This Children's Book Teaches That Acceptance Of Transgender People Begins At Home

"I hope it spreads kindness."

It's never too early to teach kids about acceptance of those who identify as LGBTQ — especially when it comes to transgender individuals. A new children's book, titled Jack (Not Jackie), does just that by telling the story of two siblings whose love for each other knows no bounds.

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The book, written by Erica Silverman and illustrated by Holly Hatam, tells the story of Susan, a girl who loves her sister but, throughout the story, must learn to love her brother instead. Jack (Not Jackie) was created in partnership with GLAAD — specifically Nick Adams, the organization's director of transgender media and representation — to tell this story of gender expression in a true and authentic way.

"Over the past 20 years, more transgender people have been able to connect with each other and find the resources they need to live as their authentic selves. Many of those trans people have chosen to tell their story, both online and in mainstream media. As a result, we've seen media become more interested in telling accurate stories about trans people — and we've seen backlash from those who oppose equality for transgender people," Adams tells A Plus. "It's important that media continue to amplify the voices of transgender people so that the 84 percent of Americans who think they've never met a transgender person will move toward acceptance and away from intolerance."

The book cover of "Jack (Not Jackie)," written by Erica Silvermand and illustrated by Holly Hatam.
The cover of "Jack (Not Jackie)." Courtesy: little bee books/Bonnier Publishing USA

Adams says that, since most people don't believe they've met someone who is transgender, they likely don't know how to react when someone in their life — be a person at church, home, school, or work — discloses that they are trans. A story like Jack (Not Jackie), he explained, can show these people that you can respond to these people by listening to them, believing them, and, most importantly, love them for who they are.

"When a child is persistent, insistent, and consistent about their gender identity, it's important that parents listen and provide love and support," Adams added, noting how clear Jack is in the book. "Jack (Not Jackie) will be a helpful resource to siblings of trans kids who often have their own journey of acceptance about their transgender sibling."

In addition to Adams, A Plus also spoke with Silverman and Hatam about creating Jack (Not Jackie), how they relate to the book in their individual ways, what they learned from their partnership with GLAAD, and what they hope readers take away from this story.

How did you approach writing and illustrating this book, respectively, to tell Susan and Jack’s story?

ERICA SILVERMAN: I began with research. I read the psychological literature about gender identity in young children. I read lots of personal stories about families with gender non-conforming children. I watched documentaries, did interviews, talked, listened, and reflected on my own experience. I was inspired by stories of families embracing their gender non-conforming kids. As ideas simmered in my mind, a sibling story bubbled to the surface, a journey from resistance to acceptance. I wasn't sure how I would get there, but as I wrote, Jack and Susan took on lives of their own. Their joyful play and deep love for each other led me to the resolution.

HOLLY HATAM: When I first read the manuscript for this book, I cried. I wanted the illustrations to feel as emotional as the words. I spent a great deal of time fine-tuning the characters and creating a bond between Susan and Jack. My goal was for the emotion to leap off the page without having to read the text.

Holly, your bio told me that you’re a mom. Have you showed your son this book and what did he think?

HATAM: I have read this book over and over to my son. He was 4 years old at the time and the first time we read the book he cried. The page where Jack and Susan are crying because Jack cut his hair was emotional for him. He told me, "Mommy, I don't want to read anymore. It's sad." I had to convince him to keep reading and reassuring him that the ending was a happy one.

Erica, I read that you identify as LGBTQ. How did it feel to craft this book and send a message of acceptance to young readers?

SILVERMAN: It felt right — all the planets aligned. As a lesbian, I know what it's like to come out, to worry about who I can tell and who I can't, to wonder if I'll be rejected for who I am, to feel vulnerable, unsafe. Coming out has been an ongoing process for me, starting in the early '70s when it was much harder than it is now. I brought that vulnerability with me to writing this book. 

It also felt like an enormous responsibility. There are so few picture books for gender non-conforming children and their families. My goal was to write an age-appropriate, family centered story that would be emotionally compelling and would bring readers on a journey toward acceptance. 

Erica Silverman, Holly Hatam, and Nick Adams discuss "Jack (Not Jackie)."
Erica Silverman, author (left); Holly Hatam, illustrator (middle); and Nick Adams, of GLAAD (right). Courtesy: Erica Silverman | Holly Hatam | Nick Adams

What did your partnership with GLAAD help teach you in regards to how to tackle this specific project?

SILVERMAN: It meant the world to me that GLAAD was on board with this book! And forgive for repeating myself — but it felt so right — all the planets aligned! Through this partnership, I received insightful notes from Nick Adams, which helped me see the story more clearly. As a cisgender person, I'm learning to see the world through a prism different than my own, and it's been an invaluable learning experience. The resulting changes, inspired by Nick's notes, made it a better book. I'm grateful for that.

HATAM: GLAAD taught me to be very mindful of what pronouns to use. If you're ever unsure, just stop and listen to the pronoun other people use when referring to them. Specifically for this book, they taught me to always use Jack's name and never Jackie.

What do you hope readers take away from this book?

SILVERMAN: I hope children connect with Jack and Susan and feel empowered. I hope it starts conversations that lead to greater understanding and acceptance. I hope it inspires everyone to speak up for safer, more welcoming schools for transgender and gender non-conforming children and their families. I hope it spreads kindness.

HATAM: I hope this book will spread kindness and acceptance. I hope it teaches kids that everyone is different, yet we are all the same. If we expose our children to books and subjects like these at an early age, the world would be a kinder and happier place.

Jack (Not Jackie) is available now.

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