Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda

This is a fun rom-com with a somewhat awkward main character that you hope get his happily ever after!

Chapter book, fiction, LGBTQ+
Young adult
William C. Morris YA Debut Award, 2016
5 out of 5 stars

This premise of this book reminds me of You’ve Got Mail, the 1998 Nora Ephron film starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. Two people meet over the internet, trade emails, and fall in love before meeting in person.

I think the story’s strength lies in the characters. The main character is Simon Spier. He has a close and goofy family and supportive friends. He has longtime friends Nick and Leah, and newer friends Abby and Blue.

This book is often touted as a coming out story, which it is, but it is also about friendship, discovering who you are, and how change affects friendship. Becky Albertalli does an amazing job depicting Simon wrangling with his feelings and struggling when friendships hit rocky patches. It can be hard to juggle school, extracurricular activities, family, and friendships. Add in being blackmailed and not being ready to come out and let people know you’re gay, and it can be overwhelming. Sometimes in life things get out of whack and people get hurt or feel left out. Simon has to learn to trust people with new information about who he is and that can be scary. The reader goes with Simon on his journey and it is both funny and heartfelt.

My favorite line is, “White shouldn’t be the default any more than straight should be the default. There shouldn’t even be a default.” (p. 269) This probably sums up much of the story and the message that readers should take away. The default much of the time is straight and white. Simon makes us think about eliminating our default thinking and accepting people for who they are and how they define themselves.

This book will appeal to a lot of readers. It is funny, while tackling a serious topic in a thoughtful way. Fans of romantic comedy will really enjoy Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda.

Jacob’s New Dress

The book is a good introduction to gender non-conformity for elementary age students.

Jacob’s New Dress
by Sarah and Ian Hoffman; illustrated by Chris Case
Albert Whitman & Co., Chicago, 2014
ISBN 978-0-8075-6373-1
Picture book, fiction, gender identity
Description: 32 unnumbered pages : color illustrations ; 26 cm
Interest Level: K-3; Reading Level: 1.7
Lexile measure: 400
4 out of 5 stars

According to the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago (, “ncreasing numbers of gender non-conforming youth are being referred for care” and primary care specialists are referring them for care at younger ages that ever before. For teachers and librarians, this means that we must find ways to introduce the idea of gender non-conformity to children at the elementary school level.

Jacob’s New Dress is written by Sarah and Ian Hoffman, the parents of a gender non-conforming son. In the author’s note at the back of the book they state that “Jacob’s New Dress was born of our commitment to help parents, families, teachers, and physicians stand behind all the differently gendered little people in their lives.”

Jacob is a young boy who loves to play dress-up, but when he wants to dress up as a princess, who encounters a boy who tells him that boys shouldn’t wear girl clothes. Jacob’s parents are okay when he wears dresses at home, but are reluctant to let him wear dresses to school. They realize that he is unhappy, and his mother helps him make a dress he can wear outside the house. His dad provides realistic support by stating, “Well, it’s not what I would wear, but you look great.”

Jacob gets made fun of when he wears his new dress to school, but he feels empowered by wearing a garment that he made and that expresses who he is inside, and he stands up to his bullies. This was the only part of the book that didn’t feel genuine. I was disappointed that as he is being bullied, no other friends stand beside him and help defend him. I find it fairly unrealistic to believe that as the victim, he alone can stand up to a group of bullies.

Overall, the book is a good introduction to gender non-conformity for elementary age students. The teacher in the story delivers a good message — “I think Jacob wears what he’s comfortable in.” Sometimes what people feel comfortable wearing does not conform to traditional dress in our society, but differences are not bad.

I Am Jazz; 4 out of 5 stars #bookaday

I Am Jazz book coverby Jessica Herthel & Jazz Jennings; pictures by Shelagh McNicholas
Dial Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, 2014
Picture book, narrative nonfiction
Interest level: K-3
Reading level: 1.6
4 out of 5 stars

I Am Jazz is an autobiographical picture book that is about the early life of Jazz Jennings. Jazz was born a biological boy but for as long as she can remember always saw herself as a girl, or as she describes in the book, “I have a girl brain but a boy body.” In a simple and clear way, I Am Jazz introduces and explains the concept of transgender to children.

The book mentions that sometimes Jazz has been bullied, but strong friendships and her family support her. The authors have included photographs of Jazz as a boy and a girl in the back of the book, as well as further information about TransKids Purple Rainbow Foundation, an organization that supports children born with Gender Dysphoria.

