Book review: I Am Jazz

Banned books stun me. Seriously? We’re still doing this?

When I read about a school in Wisconsin cancelling an author’s reading–of a PICTURE BOOK–for fear of lawsuits, and then 600 people packed a library a week later to hear that author read, I knew I had to check out this book.

I Am Jazz by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings, with illustrations by Shelagh McNicholas, is a sweetly illustrated, gently narrated story of a little girl–she appears to be about 7–who likes “dancing, singing, back flips, drawing, soccer, swimming, makeup, and pretending I’m a pop star.”  Her best friends are Samantha and Casey…but “I’m not exactly like Samantha and Casey.”

Jazz has “a girl brain but a boy body. This is called transgender.” The story goes on to describe how as a very little child, she felt wrong dressed as a boy or when told to do “boy” things. Her parents, holding her on their lap, talk with a doctor, and afterwards hug her and say, “We understand now. Be who you are. We love you no matter what.”

Jazz grows her hair and wears girl clothes to school, and though she has (very gently handled) challenges with other kids and teachers, her parents tell her “being different is okay” and Jazz remembers “the kids who get to know me usually want to be my friend.”

Illustrations are soft, pastel watercolors with flowing lines and rosy cheeks. Empathetic faces convey love and joy. I wish there was more racial diversity among the people; Jazz in real life (on her reality TV show) has an olive complexion, but in the book she and her family are rendered very pale-skinned.

I Am Jazz is a celebration of uniqueness, reminding readers that we are all different, which makes us each special and deserving of love, respect, and understanding.

When I read this with my 6-year-old, we talked a little about how it’s good for people to be who they are inside. He nodded and said, “That book’s OK. But I like more adventure. Or scary and funny together. That’s what I like.”

All right. Knowing what you like is a good step toward accepting who you are!