Wrestle! by Charlotte Mars, Maya Newell and Gus Skattebol-James
Ill. by Tom Jellett. Allen and Unwin, 2019. ISBN: 9781760296810.
(Ages: 4-8) Recommended. Themes: Wrestling, Identity, Families. Wrestle! is inspired by the documentary Gayby Baby, which featured the stories of four kids being raised in LGBTQIA+ families (Gus Skattebol-James was one of the children in the film and Mars and Newell were involved in producing and directing). It's nearly time for Mardi Gras and Gus wants to go as a wrestler. The accompanying illustration shows a table covered in family photographs and other odds and ends which tell us a lot about Gus's life (he has two mums, a little sister, likes lego, dinosaurs and wrestling, and he barracks for the Sydney Swans). Gus's problem is that he LOVES wrestling and wants to be big and tough with huge muscles. But his mums think wrestling is 'violent and dangerous, and that having big muscles and being macho isn't the only way to be strong'. This is written so well: at a child's level but intelligently. 'I worry Gus', says one of Gus's mums, 'that you might start thinking that's the way to be a GOOD man, a POPULAR man or a SMART man'. It provides families with a really lovely example of how to talk with their children. 'You can dress up as anything you like at Mardi Gras . . . As long as you're respectful and kind'. When Gus has a dream about wrestling and decides he doesn't want to hurt people he realises that there could be different kinds of wrestler (e.g., those who are proud and stand up for themselves). I love the way Gus and his little sister transform their wrestling toys with pink paper and rainbow crayons (we also see the transformation on the endpapers). Tom Jellett's illustrations are warm and generous, quite similar to the work of Craig Smith. His other illustrative works include popular picture books Sea Dog and My Dad Thinks He's Funny. The illustrations perfectly reflect the realities of life for an Aussie kid (Mum's folding washing, the kids are watching the iPad on the couch).
This is a family story that just happens to feature a family with two mums. These sorts of stories are important in the wake of the same-sex marriage legislation change as we seek to expand young children's understandings of normality in terms of family, sexuality and gender.