Reviewed by Paige Pagan
Jazz is humanized/normalized in this book as a child who enjoys things any other child would enjoy. She plays dress-up and bounces on trampolines with her best friends, Samantha and Casey. But she confides to the readers: “I’m not exactly like Samantha and Casey,” (pp. 6).
Jazz tells readers that she was born transgender, which to her means having a girl brain in a boy body. For Jazz, it always seemed like she was a boy doing girl stuff or a boy dressing in girls clothes, but really she was simply expressing her gender in the most authentic way it felt to her. When the doctor informs Jazz’s parents that she’s transgender, they begin to understand Jazz’s feelings and support her.
Being transgender is a complex reality and while Jazz tells about her childhood experiences that are unique to her trans journey and she deserves to feel validated in those experiences, it’s also important to note that no one’s journey is the same. Jazz maintains a gender binary outlook on her trans identity and there are some stereotypical designations of gender, such as girls preferring the color pink and wearing princess and mermaid costumes, unlike superhero costumes.
When teaching this book it’s essential to work against these gendered stereotypes and show children that there are other gender identities not mentioned in this book, such as non-binary, genderqueer, gender-fluid, and cis-gender. Children should feel supported in expressing their gender in non-confining ways. Some recommended picture books on healthy gender identity and expression can be found on our Gender Identity book list.
You can also find a recommended lesson plan on I Am Jazz to introduce transgender and non-binary identities by educator Dani McCormick here.
Paige Pagan is a Social Justice Books Program Specialist at Teaching for Change.
I Am Jazz by Jessica Herthel, Jazz Jennings
Published by Penguin Group (USA) LLC on 2014
Reading Level: Grade K, Grades 1-2
Review Source: Teaching for Change
Publisher's Synopsis: The story of a transgender child based on the real-life experience of Jazz Jennings, who has become a spokesperson for transkids everywhere.
"This is an essential tool for parents and teachers to share with children whether those kids identify as trans or not. I wish I had had a book like this when I was a kid struggling with gender identity questions. I found it deeply moving in its simplicity and honesty." Laverne Cox (who plays Sophia in Orange Is the New Black
From the time she was two years old, Jazz knew that she had a girl's brain in a boy's body. She loved pink and dressing up as a mermaid and didn't feel like herself in boys' clothing. This confused her family, until they took her to a doctor who said that Jazz was transgender and that she was born that way. Jazz's story is based on her real-life experience and she tells it in a simple, clear way that will be appreciated by picture book readers, their parents, and teachers.