Be Who You Are - How Boring!

Local author Alex Gino shares a good reason to hope your book is boring -- and gives us a totally awesome new heroine.

Local author Alex Gino has a new book with a powerful message: “Be Who You Are.”

That’s easier said than done in the 4th grade. But it’s especially hard for Melissa, because everyone still calls her George (her birth name) and they don’t know what she knows: She is a girl.

Melissa is transgender and the book George, published by Scholastic, is one of the first middle grade books to give voice to a transgender heroine.

We introduced you to George in a post last week (click here if you missed it). This week we want to introduce you to author Alex Gino.

In addition to being an acclaimed local writer, Alex Gino is a library volunteer with our Second Start Adult Literacy program. As a tutor, Alex brings invaluable expertise with GED and test preparation to Second Start students, many of whom struggled with test-taking their whole lives. Alex is a natural teacher and -- working one-on-one -- they have helped numerous students feel more prepared.

Alex Gino reading from the bookAlex Gino at book signingBook cover

Alex is also "loves glitter, glitter, ice cream, gardening, awe-ful puns, and stories that reflect the diversity and complexity of being alive." Naturally, they are a blast to hang out with. At the Oakland book release party at Laurel Books last week, a standing-room only crowd laughed, clapped and cheered as Alex brought Melissa and other characters to life.

When an audience member asked about Alex’s hopes for the book, they replied, “I want this book to become antiquated.” Eyebrows raised throughout the room. A few heads nodded in agreement as Alex continued, “I don’t want this to be cutting edge. I want this to be boring.” Every head nodded in agreement. Being who you are -- at any age -- shouldn't be controversial.

When Alex started writing Melissa’s story, the word transgender wasn’t even in it. That’s because Alex started writing George 10 years ago. “A decade ago, what fourth grade girl would find the word transgender [on a Safe Space flyer at school]?” Alex shared. “And now, what fourth grader who was looking for it wouldn’t?”

Much has changed to bring awareness to transgender experience over the last few years, and much more is needed. This is why fans are buying copies of George by the stack. And Alex said that's been the nicest surprise: Friends and strangers alike are eagerly sharing stories about a specific kid or home that really needs this book.

This was my experience, too. Last year I searched far and wide for a middle grade book with a transgender character to help a 3rd grader and her family. Her peers didn’t believe her when she proudly told them her Papa was transgender. “Nah uh,” they said. “That’s a lie. You can't do that.” She wanted to present to her class. With the teacher’s support, she and her mother introduced the class to transgender experience. They used the picture book 10,000 Dresses.

Last Sunday, I brought them a copy of George. Alex Gino even signed it: “Wish you had this last year. Sparkle On!” Now, the whole family is reading it together.

Congratulations Alex!

Hear more from Alex in this School Library Journal interview.

By Amy Sonnie and Amy Martin

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