Introducing Teddy: A story about being yourself by Jessica Walton
Ill. by Dougal MacPherson. Bloomsbury, 2016. ISBN 9781681192116
(Ages: 4-7) Recommended. Acceptance, Friendship, Gender, Transgender. This is a warm and simple story that deals with the sensitive social issue of gender identification and gender non-conformance. It cleverly uses a teddy as the character whose self-identity doesn't fit with his assigned sex, rather than a person, making it more approachable. However, it importantly uses people as the other characters, who show appropriate ways of responding to the teddy and his feelings and needs. Thomas the teddy and Errol play together every day, but Thomas is hiding a secret and is worried that if Errol knows, he won't want to be his friend anymore. When Errol assures Thomas he will always be his friend, Thomas bravely tells him that he has always felt like a girl teddy, not a boy teddy. Errol replies, 'I don't care if you're a girl teddy or a boy teddy! What matters is that you are my friend'. The book also has other subtle examples of children not conforming to traditional gender stereotypes (behaviour, play, appearance). The story implicitly emphasises, by example, that gender doesn't define who we are and that changing our name or appearance doesn't change who we are or what we like to do. It is not preachy, but encourages being easy-going and open about who we are.
This is written at an appropriate level for its target audience and will be indispensable for use with children who have transgender or gender non-conforming friends, classmates or family members, but also for reminding children that gender is just a label and reinforcing that there is not one way of being a girl or a boy. It might even be effective in getting a positive message across to parents about responding to their own child's self-identity. It is also a great springboard for classroom discussions around being a supportive, unconditional friend.