Essential Books for Teaching Kids About Sex/Gender

You might learn something too!

Kid Walking on a Rainbow Photo by Cory Woodward on Unsplash

Sex Vs. Gender

Sex and Gender aren’t the same thing. Body parts determine your sex, but gender is how you think of and present yourself. When a baby’s born, we almost always know their sex, but gender is something they’ll define for themselves throughout their life.

Who are You? The Kid’s Guide to Gender Identity

by Brook Pessin-Whedbee, illustrated by Naomi Bardoff

I can’t recommend this book enough. Who are You? gives both children and adults the language and space to learn and talk about gender. It explains that grown-ups make a guess when a baby is born by looking at their body, but as kids grow up, they can tell us their gender, and this might change over time. Kids might feel like a boy, a girl, both, neither, or “just me.”

One of our favorite pages just has a room full of toys and the words, “What do you like?” Sometimes, despite our best intentions, we make assumptions about what our kids will be into; this book gives them a chance to tell you who they are and what they like and to explore new interests. Unlike most toy stores or clothing stores in the real world, the imagery here isn’t sorted into two types — refreshing!

Get this book while your kid is as young as possible, before they’ve gotten too many of the omnipresent cultural messages that there are only two ways to be.

What Makes a Baby and Sex is a Funny Word: A Book About Bodies, Feelings, and YOU

by Cory Silverberg, ill. by Fiona Smyth

These sex-ed children’s books manage to be really fun and informative, while respecting the difference between sex and gender.

What Makes a Baby removes gender completely from the equation (if you’re not sure how that would work, check it out!) This book is incredibly inclusive. My kid happened to be made with the old when-a-man-and-a-woman-love-each-other way that you find in most sex ed books, but I wanted her to know that different families have different experiences. What’s always the same is babies are made with a sperm, an egg, and someone with a uterus. Sometimes babies come out a vagina; sometimes they come out by C-section. And once they come out, so many people are happy they’re there. There’s no too early for this toddler-friendly book. (And it’s available in lots of languages!)

Once your kid’s in elementary school, they’re ready for Sex is a Funny Word. (Obviously, decide for your own family when to start these ongoing conversations.) Sex is a Funny Word is a comic-book that provides openings for family conversations about bodies, gender, and feelings. However, despite the title, the comic doesn’t get into the act(s) of sex (that’s planned for their third book). Once again, this book is super-inclusive, and it’s so real about the emotions of growing up.

Red: A Crayon’s Story

by Michael Hall

Hidden in this adorable book about talking crayons is a poignant look at the harm done by assuming someone’s gender, rather than just allowing them to be themself.

The main character is a blue crayon with a red label. The other crayons and art supplies, while mostly well-intentioned, try to make the crayon draw red, but of course none of it works. When another crayon finally asks the main character to draw something blue, we see the good it does when someone sees you and loves you for who you are inside.

Julián is a Mermaid

by Jessica Love

This new book about a little boy that wants to be a mermaid is gorgeously executed. He’s with his abuela when he spots some mermaid drag queens on the subway and daydreams about having long hair and a pink mermaid tale.

I especially love this book because it doesn’t feed us a binary. I admire Jazz Jennings trying to tell her story in I Am Jazz, and I love parts of that book, but it still carries the baggage of the gender binary. I appreciate the difficulty Jazz faces in explaining to others what it feels like to know she’s a girl, but I’m not a fan of how her book talks about “girl clothes.” I know what she means; she wasn’t personally allowed to wear some clothes in public until after she came out. But when I read books to my 4-year-old, I’d rather they model for her that, whether kids (and adults) are trans or cis, they can wear whatever they want.

So, while Julián might be trans, he might not. Either way, this story — where he’s able to dress up as a mermaid, with the support of his abuela, and join a parade — is empowering for all kids, who want their families and cultures to tell them it’s okay to explore their own interests, aesthetics and genders.

A shorter version of this piece appeared in the August 2018 print issue of Raise Vegan Magazine. It is used here with full permission.