Jazz JenningsI have one complaint about the book, and it doesn’t deal with text or how Jazz’s story is told, but it does deal with the illustrations. Shelagh McNicholas depicted Jazz as having very light skin in her illustrations. From the photographs of Jazz that are included in the book, readers can tell that in fact her skin is a darker shade. I am disappointed that the artist and publisher chose to depict Jazz different than who she is, especially since that is pretty much the entire theme of the story.

Worm Loves Worm; 4/5 stars #bookaday

Worm loves worm book coverby J.J. Austrian; illustrated by Mike Curato
Balzer & Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2016.
ISBN 9780062386335.
Picture book, fiction, LGBTQ
Interest level: Pre-K through grade 2
Reading level: 1.7
4 out of 5 stars

To sum it up, this book celebrates love. Two worms meet, fall in love, and decide to get married. Their friends all want to make the wedding a very special event, so they convince Worm and Worm that they need rings, a dress, a tux, a cake…all the traditional trappings associated with a wedding. Everything is moving forward until the Bees ask, “But which one of you is the bride?” Worm and Worm both decide to be the brides…and the grooms. And they are married, and live happily every after, because Worm loves Worm.

By featuring two worms as the main characters, J.J. Austrian has created a picture book for young children that celebrates marriages of all types. It is important that children read books that promote the idea of marriage being open to all people (and worms) who love each other. The sweet illustrations by Mike Curato are the perfect accompaniment to the story, and he is able to make worms and insects cute and appealing.

Book review: The great American whatever; 5 out of 5 stars #bookaday

The great American whatever book coverby Tim Federle
Young adult novel
Interest level: Grades 8 and up
5 out of 5 stars

Tim Federle has crafted a story that features complex and real characters, and placed them in a setting that is full of both sadness and joy. It is a complex undertaking that he balances very well.

Quinn Roberts is about to turn 17, and he has a lot to deal with. He’s never had a boyfriend, his mom is homebound and sleeps on the couch, his air conditioner has died during the heat of summer, and oh yeah, his sister died in a car wreck six months ago and he isn’t sure how to move on. His best friend, Geoff, basically drags him out of the house and back into life, and the journey that Quinn starts on will help him learn not only about himself, but more about the people he thought he knew best.

I listened to the audiobook version that is read by Tim Federle, and let me just say, that it is fabulously AWESOME!! Federle’s characters are real, flawed, and full of personality, and his literal voice brings them to life even more.

I recommend this book for young adults who like realistic fiction that covers the full gamut of emotions. There is plenty of sarcastic humor in this book that made me laugh out loud, and also made the sadness of losing a sibling not feel overwhelming. It feels a lot like life in that way.


by Alex Gino
Intermediate and middle grade; transgender subject matter
Interest level: grades 3-6
Reading level: 4.7
Stonewall Book Award, 2016
5 out of 5 stars

If I was to strictly rate the technical writing and execution of George, I would probably rate the story at a 3 out of 5 stars. However, the topic, and the authority of the author, makes this book a must-read.

George is a 4th-grader who is excited for the auditions for the upcoming class play, Charlotte’s Web. George loves the character of Charlotte, and feels that playing the role will help her in ways that no one can understand. George was born a boy, but knows that she is a girl. Being seen as a boy is embarrassing, awkward, and feels wrong to George. The story is about how George is struggling to tell his friends and family about who she really is.

George is an engaging character that will make readers care about her outcome, but I feel that the author leaves a lot of questions during the first parts of the story. If I was not already aware that George was about a transgender character, I am not sure the story would have made much sense at the beginning. It was around 100 pages in, as George auditions for the role of Charlotte, that I felt the story came into its own and really started to propel the reader forward.

What I found most enlightening about the story, is the frequency that people use gender references. Having classes line up in a boy line and a girl line…a mom telling her child that she will always be her special baby boy…these things are not meant to torture anyone, but for a person who is transgender, it can be devastating.

I know some teachers or librarians might consider censoring this text and not making it available for its intended age group, grades 3-6, but the story is executed in a way that is informative and not controversial. Rick Riordan, in his GoodReads review of George, said, “I have seen this struggle with several of my own students during my time in K-8 schools. This is a timely and important topic, and not something schools can pretend to ignore until kids are ‘old enough to know about this sort of thing.’ In my humble opinion, it’s never too soon to be accepting and inclusive.” George is not a sexual story, it is a story about gender identity and truly seeing who people are, not who we believe they should be.

This is an important work of literature!