’s joy during stolen moments when she can be herself will resonate with anyone who has felt different, while providing a necessary window into the specific challenges of a child recognizing that they are transgender. Profound, moving, and—as Charlotte would say—radiant, this book will stay with anyone lucky enough to find it."

From KIRKUS REVIEWS - "George, a fourth-grader who knows she is a girl, despite appearances, begins to tell her secret.  The word “transgender” is used midway through, but far more work is done by the simple choice to tell George’s story using third-person narration and the pronouns “she” and “her.” Readers then cringe as much as George herself when bullies mock her or—perhaps worse—when well-meaning friends and family reassure her with sentiments like “I know you’ll turn into a fine young man.”...Warm, funny, and inspiring."
For teachers who are looking for ways to talk about George in a sensitive manner, Alex Gino has written a blog post that addresses just that.  This is a great resource to use before reading/discussing this book with your students. http://www.alexgino.com/2015/08/how-to-talk-about-george/

Have your students write about a time they felt different from their peers.  Have anyone who is brave enough share their writing with the class.

Check out this blog post for other quality LGBTQ literature for middle grade students. http://www.leewind.org/2009/12/glbtq-middle-grade-bookshelf.html

One of the characters in the story, Jeff, is a classic example of a bully.  Have a discussion with your students about bullying and what they can each do to help a friend who is the victim of a bully.

Kelly is truly George's best friend in every way.  Have students write about their best friend and what that friend does to make them feel special.

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